Sermons, Uncategorized

Another View of the Ascension

Ghent Altarpiece
“The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” by Jan van Eyck

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Then I saw in the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne. And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:1-14)

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.

This is an adaptation of a sermon by the Rev. James I. Lamb, former executive director of Lutheran For Life.

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The King Who Serves and Saves

christ-on-the-cross-1587
“Christ on the Cross” by El Greco

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“Pilate also wrote an inscription and put in on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).

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

“Give us a king like all the other nations have,” the people demanded. Their request had to come like a vicious kick to the gut. Samuel had served Israel long and well as their judge. But the years were taking their toll. No longer could he maintain the grueling schedule he once had kept as a young man. So Samuel appointed his two sons, Joel and Abijah, to assist him.

Sadly, the sons were not as unselfish as their father and not nearly as devoted to duty. They used their office for personal gain and, for a price, perverted justice. It’s difficult to explain their actions. You wouldn’t think that Samuel would be one to neglect the training of his children. After all, he had grown up alongside Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas, and had seen firsthand what such permissive parenting can lead to. But it appears Samuel’s sons simply had given in to those temptations that so commonly beset those in public office.

By the time the elders had arranged a meeting with Samuel to discuss their concerns, their minds were already made up. “Behold, you are now old and your sons do not walk in your ways,” they said. “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Samuel asked for time to think over their request and to discuss it with God in prayer.

Understandably, Samuel took the people’s request personally and regarded it as a rejection of himself. God reassured Samuel he was not the one they had rejected. The people had forgotten they already had a King. The Lord God was their king, enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant, between the cherubim. In calling for a king like all the nations, they were rejecting the kingship of God.

An earthly king might have used a show of force to put down such a rebellion; but our patient, loving God relented. “Give them a king,” He told Samuel, “but let them know up front the consequences.”

Samuel warned the people: “If you get a king, instead of your king helping you and serving you, you are going to make matters worse for yourselves… for you are going to serve the king, not the other way around. He is going to want your money. He’s going to want your property. He’s going to want your sons and daughters. And he is going to want you to bow down before him. The day will come when you will cry out for relief from this king you have chosen.”

And that is exactly what happened. God gave the Israelites a king. And he was just like the kings all the other nations had. He demanded to be served. He demanded their money. He demanded their property. He demanded the service of their sons and daughters. And he demanded them to bow down before him.

For 400 years they had a king. First Saul, then David, then descendants of David. Some, like King David, were men after God’s own heart, most were usually worse than the one preceding. Those kings led the people to worship other gods. They led the people to make peace treaties with other nations who were God’s enemies. They permitted people to harm their neighbor and said nothing. And those kings were usually getting something on the side to keep their mouths shut.

Because of the disobedience and rebelliousness and injustice of the kings and the people, God eventually took away their land and left it mostly empty around Jerusalem. The people of Judah were taken away in exile to Babylon for seventy years. Even when they were allowed to return, they had no king. For 600 years after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, until the time of our Lord, there was no son of David who ruled as king. Even Herod, who had taken the title for himself, was no king, but a puppet put in place by Rome as governor of a small portion of the region of Galilee.

Now, a thousand years after the glory days of King David, the people of Judea were waiting for another king. They wanted a king to give them back what David had—a little bit of real estate where they could be safe. Self-rule free from the dictates of a foreign conqueror. A king like all the rest of the kings of the world—only one they could call their own.

When Jesus came, He said, in effect: “My kingdom is not of this world. I am not the kind of king you want, but I am the kind of King you need. I have not come so that I can bring some glory to you, so that everyone else will do your bidding, and work for you, as the people once did for Solomon. I have not come to keep your belly filled with bread and fish so that you can sit back and do nothing.

“The problem that you have is much deeper than having a roof over your head, beautiful clothes on your back, wonderful children, and someone to serve you. From the time that your first father and mother sinned, you have rejected God as your King. Oh, occasionally, when it was fresh on your mind, you would celebrate God’s love and deliverance. But very quickly you would forget again that He is a king who saves you and serves you and bids you to do the same for your neighbor. And you would go back to your old sinful, selfish, and rebellious life.

“Such treasonous behavior carries the threat of capital punishment in earthly kingdoms. But I am going to suffer the consequences of your sin and rebellion. I am going to suffer your death, destruction, and eternal damnation, so that you don’t have to, so that I might be your King.”

Christ’s coronation as King is most shocking. Human beings kill God the Son. The Jews do so, claiming Jesus committed blasphemy by saying He was God. And that was the truth. He did claim that. The irony was that they did not know that He was telling the truth. The Gentile governor, Pontius Pilate, who didn’t know what truth was, puts Jesus—the Truth—to death, because he wants to save his own skin and keep on playing king, as if his were the final authority.

But even more shocking is that King named Jesus willingly suffers eternal death. The Crowned Prince is punished by His own Father in the place of subjects who are unwilling to be ruled by anyone, not even by a loving king, their God. Jesus goes to the cross because He wants to be our Lord and must go into battle against the powers which hold His own subjects captive—the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

Jesus yields His Spirit to His Father and He declares publicly that everything needed to bring every human back into His kingdom has been done. It is finished. All of that brokenness which humans experience over against God, self, and others, all of those problems, all of the blindness and deadness and being at enmity with God, with ourselves, and with each other, is at an end.

The once crucified King comes to us, offering forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life, solely out of His mercy and grace. And the only thing we have to bring to Him is our sins. But that’s okay—that’s exactly what He wants from us!

We are summoned to stand before our almighty God, that we might confess what in us caused our Lord’s death, what wickedness in our hearts moved Him to love us sinners. We are asked to examine our heart: “Where have I sinned? Where have I rejected what You are and what You have done for me, O Lord, my King?” We are called to ask Him to open our eyes to see and to confess the many ways in which we wish God would be a different kind of God. We are called to lay our sin-filled lives before His cross, that we might go forth, washed in the blood of the Lamb, freed, restored, and alive.

Jesus wants us to acknowledge what we really are, who we really are. We are poor miserable sinners who justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We are by nature sinful and unclean and have consistently sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. We have rejected our King!

But even on this Good Friday, our King does not want us to go away with our heads hung low, in fear and in shame and in doubt. Even, and maybe especially this day, He wants us to go forth in joy knowing that the Creator and Lord of the universe loves us so much that He would give Himself up to a horrendous death because He wants us to be with Him forever. He does not say, “Go away from Me,” but says, “Come unto Me, you who labor and are heavy laden. I can give you rest.”

Jesus really is a King who comes to serve and save us! He gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation as He makes us His sons in Holy Baptism. He feeds us His own body and blood for our forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith. Through His called and ordained servant of the Word, He speaks words of forgiveness and life. Then, He who took up His cross tells us that, for the joy set before us, we can follow in His footsteps, enjoying the challenge to love as we have been loved.

So go forth in the peace of the Lord. Your King Jesus reigns. Crucified, risen, and ascended to the Father’s right hand, He lives and reign to all eternity on behalf of His Church. He intercedes for you before the Father, and comes to you with forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. For His sake, you are forgiven of 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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In Like a Lion and Out Like a Lamb

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Procession_in_the_Streets_of_Jerusalem_(Le_cortège_dans_les_rues_de_Jérusalem)_-_James_TissotClick here to listen to this sermon.

“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” (Zechariah 9:9).

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

I’m sure you’ve heard that old phrase about March weather that goes, “In like a lion and out like a lamb.” Well, according to the late stargazer Jack Horkheimer, it appears that the phrase got its imagery from the two constellations, Aries—the Ram or Lamb, and Leo—the Lion. A long time ago, someone noticed that their movement in the March skies coincided with the fiercer weather at the beginning of the month and the milder weather at the end of the month.

“In like a Lion, and out like a Lamb.” That could describe Jesus’ movement as He comes into Jerusalem for Holy Week. Jesus comes into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday like a lion—with all the pomp and circumstance of a mighty King. By the end of the week, Good Friday, He goes out as the meek and mild sacrificial Lamb.

To better seen this tie-between the Lion and the Lamb, we must go back to ancient Egypt. Nearly two thousand years before Christ, twelve brothers gather around their dying father’s bedside. And one by one, he speaks a blessing or woe upon them. The father is Jacob, and these are the brothers of Joseph, whom they sold into slavery. Judah waits his turn, and he ought to be worried. Jacob has spoken to three of his sons so far, and each one has received an ominous curse.

Clearly, Judah is not saint. Along with the betrayal of Joseph, there’s some public immorality that brought shame upon the family. He got drunk and fathered a child by his eldest son’s widow, whom he had mistaken for a cult prostitute. But even worse, his transgressions put the birth of the promised Seed in jeopardy. Yes, Judah’s sins are well known, and he certainly does not deserve a blessing.

Having finished with Reuben, Simeon and Levi, his father turns to Judah, who must brace himself for the worst. If a curse comes, he’s got it coming. But incredibly, Jacob speaks not a woe, but rather a blessing. He says, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8).

Jacob’s words involve a pun, a play on words, since the Hebrew name Judah means “praise.” This son will be praised by his brothers since God will accomplish wonderful things through him and his descendants. The covenant blessing, which God had given to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, will now be carried forward through Judah. Judah will assume the position of leadership that his three older brothers have forfeited for their selfish weakness and violent natures. From Judah’s line through David will come Israel’s kings and the Messiah.

Jacob continues this blessing, prophesying about the future age of the kingdom of God. Judah and his offspring are described with contrasting images of war and peace: “Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until [Shiloh] comes; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk” (Genesis 49:8-12).

From Judah’s descendants, prophesies Jacob, a Lion will arise. This Son of David will be King, a son of the royal line that bears the scepter in Judah throughout the ages. He will come to His people; and when He comes, He will be called Shiloh—that is, He will be called “peace,” because this coming King is the Prince of Peace who removes the strife of sin. He will be Shiloh—the Rest-bringer—who brings eternal rest for weary souls.

This King shall be the obedience of the people. Where they—like Jacob and Judah and David and you and me—have failed to keep God’s commands, the One who comes as a Lion will obey God for His people. While many of Judah’s descendants who sat on the throne in Jerusalem were not interested in Israel’s messianic hope, and did not deserve to be kings, this is the One in whose hand the royal scepter belongs. His will be a magnificent and universal reign, “and He will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). When sinners are brought to see this, and believe it, they will bow before this righteous King in glad obedience.

This descendant of Judah will come with donkey and colt; and He will bind them to a vine. And having come, He will wash His garments in wine, in the blood of grapes. For Judah and all of his sons and daughters, Jacob announces hope: The Lion will come and bring peace, riding in like a ruler mounted on a donkey. He stops, ties up His mount, and walks the vineyard, tasting the wine and smiling joyfully. His garments are dyed scarlet purple—the color of wealth and rulership.

As I hear Judah’s blessing, I can’t help but think of Palm Sunday and the days of the Holy Week that follow. Jesus Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), rides into Jerusalem of Judea on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He is the righteous Son of God, obedient to His Father in all things for your sake. He is the Son of David who comes in the name of the Lord. He comes to bring peace with God by defeating sin. Thus, when the crowds cry out “Hosanna!” or “Save now!” they are crying for the peace that He brings with them.

During the week, Jesus pounces on the moneychangers and drives them away, and no one can lift a finger against Him. He eats supper with His disciples; and during that Supper, He binds them to wine and Blood, along with bread and Body, for the forgiveness of sins. He does all this, and no one can do a thing to stop Him. His power and authority are evident. Truly, this entry into Jerusalem is a triumphal entry. Jesus comes as King. He comes as Savior. He comes in like a lion.

Five days later, Jesus goes out like a lamb. He goes out like the Lamb of Isaiah 53: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”

In Old Testament times, the Passover Lamb was bound for four days before its slaughter. Christ, the Lamb of God, is bound to four trials (one each before Caiaphas and Herod, two before Pilate) leading up to His death. After four trials, He is found guilty of no sin; in fact, His innocence is only reinforced. Like that Passover Lamb, Christ remains blameless and without spot. He has done nothing to deserve this fate. Although He is accused of many sins, He remains silent and opens not His mouth. He is not there to defend Himself, but to redeem you and me.

In Egypt, the Passover lamb was sacrificed to save the firstborn sons of Israel. It suffered plague and death instead of them. This is why Christ leaves the city that Good Friday. It is not that the stray sheep are driving the Lamb out of the fold, but that the Lord has laid the iniquity of us all on Him, and He is going to destroy it on the cross. Rather than have us suffer plague and death for our sin, Christ shoulders the sin, takes the judgment, suffers God’s holy wrath and the torments of hell, and dies in our place for them. Like the Passover Lamb, He is the substitute—the Sacrifice for our sin, so that we might have forgiveness and life.

Now, to be certain, lambs don’t have the fearsome reputation of lions. In fact, they’re helpless, meek, easily defeated. But do not be dismayed or deceived by the weakness you see in the Passion of our Lord. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, saves you there. He bears your sin and weakness to the cross, suffering for it there. Risen again, He declares that you are forgiven, that He has forgiveness for your sin and strength for your weakness.

So on this Palm Sunday, ponder again Christ, the Lion and the Lamb, the Victorious Victim and Conquered King, who knows your weaknesses and carried your sins. He is your refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Take heart; you need not fear. The Lord of hosts has defeated all your enemies, including sin, death, and the devil. And if those greatest of enemies are under His feet, you can be sure that those afflictions of the world and your own sinful flesh that you experience now have also been overcome by the Lion and the Lamb.

Affliction would seek to render you so weak to believe that not even God could help you. At such times, remember Palm Sunday, how Christ comes in like a lion to defeat His enemies, and yours. Remember that Shiloh comes with peace, to save now, and do not be dismayed. He comes to bring peace to you, to give you His righteousness and salvation.

Guilt would seek to have you say, “God is indeed powerful, but I am far too sinful for Him to care about me.” Remember Judah, who though sinful and undeserving, received his father’s blessing and the promise of the Lion of Judah, the Savior who would come from his own line and open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. When your conscience is heavy, remember the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. For if He has taken away the sins of the world, then He has taken away your sin, too.

Rejoice in His cross. Hear His Word of peace and forgiveness. Cling to Christ the vine, who gives you wine and Blood, bread and Body for your salvation. The palms and Passion, the life and the death, the Lion and the Lamb, the cross and the empty tomb, are all part of the Lord’s work for you. All that you may be sure of your salvation. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

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

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