Devotions & Essays, Sermons

A God Who Rises

“Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene” by Jan Cossiers

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11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that He had said these things to her. (John 20:11–18)

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

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Behold the man who died and who now lives. His heart was stopped but again pulses with a new rhythm and vigor. His veins spilled their crimson contents all over the Golgotha ground but now course with a fresh supply of warm, red, oxygenated blood. His lungs were deflated and flat after that loud cry with which He yielded up His Spirit but now they expand and fill with the perfumed, stale, air of the tomb. His eyes were closed in death but now open and squint to take in the sites. His hands had been nailed but now they spread all ten living fingers open before picking up the grave cloths and folding them. His feet had dragged lifelessly as His body was placed into the tomb but now they reach to the ground and plant ten living toes into the cool dirt. His skin had cooled to the ambient temperature of the stone-and-dirt grave but now radiates heat and warmth, though it still possesses five distinct wounds from nails and a spear. His brain had been still and dead but now electrons dance and synapses and neurons sparkle. His stomach, which hasn’t eaten since Thursday, growls and suggests somewhat urgently that the Lenten fast is over. Behold, the man, Jesus, God and man, lives. He rises triumphantly from the dead and strolls out of the grave into His creation.

And Mary mistakes Him for the gardener. It’s an honest mistake, really. She was understandably confused. She showed up first, while it was still dark and the disciples were asleep. But she probably hadn’t slept for days. As soon as day began to break after the Sabbath had ended, she went to the tomb. When she saw that the stone had been taken away, dislocated from what she knew was its permanent resting place, she ran and told the disciples. She found Peter and John first, and the words came crashing out so quickly, it’s any wonder they understood her at all. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

They all went back to the tomb, Peter and John sprinting. John doesn’t bother to tell us whether Mary Magdalene ran or walked. But when the men wandered away bewildered, she was there. She stayed outside weeping, grieving at the double loss. First the One she called Lord was crucified. Now His body was missing. The angels are perplexed at her weeping. “Why?” Her distress is wrong, not part of her honest mistake. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Then she turned around and beheld the Risen Lord. He asked her the very same question as the angels: “Why are you weeping?” and added, “Whom are you seeking?”

Of course, she supposed He was the gardener. This was an honest mistake. It’s not a mistake to confuse Jesus with a gardener. It’s a mistake to confuse Jesus with this gardener, the caretaker of the cemetery. He is no caretaker of cemeteries. In fact, He is quite the adversary to anyone who wants to keep cemeteries neat and orderly, who wants graves undisturbed, who wants peace and quiet maintained. There is a gardener, a caretaker for those things. But this man is not he.

There are many caretakers for the cemetery of the world. Maintaining this cemetery is the peculiar pastime of the world. I don’t mean, of course, the tending to real cemeteries or the peculiar business of operating a funeral home.

Ironically, the funeral industry thrives from shielding you from the stinging reality of death. First, there’s the cutting, draining, embalming, stuffing, plugging, sewing, and otherwise disguising the cold reality of a dead body to make it look as close as possible to the picture you provide the undertaker. Then there’s the casket, the liner, and the vault, because who wants to deal with the reality of ground that sinks as bodies decompose? And then the euphemisms: “He has passed on.” “She’s in a better place.” “He’s watching over you.” “Heaven needed another lady in its bowling league.” Finally, the funeral in the church has been replaced with the “celebration of life” in the mortuary. That’s all exceedingly odd and out of touch with the reality that death is a rupturing of God’s perfect creation.

It’s only in times of national emergency like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or pandemics that the terribleness of death is noticed and we don’t know how to deal with it when human lives (or at least some lives) become precious.  

It’s a sad fact that our culture often promotes death. The strong are encouraged to eliminate the weak. Mothers are persuaded that it is more convenient to kill their unborn children rather than shouldering the burden of being a parent. As soon as our elderly show some sign of slowing down, we want to scuttle them off to care facilities rather than take the time to grow old with them. And if our elderly are indeed too infirm to live at home, we do not take time out of our busy life to visit those who gave us life. Vengeance is yours. Suicide is noble. Divorce makes sense. Happiness at all costs. War is just. Kill or be killed. Efficiency is our idol. And nothing is more efficient than death.

The Didache, a first-century compilation of the teaching of the apostles, describes the culture of death like this:

And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and full of curse: murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rapines, false witnessings, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing requital, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him that made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him that is in want, afflicting him that is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.[i]

There is nothing new under the sun. Who has not bought into this evil way of thinking? Repent. Death does not become you.

The culture of death is not an American innovation, though we’ve made this idealized and idolized morbid production more efficient with every new technology we embrace. It is as old as creation, minus maybe seven or eight days. It was a culture of death that drove the first humans to rebel against the source of life, their Creator. “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” dyingly die, forever be more inclined toward death than life, see death as the unavoidable end to your lives, kill and fight, destroy both the Creator and His creation. You will die.

And then what happened? They fled from the gardener. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hid, fearing for their lives. The God who had created them with His Word; who had scooped Adam out of the fresh, fertile adamah, or earth; who had planted a garden called Eden and put His humans in the garden to care for it and tend it; who still had the dirt of His creation under His fingernails, having indulged yesterday in the perfect Sabbath of His good creation, now strikes terror into the hearts of these be-your-own-gods rebels. And He should. He is life. They chose death. Adam became the first gardener of death, and the mere existence of the gardener of life made him afraid for his life.

Since then, the tension between Creator and men has been a clash of life versus death. But it didn’t stop the divine gardener from taking the occasional stroll in His creation, from tending His garden. So it should be no surprise to us that when the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, when the Creator took an extended stroll in His creation, He exercised the skill and patience of a master gardener as He walked the rows.

Behold the man who tends His garden, who, everywhere He went, pulled the weeds of blindness and paralysis, leprosy and death, unbelief and rebellion. Behold the man who sowed the seed of His Word, the news of the new, irresistible reign of life, swallowing up the regime of death. He promised life, but it would come through death—specifically, His death. The death of this man at the hands of the caretakers of the culture of death, the gardeners of a dying world.

And so when Mary Magdalene beheld the man who created the Garden of Eden, who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and who was dead and buried in a garden, she made the honest mistake of assuming that He was just another man, just another gardener in the gardens of death. But He is not.

He is a gardener, but of a completely different sort.

So here we are, at the dawn of His resurrection, in the fresh rays of a new dawn, basking in the glow of life, overcoming the shadows of death, and undoing a culture of death through sacrament and song, beholding the man who rose from the dead to obliterate death’s stranglehold in His good creation.

Join with Mary Magdalene in her pious mistake. Suppose the crucified and risen Christ; the grain of wheat fallen dead into the grave, buried in infertile ground, and broken forth in the bloom of new life; the eternal sower; the gardener of Eden; the new man, to be the Gardener. He is the gardener of His new heavens and new earth, the caretaker of the culture of new, resurrection life.

Behold the man who gives life. Believe in His bodily resurrection and your own, already begun in the waters of Holy Baptism, but not completed until His return. Behold the man who answers the culture of death begun by the first man by immersing Himself into it and dying at its hands. Behold the man whose death has destroyed death. Behold the man—the only man—with the authority to take His own life back up again. Behold the man who emerged from the grave and was immediately confused for the gardener. Behold the man whose resurrection means your resurrection. Behold the man who feeds you with the only body that rose from the dead in victory over death. Behold the man. And in Him, behold yourself, holy and whole, forgiven and free. In Him, behold the man or woman you are now and will be fully when He raises your very flesh from the grave.

Jesus’ resurrection is not just for His sake. As His death was for us, who are bodily dying as the consequence of our sin, now His resurrection is also for us, over whom death was thought to have the final word. Jesus rose bodily; His body and soul were knit back together eternally. And He promises the same bodily resurrection for us—not some disembodied rest for our souls with Him. Our lungs will breathe again. Our hearts will beat warm and strong anew. Our eyes will see; our ears will hear. Our lips will be freed from their lifeless rigor mortis to join the unending Te Deum of the eternal Bride of the resurrected Christ, His Holy Church. Our bodies will rise, as His is risen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

This sermon is adapted from a sermon series by Jeffrey Hemmer published by Concordia Publishing House.

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.

[i] Didache [The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles], Ch. 5: “The Way of Death,” ANF 7:379.

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Living in the Resurrection Now

The Poor invited to the feast - Luke 14:15-24
JESUS MAFA. The Poor Invited to the Feast, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn.

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[Jesus said]: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14).

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

On first reading, this text appears to be an assortment of different, unconnected moments in the ministry of Jesus. We have a healing (vv. 1-6), a parable (vv. 7-11), and then a teaching about regard for the poor (vv. 12-14). When you look at the text more closely, however, you see this all happens on one occasion. The text begins with a reference to a meal on the Sabbath at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees and it is not until verse 25 that we leave this occasion.

Recognizing this unity encourages us to look for the connection among these seemingly unrelated events. Like a friend telling us what happened last night at dinner, Luke relates many of the details of this occasion with something in mind. When you look at what Jesus is doing, you will find the connection: Jesus is patiently revealing what the Resurrection truly means.

What comes to mind when you think about the Resurrection? For some, it might be all clouds and angels and souls taking flight. For others, a reunion with loved ones. For the more Biblically minded, it may even be the broken world suddenly and fully restored. In each of these cases, however, notice how it is an event located in the future. Not something we seriously consider as we choose whether or not to go out to lunch with a transgendered co-worker.

For Jesus, the Resurrection is not just a doctrinal teaching located in the future, or worse yet a line from the Creed that we say and move on. No. It is something which shapes our lives now.

Consider the focused patience of Jesus. He uses questions and healings and parable and direct address, all to bring about a glimpse of His eternal Kingdom among those who are gathered.

The reading opens with Jesus celebrating the restoration that occurs in His Kingdom. He heals the man who has dropsy and, by a question, invites the Pharisees and lawyers to see how this is fitting for the Sabbath, a time of rest in the reign and rule of God.

Receiving no reply to His question, Jesus tells a parable that invites those gathered to see the great reversal happening in the Kingdom of God. God works by grace and, therefore, those who exalt themselves will be humbled but those who humble themselves will be exalted by God.

When there is still no response, Jesus speaks directly to His host, inviting him to live in the liberality of God. The last line of the text seems odd: “For you will be repaid at the Resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). But this one small phrase opens up for us what lies at the heart of these various activities of Jesus.

Here, at a dinner, Jesus is offering a glimpse of the grace that will prevail in His eternal kingdom. The sick will be healed. The poor will be fed. The humble will be honored. The faithful will be rewarded. Even the host can live now in the liberality of God. No need to think of himself or his social obligations. He doesn’t need to look out for himself because he knows that he will be taken care of. Such divine assurance means he is free to extend God’s care to others.

The question this text poses for us today is, “What does it mean to believe in the Resurrection?” Is the Resurrection only about the future? Or, could it be possible, the Resurrection opens our life to the present? If so, how do we go about living in the Resurrection now?

An ancient group of philosophers called the Stoics believed it was important for everyone to remember death each day. Their reasoning was, “You’re going to die. You don’t know when, but you know it will happen.” Making people depressed was not the purpose of this, but rather helping people actually savor life and not sleepwalk through it. They also believed that if you remembered life’s impermanence, you would not be so quick to take your loved ones and friends for granted. Who knows, after all, how long you will have their company, and they yours? There is a good dose of common sense in this perspective.

Yet stoicism doesn’t come anywhere close to plumbing the reasons why Christians, from early times, have also frequently and intentionally remembered death. Stoicism lacked framework to truly see death as it is. To the Stoic, death was just a natural part of the cycle of life: you are born, you grow old, and then you die. Death is just the concluding chapter of life.

Christians, however, remember the beginning: Genesis. We remember that death is not a “natural” part of the world because it is not what God intended for His creation. We remember that the Creator’s gift was life, a life in which all things were good.

“Death” was at first only a word in God’s new creation, part of a warning attached to the fruit of a tree. It had no concrete place in human existence until man wanted his way instead of God’s and let the monster in and turned it loose. When Christians remember death, even remembering it daily, we’re not merely recalling that there is an end to life that comes at an unexpected time. We’re recalling that our first parents’ disobedience let loose an enemy into the very fabric of creation and that it is even now at work in our own bodies and souls.

Every Ash Wednesday, in countless congregations around the world, Christians line up and come forward to receive a strange mark, ashes smeared on their forehead, while hearing the words God spoke to Adam and Eve on the day death entered the human body. “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Yet on Ash Wednesday, the ashes are not placed in a single blob, but in the shape of a cross. This remembrance, then, is not only about being “dead men walking,” headed to the grave. Rather it is also a remembrance that out of incomprehensible love, there came forth from the Father His Only Son, into our flesh to know this death in His own body nailed to the cross.

It was on the very night that His sufferings began that Jesus spoke to His disciples some astounding words: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1–4).

It sounded so good to the disciples; but Thomas was confused. He said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Jesus’ answer is one of His most famous sayings: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Jesus not only provides the way to the home He has prepared; He also is the way. How He does it is called “the blessed exchange.” Jesus prepared a way for us to come home and stay there forever by becoming man, like us in every way except without sin. He willingly entered into our death—even death on a cross—to pour into it His own divine life, destroying death from the inside out.

When the Christian thinks of death daily, he or she also remembers this above all: that Jesus entered into death for us to open the way back to the home God created for us at the beginning. Because this is so, the Christian daily thinks of death in order to learn to think of it as a defeated foe. If through Christ, the way home has already been opened, then death itself has been truly robbed of its sting. Death is no longer seen as the end, but a sound sleep from which Christ will one day awaken us with a word.

Have you ever noticed how most cemeteries are oriented with the graves going east and west? The casket is placed with the head to the west and the feet to the east? There’s a good reason for this custom—the Resurrection. It is thought that on the Last Day when Christ returns to raise the living and the dead, He will come from the east. So, for us Christians, we have this wonderful image that when we arise from the sleep of death, the first thing we will see is our Savior.

Such an unshakeable hope in the Resurrection affects not just how we face death, but also how we live each day now. As Jesus reveals, the Resurrection gives us courage to live each day in the radical liberality of God. Christ is not concerned about social consequences in His kingdom. Let the Pharisees talk—He receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:1). He loves justice. He does mercy. He walks humbly with God. Regardless of the consequences. Such living could get one killed, (which it does,) but God, His Father, raises the dead and, through Him, establishes a kingdom where mercy reigns. Even now.

Imagine living in that kingdom now. Something as mundane as inviting people over to dinner can be touched by the reality of the Resurrection. Rather than living in a world governed by social stratification—a world where there are those we invite into our homes and those we do not, people we need to impress to secure our future, and love we need to give or withhold depending upon who is watching—we live in God’s Kingdom governed by His gracious promise of resurrection. No need to push in line or rush about or always seek to be first. You literally have eternity to enjoy the moment. No need to secure our place, that is already taken care of by Christ. Instead, we are free to take care of others. Something as simple as whom we talk to or even how we talk to that person can become an occasion when we confess our belief in the Resurrection of the just.

God Himself is the model of one who invites all classes of people to His great supper of salvation. In the Resurrection, there will be people of all economic strata, including the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. We’ll be with them for eternity. How we treat other people matters—because we are living in eternity and our days are expressions, sometimes humble and other times courageous, of the certainty that God ultimately rules over all things with love.

Living in the Resurrection now makes a difference!

When facing health challenges, you can pray for healing, confident that God cares about you, He will be with you, and He promises to work all things for your eternal good. You also have the further assurance, that God will grant you healing—if not in this life, then in the Resurrection.

Living in the Resurrection now makes a difference!

Mourning the death of a loved one, you have a different perspective. You do “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since you believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep … the dead in Christ will rise … Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Living in the Resurrection now makes a difference!

What you do or don’t do on the Sabbath is changed when you are living in the Resurrection. Works of mercy, acts of loving our neighbor are not forbidden, but rather encouraged. And living in the Resurrection now, where will you be found each Lord’s Day? In the presence of the Lord, hearing the Word of God. Receiving Christ’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening and preserving of your body and soul unto life everlasting. Celebrating with your fellow Christians, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, the glorious foretaste of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

Yes, living in the Resurrection now makes a big difference!

So, go in the grace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are living in the Resurrection now. 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.

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In the Presence, Glory, and Rest of the Lord: Sermon for the Funeral of Lorraine Scheerhoorn

Click here to listen to this sermon.Lorraine Scheerhoorn

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).

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

As you’ll read in her obituary, Lorraine confessed publicly the faith into which she was baptized in the Rite of Confirmation at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Trosky on April 2, 1944. On that day, Lorraine promised that she would “continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.” By the grace of God, Lorraine kept that promise; she fought the good fight of faith and has received the crown of eternal life.

On the day of her confirmation, Lorraine received this verse, Exodus 33:14, a promise of God, that she wanted you to hear today: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

What an excellent text for the Christian life and death of one of God’s saints! As we should do with any and every Bible passage, we’ll first consider this verse in its original context, and then apply it to our lives on this day in which we recall all the blessings that the Lord bestowed upon His daughter and our sister-in-Christ, Lorraine.

As the Lord first spoke these words to Moses, Moses had just come down from Sinai with the two tablets of the Law, written by the finger of the Lord, only to find the people of Israel worshiping and sacrificing to the golden calf. When God threatened to wipe out the Israelites and start over again to make a new nation through Moses, the prophet interceded on their behalf. The Lord relented, telling the prophet there would still be punishment for those who had sinned against Him, but Moses was to continue leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land.

The Lord and Moses had a very special, unique relationship. We are told: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” We see this, in the conversation between himself and the Lord recorded in our Old Testament reading. Moses wrestles with the Lord in prayer much as Jacob had once done, not wanting to let the Lord go without first receiving a blessing.

Relying on this close relationship, Moses says: “You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’” Moses then pleads for greater information concerning the Lord’s intentions as far as Israel is concerned: “Show me now Your ways… Consider too that this nation is Your people.” In other words, “I am to be Your leader of Your people, please let me know your intentions concerning them.” We see how Moses approaches the throne of the Lord’s grace “boldly and confidently,” as Luther encourages us in His explanation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism.

The Lord reassures Moses, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Moses receives what he asks for! The Lord promises that His own personal Presence will continue to be with His people. Moses holds the Lord firmly to this word of assurance. “If Your Presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here,” he says. “For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

These words of Moses, although stated as questions, are actually the words of a believer who clings to the Word and promise of God. He approaches the Lord in the spirit of the psalmist who declares, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26).

Once more the Lord reassures Moses: “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in My sight, and I know you by name.” Moses is overcome with joy. In this joyful mood he proceeds to make one more daring request. He says to the Lord, “Please, show me Your glory.”

Although Moses had communicated with the Lord “face to face” (Exodus 33:11), he had not seen the Lord’s glory in its total splendor. Moses wants to see God in all His holiness, His majesty, and perfection.

But the Lord cannot comply with Moses’ request, as He Himself states: “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” As a human being cannot look into the light of the sun without being blinded by its brilliance, so likewise sinful people living here on this earth cannot behold the glory of a holy God without being destroyed. Believers also are sinful human beings. They cannot know God fully or comprehend His ways. They cannot dwell in His holy light. Only in eternity will the veil between a believer and the holy God be removed, and “we shall see Him as He is.”

The Lord, however, does not become angry with Moses because of his unusual request. He rather says to him, “I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” What a beautiful reminder lies in these words! For us human beings here on this earth, the Lord’s glory rests in that name by which He has revealed Himself to us—the I AM WHO I AM, the Lord of the covenant, the God who in His Word has revealed Himself to us above all in His mercy, His compassion, His free and faithful grace!

Moses boldly asks for a direct vision of God’s glory, but God tells Him He will show him more—He will send His goodness. God will reveal more in His character than in His glorious appearance. The Lord then grants Moses an unusual experience. The Lord puts Moses into the cleft of a rock. While passing by, the Lord covers Moses with His “hand,” that is, with His protecting power. After passing by, the Lord lets Moses see His “back,” that is, the reflection of His glory. The Lord reveals to Moses as much as He can in the circumstances. The important revelation as far as Moses is concerned is the proclaiming of the Lord’s name.

There are times in our own lives as Christians when the pressures of this earthly existence weigh heavily upon us. Life’s problems and disappointments mount with increasing fury. The death of loved ones causes us pain and sorrow. The weight of sin wears us down. Our own responsibilities never seem to lessen in intensity. “How much more can we be expected to carry?” we ask. We wrestle with the Lord in prayer. We long for some kind of added reassurance that He is truly there, according to His promise.

With Peter we declare, “Lord, to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” But isn’t there more than mere words? Heaven seems so far away. “Show us Your glory,” we say with Moses. We want the Lord to give us some tangible sign of His glorious Presence.

God gives us something better!

In Christ, we have better than a sign. We have God’s Presence with us. We have God’s glory veiled in human flesh. We have God’s promised rest. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. God sends us His goodness.

In our Gospel for today, we hear: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16–17).

The truth be told, because of sin, none of us deserve to be in God’s glory and presence. None of us deserve God’s goodness or promised rest—not Lorraine, not you, not me, not anyone. These gifts are given to us solely out of God’s grace and mercy, without any worthiness on our part, but for the sake of the perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, who came to earth as one of us, who covered Himself with human flesh and lived among us in this fallen, dying world.

Jesus lived the perfect, obedient life that Lorraine, you, and I would not, indeed, could not live. Jesus gave His life on the cross for the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world—Lorraine’s, yours, and mine included. Jesus rose again from the grave giving us the certain hope of our own resurrection to eternal life. Jesus ascended to heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf, even as He has promised to be with us always in His means of grace.

God, in His mercy and goodness, still condescends to come to us poor, miserable sinners in ways we can receive Him. Luther writes: “[God] says, ‘Man shall not see Me and live.’ Therefore He put before us an image of Himself, because He shows Himself to us in such a manner that we can grasp Him. In the New Testament we have Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, absolution, and the ministry of the Word” (AE 2:46).

God’s Presence was with Lorraine throughout her life. On the day she was baptized in May 1930, the Holy Spirit came to live in the temple of Lorraine’s body, bringing forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In Holy Baptism, Lorraine was clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all her sin. She was buried with Christ into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, she too might walk in newness of life. United with Him in a death like His, she shall certainly be united in a resurrection like His.

Regularly throughout her life, Lorraine entered the rest of the Lord as she made time to hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it in the Divine Service, Bible study, and daily devotions. The Lord came to be with her in His Supper, feeding her His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of her faith. As Lorraine confessed her sins, Christ spoke forgiveness to her in His Word of absolution. And when Lorraine prayed, she could do so with the certainty that God heard her prayers for the sake of Christ, and she could speak with the Father as Moses did; that is, “as a man speaks to his friend.”

In His means of grace—His Word and Sacraments—the Lord brought His promised rest to Lorraine throughout her life, up until the day of her death, when she entered His glory, His Presence, and rest for eternity. She now lives in the Presence of the Lord with all the saints who have gone before, looking upon His glorious face unhindered by sin. Having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, they serve Him day and night. He shelters them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore, for the Lamb will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

One day, by God’s grace, we will join them there.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, may God grant this to us all. 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

The Lamb Will Be Their Shepherd

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For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).

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

Each year, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. Fittingly, all our readings today give us insight to the relationship we have with Jesus as sheep and Shepherd and the benefits of that relationship.

Our Gospel takes place during the Feast of Dedication, also called Hanukkah, the Jewish national holiday celebrating the purification of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus in December 165 B.C. Jesus was walking in the temple area near Solomon’s colonnade. It offered some protection from the winter’s cold. The Jewish religious leaders encircled Jesus and asked Him point blank: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Sad to say, they didn’t really want to know the truth. What Jesus had already told them, what He had done, and the way He lived in His Father’s name were clear evidence that He is the Christ. But they did not want to believe. Similarly, today, many people claim to want to know exactly who Jesus is, yet they ignore His own words and ways. “You do not believe,” says Jesus, “because you are not among My sheep.” Those who are not among God’s chosen flock turn deaf ears and blinded eyes to Jesus.

In contrast to such unbelievers, Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. He knows them and they follow Him. The relationship between Jesus and His followers is intimate, personal. And because He is the Christ, the Son of God, the relationship is eternal. He gives His sheep eternal life. They will not perish forever. No one can snatch them out of His hand.

What words of comfort for you and me! We are secure forever with Christ Jesus. Our security is locked up with the Father in heaven. No one can take us from Jesus’ hands because that would mean seizing us from God the Father’s hands. And no one can do that. What is true of the Son also is true of the Father.

Jesus’ words are clear. He is from God. He is the Son of God. He is God. He is the Christ. “I and the Father are one,” he concludes.

It’s not enough to gather from His words only that He and the Father think alike or have a harmonious relationship or treat His sheep alike. Jesus is speaking of being one essence with the Father, of being God. And that’s exactly how Jesus’ enemies understand Him. To them, Jesus’ words sounded like blasphemy, so they pick up stones to carry out the penalty described in Leviticus for blasphemers. Their hatred and anger cannot be contained. They are ready to ignore the legal need for a trial. They are ready to carry out capital punishment even though they know by law that only the Roman government has that authority.

But no one will take Jesus’ life. He will lay it down of His own accord when the time is right. And He will raise it again. He will give His sheep eternal life, and they will never perish, and no enemy will snatch them out of His hand.

Jesus, in our Gospel, warns of enemies from outside of the Church; Paul, in our First Reading, warns of those from within—false prophets, fierce wolves. He encourages the undershepherds of Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.

Paul understands that a preacher must answer to God for the message he preaches or fails to preach. By saying, “I am innocent of the blood of all,” he is expressing his confidence that no one will go to eternal death because Paul has failed to preach the truth to him.

God’s will is that all men turn in “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” All the teaching of the Bible and all true preaching centers in this. To alter any of God’s Law or God’s Gospel is to misrepresent God’s will. To say more or to say less than God’s Word says can make a pastor guilty of someone’s blood, make him the cause of someone’s eternal damnation.

Shepherds feed and lead the flock. Pastors feed and lead the Church of God. The Holy Spirit has made them overseers, supervisors, for that purpose. As undershepherds, pastors are to guard themselves and the whole congregation. Paul uses the picture of a flock because he is thinking of the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, the God who bought the Church “with His own blood.”

That is a striking expression, so striking that some copyists and editors and commentators have tried to change it. That’s unfortunate. The phrase, “God’s blood,” reminds us that when God became man, He did not stop being God. As the God-Man He is not two persons but one person. What the Man did God was doing. What belongs to the Man belongs to God. When Jesus’ blood was shed, God’s blood was shed. When God bought the Church, He did it with His own blood.

The savage wolves of whom Paul speaks are false prophets of the same kind Jesus warns about in Matthew 7:15: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” No church anywhere at anytime can be complacent about the possibility of false teachers. Wolves kill sheep. False teachers kill souls. That is why we take our doctrine and practices so seriously. Though some misunderstand it as mean-spirited or intolerant or arrogant, it is actually most loving—a matter of eternal life and death.

False prophets generally do not come from outside but arise from within. They do not oppose the truth in a straightforward way and say that it is false. Rather, they distort it. They use the right words but twist and pervert them. Such lies and distortions must be opposed and exposed with the truth of God’s Word.

Who can keep the pastors faithful in their work and protect the Church from the savage wolves? Only God. How will God do that? Through the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The Word proclaims God’s grace, imparts God’s grace, and keeps us in God’s grace. That Word will make us grow to Christian maturity and gives us a share of the blessings that God has for His saints.

Paul knows that he will not always be there to help the Ephesians, but God with His Word will help them as He has even while Paul is there building them up in the eternal inheritance the Lord Jesus has prepared for them by His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. So He does today in God’s Word written through the prophets and Christ’s apostles and spoken by His undershepherds, His called and ordained servants. Listen to Him!

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Then He promises: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” In Revelation, St. John gives us a sneak peek at the eternal life in the new heaven and earth where the Lamb will be the Shepherd forever.

The people in the great crowd which John sees before the throne of God in heaven are coming out of “the great tribulation.” That crowd represents the whole Church as if it is already triumphant, as if it is already complete, as it will be at the resurrection at the End.

The crowd of saints comes out of the great tribulation victorious because they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Because of the redeeming death of Jesus Christ, the crowd of people stands pure and holy in the presence of God. With sins forgiven by the blood of Christ, and covered now with the righteousness of the Lamb, they share in the victory of the Lamb before the heavenly Father. They stand before the throne of God and “worship Him day and night” (Revelation 7:15).

The one who sits upon the throne “will shelter them in His presence,” literally, “spread His tent over them, the same word used in John 1:14, when the Word became flesh, He “tented” among God’s people. It could be that, in using this word, God is condescending to our human understanding of existence and manner of speaking. But more likely, the word is used to direct attention to the fact that God’s people, raised from the dead will live intimately in the flesh with God in the new heaven and new earth, and in a familial, intimate way, He will dwell with us in a manner that can be experienced also with the human senses. And because God will tent among His saints in heaven, “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore” (Revelation 7:16). All our greatest needs will be taken care of!

As we reflect on what John saw and heard, we can’t help but be comforted with this thought: God always keeps His promises. John sees the final end of God’s promises concerning His people at rest in the presence of God and the Lamb, never again to be pained by the harshness of life we formerly experienced it in our earthly existence. In our new life with God, the Lamb “will be [our] Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water” (Revelation 7:17).

This relationship between God and His people, as pictured by His being our Shepherd, was revealed so beautifully in the 23rd Psalm. Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord promised His people that like a shepherd He would look after them in order to rescue them and care for them. In order to carry out this Word, God then promised to provide His people with a shepherd. The promised shepherd would be His servant, born in Bethlehem from the seed of David. In the verses, preceding our Gospel, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd.

Now in our text, John sees and hears the final outcome of these promises. The Shepherd of the Lord has been provided. By His death and resurrection, the servant David has rescued God’s people. As their Good Shepherd He tends the flock, caring for them and leading them through the great tribulation to “springs of living waters—eternal life—already now on earth, then in heaven with God, and finally forever in the new heaven and new earth.

A final truth describes the rest and the peace of the crowd of saints before God’s throne in heaven: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17). Tears and laments are part of the experience and character of the faithful people of God while on earth. Tears are shed over one’s sins and the sins of others, over the ruin and sufferings experienced by others, over one’s own afflictions, when confronted with God’s anger, when alone and in sorrow, at death, and at other times of sadness.

In this life the shedding of tears is as much—at times even more—the experience of Christians as are joy and laughter. But it is the gift of God’s grace to turn the weeping and sorrow into joy, for He has promised a day when “the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). John now sees the complete and final fulfillment of this promise of God. The final word describing the peace and joy of the saints before God in heaven says it all: “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The Lord is your Good Shepherd. You hear His voice through His Word and follow Him. He feeds you on the green pasture of His Supper, His own body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. No one will ever snatch you out of His hand. The Lamb will be your Shepherd forever. 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.