Blog

Sermons, Uncategorized

In the Presence, Glory, and Rest of the Lord: Sermon for the Funeral of Lorraine Scheerhoorn

Click here to listen to this sermon.Lorraine Scheerhoorn

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).

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

As you’ll read in her obituary, Lorraine confessed publicly the faith into which she was baptized in the Rite of Confirmation at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Trosky on April 2, 1944. On that day, Lorraine promised that she would “continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.” By the grace of God, Lorraine kept that promise; she fought the good fight of faith and has received the crown of eternal life.

On the day of her confirmation, Lorraine received this verse, Exodus 33:14, a promise of God, that she wanted you to hear today: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

What an excellent text for the Christian life and death of one of God’s saints! As we should do with any and every Bible passage, we’ll first consider this verse in its original context, and then apply it to our lives on this day in which we recall all the blessings that the Lord bestowed upon His daughter and our sister-in-Christ, Lorraine.

As the Lord first spoke these words to Moses, Moses had just come down from Sinai with the two tablets of the Law, written by the finger of the Lord, only to find the people of Israel worshiping and sacrificing to the golden calf. When God threatened to wipe out the Israelites and start over again to make a new nation through Moses, the prophet interceded on their behalf. The Lord relented, telling the prophet there would still be punishment for those who had sinned against Him, but Moses was to continue leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land.

The Lord and Moses had a very special, unique relationship. We are told: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” We see this, in the conversation between himself and the Lord recorded in our Old Testament reading. Moses wrestles with the Lord in prayer much as Jacob had once done, not wanting to let the Lord go without first receiving a blessing.

Relying on this close relationship, Moses says: “You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’” Moses then pleads for greater information concerning the Lord’s intentions as far as Israel is concerned: “Show me now Your ways… Consider too that this nation is Your people.” In other words, “I am to be Your leader of Your people, please let me know your intentions concerning them.” We see how Moses approaches the throne of the Lord’s grace “boldly and confidently,” as Luther encourages us in His explanation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism.

The Lord reassures Moses, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Moses receives what he asks for! The Lord promises that His own personal Presence will continue to be with His people. Moses holds the Lord firmly to this word of assurance. “If Your Presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here,” he says. “For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

These words of Moses, although stated as questions, are actually the words of a believer who clings to the Word and promise of God. He approaches the Lord in the spirit of the psalmist who declares, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26).

Once more the Lord reassures Moses: “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in My sight, and I know you by name.” Moses is overcome with joy. In this joyful mood he proceeds to make one more daring request. He says to the Lord, “Please, show me Your glory.”

Although Moses had communicated with the Lord “face to face” (Exodus 33:11), he had not seen the Lord’s glory in its total splendor. Moses wants to see God in all His holiness, His majesty, and perfection.

But the Lord cannot comply with Moses’ request, as He Himself states: “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” As a human being cannot look into the light of the sun without being blinded by its brilliance, so likewise sinful people living here on this earth cannot behold the glory of a holy God without being destroyed. Believers also are sinful human beings. They cannot know God fully or comprehend His ways. They cannot dwell in His holy light. Only in eternity will the veil between a believer and the holy God be removed, and “we shall see Him as He is.”

The Lord, however, does not become angry with Moses because of his unusual request. He rather says to him, “I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” What a beautiful reminder lies in these words! For us human beings here on this earth, the Lord’s glory rests in that name by which He has revealed Himself to us—the I AM WHO I AM, the Lord of the covenant, the God who in His Word has revealed Himself to us above all in His mercy, His compassion, His free and faithful grace!

Moses boldly asks for a direct vision of God’s glory, but God tells Him He will show him more—He will send His goodness. God will reveal more in His character than in His glorious appearance. The Lord then grants Moses an unusual experience. The Lord puts Moses into the cleft of a rock. While passing by, the Lord covers Moses with His “hand,” that is, with His protecting power. After passing by, the Lord lets Moses see His “back,” that is, the reflection of His glory. The Lord reveals to Moses as much as He can in the circumstances. The important revelation as far as Moses is concerned is the proclaiming of the Lord’s name.

There are times in our own lives as Christians when the pressures of this earthly existence weigh heavily upon us. Life’s problems and disappointments mount with increasing fury. The death of loved ones causes us pain and sorrow. The weight of sin wears us down. Our own responsibilities never seem to lessen in intensity. “How much more can we be expected to carry?” we ask. We wrestle with the Lord in prayer. We long for some kind of added reassurance that He is truly there, according to His promise.

With Peter we declare, “Lord, to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” But isn’t there more than mere words? Heaven seems so far away. “Show us Your glory,” we say with Moses. We want the Lord to give us some tangible sign of His glorious Presence.

God gives us something better!

In Christ, we have better than a sign. We have God’s Presence with us. We have God’s glory veiled in human flesh. We have God’s promised rest. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. God sends us His goodness.

In our Gospel for today, we hear: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16–17).

The truth be told, because of sin, none of us deserve to be in God’s glory and presence. None of us deserve God’s goodness or promised rest—not Lorraine, not you, not me, not anyone. These gifts are given to us solely out of God’s grace and mercy, without any worthiness on our part, but for the sake of the perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, who came to earth as one of us, who covered Himself with human flesh and lived among us in this fallen, dying world.

Jesus lived the perfect, obedient life that Lorraine, you, and I would not, indeed, could not live. Jesus gave His life on the cross for the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world—Lorraine’s, yours, and mine included. Jesus rose again from the grave giving us the certain hope of our own resurrection to eternal life. Jesus ascended to heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf, even as He has promised to be with us always in His means of grace.

God, in His mercy and goodness, still condescends to come to us poor, miserable sinners in ways we can receive Him. Luther writes: “[God] says, ‘Man shall not see Me and live.’ Therefore He put before us an image of Himself, because He shows Himself to us in such a manner that we can grasp Him. In the New Testament we have Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, absolution, and the ministry of the Word” (AE 2:46).

God’s Presence was with Lorraine throughout her life. On the day she was baptized in May 1930, the Holy Spirit came to live in the temple of Lorraine’s body, bringing forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In Holy Baptism, Lorraine was clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all her sin. She was buried with Christ into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, she too might walk in newness of life. United with Him in a death like His, she shall certainly be united in a resurrection like His.

Regularly throughout her life, Lorraine entered the rest of the Lord as she made time to hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it in the Divine Service, Bible study, and daily devotions. The Lord came to be with her in His Supper, feeding her His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of her faith. As Lorraine confessed her sins, Christ spoke forgiveness to her in His Word of absolution. And when Lorraine prayed, she could do so with the certainty that God heard her prayers for the sake of Christ, and she could speak with the Father as Moses did; that is, “as a man speaks to his friend.”

In His means of grace—His Word and Sacraments—the Lord brought His promised rest to Lorraine throughout her life, up until the day of her death, when she entered His glory, His Presence, and rest for eternity. She now lives in the Presence of the Lord with all the saints who have gone before, looking upon His glorious face unhindered by sin. Having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, they serve Him day and night. He shelters them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore, for the Lamb will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

One day, by God’s grace, we will join them there.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, may God grant this to us all. 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

The Lamb Will Be Their Shepherd

FB_IMG_1557613509486Click here to listen to this sermon

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).

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

Each year, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. Fittingly, all our readings today give us insight to the relationship we have with Jesus as sheep and Shepherd and the benefits of that relationship.

Our Gospel takes place during the Feast of Dedication, also called Hanukkah, the Jewish national holiday celebrating the purification of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus in December 165 B.C. Jesus was walking in the temple area near Solomon’s colonnade. It offered some protection from the winter’s cold. The Jewish religious leaders encircled Jesus and asked Him point blank: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Sad to say, they didn’t really want to know the truth. What Jesus had already told them, what He had done, and the way He lived in His Father’s name were clear evidence that He is the Christ. But they did not want to believe. Similarly, today, many people claim to want to know exactly who Jesus is, yet they ignore His own words and ways. “You do not believe,” says Jesus, “because you are not among My sheep.” Those who are not among God’s chosen flock turn deaf ears and blinded eyes to Jesus.

In contrast to such unbelievers, Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. He knows them and they follow Him. The relationship between Jesus and His followers is intimate, personal. And because He is the Christ, the Son of God, the relationship is eternal. He gives His sheep eternal life. They will not perish forever. No one can snatch them out of His hand.

What words of comfort for you and me! We are secure forever with Christ Jesus. Our security is locked up with the Father in heaven. No one can take us from Jesus’ hands because that would mean seizing us from God the Father’s hands. And no one can do that. What is true of the Son also is true of the Father.

Jesus’ words are clear. He is from God. He is the Son of God. He is God. He is the Christ. “I and the Father are one,” he concludes.

It’s not enough to gather from His words only that He and the Father think alike or have a harmonious relationship or treat His sheep alike. Jesus is speaking of being one essence with the Father, of being God. And that’s exactly how Jesus’ enemies understand Him. To them, Jesus’ words sounded like blasphemy, so they pick up stones to carry out the penalty described in Leviticus for blasphemers. Their hatred and anger cannot be contained. They are ready to ignore the legal need for a trial. They are ready to carry out capital punishment even though they know by law that only the Roman government has that authority.

But no one will take Jesus’ life. He will lay it down of His own accord when the time is right. And He will raise it again. He will give His sheep eternal life, and they will never perish, and no enemy will snatch them out of His hand.

Jesus, in our Gospel, warns of enemies from outside of the Church; Paul, in our First Reading, warns of those from within—false prophets, fierce wolves. He encourages the undershepherds of Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.

Paul understands that a preacher must answer to God for the message he preaches or fails to preach. By saying, “I am innocent of the blood of all,” he is expressing his confidence that no one will go to eternal death because Paul has failed to preach the truth to him.

God’s will is that all men turn in “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” All the teaching of the Bible and all true preaching centers in this. To alter any of God’s Law or God’s Gospel is to misrepresent God’s will. To say more or to say less than God’s Word says can make a pastor guilty of someone’s blood, make him the cause of someone’s eternal damnation.

Shepherds feed and lead the flock. Pastors feed and lead the Church of God. The Holy Spirit has made them overseers, supervisors, for that purpose. As undershepherds, pastors are to guard themselves and the whole congregation. Paul uses the picture of a flock because he is thinking of the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, the God who bought the Church “with His own blood.”

That is a striking expression, so striking that some copyists and editors and commentators have tried to change it. That’s unfortunate. The phrase, “God’s blood,” reminds us that when God became man, He did not stop being God. As the God-Man He is not two persons but one person. What the Man did God was doing. What belongs to the Man belongs to God. When Jesus’ blood was shed, God’s blood was shed. When God bought the Church, He did it with His own blood.

The savage wolves of whom Paul speaks are false prophets of the same kind Jesus warns about in Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” No church anywhere at anytime can be complacent about the possibility of false teachers. Wolves kill sheep. False teachers kill souls. That is why we take our doctrine and practices so seriously. Though some misunderstand it as mean-spirited or intolerant or arrogant, it is actually most loving—a matter of eternal life and death.

False prophets generally do not come from outside but arise from within. They do not oppose the truth in a straightforward way and say that it is false. Rather, they distort it. They use the right words but twist and pervert them. Such lies and distortions must be opposed and exposed with the truth of God’s Word.

Who can keep the pastors faithful in their work and protect the Church from the savage wolves? Only God. How will God do that? Through the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The Word proclaims God’s grace, imparts God’s grace, and keeps us in God’s grace. That Word will make us grow to Christian maturity and gives us a share of the blessings that God has for His saints.

Paul knows that he will not always be there to help the Ephesians, but God with His Word will help them as He has even while Paul is there building them up in the eternal inheritance the Lord Jesus has prepared for them by His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. So He does today in God’s Word written through the prophets and Christ’s apostles and spoken by His undershepherds, His called and ordained servants. Listen to Him!

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Then He promises: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” In Revelation, St. John gives us a sneak peek at the eternal life in the new heaven and earth where the Lamb will be the Shepherd forever.

The people in the great crowd which John sees before the throne of God in heaven are coming out of “the great tribulation.” That crowd represents the whole Church as if it is already triumphant, as if it is already complete, as it will be at the resurrection at the End.

The crowd of saints comes out of the great tribulation victorious because they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Because of the redeeming death of Jesus Christ, the crowd of people stands pure and holy in the presence of God. With sins forgiven by the blood of Christ, and covered now with the righteousness of the Lamb, they share in the victory of the Lamb before the heavenly Father. They stand before the throne of God and “worship Him day and night” (Revelation 7:15).

The one who sits upon the throne “will shelter them in His presence,” literally, “spread His tent over them, the same word used in John 1:14, when the Word became flesh, He “tented” among God’s people. It could be that, in using this word, God is condescending to our human understanding of existence and manner of speaking. But more likely, the word is used to direct attention to the fact that God’s people, raised from the dead will live intimately in the flesh with God in the new heaven and new earth, and in a familial, intimate way, He will dwell with us in a manner that can be experienced also with the human senses. And because God will tent among His saints in heaven, “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore” (Revelation 7:16). All our greatest needs will be taken care of!

As we reflect on what John saw and heard, we can’t help but be comforted with this thought: God always keeps His promises. John sees the final end of God’s promises concerning His people at rest in the presence of God and the Lamb, never again to be pained by the harshness of life we formerly experienced it in our earthly existence. In our new life with God, the Lamb “will be [our] Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water” (Revelation 7:17).

This relationship between God and His people, as pictured by His being our Shepherd, was revealed so beautifully in the 23rd Psalm. Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord promised His people that like a shepherd He would look after them in order to rescue them and care for them. In order to carry out this Word, God then promised to provide His people with a shepherd. The promised shepherd would be His servant, born in Bethlehem from the seed of David. In the verses, preceding our Gospel, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd.

Now in our text, John sees and hears the final outcome of these promises. The Shepherd of the Lord has been provided. By His death and resurrection, the servant David has rescued God’s people. As their Good Shepherd He tends the flock, caring for them and leading them through the great tribulation to “springs of living waters—eternal life—already now on earth, then in heaven with God, and finally forever in the new heaven and new earth.

A final truth describes the rest and the peace of the crowd of saints before God’s throne in heaven: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17). Tears and laments are part of the experience and character of the faithful people of God while on earth. Tears are shed over one’s sins and the sins of others, over the ruin and sufferings experienced by others, over one’s own afflictions, when confronted with God’s anger, when alone and in sorrow, at death, and at other times of sadness.

In this life the shedding of tears is as much—at times even more—the experience of Christians as are joy and laughter. But it is the gift of God’s grace to turn the weeping and sorrow into joy, for He has promised a day when “the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). John now sees the complete and final fulfillment of this promise of God. The final word describing the peace and joy of the saints before God in heaven says it all: “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The Lord is your Good Shepherd. You hear His voice through His Word and follow Him. He feeds you on the green pasture of His Supper, His own body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. No one will ever snatch you out of His hand. The Lamb will be your Shepherd forever. 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

Cast Your Net Again!

The Second Miraculous Draught of Fish
“The Second Miraculous Draught of Fish” by James Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

As day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered Him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish (John 21:4-6).

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

This last week, both of our LC-MS seminaries held their call services for new candidates in the ministry. I’m pleased to announce that Jesse Baker received a call to Zion Lutheran Church in Hardwick, MN. We thank God for providing a pastor for Zion and we look forward to working with him in our Pipestone Circuit and Minnesota South District.

Call days tend to get pastors reminiscing and/or commiserating about their own call night. An almost universal disappointment seems to be the sermon for the placement service. I suspect that this might be in part because pastors—especially those just coming out of the seminary—tend to be the sharpest critics. It may also be that the preacher realizes this may be his only chance to straighten out these novices before they get in the congregation, and so the sermons tend to be long and heavy on the Law. It might also have something to do with fact that the intended audience of these sermons is more interested in finding out where they will be going to spend their next few years of life and ministry than anything else at this point. Candidates for the ministry probably don’t listen to the sermon on call night much better than the couple listens to the sermon in their wedding service.

This prompted one pastor, Rev. William Cwirla, to offer his own advice for the sermon on call night.

Simple. 10 minutes max. Basic outline:

  1. You’re incompetent.
  2. Christ is your competence.
  3. Go where you’re sent; Christ will bless you.

It’s a good suggestion. A fitting outline for candidate placement services and for impromptu breakfasts at the beach and for Divine Service in little congregations in small towns in southwest Minnesota.

In last week’s text, John wrote what seemed to be the perfect ending for his Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). Perfect conclusion, end of story.

But then, curiously enough, there’s one more chapter in John’s Gospel, our text for today. The seven disciples seem to be asking themselves, “What are we going to do now?” Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” It doesn’t take much coaxing to get the others to join him. After all, they are in Galilee, waiting for the Lord to come as He had said He would. They’re right next to big lake on which most of them had made a living before being called by Jesus. So, they set out by boat for a customary night of fishing. But they don’t catch anything. As my Uncle Warren would say, “They got skunked!”

Just as the day was breaking, Jesus comes and stands on the shore. He calls out to them much like one fisherman might call out to other fishermen. “Hey guys, you haven’t caught anything to eat, have you?” “No,” they answer, but they haven’t caught on yet that it is Jesus. When Jesus tells them to cast their net out again, this time on the right side of the boat, they do so without much thought of how silly this advice is to experienced fishermen who have worked these waters all their life, the whole last night without any success, or about whom it is who is telling them to do so.

But when the catch is so big they can’t haul the net into the boat, their attention turns back to the man on the shore. John, perhaps remembering that earlier catch of fish when they began to follow Jesus, says to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

Peter wastes no time. He puts on His outer garment and throws himself into the sea so he can swim to the beach ahead of the rest. This is a big change! Do you remember what Peter did the last time Jesus enabled the disciples to make a great catch? Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” That was the natural reaction of a man who had not yet seen the cross, one who had not experienced Jesus’ forgiveness in the shadow of that cross.

How different it is this time! Peter jumps into the water. He can’t wait to be near Jesus. This is the natural reaction of those who have believed in the cross and resurrection. See, by this time, Easter has happened. Believing in the crucified and risen Christ creates a completely new nature. Now inside is a person who knows he’s forgiven, loved by God. The new person inside knows he’s going to be with God forever in heaven—and he can’t wait to be with Him. And because he believes that, there’s this whole new nature that’s eager to do something for Christ.

So what’s he going to do? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s finish this story.

The others follow Peter in the boat, dragging the net full of fish with them about a hundred yards to shore. When the disciples reach the shore, they see breakfast is already cooking, fish on a bed of coals and bread to go with it. It appears they are surprised to see the fish cooking, although no one asks Jesus where He got it. Instead, Jesus tells them take care of the catch, sort out the “keepers” from the small ones, and He’ll get breakfast ready.

Peter, ever quick to oblige the Lord, climbs into the boat. Although the net is too heavy to lift into the boat, he manages with the help of the others to drag it onto the beach. It is loaded with 153 large fish but doesn’t tear, unlike the net from the miraculous catch early in Jesus’ ministry.

Imagine how the disciples must have felt as Jesus invites them to have breakfast with Him. They know it is Jesus, but this is only His third appearance to them as a group since He died. The resurrected Lord, who brings forgiveness and life by giving Himself up to death on the cross, certainly deserves our service. But Jesus is the Host. He serves them bread and fish for breakfast.

But Jesus still isn’t finished with His disciples. Although our Gospel stops at verse 14, Jesus does not. He takes Peter aside and restores him as an apostle. Peter denied Jesus three times; so three times, Jesus tells him to feed His sheep. Jesus doesn’t just appear to give fish and daily bread. He appears to give forgiveness, again and again. After all, that is why He died. And that is why He is risen. And before He ascends into heaven, Jesus gives His disciples this same ministry of forgiveness and life and promises to send His Holy Spirit to help them.

It’s possible to recognize a number of similarities between the disciples in the text and the Church today. For example: It was after the resurrection and the disciples were together. To follow Jesus after His resurrection is to be together with other believers.

Not only were they together, but they did what they knew how to do. That is, they returned to their vocation as fishermen. Easter doesn’t mean the end of life or work, but rather faithful living and working in a new light.

Before Jesus entered the story, the disciples had caught nothing despite working all night. The Church’s work is only productive insofar as Jesus directs and effects it.

Jesus provided for the disciples. He provided direction for their fishing. He provided the large catch of fish into their nets. He provided food for them back on land. Jesus takes the initiative with us, too. He comes to us in our everyday vocations and graciously provides for all our needs—bodily and spiritually. In fact, Jesus does everything. Jesus feeds and equips us for the work He has for us to do.

Jesus is the one who plans and makes it all happen. The best-laid plans of men are meaningless. Peter says, “I’m going fishing,” but all night they catch nothing. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Without Jesus, all our fishing for men is just as fruitless. But then Jesus says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” and things go very well. Jesus is the one who catches fish. We just go where He tells us, casting our nets again and again.

Many people might say that Trosky or Jasper or even Pipestone, Minnesota is not the best spot to go fishing for men. Church growth experts are going to say, if you want to grow the Church you have to plant churches in growing suburbs and vibrant communities. But our job isn’t to grow the Church, but rather to be faithful where God has placed us. To cast our nets again and again at our Saviour’s call. He will provide the growth to His Church, when and where He wills.

Any good fisherman knows sometimes when you go fishing, you’re going to get skunked. Not many days in the mission field are 153-large-fish-days! But you won’t catch any fish if you don’t cast out the nets. And the more often you go out on the lake and cast the nets, the more often you’re probably going to catch something. Feel like it’s hopeless? Feel like you’ve been skunked? Take the Lord at His Word. Cast your nets again!

As fishers of men, we don’t plan how many “fish” we’re going to catch. We just go about our business—fishing because we’re fishers of men, sharing Christ just because we’re Christians, people who ourselves are loved, forgiven, going to heaven—doing what come naturally. We leave the results in the hands of the Lord.

Every Christian does this naturally. New Christians aren’t made by how well the pastor entertains us or how much the songs stir our emotions. No, new Christians just naturally happen as we seize the opportunities that God presents to us to share the story of Jesus and His love.

As a pastor, I get lots of chances to tell people about Jesus. But the four cases where I actually know God let me have a hand in making new Christians were the easiest, most natural: when Aimee and I brought Jessi and Katie and Logan and Marissa to be baptized. We did essentially nothing. I wasn’t even a pastor yet, so I didn’t even do the baptizing; but through the water and His Word, Jesus made four new believers. And as they continued in that Word, they’ve grown in their faith and have shared it with their friends and acquaintances as well. And now they have their own children to be baptized and to tell the story of Jesus and His love. See, for all of us who’ve experienced and believed in Easter, making new Christians comes quite naturally. Jesus does all the work, even as you go about your daily vocations.

In the meanwhile, Jesus sustains you with His means of grace. He feeds you, not a miraculous catch of fish and bread, but with His Holy Supper, His very body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

So, by God’s grace, may you use the opportunities God places in your path to share the wonderful story of Jesus and His love and forgiveness. May you all be fishers of men, willing to cast out Christ’s Gospel net into the mission field here and abroad, with your personal confession of faith, with your prayers, and financial support. May you all be doing what comes naturally—living in the grace of God.

Though you may feel incompetent, Christ is your competence. Go where you’re planted; Christ will bless you. He will provide for you. He will feed you. He will sustain you. He will give you strength and life. For His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

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

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Keys of Death & Hades, Life & Heaven

WordItOut-word-cloud-3738677Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Fear not, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).

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

In our First Reading, an angel of the Lord opens the doors of the prison that hold all the apostles, not with the guards’ keys, but miraculously. In fact, the guards aren’t even disturbed. When the religious officials arrive, they find the jail fully secure, but completely empty. The Gospel has free course in spite of prison doors. God’s saving purposes are not frustrated by locks.

In our Gospel, the apostles are gathered behind locked doors for fear of the Jews and what they might do to them. But there is one whom the locked doors did not keep out—the resurrected Jesus. We don’t know much about Jesus’ resurrected body, but we do know He left a sealed tomb with even the grave clothes still intact and that He appeared inside a locked room without use of door or key.

But as miraculous and supernatural as these incidents are, they are not the most astounding actions or miraculous openings in our readings for today.

In our Second Reading, John tells us of one Lord’s day during the time he was on the island of Patmos. He was in the Spirit when he heard a loud voice speak to him. Turning around, he saw some amazing sights: seven golden lampstands and one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When John saw the risen and ascended Christ in all His glory, he fell down before Him as dead. John could no more stand before the heavenly Christ than he could touch the sun. Indeed, he could no more stand before the glorified Christ than Moses could stand before God and see His face at Mt. Sinai—unless given special grace and permission. No sinful mortal can stand before the exalted Son of Man because of the corruption of sin and God’s own holiness and glory.

John’s falling down as dead is like the action of every faithful proclaimer of the Word as he falls down in repentance before the Word that comes to him. Something good for us pastors to remember: Every ministry of the Word should begin with the repentance of the minister and Christ’s forgiveness of his sin.

Jesus gave John the grace and permission to stand up before Him. Placing His right hand on John, Jesus told John, “Stop being afraid.” This Word of gracious comfort empowered Christ’s servant to stand up in His presence.

The Lord Christ identified Himself as “the First and Last.” Like “the Alpha and Omega,” “the First and the Last” also denotes the eternalness of God and Christ, an eternalness of Christ in relationship to His Bride, the Church. In using this title, Jesus assured John that, as the Eternal One, He is his Savior; therefore, John should not be afraid.

Furthermore, Jesus identified Himself as “the Living One,” a title used in the Old Testament to contrast the true God with all the idols, which are dead and thus have no existence. Jesus Christ was dead but now lives forever. Because of His death and resurrection, Jesus says, “I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Some translations say, “death and the grave,” but “death and Hades” more accurately renders the Greek. In Roman culture, Hades was commonly thought of as the realm of the dead. Having “the keys of Death and Hades” is nothing less than holding the power to release people from the realm of the dead. Christ alone, who has conquered death, has this authority.

Jesus has the keys. He has the keys of Death and Hades. In Matthew 16:19, He declared to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). This is big stuff. Jesus has the keys—the keys to heaven and death and Hades: you couldn’t escape the prison of your gracv, but Jesus unlocks the door and delivers you from your cell—and there is no power that can stop Him. Furthermore, He has unlocked the gates of heaven for you. You are delivered from death and hell to life and heaven.

Where does this take place? This is what ties it to our Gospel lesson for the day, where the risen Jesus suddenly appears to the disciples who are gathered in the locked room for fear of the Jews. Jesus hails the disciples with the typical Hebrew greeting: “Peace be with you!” But on the lips of the risen Savior, it is much more than a casual wish. He brings them the peace that the world cannot give, the peace that will sustain them through all earthly troubles.

The disciples react in their fear as if they are seeing a ghost. But Jesus’ resurrected body still bears the marks of the crucifixion, to which Jesus points to erase their last doubts. The disciples rejoice! It is the Lord Jesus, alive!

Jesus again speaks peace to them and commissions them to carry on His work: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you. And when He says this, He breathes on them, and repeats the gift of the keys to the disciples gathered in the locked room: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Where does this great unlocking of doors happen? The keys are turned with the forgiveness of sins. This is what we call the “Office of the Keys.”

“The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent” (Small Catechism).

Repentance is really a two-step process: first, recognizing the reality of our sin; and second, turning to God in faith for His mercy.

Someone who does not believe he is a sinner cannot be repentant—what’s to repent of if you are not doing something wrong? So, the first step to repentance can only happen after the Law does its accusing work. People have to hear what God’s Word says so they can recognize themselves and experience contrition over sin. The flesh, the world, and the devil spend all their time whispering, “What you are doing isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s not bad at all!” Our consciences are assaulted and dulled every day by our own sinful desires. Only the Law of God can cut us to our hearts, bring us to our knees, and show us where we are wrong (usually, that is almost everywhere). Once that message gets through and we know we are slaves to sin, the first part of repentance is accomplished.

But it is not enough just to know and believe we are sinners. If we stop there, we despair, knowing that our sin separates us from God. And trying to get out of sin by our own power will also lead us to despair, because we cannot stop sinning no matter how much we want to.

So, the second part of repentance is faith: believing God’s promise that in Christ we are forgiven and have new life, namely at turning away from sin rather than to it. In particular, it means that we turn with God’s help from the specific sins of which the Law convicted us. That turning goes beyond inward resolve and really wanting to do better. Repentance includes mortifying our flesh and physically, mentally, and spiritually laboring to leave the sins that plague us.

“Repent!” sounds like a harsh message, and it is harsh. Hearing what God’s Word has to say about our favorite vices makes us angry, ashamed, and afraid. But it also makes us see that there is only one way out: Jesus. That’s why the call to repentance is one of love. It is the call God put in the mouths of His prophets and apostles so that His people could be saved. It is the call of Jesus Himself, whose love for us was so great that He took on our flesh and lived among us. He did not come to give us the message we wanted to hear (you know, the one about how you are really pretty good, especially compared to that other person). He told us the truth that we needed to hear: we are perverse, we are lost, we are dead, we must be made new, and He is the one who makes all things new.

Repentance is not some theological abstraction. For Lutherans, repentance occurs in the very concrete practice of Confession and Absolution. Our pastors do not leave us hanging. The second part of repentance is also theirs to administer. They show us our sins from the Law, and they show us our Savior in the Gospel.

Our pastors convict us with God’s Word and then forgive our sins in Christ’s place and by His command. They may do this corporately in the Divine Service, and they particularly do it in private Confession and Absolution. There is no real comfort in going home and crying into our pillows about how sorry we are. Our pastors are there to restart our crushed hearts with Jesus’ words of ultimate love: I forgive you all your sins. Those words do not just comfort us, but they effectively change us, so that even in our daily lives we grow more into the likeness of Jesus.

You can fake an apology, but you cannot fake repentance. Repentance is not just devout-sounding moaning about what rotten sinners we are, but it is leaving the life of sin we love so much. It means the slanderer keeping her zingers to herself, the lecher cancelling his Internet, the glutton by-passing the buffet, and the impious spending Sunday morning at church instead of the lake. It is change, and it hurts. Only the Holy Spirit could accomplish this work in us, because if there is one thing sinners do not like, it is giving up sin.

Sin dies hard, so hard that it took the Son of God with it to the grave (albeit briefly). And the sin in us kills us day after day. This why the Christian life is one of repentance. Repentance is not a one-time thing, because sin is not a one-time thing. We sin daily and hourly. Everything we do is tainted by sin. So every day in a Christian’s life is also characterized by repentance. In our personal prayers; in our worship together; in our private confession and receiving Absolution; and in our thoughts, words, and deeds, we are repenting constantly. We are always seeing our sin and throwing ourselves at God’s mercy, who spared not His Son to save us. With His help, we turn away from sin again and again and again.

To all who hear, we declare God’s Law and Gospel. We speak truth that we’re born in sin, that the wages of sin is death; and we declare the Good News that Christ has died for our sins and Christ is risen. When someone says, “I like my sin, so I’m not going to repent,” we tell them what the Word says: as long as they hold onto that sin, they still have it. That sin is retained, bound to them—the gates of heaven are shut, the gates of hell wide open. And when someone repents and trusts in Christ for forgiveness, we tell them what the Word says then, too: that Jesus has taken away that sin, that they are set free for eternal life. The gates of hell are shut for them, the gates of heaven wide open.

It’s all about the forgiveness Jesus has won by His death and resurrection and gives to you. In fact, forgiveness takes His death and resurrection and gives it to you. That is also why we always return to speak of Christ and His forgiveness here, for only forgiveness locks hell and opens heaven for you—for only Christ and His forgiveness give life. Rejoice in Jesus’ forgiveness for your well-being. That’s what He told the disciples to proclaim in our Gospel lesson, and that is what prepares you for His return in glory on the Last Day.

Of this you can be sure. You will see that glory on the Last Day, and on that day you will rejoice. Your Savior holds the keys to death and Hades, eternal life and heaven. He has shut hell for you and flung wide the gates of heaven by His death and resurrection. 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.