Behold the Man! A God Who Hungers

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

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Devotions & Essays, Sermons

Christ's Glory & the Prophetic Word

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“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:16-19).

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

God has a history of revealing Himself on mountains. Moses came face-to-face with God and heard Him speak from a burning bush on Mount Horeb. The fire indicated the presence of God. God’s presence was confirmed in the Word that God spoke from the bush. God’s presence made this ground holy (Exodus 3:5).

Later, when Israel fled from Egypt, the glory of the Lord dwelt with them on that same mountain, also called Mount Sinai. Moses assembled the people and told them all the words of the Lord and all the rules. All the people answered with one voice: “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain, where they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings to the Lord. Moses consecrated the altar and sprinkled the people with blood and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord had made with you in accordance with all these words (Exodus 24:1-8).

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders went up, and they saw the God of Israel. “They beheld God, and ate and drank.” At the Lord’s command, Moses went up further on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which God had written for their instruction. A thick cloud appeared over the mountain for six days. And on the seventh day, the Lord called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Similar to the time Moses first met God, “The glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people” (Exodus 24:9-17).

Centuries later, again on a high mountain, the Lord reveals Himself to Peter, James, and John. Jesus is transfigured before the apostles’ eyes. His face shines like the sun, revealing the glory of God. Jesus’ clothes are as white as light. Moses and Elijah appear, representing the Law and the Prophets, announcing—in effect—that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scripture.

While the prophets are speaking with Jesus, a bright cloud overshadows them. A voice from the cloud says, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The apostles see, and then they hear. That they had not heard at the Baptism of Jesus, they hear now: “Listen to Him.” Moses had foretold that God would raise up a prophet to whom the people should listen (Deuteronomy 18:15). Jesus is that prophet. He alone knows the Father, who has handed over all things to His Son (Matthew 11:27). Listen to Him!

Upon hearing, the apostles immediately understand this is holy ground, and they are in the presence of the Holy One. They hit the dirt, their faces to the ground, overcome with fear and awe at what they see and hear.

Jesus comes over and touches them, moving them out of their dazed state with this human gesture. “Rise, and have no fear,” He says. They cautiously lift up their eyes and see no one but Jesus only in His normal, everyday appearance.

Now the disciples know that where Jesus and His Word are, there is a holy place. This is really a glimpse of heaven. Peter and his fellow apostles are eyewitnesses of an awesome sight, and Jesus reveals to them the glory of His presence. God is where Jesus is—in Christ and the prophetic Word.

In our Epistle, St. Peter encourages the Christians of Asia Minor to remain faithful to Christ and His Word in the days to come. He knows his time on earth is not long and he wants to remind them of what they have been taught.

All of us forget things. Information slowly drains out of our brains each day. Sometime forgetfulness is cute or harmless. But forgetfulness can get embarrassing or costly, like missing an appointment, running out of gas late at night, or skipping an important medication dosage.

Sometime forgetting is ugly and dangerous, as when a spouse “forgets” that he or she is married and slides into adultery. Or when church leaders “forget” that they are servants and start bossing people around as if they were lords.

And sometimes forgetting causes spiritual sickness and even death, as when people forget that they are by nature sinful and unclean, forget the expensive rescues by which Christ lifted them out of hell, forget about the prince of darkness and their other spiritual enemies, or forget to put on their spiritual armor and pick up their spiritual weapons.

Peter wants to strengthen and encourage these Christians. Unlike the false teachers, he does this not by bringing in all kinds of new teachings but by reminding them of teachings from God’s Word, which they already know. And he wants to make sure their memories will be continually refreshed even after he dies.

How can this happen? By writing this letter down, for one thing. A written letter can be read and reread and taught to others. For another, Peter might be alluding to the apostolic practice of recruiting and training new workers for the kingdom who will keep the remembering process going. Or possibly he is referring to the remembering he did to help St. Mark write his Gospel of the life of Christ.

The churches in Asia Minor are forgetting the true source of their information about God and are drifting into uncertainty about what to believe. False teachers are exploiting the people with their own made-up revelations and are promising the people pleasure and “freedom.” But there are not many truths; there is only one truth (verse 12). And so, Peter reminds them about a certain event on a certain mountain involving three disciples, two prophets, and one Messiah:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

  All attacks of Satan on the Church sooner or later come around to this—an attack on the apostles and prophets of the Lord as true and authoritative sources of information about the Lord. That attack is as old as Eden: “Did God really say…?” The new breed of teachers who are demanding attention in the Asia Minor churches are disparaging the reliability of Peter, the other apostles, and the written message of the Old Testament prophets.

Peter recognizes the deadly peril. They are denying the power and coming of Jesus Christ. They are leading people to doubt that Jesus really does possess and exercise God’s power, that He really does enter people’s lives and work on their behalf. They are leading people to think that Jesus will never come back, that they are not accountable to Him for their beliefs and lives. The bitter irony is that the very people who are accusing Peter of making up cleverly invented stories are the ones making up cleverly invented stories.

Peter reminds them that he had been present at the transfiguration, surely one of the most significant events in Jesus’ life. The transfiguration is not some cleverly devised myth. No, he and James and John were eyewitnesses. They were allowed to see something no other human being would see before Judgment Day—the true glory of the Son of God.

Jesus was transfigured before them, glowing with the brightness of the presence of God Himself. Surrounding the shining Savior was a bright cloud, which Peter calls the “Majestic Glory.” In the Old Testament, “the glory of the Lord” refers to an appearance of God in cloud and fire to mark a significant advance in His plan of  salvation. In addition to the appearance of God to Moses and the people of Israel already mentioned, God appeared to Abraham in a smoking firepot. On the day of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, the glory-cloud filled the temple. In this way the Lord signified His approval and His actual presence among His people.

When the glory-cloud blazed around Jesus on the very high mountain, the Father was demonstrating His approval of His Son’s person and work. He also showed that through Christ He was present on earth among His people. Peter declares, “I saw those things happen,” not to brag but to demonstrate his authority to speak on Christ’s behalf. Unlike the peddlers of self-invented notions, he was an eyewitness.

Peter was also an earwitness. He saw the glory; he also heard the voice. Three different times during Christ’s ministry, the voice of the Father had boomed over His dear Son: once at His baptism in the Jordan, where John the Baptist anointed Him for His Savior work; once during Holy Week, when the Father confirmed that Christ’s work was indeed bringing Him glory; and once on the very high mountain up north, in front of three terrified disciples and the two great Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. The glory and the voice forcefully proclaimed the Father’s love, approval, and pleasure and greatly strengthened Christ in His determination to go to the cross for sinful mankind.

They also strengthened the certainty of the apostolic eyewitnesses. The disciples’ faith in Christ was sometimes shaky, as is ours, because we are disappointed by the subtle, hidden way in which Christ comes. The manger, the cross, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper promise the victorious Christ by faith, not by sight. But Peter did see, and hear, once. He never forgot, and he didn’t want his friends to forget either. He wanted them to grow in their certainty of what they believed. Jesus really is who He says He is; He really does what He says He will do; and He really gives what He says He will give.

Peter wants his readers to remember where they will find true comfort and certainty in the years to come: “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19).

At a time when many people claim to be speaking for God, it is reassuring to know that there is a written, unshakable source of spiritual information and authority—the timeless truths of written Scripture.

Satan is the prince of darkness, and everybody who works for him knowingly or unknowingly spreads his darkness. In Satan’s darkness, some people are proud of their own goodness, hostile to the idea of needing a Savior, and satisfied that they can figure out right and wrong by themselves. Some in the darkness feel despair and fear, knowing that they are evil, but not knowing that there is a Savior for them. And some simply do not care about spiritual things; apathy rules their hearts. Like animals, their highest concern is satisfying their appetites. Satan uses false teachers to push Christians into these kinds of darkness.

God’s written Scripture will never lie; it is absolutely dependable; we can lean our lives on it. The best way for Christians to grow in the certainty of what they believe is to go back to God’s written Word. God’s Word is a light that shines in a dark place. It illumines our minds and hearts. We do well to pay attention to that Word, for it alone drives back the darkness and confusion of hell. As the Word does its work, the glory that shone from Christ and the Majestic Glory of the Father now shines in us. The day of grace dawns; the Morning Star rises.

In popular astronomy, the planet Venus is sometimes called the morning star. It is, of course, not a star at all. But it reflects the sun’s rays just before dawn, and its light is a sure sign that night is almost over and the day is at hand. Jesus is called the bright Morning Star in Revelation 22:16. His coming into the world signals that the power of the night of sin, sickness, death, and hell has been broken and will soon be over. His Word reflects His light. His people wait longingly for the full revelation of the Son of God when He returns to take us home.

In the meantime, He is still with us in His means of grace.

In the holy mountain of the altar, Jesus comes to you, inviting you to eat His body, which is given to you in the bread. To drink the cup, the new testament in His blood, which is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. And to do this “in remembrance of Me.” There, in, with, and under the bread and the wine you behold God, eat and drink His real presence.

At the font, Christ washes away your sins, clothes you in His robe of righteousness, and gives you the gift of His Holy Spirit, forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Through contrition and repentance, you live in your Baptism, daily putting to death the old Adam so that the new many may arise to live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever.

In Christ’s Word of forgiveness preached to you, in the Holy Absolution applied to you, you have the forgiveness He won at the cross.

Here, in this holy place Jesus reveals the true God to you—that same forgiving presence of the Lord—wherever His Gospel is purely taught and His Sacraments are rightly administered.

Here, in this holy place, hidden in water, wine, bread, and the voice of God’s called and ordained servant you will find Christ’s glory. Here is the prophetic Word more fully confirmed that always points to Jesus. Here is the One who came to save the world by His death on the cross. Here is the One for you, Who brings you salvation and eternal life, in Whom you are forgiven for all your sins.

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

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

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Sermons, Uncategorized

The God Who Takes Sin Seriously

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

As one hears the Old Testament reading, you can clearly see a God who takes sin seriously. So seriously that it is a matter of life or death, good or evil, blessing or curse. Through His servant, Moses, the Lord God issues a warning and a promise to the people with whom He had chosen and established a covenant relationship based upon His grace:

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-18).

What’s more, such blessing or curse, life or death, good or evil are not just for this life, but have eternal consequences.

Yes, the Lord who spoke through Moses is the God who takes sin seriously!

“But that’s the Old Testament!” some will say. “Everything has changed. We’re more enlightened now. Let each of us find the way to love and happiness that’s best for us. Don’t you dare impose your morality on me!”

And so, the proclamation of the Law has been largely silenced in society. Just to our north in Canada, a pastor can be found guilty of hate speech for saying that the Bible condemns homosexuality. More and more, it is becoming illegal simply to repeat what the Bible says.

But that shouldn’t be so surprising. Unbelief always attacks the Law of God. But the devil’s target ultimately is not the Law. It’s the Gospel. See, if the Law isn’t preached, it’s so much easier for people to deny that they’re sinful. If they don’t know they’re sinful, then they see no need for the Gospel.

But there’s also another danger that’s infected much of Christendom. Extensive studies of “Christians” in America show that what they really believe in is what has been labeled “moralistic therapeutic deism.” “Deism” means they believe that God exists, but that He’s pretty distant most of the time. “Therapeutic” means that they believe that you only need to involve God in your life when you’re in trouble, when you need help and healing. And “moralistic?” That means that Christianity is about being moral, being nice. It’s all about how you live.

That means that a stunning number of “Christians” believe that they can keep God’s Law well enough to please God. This can only mean that God has softened up over time, that He’s not quite so serious about sin or enforcing His Law anymore. After all, some will say, He used to strike people down on the spot for sin or call for people to be stoned to death for immorality. But that’s not the case anymore, so clearly God has changed how His Law is to be used. But God takes sin seriously. He hasn’t relaxed His Law, softened it up or dumbed it down. His Law is not something that you can keep. That’s the point! Its primary purpose is to show you your sin and how much you need Christ and His forgiveness.

We are not the first generation to say that God has softened up over time. It was happening at the time of Jesus, too. The Pharisees claimed to have a high regard for the Law. But, since they taught that people were saved by doing good, the rabbis tended to interpret God’s laws in ways that made them keepable.

When Jesus preached the Sermon of the Mount, He wasn’t changing God’s Law by either making it harder or dumbing it down. He was teaching the disciples what God had intended all along. This is the Law He still intends for you today. So, it doesn’t matter what “you’ve heard said” by others; what matters is what Jesus says to you. He is the God who takes sin seriously.

Jesus begins: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Anger, insult, and murder. A sin of thought, a sin of word, and a sin of deed. You can see how this progression often plays itself out in real life. Most homicides occur among people who know one another, are often related, or even romantically involved with each other. They are not premeditated, but crimes of passion: someone gets angry, so someone insults, and someone gets murdered.   

Now, in this world, anger, insult, and murder are three different things that merit very different punishments. Anger might punish you with a loss of friends if you can’t control it. An insult might get you a civil suit or libel—or a huge following on Twitter. Murder, on the other hand, invites serious prison time, even the death penalty. So, they’re different sins with different temporal consequences. But to God all three sins are the same. They all bring judgment, even the hell of fire. All three have the same sinful root. If you commit any of these sins, you’re not loving your neighbor. You’re wishing or inflicting harm on him instead.

All three sins also put you at odds with God. No matter what your neighbor is like, God loves him or her so much that He has given His Son to die on the cross in order to redeem them. You cannot hate your neighbor and still love the Lord. Anger is a fire that seeks to destroy your faith. Repent of it. When it flares up, repent of it again. If you’ve got something against a brother, go and be reconciled. If they’ve got something against you, go and be reconciled. But do not ever believe that you are justified to remain angry at someone for whom Christ has died.

The Lord is the God who takes sin seriously.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Lust and adultery. There’s obviously a progression there too, often by way of pornography. There are varying degrees of consequences too. Lustful thoughts are among the most common of sins, while adultery destroys marriages, lives, and the future of children. Yet in a sense, they’re all the same to Jesus. All of them lead to hell. And lust and adultery share the same sinful root. God is the Creator of each person. He gives to each beauty and body as He sees fit, as well as the ability to help bring life into the world—what power and privilege! He also places great worth on each individual. With regard to a person’s body and procreative powers, God declares to each, “You are of such high worth that, before another can be intimate with you, he or she must promise before God and man to be faithful to you for the rest of your life.” That’s what those marriage vows are about.

Lust devalues others. By lust you determine that someone is an object to be used, not a neighbor to be served. It doesn’t matter if that “neighbor” is willingly devaluing herself and inviting the sin. Who are you to confirm her in her sin? She is also one for whom Christ died: who are you to encourage her to impenitence?

Flee lust. It is destructive enough in its consequences for this life. Far worse, it will destroy your faith. You cannot rob others of the worth God gives them—even just in your own mind—and at the same time embrace the worth that God gives you in Christ.

This is a difficult sin to flee from, because it often doesn’t feel like disdain or harm. And you always carry your sinful heart and lustful eyes with you. Perhaps this is why Jesus goes on to say, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

We have a God who takes sin seriously.

On a related note, Jesus goes on: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

This is a difficult one to speak of because it’s such a sensitive and painful subject, especially for those who have suffered it. It’s very likely that there is not one person here whose family has not experienced the effects of divorce.

We should note that Jesus is especially warning against a casual approach to divorce. In His day, as in ours, the common presumption in society was that divorce is not that big of a deal, and the important thing was just to carry it out in the right way. Against this, the Lord’s authoritative voice thunders! Divorce is sin! Divorce shatters a union that God intends to be permanent. Planning one, especially scheming to bring one about, is going to do serious damage to faith.

Should marriage be in your future, choose carefully. If you are married now, work hard in service to the other. Where sin threatens marriage, repent and pray. If you’re ready to give up, don’t. God hates divorce. Speak to your pastor. He can help you apply God’s Word to your situation. And if you have undergone divorce, please know that you are not forsaken. It’s a tangled web to sort out and it will almost certainly include grief and repentance. But God is faithful.

Finally, in our text, Jesus says, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

 Aside from those oaths that He permits (like marriage vows and court testimony), Jesus warns against taking oaths. To swear an oath by God is to bind Him to your promise, and you don’t have His permission to do so. To swear by heaven or earth is to use His creation as collateral, and you don’t have His permission to do that, either. If you break your oath, you communicate to others that misusing God’s name itself is no big deal. But to take God’s name in vain is to break the Second Commandment and invite God’s condemnation. That God doesn’t strike you down doesn’t mean He’s softened up. Rather, it means He is patient and merciful, so that you might repent before the Day of Judgment.

Anger, murder, lust, adultery, divorce, oaths: some we would call “big sins,” others we would call “little sins.” All have consequences in this life, and that is a blessing because those consequences are meant to warn you of the greater consequence of hell if you hold onto these sins and do not repent. Ultimately, that’s what makes them all the same. That’s what Jesus says.

He is the God who takes sin seriously.

We have a God who takes sin so seriously that He sent His only-begotten Son to die on the cross in payment for our sins and to bring us forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. We have a God who takes sin so seriously, He took on human flesh and bore our sin, lived a holy, righteous life resisting all temptation and willingly gave Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Where you and I deserve God’s righteous anger for our sins, God took out that wrath on His Son on the cross instead. Jesus has suffered the judgment, the condemnation and the hell of fire in our place. He endured the mocking and scorn and false accusations of His enemies. Though you are guilty of anger and insults, hell is not for you because Christ forgives you. Even if you are, literally, a murderer, Jesus has laid down His life so that you might have life forever.

Where you have reduced and demeaned others by your sins of lust, you have also demonstrated your poverty of sin. But Christ has died for you, too. The holy Son of God has given you worth—you’re worth the price of His own innocent, precious blood. Rather than live for Himself and His own gratification, Christ offered His hands and feet to nails and His back to the scourge in order to atone for your sin. He’s suffered for you in His body already. He gives grace freely. For your adulterous thoughts, you are forgiven.

When you have undergone divorce, it probably still chews at you because you know your sin, your part, and you’ve got to live with yourself. Confess your sin, for you hear this Gospel that Christ has died to lay down His life for His bride, the Church, of which you are a part: and though you or others prove faithless, He is always faithful with forgiveness for you.

Likewise, there is forgiveness for you where you have misused God’s name and broken your word. Though you demonstrate your failure and faithlessness, the Lord remains faithful. He has made good use of His name to baptize you and continues to speak His Absolution to you in His name. He gives you His Word that He forgives you for all of your sins, and the Lord always keeps His Word.

Dear friends, as Jesus demonstrates in our Gospel, the consequences of sin are devastating—but they need not be for you. Christ chose to be cursed on the cross in your place that you may be blessed. Christ chose to give Himself into death that you might have life, eternal life. Christ chose to take on your evil and overcome it so that you might receive good. In Him, your sins are all the same—gone, remembered no more! For 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.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Presented to the Lord

“The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple” by James Tissot

“And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22).

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

To better understand our text, we must first go back to the time shortly after the first Passover, about 1446 B.C. The Israelites had been in slavery in Egypt for 400 years. But God had not forgotten them. He sent Moses as His spokesman, warning Pharaoh again and again, “Let My people go.” Pharaoh stubbornly refused, so the Lord sent nine plagues to persuade him that rebellion against God is a very foolish thing. Finally, the Lord declared that He would come through the land and take the lives of all the firstborn males of Egypt, both man and beast.

Every firstborn would die… unless. The Lord declared to His people that their firstborn sons could be saved. They were to take a lamb without blemish and sacrifice it. They were to put the blood of the lambs on the lintels and doorposts of their homes, and they were supposed to roast the lamb and eat it for dinner. The people of God followed His instructions about His Passover to the letter; and when the Lord came through Egypt to take the lives of the firstborn males, He passed over every dwelling marked with the blood of the lamb and spared those inside.

The tenth plague—the death of the firstborn—finally moved Pharaoh to submit, at least temporarily. He ordered the people of Israel out of his land. As they left Egypt, the Lord commanded them to remember the Passover every year. He also said, “Consecrate to Me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is Mine” (Exodus 13:2). The firstborn males of animals were to be sacrificed as an offering to God. The firstborn males of the people were to be redeemed, consecrated to God.

As God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, He gave them His Word in the Torah, often called “the Law of Moses.” These five books, the first five in our Old Testament, tell how God brought His people out Egypt, how He led them through the wilderness, how He made a covenant with them, and how He established and regulated their worship. In addition to the instructions for the consecration and presentation of the firstborn that go back to the Passover, God also gave laws and restrictions for keeping Israel separate from the nations as the people from whom the Savior would come.

Among those regulations was the ritual purification of mothers after childbirth. When a baby was born, the mother was ceremonially unclean. This was not because procreation itself is sinful. It is indeed the will of God, a command and a blessing. God told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). The inspired psalmist said, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3), and “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord” (Psalm 128:3,4). The Israelites thought of children as a blessing. In fact, in ancient Israel, childlessness was considered the height of misfortune and even a judgment from God. No, it was not the birth itself that made the woman unclean, rather it was the discharge of blood that occurs following birth.

The ritual passage began with the birth of the child. Immediately after that had occurred, the mother remained in social seclusion for a week if she had given to a son or for two weeks if she had given birth to a daughter. Following a ritual washing, she was free to resume her normal domestic role in the family.

This period of social separation for one or two weeks was followed by a longer period of ritual quarantine. If she had a male child that lasted an additional thirty-three days; if she had a female child, it was sixty-six days. During this time, she was not allowed to have any contact with the sacred domain. She was not considered to be unclean, but neither was she considered to be ritually clean because she was not allowed to touch any holy things in her household, such as meat from a peace offering or anything that had been dedicated as an offering to the Lord or, if she was the wife of a priest, any of the holy food from the sanctuary.

The period of religious quarantine was concluded by an act of sacrifice. The woman who had given birth to a child offered a lamb as a burnt offering and a turtledove or pigeon as a sin offering (Leviticus 12:6). If she was too poor to afford a lamb, she brought another bird instead (Leviticus 12:8). She entered the sacred precincts and brought the offerings to the priest on duty at the entrance.

These two sacrifices performed two specific functions. Through the rite of atonement with the blood from both sacrifices, the woman was cleansed from any impurity that she had incurred from her flow of blood (Leviticus 12:7). Through the burning up of the lamb on the altar she was accepted by God and reinstated as a member of the congregation. She was once again ritually clean. She therefore had access to God’s holiness and His blessing. That meant, too, that she was once again open to the gift of another child from Him.

The observance of this rite of passage had a profound impact on the life of every mother. It connected her life as a mother with her participation in the divine service and her reception of blessing from God. Negatively, it ensured that she did not become involved as a woman in pagan practices of the fertility cults. Positively, it affirmed her status as a full member of the holy congregation and recognized her role as a bearer of blessing from God. The original language in Leviticus 12:2, literally calling the mother a “seed-bearer,” hints at this connection between her vocation as a mother and her call to holiness. Moreover, the continuity and survival of her family—and, more broadly, of Israel—depended on her and her access to the blessing gained from the presence of God in the sacred domain.

The description of the mother as one who “produces seed” recalls the promise to Eve, the “mother of every living person” (Genesis 3:20), that her “Seed” would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). God repeated to the patriarchs His promise that through the Seed of Abraham all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18). The apostle Paul expounded the fulfillment of this promise about the “Seed” by Christ and in all those who are baptized into Christ and thereby become the “seed” of Abraham (Galatians 3:15-29).

Over 1,400 years after God gave His Law to Israel through Moses, the Seed of the woman is born in Bethlehem. On the fortieth day, Mary and Joseph come into the temple in obedience to the Lord’s command. They bring Jesus to the temple for the first time to include Him in her purification. Since Jesus is her firstborn son, He is presented to be consecrated to God at the same time.

That she offers the sacrifice of two birds, helps us to understand that Joseph and Mary were likely of a “humble state” (Luke 1:48), that is, too poor to be able to afford a lamb. On a theological level, no lamb was necessary because already here at forty days old, Jesus is the Lamb brought to His temple for sacrifice.

No mention is made of Jesus’ redemption then or later. Jesus’ life is consecrated to the Lord in the fullest possible way. Luke quite deliberately connects Mary’s purification to Christ’s presentation, for she was purified by her son—as are all the saints—for access to the heavenly sanctuary. The purification of Mary is celebrated on the day of the presentation of our Lord on February 2nd of each year. On this day, the Church prays for cleansing by Christ so that, like Mary, the people of God may be brought and presented to Him with clean hearts.

Jesus is the firstborn in many ways. Colossians 1 calls Jesus the firstborn of creation, for the eternal Son of God is now incarnate, born of Mary. Colossians 1 also calls Him the firstborn of the dead, because the One who was once the Sacrifice for sin is also now the risen Son of God. Crucified for the sins of the world, He lives again to give life forever. And now the Spirit is at work calling you to faith, interceding on your behalf, conforming you to the image of God’s Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

Like Simeon, you, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the Word of God, know of Jesus. You know that the Son of God became flesh, lived, and died for you. By faith, you also know where to find your Savior: as the Spirit pointed Simeon to the infant Jesus in the temple, so He points you to your baptism, to the Word, and to the Supper. There your Savior is found, present with forgiveness and life. You hear the Word. You receive Christ’s body and blood. It’s no wonder that, after the Supper, you sing Simeon’s song—because the Savior is just as body-and-blood present with you as He was with Simeon when Simeon held Mary’s firstborn in his arms. And so you may depart in peace.

As you do, what does the Lord call you? Firstborn.

Hebrews 12:23 calls the Church “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,” and you are numbered among them. Like the firstborn sons of Israel in Egypt, you have been saved from death by a sacrifice of blood: the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Like the firstborn of Bible times, the inheritance of the Father is yours: The Lord declares that the kingdom of heaven is yours. This is so because Jesus, the firstborn of creation has joined you to Himself in Holy Baptism; there, you were adopted as sons of God. For the sake of Jesus, you are sons of God, heirs of the kingdom, and God is your Father who works all things for your good, even as the Holy Spirit is at work conforming you to the image of the Son.

It is not your doing. It is not your righteousness or works or obedience or sacrifice that make you an heir of the kingdom of heaven. But it is yours because, as our Epistle reading for today reminds us, Jesus Himself partook of flesh and blood, that through death He might destroy the one who has power over death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. To help us, the seed of Abraham, Jesus was made to be like us, His brothers, in every respect, so that He might make propitiation for our sins (Hebrews 2:14-18) that you and I might be presented to the Lord, adopted as His sons, justified and sanctified, co-heirs of His kingdom that has no end.

Redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead, you are among the assembly of the firstborn, for 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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The Place Jesus Calls Home

“The Calling of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew” by James Tissot

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“Now when [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali” (Matthew 5:12-13).

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

When Jesus hears that John has been arrested, He withdraws from the region around the Jordan into Galilee, heading northward after His wilderness conflict with Satan. Jesus is not running away, but He Himself will choose the times and ways to confront those who seek to destroy the work of God’s gracious reign.

More importantly, Jesus withdraws into Galilee and leaves Nazareth, His hometown, in order to take up residence in Capernaum by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali. This happens in order to fulfill Isaiah’s words from our Old Testament reading. The light of the Christ has begun to shine in Galilee. Jesus is about to begin His ministry of preaching and teaching and healing on behalf of the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Jesus’ preaching is precisely the same as John the Baptist’s: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John proclaimed such a message as the one who had come to prepare the way of the Lord. Jesus proclaims the same message as the Lord Himself who has come to free the people from their exile in sin and to bring God’s end-time salvation already now into the present.

Jesus addresses the lost sheep that are the house of Israel. Though there are certainly members of the faithful remnant who have never lost true faith in the God of Israel, the spiritual condition of the whole nation is essentially one of “lostness.” The call “Repent!” is then a call to conversion, to move from sin and unbelief to repentant faith and salvation.

When Jesus grounds His call to repentance with the declaration that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” He is proclaiming that the reign of God, expected on the Last Day, is beginning already now on the earth. The “kingdom of heaven” is not primarily a place. It certainly is not a group of people or an organization. The kingdom of heaven is the reigning of God—in Jesus, in history. Wherever you find Jesus, you find the kingdom of heaven.

There is an “already” and “not yet” quality to God’s reign breaking into history. The kingdom of heaven has not yet fully arrived, with all its power and salvation. At the same, however, Jesus, the Son of God, is already here, and He is bringing a salvation that will avail on the Last Day. The time is urgent, and those who refuse what Jesus offers will seal for themselves a judgment on the Last Day.

With the kingdom of heaven at hand, Jesus calls His first disciples. Four men are specifically named: Andrew and Simon Peter, James and John. They are all fishermen. Jesus speaks, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately leave their nets and follow Him.

Some, concerned to show how such a dramatic response by the four could be more reasonably understood, have focused on the fact that at least some of Jesus’ first disciples had come already into close contact with Him in Judea before He returned to Galilee. However, to try to make the fishermen’s response to Jesus humanly reasonable or understandable misses the point. No one becomes Jesus’ disciple by his own initiative. Jesus calls, and only then can and do people respond.

To what are the four fishermen responding? What do they know and believe? Although the evangelist does not tell us specifically, the context provides a strong indication, so obvious that it might be missed. Jesus has just begun to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The four believe, even with only faltering faith, that Jesus’ preaching is true! They have begun to acknowledge their need for conversion, their need to be saved, and they have begun to believe that through Jesus, the kingdom of heaven has broken into Israel’s history. They have begun to repent and to believe.

The fishermen leave their former lives and follow Jesus. It is easy to find either too much or too little significance in this aspect of their response. On the one hand, commentators at times almost speak as if the disciples clearly understand what discipleship might personally cost them and are willing to pay that price. A quick reading of the Gospels shows how wrongheaded it is to make that much of their response. The disciples do not yet understand fully who Jesus is or what He has come to do, and they understand neither what Christian discipleship nor (in their case) apostolic ministry will eventually cost them.

On the other hand, there can be no doubt that just as Jesus had begun to preach and call disciples to Himself, so these disciples are given, through His preaching and call, the beginning of the understanding that none of their old priorities and relationships will ever be the same or will ever again possess primary importance. But the four do not know the implications of this as yet. There will be many occasions, even up to the time of Jesus’ ascension, when Jesus’ disciples show that they have not grasped or appropriated all the ramifications that His call will have for their lives.

Do you find our text difficult to relate to? It offers such wonderful things—a world encompassing ministry, miracles and healings, disciples dropping their nets to follow Jesus—but these things are so distant from our daily lives, aren’t they? When you work all day during the week, have your children in school, and pay a mortgage on your home, how can you identify with the disciples who drop their nets to follow Jesus? Have you really left everything to follow Jesus?

Upon closer reading, however, Matthew offers a careful correction to such questions. The point is not so much whether you can identify with the disciples but whether Jesus identifies with you.

Matthew begins with very specific details. A specific place: Capernaum. A specific prophecy: Isaiah. A specific proclamation: Repent. Specific disciples: Peter and Andrew, James and John. Such specificity is part of a larger mission. Light shining in the darkness. Jesus proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease. Great crowds following Jesus.

The beauty of this account is found in the specifics. The eternal reign of God breaks into our world in specifics. The ministry of Jesus has to start somewhere, and He chooses to work from Capernaum. The death and resurrection of Christ will take away all boundaries. Sin, death, and the devil—nothing can separate people from God’s love. This means that Jesus can enter any territory and call the place home, including backwoods Capernaum in Galilee. Jesus can go into any life and from that life bring discipleship, including among some uneducated fishermen.

In the beginning of His ministry, Jesus chooses to make His home in Capernaum. So much so that later, Matthew says He comes back to “His own city” (9:1). While Jesus indeed travels throughout the region of Galilee, there is a place He calls home. While the disciples indeed leave their family and fishing, later we find them eating in Simon Peter’s house (8:4). The world-encompassing mission begins with specific people in a specific place.

This is the wonder which is present in the calling of the disciples. Not how they drop their nets to follow Jesus, but that Jesus does not need to go far to find disciples. He chooses the people He lives among, the place He makes His home. Such is the power of His love.

Capernaum was a fishing village on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee. Since Jesus lives in a city by the sea, we find Him walking on the shores of Galilee and interacting with fishermen. If He were in the financial district of New York, He would interact with people in the banking industry. If He were in Silicon Valley or Seattle, He’d meet computer nerds at the coffee shop. If He were in rural Minnesota, He would interact with farmers in the field and feed store. Jesus makes His home wherever He chooses. Jesus calls those He lives among. He begins with a specific people who live in a specific place. The power of God’s grace means He can bring anyone from any walk of life into His kingdom.

This is the work of God that continues among us today. He chooses to begin with specifics: You. There was a specific day He made you His child. Perhaps it was when your pastor held your head over the baptismal font that your discipleship began. You did not leave your parents but grew up in the family. You learned how to follow Jesus even as you learned how to get along with your brothers. What matters here is not the drama of discipleship, dropping nets, and leaving family, but the wonders of God’s particular love.

In this world where death reigns because of sin, Jesus makes His home, calls His disciples, be they in Pipestone or Jasper or Trosky or Afghanistan. He brings with Him forgiveness and victory over death. This victory is missed by many, because again the Lord comes quietly, mercifully. He spread this grace and victory around Zebulun, Naphtali, and Galilee by walking from town to town, preaching His Word; and this is how His evangelism still happens today. As people talked of Jesus and Christians told His Word to others back then, so they do today.

While the Lord can accomplish His will without us, He delights to use us as His instruments in the spread of His salvation. People hear the Word and come to Church to hear more, to be instructed in the ways of the Lord. Believers gather to hear the Absolution, to be baptized, to receive the Lord’s body and blood.

It looks ordinary but know this: The Lord’s work will ordinarily look ordinary. After all, He created this world and set it up to run normally according to His will: therefore, because the Lord’s will is the normal way of doing things it will look normal. Rather than have bread fall from heaven each day, He ordains that seeds sprout and grow into grain that is harvested, ground, and baked; but as He uses farmers and bakers to supply bread, it is no less the Lord’s plan. Likewise, He delights to give forgiveness in His Word and His Sacraments—Word, water, wine, and bread, and they appear quite normal because that’s how the Lord normally saves. This is no less a miracle than if the Lord started zapping individuals with salvation via lightning bolts from heaven.

The Lord’s way of evangelism will seem ordinary, and it may even seem inefficient as the Church plods toward eternity. But of this we are comforted as well: Christ Jesus will not fail to send forth His Word to save all who will believe. He will not lose one of His beloved children. And as He fulfills that promise, you and I have the privilege of being His instruments.

Jesus continues to make His home among His people, wherever they are, with life and salvation—because He has shed His blood and given His life to win that gift. That is the message of Epiphany, and that is the purpose of evangelism. In this dying world, the Lord of life makes His home. He comes in human flesh to die our death and set us free. He come in His Word even now, to forgive your sins and give you His victory over the grave. Indeed, 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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The Word of the Lord Remains Forever: Sermon for the Funeral of Millie Ahrendt

Millie AhrendtClick this link to listen to this sermon:

Danny, Steve, and Toni, family members and friends of Millie:

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

The loss of a loved one is never an easy thing to endure. It seems that we are never ready for that to happen and yet, it does happen. I’m not telling you anything new. Many of you know that more personally than I. And no matter when it happens, it’s hard to know what to say. Our words fail us. Often they do not help, but unintentionally irritate the wound. For none of our words can bring our loved one back. And memories can be wonderful, but they are a weak substitute for having them with us.

And so, on this day as you seek a word of comfort and hope, I will direct to the Word of God—which is the only thing that gives comfort and hope that can be trusted and that can live forever. Listen now to the words of the Holy Spirit as written by Peter in his first epistle:

You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.” And this Word is the good news that was preached to you (1 Peter 1:23-25).

I chose this passage for today partly because, in addition to her love of family, her fresh baked pies and cookies, her quick wit and infectious laughter, one of the first things that most people seem to recall about Millie is how she really enjoyed mowing the lawn and taking care of her flowers and garden. As late as this last summer, even with her eyesight failing so she could not drive her car, Millie was out on her lawn mower mowing her grass and making an occasional trip to the Jasper Mini Mall.

But I think it also speaks of a deeper truth, that though someone may be blessed with 94 years of life, as Millie was, the time is coming for each of us when we will cease our earthly labors and our earthly life will cease.

All flesh is like grass—it withers and the flower falls. Indeed, all our earthly life is like the grass which eventually dies, whether it is cut down green in the prime of life or holds on until the cold of winter. And on this day, we do not have to think very hard, nor look very far to be convinced of this—the mortal remains of one who was with us just a few days ago is all the evidence we need.

Sometimes it is frightening to be reminded that the way of all flesh is as it is before us today. And yet, we do not view death as a spectator who observes all of this from a distance. No, we are not a spectator at all—we are participants! And knowing that can bring terror to the heart and a lump to the throat.

People go through their lives trying to ignore the reality of death by going about the business of the day. Then comes a day like today when we are confronted with it. We can try to escape it by living a good life, exercising, eating right, following the doctor’s directions, but it is not to be put off for long. The truth be told, each of us is only a heartbeat away from the grave.

In the midst of such a condition, God, in His infinite mercy intervened. Just as we are not merely spectators, but participants, so also God Himself did not remain a spectator. That is where the Christmas scene of the Babe of Bethlehem comes in. The Lord knew that no man could save himself because all people were corrupt. Only God Himself could be the Savior—and that is just what He did when He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and made man. His life and His death and His resurrection were done for all people—they were done for you!—in order that you might be claimed as one of His children.

That is what God’s Word is. It is the promise that for those who trust in Jesus, their loving and personal Savior, death will have no dominion over them. On the Last Day—at the sound of the trumpet—the resurrection of the dead will take place. The faithful will be brought before the very throne of God and will behold the Lamb of God and will eat from the tree of life and will drink water from the river which flows from the throne. God will wipe away every tear. There will be no more death nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain, nor getting old. Peter’s words are true: The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of God remains forever.

Is there such a word of comfort and consolation for Millie which I can give you today? Oh yes indeed. Millie was brought to the living waters of Holy Baptism. And knowing that Baptism is the beginning of her relationship with the Lord, she later publicly confessed that faith in the Rite of Confirmation and promised to remain faithful to God and His Church until death.

Like each of us, Millie didn’t keep her promises perfectly. But God is always faithful to His promises and provided her with His Word and Sacrament. Just a few weeks ago Millie joined us for chapel and Holy Communion at Sunrise Village. She heard the Word of God that brings salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life. She received the medicine of immortality—the very body and blood of her Savior Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the Word of God abides forever!

And what do we say of those now left behind? What about you? Is your life one of worship and praise unto the Redeemer? If it is, thank God and continue to stay close to your Lord and do not let anything nor anyone get between you and your God. However, if you have slowly drifted away, or slipped into the habit of forgetting about the Lord, or, have never known Him, don’t let another week go by without worshiping Him—don’t let another day pass without trusting in Jesus—don’t let allow another hour to fade without a prayer for God to renew your life—don’t let your life slip away from what the Lord wants you to have through His Son Jesus Christ.

For just as surely as we know why we are here today, so also will a group of people be gathered as they will remember each one of us individually, as we will be called to present ourselves before God Almighty. Don’t enter into eternity without confessing and trusting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus once stated with great seriousness: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

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.

Sermons, Uncategorized

God's Servant from the Womb

Click this link to listen to this sermon:

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

It is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, the season of the year in which we focus on Jesus revealing Himself as God Incarnate, the Savior of all mankind. It is also Sanctity of Life Sunday. So, it is fitting that our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 49, is serving double duty today. Let’s focus especially on verses 5 and 6:

And now the Lord says, He who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him; and that Israel might be gathered to Him—for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and My God has become My strength—He says: “It is too light a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Do you see the connection? This Servant will “bring the preserved of Israel” and will be “a light for the nations,” that is, the Gentiles. That’s Epiphany! And He will be called and formed “from the womb.” That’s sanctity of human life from the womb to the tomb. Which brings to my mind two important questions: Who is this Servant that God formed from the womb? And why does it matter that He did call and form Him from the womb?

Over the centuries, a great deal of debate has raged over the identity of this Servant. If we look carefully, we will see that He will identify Himself clearly.

 The Lord called Me from the womb, from the body of My mother He named My name. He made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He hid Me; He made Me a polished arrow; in His quiver He hid Me away. And He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:2-4).

Some suggest this Servant is Cyrus. God chose him before his birth, and through His prophet, God even mentioned him by name. God does say that Cyrus is His anointed, but the other identifying marks do not fit the Persian king. In verse 3, the Servant is called Israel. Cyrus could never be called Israel for he was not of Israel but only used by the Lord. The importance of Cyrus can be documented in ancient history and in what he did for Israel, but he did not bring salvation for all to the ends of the earth. We must look for someone else.

How about a prophet sent from God? God said of Jeremiah who appeared after the time of Isaiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). But no single prophet could be called Israel. How could any prophet restore the tribes of Jacob and bring salvation to the ends of the earth? A prophet might announce such blessings, but he could not accomplish them himself.

Some have suggested that the Servant is the nation of Israel. Certainly, the nation was described as the Lord’s servant (Isaiah 42:19). But Israel was anything but a good example as a servant. The nation turned away from the Lord and despised His servants, the prophets. Israel itself needed rescue and help. In addition, the Servant mentioned here is a single person. He has a mouth, and God calls Him from His mother’s womb. No, we must look for someone else.

Who else but the Messiah fits the description here? God chose Him before birth. From the beginning, God’s plan for the deliverance of the world involved the coming of one person. God told Adam and Eve this person would be the Seed of a woman. Throughout the long history of the Old Testament, God promised the coming of such a deliverer. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all anticipated the coming of that one deliverer. God promised David that such a deliverer would come from his family. Isaiah identified Him as a child, born of a virgin. All the prophets pointed to the coming of that one Great Servant who would deliver His people.

Only Jesus fits that description. God set Him apart long before His birth. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, is born in time of a woman. The words of Jesus are often like a sharp sword cutting away pretense and unbelief, exposing sin, then applying the healing balm of God’s grace for sinners. Jesus is the reason God had chosen His people Israel. He is the true Israel, who will bring glory to God and who stands in dramatic contrast to the historical Israel as the obedient Son.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem to “save His people from their sins.” He will also be “a light for the Gentiles.” Through this Servant, Jesus, God provides deliverance for all humanity. And it will all begin from the womb.

Why from a womb? If you were God and wanted to restore your people, if you were God and wanted to bring salvation to the “end of the earth,” if you were God and wanted to defeat sin, death, and Satan, if you were God and wanted to be glorified in all of this, why enter the world from a womb? Why not arrive on a white horse wielding a flashing sword accompanied by legions of angels and blazing chariots? Why from a womb?

The Word of God before us today provides answers to this question. God will teach us that the Messiah will be called from the womb to identify with and to bring salvation for all humanity.

Why from a womb? First, it took a womb to properly equip the Messiah for the task of bringing salvation to the “end of the earth.” In the prophecy that is our text, Jesus Himself speaks to us. He tells us that the Father, “formed Me from the womb to be His Servant.” God formed His mouth “like a sharp sword” and made Him like a “polished arrow.” The Servant’s task required a human body.

If Jesus, God’s Servant, was to be “wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5), then He needed a back to feel the scourge, hands and feet to receive the nails, and a side to be pierced by the spear. If He was to pour out “His soul to death” (53:12), He needed a human soul. He needed lungs to stop breathing, a heart to stop beating, and a brain to stop functioning. If He was to be “an offering for sin” (53:10), He needed blood to shed. 

Being formed in a womb made these things possible. After His miraculous conception by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus grew and developed in His mother’s womb just like every human being. His heart began beating at around twenty-four days. Blood flowed in His veins at thirty days. He produced brain waves at forty-three days. About this same time His lungs were nearly developed. By seven weeks He had little feet and little hands complete with fingerprints. By eight weeks He, like all of us, was a small-scale baby one-and-an-eighth inches long and weighing one-thirtieth of an ounce.

In order to be a “light for the nations” and to bring salvation to the “end of the earth,” the Servant Jesus must suffer and die. In order to suffer and die, Jesus had to become a human being. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15). It took a womb to do that.

It also took a womb to be the beginning point for the task of bringing salvation to a fallen world. Jesus says, “The Lord called Me from the womb, from the body of My mother He named My name.” The path of salvation that would lead to the “end of the earth” had to begin in a womb. He who would be the “light for the nations” had to begin His life in the darkness of His mother’s body.

The womb was an absolutely necessary place to begin. Here’s why:  Jesus’ ancestor, David writes: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Since our humanity begins at the moment of conception, our sinfulness begins at the moment of conception. Because our sinfulness begins at the moment of conception, our Savior from sin had to begin His sinless life from the moment of conception. To be our Savior, Jesus took our place, not only on a cross and in a tomb, but also in a womb. It was necessary for our salvation that the Servant Jesus be called “from the womb.” 

It does seem strange though, doesn’t it? Instead of coming to save us with legions of angels and blazing chariots, our God came hiding in a womb! We see this “hiding” language in our text. Jesus would have a mouth “like a sharp sword” but “in the shadow of His hand He hid Me.” Jesus would be like a “polished arrow” but “in His quiver He hid Me away.” Sometimes God accomplishes His will visibly and powerfully, but other times God accomplishes His will by hiding. That is how He accomplished our salvation.

Jesus did not come on clouds in blazing glory. He hid in a womb. Jesus did not come as a king but hid as a servant. Jesus did not come to live in a palace but hid as someone who had no place to lay His head. Jesus did not come as a judge to condemn but hid as a teacher of truth in whom there is no condemnation. Jesus did not come to defeat earthly enemies by leading an army. He came to defeat Satan and sin and death by hiding on a cross. It was in all this that God was glorified.

Still, it does seem strange that God would choose to accomplish His will by hiding. It seems like such a difficult way filled with humiliation and pain and suffering. The Servant Himself questions the way of hiding. We hear Him in our text, “I have labored in vain; I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity.” We hear Him in Gethsemane, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death … My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:38-39). But we also hear Him in our text: “yet surely My right is with the Lord, and My recompense with My God” and in Gethsemane “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 16:39). The way of hiding isn’t easy. But when it is God’s way, then it is the right way, the necessary way.

Why from a womb? It took a womb to equip the Messiah with the human body He would need to suffer and die and rise again for the salvation of the world. It took a womb as a necessary starting point to bring salvation to the world.

That leads us to our final point and our main point. It took a womb for the Messiah to identify with and bring salvation for all humanity. This is the message of Epiphany. Jesus did not come just for a certain ethnic group or for people with a certain skin color or for people with a certain mental capacity. He came to be light for all the nations. He came to bring salvation to the “end of the earth.” In today’s Gospel, John points to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

As an embryo developing in His mother’s womb, Jesus identifies with humanity at the point which is the very essence of “sameness.” Although individual characteristics are there genetically from the moment of conception, outwardly we are all the same. You cannot look at an early embryo and discern whether it is male or female, black or white or red or brown. You cannot look at an early embryo and know his or her intelligence or athletic ability. You cannot look at an early embryo and tell whether he or she will be a person with a particular disease or disability. As embryos, we all looked the same!

And guess what? Jesus looked exactly the same! Jesus looked just like all of you. Jesus looked just like people from Africa or the Near East or the Far East. Jesus looked just like people from Mexico or Guam or Russia. Jesus looked just like people in care centers and group homes and mental hospitals. As embryos in a womb, all humanity looks the same. Jesus came as an embryo in a womb to identify with all humanity and to bring salvation for all humanity. That’s the message of Epiphany. That’s the message of Christ’s Church all year long.

How remiss we would be as Christ’s Church if we were to exclude certain people from the message of salvation. Thank God we belong to a church body that never says, “We’re not sending missionaries to that country. You know how those people are.” We never say, “We’re not going to start a church in that part of town. Those people will never listen any way.” No, we belong to a church body that understands “those people” are people for whom Jesus died and rose again. We belong to a church body that boldly proclaims the message of salvation cross-culturally, to all nations wherever and whenever God gives opportunity.

However, we do live in a country that still openly discriminates against a certain people group. This discrimination is so entrenched and so widespread that it can even deceptively draw God’s people into its bigotry. We live in a country that says people not yet born are not really people and have no rights including the right to life. After forty-five years of this prejudice, many in the Church have forgotten the humanity of the unborn and, without even thinking about it, exclude them from the message of salvation.

But Jesus did not exclude them! He became one of them. Every embryo in a womb is an embryo for whom Jesus entered a womb as an embryo. Every embryo in a womb is part of humanity for which Jesus suffered, died, and rose again. Every embryo in a womb not only has the right to life but is someone for whom Jesus paid to have eternal life. God formed Jesus in the womb and God called Jesus from the womb so He could bring salvation to all humanity.

That is the message of Epiphany! This is the message that can change the course of this country when it comes to the value of human life. This message gives value to those not yet born and about to enter this life. This message gives value to those who are frail and about to leave this life. It gives value to the young woman in a crisis pregnancy for it speaks of God’s forgiveness and love and strength. It assures her she is not alone and enables her to make a choice that is best for her and her baby. This message speaks compassionately and gives value to those who have made an abortion choice and are now dealing with its guilt and regret. This message speaks to them as it does to us all, for we all have sinned. It says, “You are precious in His sight! Jesus entered a womb, lived, suffered, died, and rose again for you. He made things right with God for you. God, in Jesus, forgives your sins regardless of number or magnitude. 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.