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Sermons, Uncategorized

Jesus Is the Resurrection and the Life Even Now

“The Resurrection of Lazarus” by James Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the Resurrection on the Last Day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die’” (John 11:21-26).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even as you consider your own mortality or mourn those who have died in the faith. Those who died in the faith are not dead, because the Lord is not the Lord of the dead but of the living. Their bodies rest in the grave for now, but they live even now with Christ. You have His promise: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though He die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” It is true for the saints who have gone before us, and it is true for you.

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

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

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

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

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

 Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

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

Devotions & Essays, Sermons

Jesus Sees a Man

“Christ Heals the Blind” by El Greco

Click here to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jIS3TQPVo318W9cdn2QZhls1GdPCVeVo/view?usp=sharing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermons, Uncategorized

They’re Not All the Same

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

Click here to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WJ006cGz0rtGqKYe9XbXtyhwFBpoJ9ib/view?usp=sharing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Devotions & Essays, Uncategorized

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

“Moses and the Brazen Serpent” by Luca Giordano

Click here to listen to this devotion: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xbhc3Yw6Mxp0lzfdUXlo_FFpRIiFV00p/view?usp=sharing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a strange way to save somebody, but it’s true! On the cross, Christ exchanged His perfect righteous and obedience for our sin and disobedience. He redeemed us, lost and condemned persons, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true!

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

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

Sermons, Uncategorized

Behold the Man! A God Beaten

Listen to this sermon here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1TuGxqGbDCn7q9WpS-YgTYoiX34kNIfHs/view?usp=sharing

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

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Behold the Man! A God Who Prays

Click here to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1g4rNq1lH_IUCkipXGM0Tn7KdqFt6C2wK/view?usp=sharing

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

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The Teacher Has Questions

“Nicodemus Visiting Jesus” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Click here to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/134K3HJIYgDATS5bQcL5tgRrjbSx5Lfxv/view?usp=sharing

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

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

John 3:16. The Gospel-in-a nutshell. You have seen it plastered on billboards, tagged on buildings, spray painted on railroad cars, printed on eye black strips, and held up in the endzone of a nationally televised football game. This verse has become a public fixture of Christian efforts to evangelize the world. By putting this verse out there, people hope others will read the Bible, encounter Jesus, and believe God sent His Son into the world to save them.

This is good. Anything that puts people into contact with God’s Word is a good thing because the Spirit works through the Word. But today, we come and encounter this Word in church. Here, it is not plastered on a billboard or held up in the endzone. No, here, it is spoken privately in a late-night conversation.

Sometimes, God’s Word works in a private and personal way. When you see this verse painted on a building, it is public and, unfortunately, impersonal. You do not know who put it there or for whom it was intended. It is not part of a conversation. It is present in an environment, kind of like advertising or trash. Someone may pick it up if they are interested. But, when you read this verse in context in John’s Gospel, it is private and personal. It must be dealt with.

Jesus had frequent encounters with the Pharisees, the work-righteous and often hypocritical Jewish religious elite. Usually, the Pharisees sought to discredit Jesus. They didn’t really want an answer but sought to trap Him, publicly, in His words, much like the gotcha questions we see in today’s politics.

But this time one of them comes alone, secretly, at night. He is Nicodemus, also a leader of the Jews, a member of the ruling council (Sanhedrin). As a Pharisee and ruler, Nicodemus undoubtedly knows the Old Testament well. But he has some legitimate questions he really wants good answers for. He has been listening to Jesus’ teaching, but he does not understand it.

Nicodemus, unlike the others, comes sincerely seeking the truth. Jesus’ teaching and signs have impressed him. He knows that Jesus has come from God because Jesus does miracles no one could do without God. Still, Nicodemus doesn’t know what to make of this teacher, so he has come to see for himself.

Jesus gets right to the point: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). To Nicodemus, Jesus is talking in riddles. He senses a deeper meaning, but what is it? So he asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4).  

Jesus again emphasizes the solemn truth of His response: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Water and Spirit work together in the new birth.

Jesus is speaking of Baptism, through which the Spirit works saving faith. We need this heavenly rebirth to enter God’s kingdom, or even see it. God’s kingdom is God’s rule of grace in our hearts. Through Baptism, the Holy Spirit connects us with God’s ruling love. He works a new birth, birth from above, a birth that makes a person a child of God and a member of God’s kingdom. The apostle Paul describes it this way: “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Two births—one is physical and one spiritual. One is flesh born of flesh; the other spirit born of Spirit. All of us alike come into this world outside of God’s kingdom. Contrary to what some teach, even infants begin their lives under sin’s condemnation. Babies may look as pure as spring water, but the source is polluted. But there is a water that purifies, the water that brings with it God’s Spirit. As Ezekiel prophesied of the Lord: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean… “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you… And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). The Spirit works the new birth through the water of Baptism.

Nicodemus has a hard time understanding this. So, Jesus continues: “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).

We human beings can understand the working of God’s Spirit as little as we can predict the wind blowing on us. We know when it blows, and it affects us. But we don’t see it. We can’t be certain when or from what angle it will come. So no one can fully understand how God sends the Spirit. We just know He does.

Jesus makes one imperceptible change in His words here. When He says, “You must be born again,” He uses the Greek plural “you.” Clearly, He is not speaking only about Nicodemus, but of all people.

Nicodemus remains incredulous. He asks again, “How can these things be?”

In His reply, Jesus first rebukes Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe in the heavenly things?” (John 3:10-12).

Jesus has just spoken to Nicodemus of the spiritual activity that takes place in this world, “earthly things.” The new birth happens in a person’s heart here on earth. Repentance, Baptism, and faith happen on earth. But Nicodemus still does not believe. How then can he possibly believe if Jesus is to tell him of spiritual activity that takes place in heaven, “heavenly things.” Is Nicodemus ready to learn about God’s eternal plan for the world’s salvation and about Jesus, God’s Son, who was with God in the beginning?

In this way, Jesus prepares Nicodemus to hear the even more wondrous “heavenly things.” “No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13). Jesus has the knowledge and authority to tell Nicodemus of heavenly things because He alone came from heaven. He is the Word, who was with God when the plan of salvation was determined. And He has become a perfect human being, the Son of Man, to execute the plan.

Now comes the teachings from heaven. Jesus directs Nicodemus to his well-studied Scriptures for understanding: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Jesus draws an analogy between Moses lifting up the brass serpent on a pole in the desert (Numbers 21:8, 9) and His own saving work for the world on a cross. Everyone who looked in faith at the snake was healed from the bite of deadly snakes. Everyone who looks in faith at Jesus will be saved from the bite of eternal death and have eternal life. This is the life that begins with the new birth by the Spirit.

Jesus is now ready to teach Nicodemus God’s eternal plan of salvation. In simple terms, which most Christians today know from memory, Jesus sums up the plan: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

God loved the world He had created, even though the crown of that creation had gone bad and ruined it all. Our sins did not stop God from loving us. He offers the ultimate sacrifice for the world He loves. He gives His one and only Son. This giving, however, means more than having Him born of a virgin mother and hailed as Savior. God gives His Son as the necessary sacrifice for the world’s sins.

Then Jesus repeats what God’s gift means: “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Faith saves. But not just any faith—faith in the Son of God, who was given as our sacrifice. Those who believe in Him shall not perish; they shall not die eternally. Believers live on forever with Jesus. We enjoy life with Jesus now already, but after death we will know life in full glory.

When Nicodemus came to see Jesus that night, he could not have known where his questions would lead. Jesus lays out God’s plan of salvation for Nicodemus. No human being could have devised such a plan. No one would have imagined it. It could not work without God. But here is God, revealed in His triune majesty. God the Father loves the undeserving world so much that He sends His Son to save it. God the Son, present here in the person of Jesus, comes to fulfill the Father’s will and win eternal life for all people. God the Spirit comes to work the faith people need to receive the gift of eternal life. He brings about a new birth.

Notice the way this relationship with Jesus moves Nicodemus from a private conversation at night to a public witness of his faith in the world. Here, Nicodemus questions Jesus privately. Later, Nicodemus questions his fellow religious leaders, asking them whether or not they have given Jesus a fair hearing (John 7:50). Then, finally, at the end, after Jesus’ crucifixion, Nicodemus comes out into the open, bringing 75 pounds of spices to anoint Jesus and provide Him with an honorable burial (John 19:39). By faith, Nicodemus gives public witness to Jesus. It takes time for Nicodemus to move from private conversation to public witness—time and the gracious working of God.

That gracious work is something we need to remember today. With the growing hostility toward the Christian Church in our country, public conversations are more difficult. People disagree with many of the moral teachings of the Church. They resent the privileged position the Church has had over the years and want to create a public realm where other views are heard and accepted. Some go so far to suggest that the Christian voice is dangerous and should be silenced.

What this means is this most public of verses might again need to be encountered in private ways. It is in our relationships with people where God will work through His Word. Those late-night conversations are not easy. To hold up a sign at a sporting event, all you need is to go to Walmart and buy some poster board and markers. You can make the sign and then hold it up. To enter into a private conversation with another, however, you need to cultivate a relationship of trust. You need to have a place where another person feels comfortable asking you questions, knowing you will listen to them before asking them to listen to you.

The night that Nicodemus went to see Jesus, it couldn’t have been easy for him. Jesus had just cleared the temple of those who had turned His Father’s house into a market. Contact with Jesus was not desirable for any Pharisee at this point. It goes without saying that the Sanhedrin would not be inviting Jesus to speak for their next prayer breakfast. Yet Nicodemus ventures out at night to meet with Him.

I wonder how many evenings Nicodemus stewed over this decision before he actually worked up the nerve to go. What intrigued him so much about this man from Galilee that he was willing to risk everything by going to Jesus?

Nicodemus was driven by a desire to know the truth. He did not yet know Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, but he saw something at work in Jesus, and he had to find out more.

You, too, will attract others who do not yet know that Jesus is the Christ. There will be those who see the hand of God in your life and desire to know more about the faith that you hold. But you never know when that’s going to happen, so you must always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).

And who knows how God will work through your witness. The Holy Spirit works when and where He wills. You’re not called to convert anyone. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. You’re called to faithfulness. Just simply listen, pray for a teachable moment, respect where they’re coming from, and then firmly and lovingly share God’s Word of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in Jesus Christ that you have come to know for your own life. And then let the Holy Spirit go to work. You never know what may happen. 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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