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When the Helper Comes…

But-When-The-Helper-Comes

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“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me. And you will also bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27).

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

Oh, to be there on that day! The Day of Pentecost. A large multitude gathered from every nation under heaven. Rushing wind, tongues of fire, speaking in other languages. So much excitement that some could only imagine they must be drunk. Peter preaching boldly on the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.

As we gather here on this Day of Pentecost, we don’t have that, do we? The assembly can hardly be called a crowd, let alone a multitude. And we’re not exactly the poster child for diversity. Only one person born outside the borders of the United States. One who speaks fluent (Portuguese) Spanish, a few who can converse in German, and one or two who know a couple of colorful expressions in Norwegian. The only air that’s moving comes from the ceiling fans. The only fire from the candles on the altar. The preacher is not nearly as impressive as St. Peter. And no one is calling the sheriff that we’re disturbing the peace.

But we do have the promised Helper, the Holy Spirit at work. Oh, certainly we are missing the wind, the tongues of fire, and the miraculous ability to preach in other languages; but we do have Baptism, the Word, and the Lord’s Supper. And it is in those means of grace that the Holy Spirit does His work.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s go back to what our Lord says as He tells His disciples what the Holy Spirit will do: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father,He will bear witness about Me. And you will also bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27). The first thing that Holy Spirit does is “bear witness” about Jesus.

Note a couple of things before we move on. First, we hear the glad news that the whole Trinity is working to save you, because the Son sends the Spirit from the Father to bear witness.

Second, the Holy Spirit bears witness—not “demonstrates,” for instance. We therefore conclude that the Holy Spirit regularly works by the Word, not by signs and wonders. He can work such things if He desires, but the absence of extraordinary sights does not mean He is absent.

Third, we note that, when the Holy Spirit bears witness, He bears witness about Jesus. The work of the Holy Spirit, in concert with the Father and the Son, is to bear witness about the Savior—not about Himself. Therefore, when the apostles bore witness, they spent little time on the Holy Spirit. By the work of the Holy Spirit, they testified of Christ. This is important for us to understand. The Holy Spirit desires to put the spotlight on Jesus. If we unduly focus upon the Spirit instead of the Son, we are not doing what the Holy Spirit would have us do.

The second action of the Holy Spirit is that He comes to Jesus’ disciples. He comes because Jesus goes away. Jesus says: “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. Now I am going to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’  But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:4b-7).

Jesus tells His disciples that He is going away, and this news pains them. Why? Because He is going to the Father by way of the cross. He is fulfilling the plan of salvation. He is preparing the way to the Father in heaven for all who believe in Jesus. Jesus speaks these words at the Last Supper. His betrayal, suffering, death are all very near. And it is because of His cross that He will send the Holy Spirit to them.

This tells us something significant. The work of the Holy Spirit is linked with the death of Jesus for the sins of the world. If Jesus did not go to the cross, the Holy Spirit would not come and work. Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Spirit would have no means to work saving faith. This reinforces what we learn elsewhere in Scripture, and in the rest of our Gospel lesson. The work of the Holy Spirit, first and foremost, is to deliver the forgiveness of sins won by Christ.

And this leads us to the third action of the Holy Spirit: He convicts. “And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11).

The Holy Spirit convicts, and that conviction has two meanings linked together. On the one hand, to convict is to convince by producing evidence. A prosecutor seeks to convince a jury and convict a criminal by displaying evidence. On the other hand, to convict is to pronounce a verdict. The criminal isn’t officially convicted until the jury declares him guilty. The Holy Spirit does both. He convicts by producing evidence of the truth, and He convicts by declaring a verdict.

So, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, because on account of sin the world does not believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit produces evidence in order to convince people that they are guilty of sin before God. Exhibit A here is the Law of God in His holy Word, because the Law shows us our sin and our need for a Savior. And only the Holy Spirit can convict us that we are indeed poor miserable sinners, who justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.

The Holy Spirit convicts the world of righteousness—because Jesus goes to His Father. He convinces us that the righteous, sinless Son of God went to His Father by way of the cross. Having triumphed over sin, death, and the devil, Jesus has returned to the Father in glory.

The Holy Spirit convinces us that that righteous Savior has suffered for our sins, and now gives us forgiveness and clothes us in His righteousness so that we might be acceptable to God. The Holy Spirit’s evidence for this is the Gospel. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that the Gospel is proclaimed, forgiveness is given, and faith is strengthened.

Hmmm… So far, the work of the Holy Spirit is therefore to preach the Law and the Gospel, which sounds suspiciously like the doctrine and practice of this congregation. And what is the third convicting work of the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. In other words, by Law and Gospel, the Holy Spirit convicts by handing down the verdict. The ruler of this world, the devil, is already defeated at the cross and sentenced to death—eternal death. All those who refuse the forgiveness won by Christ face the same verdict—“guilty”—and the same sentence of everlasting condemnation. However, it is quite the opposite for those who hear His message of sin and righteousness and, by the Spirit’s work, believe in Jesus. To them, the Holy Spirit announces the verdict of “Not guilty”—forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ. They will have everlasting life.

And that, in a nutshell, is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is sent from the Father to testify about the Son. He convicts the world of sin by the Law and announces the redemption of Christ in the Gospel. And as He gives the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit also gives faith to believe.

Given the Second Reading and the Gospel lesson for this day, can we conclude that the Holy Spirit is at work here at Our Saviour’s/St. John’s/Trinity? Absolutely! By the grace of God, we proclaim His Law and His Gospel, and by these means the Holy Spirit is at work. By that same Word, He works forgiveness and faith in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—just as He did among those early Christians in the book of Acts.

To those who ask, we gladly concede that the Holy Spirit can do extraordinary things like tongues of fire or languages if He desires; but His foremost work is to glorify Jesus and point to Him. If miraculous signs or speaking in other languages don’t point to Christ and Him crucified, it is safe to say they do not come from the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, we don’t especially miss rushing winds or tongues of flame, for they do not give forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Rather, given the Lord’s Word and Sacraments, we have far better workings of the Spirit—for what could be more extraordinary than receiving everlasting life?

On this Day of Pentecost, rejoice! As those first Christians gathered around Word and Sacrament, so do we; in fact, to ignore the means of grace and pursue the Holy Spirit elsewhere is to snub Him. Is the Holy Spirit here? Most certainly. Does He desire more attention for Himself and less for Jesus? Most certainly not! Our focus upon Christ and Him crucified is certainly, and only, the work of the Holy Spirit. And that is why Pentecost is so important, for apart from the Holy Spirit you would not be a Christian.

We live in a time when many deny such a thing as absolute truth, and the veil of sin is too much to keep them from refuting the absurdity of their position. Others still affirm that there is a right and wrong. However, it is only by the Spirit’s work that you confess your sinfulness and need for the forgiveness won by Christ at the cross.

It is only by the Holy Spirit that you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, for it is He who has called you by the Gospel.

It is only by the Holy Spirit that you remain a child of God, because He has gathered you into the Church and keeps you in the one true faith—the faith of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you.

It only by the work of the Holy Spirit that you can be sure that you are not forsaken, that Christ has redeemed you and will deliver you.

It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that you have the confidence of eternal life; for though you grow weary, He continues to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, and keep you in the faith, so that you may be raised from the dead to life everlasting.

It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that you have the comfort of knowing that He has made you one in Christ with those who have gone before you in faith.

Apart from the Spirit, you have none of these gifts. But by the Holy Spirit’s work, the kingdom of heaven is yours for the sake of Jesus. You can be sure the Spirit is with you, because you know exactly when and exactly where He works: In the Lord’s Word and Sacraments.

Thanks be to God, who for the sake of His Son sends His Holy Spirit. For on this day, and each day, the Holy Spirit is at work to convict you of your sin and Christ’s righteousness, so that, you might repent and believe: For Jesus’ sake, 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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Holy Father, Keep Them

WordItOut-word-cloud-3030873

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[Jesus said:] Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one” (John 17:11b).

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

“The Bucket List,” tells the story of two men who have little in common except the room they share while they await treatment for terminal cancer. As their friendship develops they compile a “bucket list,” or things they want to do before they “kick the bucket.” You can tell a lot about what a person thinks is important by what they choose to say and do in their final days or hours on this earth.

Jesus is no exception. In addition to teaching His disciples about true greatness through serving, telling them one more time that He was going to return to the Father, and instituting the new covenant of His body and blood, Jesus prayed—first for Himself, then His disciples, and then for all believers to come.

In our text, Jesus prayed specifically for His disciples. The disciples were His special charges, and they needed help and strength to face what was coming. Jesus was going to leave the world and go to the Father, but His disciples had to remain in the world. So Jesus prayed for them.

“Holy Father,” Jesus prayed, stressing the reverence that is due God’s name. Then He called for the Father to keep and guard the disciples in His name. God’s name is everything we can know about Him: His person, His power, His character—His entire revelation of Himself through the Word. Here God’s name clearly implies His power that saves His followers from the forces of evil.

Jesus was given the Father’s name to guard and to proclaim in word, and to display in deed, as the incarnate Word of God. Through it all, He revealed and implemented the saving love of His Father. Now as He was completing His work, He was assigning the guarding and proclaiming of the name to His apostles.

“Keep them in Your name,” Jesus prayed, “that they may [continue to] be one as We are one.” All who believe and follow Jesus enjoy a God-given spiritual union in Him, reflecting Jesus’ own eternal oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit as God in three persons. This oneness helps us as we are sent into the world.

Jesus had used the power of God’s name to protect His disciples. It worked. They were kept safe. Not one was lost, except the one foretold by Scripture. Instead of remaining a child of God by faith in Jesus, Judas Iscariot was headed for damnation. Even as he received the bread of the Last Supper from the Lord’s hand, Satan had entered into him. At that moment, even as Jesus prayed for His disciples, Judas was betraying his Master for thirty pieces of silver.

That one of the Twelve was doomed to destruction by his negative role in God’s will for His Son is hard to understand. But let us remember: Judas was not a puppet on a string manipulated by God to be the villain in the drama of Jesus’ saving mission. He was chosen by Jesus to be an apostle out of the same gracious intention that He had for all the others. Judas was evidently a believer—but in the dreadful moment of having to choose, he chose to implement his own desire and will over that of the Lord. All of this, foreknown by God, made him the “son of perdition,” “doomed to destruction.” The lesson should not be lost on us. By the name of God, Jesus’ disciples are kept for God. But those who reject His name in unbelief are on the road to destruction.

Jesus’ time had come. He was to complete His work of salvation and return to His Father. But now while He was still on earth with the disciples, He prayed that they might have the fullness of Jesus’ joy in themselves. Just hearing the prayer would help sustain the disciples in the troubled hours ahead, and it laid the foundation for the joy to follow. Jesus’ joy was to complete the work the Father gave Him and return to His glory. The disciples received the full measure of that joy in the assurance that Jesus succeeded for them and all people.

The disciples could depend on Jesus’ Word, which was also the Father’s Word. Through that Word, Jesus’ disciples were separated from this unbelieving world and consecrated for God. They were not part of the world any longer, just as Jesus was not part of the world. They needed the Father’s protection. They would face hatred from the world for the same reason the world hated the Lord: God’s Word exposes and judges human sin as it calls people to forgiveness in Christ.

But please notice: Jesus did not pray for God to take the disciples out of the world and keep them safe. They had work to do for God following Jesus’ departure. As the disciples carried out their mission, they would face fierce, hellish opposition, no less than Jesus had encountered. They needed Jesus’ prayer.

We must never underestimate the power of the evil one. On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus made this clear to His disciples. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you [all the disciples] as wheat. When Peter declared that he would remain at Jesus’ side even if all the others left, Jesus added: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). When Peter insisted he was ready to go with Jesus to prison or death, Jesus was more blunt: “I tell you Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know Me” (Luke 22:34).

Later, St. Peter could draw from his own personal experience of the destructive power of the evil one as he wrote: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

Peter knew the sting of Satan’s bite, but he also knew the restoration of the Lord. That’s why he could continue: “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10-11).

Although Peter failed to live up to his prideful boast, by God’s grace his faith did not fail, as Judas’ had. Rather than fall into despair after his shameful denial of Christ, Peter turned back in repentance. The resurrected Lord forgave Peter and restored him to leadership, as we see in our First Lesson for today.

As you prepare to battle Satan each day, keep the following precious promise in your heart and mind: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

To this end, God also gives you His Sacraments. Through Baptism, Jesus protects you from Satan’s destructive powers. When you are baptized into Christ, the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ comes to live within you. He is someone the devil definitely wants to avoid. St. Paul explains, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

God also gives His devil-defeating power to His children in a special way in Holy Communion. Communion is more than a mere ritual of remembrance. Jesus’ body and blood are a living, spiritual medicine, which is able to suppress the devil and control the power of sin. Receiving the Lord’s Supper regularly is especially important at the time of illness and near death. Luther writes: “As long as I am living, it is necessary for me to go to the Sacrament in order to strengthen my faith so that death (in case it comes swiftly) may not scare me and cause me to despair.”

Pastors today need to explain the benefits and blessings of frequent and regular distribution and reception of Holy Communion to their people so that always and particularly, at the hour of death, these children of God may desire Communion, especially to fight the devil’s final attacks.

For every Christian, each day is a struggle against the demonic power of sin. Thank God daily that Jesus has given you another special weapon to fight the power of sin: His gift of prayer. When His disciples asked for advice on how to pray, Jesus said to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, with the confidence that God will not only hear you, He will surely answer your prayer for protection from sin and every evil.

Using prayer for protection from the power of sin is not a human idea. In our text, Jesus prays that very thing for His disciples: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one.” Jesus told His disciples also to use this divine weapon, and now He commands you: “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40).

And as you pray, don’t forget to ask for help from God’s holy angels. Angels are “ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). The psalmist writes: “[The Lord] will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all of your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

The devil may try to tempt or even destroy you, but God provides His holy angels to be present at your side at all times to strengthen and deliver you! Even when you sometimes stumble and fall, your heavenly Father sends His angels to protect and bring you new hope and strength.

No wonder, Luther, in his Small Catechism, gave this example of prayer for the head of the family to teach his household to pray each morning: “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that you have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”

Your help and only hope to overcome the evil one is in your Savior, Jesus Christ. When you are baptized, Christ lives within you to guide your thinking and to fight the devil every time he tries to tempt, control, or destroy you. Through His Supper, our Lord strengthens your faith that you might resist temptation. Just as He prayed for His disciples, our ascended Lord is at the Father’s right hand interceding on your behalf. His Holy Spirit helps you to pray that you would not be led into temptation, but delivered from the power of the evil one.

And should you fall into temptation, repent and take heart, trusting that this sin has also been paid for. You have been redeemed by the holy, precious blood of Christ, and His innocent suffering and death. Indeed, for His sake, 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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Another View of the Ascension

Ghent Altarpiece
“The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” by Jan van Eyck

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Then I saw in the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne. And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:1-14)

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.

This is an adaptation of a sermon by the Rev. James I. Lamb, former executive director of Lutheran For Life.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Three That Testify: The Spirit, the Water, and the Blood

The Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John
“The Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John” by Hendrick ter Brugghen

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“For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:7-8).

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

Is pure doctrine so important that it is worth arguing about? Worth ruffling a few feathers? Worth enduring suffering for? St. John certainly thought so. His first epistle, from which comes our text, is wholly and vigorously polemical, aimed at false teachers and the heresies they were putting forth.

Before the end of the 1st century AD, false teachers had already arisen within the Church. “They went out from us,” John writes, “but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). These false teachers had apparently established themselves as a separate community. They continued to make vigorous propaganda for their cause (2 John 7, 10), an early form of Gnosticism, which constituted a threat to the Church (1 John 2:27; 3:7).

They were a real threat, for they were very “religious” men. They were “spiritual” men and claimed the prophetic authority of the Holy Spirit for their teaching (1 John 4:1). They cultivated a high and solemn sort of piety, a piety that claimed immediate communion with God and operated with slogans such as “I know Him,” “I abide in Him,” “I am in the Light” (1 John 2:4, 6, 9), and “I love God” (1 John 4:20). They likely felt themselves, and professed themselves, to be a new elite in Christendom, the “next level of Christian.”

It was no wonder that they deceived many and that many who remained in the Church were perhaps not fully convinced that the Church had been in the right when it separated itself from them. Or there might well have been some who were still secretly attracted to this brilliant new theology.

The false teachers deceived many, but they did not deceive John. The eyes that had seen the Word of life in the flesh (1 John 1:1) saw these men for what they were. They were, in John’s clear vision, not prophets of God, but false prophets (1 John 4:1). Their words were inspired not by the Spirit of truth, but by their spirit of error (1 John 4:6). They were not the Christ’s, but the very embodiment of the Antichrist, the spirit of the Antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3), who inspires the lie.

What was this lie? They denied the full humanity of the Christ. They denied that Jesus, the man in history, was the Christ, the Son of God (1 John 2:22; 4:3), who had come “in the flesh” (1 John 4:2). We get a hint of how far this denial went in the words of John that state positively the significance of the Christ who came in the flesh: “This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood” (1 John 5:6).

These words are in themselves somewhat obscure, but they become clearer against the background of the heresy of Cerinthus and his followers, of which Irenaeus has left us a description (ANF 1:352). Cerinthus taught that Jesus was a man among men, a superior man but still merely a man, the Son of Joseph and Mary. At His Baptism, the heavenly “Christ” descended upon Him in the form of a dove and enabled Him to reveal the hitherto unknown God and to perform miracles. At His Passion, however, “the heavenly Christ” again left Jesus, and only Jesus the man suffered and died. In other words, the Christ came “by water” (the Baptism of Jesus), but did not come “by blood” (the Passion and death of Jesus).

With this false theology, the cross of Jesus, the shed blood of the Son of God, which the apostolic witness celebrated as the crown and culmination of the ministry of Christ, was thus ignored or relegated to the background. The blood of Jesus, the Son of God, was no longer the blood that “cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Where the cross is not taken seriously, sin is no longer taken seriously. Men, whose proud piety centers in their assumed knowledge of God and ignore the cross in which God has revealed Himself as both the Judge of sinful man and the Forgiver of sinners, can think of sin as something that need not concern them. They can say, “We have not sinned,” and thus make a liar out of God, who has in the cross declared all people have sinned (1 John 1:8, 10) and has in the cross given His Son as the “propitiation… for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

Such a piety is more palatable to this world than the truth. The offense of the cross is gone, and the lives of Christians are no longer a walking indictment of the sins of the world. The world that does not recognize the children of God (1 John 3:1), but rather hates them (1 John 3:13), can come to terms with these men and with the Christ whom they proclaim, because He is a toothless lion, not much different than the next holy man or cult leader or self-help guru. St. John says of these heretics: “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them” (1 John 4:5).

Over against these men and their teaching, John asserts, the full reality of the incarnation, the eternal Word becoming flesh, the fact that life and communion with God are to be found in Jesus, the Christ, who came and died for people’s sin in the flesh, or they will not be found at all. John meets the danger that threatens the Church by a powerfully positive restatement of what the Christian life really is, a passionate appeal to recognize in action the full measure of the gift and the full extent of the claim of that grace of God which has given us fellowship with the Father and with the Son.

John had been an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry, His Passion, death, and resurrection, and ascension. In the introduction to his first epistle, John tells us how he had seen and handled and touched the body of the resurrected Christ, and that life is found only in fellowship with Jesus Christ.

But notice how the apostle does not rely solely upon his own testimony: “This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:6-8).

Because so much of the way God deals with people is subtle and indirect, because so much of our life with God is hidden (Colossians 3:3), and because Satan and his false teachers seek to lead us astray, we believers are vulnerable to doubts and misbelief. Amid competing viewpoints, how can you tell who is telling the truth? How can anybody be sure of anything about God?

The Lord Himself long ago established for the Israelite courts a procedure for determining the truth (Deuteronomy 17:16; 19:15). The procedure was to find two or three objective witnesses besides the plaintiff. Jesus Himself used that format as He established His claim as the Savior before a skeptical crowd of His countrymen: “If I alone bear witness about Myself, My testimony is not deemed true. There is another who bears witness about Me, and I know that the testimony that be bears about Me is true” (John 5:31-32). Jesus cites John the Baptist as His witness, and then cites His heavenly Father, whose booming voice at the time of His Baptism publicly affirmed Jesus as His beloved Son.

As to what specifically John means by “the Spirit and the water and the blood,” there are three interesting interpretations. Each has some merit, and I think the full answer is in a combination of the three. Let’s consider them briefly.

For many centuries, going back at least to Saint Augustine in the 5th century, many Christians assumed that “water and blood” was an allusion to the separated fluids that ran from the pierced side of the crucified Savior. John was right there by the cross at the time, and in his Gospel account, he immediately points to those separated fluids as proof that Jesus Christ was truly dead, proof that the sacrifice for the world’s sins had truly been made. He wrote: “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of His bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on Him whom they have pierced’” (John 19:35–37).

John’s point in our verse, then, is to contradict the false teachers’ claim either that the death of Christ never happened or that it was only the death of Jesus but not the death of the heavenly “Christ” that happened on the cross.

A second possibility appeals to many commentators. They understand the words water and blood to refer to the beginning and ending of Jesus’ public ministry. Cerinthus and the other gnostic teachers denied the two natures of Christ, claiming that the “Christ” from heaven simply came down and rested on the man Jesus during His teaching ministry. They were more interested in Jesus as a teacher of morality than as the personal sacrifice of God’s Son for the sins of the world.

John’s references to water, then, would be to Jesus’ Baptism. At the Jordan, the Father’s voice boomed out His authentication of Jesus’ identity as His Son and His approval of the Son’s mission. The reference to blood would be to the crucifixion, where the words of Jesus and signs and wonders that occurred at His death convinced even a Roman military officer and his execution detachment: “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).

Another interesting and scriptural possibility for the meaning of blood, water, and Spirit is that they are references to the means of grace—Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Word of God. These three things, after all, are our lifeline to Christ. This is how we know. The Scriptures are the foundation for everything we know about God. They alone bear sure witness to the creation, fall, promises, incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. What better way to drive doubt from our hearts than to go to the Word!

The sacraments personalize the Gospel in a most wondrous way. There is no mistaking, who is receiving God’s grace when the water of rebirth and renewal splashes on someone’s head in God’s triune name. There is no mistaking for whom God’s love and forgiveness are intended when the body and blood of the Lord Himself are placed right in someone’s mouth.

Do you see why all this is important? Why allowing this error to gain traction would be so deadly to your faith? Because if it was not Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God incarnate, both true God and true man, all the way from His birth to His Baptism to His suffering and death to His resurrection and ascension—if it is not this one and the same Jesus who is your Savior, then you have no Savior!

If Jesus were just a man—a really righteous man perhaps, who suffered and died on the cross—well, good for Him, maybe God would reward Him. But that wouldn’t do you any good. On the other hand, if Jesus is indeed the very Son of God, and He sheds His holy blood for you and for all the other sinners of the world—well, then His suffering and death have infinite value, sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world and to win your forgiveness and thus your eternal life.

Which He does. And because He has, you are covered and cleansed by Jesus’ holy blood. Indeed, 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 Blessings of Life in the Fear of the Lord: A Homily for the Blessing of the Marriage of Greg & Jessi McCormick

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“Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways!” (Psalm 128:1).

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

Greg and Jessi,

Almost six months ago, we met for a similar, though much smaller, gathering, as you were joined together in the union of holy matrimony. In the sight of God and before your parents and grandparents, you pledged yourself, your faithfulness, to one another, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death parts you, according to God’s holy will. You were pronounced to be husband and wife in the eyes of the state and of the Church.

Today, you will not repeat those vows, for they have been made once and they are for a lifetime. So, we are not gathered here today so you can have the wedding of your dreams—whatever that may we be. Neither are we here for the party—though I’m sure the reception will be wonderful. And I’ve heard that the band for the dance is pretty good, too.

No, we are gathered here today, to ask for the blessing of God upon your marriage. Realizing that you both, like each one of us, is a fallen son or daughter of Adam, appreciating the highness of such a calling as marriage, understanding the importance of God’s blessing upon all our endeavors, and realizing the need for God’s continuing guidance and provision, you have invited your family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, to join you for this solemn and joyous occasion.

You have heard again God’s plan for marriage from Genesis and Matthew. St. Paul has reminded you how your love for one another is intended to be a reflection of the mystery of Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church.

In a few minutes, before God and His people, you will give your wholehearted pledges that you will live your marriage in God’s name, according to His Word, within His favor, and without reservation, daily seeking His blessing on your union.

And, finally, you and I and the rest of the congregation will pray that God would grant you always to live within His love and protection so that no sin or trial may separate you, but draw you closer to God and each other, even to the fulfillment of all your promises in Christ. In short, you’ve come today to seek God’s blessings!

Psalm 128, is both a promise of blessing and a prayer for blessing, centered upon the gifts which God gives us in our everyday lives, especially in our families. It begins: “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways!” (v.1).

If, as the psalmist tells us, the blessings of life are found in the fear of the Lord, then it seems that it would be a good idea to ask and answer an important question: What is “the fear of the Lord”? After all, we usually associate fear with something negative; and it is difficult for us to imagine how fear could bring a blessing.

The Hebrew term can mean to be afraid of someone or something. And the phrase, “the fear of the Lord,” often carries with it the fear of judgment. But the word fear can have other shades of meaning. When referring to a person of high position, it takes on the idea of standing in awe or reverence before that individual. God wants us to fear Him in this sense. He is our Creator, and He is our Savior. He is our Lord and King. How can we ever think of God with indifference or treat Him lightly?

This fear is closely related to trust because we can truly respect and revere God only when we believe that He is truly everything His Word says He is. Understanding “fear of the Lord” as trust helps us understand other enigmatic Bible passages such as Psalm 130:4: “But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.” To know and trust what God has done for you in Christ Jesus is the ultimate blessing.

Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, becoming one of us so that He might take your place. Jesus lived the perfect obedient life that you could not. He died on the cross to pay for your sins. He rose again for your justification. Ascended to the right hand of God, He intercedes for you before the Father, even as He is with you always to the end of the age in His Word and Sacraments. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you are cleansed of your sins, adopted as God’s children, and clothed in Christ’s righteousness. In His Supper, He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through His Word, He continues to call you to repentance, to faith and forgiveness.

Once you have this “blessing,” this “fear of the Lord,” many other blessings follow, including fruitful labor, prosperity and fruitfulness in the marriage, family, Church, and nation. And one of my personal favorites: grandchildren!

Your relationship to God is not, nor should we ever think it is, a quid pro quo situation. God does not deal with us according what we have done for Him. Thank

God, He does not. There is no, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” No, God provides for each of us according to His grace and mercy, without any merit or worthiness on our part.

The Lord certainly does give His gifts, including family, long life, and daily bread, to those who fear Him. But He also gives these things to those who despise Him. The difference in the blessings of those who fear the Lord and those who do not fear Him is that those who fear the Lord have the added blessing of knowing where their gifts come from. The others attribute their blessings to luck, false gods, or their own hard work. All these things are undependable. Even hard work does not always pay off. The Lord, however, is dependable, and you can trust in Him to provide you  with all you need daily for your body and life.

Greg and Jessi, I thank God that you have chosen this occasion to ask His blessing upon your marriage and family. And given all the blessings, we’ve spoken of today, it seems especially fitting that I close this message with a blessing.

May God grant you the blessings of life in the fear of the Lord. May you seek to live always in the grace and forgiveness of our Lord. May Christ’s love so fill you that your love for one another would never weary but grow and strengthen through every joy and sorrow shared. May you always see one another as God’s special gift and blessing. May you find fulfillment and fruitfulness in the work of your hands, your God-given vocations. May you be blessed with many children, as many as the Lord sees fit to give you. May you be blessed with a long life together, watching your children, and your children’s children grow. May the blessings of your family flow to this nation and all of God’s people. 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 Window of Opportunity

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“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26).

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

You’re probably familiar with the idiom, “a window of opportunity.” “A window of opportunity” is a phrase used to describe a limited time when things are especially ripe to accomplish a particular task or achieve a particular goal. For example, many early childhood development experts speak of “windows of opportunity” when the brains of infants and toddlers are more open to learn skills like foreign languages and mathematics. Medical researchers use “window of opportunity” trials in which patients receive one or more new compounds between their cancer diagnosis and standard treatment to try to gain further insights into the disease and potential treatments.

You and I come across “windows of opportunity” in our daily life as well. Farmers are looking for “a window of opportunity” to get their crops put in between rain showers or to sell their products at the highest price. Some of you might look for “a window of opportunity” for job advancement, making a sale, or gaining a new client. And parents have “a window of opportunity,” when they can influence and direct their children before sending them out in the world.

But have you ever thought how “a window of opportunity” might be a good way to describe a situation in which you might share your faith in Christ Jesus? Such “windows of opportunity” occur when God opens doors to share His love with others. There are times when people are more receptive to the Good News we have to share about Jesus. But like other “windows of opportunity,” they don’t last forever. So it would be good for us to learn to recognize and seize them when they come.

In our text, Philip seized a “window of opportunity” provided by God to tell an Ethiopian about Jesus. Philip was one of the deacons chosen to assist the apostles. When the believers were scattered after Stephen’s martyrdom, he preached the Gospel in Samaria and it was received with “great joy.”

Then the angel of the Lord came to Philip with special instructions: “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Philip, who had just done miraculous signs and preached the Gospel to hundreds in Samaria, was sent a long way to open the Scriptures to one individual soul.

Obediently, Philip headed down the desert road. By God’s providence, he met an Ethiopian official who believed in the true God. Having made the 200-mile journey to Jerusalem to worship, it’s obvious that he was committed to his faith and desired to learn more of God’s will. But he must’ve wondered about his own religious status. As a foreign eunuch, God’s law in Deuteronomy 23:1 excluded him from full membership and barred him from entering the temple.

But the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah promises something better when the day of the Messiah would come. “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose the things that please Me and hold fast My covenant, I will give in My house and within My walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:3–5).

While we can’t be certain, perhaps this is why the man was reading the book of the prophet Isaiah. He wanted to know if he had a place in God’s kingdom, and what that place might be. Whatever his reasons, this “window of opportunity” was surely arranged by the Lord. God had prepared this pupil for his new teacher.

As Philip stayed near, he found the perfect “window of opportunity” to tell the good news about Jesus. “Do you understand what you are reading?” he asked. The question was not meant to insult, but was intended to draw out the man’s religious position and conviction. It’s a question that all Bible readers ought to keep in mind. It’s far too easy to just read the words without understanding their meaning and connection with other Bible passages.

The Ethiopian answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” This doesn’t mean the Bible can’t be understood without an expert’s interpretation. It simply shows that beginners can use some help in learning how to read and understand the Bible. That’s what we have Bible studies for—not just for the immediate learning, but to learn how to study God’s Word personally.

The Ethiopian invited Philip to sit beside him. He was reading Isaiah 53:7-8: “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people.”

This was the Gospel of the Old Testament—a beautiful and clear account of the Messiah’s willing sacrifice. But its meaning was hidden from the Ethiopian because he did not know how it had been fulfilled. So he asked, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or someone else?”

And Philip, full of the joy of the missionary who finds an eager inquirer of the truth began to explain. The Ethiopian couldn’t have found a more suitable text, for its subject was the Messiah. Philip had a fine opportunity to talk about Jesus.  That He was the Suffering Servant, the innocent Lamb of God, who was silent before His enemies and judges. How He was falsely accused, wrongly convicted, and sentenced to die unjustly.

Jesus is the Servant who fulfills in His passion, death, and resurrection all the Scripture passages about the Messiah. Jesus is the Servant who has brought the day when foreigners and eunuchs are not barred from the assembly, but are wholeheartedly welcomed into His body and are given His everlasting name.

And while Philip was still picturing the glories of Christ in glowing colors, they came to some water. And the Ethiopian, half in eagerness and half in fear, pointed to the water and said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” While he was hesitant to dare believe he could have full benefit of God’s blessings, the eunuch wanted very much to be baptized.

His question demonstrates the centrality of Baptism in Christian preaching and teaching. Jesus’ Great Commission directs the church to “make disciples” by baptizing and teaching the Good News to all nations. And that is what Philip did. He first taught the Ethiopian and then baptized him, making him a disciple of Jesus Christ. And suddenly, Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord.

The Ethiopian went his way rejoicing. He was no longer dependent upon his teacher. He had heard the essential facts that enabled him to understand the Scriptures. In Baptism, he had received Christ’s everlasting name, and was made a full member of His church. According to tradition, he went home to share the good news, establishing the church in Ethiopia.

Philip was sent to a new “mission field.” He appeared in Azotus and preached the Gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. Mission and ministry are never finished on earth. One conversion does not mean the end of work in the harvest fields. It continues, day and night, in many different people and locations. When God closes one window of opportunity, He opens another!

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian offers valuable insights for our own Christian faith and life. First, the Ethiopian understood the harsh truth of separation and spiritual ignorance. He had been excluded from full membership in the religious community because, as a eunuch, he was considered unclean. And until Philip pointed him to Jesus, he lacked a complete knowledge of God and His plan of salvation.

But all people are ultimately separated from God because of sin. All of us are by nature sinful and unclean. And because of that nature, no one has a saving knowledge of God and His will. No one can understand His saving Word. But that all changes when we are brought to faith in Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and Word. By faith in Him—in His death and resurrection as God’s solution to our need—we know God’s plan of salvation. Jesus willingly offered Himself, the perfect sacrifice, for the sins of the world. We are His chosen people, saved by His mercy and grace.

Second, the Ethiopian recognized his own need. As Philip proclaimed the truth of God’s judgment upon sin and His call to repent, the eunuch, like the first converts at Pentecost was “cut to the heart.” He believed God’s Word. He felt His guilt. The Spirit was at work in his life. He repented and asked to be baptized.

All people are separated from God because of sin. By nature, no one has a saving knowledge of God and His will. Yet Christ is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and plan. He lived the perfect life we cannot. He died to pay the penalty for our sin. And through repentance and Baptism He makes these ours.

Baptism brings us into a new relationship with the living God. It is God’s appointed means to forgive sin and strengthen His people for service in the Kingdom. In our Baptism into Christ, we are connected with His crucifixion and resurrection. We share in His death, that we may also share in His life—now and forever. And knowing God’s plan of salvation, we are motivated by His love to seek windows of opportunity in which we can tell others of His love for them.

One of those “windows” is coming up soon. We’ll be holding an Every One His Witness Workshop, where we will learn how to be more effective witnesses of Jesus in our everyday life. We’ll also be hosting several community outreach events, like the Trosky Carnival and Our Saviour’s Block Party. Vacation Bible School is a wonderful opportunity for our congregations to reach out to the children in our area. Take the time to invite the children in your family and neighborhood to join us. Each of these is a “window of opportunity,” a time that is ripe for sharing the Gospel. I encourage you to seize it. But it’s very likely that your “window of opportunity” is probably something we couldn’t even begin to imagine. God likes to surprise us. Look for your “window” this week!

We must humbly confess that in the past we’ve neglected to seize many of the “windows of opportunity” that we’ve had to share our faith. For those failures, we repent. But we rejoice in the forgiveness Jesus earned for us on the cross, which covers all sin—even that sin of neglect of His Word and failure to love our neighbor. Renewed by His Holy Spirit, we pray that we would go out as witnesses and givers of mercy. And that we would be empowered to boldly seize whatever new “windows of opportunity” we may encounter in the mission field of our own world. May God grant this to us all! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. 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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Is the Lord My Shepherd?

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The Lord is my shepherd—or so I say. But is He really? Is the Lord my Shepherd? Am I His sheep?

I say that I shall not want… not want anything beyond what my selfish heart desires, that is. I often covet that which He has not seen fit to give me, even though He promises to give me all that I need to support this body and life, and freely gives me all the gifts that I need for eternal life, including faith and forgiveness, grace and peace, His Word and Sacraments.

The Shepherd makes me lie down in green pastures, but look, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence! He leads me beside still waters, knowing well that His sheep cannot safely drink from swift streams, but I see still more exciting places where I’d love to drink my fill. Besides, I’ve never been a very good follower, preferring to do things my own way.

But the Shepherd restores my soul, squelching the wanderlust within me that moves me to live life the way I see fit. He leads me in paths of righteousness when I want to run in the open fields of the world—eating where and what I want to eat, associating with whom I choose to associate, doing whatever I want to do, serving my own appetites, living like the beast I am. Or, just as dangerous, those times when I try to walk the path of my own righteousness, my own good works, my own attempts at self-justification, rather than trusting in the perfect righteousness of Christ that alone justifies me and opens for me the way to eternal life.

The Good Shepherd leads me for His name’s sake, but I want to make a name for myself. I want others to like me and respect me, to look up to me. I want others to envy me, to speak ill of me if they wish, but secretly to covet who I am and what I’ve done. I want to get my own 15 minutes of fame, my time in the sun, and I’m willing to go to great lengths to make it happen.

Oh, I must tell you: I find the Shepherd’s rod restrictive and His staff stifling to my animalistic heart! Come valleys of the shadow of death, come storm and wind, hail and rain, I shall fear no evil, for I know the lay of the land, I can take care of myself, and I’m not sheepish about telling you.

So I, so you, so we sheep, boast in the psalms we sing from our untamed ovine hearts. We do not really want a Good Shepherd but a hireling, one who does not own us, who has no personal stake in us, but who answers to our whims. We want our precious freedoms—freedom to walk in unrighteous paths if the end justifies the means; freedom to pull the wool over men’s eyes, twisting every story to paint ourselves in the best light, lying when we ought to confess, telling tales of others’ sins to make our own wool seem that much whiter in our own eyes.

Repent. For you are sheep going astray. Return to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. For the freedoms you crave are slaveries in disguise, chains that hell’s butchers cast around your neck to pull you under the slaughterhouse blade. The strange pastures you long for lead only to wandering, wilderness, and wolf, to darkness, death, and destruction.

The Lord is your Good Shepherd. And all He wants is you. You who so often turn your back on the fold and its shepherd? Yes, you. You who have cursed His staff, ignored His call, and gone your own way? Yes, you. You who have been more like a wolf than a sheep, angrily tearing away at those around you? Yes, the Good Shepherd wants only you.

So much does He want you and me, He became one of us. For us, who are but dust, He who is God of God came down, was beaten down Himself, and beat down Satan under our feet. For us, who are sheep that love to wander, the Lamb of God is bound to the altar of the cross in order to bind us to Himself. For us, whose mouths are open far too often, He opened not His mouth like a Lamb that is led to the slaughter. Now we listen to His voice.

The Lord is with us. The Good Shepherd does not send His sheep into places He will not go Himself; He leads us and is with us always. The hired hand sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep at its mercy, and flees. He lets the wolf snatch them and scatter them, because he cares nothing for the sheep.

Our Good Shepherd goes right after the wolf, attacks him, and rescues us from his jaws. When the lion of hell rises up against Him, our Shepherd seizes him by his beard and strikes him and kills him. No, more than that. He rescues you, but not as the shepherd David did with club or sling and smooth stone. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for you that He may take it up again. He lays down His body between you and the satanic wolf, between you and the lion of hell, and He gives Himself over to be devoured. The beast of Hades licks up the blood of the slain Shepherd, chews His flesh, and gulps Him down.

But that which the beast wolfs down cannot be digested in the tomb of the stomach. And when He who lays down His life takes it back again, that tomb cannot contain Him. The Good Shepherd vacates the stomach that had entombed Him for three days, leaving behind Him a predator that you, O little flock, need fear no more.

Shall you fear the wolf of hell with his burst belly, his broken teeth, and his howls of his own defeat? Shall you fear what mere mortals think of you when God Himself calls you His child, His friend, His beloved? Shall you fear that your rebellious ways have separated you from God when He makes you bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh? Have no fear, little flock, for He who is known by the Father knows you, calls you by name, and has made you His own.

And, as St. Paul reminds us:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31–39).

The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, for by the humiliation of His Son, God raises up our fallen world. The Good Shepherd raises you up from the pit into which you have fallen. He places you upon His shoulders and rejoices to carry you home. He washes you in cleansing waters, binds up that which was broken, and heals all your wounds. He prepares a Table before you and anoints your head with oil, and His chalice continually runs over—over your lips, over your sins, quenching your thirst while making you yearn for more. All this He does for you, solely out of His boundless goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you, but for the sake Jesus’ holy, innocent bitter sufferings and death.

Is the Lord my Shepherd? He most certainly is! He is your Shepherd, too. And because He is the Good Shepherd, you are His good sheep. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, covered with His righteousness, He gives His life for you and makes your life His own and His life your own. He becomes what you are, in order to make you what He is—holy, righteous, and blessed.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you, shall precede you, shall be on your right and on your left, above you and below you, all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the fold of the Lord forever. Safe in the flock of His Church, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, 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.

This sermon is an adaptation of a sermon by Chad L. Bird, published in his book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons.