Sermons, Uncategorized

Jesus Is the Resurrection and the Life Even Now

“The Resurrection of Lazarus” by James Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

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

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

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

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

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

 Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

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

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

Sermons, Uncategorized

They’re Not All the Same

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

Click here to listen to this sermon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success! You're on the list.
Devotions & Essays, Uncategorized

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

“Moses and the Brazen Serpent” by Luca Giordano

Click here to listen to this devotion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is most certainly true!

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

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

Sermons, Uncategorized

Behold the Man! A God Beaten

Listen to this sermon here:

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

Success! You're on the list.
Sermons, Uncategorized

Behold the Man! A God Who Prays

Click here to listen to this sermon:

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

Success! You're on the list.
Sermons, Uncategorized

The Teacher Has Questions

“Nicodemus Visiting Jesus” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Click here to listen to this sermon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success! You're on the list.
Sermons, Uncategorized

The First Stewardship Crisis

“Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden” by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Click this link to listen to this sermon:

“The Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:9-13).

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

If you read the theme of today’s message, you might have wondered: Stewardship? What does that have to do with Lent? Or the temptations in the garden or wilderness? Is this just because Pastor Moeller went to the Stewardship Workshop a few weeks ago? Did he decide it’s time for a stewardship emphasis?

No, this is not part of a special emphasis. We were reminded at the conference that the teaching of stewardship should be an on-going, year-round focus, and that is what we will continue to do. But I guess you could say that this sermon was influenced by the conference. Our presenter, the Rev. Dr. Nathan Meador happened to suggest that our readings for this First Sunday in Lent are a wonderful place to preach and teach about stewardship. He even began his presentation focusing on our Old Testament lesson and called it “The First Stewardship Crisis.” And he emphasized that the primary force in stewardship is repentance. What an excellent tie-in to Lent, this season of repentance!   

What is stewardship? The official LCMS definition says, “Christian stewardship is the free and joyous activity of the child of God and God’s family, the Church, in managing all of life and life’s resources for God’s purposes.” But while that’s a good definition of stewardship, it’s probably the wrong place to start. Being a steward is less about activity than it is a matter of identity. Not so much about what you do, but who you are and what God has created you to be. Humans were created to be stewards!

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:27–28).

Stewardship is related to the image of God. An image is a reflection of the real thing, like the way the moon shines by reflecting the rays of the sun. The image of God is the way in which humans were created to be like God with the ability to live by faith in God, in perfect service to one another and creation. Faithful stewardship is the way we reflect the image of God.

God called Adam to stewardship. After creating him, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Adam had it made. The Lord provided all good things, and the garden was full of trees with fruit for him to eat. Among the trees was the Tree of Life, the best of all.

There was one tree that was off limits—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Many have asked why it would be there in the first place. Perhaps it is this: love never forces its way, and God loved this man. Therefore, the Lord would not force Adam to remain in the garden, alive forever. If Adam didn’t want to be loved, the tree is the exit door. He could choose darkness, sickness, decay, and death for himself and all who follow him. Clearly this was not a good or wise choice; but it was a choice. God did not force Adam to be loved and alive.

Clearly also, the Lord wanted Adam alive and holy, so He warned the man about the tree. He said, “Stay away from the tree, Adam. Stick with all the rest of Paradise. There’s plenty of good stuff to last you for eternity.”

Now, in telling Adam to avoid the tree, God gave Adam a command. In addition to making him His steward, God gave His Word to Adam. To his wife and the children who will follow, Adam was given a calling: out of love to them, he was to tell them to stay away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Because he desired to serve them, he would preach God’s Word to them, repeating the God’s command to stay away from the tree, telling of the love of God who had given them all good things, including the Tree of Life. Adam was to be Pastor for his family, and it was his privilege and responsibility to teach them God’s Word.

Paradise didn’t last long. The serpent crawled into the garden and confronted  Eve: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” Already, the tempter called God’s Word into question, with his own half-truth. Eve bit. Instead of fleeing the tempter, she replied: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the Tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Notice how she’d already added to God’s Word, making Him sound like a harsh taskmaster.

Having gained the woman’s attention, the serpent continued: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He basically called God a liar and said the only reason He said to not eat is He doesn’t want the competition.

The devil has a way of making sin sound better than Paradise, and Eve liked what she heard and saw. She ate from the Tree; and then gave some to Adam, who was right beside her. There stood Pastor Adam, entrusted with God’s Word, listening as the serpent tempted his bride. He watched mutedly while she fell prey, and then he participated in the sin. Adam failed to preach the Word, and so sin and death came into the world—and all of the fallout from the first stewardship crisis.

Yes, the fall in the garden was truly a stewardship crisis. Adam failed in his stewardship of God’s Word. Adam failed to protect the wife that God had given him. In plucking that forbidden fruit from the tree, Eve turned from receiver to taker. No longer content with what God had freely given, Eve seizes it for herself. She moved from being a steward to thinking she was the owner.

And isn’t that what all sin is—our attempts to be our own god? To think of ourselves as owners rather than stewards of a gracious God? Poor stewardship is theft. Worse yet, it’s idolatry. We’re claiming ownership of things that are not ours. We’re forgetting that everything we have at our disposal is not our own but has been placed into our stewardship by our loving, gracious God.

That first sin has lasting consequences. The perfect relationship of God and man was broken. Adam and Eve hid from God out of shame. Eve tried to pass the blame to the serpent. The perfect relationship of husband and wife was broken. Rather than accept responsibility as head of house and spiritual leader, Adam blamed his wife and God for giving him the woman.

Both suffered consequences directly. The image of God in which they were created is lost. The woman will experience pain in childbearing and raising a family. Adam will experience trials and troubles as he toils to scratch out a living from the ground. Both will experience turmoil and strife in what was intended to be the bliss and harmony of marriage. Both will die and return to the dust. Labor becomes hard and frustrating. God never takes away the role of stewardship, it just becomes more difficult. We are called to a pre-fall vocation in a post-fall world! 

We live in a broken world that hates us, a world that is groaning as it waits its redemption. We live with a sinful nature that’s constantly turning us in ourselves, thinking about our desires, our comfort. A sinful nature prone to unbelief and idolatry. A selfish, sinful nature that seeks to make myself a god. And that affects our stewardship, often disabling the ministry of the Gospel.

A perceived lack of resources makes us fearful. Worrying that we have limited resources we are tempted to hold back more for ourselves, rather than trusting that the Lord will provide. We become so focused on ourselves, we fail to look for ways in which we can expand the ministry of the Gospel.

Or we give to the budget and not to the Lord. It’s the difference between philanthropy and stewardship. Both are motivations for giving. But the two are not equal. Philanthropy starts with the philosophy that “I am the owner and I will give some of what I own to support the projects and people that I wish.” Stewardship says, “It is all God’s; I manage it for Him, for sake of others, and for the Gospel.”

 But all is not gloom and doom: In the curse upon the serpent, we find a promise to God’s wayward stewards. God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heal” (Genesis 3:15). God promises a Savior, a Second Adam, who will come and be the faithful steward that Adam has not been. A Savior who will redeem mankind from sin, who will reconcile the world to Himself, who will defeat sin, death, and the devil.

We see this second Adam in our Gospel. Not in a lush garden, but in a wilderness. He’s the Son of God, with almighty power, but He is also fully human, and according to that nature He is weakened and hungry and at His most vulnerable. The devil, never one to play fair, seizes the opportunity.

Satan’s tactics have worked well throughout the centuries, so he sees no need to change from the ones he used on Adam and Eve; he just adjusts them to the intended victim. Instead of “eat the fruit,” it’s “Command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Instead of “If You eat, You will not die,” it’s “Throw Yourself down from the temple and You will not die.” Instead of “You will be like God,” it’s “Forget the suffering and cross. Wouldn’t You be more like God if you just started throwing Your weight and power around here?” Thus, the devil hits Jesus with temptations to forsake His Father’s will, to choose pleasure over hunger and pain, to enjoy power rather than submit like a lamb to the slaughter.

Each time, though, Jesus does what Adam didn’t do. He is the faithful steward. He resists temptation. Jesus refuses to take for Himself what the Father has not seen fit to give Him but trusts that He will provide Him with what He needs. Furthermore, where Adam failed to speak the Word of God, Jesus speaks the Word. Each time the devil tempts or twists God’s Word, Jesus quotes Scripture against him. Thus, the Second Adam succeeds completely at what the First Adam so miserably failed.

All of this He does for you. Jesus endures this temptation for you. He does not teach you how to do it for yourself, because you can’t do it for yourself. This is a common misunderstanding. We don’t say, “Jesus healed people to show us how to heal people.” We don’t say, “Jesus raised the dead to show us how to raise the dead.” But we’re always tempted to say, “Jesus resisted temptation to show us how to do it.” But that is incorrect. Jesus resisted temptation, because we couldn’t, because we sin; and then He submitted Himself to the cross to die for our sins.

All of His work, both His active and passive obedience for you, brings you this hope: For the sake of His Son, God the Father says to you: “I don’t hold your sins against you. I don’t remember the many times you give in to temptation. I don’t recall all the times you’ve failed to be a faithful steward. I don’t see all the times that you’ve tried to be your own god. You see, My Son took all your sins upon Himself at the cross; and when I condemned Him, I condemned them. When I raised Him, they remained dead. Therefore, you have no sins left for Me to see. In the place of that sin, My Son has given you the credit for His perfect obedience; therefore, when I look at you, I see only His righteousness.”

Do you see how freeing this is? Christ and His redeeming, reconciling work restores proper Christian stewardship. We do not seek to be good stewards of God’s creation in order to gain God’s favor; we seek to work and keep what is God’s because He has already graciously made us His stewards.

As Christians, we have entirely different motivation. A non-Christian steward cares for creation out of fear. A Christian cares for creation because it is God’s and has been entrusted to us by grace. We willingly share God’s resources with others because this is who we have been created to be, this is who are redeemed to be, and this is who the Holy Spirit calls us to be.

God is the ultimate actor in our stewardship. Christ redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil with His holy precious blood, His innocent suffering and death. By His death on the cross, He reconciled us to the Father and to our fellow man. Through the means of grace, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keep us in the one true faith. In gratefulness we use all that the Lord provides us for the good of our neighbor and the spread of His kingdom.

Christian stewardship begins in three places: the font, pulpit, and altar.

In Holy Baptism, you have been adopted as God’s beloved child, made a steward of His creation, given the gifts of the Holy Spirit, faith, forgiveness, and eternal life. Return to your Baptism daily through contrition and repentance. For there, you are being made into the image of God, as your old Adam is put to death and the new man arises to live in righteousness, innocence, blessedness forever.

In the Lord’s Supper, Christ gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, for strengthening you in the faith and fervent love toward your neighbor. Come here often!

In God’s Word preached and spoken to you in Holy Absolution, God calls you to repentance and faith. Hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it!

In these means of grace, you have forgiveness, life, and salvation. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

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

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.