Sermons, Uncategorized

Baptized with the Holy Spirit for a Life of Repentance

“St. John the Baptist Preaching” by Salvator Rosa

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YNk9_FyRJzQrSTm1a5Y53inMiEin65eV/view?usp=sharing

[John the Baptist said:] “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

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

Our Advent journey began last week with Jesus headed into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. Today we back up a few years and take a detour through the Jordan where Jesus began His public ministry in baptism, much as we begin our discipleship in Holy Baptism. The way of the Lord is a rigorous one because we always journey “in Christ.” But we know where we are going, and we know who we are. In this second week of Advent, we remind ourselves that we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit for a life of repentance.

We will soon celebrate Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, but already on these first Sundays in Advent, it’s clear that our destination is not an idyllic manger scene with an adorable baby. There is a cross to be suffered. And that means Jesus’ mission is serious business, not be “tagged along” by the casual traveler or the unprepared. Thus, John suddenly appears on the scene to prepare His way. An attention-getting appearance, to say the least! One that illustrates suffering and sacrifice along a weary way. A robe of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. A diet of locusts and wild honey. A voice crying in the wilderness.

John comes to prepare God’s people for the messianic journey ahead—to teach that the journey is one of suffering and deprivation, like Israel’s time in the wilderness. There is all righteousness to be fulfilled, pictured by Isaiah as filling in the valley, leveling the hills, making the Messiah’s paths straight. Anything that stands in the way will be bulldozed by the earthmover coming through. It is time to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

Crowds are going out to John from the entire region for just that purpose. They are confessing that they do need to repent. Then John’s baptism is washing away their sin, preparing them for the kingdom’s coming in the person of the Messiah. Others, though, come as hypocrites. The Pharisees and Sadducees are sure of their own righteousness because of their bloodlines and circumcision. They refuse baptism because they feel they have no sins to wash away.

John cuts through their hypocrisy in the most graphic terms. Calling them a “brood of vipers” is bad enough. For John to say that “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham,” is a greater insult to the Jews, for Gentiles are considered stones, so John is saying that God can create children of Abraham out of Gentiles by means of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Unless these hypocrites repent, they will be chopped down like dead trees and cast into the fire.

John’s appearance is the signal that the Lord Himself is at hand. The coming kingdom is Christ Himself. Already now He is among the people. While John’s coming on the scene has made a huge splash, John is even less before the Messiah than the lowliest servant before the greatest master.

John baptizes with water for repentance. Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. When will this be? Certainly, He does, in part already, in His own baptism, in His crucifixion, and at Pentecost. But the context here, however, has the Last Day firmly in view, and refers directly to the salvation and judgment that Christ will administer when He returns in glory. On the Last Day, Jesus will pour out the Holy Spirit on those who repent and look for the coming of God’s kingdom in Him, and all such will be gathered into His barn and saved. On the other hand, those who persist in their unbelief and reject God’s reign in Jesus will receive on that day the unquenchable fire of eternal judgment.

So, are you properly prepared?

John’s simple message comes in two parts. The first concerns the kingdom, which is now at hand, not because of anything the people have done or are doing, but because God is at work. The second concerns how they should respond. They should repent. The two go together; the coming of the kingdom and the call to repent. This was true then, and it is still true today. God will judge all people. Therefore, all people everywhere must repent.

While the message remains much the same, the audience has changed. John preached before Jesus; before His baptism, before His teaching and preaching, before His death and resurrection, before His ascension. He preached to prepare his hearers for these events. In contrast, you come here after the fact. You have heard about the empty tomb and believe. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have begun a life of repentance. It would be inappropriate to call you a brood of vipers. You are neither Pharisees nor Sadducees.

And yet, you and I still need to repent. Despite our baptism, things in our life are not as they should be. The problem is not that we are unrepentant. The problem is our contrition is too small. Too often it stops short. It is a mechanical, transactional (and therefore distorted) version of repentance. I think you know what I mean. It is what happens when we feel guilty, ask for forgiveness, and then find relief in the words of absolution. This is good, as far as it goes. But too often, that is the end. We go right back to life as usual. We return to things in our lives which are not as they should be. After a while, the guilt mounts and we go back through the motions: repent, relief, repeat—but never truly repenting.

Acknowledging the confusion about repentance in their day, the Reformers spelled out true repentance in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession:

 We have attributed these two parts to repentance: contrition and faith. If anyone desires to add a third—fruit worthy of repentance, that is, a change of the entire life and character for the better—we will not oppose it… The sum of the preaching of the Gospel is this: to convict of sin; to offer for Christ’s sake the forgiveness of sins and righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life; and that as reborn people we should do good works.[i]

John is talking about repentance manifesting itself in fruit (Matthew 3:8). It begins with confessing sin (Matthew 3:6), but it does not stop with words of forgiveness. It continues with a new life of love and obedience. The Lutheran Confessions call this “total repentance.” It involves forgiven sinners showing forth their repentant hearts in the way they live.

We say that good fruit, good works in every kind of life, should follow repentance, that is, conversion or regeneration. Neither can there be true conversion or true contrition where the putting to death of the flesh and bearing good fruit do not follow. True terrors, true griefs of mind, do not allow the body to satisfy itself in sensual pleasures, and true faith is not ungrateful to God. Neither does true faith hate God’s commandments. In a word, there is no inner repentance unless it also produces the outward putting to death of the flesh. We say that this is John’s meaning when he says, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).[ii]

To make it clear what they were referring to, the Reformers went on to speak of what sort of fruit repentance produces:

These good fruit are what the commandments teach: prayer, thanksgiving, the confession of the Gospel, teaching the Gospel, obeying parents and rulers, and being faithful to one’s calling. We should not kill, not hold on to hatred, but we should be forgiving and give to the needy, so far as we can according to our means. We should not commit sexual sins or adultery, but should hold in check, bridle, and chastise the flesh, not for a repayment of eternal punishment, but so as not to obey the devil or offend the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we should speak the truth. These fruit have God’s command and should be produced for the sake of God’s glory and command.[iii]

Repentance is not a one-time act. The entire life of a Christian is to be characterized by repentance. Our baptism should remind us to drown our old Adam by daily contrition and repentance.

Is it not time that we join the faithful in confessing our sins? Confessing our pride in who we are, our hypocrisy in wanting to look pious, yet living daily lives that deny our identity as children of God. Confessing that without forgiveness, we really will be cast into eternal fire. Confessing all our sins in thought, word, and deed, what we have done and what we have left undone for which we justly deserve God’s present and eternal punishment.

We confess that we are indeed poor, miserable sinners. Yet, we confess our sins with hope, because we now walk in the way of the Lord, looking for Christ to come again soon (Matthew 3:11-12). In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake God forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit.

You are a child of God. When you were baptized, you were baptized into the very “baptism” Jesus underwent—the baptism of His cross. You have been baptized with the Holy Spirit for a life of repentance. That means your life is now one of walking the way of the Lord—with all the wildernesses and deprivations and hard lessons and crosses that entails. But it also means that you walk the way the Lord walked in His resurrection—to everlasting joy in the kingdom.

What might such fruit look like in your life? Let’s take something rather simple and immediate—the observance of Advent and Christmas

Imagine how Christians celebrate Christmas differently than the rest of the world. This involves much more than simply saying, “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy holidays.” At the very least, it involves paying more attention to the fruit of repentance than the things we place under the tree.

It will probably include generosity and mercy—helping out your neighbor in need. There are certainly many needs and many opportunities for giving this time of year. The fruit of repentance may include reconciling with those whom you  have become estranged. Confessing to them how you have wronged them and forgiving them for their offenses against you. The fruit of repentance will include making time each day for prayer and the study of God’s Word. And the fruit of repentance will certainly include making worship a priority. Christians will not plan worship attendance around family events, but family events around worship attendance. What better way to prepare for the coming of the Lord and to celebrate Christmas than to gather with your family for worship to receive God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament? It is only by that Word and Sacraments that you are motivated and equipped for genuine repentance on every day.

And so our pilgrimage to Jerusalem continues. With the people of Jerusalem who came to John in repentance and faith, we, too, come before Christ, who visits us now at the Table He has prepared to nourish us on our way. You who are clothed in Christ, receive Him again where He gives Himself for you! Already now the gifts of Christmas are given here in this Divine Service. Come confessing your sins and your faith as we prepare for Christmas by receiving the Christ Child here in bread and wine. Come to the Table, for it is time to walk in the way of the Lord. You are baptized with the Holy Spirit for a life of repentance. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

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


[i] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 160–161). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

[ii] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 176). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

[iii] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 183). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

The Lord Needs Them

Click here to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/16CZ7xvdNGLiGK_goLZwQbJP5fsktMhtf/view?usp=sharing

[Jesus said:] If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once” (Matthew 21:3).

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

The two young Galilean men walk into the village. They look around a bit and then go up to a donkey that is tied outside the gate of the garden with her colt. They begin to untie it without asking permission. A couple of peasants ask them what they think they are doing. “The Lord needs them,” is their simple answer. The owner nods and the men go on their way.

Give that a try some time. Walk over to a stranger’s house. Open up the garage door and start backing his car and pickup out of the garage and down the driveway. If anyone asks you what you think you’re doing, just tell them, “the Lord needs them,” and he’ll send you on your way. Right! It sounds like a good way to get arrested for grand theft; doesn’t it? Of course, it makes a huge difference if the Lord has actually told you to say this or not.

In this case, that’s exactly what the Lord has instructed. “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.

 Think about everything that is going on in His life. In just a few days, Jesus goes from Jericho to Bethphage and Bethany by Mount Olivet, then on to Jerusalem. Then in short order, He’ll go to Calvary, grave, hell and back again, a locked room, a few more stops, and then to the right hand of God. Today, it’s Palm Sunday. Betrayal is in the air, the cross is near, the sacrifice for sins is about to be made, the tension is thick. And, just as all of this is breaking, the Lord tells His disciples He needs a donkey—actually two of them, a donkey and her colt.

Why does He need two donkeys? He can only ride one at a time. Besides, up to this point, He’s been walking everywhere from town-to-town, village-to-village. Has He suddenly grown weary? Is He trying to keep up with the Joneses who have two donkeys? Some sort of gesture of humility? Why does He need a donkey now?

Because He says He does.

Actually, the Lord has said so for a long time, over 500 years, since the time of Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9). So that Jerusalem might be sure that He is really the Messiah, says the prophet, look for the King on a donkey, giving righteousness and salvation.

In other words, the Lord needs them for you. Jesus needs the donkey for you. He ties Himself to that donkey and her colt in the Old and New Testaments as one more assurance, one more prophecy fulfilled, that your King has come.

The crowd gets it. They praise God, recalling all of the mighty works that they’ve seen. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shout, straight out of that magnificent messianic Psalm 118. “Hosanna in the highest,” they cry, an echo of the angel’s song when Jesus was born (Luke 2:14). This is the One the angel had promised Mary at the annunciation whom God will give the throne of His father David (Luke 1:32). All grown up now, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem with peace and glory, life and salvation. That’s why He needs a donkey!

The whole city is abuzz as Jesus enters Jerusalem. “Who is this?” they ask. And the crowds answer, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” In the past, God has spoken through the voice of one of His prophets. More recently one of His holy angels. Here, the Lord uses the voice of the nameless crowds to proclaim Jesus as the Savior and King. Why?

The Lord needs them. He says so Himself. Now and 1,000 years earlier.

Just a few verses later in Matthew 21, we read: “When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that [Jesus] did, and the children crying out, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant, and they said to Him, “Do you hear what these are saying?’” Jesus, quoting Psalm 8:2, says, “Yes, have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise.” The Lord needs them. Their cries are the fulfillment of Scripture.

In his account, St. Luke tells us that the Pharisees, whose legalistic lives of earning righteousness have no place for a king who just goes around handing out life gratis to any old repentant sinner, are not amused. “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples,” they demand. Rather than rejoice to hear shouts that God is faithful, that He’s kept His Word and the Christ has come, they want the praise to be silenced.

To these critics, Jesus says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones will cry out.” Huh. The Lord needs these people to sing His praises: not, of course, because He’s ego driven, or because He’s losing His voice. He needs them like He needs a donkey, because this is how He has declared that salvation will be spread. He puts His Word into His people: He opens their lips, and their mouths declare His praise. Others hear and believe, and so the kingdom of God grows. No praise, no Word. No Word, no Jesus; and then all that’s left is for the stones to cry out.

And so it will be in Jerusalem, for those who reject the Lord. The stones will not be left upon another because the people do not recognize the time of their visitation. The dismantled stones of the temple will cry out of a terrible desolation, that the Lord visited with life, and sinners were so anxious to have Him gone that they put Him to death on a cross to make it so.

You’re stuck between legalistic Pharisees and those of a libertine mind and heart. On the one hand, there are those who submit to a greater teaching than themselves and insist that the way to God is by way of keeping all the rules. You’ll find one variety, who can be so insistent when they ring your doorbell. Elsewhere in the world, you find others so violent that they execute Christians who fail to comply. On the other hand, you’re daily immersed in a culture of individuals who aren’t going to submit to anything, who are going to live their lives according to their personal choices and expect that God is pleased with whatever sin they determine He should delight in.

It may seem strange to put, for instance, the legalistic Pharisee, the radical Islamist and the same-sex marriage activist in the same camp, for they surely wouldn’t get along with each other. But the teachings of all three have something big in common. All three want the Church to be silent. All three want the people of God to shut up about the Gospel. All three want to rebuke Jesus’ disciples until they are quiet.

The intimidation is strong these days. The Church is afflicted with an undercurrent of fear, and the goal of fear is silence. The devil prefers silent Christians: it prevents the praises of God from getting into the ears of others; and it discourages faith because faith is always ready to declare the praises of God.

Now, if the devil is going to silence the Church, a good place to start is on the leadership. If you are a lay leader here, you can rest assured that the devil will do his best to make your tasks as burdensome as possible so that it feels like drudgery not worth doing; unless of course, he takes the back door and inflates you with pride until you feel the congregation can’t survive without you. (At that point, he doesn’t mind if you talk, because you won’t be talking about Jesus anymore!)

And, if you’re a pastor, the temptation of pride is there for you, too, to think everything good that happens is due to your brilliant leadership and every failure is someone else’s fault. Or else the evil one will work you over until you feel useless, until you’re weary and become convinced the Word you speak isn’t accomplishing anything, so you better double down on the preaching of the Law. Or you might just as well be quiet.

You must always remember: the devil is a liar.

The truth is that Jesus needs you—at least in the sense that He needs donkeys and the crowds on Palm Sunday. He needs preachers and people who hold up prophets’ hands because He’s said so, because He’s entrusted the proclamation of the Gospel to people. Flesh and blood people. People with names written in the Book of Life at the font and called into various offices as His instruments.

If you’re called into the Office of the Holy Ministry, it is not because the Lord was scraping the bottom of the barrel that day. You are there because He calls you to be His mouth and His hands in that place for His people. If you’re a lay person, He’s given you some opportunity to serve His people in your daily vocation. Pastor and lay person, shepherd and sheep, the Lord needs them both.

This is also true of the gifts God has given you to manage on His behalf—your time, your talents, your treasures, and your testimony. The Lord needs them. The Lord who is eternal, without beginning or end, the One to whom a day is as a thousand years—He needs your time. The Lord who knows all things and can do all things needs your talents. The Lord who owns the cattle on a thousand hills needs your treasure. The Lord who is the Word from the beginning needs your testimony. Why? Because He says so!

Don’t get the wrong idea. All of this assumes that you’re abiding in the Word that He has spoken. You’re not indispensable: wander away from the faith, and the Lord can find someone else to declare His praise. Or start to take over offices that don’t belong to you, and you’re acting against the Word and starting to silence it. It is not up to anyone to decide for their own that they are going be pastors. God has made His will clearly known in His Word and He doesn’t expect you to join the hordes of outside the Church to approve of whatever you want Him to. God places certain men as His undershepherds and calls them through the Church. The Lord needs them. Not because they are in and of themselves qualified, but because He qualifies them.

The Lord needs them! Pastors and people, sheep and undershepherds. Professional church workers and laity. Not because of who they are, but because that is how He has said His Gospel is to go out, that is how disciples are to be made in all nations—baptizing and teaching what He has commanded.

To each of us, God gives a sphere of influence, people among whom we interact regularly in our vocations, our daily callings in life. It is within our relationships with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers that we have the best opportunities to witness to the love of God shown to us in the person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is here that the Lord wishes us to invest the time, talents, treasures He’s placed into our stewardship for the advancement of His kingdom.

So, go home. Depart in peace and joy. The Lord watches over your going out and your coming in both now and forevermore. The One who’s been to hell and back goes with you. Sing like the crowds on Palm Sunday! Declare Christ Jesus who brings glory and peace, and who still comes in the name of the Lord to save in His means of grace. Proclaim Christ crucified and risen, knowing that it kicks death and devil in the teeth every time.

Rejoice! Go forth with praise in the name of the Lord, for the One who comes in the name of the Lord has come to you; and in His means of grace, He is with you always, even to the end of the age.

In the name of Jesus. 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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Jesus Comes into His Kingdom

“Crucifixion” by Andrea del Castagno

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uXqRuVqkzcSgTY65unowf_mz5W9qIfA3/view?usp=sharing

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

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

The road to the cross has been christened by Christian tradition as the Via Dolorosa, the way of pain and grief. The road begins at the fortress of Antonia and winds its way through Jerusalem about one-half mile to just outside the northwest wall of the city. It is this path that He treads in His final steps before Jesus comes into His kingdom.

But His is no ordinary coronation procession. He is not astride a proud war horse, nor carried on a palanquin by four strong men, but He stumbles beneath the burden as He carries His own cross. He is not accompanied by a band of loyal and chivalrous knights, but a couple of convicted criminals, rebels. The soldiers are not there to protect Him, but to see that He is put to a horrible death. The crowd does not greet Him with cheers but tears as He is led out of the city. Jesus had Himself wept over the city of Jerusalem. Now, He tells these daughters of Jerusalem that their tears would be better shed for themselves than for Him.

The reason for the tears is the impending destruction of Jerusalem. That will be a time when children are no blessing from the Lord; rather, the barren woman will regard herself as blessed because she won’t have to witness the suffering of her child. That will be a time when people again cry to the mountains and hills for protection from violent destruction as they did in the days of Hosea the prophet. Jesus’ concluding question is based on proverbial wisdom: if green wood burns, just think what blaze will result from setting fire to dry wood. If Jesus, who is innocent, suffers so terribly, what kind of suffering will befall guilty Jerusalem?

Jesus is crucified at the place called “the Skull” between two criminals. The Jewish historian, Josephus, speaks of crucifixion as “the most pitiable of deaths.” The Roman statesman and author, Cicero, describes it as “the worst extreme of torture inflicted on slaves.” Jesus endures the pain of having nails driven through His hands and feet before being hoisted into the air to die a slow death, usually from suffocation when the victim becomes so weak and filled with pain that he can no longer lift his torso up to take another breath.   

It is customary to say that Jesus spoke “seven words” from the cross. This is based on compiling His statements from the four Gospels. No Gospel contains all seven of these words. In Luke, we find the first, second, and seventh. The first is Jesus’ prayer for those who are inflicting death upon Him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). They truly do not know what they are doing: killing the Son of God, by whose death the world is ransomed from sin.

Luke’s account of the crucifixion is striking because it contains one small moment of intimacy. It is a moment which is good for us to see and remember.

Crucifixions were not known for their intimacy, but rather for their cruelty. One of the purposes of public crucifixions was dehumanize the person being crucified, to strip them of any honor and make them an object of scorn. Literally stripped of all His clothing, Jesus—the sinless Son of God—hangs naked on the cross accused and condemned as a criminal and an enemy of God—the grossest kind of humiliation possible.

In Luke’s account, this is certainly true. Jesus is an object of scorn. The religious leaders mock Him as a Messiah unable to save Himself much less His people. The soldiers mock Him as a king, not receiving rich wine from a steward, but being given sour wine—the poor man’s cheap drunk—instead. Even one of the criminals joins in the act. When someone being crucified looks down his nose upon you, you can’t get much lower than that.

But Luke records one more interaction. A strange moment of intimacy between Jesus and the repentant criminal.

First, the criminal makes a confession of sin as he rebukes the impenitent evildoer. He admits he is being crucified justly. His death is deserved because of his misdeeds. Then, he makes a confession of faith. Jesus has done nothing wrong. His death is not deserved, and He will be vindicated. The criminal foresees a day when Jesus comes into His kingdom.

Having heard Jesus pray for God to forgive those who know not what they do, this criminal prays Jesus will forgive someone who now knows what he did. “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The man’s request reveals a remarkable now/not yet tension in God’s kingdom. Now, on the cross, Jesus is King, and now His Word bestows forgiveness. Not yet has Jesus entered into His kingdom—of glory—yet Jesus’ word of forgiveness now opens the door for this dying evildoer to enter the not yet kingdom when it comes. And it will come that same day!

The catechesis of the penitent evildoer is brief, and his initiation into the life of Christ comes quickly. The dying “King of the Jews” who “saved others” says to this dying man, “Truly, I say to you, today, you will be with Me in paradise.” Jesus, crucified, is the source of forgiveness for all—even the worst, the least, and the last. With these words, Jesus invites the man to participate in this forgiveness forever.

Such intimacy stands out at a public execution. It is extraordinary because it is strange. But it also stands out because it is true. In this one small moment of intimacy, we see truth in the midst of the mockery. Here, we see a true sinner meeting His true Savior.

This should not surprise us, of course, because this is what we have seen through the Gospel of Luke. Jesus loves those who are lost, the marginalized and mocked, the disabled and disenfranchised, the hopeless and humiliated, the suffering and the sinner. These are the ones Jesus seeks out and saves.

When Jesus was presented in the Temple as a little baby, Simeon sang of God’s salvation for all peoples, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Thy people Israel.” When Jesus preached His first sermon, He offended His hearers by reminding them of Elijah’s mission of mercy to a Gentile widow and Elisha’s cleansing a Syrian of leprosy. In Jesus, God’s merciful mission extends beyond the bounds of Israel. A Samaritan leper falls down in thanksgiving before Him. A Roman centurion stands as an example of faith for Israel. Luke reveals the faith of those on the margins, the place at the table for the outcast, the love of God for the lost. In Luke, Jesus summarizes His mission with the words, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (19:10).

And so, at the very end, as Jesus speaks His last words, He reserves one word of promise for someone most unlikely—a criminal who repents. In mockery, people cry out for Jesus to save Himself. In truth, Jesus came not to save Himself but to save others. He came to save you.

On this, the Last Sunday of the Church Year, our Collect reads, “Lord Jesus Christ, you reign among us by the preaching of your cross.” Today, our Savior rules not in spite of the cross, but through it. He would not free Himself from the cross because by the cross He frees others; then and now.

Our world has changed. The Church has lost privileged status in our culture; it is viewed by many as restricting, bigoted, and discriminatory. And so, the culture no longer does the heavy lifting for Christin mores. Christians are no longer tempted to see themselves as powerful. They no longer set the cultural agenda. Instead, they have been set aside. They are not serious partners in cultural conversations. If they appear at all, it is as jokes on late night television or as dangerous figures fostering hate speech.

Yet, it is among the despised that Jesus comes into His kingdom and reigns. One by one, He gathers the marginalized and mocked, the disabled and disenfranchised, the hopeless and humiliated, the suffering and the sinner. These are the ones Jesus saves.

And so, today, God calls us to be servants of Jesus, a king who reigns by a personal word of welcome to the least. God invites us to have intimate conversations in a world filled with mockery and hate. To trust Jesus reigns whenever and wherever He extends a word of promise to the displaced and the disfavored, welcoming them home.

The world has changed, but God has not, and neither has His Word changed. In a broken chaotic world, there are plenty of broken people who need the healing message of Jesus Christ. The Church must see itself as “a company of recovering sinners.” The fields are white for the harvest. So, pay attention to the invisible people. Befriend your community. See people not as evangelism projects, but as neighbors to love and to show mercy. Each one is a precious soul for whom Jesus has shed His holy and precious blood. Remember: In Christ, we always work from a position of strength and plenty, not lack and weakness!

Jesus comes into His kingdom on the cross. He was crucified that we sinners might enter into that kingdom with Him. Because Jesus sacrificed Himself for us all, we have His word of absolution and the promise of being with Him in paradise. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

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

Sermons, Uncategorized

For All the Saints

Click here to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/14gJMF5_ZCfPDiteyjmm6AFjRSjM26tUQ/view?usp=sharing

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:13-14).

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

Today we observe All Saints’ Day. This day is a little bit different from other saints’ days we might celebrate in the Church. On other days we identify and commemorate one particular saint, such as St. Matthew or St. John. Just who are we commemorating on All Saints’ Day? Well, all the saints; but who are they?

Traditionally, someone is called a saint who has lived an exemplary life of faith. Most of the people we call saints have been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that saints have lived so well that they have merited a superabundance of grace from God and have earned God’s favor so much that they can transfer a little of that grace and favor to you.

A process of canonization is followed. In the Early Church period, the process was not very well defined. Now, however, there are specific rules to follow before declaring someone a saint. First, the person has to be dead for at least five years. That counts any of you out! Then, once the person has been dead for the requisite period, there are a series of investigations to see just how virtuous the hoped-to-be saint actually was. If these investigations turn out favorably, the documentation is turned over to cardinals and bishops who take a vote on whether to proceed or not. Finally, there must be at least one miracle performed by the dead saint-to-be before the examination is completed, and one miracle performed after! As you can see, it takes quite a bit of effort to become a saint according to Rome. You can’t stop working at it even after you’re dead!

Those who have studied the lives of some of the people who bear the official title saint very quickly discover that the saints, while extraordinary in terms of their faith and life, were also flesh and blood people who were at heart sinners. In addition to showing generosity to children, St. Nicholas was a staunch defender of the doctrine of the Trinity, but that zeal for the faith was carried too far when he reportedly punched an opponent in the nose. As Lutherans, we do look to the saints as examples of faith and Christian living, but we’re careful not to ascribe more to them than is right. None of them merited anything before God but were what they were because of the grace of God toward them.

There is only One who has actually merited the favor of God. There is only One who has earned the right to the title saint. That One is Christ Jesus. And He, had done it for you and me—for all the saints!

Today you heard the  Beatitudes. Many teach that the Beatitudes are primarily rules for how you should lead your lives as Christians. Some even teach that if you try really hard, you can actually live up to them. Taken that way, the Beatitudes are pure Law; they condemn and give no hope, for none of us truly live up to such standards. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And, even if we manage to general keep lesser angels of our nature in check, our mouth has still uttered hurtful and untrue words, our heart is still fill of sinful thoughts.

But the Beatitudes are not so much Law as they are rich Gospel because they properly describe everyone who is incorporated into the One who earned the title saint. They don’t so much give us a roadmap on how to become a saint, but describe who we are, even now, as someone washed in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes are a description for all the saints!

Let’s review the Beatitudes with this mind.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Who is poor in spirit but the soul incorporated in Him “who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6–8). Christ cried out in poverty of spirit, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). Who has mourned but the soul incorporated in Him who mourned, not over His own troubles but over the unbelief of His people? Christ came to comfort His people as their Savior, but He was, in the words of Isaiah, “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He grieved over Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37).

Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5). Who is meek but the soul incorporated in Him who as King entered Jerusalem, “Humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9)? Christ said of Himself, “I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). He gained that rest by enduring the Passion, silent before His executioners.

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Who has hungered and thirsted, but the soul incorporated in Him who did all things that righteousness might be fulfilled? Christ endured the cross “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21). He became, according to St. Paul, “Our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7). Who has been merciful, but the soul incorporated in Him so dedicated to mercy that, according to Hebrews, “He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become… merciful” (2:17)? Christ mercifully healed and forgave all who called upon Him in faith, even from the cross crying out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what to do” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8). Who has been pure in heart, but the soul incorporated in Him so pure that, again from Hebrews, “In every respect [He] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15)? For the pure love of others, Christ sacrificed Himself, as Paul says, “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). Who has made peace, but the soul incorporated in Him who made our peace with God? According to the Benedictus, Christ came “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). He said to the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). According to Paul, “He Himself is our peace… through the cross… He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:14, 16-17).

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10). Who has endured persecution, but the soul incorporated in Him who was perfectly righteous yet condemned? Because Christ was righteous, He became the target for the world’s hatred; He was threatened with death from all sorts, from Herod to the Pharisees of the Sanhedrin to Pilate.

To Christ belong all blessings. And so, to the soul incorporated in Christ also belongs the blessings! To the believer in Christ belongs the kingdom of heaven, the comfort of salvation, the inheritance of the earth, the fullness of righteousness, the mercy of the Father as exhibited in Christ’s righteousness, the mercy of the Father as exhibited in Christ’s resurrection, the right to see God, the right to be called a child of God. Indeed, great is the reward in heaven for the soul incorporated in Him who “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and… upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrew 1:3).

Jesus lived the perfect, holy, righteous life you and I could not and would not. Jesus, the Lamb of God, died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world—yours and mine, included. Jesus sanctified the grave and gave us Sabbath rest with His own three-day rest in the tomb. Jesus rose from the dead, giving us the certain hope of the resurrection of our bodies to eternal life on the Last Day. Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the Father’s right hand interceding for us and reigning over all things the sake of His Church, the communion of saints, even as He is always with us in His means of grace as He promised. One day, Jesus will come back in glory, for all the saints, to bring us to live with Him in His kingdom forever.

Christ’s saintliness is proven by what He has done. (And yes, Jesus even did several miracles after He had died!) And now this One who earned the right to be called saint also calls you holy. Jesus, by His grace, makes you a saint and all of the blessings He has earned He now gives you. They are for all the saints.

We have a description of what it really means to be a saint in today’s First Reading from Revelation. Note how the people are described. First of all, there are lots of them, not just those who went through canonization or even those who led particularly exemplary lives. These, we are told, are saints because they have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. The blood of Jesus has removed their iniquities in Holy Baptism, and they have been clothed with His own sanctity and righteousness.

Now, having been cleansed, they dwell in the presence of Christ, who provides them with eternal blessing and consolation. These are victorious in Christ. All that was arrayed against them—their sins, death, the devil—are destroyed and removed by Jesus. Now they carry the palm branches of His victory.

This, dear Christians, is a picture not only of heaven but also of you here in the Church on earth. Already our Lord has sanctified you in the waters of Baptism, dwells among you in His Word and Sacrament, and bestows upon you in His Word and Sacrament, and bestows upon you the victory over your enemies. You may not feel like a saint yet, but in God’s eyes you are, for you have faith in Christ Jesus, His Son, who has saved you and made you holy.

Oh, you don’t see it yet—you don’t appear that way. Neither do you see Jesus yet in all His glory—rather, He cloaks Himself in His Word and Supper to give you forgiveness and purity again. For now, this is something that cannot be visibly observed or measured, but only seen through the eyes of faith.

It won’t always be like this. One day Jesus will come back for all the saints. Jesus is coming back in glory for all to see. You haven’t seen Him revealed in His holiness and glory yet. But you will. You will see Him as He is, the glorious Son of God who took on flesh and died for you. And then, as one redeemed and forgiven, you’ll be exposed for who you truly are even now for Jesus’ sake.

You’re pure.

You’re a saint.

You’ve washed your robe and made it white in the blood of the Lamb.

You’re one of God’s children, now and forever.

Because 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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Sermons, Uncategorized

Be Prepared… Not Afraid

“Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem” by Francesco Hayez

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/14gJMF5_ZCfPDiteyjmm6AFjRSjM26tUQ/view?usp=sharing

And [Jesus] said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once” (Luke 21:8-9).

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

Our text begins with Jesus hearing His followers discussing the impressive appearance of the temple. This would have been quite a natural response to looking at Herod’s temple, which was not only lavishly decorated but was also the largest religious structure in the world at the time. When Jesus tells them of the coming destruction of the temple they respond with the obvious question: when will this happen?

The remainder of the passage is an extended speech by Jesus, a response that goes far beyond the question itself. Jesus warns His followers about a number of things that will happen before the end:

  • the coming of those who will teach falsely in His name (Luke 21:8);
  • rumors of coming wars between nations (Luke 21:9-10);
  • a variety of natural disasters (Luke 21:11);
  • persecution leading to an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus (Luke 21:12-15);
  • betrayal by family and friends (Luke 21:16);
  • the hatred of all around them (Luke 21:17-19);
  • the siege and destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of gentiles (Luke 21:20-24).

Jesus responds to their question by making two related points: First, He tells His disciples to be prepared to face what is to come. There is no sugar-coating here. The world that hated Jesus will hate His disciples. The whole history of the Church will be a history of tribulation and suffering. In order to stand firm in the day of trial the disciples will need to be prepared.

The second point made by Jesus is that all of the hardship and suffering to come should not drive His followers to despair. He will not abandon them but will give them wisdom to witness for Him when the hour comes (Luke 21:15) and He will preserve them in the midst of their suffering (Luke 21:18-19).

These two points come together in the “surprise ending” of the discourse: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). It is ultimately the certainty of their redemption that will be the source of their strength and comfort as they face hardships to come.

In AD 70, Jesus’ prediction of judgment would come true: the religious leaders who rejected Him were punished by God through the destruction of the temple and the laying waste the city of Jerusalem by the hands of the Romans.

What were the disciples to do as they wait for these things to pass? Jesus’ words invite them to see past the trouble, to see past the sorrow and evil in the world, to the day when He will return to judge the living and the dead, and to remove all sin from our lives and make all things right! Because it is Jesus who says these things, His disciples can be confident that God is going to rescue and redeem all His Christian people.

At the start of verse 25, our text switches from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of the world: the “times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled and finished on the Last Day. Jesus describes the end with these words:

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves,people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luke 21:25-27).

As Jesus spoke these words, so we are to hear them with Jerusalem’s destruction in the background. As He describes the future destruction of Jerusalem to His disciples back in the 1st century, He tells us that there are parallels to the future destruction of the world. The world will end, and it will end with distress, perplexity, fear, and foreboding among the nations. In the end, like Jerusalem, it will be utterly destroyed. On that day, all will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and glory. And they will be terrified.

Why does it end this way? For the same reason that Jerusalem fell—people following false gods and a religion of our own making, rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and God, our Redeemer and Savior.

Here’s the truth: while there might be a million different ways in which they are acted out, they’re all one gigantic rejection of Christ. There seem to be endless deviations to human religion, but they all deny the Gospel. They all want Jesus gone. That’s what sin does: it wants Jesus gone.

And that is why the world is going to end—not because it wears out, but because the time will come when the Lord’s patience ends and He says, “If you do not want Me, then you don’t have to have Me around. I will give you a place where you need never have Me around again.” That’s what hell is. A place where God has withdrawn His gracious presence—a place that is literally God-forsaken.

The only reason that this world holds together as well as it does is because it isn’t God-forsaken, because the Lord still attends to it for the sake of His people, for the sake of Christ. Look at the rubble of Jerusalem after Jesus was rejected—destruction, death, and despair reigned supreme. Hell is the ongoing, chaotic destruction in a place where there is no mercy of God because its inhabitants do not want Him there.

In the meantime, the world still has its share of troubles, afflictions, and disasters. There are many things that threaten us and may cause us to fear: global warming, massive national debt, socialism, crony capitalism, increasing pressure against practicing the Christian faith in the public square, a culture of death that looks for solutions to problems in abortion and euthanasia, an aging population, the opioid crisis, the health care crisis, the farm economy crisis, just to name a few. And there are still the good old standbys that Jesus warned His disciples about: false teachers, wars and rumors of wars, persecution, betrayal by family and friends, hatred all around.

Some might say these calamities are death throes to indicate that the end is coming. But for you, these are not death throes. They are birth pains. They are reminders that Jesus’ Word remains true. It remains true that this is a world of distress and perplexity. But it is also true that your redemption draws near. So, while all the world is in distress at the thought of death and endings, it is not so for you: Jesus says, “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Dear friends, with this text the Lord does not want you to obsess over the end, the Last Day. Rather, He would have you be prepared for it whenever it occurs. And you are prepared for it because of what He tells you in His Word. He tells you that, although the world wishes He were gone, He is still very much present and findable. Just as one could point to Him in our Gospel lesson and say, “There is the Lord in His temple,” so can you today.

You point to His Word and say, “There, in the Word—read, spoken, and preached—is the Word made flesh.” And so He is. Jesus still speaks to you by means of His Word. By His Law, He shows you your sin and need for His grace. By His Gospel, He speaks that grace and redemption into you. He tells you what He will tell you on Judgment Day: “You’re no longer guilty, because I have died with your guilt already. You are prepared. That’s why heaven is yours.” And that’s the message we declare to the world, that others might be prepared for Judgment Day.

You point to the font, to Holy Baptism. The Messiah is present there, too. In that water and Word, He has joined you to Himself, to His death and resurrection. That is key for Judgment Day, for in Baptism the Lord says to you: “You will not die for your sin on Judgment Day, because I’ve joined you to My death for your sin. I’ve joined you to My resurrection, too, so heaven is yours. You’re prepared because I’ve redeemed you.”

And you point to the altar, to the Supper, where the Lord gives you His body and blood—His risen body and blood that has conquered death, descended into hell and come back again for you. No destruction for you, because the Lord strengthens and preserves you unto life everlasting.

The Lord is still present in His temple for you: that’s why this world is not forsaken. It’s just that, rather than a temple made of large stones, He now dwells in the temple of His means of grace—but He is just as surely, fully there as He was in the temple in our text. It’s little wonder that the means of grace are held in such low esteem today, for Christ was treated the same way in Jerusalem. But He is present, and He will not forsake you. Whatever distress you see in this world, the Lord is as near to you as His Word and Sacraments. You will not be put to shame on Judgment Day.  

Be prepared… not afraid. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. 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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