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The Next Step

“The Baptism of Christ” by Giotto

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“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

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Demon-Possessed, Mothers-in-Law, & You

“Christ Preaching at Capernaum” by Maurycy Gottlieb

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And [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority (Luke 4:31).

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

What do the demon-possessed and mothers-in-law have in common? I know, it sounds like the beginning of a tasteless joke. But I’m not going there. I happen to like mothers-in-law. Some of my favorite people are mothers-in-law. No, I’m talking about our Gospel for today. What do the demon-possessed and mothers-in-law have in common? They are both healed by Jesus by His authoritative Word!

The season of Epiphany is about Jesus making Himself known, about people discovering who He is. In our Gospel lesson for today, we find four more important puzzle pieces that teach us much about our Savior.

The first is that He teaches, and that He teaches with authority. If you remember last week’s Gospel, we had Jesus teaching in the synagogue of His hometown, Nazareth. He read from Isaiah 61 and then began to explain the text. But unlike the rabbis who might say, “This is a prophecy of the Messiah who will come someday,” Jesus declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He’s not another teacher saying that the Christ will come—He says that He is the Christ, standing before them. He claims that authority, and rightly so. But familiarity breeds contempt, and they don’t want Him to be the Savior, so they reject His authority: in fact, they try to throw Him off a cliff, so He moves on.

Here, in our Gospel lesson, the people of Capernaum are more receptive. They’re astonished at His teaching, for His Word possesses authority.

So what are His Word and authority good for? Here’s the second puzzle piece to fit into place: by His Word, Jesus shows He has authority over demons. A man with the spirit of an unclean demon cries out, “Ha! What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God.”

Demon-possession is a terrifying thing, but Jesus is far from frightened. What does He do? He speaks. He speaks His Word which has authority. He simply says, “Be silent and come out of him!” The demon departs. It has no choice. There’s no great battle, no back-and-forth where the outcome is in doubt. Jesus speaks. The demon departs. The man is unharmed. The people are astonished: “What is this Word?” they ask. “For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” The news spreads across the region.

The Lord isn’t done: His Word does more than cast out demons, as if that weren’t enough of a demonstration of power and authority. He leaves the synagogue and goes to the home of Peter’s wife’s mother. She is ill with a high fever—a serious condition that can still kill today, despite all our medical advances. Jesus treats the fever the way He treated the demon: He rebukes it.

Again, there’s no epic struggle, no need for Jesus to repeat Himself. He speaks. The fever is gone. Peter’s mother-in-law gets up and begins to serve them: she’s not just getting better; she’s fully healed. This, by the way, is the third puzzle piece as to Jesus’ identity: by His Word, He shows that He has authority over sickness, too.

Meanwhile, the Word has spread like wildfire; and by sunset, people have brought any who are sick or demon-possessed to Jesus. He lays His hands on them and heals them. There isn’t a single Savior-resistant virus or evil spirit in the lot. It’s no contest: He wins every time. When it comes to the demons, they can’t even speak without His permission. When they cry out, “You are the Son of God!”, He shuts them up. It’s not that they’re wrong, but that it hasn’t been given to them to reveal His identity.

Jesus departs to a desolate place. The people track Him down, which only makes sense: when you’ve got a miracle-working physician, you want to keep Him around. That’s their plan: they want to keep Him from leaving. But He isn’t going to stay. He speaks His authoritative Word to say, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

There’s the fourth piece that we can fit into the puzzle of who Jesus is: as astonishing as the miracles are, that isn’t why Jesus has come. He’s come to preach the good news of the kingdom of God—not just in Capernaum, but to the other towns, too. Jesus is going to go from town to town, calling people to believe in Him for salvation—and by His authoritative Word, He’s going to give them faith to believe in Him. As He continues to preach His Word, He’s going to keep performing miracles, because the Old Testament said that the people would know the Savior in part by His miracles. He’s also going to go to the cross to die for their sins; because, from the beginning, God declared that’s what the Messiah would do.

So our text gives us four clues, four more puzzle pieces that reveal who Jesus is. He speaks His Word with authority. He has authority over demons. He has authority over sickness. And He has come to preach the Gospel.

That was then. This is now. Unlike the people who were hearing and watching and wondering who this new Teacher might be, you know the answer. But those four clues about Jesus hold wonderful comfort for you, too.

First, it is still true that Jesus speaks with authority. He does so by means of His Word. In that Word, Jesus doesn’t point to another. He points to Himself and says, “I am your Savior. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Not only is this good news, but it is His Word, spoken with His authority. In other words, when Jesus declares to you in His Word that He is your Savior, He’s not just giving news for you to believe: He is, in fact, giving you the faith by which you can believe the news He speaks. He has authority over demons.

We think ourselves too advanced to speak of demons and possession these days, rather try to explain all illness scientifically. The Lord, however, disagrees: His authoritative Word says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Those spiritual forces of evil haven’t gone away. Sometimes they still manifest themselves, but more often they wear disguises. After all, one of the greatest tricks the devil can play is to make you believe that he doesn’t exist.

So how come all the demons in the Gospels? It may well be that His presence in the flesh ticked them off so much that they felt compelled to raise a fuss; or it may be that the Lord drew them out in order to show how powerless they were against His Word. But the relative absence of such events today does not mean that the devil has ceased to operate, nor does it mean that demon-possession has ended. Every temptation you encounter is hurled at you by the evil one, and he is far too powerful for you. He is no match, however, for your Savior who still sends Satan packing by means of His authoritative Word.

You’ve witnessed it yourself, surely, for you have seen the Lord’s Word added to water and spoken over an infant at the font: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” With that, Jesus takes possession of His beloved child and sends the devil packing. The evil one doesn’t put up much of a fuss like the demons in our Gospel lesson, for the last thing he’d want to do is provide evidence to you that Baptism actually does something.

The Absolution does him similar damage: your sins give Satan a claw-hold by which to hang on as he whispers in your ear that you’re condemned. But Holy Absolution exposes his accusation as a lie as it declares Jesus’ authoritative Word that you’re forgiven for all your sins. This, too, sends the devil scurrying away into the cowardly darkness away from the light of Christ.

Third, it is also true that Jesus has authority over sickness—even death. He has, after all, borne all our sins and infirmities to the cross and died with them there before rising again on the third day. Sickness and death are no match for His powerful Word.

So why so many more healing miracles in the Gospels than now? The miracles in the Gospels took place for a specific reason—to prove that Jesus was the Savior by fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies that declared that miracles would accompany the Messiah. He’s made the case—no more proof is needed. To believe in Him, we don’t need to witness such miracles ourselves, because we hear about them in His Word—His Word that He still speaks with authority.

Nevertheless, it is true that Jesus has authority over sickness and death. The problem is that you will be tempted to believe that He must exercise that authority right now, on your schedule, to prove that He is the Savior. But the Lord often works through weakness to save—there is no better example of that than the cross; and so He will also permit sickness in your life, too—and He will permit it to stay for a while. But this does not mean He is powerless or faithless. He did not heal everyone who was sick during His ministry, either.

You’ll be tempted to doubt your Savior when He doesn’t work on your schedule, but do not despair: though He permits suffering and affliction in this life for a while according to His wisdom and will, He will still demonstrate His authority over sickness and even death itself. He will do so on the Last Day, when He raises you up from the dead, fully healed and never to be afflicted again.

The fourth comfort is this: the purpose of Jesus remains the preaching of the Good News of the kingdom of God. It’s true that He gave them authority to heal the sick and cast out demons like He did, at least for a while; but most of all, He sent His disciples out to preach the Good News of the kingdom of God. Those who were healed of their sicknesses would eventually grow weak and sick again, and those who had demons cast out still had to confront death and grave. But the Good News of the kingdom of God is better news than that: by the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified, it gives forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

The Church is always tempted to stray away from this message, for the Good News of the kingdom of God appears so humble and weak and useless against the temptations and afflictions of this life; but once again, so did the cross appear humble and weak and useless. The Church does well to remember this, because she will always be tempted to give up on the Gospel in favor of things that people consider more important and glorious—be it faith-healing, tolerance, emotional experience, or whatever.

Yet Jesus came to preach the Good News of the kingdom of God, humble though it may sound— and humble though it may appear at the font and the altar. Familiarity breeds contempt in a sinful world, so you’ll be tempted as well to look past this Good News. But as a called and ordained servant of the Word of Christ, and by His authority, I tell you this: Jesus Christ became flesh to be your Savior. He has died for all your sins. He is risen from the dead and sits at God’s right hand, interceding for you. He will deliver you from every evil of body and soul unto eternal life. That is why He came. And that is what He continues to proclaim in His authoritative Word.

Dear friends, this is the Good News of the kingdom of God. It’s Good News for the demon-possessed. It’s Good News for feverish mothers-in-law. And, it’s Good News for you! Your Savior is not far away. He is as near to you as His Word and His Sacraments. And by that Word which He proclaims with authority, He says this to you: “I forgive you 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

You Shall Be Called by a New Name

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04.28.2018-625“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:1–5).

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Rise, Shine, for Your Light Has Come!

“Adoration of the Magi” by Rembrandt

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Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising  (Isaiah 60:1-3).

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

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord, the beginning of the church season in which we celebrate the Lord Jesus manifesting Himself to the world as God. “Epiphany” comes from the word “to shine,” and the picture is of that light shining into the darkness and overtaking it.

In the past few weeks, we have been talking and singing about light—about Jesus, the Light of the world. At candlelight services on Christmas Eve, we sang about the “Son of God, love’s pure light.” We sang about how in Bethlehem’s dark streets “shineth the everlasting light.” We hailed the heaven-born Prince of Peace and reveled in the “light and life to all He brings.” Our Old Testament lesson for today proclaims, “Arise, shine, for Your light has come.” The Lord has appeared and the world should see the light of His coming. God in man is made manifest. It’s Epiphany!

Epiphany is a mission festival. The light is moving out into the darkness. And people are being drawn to the light. In our Gospel, we hear about the Magi from the east who follow a star until it casts its beams of light directly upon the house where the young Christ lives. When they find Him they bow down before Him and present Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They are the first Gentiles to worship the King of the Jews.

But Jesus is not just the King of the Jews. In Him, the Light of the world has come for all nations—Jews and Gentiles—to dispel the darkness of sin and death and hell that covers the earth and all its peoples. Therefore the light that we enjoy here, the Light that is Jesus, has to shine forth.

We don’t often think about it, but our building has walls. Walls that divide “us inside” from “those outside.” But the walls aren’t there as a barrier. The walls are there to hold up the roof and keep the rain, wind, and snow off us—not to keep the people out. That’s why the walls also have doors—there, and there, and there. Anyone can come in through the doors; in fact, we want them to come in!

But from the outside, walls can be a very real barrier. People looking at our church wonder if they can come in. And if they do come in, will they be welcome? Will they fit in? Will we give them a chance to be an active part of our congregation? Will we accept them with their own peculiarities and struggles and sins? What if they come inside and find they are still “outsiders”? How long will they stay? We on the inside must realize that the walls can be barriers between us and those outside—even if those outside only think they are barriers. That’s why we must step out from these walls, and let our light shine before others as we have opportunity. So that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven. So that they might be drawn to Jesus who is the Light of the world—both “insiders” and “outsiders.”

This is why Paul wrote the message to the Ephesians that is our Epistle lesson. He tells them about the mystery that was once only known to God, but has now been revealed to the prophets and apostles, and through them is revealed to us. The mystery is that the Gentiles—the outsiders of Paul’s day—are heirs together with the Jews of Christ’s inheritance. “Outsiders” and “insiders” are one body with Christ, are partakers together of His promises. There is no division. The doors are open. Jesus opens the door, and no one can shut it.

For us to get the full impact of Paul’s words, we need to remember that we are the outsiders in this text. I’m guessing that all of us here today were born Gentiles—not Jews, not the descendants of Abraham, not part of the covenant people God set apart for His holy purposes. But thanks be to God! The plan God fulfilled in Jesus Christ gives us also access to His presence—free and confident access to the throne room of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

As far as God’s eternal plan of salvation is concerned, that we Gentiles are on the “inside” is the surprise. It was once a mystery known only to God. It was Paul’s great joy to unveil the mystery to us, the Gentiles: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesian 3:6). Not just for the Jews, but also for us, Jesus was born, died, and rose again. Also for us, He gives citizenship in heaven and eternal inheritance with the Father forever.

That was Paul’s great message, the message God gave him to bring to people like us. Outsiders like us. Paul was not adding his little Epiphany addition to the Gospel he was given. His work was rather a small reflection of the great Epiphany, the glorious appearance and work of Jesus Christ.

All of us were born children of Adam and Eve, tied to sin in rebellion against God and sentenced to die. We lived in the darkness of sin and the shadow of death. Jesus came as a volunteer, willingly taking on Himself the form of His rebellious creatures, so that He could bring the rebellion to an end.

Next week, we celebrate His Baptism, when Jesus voluntarily, despite John the Baptist’s objections, received a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He had no sin, needed no repentance; but He stood with us, He identified Himself with us who do. In weeks to come, we will hear more about how Jesus lived and taught and touched and healed people. He let His light shine, but He let that light be covered with the darkness of sin and cross and death.

Jesus is the Light of the world, who took on flesh so that He might take you into His arms, heal your hurts, forgive your filth, and destroy your darkness. The Son of God became a human being, not to demonstrate the innocence of infancy, but to live the life we could not and to die our death so we need not.

Yet even on the cross, His light was shining. The darkness did not overcome His light. Jesus did not die for His crimes. He died for the sins of others—for outsiders like you and me. He died for people who would have ended up in hell to be punished eternally for their sins. When He said, “It is finished,” our death and our punishment were finished. The Son of God provided new life and love for us. Here is dazzling light, and eternal light.

And there is more light to come! When Christ returns, He promises to take us to the new Jerusalem, where “night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (Revelation 22:5). The day is coming when we will fully share in God’s glory. Heaven’s gates are open. God and sinners are reconciled! All are invited to come in. Insiders and outsiders.

Compared to the barrier between the sinless Son of God and us poor, miserable sinners, the barriers between Jew and Gentile pale. The barrier between us and our “unchurched” neighbor is no barrier at all. We are, all of us, sinners who need a Savior. The good news is, we have one! Jesus has appeared. Jesus is here. Let there be light.

Let there be light, first of all, in our lives, where there is still too much darkness. We still try to keep God at a distance. Paul said to the Ephesians: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light… Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them… When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:8, 11, 13–14).

Let there be light. Let there be light here in the church, where we gather around the Word and message and gifts of Jesus Christ, our Light. We need to guard ourselves so our own habits, activities, attitudes, and expectations don’t block the light. We are here because Jesus Christ is the light of the world—the light no darkness can overcome. If we obscure that light, how can people who don’t know that light, come in to find it here?

Most of all this Epiphany season, let’s dedicate ourselves to the task that was Paul’s joy and make it our own—that light shines into the lives of people who need to see it. For those times we have failed to let that light shine, we repent. We beg God’s forgiveness and ask Him for strength to do better, that we might live as children of the light, whose only message is, “Let me show you the Light of the world, also for you.”

If we are not the best witnesses, we can learn to be better. And even as we are learning to be better witnesses, we can still let the light of Christ shine. We can simply tell what promises we rely on, what God has accomplished for us, and why we boldly and confidently believe that we have access to God even when we don’t always live up to the ideals of the one who is true light. When we talk about those things, we offer light to others—the Light of the world.

Think of it—everyone we know or meet is a fellow heir with us in Christ’s inheritance, a fellow member with us of the body of Christ, and potentially a fellow recipient of His promises. Just like us. Everyone has the invitation to bring joy to the courtyards of heaven by turning from the slavery of sin to the freedom from sin given by our Savior. Just like us. Everywhere we go can bring light.

Arise! Shine! You are light to the world. As you are given new birth in Baptism, as you are kept in the light of the Gospel by the preaching of the Word, as you are sustained by the body and blood of Him who is the light of salvation, so you are also honored. The Lord stands you before the dark, fearing world, as light!

Even as you are in your sinful flesh and the world sees you only in your weakness, the world is given to see your repentance, your hearing of God’s forgiveness, your humble receiving of His Sacrament, and your joyful extolling of His light! In seeing that, the world—every person living under the shroud of darkness—is given to see the light: “Arise, shine, for your light has come… and nations shall come to your light” (Isaiah 60:1,3). 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.