Sermons, Uncategorized

The Mystery of the Word Made Flesh

“The Nativity” by John Singleton Copley

Click here to listen to this sermon.

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

A great mystery of the ages. The key sentence of John’s Gospel. Everything before it anticipates this verse and everything that follows grows out of this verse: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The eternal Word who was with God in the beginning and who was very God of very God, “became flesh.” Notice: The Word didn’t stop being who He is, namely, true God. But He also became true man—a real flesh-and-blood human being. Fully God and fully man. The eternal Word by whom all things were created took on flesh and received the name Jesus. He was born in the flesh like every human being, complete with human emotions, human frailties, human needs. In His life, therefore we see Him weep and sleep and eat and hurt and die.

Nevertheless, the Word made flesh was free of one thing every other human being has had—sin. The flesh of all other humans since Adam is inherently corrupted by sin. We are conceived and born in sin. We are, as we just confessed, poor miserable sinners. We sin constantly in thought, word, and deed and cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. But God had a plan to change  all of that. Through His conception by the Holy Spirit and His miraculous virgin birth, Jesus “became flesh” untainted by sin. He came to live free from sin in our place.

The Word was born in the flesh and “dwelt among us.” He lived on this earth along with other human beings. Significantly, the Greek says that He set up His tabernacle, or tent, among us. This gives even deeper meaning to this passage as we consider the parallel with the tabernacle that God had the people of Israel build in the wilderness. Of that tent the Lord said to Moses, “Let [the Israelites] make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8).

When the tabernacle was completed, Moses reports, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34-35).

With the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat covering the Law within… with the basin filled with the Word’s cleansing water and the bread of the Presence set at the Lord’s Table… with the promise of God’s Word of Law and Gospel with them, the congregation journeyed and dwelt in the Lord. So the Word remained the Way and tabernacled among them.

Behold, the forgiving Word is the Truth and dwells among His people.

Nearly fourteen hundred years after Israel’s wilderness wandering, the shepherds near Bethlehem received wondrous news from the Christmas angel: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

So, they went in haste. And what did they find? Dear Christians, they found the Word become flesh dwelling among us! There in the manger, was the Lord Himself, the second person of the Trinity, “veiled in flesh” and swaddled in strips of linen just as the angel had told them.

When Jesus Christ was born, the Lord came to dwell in person among us. He is Immanuel, God with us, and “we have seen His glory.” That doesn’t mean to say that the bright light shone around Jesus and the stable of Bethlehem as it did with God’s presence at the tabernacle. No, the Bible tells us that the glory of God shone from the heavens for the shepherds to see, but at the stable they found a baby whose outward appearance was not different from other babies.

Nevertheless, that baby came to be “the light of men.” That baby came to reveal God’s glory in a way we human beings could look at and not be blinded but believe. He, the incarnate Deity, was “veiled in flesh,” as we just sang. At last God would let us see His glory by giving us His one and only Son Jesus Christ. And Jesus would reveal God’s glory through His work of salvation.

John writes in His Gospel from firsthand experience. “We,” he says, “have seen His glory.” “We” are the apostles and evangelists whom God used to record the New Testament Scriptures. In truth, John with Peter and James saw a unique (for us) manifestation of that glory when Jesus was transfigured (Matthew 17:1-9). But never was that glory seen more than when Jesus submitted to the cross, as John alone out of Twelve witnessed firsthand. Jesus saw His atoning death as the moment of His glory (John 13:31).

Today, we can read John’s testimony and know that we too have seen the glory of the Word made flesh, “glory as of the only Son from the Father.” His coming in the flesh made that possible. All believers in Christ Jesus have seen the glory that came from the Father. We see it in Jesus with the eyes of faith. We see the wondrous and unmatchable love of God in our eternal salvation. We see it in the cross. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The Gospel identifies Jesus as the “only Son from the Father.” The Greek term used is one employed elsewhere to identify not just an “only son” but someone who is “one of a kind” (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Hebrews 11:17). So the Word was uniquely the Father’s from eternity and of the same being as the Father. That becoming, or begetting, of the Son from the Father is a mystery of God shrouded in His eternal preexistence. Here John stresses that the Word made flesh is that only Son.

One way that we behold the glory of the Word in the flesh is by seeing that He is “full of grace and truth.” The Lord Jesus is full of, indeed, is the very embodiment of grace and truth. When you think about grace, ask yourself some questions:

  • What business did the Word have in becoming flesh?
  • Why should the eternal Son of God care about human beings since He knew they would be hostile to Him?
  • What has any human being done to warrant such attention?
  • Why does God care about me when I can’t get through a day without somehow sinning against Him?

Do you begin to get the picture? Love is at work here, love so big it works among those who have no basis to claim any love, yes, those who are loveless and unlovable. That undeserved love is grace. Jesus is full of grace for us.

Jesus also embodies truth. People everywhere think about and search for truth. Philosophers try to get a grasp of reality. Great thinkers try to explain the truth of God. They keep on trying but need search no further. We do not have think deeply and stretch the limits of our intelligence to have truth and know God. We need only believe in Jesus the Word made flesh. He reveals all we need to know about God and His saving truth. Jesus came to show us the truth.

If the creation were to be redeemed, saved, rescued from this darkness of sin and death, then God would have to make Himself known, point Himself out, reveal Himself to us. But how would He do this? God would come to the place where we  are, descend to earth, enter His creation, so that we lost and condemned creatures might know Him and have communion with Him.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

In a world of hurt the Word became flesh in order to suffer the agony and divine wrath for all the sins of the world… thought, word, and deed… past, present, and future… He came to take upon Himself the penalty due to the original sin of the old Adam and his heirs. The incarnate Son of God atoned for the sins of Cain and Abel… Saul and David… Jezebel and Mary… Judas and Peter… and you. In a land of death, the Word became flesh in order to die the death deserved by the world. In doing so, Jesus gave Himself for the life of the world.

But that was not the end. On the third day, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us rose from the dead. For forty days, Jesus tabernacled with His disciples and “spoke about the Kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Then He ascended into heaven and is at the right hand of the Father, where He intercedes for us Christians and reigns over heaven and earth for the good of His Church. Even as He has promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age”(Matthew 28:20).  

This is the great surprise and wondrous mystery of Christmas. God shows up in a place where we certainly don’t expect to find Him: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God the Word, who was there in the beginning and participated in the creation of all things, took on a human nature like yours. The Uncreated became a creature, the Infinite became limited and bound, the Eternal became subject to time. The Word became flesh, Jesus Christ, true God and true man in one person. What a surprise! Because man can no longer find the Creator, the Creator became man!

The glory of God is seen in Jesus Christ. The one who in the beginning created light with His Word, “Let there be light!” is the light of the world, the light that shines in our darkness, the light no darkness can overcome.

The one who formed man from the dust has come with fingernails and eyebrows and kneecaps to reclaim His creation. He was born of a woman, Mary His mother, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger for a bed. He was before Abraham, even before Adam, and yet He can be found in Bethlehem as a little baby, amazing the teachers in the temple in Jerusalem at age twelve, beginning His ministry in Galilee at about the age of thirty.

The one who made the forests and the mountains has come also with arms outstretched on a wooden cross raised up on Mt. Calvary. There the Creator of heaven and earth suffered and bled and died for His creation. The one in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) was wrapped in linen and spices and rested in a tomb, bursting forth on the third day as the first bloom of a new creation.

The one who separated the waters in the heavens from the waters under the heavens on the second day, who gathered the waters into seas on the third day, who saved Noah and his family through the flood, and who delivered His people Israel through the parting of the Red Sea comes to you at the font with forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in the water and Word.

The one who made the wheat and the vine comes now in bread and wine to you. His true body and true blood are present on this altar. Eternal life, the light of the world—it’s so near to you that you can touch it and taste it. God is given into your mouth, taken into your body. He makes Himself known to you with forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The mystery is revealed. God the Word who was in the beginning is now and forever incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. That makes Christmas a blessed surprise: the uncreated, eternal, and infinite God comes right here among us as our light and our life.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy! 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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.
Sermons, Uncategorized

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found: Sermon for the Funeral of Carl Holmgren

“Wheat Field in Rain” by Vincent Van Gogh

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:6-11).

Tammy, Kari, family and friends of Carl:

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

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near,” our text begins. The problem is that none of us has the natural ability to seek the Lord. In fact, left to ourselves, none of us wants to seek the Lord. Like Adam and Eve after the fall into sin, we run away, we hide from Him. By nature, we are enemies of God. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We want nothing to do with a holy God. But it is this very Gospel invitation that enables to seek the Lord.

We confess in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

God can be found by humans only as long as He makes Himself known, that is, whenever and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed and heard. In the Gospel, the Lord comes near. Through the means of grace—God’s Word and sacraments—the Holy Spirit invites us to seek the Lord and call upon Him in faith.

The Lord is a God of extreme patience and grace. He urges sinners to turn away from their wicked ways and to turn to Him. He pledges to have mercy on the sinner and to pardon him freely. These words hold out the bright jewel of forgiveness for the grimy, stained hands of every sinner to grasp. What a comfort! God looks tenderly upon sinners and, because of Christ, He forgives them.

The death of a loved one, without fail, triggers every emotion in the human existence in very short order. For people of faith, the question also arises concerning the eternal welfare of the departed. And too often, our thinking becomes fretting in light of what we knew or thought we knew. It is difficult for us, in such a time as this, to reflect and focus our concerns with what God knows.

Our Lord spoke to His people through Isaiah the prophet and had to remind them that He operates in ways that we cannot always understand, and He points out the arrogance of man in presuming to know all things. We don’t like to admit it when we don’t know the answer. It pesters us to no end when we are confronted with things that are beyond our limited human comprehension. We find it difficult to place the knowledge of all things with God alone and leave it in His hands.

But there is much we do know, from which our Lord would have us receive strength and comfort, especially in times like this. We know, according to the Scriptures, that it is the Lord alone who searches the heart and the Lord alone who has the power to save. We know that the Lord does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. We know that God works through His Word. And we know He has promised that His Word does not go out into the ears of His hearers in vain.

God makes contact with sinners through His Word. The Word comes from God, who authors it and sends it across time and space to the sinner. God assures us in this text that His Word is effective and powerful.

Through His prophet, God also tells us how His Word works. Clearly and simply, God presents a striking comparison. His Word comes down from Him like rain and snow from heaven. Any gardener knows that when rain and snow come down, they water the ground and make it bud and flourish. When God’s Word comes to sinners, it works in the same way. God’s Word works when and where He pleases, simply by His grace.

The free gift of eternal salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is just that—a free gift. And the Lord has told us in His Word how it is that He gives us this saving faith. He tells us in Titus, chapter 3, that He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

This washing He granted Carl when he was baptized at Zion Lutheran Church in Hardwick, for our Lord declares that as many of us as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. This blessed gift our Lord gave to Carl and buried him in the death of his Savior Jesus. In his Baptism, Carl was buried in the death of Christ with the promise that He would raise him again.

Our Lord never forgot or reneged on His promise to Carl, and Carl was brought up in the faith that was once delivered to the saints. He confessed his Christian faith publicly in the words of the Creeds, in which he stated his belief in God the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ his Lord, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life. He further acknowledged God’s gift to him in one Baptism for the remission of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

A little over two years ago, I started going to Falls Landing twice a month for chapel services. That’s when I met Carl. I could tell right away that he was a friendly man. I found out that we had many things in common. He had been in the grocery business for many years; for a couple of years I was overnight grocery support manager at Walmart. He was also a Viking fan, a lover of music and fishing. And I could tell his family was his greatest joy. The last couple of times I saw him, Carl was excited about a planned trip to see his family in Washington.

More importantly, we talked about Jesus. Carl told me that he was a Christian, but it had been a long time since he had been a member of a church. A lifelong lover of music, Carl was always eager to pick most of the hymns that we would sing that day. You’ve just heard two of them that seemed to be among his favorites: Just as I Am and Amazing Grace.

After a couple of months of getting to know Carl better, I asked him if he would like to have a church home. I told him I realized he may never be able to make it to the church building, but I said that we would love to keep bringing the Church to him. After a short period of instruction, we welcomed Carl as a member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Pipestone through reaffirmation of faith.  

With his fellow saints at Falls Landing, Carl confessed the Christian faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Carl confessed his sins and received Christ’s absolution. Carl received Jesus’ very body and blood for the forgiveness of his sins. Carl heard Christ’s Word of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. The COVID lockdown has prevented me from visiting Carl, but I tried to keep in touch, sending him monthly newsletters and copies of my sermons each week.

God promises that His Word does not return to Him empty, even when we can’t measure the results with our limited human minds and sinful hearts. Sometimes it takes root and flourishes continuously. Other times in takes root for a season and then the busyness of the world choke it out, or the troubles and trial seem to dry it up. But His Word does bear fruit.

The Lord Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. He came to His people to redeem them. Our heavenly Father sent Jesus, His only Son, and through His passion, crucifixion, and glorious resurrection, Christ reconciled the whole world, Carl included, to Himself. He bought him back from sin and the power of the grave not with gold or silver, but with His own precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. Through the power of Christ’s death, He has forever destroyed death, and all the dead will be raised on the final day.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and died for Carl’s sins, as well as the sins of every person here. Though the wages of sin is death, as we are grimly reminded today, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. He died for you. He died for me. And He died for Carl. He paid the price for all of our transgressions, and He gives the promise of everlasting life to all who would believe in Him.

May you continue to find comfort and hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ until the day you are reunited with Carl and all who have died in the faith, in the presence of our Lord. In the Name of our crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ. 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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.
Sermons, Uncategorized

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

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

Unless the Lord shall return in your lifetime, the day will come when you will no longer be able to join with your brothers and sisters to worship here in the presence of the Lord. It could be because you decide one day, for one reason or another, that you’re not going, and you just never make it back. You might become ill or incapacitated and no longer able to make it to worship.

Though it once seemed impossible, it’s also not so hard to imagine the day may come when you cannot join with your brothers and sisters in the presence of the Lord because no one will let you worship here, perhaps because of health mandates or because what we teach here does not meet with “established community standards.”

Or it could be that you can no longer join with your brothers and sisters in Christ because this congregation is closed. Congregations, like people, have lifespans. None of them (or us, as individuals) will go on forever. And as we’re all aware: the fewer people who gather with their brothers and sisters to worship in the presence of the Lord, the harder it is for a congregation to continue.

Which brings us to the final reason why you would no longer be able to join with your brothers and sisters to worship in the presence of the Lord: you have “shuffle[d] off this mortal coil,” you’ve kicked the bucket,” you’re “pushing up daisies,” you’re dead. At this point, you can’t do anything, certainly not seek the Lord!

Now, here’s the thing: most of these scenarios you don’t have much control over or say about. You can take the best care of yourself, but you can still get ill, become incapacitated, or die. Someone could make it difficult (even impossible) for you to gather with your fellow believers in the presence of the Lord. But you can make sure that you seek the Lord while He may be found; you can be certain that you call upon Him while He is near. You see, the Lord is not hiding from you. Neither is He lost. He wants you to seek Him. He wants to be found. He actually finds you and places Himself in a place or position so you will see Him because you do not have the natural ability to turn to God. He has to, because you can’t, you won’t.

Luther has it right: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.”[i] God can be found by humans only by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Gospel. In the Gospel, the Lord comes near.

In face of stubborn resistance to Him and His Word, God, however, does withdraw His Gospel at times. Jesus withdrew Himself from those who openly opposed Him. His withdrawal meant a severe judgment upon them because His absence removed their opportunity to repent. On his missionary journeys, Paul would first visit the Jewish synagogues to share the Gospel, but as opposition arose, he would leave and go to the Gentiles. God urges sinners to seek Him before their rejection prompts His departure.

Through His prophet, the Lord urges sinners to turn away from their wicked ways and turn to Him. For the one who does so, the Lord pledges to have compassion on the sinner and to pardon him abundantly. The words hold out the bright jewel of forgiveness for the grimy, stained hands of every sinner to grasp. What a comfort to every sinner! God looks tenderly upon sinners and, because of Christ, forgives us!

This sounds too good to be true. It doesn’t make sense to sinful human reason. No wonder: For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

The connecting link between this and the previous verses are the words thoughts and ways. God speaks again and declares the superiority of His thoughts to those of any and every human. Like God, His thoughts are holy and righteous, just and merciful. The ways and thoughts of humans are wicked and evil by nature. Moses writes about the times of Noah: “The Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Over the centuries nothing has changed. Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

Besides the problem of sin, human thoughts and ways are limited by time, space, and other factors. No one, in a lifespan of 70 or 80 or even 100 years should expect to be able to learn what God, who is eternal and all-knowing, knows. No one who can be in only one place at one time should expect to have the knowledge of an infinite, omnipresent God. But this text gets us deeper into the profound difference between God and humanity. Our natural perverse nature struggles against God. All thoughts that flow from us are nothinglike God’s thoughts. The deepest thinkers of the ages cannot achieve the high and lofty ways of God or understand God. Left alone and without God’s Word, no human can imagine that God would send a Savior to die for unworthy sinners. God’s grace remains a mystery to human intelligence and research. Yet God does make it known to us in His Word.

Even the way God works in the human heart lies beyond the human imagination. The Holy Spirit works the miracle of conversion through the Gospel—simple words that announce forgiveness and life through Christ. The Word is powerful. For God’s dealing with men and women, the Word is everything. Yet words appear so weak and ineffective—only sounds that travel through the air to an ear or a series of lines on a page or screen perceived by our eyes. But God’s ways are higher than ours. God’s way works through the words of the Gospel not only to convert sinners but to strengthen us and preserve our faith against the many temptations and distractions in this life. Simple words that announce God’s love for sinners have more power than all human ways and thoughts because God’s Word changes the heart and offers life and forgiveness to all believers.

God is seeking sinners, so that they would repent of their sins because God wants to forgive sinners—sinners like you and me. He wants us to seek Him and His forgiveness and to call upon Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving while He is still near to us. If God departs from us, we are in seriously deep spiritual trouble. What does this mean? It means that, if we do not seek the Lord where and while He is found, we are in danger of spending eternity in hell. We risk eternal condemnation when we do not seek Him where He is found.

Where God is found is where He has willingly bound Himself for our sake. God, who is without limits, has put Himself in a box, so to speak. God, who is infinite and omnipresent, has freely and willingly bound Himself to His Word and Sacraments. It is there and nowhere else that the Lord is to be found giving His gifts. This is sure, certain, and iron-clad guarantee, for God has promised this to us in His Word. When it comes to our souls, we need certainty.

When we look elsewhere for Him, somewhere He has not promised to be found, we have doubt, and doubt is never a good thing where our salvation is concerned. When we look somewhere else for God instead of where He has promised to be, we are telling God that we don’t think His gifts are good enough for us, that we want Him to deal with us on our terms, not His.

We’ve heard the excuse; we may have made these excuses ourselves: “You don’t have to go to church to worship God.” We may think we can worship God when we’re on the lake or when we’re out camping. If this is true, then how do you hear your sins are forgiven? Remember that St. Paul tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Out in nature, we can see the beauty of God’s creation, but we don’t hear the forgiveness of our sins. Though God, in is everywhere, He has not promised to be everywhere with His grace and mercy but points us to where He may be found—in His means of grace.

We may also think, “We can hear the Word of God when we’re watching Main Street Living or the service streamed on Facebook.” While such media may be helpful for the short-term, and I thank God that we have them available to us, they are not meant to be a long-term substitute for our being in the Lord’s house, especially if one is physically able to be here. Our Christian faith is meant to be shared in community. While God’s Word can be received in many forms, one cannot receive the body and blood of Christ virtually.

For those not able to come because of health concerns or complications of age, the Church has an obligation to go to them, as their pastors have the charge to bring them the Word and the Lord’s Supper. If you find yourself or a loved one in this situation, please give me a call so we can figure out a way to best meet your spiritual needs according to your circumstances. This important to your spiritual well-being!

In Isaiah’s day, the Lord was found where He promised to be—in the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the place that God promised to be with His people as long as they sought the Lord and listened to His Word. There, He promised to hear their prayers and forgive their sins. Sadly, they often did not seek the Lord or call on His name, and Isaiah’s call in our text was just one of many pleas the Lord made through His prophets over the years for His people to return to Him. Time and again, they refused to listen. They refused to repent. They refused to turn from their wicked ways.

Finally, God sent His Son. Jesus lived a perfect obedient life in our place. He fulfilled the Law, loving the Lord with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving His neighbor as Himself. He gave Himself into death on the cross, exchanging His righteousness for your and my sin. Three days later, He rose from the dead, giving us the certain hope of eternal life. As He ascended to the right hand of the Father, He promised: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

Where is He now? Here. With us. Always. As we gather with our brothers and sisters around His Word and Sacraments.

Jesus has promised that “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). He is right here now as we gather in His name and Word. He speaks to us through the voice of His called and ordained servant in the Absolution. In His Supper, He feeds us with His true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.

In these means of grace, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In these means of grace, the holy, righteous Lord comes to you in mercy and compassion with pardon and peace. So, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

Indeed, 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.


[i] Luther, M. (1991). Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Gracious Heart of Jesus

Click here to listen to this sermon.

[Jesus said:] “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:20-21)

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

According to John, it was the last thing Jesus said in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. After teaching His disciples many things about Himself, the world, and things to come, Jesus concludes His last evening with His disciples in prayer to the Father. And He concludes His prayer with the words in this text. As the saying goes, you can learn a lot about a man by listening in on his prayer. I would submit to you that you can learn so much more listening to the prayer of a man who knows that he will soon die.

And Jesus is headed to meet His death. In the next verse after our Gospel, John tells us that Jesus goes with His disciples across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas, who betrays Him, leads a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees to meet Jesus and to arrest Him.

What can we learn about Jesus through this prayer? It helps to pay close attention to the details. Notice that in these final petitions, Jesus isn’t praying for the world. Neither is He praying for the disciples. No, in our text, Jesus is praying for those who would believe in Him through the apostolic Word. In other words, He is praying for you, me, this congregation, the whole Church.

What does Jesus ask the Father? What does He want for (and from) us who follow Him? We find that in three clauses in verse 21: “That they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in you, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

Jesus first prays that all believers may be one just as Jesus and the Father are one. That’s really close! But that’s not all. Jesus also prays that these believers would be “in us.” In other words, Jesus doesn’t only desire for His people to be close to each other, but also close to Him and the Father. Indeed, the only real unity is unity around and in the triune God. Those first two clauses beginning with “that” help us understand the content of Jesus’ prayer.

But the third clause, the one that begins “so that” does something else. It is a purpose clause, and it points to the ends of this unity. Jesus desires that, through Christian unity, the world might believe that He was sent by the Father. Note that Jesus doesn’t pray for the world directly. Instead, He prays for the world through the unity of His people. The unity of the Church is a witness to the world. It is fundamental to the Church’s mission.

But an honest reflection would show that Christian unity is lacking these days. There’s the fragmentation of the Church into so many denominations—even so many church bodies that claim Lutheran heritage. There’s the biting and devouring that takes place between members of our own denomination. Closer to home, we may find the temptation to think only of our own congregation’s wants and ignore the need of the larger body of Christ. Or a lack of concern individual members of our congregation have for one another. Each of these hurt our Christian witness to the world. But they also hurt our fellow saints.

In a most perverse way, the devil will use affliction to tempt you away from God. We should know better: it was the afflicted and downtrodden whom Jesus especially sought out, who most joyously heard His Word because they knew this world only breaks you eventually. Sometimes, the hits keep on coming in the form of sickness, injury, financial loss, family troubles, grief, and more. Satan will use them to make you curl up in a ball in the corner, to turn your face to the wall—to separate yourself from sadness. That’s where isolation happens—divided from Christ and His body, the Church. The devil works hard at this one, because he knows how comforting the Gospel will be if you hear it at such a time. Remember that the Lord is your strength, and it is in His means of grace that He delivers grace and life to sustain you—even in the worst of trials.

This is a time when Christians often fail each other: when people are afflicted, the temptation is to leave them alone—because we don’t know what to say, we want to “give them space,” or because being with sad people makes us uncomfortable. The same is true for those who, because of health, can no longer make it to church. It’s a lonely existence. The inaction of others leaves the one who suffers isolated and alone—and the devil will use that to convince them that they are separated from God, too; that they are no longer part of the “one in Christ.” The Lord uses us as His hands and voice: let us not cease in visiting and caring for those who are in deep distress. And let’s not be afraid to let others know our needs.

If Jesus is all about restoring oneness, then the devil is going to be all about fostering division. That is what sin does: it divides. It shatters. It fragments and isolates. Plenty of sins divide and separate. Pride will have you alone on your pedestal, considering others below you and not worth your time. Greed will have you gather possessions to yourself, not friends or family. Lust will have you view others as objects to be used, not as fellow people for whom Christ has died. Many sins entice you to hide in a room with your sin, all alone. They work to destroy friendships, marriages, families, and congregations by division and subtraction.

All of that separation is awful enough, but it distracts us from what is worse: sin separates you, divides you from God. It keeps you unholy, and an unholy you cannot be one with your holy Savior. If you cannot be one with Him, all that is left is the ultimate, eternal separation of death and hell

It’s a problem that’s been going on ever since the Fall in the Garden. The Bible tells us that the first Church was in perfect unity with God and with one another. Adam and Eve were perfect, sinless, and holy. Furthermore, they were created in the image of God. Because God is righteous, they were righteous too. They reflected His glory. Furthermore, they could be in His presence. They could walk with God in the Garden. They could look upon His face. There was no shame, no guilt that would make them run away and hide.

Sin changed all that. As soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin and heard God walking in the Garden, they ran and hid from Him. When He asked what they had done, they blamed Him and each other. They were no longer one with God. They would no longer be as one with each other, because they would always have selfish, ulterior motives in dealing with one another. Because of their sin, God cast them out of the Garden, away from the tree of life—but not before He promised that the Savior would come and deliver them from death and devil. The Savior would come and reverse the curse of sin. He would bring people back to God by removing their unrighteous sin and make them holy once again.

The Savior is Jesus, the One praying in the Gospel. Remember what happens next: Jesus will be arrested and hauled out of the Garden of Gethsemane. He’ll be put on trial and sentenced to death for being guiltless. Then He’ll be taken from the city to the Place of the Skull, and He’ll be crucified.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they were driven from the Garden of Eden because of their sin. When the Passion of our Lord begins, He’s removed from a garden, too—because of His holiness. Where Adam was sentenced to death by God because of His guilt, Jesus is sentenced to death by man because of His innocence. Where God grieved at the sin and separation brought about by Adam, man rejoices to be separated from the Son of God when He dies on Calvary.

Jesus is undoing what Adam did. He’s taking Adam’s place to undergo Adam’s punishment: not just physical death, but far worse. He’s fully forsaken by God on the cross. That’s what it means when He cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The Son of God—one with the Father from eternity—suffers the ultimate separation from oneness with the Father. In other words, He suffers hell on the cross before He is restored to His Father again.

All of this lies less than a day away as Jesus prays this prayer; and listen again to what He prays about you: “That they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:21). Jesus prays that you would be one with God and one another again, like Adam and Eve before the Fall into sin.

 In His prayer, we get a glimpse into the gracious heart of Jesus. Not only does He desire unity in the Church and unity with God. He does what it takes to make it happen. You see, there’s only one way for that prayer to be answered, and that is for Jesus to suffer the ultimate separation from God in your place. That’s what the cross is about. For Christ, separation and condemnation. For you, redemption. Restoration. Reconciliation. One with God and one another again.

Look around you here, and you will see a miraculous gathering of people. Not many in numbers, certainly; but more than that first two-member congregation. The Lord Himself has gathered you together, and it is He who keeps you together—who keeps you one with one another, His whole Church, and Himself. And He tells you how He does in our Gospel for today.

In His prayer, Jesus calls you “those who believe in Me through [the apostles’] Word.” He’s given you His Word, and His Word makes and keeps you one. Faith comes by hearing His Word, which He gave to us through His prophets and apostles. His Word is the means to gather us together, and His Word is His means to keep us together, one in Him. That is why we gladly repent of our sins of ignoring His Word in favor of our sinful, divisive desires.

Jesus has given you His glory. He prays to His Father, “The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one.” The glory of Jesus is foremost the cross, for that is the ultimate act of love for us, that is where we best see the gracious heart of Jesus.

Jesus has given His cross to you and it didn’t hurt you any more than three quick splashes of water. In Baptism, Jesus joined you to His cross, His death and resurrection. Without that, you’d have to die your own death for sin, isolated from God forever. But because He’s shared the glory of His cross with you, you are now one in Him. That is why we gladly repent of our sins that would separate us from His life and lead us death, for Christ has opened to us the way of salvation.

Furthermore, Jesus prays, “I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus has made His name known to you: He has made known to you that He is the Savior of all nations, forgiving you all of your sins. He’s put His name on you—marked you as His own! You are not left as individuals trying to find your way to an unknown God through any variety of religions. And with His name, the Lord has also made known to you His will. He tells you that He has gathered you in, forgiven your sins, made you one with Him by His sacrifice. That’s why we gladly repent and confess our pursuits of other gods that cannot save, including our own desires and wishes, for salvation is found in Christ.

Jesus has given us His Word, His glory, and His name. It is in these gifts that we best see the gracious heart of Jesus for you and me. It is by these gifts that He has made us one. It is by these gifts that He keeps us one.

I give great thanks this day, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to be united in Him and with you. This is all the Lord’s doing, and so you can be sure: you are one with His body, the Church, and one with Christ: for His Word, His glory, and His name are all summed up in these words: 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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.
Sermons, Uncategorized

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

christ-preaching-at-capernaum-1879.jpg!Large
“Christ Preaching at Capernaum” by Maurycy Gottlieb

Click here to listen to this sermon. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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