Sermons, Uncategorized

The Lamb Who Judges Righteously

jeremiah-preaching-to-his-followers
“Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers” by Gustave Dore

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The Lord made it known to me and I knew; then you showed me their deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more” (Jeremiah 11:18-19).

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

It’s the cry of Jeremiah, surrounded by those who plot to take his life. But it’s worse than that. Reading through the rest of chapter 11, you find that it’s the villagers of Anathoth who plot against him. Anathoth was set aside by God for the Levites—for the priests of Israel; therefore, as the prophet of God declares God’s Word, it is the priests of the land who are plotting his death.

It’s even worse than that. Read chapter 1, and you find out that Anathoth is Jeremiah’s hometown. These aren’t just priests of the land: these are neighbors, maybe kinsmen who want him dead and gone. You’d expect better from family and friends. No such luck for Jeremiah.

What’s more, Jeremiah didn’t know that they were plotting against him. Whether it was naiveté or miscalculation on his part or complete treachery by the hometown, Jeremiah is apparently in far more hot water than he expected.

And the reason for the animosity? Things are better around Anathoth than they used to be. This is after Josiah’s reign, and Josiah started to put Judah back on track, back on the way to worship of the one true God. He called for repentance and restoration of the temple. But there’s still need for more of the same. God has called Jeremiah to sound the alarm, and the priests of Anathoth don’t want to hear it. “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,” they say. The fruit of any prophet is his prophecies, his words: destroy the tree, and the speaking stops.

We want to note a few things about Jeremiah in our text. First, one would imagine that he faces a heavy temptation to make peace with his hometown, for a prophet is always without honor there. Maybe he’s tempted to quiet down a little bit or bend God’s Word to shape it to their liking. However, by the grace of God, Jeremiah continues to do the prophet’s work that God has given him to do. Given the anguish he often expresses in this book and Lamentations, this really is quite remarkable—especially in our current day, when emotions often win the argument. Jeremiah resists the temptations and continues to speak the Lord’s Word.

Second, he goes in unarmed. He goes like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. He has no escort of armed guards or even the luxury of a few tough guys to glare at people. He doesn’t get to intimidate people to keep them a step back while he gives his message: all he has to go on is the Word that the Lord has entrusted to him. No sword—just the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God.

Third, Jeremiah prays for vengeance—but remember, he has nothing but the Word of God. Vengeance isn’t his to dole out: “‘Vengeance is Mine,’ says the Lord.” Therefore, while Jeremiah may desire vengeance on those who oppose him, he doesn’t devise any schemes himself: he entrusts that to the Lord: “But, O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see Your vengeance upon them, for to You I have committed my cause.” Jeremiah is God’s messenger. Their fight is with God’s words, and Jeremiah is only repeating them. The Lord will deal with them, and they will have to deal with the consequences.

Fourth, as the King’s messenger, Jeremiah has the unique privilege of foreshadowing Jesus. He may be like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter, but he is not the Lamb of God led to the slaughter. That is left to the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. In our Gospel, Jesus drops the bomb: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise” (Mark 9:31).

Jesus is on the road to the same situation as Jeremiah. The priests are plotting against Him: not the priests of Anathoth, but the ones in Jerusalem. He speaks the truth, and they don’t want to hear it. He is the Prophet delivering God’s saving message, and they want to destroy this Tree with its fruit. He is God Himself and He could easily defend Himself with force; yet He goes to them as a gentle Lamb led to the slaughter. He could destroy them with one word, yet He will remain silent and allow Himself to be sacrificed for their sins. For your sins.

The one on the cross is the Lord of hosts in human flesh, the same one in our Jeremiah text. He judges righteously, and He will condemn the sinner. But before that Judgment, He endures judgment. He dies for the sins of the world. He suffers His Father’s righteous judgment for sin, God’s vengeance against evil—so that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.

That is the Savior whom Jeremiah proclaims and represents in our Old Testament lesson. He is your Savior, too. Jesus judges righteously, as Jeremiah prays. But before righteously judging you for your sin, He takes your unrighteousness upon Himself and suffers that judgment on the cross. Having suffered the sentence for your unrighteousness already, He pardons you and declares you righteous. Thus, He judges you: He announces the verdict of “not guilty,” and says that the kingdom of heaven is yours.

The Church does well to learn lessons from Jeremiah. We live in a time where Christianity is losing influence in culture, and where many have arisen who oppose the Christian faith, claiming it to be everything from utter foolishness to hate speech to child abuse. The Lord has given us the honor of proclaiming His Word to a world that increasingly does not want to hear it. Yet this does not drive us to silence or compromise: recognizing the blindness that comes with unbelief, we want to proclaim the truth that makes eyes see and hearts believe. Thus we follow the lessons of Jeremiah.

For one thing, we hold to the Savior’s Word and speak it in its truth and purity. Obscuring God’s Word or compromising may bring some relief for us from those who oppose it; but it will not bring them relief from their sin.

For another, we enter into this battle only with the Word of God. Jeremiah didn’t carry a sword to force people to hear or believe, and neither do we. There are reasons for this, including the simple truth that you can’t force people to hear or believe, anyway. But perhaps more important is this: forgiveness is a gift of God, and you never force gifts on anyone. The idea of forcing conversion is a doctrine of false religions, such as Islam; and when it has been taught by the Church, it has only proven that the Church has departed from God’s Word.

A third lesson from Jeremiah is this: Christians face opposition in this world,  be it actual physical attack or unkind letters to the editor. Should we face such opposition, we do not seek vengeance. Rather, we commend such people to the Lord and ask that He would judge them righteously. How He does so is up to Him in His wisdom, not ours. We pray that it would include their repentance and belief in Jesus, so that the Lord in His righteous judgment might judge them righteous. If they persist in unbelief, though, we leave it to the Lord to break and hinder their counsel and will. As His messengers, it is not given to us to work vengeance: it is only given to us to proclaim life in His name.

Finally, the fourth lesson: unlike Jeremiah, we don’t foreshadow Jesus because He has already come. But God grant that our proclamation always points to Jesus. Current evangelism strategies today often say that the Church should reach out to the world with other messages first, then follow with the Gospel. This presents the very real danger that the Church might become fixated on the other message, or that those to whom it speaks may never hear the Gospel. May the Lord, in His mercy, grant that every visitor hear the Gospel at St. John’s/Our Saviour’s/Trinity and depart having heard that his sins are forgiven.

Our Old Testament lesson clearly has much to say to the Church as a whole about proclaiming the Gospel to a world that does not want to hear; but there is also application here for individual Christians, too. I have previously noted that the devil will use the things you treasure the most against you, trying to turn them into false gods that you value more than the Lord. We talked about leisure, entertainment, cars, clothes, beauty, hunting, fishing and all sorts of things. The devil likes to take the gifts of God which give you the most happiness and use them to turn you against God. Our Old Testament lesson points us to another aspect of this: friends, loved ones and family whom we hold dear, but who do not believe in Jesus or have chosen to live in unrepentant sin.

This is a painful one, because you dearly want them repentant, forgiven and confident of their salvation. You’ll be tempted to grow impatient with God, and to question whether or not His Word really is powerful and effective. You’ll also be tempted to tinker with God’s Word, to rewrite it so that it makes room for the sins of the one for whom you care. You may even be tempted to leave the faith yourself so that you might be at peace with the other. Be forewarned: Satan well understands how much we value our relationships with other people; and if he can use those to drive a wedge between you and your Savior, he’ll be happy to do so.

Against these temptations, you have the words of Jeremiah. You know that the Gospel is the message that the Lord has entrusted to your lips; and while there will be all sorts of pressure to bend it or abandon it, only the Gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe. Changing the Lord’s message might bring peace with others temporarily, but it destroys peace between you and God. Therefore, you hold fast to the message.

You also acknowledge that, with the message, you’re just the messenger. You have no sword to compel anyone, and—even when your motives are the most noble and sincere—you can force no one to believe. This means that you don’t rely on yourself to convert people: rather, you entrust them to the Lord who saves. You pray for them. He saves by His Word, and it is given to you to speak His Word now, while you have breath. Should those you love not listen now, it may be the Lord’s Word spoken at your funeral which comforts them in their mourning and brings them to repentance and faith.

From Jeremiah, you know that your desire that someone have forgiveness and life may not be received well. Different beliefs can account for a lot of awkward silences at get-togethers. This does not mean that the Lord has failed in His Word; it simply means that sin resists Christ and the life that He gives. Thus you pray that the Lord would judge righteously: especially, if it be His will, that those who do not believe might repent, so that the Lord might judge them righteous for Jesus‟ sake.

This is all about Jesus, for He is the One who saves. He is the One who was led as the gentle Lamb to be slaughtered for the sins of the world, for the sins of those whom you love, and for your sins, too—so that you might be saved from that condemnation. Dear friends, this is a darkened world; but Christ has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. By the waters of Holy Baptism, He has cleansed you of your sin and made you righteous. By His Word and Supper, He continues to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith. His Word still saves, and He graciously places it in our ears and mouths.

Take heart, for you are the Lord’s; and there is no better news than that you are judged righteous for Jesus’ sake, that you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

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

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

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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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.