Sermons, Uncategorized

Presented to the Lord

“The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple” by James Tissot

“And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22).

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

To better understand our text, we must first go back to the time shortly after the first Passover, about 1446 B.C. The Israelites had been in slavery in Egypt for 400 years. But God had not forgotten them. He sent Moses as His spokesman, warning Pharaoh again and again, “Let My people go.” Pharaoh stubbornly refused, so the Lord sent nine plagues to persuade him that rebellion against God is a very foolish thing. Finally, the Lord declared that He would come through the land and take the lives of all the firstborn males of Egypt, both man and beast.

Every firstborn would die… unless. The Lord declared to His people that their firstborn sons could be saved. They were to take a lamb without blemish and sacrifice it. They were to put the blood of the lambs on the lintels and doorposts of their homes, and they were supposed to roast the lamb and eat it for dinner. The people of God followed His instructions about His Passover to the letter; and when the Lord came through Egypt to take the lives of the firstborn males, He passed over every dwelling marked with the blood of the lamb and spared those inside.

The tenth plague—the death of the firstborn—finally moved Pharaoh to submit, at least temporarily. He ordered the people of Israel out of his land. As they left Egypt, the Lord commanded them to remember the Passover every year. He also said, “Consecrate to Me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is Mine” (Exodus 13:2). The firstborn males of animals were to be sacrificed as an offering to God. The firstborn males of the people were to be redeemed, consecrated to God.

As God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, He gave them His Word in the Torah, often called “the Law of Moses.” These five books, the first five in our Old Testament, tell how God brought His people out Egypt, how He led them through the wilderness, how He made a covenant with them, and how He established and regulated their worship. In addition to the instructions for the consecration and presentation of the firstborn that go back to the Passover, God also gave laws and restrictions for keeping Israel separate from the nations as the people from whom the Savior would come.

Among those regulations was the ritual purification of mothers after childbirth. When a baby was born, the mother was ceremonially unclean. This was not because procreation itself is sinful. It is indeed the will of God, a command and a blessing. God told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). The inspired psalmist said, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3), and “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord” (Psalm 128:3,4). The Israelites thought of children as a blessing. In fact, in ancient Israel, childlessness was considered the height of misfortune and even a judgment from God. No, it was not the birth itself that made the woman unclean, rather it was the discharge of blood that occurs following birth.

The ritual passage began with the birth of the child. Immediately after that had occurred, the mother remained in social seclusion for a week if she had given to a son or for two weeks if she had given birth to a daughter. Following a ritual washing, she was free to resume her normal domestic role in the family.

This period of social separation for one or two weeks was followed by a longer period of ritual quarantine. If she had a male child that lasted an additional thirty-three days; if she had a female child, it was sixty-six days. During this time, she was not allowed to have any contact with the sacred domain. She was not considered to be unclean, but neither was she considered to be ritually clean because she was not allowed to touch any holy things in her household, such as meat from a peace offering or anything that had been dedicated as an offering to the Lord or, if she was the wife of a priest, any of the holy food from the sanctuary.

The period of religious quarantine was concluded by an act of sacrifice. The woman who had given birth to a child offered a lamb as a burnt offering and a turtledove or pigeon as a sin offering (Leviticus 12:6). If she was too poor to afford a lamb, she brought another bird instead (Leviticus 12:8). She entered the sacred precincts and brought the offerings to the priest on duty at the entrance.

These two sacrifices performed two specific functions. Through the rite of atonement with the blood from both sacrifices, the woman was cleansed from any impurity that she had incurred from her flow of blood (Leviticus 12:7). Through the burning up of the lamb on the altar she was accepted by God and reinstated as a member of the congregation. She was once again ritually clean. She therefore had access to God’s holiness and His blessing. That meant, too, that she was once again open to the gift of another child from Him.

The observance of this rite of passage had a profound impact on the life of every mother. It connected her life as a mother with her participation in the divine service and her reception of blessing from God. Negatively, it ensured that she did not become involved as a woman in pagan practices of the fertility cults. Positively, it affirmed her status as a full member of the holy congregation and recognized her role as a bearer of blessing from God. The original language in Leviticus 12:2, literally calling the mother a “seed-bearer,” hints at this connection between her vocation as a mother and her call to holiness. Moreover, the continuity and survival of her family—and, more broadly, of Israel—depended on her and her access to the blessing gained from the presence of God in the sacred domain.

The description of the mother as one who “produces seed” recalls the promise to Eve, the “mother of every living person” (Genesis 3:20), that her “Seed” would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). God repeated to the patriarchs His promise that through the Seed of Abraham all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18). The apostle Paul expounded the fulfillment of this promise about the “Seed” by Christ and in all those who are baptized into Christ and thereby become the “seed” of Abraham (Galatians 3:15-29).

Over 1,400 years after God gave His Law to Israel through Moses, the Seed of the woman is born in Bethlehem. On the fortieth day, Mary and Joseph come into the temple in obedience to the Lord’s command. They bring Jesus to the temple for the first time to include Him in her purification. Since Jesus is her firstborn son, He is presented to be consecrated to God at the same time.

That she offers the sacrifice of two birds, helps us to understand that Joseph and Mary were likely of a “humble state” (Luke 1:48), that is, too poor to be able to afford a lamb. On a theological level, no lamb was necessary because already here at forty days old, Jesus is the Lamb brought to His temple for sacrifice.

No mention is made of Jesus’ redemption then or later. Jesus’ life is consecrated to the Lord in the fullest possible way. Luke quite deliberately connects Mary’s purification to Christ’s presentation, for she was purified by her son—as are all the saints—for access to the heavenly sanctuary. The purification of Mary is celebrated on the day of the presentation of our Lord on February 2nd of each year. On this day, the Church prays for cleansing by Christ so that, like Mary, the people of God may be brought and presented to Him with clean hearts.

Jesus is the firstborn in many ways. Colossians 1 calls Jesus the firstborn of creation, for the eternal Son of God is now incarnate, born of Mary. Colossians 1 also calls Him the firstborn of the dead, because the One who was once the Sacrifice for sin is also now the risen Son of God. Crucified for the sins of the world, He lives again to give life forever. And now the Spirit is at work calling you to faith, interceding on your behalf, conforming you to the image of God’s Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

Like Simeon, you, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the Word of God, know of Jesus. You know that the Son of God became flesh, lived, and died for you. By faith, you also know where to find your Savior: as the Spirit pointed Simeon to the infant Jesus in the temple, so He points you to your baptism, to the Word, and to the Supper. There your Savior is found, present with forgiveness and life. You hear the Word. You receive Christ’s body and blood. It’s no wonder that, after the Supper, you sing Simeon’s song—because the Savior is just as body-and-blood present with you as He was with Simeon when Simeon held Mary’s firstborn in his arms. And so you may depart in peace.

As you do, what does the Lord call you? Firstborn.

Hebrews 12:23 calls the Church “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,” and you are numbered among them. Like the firstborn sons of Israel in Egypt, you have been saved from death by a sacrifice of blood: the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Like the firstborn of Bible times, the inheritance of the Father is yours: The Lord declares that the kingdom of heaven is yours. This is so because Jesus, the firstborn of creation has joined you to Himself in Holy Baptism; there, you were adopted as sons of God. For the sake of Jesus, you are sons of God, heirs of the kingdom, and God is your Father who works all things for your good, even as the Holy Spirit is at work conforming you to the image of the Son.

It is not your doing. It is not your righteousness or works or obedience or sacrifice that make you an heir of the kingdom of heaven. But it is yours because, as our Epistle reading for today reminds us, Jesus Himself partook of flesh and blood, that through death He might destroy the one who has power over death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. To help us, the seed of Abraham, Jesus was made to be like us, His brothers, in every respect, so that He might make propitiation for our sins (Hebrews 2:14-18) that you and I might be presented to the Lord, adopted as His sons, justified and sanctified, co-heirs of His kingdom that has no end.

Redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead, you are among the assembly of the firstborn, for 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

Depart in Peace: Sermon for the Funeral of Melvin Brockberg

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1skddtLleyX_RGiVZIy_9UZiNFyhtwEce/view?usp=sharing

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

Now that he now longer is here on this earth, we have only our memories of him. We close our eyes and can almost picture him, can’t we? No flashy, fancy clothes, no big, expensive car, no excesses of luxury, no political aspirations. He was an ordinary man, devout in his faith, humble in his attitude. You didn’t read about him in the newspapers all the time, but his name was written in the Book of Life. He knew of his salvation—that it was not something he could bring about. Like each of us, he had broken God’s commandments. He had failed to do the good he should do and had often done what he shouldn’t. But, by God’s grace, he had heard the good news of the Savior and believed it. He did not look to himself for his own righteousness or eternal salvation. Rather, the Lord was his hope; the Lord God was, and is, his future, his eternity.

We know for certain that he was a righteous man, though we also know that his righteousness was not from himself. Rather, when he was brought into the Church through the Word of God, then the Lord’s righteousness was given to him as a gift. Forgiveness of all sins, eternal life, salvation from death, and deliverance from the Evil One are all part of the blessings that God had declared to him. He became an heir of heaven and all the riches of the Lord God Almighty.

As he faced an uncertain death, he might well have agreed with the Apostle Paul as he thought about continuing to live in this world of disappointment and suffering, or to simply die. Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain… Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:21-23).

How many times had he thought of the 23rd Psalm? How often did he recall and rely on the part where the writer speaks, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me?” How often had he awakened in the night thinking of his life and thinking of the Promise of God, which had been given to him?

We don’t know, do we? For those thoughts of his are like yours and mine—very personal, known only by oneself and by the Lord. What we do know is that the Lord was with him during his travels through all of the valleys, at his bedside when he had bad dreams, with him when he received news that was less than comforting, and keeping him close even at the moment of his death.

Dear family and friends of our departed brother in Christ, Melvin: the only thing that is able to keep us going in tough times is the promise of God given to us in His Son. That promise was given to that man I’ve been speaking of, the man from the Bible named Simeon, the man who is now with the Lord in heaven. And it sustained him during his entire life. It is his story in Luke 2:25-32 that provides our text for today under the theme: “Depart in Peace.”

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now You are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.’”

In a special revelation given by the Holy Spirit, Simeon had been given the promise of God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. That special day came for Simeon when Mary and Joseph entered the temple with the Christ Child. Simeon was given the wonderful privilege of actually holding Jesus. What the universe could not contain was held in the arms of one man. Simeon embraced his Savior, his Salvation, his Redeemer, his Lord. He held eternity in his hands.

Dear people, is a baby able to be that and to do that? Well, this was not just any baby being held. This was the Baby—the Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity and the Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary. The Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. This little One would grow up to tell you that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life … that no one is able to come to the Father except by Him … that He came to lay down His life for you.

This Baby held in Simeon’s arms, would grow up for the specific purpose of taking his place and ours upon the cross. No, He did not look forward to His own death. Unlike you and Melvin and me, Jesus knew exactly how He was going to die. Jesus knew He would experience hell itself. Why, He even prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Jesus lived a perfect, holy and righteous life in our place. He died our death and atoned for our sins. He suffered hell so that we might not have to. He rose up from His grave as He defeated death. The tomb could not hold Him; nor will it hold those who fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. He promised to be with us, always, even to the end of the age, as He ascended into heaven to His rightful place as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

From there, in Paradise, He awaited Simeon. He awaited Melvin. He awaits you and me. The Lord looked down from above and knew that Simeon would not see death until his eyes had seen the Lord’s Christ. Having stood in the Temple and seen Him, Simeon could depart in peace. And, no doubt, one day Simeon did depart in peace, according to the Word and will of the Lord.

Simeon reminds me of Melvin. Here was a quiet, unassuming man, so inconspicuous that few but the closest to him really knew that much about him. If you look in his scrapbook, you can see that he made the newspaper a few times in his life: when he got married to Dorothy, when he moved a big dairy barn to his farm, and when he sold a cow that had an image of Mickey Mouse on its side to Disney World. Melvin was a private man. As far as I can tell not many folks even knew he was going on the Midwest Honor Flight last week. But we do know this most important thing about Melvin: As with Simeon, the Lord looked down on Melvin and knew he would not die until he had seen the Lord.

And Melvin did see Him. Through the Word of God at his Baptism, Melvin saw the crucified and risen Christ. Having received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, Melvin could’ve departed in peace as a tiny baby. But that was not the Lord’s will. Through the Word of God, Melvin peered into the manger and saw the Good News of great joy—the Savior of the world. He saw the sinless Son of God hanging on the cross for his sins. Having seen the Lord, Melvin could have departed in peace after his confirmation day, or when he served in the United States Army during the Korean War, or the day he married Dorothy, or during one of his bouts of pneumonia, or any time in between. But that was not the Lord’s will. None of those times were the right time for Melvin.

When would it be? Not one of us knew until last Thursday. Of course, God from on high knew when it would be all along. And He knew that Thursday was the day for Melvin to depart in peace and spend eternity in Paradise. God, in His great mercy and love, permitted Melvin to die suddenly, without lingering illness or incapacitation such a short time after some of us had joined in worship in the chapel service at Falls Landing and he told us how he so looked forward to the Midwest Honor Flight.

For Melvin, there is now, no pain, no sorrow, no suffering. No more earthly hurts, conflicts, or grudges, no more struggle with sin, no more guilt over past mistakes. He has departed in peace according to the Word of God. The promise had been given and Melvin believed and trusted in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Last Thursday all things were ready in heaven and on earth for Melvin to depart in peace.

From there in Paradise, Jesus awaits for the Last Day, when He will raise the bodies of all the dead. He’ll take all believers with Him to the new heaven and new earth, where they’ll live forever in glorious, resurrected bodies, with clean hearts and sinless souls. This promise is good whether you believe it or not. The heavenly riches are there whether you believe it or not. Jesus died for you whether you believe it or not.

For those who do believe in Jesus, trust Him, and follow Him, well, you may depart in peace because your eyes have seen Him. Oh, it’s not that Christians look forward to dying. Christians do not especially want to die any more than anyone else. I know I don’t. But a very wise Christian woman said something like this: “It is not the dying that bothers me, it is the struggle to keep on living that is so hard.” So from God’s point of view, the view that both Simeon and Melvin now have, any day is a good day to die. The Christian may, indeed, depart in peace.

Sadly, for those who never knew Jesus, or who no longer believe in Him, or who’ve wandered away from Him, there really is no good day to die. Because on that day Jesus will say to them, “Depart…. depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the Name of the God’s one and only Son.

Isaiah the prophet gives good counsel to each of us: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near.” The Apostle Paul encourages the same: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

According to God’s Word, Melvin believed and was baptized. No, like each of us he was not perfect, he was not without sin. But by the grace of God, Melvin was declared righteous and having salvation for Jesus’ sake. With the Word, Melvin lived his life of faith in the Church. Through the Word of God, Melvin received Christ at Holy Communion. He received the very body of Jesus born of Mary—the very blood of Jesus shed on the cross. And for perhaps a thousand times after the Lord’s Supper, along with the entire congregation and all the company of heaven, Melvin sang Simeon’s song: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

How about you? Will you depart in peace like Simeon or Melvin? You can, you know! Those of you who seek the Lord, who have heard and believe the good news of our Savior Jesus Christ can depart from this sanctuary in peace, knowing you have been declared righteous, knowing that those sins and offenses you’ve suffered at the hands of others have been redeemed in the blood of the Lamb, knowing you have salvation and eternal life because are forgiven of all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. 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.