Trinity Lutheran Church

“We Preach Christ Crucified.” 1Corinthians 1:23

Rev. John C. Preus, Pastor
Divine Service/Matins 9:00
Bible Class & Sunday School 10:30


Matthew 21:1-9 Advent I

Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

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Christmas is coming. But it’s not Christmas yet. The church here is decorated for Christmas. Your homes are probably decorated for Christmas, and I’m sure ours will be looking pretty Christmassy soon as well. Our favorite department stores have been decorated for Christmas since like October 20th, I think. Christmas is coming. But it’s not Christmas yet. It’s coming. That’s what the word “Advent” means: “coming”

Today is the first day of Advent. We shouldn’t forget about this season, because during this season of the Church year, we Christians prepare for the celebration of our Savior’s birth. Preparation is a good thing. It’s necessary in fact. And so I’d like to say a few things this morning about the season of Advent, because in order to know what it means to prepare for Jesus to come to us, there are three comings or advents of Jesus that we first need to consider.

The first advent consists of Christ’s coming in the flesh. That’s what Christmas is about. The Son of God took on human flesh and blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary. We call this His Incarnation / Enfleshment. He came to join humanity as one of us – to be bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh – true Man, yet perfectly holy and without sin on account of the fact that He is also true God. He came humbly. He came with nothing but total dependency on His mother – just as each of us came – naked and helpless – although He was the very One upon whom all things depend. At His birth the Son of God hid His divine glory just as He continued to hide it throughout His earthly life. The Son of Man, as Jesus said, came to serve.

And so He came in lowliness. Jesus spent His time healing diseases, giving sight to the blind, making the crippled walk straight, casting out demons who tortured poor souls, and speaking to sinners the words of eternal life. But He didn’t attract attention to Himself. He didn’t demand celebration. In fact, even in those moments when He did allow His divine glory to shine through while showing acts of divine mercy, Jesus often commanded the crowds to say nothing, giving glory instead to His Father in heaven. Jesus came to reveal the Father, and so He humbled Himself. He did so not only in order to serve selflessly, but also, in so doing, to direct all true worship to the God whom He had come to reconcile humanity to. In order to do this, His coming would end with His going to the cross. There the King of heaven, who came lowly to serve, established His reign on earth by purchasing sinners with His own blood. This was Jesus’ first advent.

There was nothing that mankind could have done to cause it to happen. We stood in darkness, in ignorance, and in weakness, in unwillingness even to know God as He wants to be known. But God came in love. Consider those beautiful words of the Advent hymn:

Naught*, naught, dear Lord, could move Thee
To leave Thy rightful place
Save love, for which I love Thee;
A love that could embrace
A world where sorrow dwelleth,
Which sin and suff’ring fill,
More than the tongue e’er telleth;
Yet Thou couldst love it still!

What could the world do to prepare itself for such love – for such an advent of grace and mercy? Nothing. It is God who prepares. God prepared His chosen nation Israel by teaching them through the prophets who for millennia faithfully foretold of the coming Christ. He is the Savior of all nations. In the birth of Jesus, the Glory of God’s people Israel – as we sing in the Nunc Dimittis – became the Light to lighten the Gentiles. This was His first advent.

Now we consider Christ’s final advent, which consists of Him coming in glory. It will be much different from His first. Oh, He’ll come as the Son of Man, of course. God is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, remember. And He will never divorce Himself from the bond of His Incarnation. In other words, God will from now on always be true Man. As the Christmas hymn puts it well:

God is man, man to deliver;
His dear Son
Now is one
With our blood forever.

The same God who came in humility as true Man will come in glory as true Man. And the mystery of the incarnation that we adore today in humble faith will be set before all sinners to see as our Lord descends to judge the living and the dead. He will discern hearts and minds. He will condemn what is unclean and unholy. His first advent was easy to miss, and easy to despise. But woe to those who did – for His final coming will be unavoidable. All flesh will rise from their graves and be judged by Jesus – the righteous to eternal life, the unrighteous to eternal punishment. This will be His final advent.

What can the world do to prepare itself for such judgment? Well, I suppose this is why we celebrate Advent. We can do nothing. But God must prepare us. And He does. It is as that same excellent Advent hymn puts it:

O how shall I receive Thee,
How welcome Thee aright!
All nations long to greet Thee,

My hope, my heart’s delight!
O Jesus, Jesus, set Thee
Thy lamp within my breast,
And by its guidance let me
Know what doth please Thee best.

God prepares us for His final coming by setting in our hearts the burning lamp of faith that we talked about last Sunday with the five wise virgins. He who came to be born and to suffer and to die for all nations shall come to judge all nations. In the meantime, we need to be taught what pleases Him. This doesn’t simply mean that we need to be taught how to be well behaved and nice. We’re not waiting for Santa Claus. No, but we need our God to guide us to a right understanding of our sin and of His grace and mercy so that we might know how to rightly receive Him as Christians — as Christians who have no righteousness to claim before their God other than the obedience of Jesus alone. Just as God prepared His people to receive their Messiah by sending prophets who proclaimed His coming, so also God sends preachers of repentance today.

This brings us (if we’re not already there) to the third advent of Christ that we need to consider. It is the current and present coming of Jesus who comes to His Church through word and sacrament today. Advent is what we call a penitential season. We call it a penitential season because it is only by repenting of our sins that we are prepared to receive the Lord Jesus who was born in Bethlehem. It is only by confessing our sins and iniquities, as we do in the Divine Service here, that we are prepared to rejoice in our King who comes to us through such lowly means. It is only when we consider our need for God’s service that we see His power to save in such lowly means.

Lowly means. The words of a sinner like me spoken in the stead and by the command of our Lord are not merely the words of a sinner like me. But they are Christ’s own words of eternal life and pardon to you who have confessed sin to God. Lowly means. Water is water. But with the word of God’s command and promise attached, we have His own guarantee, that though the water dries and we have no real memory of it anyway, through the washing of Baptism, God joined us to Christ’s death and resurrection, washed away our sin, and made us His forever. Lowly means. Bread and wine – not nearly enough bread to satisfy hunger or enough wine to bring any amount of joy. And yet, in this meal our Jesus comes to us with His very body and blood for us to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins — All so that we might be satisfied with the righteousness for which our souls hunger, and that we might be given more joy than what our earthly hearts can contain. What greater love could bind us to God than the love that gave His own Son into death to save sinners?

But He comes in such a lowly fashion. And in this lowly fashion, because we are flesh, because we are sinners, it is so hard to see the divine glory behind it all. And so it is easy to dismiss as irrelevant. But the King of glory who rescues from sin, death, and the devil, and who fights and wins every spiritual battle that you lose, comes to us with victory. Lowly. In our Gospel lesson this morning, the prophet’s words were fulfilled as Jesus came riding into His holy city on a donkey. Lowly. But it was a cause for the daughter of Zion to rejoice. Why? Because the one who came lowly was the same one who would some day come in glory. That’s why. The one who would judge sinners first came to serve sinners by giving them a righteousness that will shine bright in the judgment. That’s why. Because the one whose glory would soon be revealed for heaven and earth to see and tremble at - came this day to Jerusalem to be crucified and die in order to reconcile all sinners to God. That’s why.

Jesus came in humility. And those who wanted a more glorious king – whether those whom Zechariah rebuked with his prophesy, or those who were disbelieving in Jerusalem when his prophecy was fulfilled in our Gospel lesson, or those today who are unimpressed with the means of our King’s coming – all those who want something more glorious, more exciting, don’t know what they want. We need the King of glory to come and serve. Only in His humility do we come to know Him as our merciful God who saves.

Jesus came in humility. But in the exact same way that the little baby of Bethlehem was nonetheless the almighty God of God despite His humble appearance, so also the poor, miserable, beggar of a king on the back of a beast of burden was nonetheless the one who by His death would destroy the power of sin and death forever. The events of Palm Sunday point ahead to the events of the last day when our King will come in glory to lead us in shouts of joy to our eternal reward. He is our King! But at the same time, they also parallel the events of every Lord’s Day – every Sunday – here at Trinity Lutheran Church. He comes in lowliness.

In order to demonstrate this, I’d like to conclude by briefly considering those words of our liturgy that we sing together every Sunday before we receive the Lord's Supper. We call it the Sanctus, which means holy – for obvious reasons – because we begin by singing what the angels shouted in the prophet Isaiah’s vision as he stood before the throne of God: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” We confess that the one who comes to serve us in the Sacrament of the Altar is the very eternal God whose glorious presence compelled Isaiah to cry out, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” He is a fearful God. It is no child’s play to come into His presence. The holy angels themselves covered their faces and feet. But what do we cover?

Nothing. We bear our hearts and confess our sins, not to Him as an all-consuming wrathful God—No!—but to Him whose wrath has been fully satisfied in the atoning death of Christ. We come to Him who comes to us in the name of the Lord to make us holy as He is holy. We come to Jesus who comes to save.

The people cried out, when Jesus came: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And then Jesus proceeded on His way to the cross to bear the world’s sin, and so guarantee our joy. And so we take their words and sing them to the same Holy, Holy, Holy God who comes in power and might to serve us today. “Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He who cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.” This means save us now. Hosanna. And He does. He saves us by giving to us the peace that He earned on the cross where He reconciled God in heaven to man on earth.

This is what we look forward to in Christmas. This is how we prepare for His coming. We prepare for His final advent by learning the purpose of His first advent. And so in faith we receive Him in His advent today.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  


Matthew 21:1-9 Advent I

Lauding the Lord’s Lowliness

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Today is the first Sunday of the Church Year and the beginning of the Season of Advent. During Advent, we prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. We do this first of all by remembering why He was born in the first place: to die on the cross and take away the sin of the world. It’s fitting that we begin the Church Year with the Gospel lesson that we just heard, because it records Jesus’ final entrance into Jerusalem right before His long awaited crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. We begin the Church Year with the same Gospel, which is appointed for Palm Sunday as well. We do this because the entire Year, indeed, our entire lives revolve around that singular event that took place on Mt. Calvary 2000 years ago. The reason we make the cross the focus of our Church year is because it is the focus of Scripture.

The Old Testament is full of prophecies concerning Christ’s death on the cross. In Genesis 3, we have the very first promise of the Gospel, when God says to the serpent, “[The Seed of the woman] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” This means that the incarnate Son of God would save mankind from the tyranny of the devil, but in the process, He would give His own life. Isaiah describes the events of Jesus’ crucifixion with unmistakable accuracy: “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities…” Psalm 22 likewise, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? … they pierced My hands and My feet …” And still there are many more places in the Old Testament that speak clearly of how the promised Savior and King of Israel would sacrifice His own life in order to save sinners from hell.

Obviously these prophesies are all the clearer after the fulfillment. But it’s amazing, nonetheless, that no matter how clear the promises of the Old Testament prophets were, it still came as a surprise, and even a scandal, that through the preaching of this Man’s cross, all the world should be saved. The reason so few people expected their king to come in such humility is really pretty simple: it isn’t what they wanted. But what did they want? Well, they wanted what anyone would have expected to get when they are told that their King is coming to save them: they expected and wanted a glorious victory over all their earthly enemies.

We don’t have kings today. But in Jesus’ day, and throughout the Old Testament, a king was a very powerful man. He commanded great armies, and demanded the submission of all his subjects by punishing disobedience. Only by exhibiting such power and glory could a king defend his people and keep them safe. Then the question of course comes down to this: safe from what?

Rome. War.

Sin. Humility.

What do we need to be saved from? What you want will shape what you expect.

In Jeremiah, our first lesson this morning, we hear that the promised son of David “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.” This was a spiritual promise. But many Jews had expected a political savior who would come and free them from Roman occupation and once again make them a great nation. The reason they thought this way is because they had poorly diagnosed their own spiritual problem. They thought that they needed to be freed from political enemies. But they didn’t believe that their greatest enemy was their own sin.

Jesus came to fulfill Scripture, including that which we just heard. He came to save all mankind from their sin. In order to do this, He had to disappoint all the false hopes and dreams of Israel that imagined a different kind of glory. Jesus came as the very opposite of a triumphant king. He hid His eternal glory and fulfilled those words of Gospel from Zechariah 9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Jesus was the exact opposite of the king that most of Israel had expected. Donkey = king ushering in peace. But peace still needed to be won. Jesus was the exact opposite of the king that most of Israel had expected. But this makes sense, since the righteousness that Jesus won for us is the exact opposite of the righteousness that those who need no Savior from sin pretend to have. It is the difference between whatever sinful man can produce and that which we must receive from God by grace alone through faith. An earthly king demands righteousness from us; but Jesus gives righteousness to us.

Jesus came to earth in humility to serve us in mercy. He didn’t come in order to demand submission by force, like earthly kings must do. No, instead He came to earth as a lowly servant in order to rescue us from the wages of our sin, and to gain victory over our death. It was precisely in His seeming defeat on the cross that Jesus won our victory.

Behold, your King comes to you lowly. Christ came to serve sinners. And He continues to do this. He does this through His Means of Grace today where He gives to us the very righteousness that He earned by submitting to the Law. The law is a much more oppressive tyrant than Rome or anyone else could ever have been or be, because it reveals that we are enemies of God. But for Jesus’ sake, God forgives us our sin through the word and sacraments that deliver to us in lowly form the very victory that He came as a servant to earn in our place.

It really is amazing, though, how such clear prophesies about Jesus were ignored and redefined by those Jews who did not believe. And yet the word of God today continues to be twisted. The New Testament is not less clear than what we heard from Jeremiah, Zechariah, David, Moses and others. In fact, the words in the New Testament that teach us about the benefits of the Sacraments are even clearer than what was promised in the Old. What, after all, can be less vague than the sure statement that “Baptism does now save”? from 1st Peter 3:21. What can be more certain than the words that declare from Jesus’ own lips, “This is My body”? What words can be more free from confusion than the promise that “whosever sins you forgive on earth are forgiven in heaven”? And yet these very words of comfort from our Lord’s own mouth are under attack by those who would rather paint a more triumphant picture of the Christian life.

Does Jesus rule your life?” they ask. “Is He really your King? Has He vanquished all your enemies, you who call yourselves Christians? Or do you still struggle with the same old sins? Do you still find weakness and regret in your heart, and in your life? Do you still see yourself making provision for the flesh to gratify its desires? Do you still see the demanding reign of the Law that occupies and enslaves your wounded conscience? Ah, then you must invite the Lord into your heart [have you heard this?]. You must wait for your King to come to you in pomp and glory to remove all those shackles from your life. Or have you not experienced the victorious triumph of the Lord of Glory who frees you here and now from all that keeps you cast down in despair?” But dear Christians what do we wait for? What kind of coming does Jesus promise us today? Do not expect Him to come to you in any more splendor than when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to die 2000 years ago – because His means of conveyance today are no loftier than the foal of a beast of burden. He does not come to show you what kind of power will give you a similar victory. He comes to you freely giving the victory that his lowly submission has procured.

Just as it might have seemed that Jesus’ entry would have been more marvelous, it seems that he would have also given his disciples a more impressive task to serve him. But there is no more important task than fulfilling Scripture. The disciples’ work did not make them look very accomplished. And the work of your pastor does not make him look very important either. Neither of our work makes Jesus look very glorious. But by doing the work that Jesus gave them to do, the disciples provided the means by which Jesus would come to His people – with lowliness and humility in order to serve them in mercy as He made His way to the cross. That is where we find the glory of Jesus.

Jesus’ victory in your life right now is not by making you look triumphant. The servant is no greater than his master. In fact, you still look like sinners. And you will still feel your sin. You will still suffer persecution and temptation, and disappointment in your earnest efforts to live better lives. But Jesus did not come to make Israel a great nation by her own standards. He came to take her sin and your sin into Himself as He suffered all of God’s wrath in our place. Jesus does not come to give you your best life now, as though our success and righteousness will shine. No, our righteousness is hidden in lowliness just as Jesus hid His own victory under the veil of defeat as He crushed the ancient serpent’s head by dying on the cross. And so we find our glorious victory today, not where our righteousness shines, but where it is hidden in Christ through the promise of the Gospel.

Only by faith can we accept the lowly advent of Jesus as He came to take our sins away on the cross. And only by faith in what He earned for humanity there, can we accept His lowly advent today as He comes to bring us what He earned through the humble means of water, of bread and wine, and through the words of a sinner like me. But make no mistake about it. When Jesus comes to you right now through the Absolution, when you approach this altar to partake of His body and blood, He is bringing with Him all the glory that not even heaven can contain. He does this by forgiving you your sins and through this He creates the very faith that saves you.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and having salvation.”

Who is this daughter of Zion? Who is this daughter of Jerusalem? It is the Holy Christian Church; that’s who. It always has been. It is those who see their real need for salvation in the forgiveness of their sins that God has promised. It is those who rejoice when Jesus comes. We don’t look for pomp and majesty as we await our Savior to come to us. Instead, we find Him coming in humility and lowliness, and in true faith we adorn Him with praise.

In Advent we see the connection between Christmas and the cross, because Jesus fulfilled all that he came to do. It is for that reason that he comes still today. And it is for this reason that we celebrate this season of Advent and every advent of word and sacrament. In these appearances of lowliness, the greatest glory is shown, when our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.

And it is for this reason that we Christians go about our daily lives in humble service to others, despite how menial and insignificant our work appears. Because when we live our lives believing this, that we are righteous before God for Jesus’ sake, even the lowliest task is the most glorious service rendered to God. Because faith in the righteousness of Christ, by which we have true peace with God, is the greatest honor and glory and shout of hosanna there is.

In Jesus’ name. Amen

December 1, 2013 


Matthew 21:1-9 Advent I

Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord

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Today is the first Sunday of the Church Year and the beginning of the Season of Advent. During Advent, we prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. We do this first of all by remembering why He was born in the first place: to die on the cross and take away the sin of the world. It’s fitting, then, that we begin the Church Year with this account from St. Matthew’s Gospel that we just heard, because it records Jesus’ final entrance into Jerusalem right before His long awaited crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. We begin the Church Year with the same Gospel, which is appointed for Palm Sunday as well. We do this because the entire Year, indeed, our entire lives revolve around that singular event that took place on Mt. Calvary 2000 years ago. The reason we make the cross the focus of our Church year is because it is the focus of Scripture.

The Old Testament is full of prophesies concerning Christ’s death on the cross. In Genesis 3, we have the very first promise of the Gospel, when God says to the serpent, “[The Seed of the woman] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” This means that the incarnate Son of God would save mankind from the tyranny of the devil, but in the process, He would give His own life. Isaiah describes the events of Jesus’ crucifixion with striking accuracy: He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities…” Psalm 22 likewise, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? … they pierced My hands and My feet …” And still there are many more places in the Old Testament that speak clearly of how the promised Savior and King of Israel would sacrifice His own life in order to save sinners from hell.

It’s amazing, though, that no matter how clear the promises of the Old Testament prophets were, it still came as a surprise, and in many cases a scandal, that through the preaching of this Man’s cross, all the world should be saved. The reason so few people expected their king to come in such humility is really pretty simple: it isn’t what they wanted. But what did they want? Well, they wanted what anyone would have expected to get when they are told that their King is coming to save them: they expected and wanted a glorious victory over all their earthly enemies.

We don’t have kings today. But in Jesus’ day, and throughout the Old Testament, a king was a very powerful man. He commanded great armies, and demanded the submission of all his subjects by punishing disobedience and avenging injustice. Only by exhibiting such power and glory could a king defend his people and keep them safe. Then the question of course comes down to this: safe from what? …………. What do we need to be saved from?

In Jeremiah, our first lesson this morning, we hear that the promised son of David “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.” This was a spiritual promise. But many Jews had expected a political savior who would come and free them from Roman occupation and once again make them a great nation. The reason they thought this way is because they had poorly diagnosed their own spiritual problem. They thought that they needed to be freed from political enemies. But they didn’t believe that their greatest enemy was their own sin.

Jesus came to fulfill Scripture, including that which we just heard. He came to save all mankind from their sin. In order to do this, He had to disappoint all the false hopes and dreams of Israel that imagined a different kind of glory. Jesus came as the very opposite of a triumphant king. He hid His eternal glory and fulfilled those words of Gospel from Zechariah 9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Jesus was the exact opposite of the king that most of Israel had expected. But of course this only makes sense, since the righteousness that Jesus won for us is the exact opposite of the righteousness that those who need no Savior from sin pretend to have. It is the difference between that which sinful man can produce and that which we must receive from God by grace alone through faith. An earthly king demands righteousness from us; but Jesus gives righteousness to us.

Jesus came to earth in humility to serve us in mercy. He didn’t come in order to demand submission by force, like earthly kings must do. No, instead He came to earth as a lowly servant in order to rescue us from the wages of our sin, and to tread our death beneath His victorious feet. It was precisely in His seeming defeat on the cross that Jesus won our victory.

Behold, your King comes to you lowly. Christ came to serve sinners. And He continues to do this. He does this through His Means of Grace today where He gives to us the very righteousness that He earned by submitting to the Law, a much more oppressive tyrant than Rome could ever have been. He forgives us our sin through the word and sacraments that deliver to us in lowly form the very victory that He came as a servant to earn in our place.

It really is amazing, though, how such clear prophesies about Jesus were ignored and redefined by those Jews who did not believe. And yet the word of God today continues to be twisted. The New Testament is not less clear than what we heard from Jeremiah, Zechariah, David, Moses and others. In fact, the words in the New Testament that teach us about the benefits of the Sacraments are even clearer than what was promised in the Old. What, after all, can be less vague than the sure statement that “Baptism doth now save”? What can be more certain than the words that declare from Jesus’ own lips, “This is My body”? What words can be more free from confusion than the promise that “whosever sins you forgive on earth are forgiven in heaven”? And yet these very words of comfort from our Lord’s own mouth are under attack by those who would rather paint a more triumphant picture of the Christian life.

Does Jesus rule your life?” they ask. “Is He really your King? Has He vanquished all your enemies, you who call yourselves Christians? Or do you still struggle with the same old sins? Do you still find weakness and regret in your heart, and in your life? Do you still see yourself making provision for the flesh to gratify its desires? Do you still see the demanding reign of the Law that occupies and enslaves your wounded conscience? Ah, then you must invite the Lord into your heart [have you heard this?]. You must wait for your King to come to you in pomp and glory to remove all those shackles from your life. Or have you not experienced the victorious triumph of the Lord of Glory who frees you here and now from all that keeps you cast down in despair?” But dear Christians what do we wait for? What kind of coming does Jesus promise us today? Do not expect Him to come to you in any more splendor than when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to die 2000 years ago – because His means of conveyance today are no loftier than the foal of a beast of burden.

Jesus did not exactly give His disciples the grandest of tasks. He had spent the last three years with them, teaching them the word of God, revealing secrets to them that the prophets longed to hear, and yet when the most glorious moment came, the task He gave His disciples was to go borrow a donkey. It seems demeaning. Certainly they could have been entrusted with a more important task than that. But there is no more important task than fulfilling Scripture. The disciples’ work did not make them look very accomplished. And the work of your pastor does not make him look very important either. Neither of our work makes Jesus look very glorious. But by doing the work that Jesus gave them to do, the disciples provided the means by which Jesus would come to His people – with lowliness and humility in order to serve them with mercy as He made His way to the cross. That is where we find the glory of Jesus.

Jesus’ victory in your life right now is not by making you look triumphant. The servant is no greater than his master. In fact, you still look like sinners. And you will still feel your sin. You will still suffer want and persecution, and disappointment in your earnest efforts to live better lives. But Jesus did not come to make Israel a great nation by her own standards. He came to take her sin and your sin into Himself as He suffered all of God’s wrath in our place. Jesus does not come to give you your best life now, as though our success and righteousness will shine. No, our righteousness is hidden in lowliness just as Jesus hid His own victory under the veil of defeat as He crushed the ancient serpent’s head by dying on the cross. And so we find our glorious victory today, not where our righteousness shines, but where it is hidden in Christ through the promise of the Gospel.

Only by faith can we accept the lowly advent of Jesus as He came to take our sins away on the cross. And only by faith in what He earned for humanity there, can we accept His lowly advent today as He comes to bring us what He earned through the humble means of water, of bread and wine, and through the words of a sinner like me. But make no mistake about it. When Jesus comes to you right now through the Absolution, when you approach this altar to partake of His body and blood, He is bringing with Him all the glory that not even heaven can contain. He does this by forgiving you your sins and through this He creates the very faith that saves you.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and having salvation.”

Who is this daughter of Zion? Who is this daughter of Jerusalem? It is the Holy Christian Church; that’s who. It always has been. It is those who see their real need for salvation in the forgiveness of their sins that God has promised. We don’t look for pomp and majesty as we await our Savior to come to us. Instead, we find Him coming in humility and lowliness, and in true faith we adorn Him with praise.

Just like those believing crowds so long ago, we don’t expect a more exciting and uplifting experience when we go to church. Instead we rejoice to see Him come in mercy. And we borrow those words from Psalm 118 that they also shouted to Jesus who came to be their King: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” We sing these words every time we celebrate the Lord's Supper, because it is where Jesus comes to us in lowliness to take our sins away. It is here that He shows His true Kingly character by ruling our hearts and consciences with the Gospel that frees us from all our spiritual enemies. And he will continue to come in lowliness to us until He comes in glory when we will reign with Him forever.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.   

November 27, 2011


Psalm 24 Advent 1, Midweek

 Christ Comes As Our King

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For our midweek Advent services this year, we’ll consider a three-part theme by taking a look at what is often called the three-fold office of Christ, known as Prophet, Priest, and King. The Old Testament is filled with prophets, and priests, and kings. Sometimes these offices would even overlap. Moses, for instance was a prophet and a priest. David was a king and a prophet. God appointed various men to these positions throughout Israel’s history, and He did so always for a specific purpose: to point them to Christ who was to come as their Redeemer. When we talk about how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, we usually think about all the explicit promises that were made about Him. But Jesus also fulfilled the very offices that God instituted and filled for the life of His Old Testament Church. The offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, were once so necessary for the existence of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. Well, they still are for us in the New Testament. But today we find them all revealed in Christ alone.

In the next couple weeks we will consider how Christ comes to us as our Priest and as our Prophet. But today we consider what Psalm 24 teaches us about how Christ comes as our King.

Israel wanted a king. They wanted to be like other nations; they all had kings. But God didn’t want to give them one. He ruled them. He was their King. But they wanted to be able to see the glory of an earthly kingdom. But that’s not what they needed. They needed God. But they kept demanding a king, and so God eventually relented and gave them one. The children of Israel found out the hard way what it meant to have an earthly king. Just as God had warned them, their kings taxed them, they took their sons and their daughters to serve in their armies and work in their palaces; they took the best of their land and animals and used them for their own benefit. That’s what a king does. He exerts his power in order to retain his power. He requires the wealth of others in order to make himself wealthy. All this in exchange for a having a king. But by relenting and giving them kings, God had something much greater in mind. He taught them their need for their true King who would gather all nations to Himself.

The Israelites had a rough history. Because of their sin, God eventually took their kings away. But He Himself never left them. In due time, God sent His Son, their true King, to take on human flesh and blood, to be born in the city of His earthly father David, to triumphantly ride into the holy city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to be crowned with thorns as King of the Jews, and to die on the cross for the sins of all men. But this same King rose from the dead on the third day. And before He ascended into heaven He instituted the Office of the Ministry, so that through Word and Sacrament today He continues to come to us as our King and rule us by the Gospel.

During Advent, we consider what it means to welcome Christ our King who comes to us as our Savior. “Lift up your heads, O you gates,” we sing, “and be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in.” “Who is this King of glory?” “The Lord strong and mighty…” It is none other than He who won the victory over sin death, and the devil. But how do we prepare a place in our hearts fit for such a glorious King? What do we give someone, after all, who has everything? As the Psalm also says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.” So what do we give Him to prepare for His coming to us when there is nothing He needs? How do we lift the gates of our hearts to welcome Him in?

This question has been asked many times. And all sorts of answers have been given. Many people teach that we prepare for Jesus’ coming to us by cleaning up our lives and making our hearts pure. Some teach that we need to fully submit ourselves to His guidance and yield our hearts to His control. Perhaps there is some ritual that we can accomplish that will prepare our hearts for Jesus to come and rule our lives. Surely there is something that we can do to welcome the King of Glory and be saved.

But of course there is not. We are sinners. This doesn’t just mean that we mess up sometimes. It means that we are incapable of pleasing God or even welcoming God. We were born in sinful corruption and all our efforts, no matter how determined and devoted to the task, will most certainly fall short, and amount to nothing but sin in God’s sight. In order for our hearts to welcome the King of glory, we must first be visited by the King of mercy.

And what can we do to draw Him to us? Nothing. Absolutely nothing, and this is such good news because He comes out of His own love alone, as the hymn puts it so well,

Ye need not toil nor languish
Nor ponder day and night
How in the midst of anguish
Ye draw Him by your might.
He comes, He comes all willing,
Moved by His love alone,
Your woes and troubles stilling;
For all to Him are known.

Christ comes to us. Just as all our efforts could not compel the Son of God to be born of the Virgin Mary, so also all our efforts can do nothing to compel Him to dwell in our hearts. And so we listen to the Gospel that we hear where all the effort is made by God. It is here where Jesus comes to us and tenderly invites Himself into our hearts by forgiving us our sins and demanding nothing from us.

In order to prepare for Jesus where He promises to come, we need to know where He has been. And that is why we consider Psalm 24 on this Advent evening. It is an interesting Psalm. It has been used during the Advent season for hundreds of years and more as a Psalm to prepare for Jesus to come and be our Savior. But interestingly enough, this Psalm is not about how the glorious King of Israel would come to earth and take on human flesh and blood. And it’s actually not about opening the doors of our hearts so that Jesus can enter in as our King – although poetic license in our hymns presents it this way. But in its actual context, this Psalm is actually talking about Christ’s ascension into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Now, this seems like a strange Psalm to focus on during Advent then. Isn’t Jesus’ incarnation –— and ascension about as opposite as can be? Well, no.

Consider this. The Son of God came down/descended from heaven, not in Glory, but in deep humility in order to live a perfect and righteous life in our place. He offered to His Father what we could not and His Father was pleased. And then He offered to His Father what He came to earth to spare us from: His body to be scourged and crucified and His very soul to suffer the condemnation of His own holy law against all sin that he did not commit. He came to win salvation for all mankind. And that is what He did. On the cross 2000 years ago, Jesus won salvation. But that is not where He gives it to us.

And that is why Jesus ascended into heaven as the King of Glory. “Lift up your heads, O you gates, and be lifted up, you doors! And the King of glory shall come in.” This was for our benefit. As St. Paul recites, “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” That is, He conquered sin and death and gave to His Church the Gospel and sacraments that deliver to us today the salvation He won for us. Jesus ascended into heaven in Glory so that He might take His throne of Power and continue to serve us today in mercy.

Israel demanded a king. They wanted to be like other nations. They wanted glory. But their glory failed them time and again, and is now no more. Sometimes we want a king. A glorious one that can lead us into our own glorious victory over sin. That’s what earthly kings do. And that’s why so many people fashion Jesus into a different kind of king today. But a king who does not lead us by the Gospel that we have learned can only lead us by the law. This imitation King might promise more glorious works and a more successful life, but just as God warned the children of Israel, such a king will oppress us. He will demand more and more until there is nothing more to give. And even the glory of our works will fade.

That is why we do not trust in our own works and preparations to find the glory that God promises to His people. Instead we wait on Christ who comes to us through the lowly means of grace that appear to have no glory at all. But Jesus does not rule us like earthly kings. Instead, He who emptied Himself of His own wealth and glory now showers us with all the treasures of heaven. He rules us not by taking what is most precious away from us, as earthly kings do, but by taking our worst upon Himself and forgiving our sin forever. When Jesus comes as our King of Grace, only then does He prepare our hearts to receive and know Him as our King of Glory who fully accomplished what He became Man to do.

That is why we welcome our King of kings with such great joy. And so in true repentance and faith, we sing to our own hearts as God Himself has prepared us to do: “Lift up your heads, O you gates, and be lifted up, you doors! And the King of glory shall come in.” And He comes. He keeps coming to give us foretaste of our heavenly joys by forgiving us our sins so that by preparing our hearts today for His mercy, He might also prepares us for eternity’s glory.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.



Luke 21:25-36 Advent II

Our Redemption Draws Near

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In the news lately, I’ve read, and maybe you’ve read also, that there’s been some roused concern over the end of the world (as we know it) supposedly predicted by the ancient Mayans. Maybe you haven’t noticed the stories. It’s not like it’s really big news. After all, how many kooks rise up here and there claiming to know when the end of the world will be, even being so bold as to set dates and times? We know it’s a hoax every time. Doesn’t Jesus Himself tell us? “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Now if not even Jesus, according to His humbled human nature, is privy to the knowledge of that exact day, certainly no other man will be either.

This Mayan prediction, though, is a little different from that. It’s no less ridiculous – don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t really predict the end of the world per se – it doesn’t say that judgment day is coming or that Jesus is returning. It’s just that their calendar, prepared centuries ago, which spans 5,125 years from beginning to end suddenly, on December 21, 2012, just stops. Why? Why so precise? Weird, huh? It’s allure, I suppose, lies in the fact that so much is left to the imagination. Could it be the end … of something? Could it be a meteor? Could it be economic collapse? Could it be the fall of America? Could it be the rise of another superpower? Could it be some sort of catastrophe that the devil has been brewing up and saving for December 21 of this year for a really long time now? Could it be? It doesn’t matter. And there’s a couple of reasons why it doesn’t matter.

First of all, there are much more realistic explanations for why the ancient Mayan calendar is put together the way it is. But that’s another issue.

The real reason it doesn’t matter is because nothing will really substantially change even if something terrible were to end up happening. What signs do we really wait for anyway? What more devastation can occur on earth that hasn’t already occurred that could more clearly or effectively teach us to place our hope in Christ alone? What calamity, what world war, what great recession could teach us more about the fate of this wicked world than what the Lord God in our Gospel lesson has already taught us? Nothing. Do we see this world get worse and worse? What’s new? Is this life not full of trouble?

There will be signs, [Jesus says,] in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

When these things begin to take place. It’s no wonder that folks have thought that the Day has been coming so soon for so long now. Every generation of weary Christians, oppressed by the evils of the age, expects that Christ must return soon – things have gotten so bad. And every generation that has entertained this expectation has been absolutely right. The signs point to it. These things have begun. Our redemption is drawing near.

But Jesus didn’t give us a heads up concerning these signs so that we might figure out the day or hour – and then based on our figuring – then become ready. No, He told us what to look for in order that we might always be ready. Always. And that’s why we can always expect this world to bring so much heartache and pain.

Bad things happen. We wait for the destruction of this world. The distress of the nations consists of the nations being afraid of and perplexed by the world’s demise. But the hope of the nations, that is, the hope that all nations have in Christ, consists of this very same thing: that this world will soon be destroyed. The only thing is, for us, with the world’s destruction, comes our redemption as well.

You lose your job. Your car breaks down. Your wife or husband is sick. The market crashes. Investments fail. Fire and drought burn what you’ve worked so hard to enjoy. Tornadoes and storms repossess what the bank does not. Relationships crumble and you can’t fix them. You’re slowing down. There’s trouble without; and there’s trouble within. Within – temptations won’t go away. You resist. You cave. They return to claim you. As you get older, and seem to conquer one temptation, another one soon makes its appeal. Life is so hard. The world is so evil. You know it. You see the devil at work. But your flesh still delights in the pleasures he promises. You know it’s a lie. You identify sin. You join voices with those who condemn it. But no matter how much you condemn what is morally wrong, you still see your own failure to free yourself from what God condemns in you. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Dear Christians, thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Straighten up; lift up your heads; this is what He redeems us from. Even all of creation groans with us like with labor pangs for that day of redemption – that’s what St. Paul says. Creation itself waits for the revealing of the sons of God, when we will be rescued from this dying world.

Life brings sorrow. We need to be delivered. This earthly life is tainted by sin. We need God to take this life away away from us. We need God to forgive us our sin. We need God, through the merits of Christ alone, to give us a new life that is perfected in righteousness. We need to know what Jesus has done to redeem us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. We need to see this current life that we live as something worth losing and being delivered from in order that we might see in our pain, in our sorrow, in our disappointment the certainty that despite it all our redemption is drawing near. In order to see this and know this and believe this, we must know the bloody suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He, by His sacrifice on the cross, has rescued us from God’s wrath, and has reconciled us to His Father in heaven.

Therefore we rejoice in tribulation, because tribulation drives home this crucial truth: our redemption is drawing near. He who has overcome the world will soon return. Christ will come again to destroy the earth. Christ will come again to claim us. These are the two parts of our redemption.

Now there are good things in earthly life, to be sure. God is gracious, after all. He is generous. He was even generous toward His own Son in the flesh as He lived His life on earth. Jesus had good parents, didn’t He? He received His daily bread and even enjoyed the finer things in life like good wine, and health. And yet what is it that Jesus said? “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” What does He mean? This is not to say, you know, that He was poor or destitute or even homeless. No. There is no innate virtue in poverty. Poor people are just as greedy as rich people. It is to say, rather, that Jesus – even as our substitute living a life of faith toward God – did not count these earthly blessings as anything to be held onto compared to the life that God promises in His word. Jesus held as more precious the life that is reserved in heaven for all those who long to leave this world.

But we long to stay. Don’t we? The earth will be destroyed. Do we mourn? Now, of course, it’s good to recognize life as a good gift from God. But how do we define our lives? Do we define our lives by what we have? – by what moth and rust destroy? – by the joys this world offers? Is it so hard to see them go? Do we define our lives by our moral accomplishments? – by our kindnesses and good reputation? But it is precisely this that we need to be saved from – our stubborn holding on to what is in constant jeopardy. God still gives us what is good. But the breath of the same good Lord who gives us everything blows upon the things He gives us. And we are left with one solitary hope: Christ. As the voice in the wilderness cried, according to Isaiah’s prophecy:

The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people
are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

God takes away good things. In Christ’s warning that He will come again to destroy the earth, He is telling us that He will destroy the good things we have. And He will destroy those who won’t let go of them too. But He won’t take away His word. No. His word endures. St. Peter, quoting the same words of Isaiah that I just quoted, says in his first chapter: Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.” What you hear from the mouth of God is the most certain thing in your life.

To illustrate this point, Jesus tells a parable:

Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

This is one of the plainest and simplest parables that Jesus ever told. As surely as there are clear signs in the budding trees that the long cold winter is over and that summer is near, so also the fact that sin and suffering continue to fill this earth and afflict us only indicates one thing: God’s kingdom is near; His word is sure.

God’s kingdom. We know what that is. It is His kingdom of grace here on earth before it is His kingdom of glory on the last day. God’s kingdom is near. It is near to claim us through the word of God that gives Baptism its power. It is near to cheer us in our every loss, even when our sinful hearts still find it so hard to say good riddance. It is near to give us new hearts that rejoice to see God’s will done. It is near to forgive us our sins on account of Jesus’ bitter suffering and death. It is near you. It is in your mouth and in your hearts, that is, the word of God, which we preach (Romans 10:8).

Through the preaching of the Gospel, God is near to save you. Listen to these words from what should be a relatively familiar Psalm (46), and note how closely they address the first paragraph of our Gospel lesson this morning:

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.

We will not fear. Because God’s word tells us not to. This is why God has been speaking through His prophets and Apostles for so long. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Where else would we find hope? This hope is found in Jesus of whom the prophets spoke. It is found in Him who comes to us this Advent season in order to give us the fruits of His first advent when He came in humility to bear the curse of sin in our place. It is found in Him who will come again in His final advent in glory when He will rescue us all from the destruction that we see is coming.

This generation doubts. This generation ignores the signs. This generation holds on, with desperation and foreboding, to what will most certainly pass away. But this generation will see that God’s word cannot be broken. Christ is coming. Heaven and earth and everything that the world tries to earn and claim will pass away. But the promise that Jesus gives to us in the Gospel will never pass away. The robe of righteousness that clothes us by faith in what our Savior has spoken will never pass away. The God to whom we are reconciled by the blood of Christ our Lord and Judge is the eternal God. And He prepares for us what we will enjoy with Him forever.

And so we watch ourselves. We watch ourselves lest we be weighed down by dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life – by worries and concerns about what awful thing comes next – today, tomorrow, next Friday the 21st – it doesn’t matter. We watch ourselves by finding in Christ our true treasure, our pure righteousness, and our eternal stay.

Let us pray:

Lord, your mercy will not leave me;
Ever will your truth abide.
Then in you I will confide.
Since your word cannot deceive me,
My salvation is to me
Safe and sure eternally.

In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

December 9, 2012



Luke 17:20-30 Advent II

The Kingdom of God Is within You

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Solomon says that there is nothing new under the sun. From the first day that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and fell into sin until the end of the world, all things on earth remain essentially the same. We are born; we die. In between is a whole bunch of joy and a whole bunch of sorrow. I suppose the race is on to make the former outnumber the latter. But what a futile race, because ultimately it doesn’t really matter. We are born; and then we die. And for a thousand generations the same mundane thing takes place. Our place, our thoughts, our accomplishments, and even our hopes and dreams are forgotten. That’s what Solomon says, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Kind of a depressing picture to paint, isn’t it? But it’s true. And I think everyone knows it.

Many people respond to this unavoidable fact by living for the moment. They try to experience as much pleasure as they can before it’s too late. This is known as hedonism, or Epicureanism and has gone in times past by the motto: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” A modern equivalent to this is what kids say these days: “YOLO – you only live once.” Obviously such an outlook on life is incredibly selfish. It encourages young people to measure the value of life by how much enjoyment they can pack into it rather than by how much good they can do for others. This flies in the face of what St. Paul tells us in our Epistle lesson: that we should not aim to please ourselves, but to edify our neighbor. It is true that we only live once. But what life are we living? Are we animals seeking carnal pleasure for some small window of time? Or are we children of God who live forever seeking that which is above?

Hedonism wares on you. Although fleshly sins and shameful lusts are certainly not lacking among the elderly, this “you-only-live-once” attitude is typically prevalent among younger people. Young people seek the next buzz, the next new thing, the next pleasure in a never-ending pursuit for satisfaction. But satisfaction never comes. And if it does, it doesn’t last and leaves you burning again until you’ve been burnt out. And that’s because true meaning cannot be found in fleeting pleasures. Eventually those who have enslaved themselves to worldly pursuits are left empty, often feeling guilty, and used, and bitter against so many false promises of happiness. And so in the wisdom of older age and experience, they often begin to seek something higher and more fulfilling.

All is vanity,” says the preacher. This is eventually confirmed in the minds of those who grow up. And it often comes as a load of bricks. And so it has been the primary aim of philosophers and spiritualists and religious leaders since time immemorial to find some reason not to believe this – to find some reason to believe that life has meaning. Who wants to have lived a meaningless life – especially once your life is drawing to a close? But where will we find our meaning? That’s the question.

Well, I suppose we could start with what the preacher is preaching. Instead of Solomon’s dreary “Vanity of vanities,” perhaps he could speak something a little more inspiring. You know? Why reduce the measure of man to his accomplishments that fade into the same dust to which he and his children return? Why not talk instead about how God rewards our accomplishments – about how what we do has eternal significance? By and large, for most people, this is the purpose of religion. It serves an emotional need. It gives meaning in the face of meaninglessness. Lest man despair in the face of life’s futility, he persuades himself that God has something greater in store. And it always comes back to the importance of what man does. And so the quest for meaning just takes people around in circles.

In the 18th century a scoffing atheist from France by the name of Voltaire thought he was pretty clever when he quipped, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” By this he meant that God’s existence was inconsequential. Who knows what he thinks or if he’s even real? It doesn’t matter. What is important is what man believes about him. The notion of “God,” although a human idea, like many human ideas, is a useful one too.

Take a look at the religions around the world. Do people find meaning in life? You better believe it. People persuade themselves so firmly that God rewards this and smiles on that that people are willing to fast, sacrifice all sorts of pleasures, and even kill for God – just to have the assurance that God is pleased and gives meaning to their lives on earth. Voltaire had a point (albeit unwittingly). People who do not know the true God most certainly find it necessary to invent him. The Bible says that man does not by nature seek God. Instead, he reinvents him in his own image.

Well, it really does come down to what the preacher is preaching. It always does. Is the preacher preaching God’s truth, or what man wants to believe? Is the preacher teaching that God’s law renders us all guilty before God, or just weak and in need of encouragement? Does the preacher speak of sin as mistakes we make, or does he speak of sin as the deep-seated corruption it is – the self-righteousness that seeks to storm heaven with all our good works and make God pay us back for our virtues on earth? Does the preacher preach the law?

Does the preacher preach the gospel? Does he present Christ as the Savior of sinners who have no hope in themselves? Does he preach the Jesus who in love takes our place under the law – rendering to God what our lives could not render and suffering from God what the law truly threatens? Or is the preacher preaching the Jesus who coaches and helps make dreams come true? Is he medicating people so that they find meaning in their own lives apart from repentance? Does the preacher twist the gospel into the good news that God shows favor to him who does the best that is in him to do? Well, that’s a false gospel. It’s false religion. You can always tell which God is the invented god and which is the true God by learning how properly to distinguish law and gospel, and to recognize when it is rightly being preached to you.

A hundred years after the French Revolution had produced an abundance of thinkers in the style of the famous Voltaire, a much more famous and influential man came to the forefront of history. He was Voltaire’s theological and philosophical heir. His name was Karl Marx, the father of Communism. He once referred to religion as the opiate of the masses – a drug that common and simple-minded people use to make themselves feel better in an unjust world. He aimed to make the world less unjust and thus free people from the need for their religious medicine. His famous creed is stated in this way: “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”

Marx located the real problem of injustice in the world to be within society – in how things were run and administrated. He thought he could get rid of greed and the exploitation of the poor by redistributing the world’s resources more fairly – getting rid of private property and making everything public. But he ignored the real problem. Greed and envy, covetousness and stinginess are sins that proceed from man’s heart – every man’s heart – rich and poor alike. They’re not simply social problems to be fixed by employing a more equitable form of government.

But Marx promised people that a joyful utopia could be established by means of political revolution. Because of his influence, Communism spread throughout the world with religious fervor. People sacrificed much to serve their false god, or non-god. Mostly they sacrificed what other people had. They wanted to build heaven on earth. But in the 20th century alone nearly 100 million people were murdered in the name of this godless ideology. The religion of Communism seeks to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth, and yet it has brought much hell. It’s interesting that it was touted as a substitute for religion.

In ways Marx was right that people used religion to medicate and numb themselves against sorrow. But in the end his creed became no different from every Pharisaical religion ever invented. Human progress was embraced; and God’s undeserved mercy was rejected – even persecuted. Progress, whether moral, social, or spiritual, is always presented as man’s work. It is in the end the same old self-righteousness that Jesus lambasted during his earthly ministry. People want something they can see. They want justice that flows from their own hearts. They want righteousness that they can present before God and say, “Reward it!” Only then do they see meaning in their struggles. But it is precisely by seeking to establish their own reward in heaven that they make life so vain and meaningless on earth. And so they prove Jesus exactly right when he said: “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”

The Pharisees watched Jesus. They observed him. They were looking for what they figured was bound to come: some grand effort to establish a kingdom on earth that would reward the good and punish the bad. The Pharisees thought they were good, so they were especially interested to see what Jesus had up his sleeve. But they were disappointed. “The kingdom of God does not come with observation,” Jesus said; “nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

The kingdom of God is not a worldly kingdom. It is not an earthly force. The kingdom of God is the forgiveness of sins that is received by faith alone. That is why it is within you. You can’t see the forgiveness of sins. You can only take Jesus at his word. At his word. That is how the Church is created. The Church consists of all Christians who hear God’s word. We don’t identify the Church by its outward trappings of bishops and bureaucrats. And we don’t identify Christ’s kingdom as some earthly reign that will last a thousand years on earth. No, we identify the Church there where we find the kingdom of God; and that is where Jesus rules us in mercy, giving to us his Holy Spirit who works faith in our hearts.

People want something observable. They want to see God’s power. And they want God to be on their side. And that is precisely why God’s kingdom comes the way it does. Because God wants to be on our side. He wants to be reconciled to sinners. And so he comes in humility. He comes to serve. He comes not to thunder decrees and establish peace on earth by means of the law. Rather he comes in silent meekness to fulfill the law as our substitute. He comes to be rejected in order that he might suffer in body and soul all our guilt under his Father’s wrath.

The question is always: where do you find God’s favor? Where do you find God give meaning to your life? You find it not in a hope for problems fixed here, but where God delivers to you in the means of grace all problems fixed in Christ.

Baptism. Lord's Supper. Preaching.

Here God’s kingdom comes. We find it within us because Christ rules our hearts and conscience. Within.

They will say look here and there. But don’t go.

We long to see Christ formed in us. We long to see what we don’t feel so much. But we do not look where the world and the utopians would distract us. We look to what was written for our learning. We listen to Jesus who gives us hope.

We live once. And the one life we live is lived under Christ in his kingdom. Christ’s life gives ours meaning. He lived our life for us. No more meaninglessness because no more sin. No more searching for meaning apart from God.

All things will remain until Jesus comes. Sin remains sin. But we’re not racing to make anything new. Instead we stand secure in our baptismal grace where we were born anew and made wholly new people through the forgiveness of sins. He cannot forget us because he has made us his own children. Our life is filled with meaning.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Luke 21:25-36 Advent II

 “My Words Will Not Pass Away.”

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Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Amen. These familiar words from Job exhibit what it means to have unwavering faith in God in the face of loss. God gives us good things. When good things happen, we rejoice and thank Him. But God also allows bad things to happen by permission of His fatherly care. Everything, from war abroad to sickness at home, affects our lives in a negative way. But when they do, we do not despair or become cast down as though God had abandoned us, because these are not signs of our destruction. These are signs that our redemption is near. So instead, we lift up our heads and focus our gaze on Christ whose return is imminent. That’s what He promised. Job didn’t trust in the material things that God gave him; that’s why he didn’t despair when God took them away. We don’t trust in the temporal blessings that God gives us either. Instead, we hold fast to His word which will never pass away.

The Bible was written to teach us. St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). The reason Scripture is able to bestow such great benefits is because it is the word of God Himself. By holding onto what the Bible teaches us, we are able to persevere through all trials, because the word of God promises us much more in heaven than what we can possibly lose here on earth. This is the certain hope that we have in Christ. And by it, we are comforted.

The Bible isn’t a dead letter that we confine to a book somewhere, or that we listen to once in a while in order to fill some religious urge. No, it is the word of God that guides our life every day by giving us God’s own eternal wisdom. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16). The usefulness (or profitableness) of Scripture is found in the fact that it teaches us the Gospel. That’s why God wrote it – to bring us to the knowledge and confidence of our Savior Jesus Christ.

We don’t try to hide the fact that the Bible was written by men. The author of Holy Scripture is God the Holy Spirit. But He didn’t send down a book from heaven that plopped into the lap of the Church. Instead, throughout history, He inspired various prophets and evangelists to write the very words that are recorded. Of course, God used their unique personalities, skills, and individual experiences in order to choose the words they wrote. But what they wrote is not the words of sinful men. It is the word of almighty God. It is as St. Peter writes in his 2nd Epistle: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20).

We don’t look for our own meaning in the Bible. Scripture teaches us what God wants us to know. In the last 50 years it has become a popular method of literary interpretation to read even such classics as Shakespeare or Jane Austen through modern eyes, and then to come to a conclusion about the purpose and meaning of their words based on your own response to it. This of course means that any book has as many genuine meanings as it has people who read it. Well that’s ridiculous. We didn’t write it; we can’t determine its meaning. There can be only one intended meaning. But of course, even Holy Scripture has not been spared this foolish method of interpretation.

It is bad enough to impose such silliness upon good literature. But to impose this on the Bible is to undermine and attack that fundamental concept that the Church cannot live without. Truth. It was to bear witness to the truth that the Son of God took on our flesh and blood. And ever since this witness to the truth was first put on trial, the scornful scoff of Pontius Pilate has been echoing throughout the generations: “What is truth?” We hear Jesus give an excellent answer to this question in John 17 as He prayed to His Father concerning us, “[Holy Father,] sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

There you have it. The word of God is true. Truth is not subject to what is in style. It isn’t subject to what we want or feel inside. The certainty of truth lies outside of the whims of sinful man. The truth of God’s will toward us finds its source outside of us, securely in the bosom of the Father from eternity. But it is revealed in plain language for us to read and hear and believe in the words of Holy Scripture. And that is why we continue to hear what God says in humility, finding our life only in the words that He speaks to us.

The word of God remains relevant today. And so we continue to gather here and listen to it. It doesn’t stay relevant by changing, like other things. No, it stays relevant by being consistent. God does not change. But the winds of trendy theology do. When the relevance of what the Bible clearly teaches is called into question and tailored to a world that by nature does not know God, then the truth of God’s word is attacked. This happens all the time. People don’t like to hear that it is a sin to live together outside of marriage; so they pretend that what the Bible says is no longer pertinent to their needs. People don’t like to hear that women may not preach or have authority over a man, or that God requires wives to submit to their husbands, and so these clear teachings of the Holy Spirit are disregarded as outdated. Sexual ethics, practices regarding the Lord's Supper, issues of church fellowship seem to cause more discord than peace, and so people moderate the word of God to fit their needs. But such people don’t know what they need.

It is not possible to reduce the revealed will of God to some lofty principle of love that excuses sin apart from the blood of Christ. It does not work to extract the Gospel nugget and sweep away the rest, as though we can determine what is important and what is not. God does not work through our cooperation. We don’t help God make His message of love more applicable to the world around us. We simply confess and cherish what He gives us, and He promises to do the rest.

Isaiah writes, “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

The truth is important. God saves us by the truth. He preserves us from error—both fleshly sins that lead men to perdition and despair, and from spiritual doubt and misbelief that lead men into darkness. By nature we are corrupt. God’s word is not. St. Peter writes concerning that word which has worked faith in our hearts, “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because ‘All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers and its flower falls away, but the word of the LORD endures forever.’  Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (1 Peter 1, 23-24).

Everything we have fades. Our stuff is not as important as hearing the Gospel that is preached. Our charm, success, social connections, and retirement plans are all susceptible to loss. Even as we enjoy these things today, as Christians, we learn to put things in proper perspective. So how do we use the things that we have? To whose benefit and whose glory do we employ those earthly blessing that God has given us? We know what we should do, because we know what lasts and what doesn’t. But the flesh is weak where the spirit is willing.

Our God who loves us sees us in our lost condition, and He knows what we need. That is why God takes things away from us. For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6). When we suffer loss, God is teaching us. He teaches us by driving us to His word that redeems our loss. Tribulation and suffering alone do not produce the character of a Christian. No, the Gospel does. St. Paul tells us that “we glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Our character as Christians is not produced by God making us suffer. Our character as Christians is produced by the forgiveness of sins that works faith in our hearts to bear with perseverance everything that God sends us. And so, when all our glory begins to fade like a flower, when our heads are bowed in sorrow over joys departed and when our mortality, brought upon by our own sin has become impossible to deny, then we flee to Him and to His words. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus said, “but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33).

And what do His words say? He who believes and is baptized … Take eat, take drink, this is my body … come unto me … Jesus’ words speak to us the very peace that He won on the cross as He suffered and died for all our sins – naked to clothe us with His own righteousness, and empty handed to win for us what heaven cannot contain.

A glory Thou dost give me,
A treasure safe on high,
That will not fail or leave me
As earthly riches fly.

And earthly riches most certainly fly. These are the signs of the times. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. But that which causes distress and perplexity in those who rely on these fleeting heirlooms, that which causes the faithless to faint with fear in terrified expectation of what is coming is — for us merely a sign that our redemption is drawing near. That’s what Jesus says. And so we do what Jesus tells us to do. We straighten up, we raise our heads, and we listen to what our God has been so gracious to teach us. And we sing,

To me the preaching of the cross
Is wisdom everlasting.
Thy death alone redeems my loss;
On Thee my burden casting.
I in Thy name a refuge claim
From sin and death and from all shame.
Blessed be Thy name, O Jesus.

The words of Jesus do two things that nothing else in all the world can ever do. They forgive us our sins, and they last forever. God gives us His word because He loves us. And so we look to where He demonstrates this love in the crucifixion of His Son, where he has won for us eternal life in heaven. When we know this God, then we know the God who gives us all things. And as we thank Him for all the wonderful gifts will someday slip out of our hands, we do so by faith in the promise of eternal life which will be ours forever.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Amen.   

December 4, 2011

Psalm 50:1-15 Advent 2/Midweek

 Christ Comes As Our Priest

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For our midweek Advent services we are considering a three-part theme by taking a look at what is often called the three-fold office of Christ, known as Prophet, Priest, and King. Last week, we started with King, and we considered how Christ comes to us, not with earthly might, but rules our hearts and consciences through the forgiveness of sins. Now, this week we consider what it means for Christ to come as our priest.

But what is a priest? God instituted the office of priest in the Old Testament so that they would offer sacrifices to God on behalf of God’s people. That’s what a priest did. God gave a very detailed description of the priesthood when He gave specific instructions to Moses. But long before He brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, God had required that sacrifices be made. In order to understand what it means for Christ to come as our priest, we need to understand the nature of a sacrifice and why God required them. So let’s start at the beginning.

God had warned Adam and Eve that the day they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would surely die. Of course, their physical death would not come to them for many years later, but the moment they disobeyed God, they died an immediate spiritual death. No longer did they fear, love, and trust in God as God had created them to do. They became sinners. But hardly had God even yet rebuked them for their sin that He also promised them that the Seed of the woman would come to destroy the power of sin forever. Christ would bruise the devil’s head, and the devil would bruise His heel. But the Son of God would give His own life in order to redeem back His fallen creation from sin, death, and the devil. This here was the very first Gospel promise. It was also the first prophecy concerning Christ’s vicarious sacrifice on the cross. The Gospel can’t be separated from the crucifixion of Jesus.

God takes sin seriously, and so He required that blood be shed. Death was the only possible payment for sin because it is the due penalty for sin. That’s what God threatened from the beginning; and so that’s what God promised from the beginning. In order to pledge to Adam and Eve that Christ would someday die in their place, God instituted for them the sacrificial system right there in the Garden of Eden even before He expelled them from Paradise. “When was this?” you might ask. Well, they were naked and ashamed. Their makeshift clothing of leaves was insufficient to cover them. So by sacrificing an animal, God made them better clothing from its skin to cover their naked flesh. In the process He also taught them how He would cover their sin. The first spiritual death was indeed Adam and Eve’s. But the first physical death was that animal which God killed in their place in order to clothe them and point them to their Savior.

The promise of the Gospel cannot be separated from the shedding of blood. By teaching our first parents how to shed the blood of an animal, God taught them to hope in Christ who would come to offer His own blood as the perfect sacrifice. Although we find no explicit mandate to offer these sacrifices until much later in the Old Testament, it is as clear as day that the first believers in Christ knew exactly what to do. They knew the importance of sacrifice, because they knew what the promise of the Gospel consisted of.

Consider Abel. He offered the firstborn of His flock, and thereby confessed that the only begotten Son of God would offer Himself. Consider Noah. God saved him and his family from destruction. And as soon as the waters dried, Noah confessed the price of his salvation by building an altar and sacrificing to God, offering up a pleasing aroma.

Then God said something very interesting to Noah as He gave him permission to eat meat, You may eat all these animals,” God said, “but you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, with its blood.” God later repeated this to Moses, saying, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given [the blood] to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls.” The meat was given to man for food. But the blood was reserved for God in order to atone for sin.

Obviously, for the sake of time, I can’t exhaust all the examples of Old Testament sacrifices. But how can we pass up the account of how God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his own son Isaac? But what did God end up doing? He provided a substitute. And that’s the whole idea. Sacrifices in the Old Testament pointed to Christ who would save all men from their sin by His own substitutionary death on the cross.

Even a very brief overview of Old Testament sacrifices reveals how they have always been connected to the promise of Jesus. What made them acceptable to God, however, was not just the act of doing them. God didn’t have it out for these poor animals. No. What made them acceptable, so that God would forgive sins, was the faith by which they were offered – faith that trusted in the atoning sacrifice that Jesus Christ would someday render in their place by shedding His own blood to wash away their sin. The Old Testament saints were not justified by a different faith than ours. It is today as it always has been: only the blood of Jesus can save sinners.

It wasn’t long after Adam and Eve, or after Noah, or after Abraham, that people quickly forgot the purpose of sacrificing animals to God. In other words, they forgot the Gospel – they removed the promise of Christ from the whole thing. And so all sorts of pagan religions rose up throughout the world’s history and twisted the original purpose of sacrifice. They turned it into something that God never intended it to be.

That is why God gave such specific instructions to Moses and Aaron – in order to preserve true worship among them through whom the promised Savior would come. Through the sacrifices of the priests, God established and remained faithful to the covenant that He had made with them. He also provided them the opportunity to be constantly directed to the promise of Christ. The sacrificial system that we read about in the Old Testament seems complicated and overbearing. But it was according to God’s mercy that He gave it to them, because it taught them about Jesus.

But even this great sacrificial system was abused. Just as the heathen nations did it before, so also the children of Israel began to regard these sacrifices as their own good works pleasing to God. People are naturally works righteous. That means that they naturally want to look at the things that they do instead of what God does in order to stand before Him. And so that is what they did. They began to regard the many sacrifices that their priests offered as though they were doing God some sort of favor for God.

That is why God says in the Psalm that we consider this evening, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.” God did not require sacrifices because He was hungry, like the gods of the pagans. God didn’t need any of their lambs or goats or bulls or rams. God didn’t demand sacrifices because He needed anything, but precisely the opposite, because His people needed Him. We are the ones who are hungry and starving for a righteousness and a life that we cannot find within ourselves. We are the ones who need what God has to offer.

God takes sin seriously. Consider the scary image that our Psalm provides for us when describing the last Day of Judgment when Christ will come again. A fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous all around Him. He shall call to the heavens from above, And to the earth, that He may judge His people.”

We cannot withstand God’s judgment. But Christ comes as our High Priest in order to intercede for us so that we might avoid God’s fiery judgment. That’s what a priest does. He intercedes for the people by shedding the blood of an innocent animal. And that is why before Christ could come as our Priest, He had to come as the innocent Lamb of God.

In the Old Testament, once a year on the Day of Atonement, one spotless lamb was offered by the High Priest in the Holy of holies and its blood was sprinkled on the altar and on the mercy seat of God’s throne. This one sacrifice atoned for all the sins of the whole nation. But the one sacrifice of Jesus atoned for all the sins of the whole world. His blood was shed on the cross and sprinkled on the mercy seat of God in heaven. God didn’t need this sacrifice. He didn’t need to take His holy wrath out against His own Son. He could have taken it out against us sinners. But He loved us. And so He spared us from condemnation by shedding His own Son’s blood on the cross and redeeming us back to Himself.

Since all Old Testament sacrifice pointed to Christ, there is no longer any need for sacrifice. But Jesus continues to come to us as our own High Priest through the means of Grace. The Gospel that we hear and the Sacrament that we receive give to us a real forgiveness that God is constantly mindful of in heaven. Because that is where Jesus is revealing to the Father in His resurrected and glorified body what He has done to atone for all our sins.

We do not come to Church in order to do God a favor. No we come here in order to receive the favor of God. And we do. Because we receive the very righteousness that Jesus earned in our place as our Savior to whom so many sacrifices pointed. Just as in the Old Testament Church, it was faith in Christ that made all sacrifices acceptable and pleasing to God, so also it is faith in Christ today that makes our sacrifices of praise worthy to be heard. Offer to God thanksgiving, And pay your vows to the Most High, our Psalm says. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me. And so we do. Because we know what He has done to glorify us. We do as those who have been made priests by God, fit to render acceptable offerings through faith in Christ. Just as all Old Testament sacrifices pointed to what He did on the cross, so by faith, so do all our thanksgivings and praises point to the same thing.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

December 7, 2011



Matthew 11:2-10 Advent III

What We Come to See and Hear

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John was a preacher. Faithful preaching can have various effects on people. Some people love it. Some people put up with it. Some people hate it. It’s not the fault of the preacher. The preacher’s job is to preach. They’re not his words – at least not if he’s doing his job. They’re the words of God. A faithful preacher preaches the message of another. He is a steward. A steward is one whose job it is to administer his master’s goods. It is not the preacher’s job to avoid offense in his preaching. It’s his job to preach clearly what God gave him to preach. It’s not the preacher’s job to figure out what his hearers want to hear. It’s his job to preach what God wants his hearers to hear. It’s not required of a preacher that he be likeable, handsome, or good with the youth. It’s not required of a preacher to smile when he preaches or to engage lazy minds with clever rhetoric or trite illustrations. No. Of course, God can and just may use any number of a preacher’s personal strengths in order to further His kingdom. But they are God’s to use. It is God’s kingdom.

But what is required? What does God require of His preachers? He requires that they be servants of Christ. He requires that they be stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. That's what God tells us. It’s the job of the preacher to preach the kingdom of God and to do it faithfully.

That’s what John was sent for. And he was spectacularly successful. That’s what our Gospel lesson today teaches us. Although, we do learn that success in regards to faithful preaching doesn’t always take the appearance that we’d expect – or that we’d like. John landed himself in prison, after all. It all happened because he kept preaching what God told him to preach. It wasn’t his fault. God never told him to stop. Although, basic social awareness would have suggested that maybe he should have stopped. The rules that govern how we interact with one another for sure would have required that John at least step back when it came to certain delicate topics – especially when it would be dangerous not to keep silent.

Just consider the gross and public sin that John called out. King Herod took his own brother’s wife. That’s disgusting. We know it. Everyone else knew it too. But John said it. God told him to. Now, it’s not like God told him in a dream or something to address this particular situation. He didn’t need to. God had told John what He tells us all: He says in the 10 Commandments what is good and right, what is wrong and sinful. John simply applied God’s word. He had no choice. He wasn't sent by God to make exceptions. He was sent by God to preach.

The faithful preacher says things that we know are true. But we also know you’re not supposed to say anything. Like, say, divorce. Who’s going to condemn that anymore? Jesus does. John sure did. Or how about living with someone outside of marriage. That’s an awkward sin to confront. How about the sin of skipping church, and doing something else instead? It is for sure easier just not to bring it up – especially when you’re worried that by doing so you'll just drive them away! It’ll do no good anyway. And so the sin is ignored. There are consequences to speaking the truth. Aren’t there? And we don’t always think that these consequences are worth it. Do we? But the consequences that we see, that make us so squeamish when sin is squarely addressed are not the same consequences that God sees and that God accomplishes through the straightforward and unbending preaching of the Law.

God prepares us to receive Christ. John was sent to prepare His way. And he did. The Evangelist St. Matthew, in his third chapter, introduces him like this:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”

Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

He preached repentance. Such preaching has various effects on people. Those who love it are those who are crushed by the Law of God and convinced by the Holy Spirit that they need a righteousness, which they have not produced themselves. They confess their sins. They embrace the faithful preaching of repentance because through it, God prepares a highway in their hearts for Jesus to come and have mercy on sinners. And He does. God reveals our sin in order that we might in faith receive our Savior, who forgives us our sins.

Those who hate the preaching of repentance are those who resist the Holy Spirit. Instead of being driven to Christ who bears our load and gives us a spotless robe of innocence, they depend rather on their own righteousness; and they resent any attempt on the part of the preacher to poke holes in it. They think they’re doing fine; their so-called faith-life is strong enough without any need to listen to some preacher. And so they refuse to allow the valleys to be raised and the mountains to be brought low. But they need that. They refuse to be measured by God’s law. But they are. They insist on being measured by their own general goodness. But they’re not.

Such hardness of heart is not God’s intended consequence of preaching – although it is more common than not. But it’s the consequence of sin. Sin is powerful. It infects us all. We were born in sin. We live our lives in these sinful bodies. We struggle against the desires of the flesh until that day when our sinful bodies die. We repent of our sin. We resolve to do better – that’s what it means to say that we are heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them. But you don’t find this desire to repent – you don’t find the power to lay your guilt before God within your own heart. No. There is the source of sin. There is the root of unbelief that doesn’t trust God. There is where excuses come from. No. The Holy Spirit prepares our hearts for repentance only through the oft-repeated message of the preacher.

John preached and preached and preached the same thing. He preached the Law. He preached the Gospel. He preached repentance - into the forgiveness of sins. He didn’t just preach one grand and heart-wrenching appeal that got the countryside rending their garments and turning their lives around—and then John’s job was done. No. Sinners still sinned. Sinners who repented, who had already been baptized still sinned. Sinners who had witnessed John baptize Jesus to fulfill all righteousness still sinned. Sinners who had seen John point with his own finger to Jesus, identifying Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, sinners who believed the Gospel, who trusted it and loved it – these sinners still had need to rend their hearts before God and confess again and again their sin, beseeching Him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant forgiveness. This means that sinners still had need for John to keep preaching. Because they still had need for Jesus.

So it is today. The preacher needs to keep preaching, because we need to keep hearing.

Of course, we want to see success. We want to see in our own lives our sins conquered. We want to be free from temptation, and to see in ourselves evidence that we are new creatures. So does the preacher. He wants to see his words have power. He wants to see his message make a difference. But he doesn’t always get to see it. The preacher doesn’t get the job done. He just keeps doing the job that God gave him to do. It is God who accomplishes what He will. It is Jesus whose works truly matter. That’s why it’s the preacher’s job to point sinners to Christ and to preach what Jesus does.

John’s disciples came to him in prison and reported to him what Jesus was doing. Imagine what they would have told him.

John. While you sit in this prison accomplishing nothing, do you know what’s happening? Jesus, the one you preached about, is giving sight to the blind, he’s making the lame walk, he’s cleansing the lepers, he’s making the deaf hear, he’s raising the dead, and preaching the gospel to the poor.

This is what John needed to hear. Jesus was doing. The one whose deeds John had spent his ministry preaching about was doing what God said He would do. What encouragement for a preacher! Not to see tangible, countable results – but to hear and know that through one’s own preaching, Jesus is doing. These are the things that confirmed that John had pointed in the right direction. He had pointed to the One who has compassion on sinners.

In Isaiah 35, the Holy Spirit told Isaiah to preach the same message as John: “Say to those who have an anxious heart: ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’”

Then God continued and explained to Isaiah what would follow as a result of such preaching: “Then,” says God, “… then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

Like all the prophets that God sent, John preached the coming of the Lord. “Behold your God,” he said. And what happened? Exactly what God said would happen. Jesus had compassion just as Isaiah had been told.

When John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Coming One or if they should wait for another, he was not expressing doubt. I don’t think so. He was doing the same job that he had always done. “Go to Jesus. Go to Him to whom all of us prophets have pointed. See what He does. Does my ministry look to be a failure to you? Does it look like I have done no good? Well, look and see what Jesus does. Ask Him if I failed.”

They did. And Jesus gave no apology or lengthy discourse on how He must be the One. No. Instead He simply gave His credentials; He pointed to the very works that God had promised would follow faithful preaching. Therefore John preached well. Tell him.

Tell him what you hear and see: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” And this tops it off. The poor have the gospel preached to them. This is the greatest work that Jesus accomplishes. Because the good news consists of this: that Jesus came bearing our weakness, illnesses, our blindness and deafness, our strokes and heart-attacks, our uncleanness, our shame, and all our sin, and even death itself. He came to take it all off of us. That’s what His miracles taught. He came to put it all on Himself. That’s what it means to be the Lamb of God. He came to save poor sinners from the misery of this passing world not just by healing the illnesses of their fading and withering bodies of flesh, but by giving a message to preach – the forgiveness of sins through which we have the guarantee that we will be raised again to eternal life. And this is the word of our God that stands forever.

And He expects preachers to preach it. That’s why God sent John. That’s why Jesus sends ministers today. “As the Father sent Me, so I send you … to direct poor sinners not just to their need for a Savior, but to where salvation is won on the cross.” That’s why we preach Christ crucified. The preacher reports the deeds of Christ. The preacher points to Jesus. And Jesus does. And this is His greatest deed. Because it is on the cross that the Lamb of God was offered as our Substitute. It is there that God received His holy life as payment for our unholy lives. It is there that His bitter sufferings and death guaranteed our eternal life and blessing. It is there that our sins are taken away. “Tell John that he pointed in the right direction,” said Jesus, “because see! Hear! I accomplish the world’s salvation!”

But then Jesus added a blessing – one that was not only intended for John, but that was intended for all those who listened to John: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” In other words, blessed is the one who believes what the preacher has preached. Blessed is the one who sees the misery that faithful preaching often brings. Look at John. Blessed is the one who sees no discernible success or growth in his church despite faithful preaching and administration of the sacraments, but who cherishes these anyway. Blessed is the one who is not offended by the message of the prophets who were stoned because he loves the message of Jesus who was crucified. Blessed is the one who is not offended by the lowly means of grace through which God has mercy on sinners. For it is there that Jesus does His work for you.

He baptizes and clothes you in His own innocence. He absolves and gives you the peace He won by reconciling God and man. He gives to Christians to eat and to drink His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, and as a seal and pledge of God’s good will toward you. And so as we draw near to receive from Jesus the fruit of His death and resurrection, we sing those words that John the faithful preacher first cried out. O Christ, Thou Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us. And He does. This is a cause to rejoice!
In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

December 16, 2012


Matthew 11:2-11 Advent III

Blessed Is He Who Is Not Offended by the Gospel.  
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In the Old Testament, God sent prophets to His chosen nation Israel in order to preach the law against sin and to preach of the Christ who would come and take their sin away. In the New Testament, Jesus sent out His Apostles commanding them to make disciples of all nations by preaching the law against sin, and by preaching the gospel that He Himself has taken all sin away on the cross. There are no more prophets; John the Baptist was the last one. But when Jesus sent out His Apostles, He instituted what we call the Office of the Ministry in order that we might believe in Him today. A prophet’s job was to speak the word that God gave him to speak. The pastor’s job today is much the same: to preach the word of God and to administer the sacraments.

God has always required of His messengers that they properly distinguish between the law and gospel. The law exposes our sin by revealing our disobedience to God; the gospel covers our sin with the perfect obedience of His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus takes our sin, and gives to us His righteousness. We call this the blessed exchange. This blessed exchange occurred on the cross 2000 years ago. But we receive the benefits here and now through His word, which He continues to speak to His Church.

The Christian faith is the only faith that justifies sinners before a righteous God and that saves our souls from hell. This faith comes by hearing. We need to hear the word of God. And as baptized Christians, we have the right to hear it. That’s why we insist that it be preached to us in its truth and purity. And since we cannot hear without someone to preach it, we call pastors *** who teach and preach, and administer the sacraments the way Jesus gave them to us.


People don’t like to hear that they are lost and condemned sinners, and so naturally they don’t like to confess that they are poor and miserable either. People are offended by the claim that all of their good works offered so piously and energetically to God are worth nothing toward gaining eternal life.  And so they despise this blessed exchange and choose instead to hold onto their own righteousness, which of course is only to hold onto their own sin.

It’s an unpopular message that God’s prophets and preachers proclaim. People grow tired of hearing that they are sinners. Pastors get tired of telling them. It’s easier for pastors and people to get together and come to an agreement on what will be preached and how much of it. And so they do. They concoct all sorts of different needs that their preachers can fulfill without requiring that they confess their sins to God. *social—health—relationships—woes-of-society—or just a watered-down gospel with no law* At least this way there appears then to be less offense. People hear what they want to hear, and when. And pastors can know that what they say is pleasing to their audience.

Now, this might help avoid a lot of hurt feelings and offended sensibilities; it might even attract larger crowds. But the offense of the gospel remains. The word that Jesus used for offend is where we get the English word “scandalize.” It means to cause someone (or oneself) to stumble and fall into misbelief, despair, or other great shame and vice. When people deny their need for Jesus they stumble and fall into the very trap that the devil has set. To deny one’s need for Jesus is to be offended by Him.

When sinners are not forgiven for Jesus’ sake, then the poor remain poor, the helpless remain un-helped, and those who are spiritually blind and dead in their sins remain without their Savior. This does not cause less offense; it causes more offense. Jesus said, “BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO IS NOT OFFENDED BY ME.” This is why we need God to send us faithful Ministers to say what God tells them to say.

John the Baptist was just such a faithful prophet who said what God told him to say. He was a bold preacher. He did not bend to the demands of popular opinion like a reed blowing in the wind. He didn’t impress people with a flashy appearance. All he had going for him was the word that he preached from God. But it was no more popular then than it is now. He preached the law against the public sin of King Herod who had taken his own brother’s wife; and he was thrown into prison for it. He had only done what God had told him to do, but now the ministry God gave him was clearly coming to an end. And from the eyes of the world, what a reckless failure it looked to be.

Our Gospel lesson begins with John sending his disciples to ask Jesus whether He was the Coming One, or if they should wait for another. John was right to direct his disciples to Jesus. After all, it was to bear witness to Jesus that he was appointed a prophet in the first place. “Yes, and more than a prophet,” Jesus said. “This is he of whom it was written 400 years ago, by the last prophet who came to you, “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” No other prophet was prophesied of. But all the prophets prepared their hearers for Christ.

St. Peter tells us in his first Epistle, “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you.” Think of that! The prophets studied their own prophecies in order to learn more about Jesus!! That’s remarkable! They wrote words by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and then searched those very words, and returned to them again and again in order to find comfort in their distress, just the same as we do with their words today. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for this very purpose: to show us Jesus. It is no wonder that the prophets did this too.

And St. John the Baptist did the same thing. He didn’t record any of his prophecies in a book. But he certainly did return to that which he had spoken—– John pointed to Jesus with his own finger saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” No other prophet could make such a claim —saw so clearly. The peace that Isaiah preached about, saying “Comfort My people; tell them that their warfare is over,” was a prophecy concerning this very Lamb of God whom Isaiah never saw. But this Lamb of God would make peace between God and sinners and pardon their sin by suffering the due penalty of the law in their place. But what glory was there for John who saw and pointed so clearly? What reward did he receive compared to any other prophet who never beheld Jesus? He received the same glory: he was persecuted and despised, and even put to death.

It is often supposed that John sent emissaries to Jesus because he had doubts concerning whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. I don’t think so. And if he did have doubts, they were no more significant than yours or mine. What was significant is that he directed all the doubt of the world to Him who alone takes all doubt away. John remembered and searched his own prophecy for comfort in his affliction. And by telling his disciples to go to Jesus, he simply sent them to Him of whom he had been preaching all along. And he received from Jesus the answer he was looking for.

Jesus confirmed John’s testimony by pointing to the works that He had done. “Tell John what you hear and see. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them, and blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” It is as though Jesus had said, “Everything that the prophets spoke about Me is coming true. You, John, might look like a rejected loser, but what you have preached about Me is true as well.” What wonderful and comforting confirmation this must have been for John—not just because his own mission was validated, but because his salvation was made more certain.

The word of God belongs to us; it’s ours. God has given it to us—just as surely as He gave it to John the Baptist and to all the prophets before him. Of course this doesn’t mean that we can do with it what we want as though we can produce our own results. The word of God remains God’s. St. Paul writes, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” It is not required that Christ’s ministers be successful. It’s required that they be faithful. It was not required that John or Malachi or Isaiah or any other prophet accomplish what they longed to see accomplished. It was required that they be faithful.

They didn’t see their words fulfilled while they were living. But it was fulfilled. Because God required that Christ be successful. The Father required that His Son accomplish what we in all our efforts have failed to accomplish. He required that He live the life that every single one of us has failed to live. And He required that He die the death that our sin has earned. And He did.

We do not look for our success in what we are able to accomplish. We find all our spiritual and moral achievements, not in what we do, but in what Christ has done for us. So also, we do not look for the success of God’s word in what we can do for the church. Instead we look to see where God is working. Like John, we seek out the word of Jesus in order learn the success of His ministry among us. And what do we find? We find that where the word of God is taught purely, our sins are being forgiven. We find that where His sacraments are administered according to His command, that the dead rise, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the poor receive the Bread of Life. Jesus does not confirm His work among us by showing us glory. He confirms His work by pointing to what He has accomplished for sinners on the cross, and by giving us this salvation through word and sacrament. By forgiving us our sins, Jesus accomplishes for His Church what no charming motivational speaker, or church-growth guru ever could.

Jesus said, “BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO IS NOT OFFENDED BY ME.” In misery and humiliation, Jesus earned our salvation. In seeming failure, His faithful stewards distribute to you the mysteries of God. These means of salvation are offensive to those who do not heed John’s call for repentance. But to us who come here to be saved from the sin that grieves us, the Gospel of Christ is the power of God to do just that.

The Ministry that frees us from all our sin is humble and lowly. It has always been this way – even among the greatest prophets. Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” This means that although the message of salvation come to us in a lowly form, although it be despised by the world, God calls it great. How much greater then, are those who receive this Gospel in faith. We don’t look great. But God calls us great. We don’t look righteous and sinless. But for Jesus’ sake God calls us pure and holy. And so as often as our natural eyes see the opposite of this, we continue to come to where Jesus confirms what our ears have heard by giving us what He has accomplished for our salvation.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.   

December 11, 2011


Psalm 85 Advent III, Midweek

Christ Comes As Our Prophet

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For our midweek Advent services we have been considering a three-part theme by taking a look at what is often called the three-fold office of Christ, known as Prophet, Priest, and King. We have considered how Christ comes as our King by ruling our hearts and consciences through the forgiveness of sins. We have considered how Christ comes as our Priest by shedding His own blood and by continually serving us with the benefit of His perfect atoning sacrifice. Now, this week we consider what it means for Christ to come as our prophet.

A Prophet speaks for God. That’s what it means to be a Prophet. When people hear “prophet” they usually suppose that his main job is to tell the future. Now, it’s true that throughout the Old Testament, prophets would foretell what was going to happen. After all, the promises of the Gospel in the Old Testament were all promises concerning Christ who had yet to come until many years later. Prophets certainly did prophesy concerning the future. But the future events that these prophets were able to foresee were not simply foggy glimpses into the distant years ahead. No, they were decrees of God spoken clearly to them. Isaiah prophesied those words that we just heard about what would take place in the future, and grounded them upon that which God had already said. He writes: “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

The Old Testament prophets were not merely gifted fortune-tellers. No, they were much more. They heard the word of God, and in some cases they saw real visions given to them from God. And that which they saw and heard they spoke. They were God’s own mouthpieces through whom He communicated His will toward all mankind.

Much of the prophet’s job was the same as what the pastor’s job is today. He was to preach the law and the gospel, and properly distinguish between these two very different doctrines. He was to prepare his hearers for God’s grace and mercy by teaching them their sinful condition so that they might fear God’s punishment, hate their own sin, and return to their God in sorrow and contrition for the sin that the law exposed. He preached about the warfare between God and sinners, which is caused by God’s righteous judgment against our own sin. The prophet was furthermore to preach to repentant sinners the promise of Jesus Christ who would come to take their sin away. He preached about the peace between God and sinners, which is caused by the righteous obedience and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The purpose of a prophet in all that he did was to proclaim the words that create saving faith in God.

St. Paul writes in Romans 10, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? * And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? * And how shall they hear without a preacher? * And how shall they preach unless they are sent? * This is why God sent his prophets in order to preach the gospel of peace between God and man. St. Paul concludes: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” We need to hear the word of God. That is why we listen to His prophets.

Our Psalm this evening does not begin by telling the future. It doesn’t begin as a plea for mercy. It begins as a confession of what God has already done in the past:

LORD, You have been favorable to Your land; You have brought back the captivity of Jacob. You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. You have taken away all Your wrath; You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger.

All these things God has done. But where did the Psalmist learn about them? Well, from the prophets, of course. The word of God teaches us the works of God—that is, the Bible teaches us what God has done for us. That is how we know that God is merciful, that God forgives, that God rescues sinners from slavery, and that He removes His wrath from those who well deserve His anger. We don’t simply assume that God must be merciful. God tells us that He is merciful, and then demonstrates His mercy by having compassion on sinners. We know this God because we have seen Him do these things in the pages of Holy Scripture. “Lord, You were gracious to them;" we pray in this Psalm, “so also be gracious to me.”

When we ask God to have mercy on us, we don’t abandon ourselves upon a strange god who may or may not have pity. We seek the favor of Him with whom we are intimately acquainted through the waters of Holy Baptism, where He washed us from all our sin and placed His name on ours. We seek mercy from Him who has proven Himself already to be our God who loves us, and who will indeed restore us to Himself. This Psalm is a prayer for mercy. But it begins with a rationale, that is, it begins with evidence that God already is merciful: “Why should you have mercy on me? Because you are a God who saves His people. That’s why. That’s what You do; that’s what You have done.” With this clear knowledge of who God is and what He does, the Psalmist now continues with confidence, asking God to do it again:

Restore us, O God of our salvation, And cause Your anger toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your mercy, LORD, And grant us Your salvation.

God’s law doesn’t stop condemning sin. And on this side of heaven we don’t stop being sinners. When we ask God for mercy, we don’t ask that His law stop doing what the law does. The law always condemns sin. When we pray for mercy, we ask that God would not condemn us. This means that we ask that God would take our sin away. We don’t ask that He not punish it. We ask that He be mindful of the fact that He has already punished our sin in His Son, Jesus Christ, who took it upon Himself. “Show us Your mercy, LORD, And grant us Your salvation.” This is to say, show us Jesus, and give to us what He has earned in our place.

To ask that God revive us, or give us life, is to ask for faith in the Gospel, because where there is the forgiveness of sins, which only faith receives, then there is also life and salvation. We need to hear what God’s prophets have to say. To ask that God save us is to ask that we might hear the Gospel again. And that is where our Psalm continues:

I will hear what God the LORD will speak, For He will speak peace To His people and to His saints; But let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, That glory may dwell in our land.

May we not turn back to folly. May we not regard the preaching of the Gospel as a small thing. May we not be offended by the foolishness of God by which the Almighty has chosen to make us wise. Only the word of God creates faith in our hearts to believe the promises that only the word of God can make. The hymn says it well that sings concerning the Gospel: “It is the power of God to save, from sin and Satan and the grave; it works the faith that firmly clings to all the treasures which it brings.” There is no greater treasure than peace with God, than to hear that our warfare is over, that God is not angry with us, but pleased with us—that our iniquity is pardoned, and that we have received from the hand of the Lord double the joy for all the punishment that we deserved. This is the peace that the prophet declares, and we need to hear him declare it because we need faith to receive it.

In order to delight in the Gospel that saves us, we need to take our sin seriously. “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him.” Salvation is near to those who recognize in real sobriety that God truly hates our sin. And He does. And we are powerless to free ourselves. But God is not powerless. “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.” This glory is not the glory of us overcoming our sin, and triumphing over temptation. This glory is not the success of having found a righteousness of our own that avails before God. No, this glory is none other than the Glory of God who hid Himself under the lowly form of a little baby in Bethlehem and under the lowlier form of a Suffering Servant on Calvary. It is the Glory of the Highest who takes on our sinful flesh and comes to dwell on earth to win peace for men. It is the Glory of God that reveals God’s grace and favor toward sinners by dying in their place. This is how God demonstrates His love. It was as the Psalm declares:

Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed.

God demanded truth in our inward parts, but all that was found was sin. God required that we be righteous, but all He found was enmity against Him. But mercy and truth met together when the Father punished our sin in His Son Jesus Christ so that He might have mercy on us. Righteousness and peace kissed when the righteous Son of God who obeyed the law perfectly for us also suffered the entirety of His Father’s wrath in our place on the cross. In mercy, God declares us truly righteous and gives to us His peace.

Truth shall spring out of the earth, And righteousness shall look down from heaven.

The truth that God required from us sprang forth from the earth when God sprang forth from the earthly womb of the Virgin Mary. Righteousness looks down from heaven, when God sees us through the blood of His Son and calls us perfect and without sin. God isn’t making it up. He remains righteous when He calls us righteous too, because Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness in our place. And so we listen to the Gospel that the prophet preaches, because through it we see righteousness looking down from heaven to call us righteous.

This was the faith of the Psalmist who wrote the words that we consider this evening. The promise of the Gospel only increased in clarity the closer Christ came, but the faith that saved the prophets was faith in the same Word that they preached – the very Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is the final word from God. What He has done. What He has accomplished. This is what makes Him our Prophet. He teaches us God’s will toward us. He gives us the peace He won by coming to us through the word that is preached today.

We tend to think of Prophecy as pertaining to the future. This will happen, etc.

But we must learn the difference between past, present, and future.

Past – Cross. Jesus died.

Present – forgiveness. Your sins are forgiven.

Future – glory. You shall live forever. When Jesus comes again.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.   

December 14, 2011


John 1:19-28 Advent IV

Rejoicing in the Power of Our Baptism

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Last week our Introit began with those words from Philippians 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” And now today these same words serve as our Epistle Lesson: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” It’s the same theme. That’s OK. It’s fitting that two Sundays in a row address the theme of rejoicing, because both these Sundays’ Gospel lessons deal with the same theme of faithful Gospel proclamation. Again and again the preacher preaches what needs to be heard. Again and again you gather to hear the same thing. You don’t fill your quota for the month or season. No. You gather regularly to hear the good news that brings you to heaven where true joy neither dims nor dies. You come to receive Jesus – because in Him alone we rejoice. And again, and again, we rejoice.

John the Baptist was teaching who Jesus was, and what He came to do. And his instruction can be summarized under three topics: 1) He preached repentance. 2) He baptized. 3) He pointed to Jesus. Now all of these three, of course, go together.

1) John preached repentance. Don’t disobey God. And if you are disobeying God, stop it. If you’re stealing – if you’re cheating your employer, or abusing your employee, stop it. If you’re looking at other women, stop it. If you’re complaining about your husband to your friends, stop it. If you’re gossiping, stop it. If you hear the word of God, and then kind of have your own interpretation for it, stop it. If you’re drinking too much or fornicating, stop it. If you’re being lazy, or thinking about yourself all the time, stop it. These are sins. Bear fruits worthy of repentance, and stop it. Start doing what God tells you to do lest you be among the chaff that He burns with unquenchable fire. This is the law. John preached it. We need to hear it.

But the preaching of the law is not really the preaching of repentance unless the preacher also preaches Christ who fulfilled the law. Otherwise it’s just moralizing.

To Moralize. I’d like to explain this word. If the preacher doesn’t sharply distinguish between the Law and the Gospel – but kind of mixes the message about Jesus in with the message about moral living, like, Jesus is there to help you and encourage you, the reason he does so is simple. He expects the law he preaches to help you in some other way than by exposing you as a lost and condemned sinner. But that’s exactly what you are. And that’s exactly what you need to be for Jesus to be worth anything to you.

The moralizing message sounds more light-hearted, and more applicable to your life. But it’s not. The law can’t do what only the Gospel can do. The Gospel gives life. The law works wrath. Without Christ fulfilling the law in your place, all the law can do is squeeze you and weigh you down until, with no other option for your sanity, you either sink or swim. You either totally despair of God’s mercy, or you persuade yourself as a matter of expediency that you have indeed somehow been improved by the naggings of the law. But you haven’t. Because even if the demands that I just listed actually get you to take an outward turn for the better, unless you learn to depend on Christ alone for favor in God’s eyes, you’re nothing but a hypocrite. That’s what happens when you’re moralized.

But John didn’t moralize. He came to prepare the way of the Lord, not the way to self-improvement. He used the law to expose sinners under God’s wrath, because that’s who Jesus placed Himself under the law to redeem; that’s who Jesus came to die for and save. That’s who God, from eternity loved. And only the heart that utterly despairs – not of God – but of itself – only that heart is prepared to receive its Lord. “The law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Rom. 5:20). John preached repentance.

2) John baptized. His baptism wasn’t just some outward sign of an inward change like what the moralists call it — as though John preached: “If you have truly turned your life around, come and prove it here in the Jordan.” What a silly way to prove a life-long commitment, anyway. Think about it. Water dries. And whatever symbolism might be tacked onto Baptism evaporates with it. Baptism isn’t a very good sign if all it is is a sign of our commitment. In fact, it’s a worthless sign. What kind of sign disappears? Water, along with all our futile promises – to do better, to stop sinning, to follow Jesus – rolls away. But the word of God stands forever – there’s the key. The command and promise that God spoke through His mouthpiece remain. And so that’s where we turn. That’s what we hold onto – not to some moment of decision in our own lives, but to what God accomplishes in spite of our decisions, and to save us from our decisions.

Baptism is the work of God. If it were our work, it would be, at best, just plain water. But Baptism is not just plain water; it is the water included in God’s command, and combined with God’s Word. It is a sign – yes an effective sign and seal of what God has done for the sinner, not of what we have done. Baptism gives real forgiveness for real sins, because God says it does. It is as we just confessed together: “It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”

In Baptism we put on Christ. He takes from us what we have done. We receive from Him what He has done. It’s not possible to separate Baptism from the faithful preaching of the Gospel. Think about this: John pointed to Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And then what does Jesus do? How does He commend John for this faithful preaching? He points to John’s Baptism and says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned.” To hold to the promise that God makes to you in your Baptism, is nothing other than to hold to the Gospel itself. That’s why John baptized.

3) John pointed to Jesus. “This is He of whom I said,” said John, “‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.’” John taught who Christ was by identifying Him as both the eternal God, and as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the One by whose stripes we are healed. He is the One upon whose shoulders the curse of the Law will be borne. This is the One who lives a sinless life, and who gives this life into death in order that He might give His sinlessness into Baptism. John's message was thoroughly evangelical. He was thoroughly preoccupied with the Gospel.

John came as a witness. “This is He of whom I said…” He had already said it. More than that! He had been saying it. The One he points to is the One he’s been talking about. Here in the Judean wilderness folks are gathering because there is a man here who won’t stop talking about the coming Messiah who washes our sins away. People gather, because they have sins that need to be washed away.

Then come some priests and Levites, sent by the hoity-toity clergy in Jerusalem. They don’t come to be baptized. They don’t need what Baptism gives. They’ve already made their commitments to God. They don’t come to hear John preach. They don’t care that he comes in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready a people prepared for the Lord, as St. Luke tells us. They’re not interested in what he says or does. They want to know who he thinks he is.

Well, he’s not the Christ. He confessed it. “What then? Are you Elijah.” “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” “No.” “Then who are you? What do you say about yourself?” But that’s the point – and this question must have caught John by surprise: he hadn’t been saying anything about himself. He had been satisfied merely to be the mouthpiece of God, talking about Jesus: “I am the voice – the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

The pastor baptizes children whose parents or godparents intend to bring them to church. He doesn’t baptize strangers. He doesn’t baptize children whose parents and guardians won’t bring them back to hear God’s word. The pastor announces the grace of God and forgives sins in Jesus’ name; but he withholds God’s forgiveness from the one who will not repent. He preaches against sin even though the law convicts him as surely as it convicts his hearers. The pastor gives the body and blood of Jesus for Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of their sins. But he serves the Lord’s Supper only to those whom he knows to confess what he himself has taught. Who does this pastor think he is? What, does he think he’s God? “But I am not the Christ,” he says. “I am a voice.”

John the Baptist’s testimony consisted of this: that when doubters and scoffers asked him who in the world he thought he was, he confessed, and he didn’t deny it, but confessed: “I am not the Christ.” That’s what the pastor preaches: I am not the Christ; I am not He. He points away from himself – away from his own person – that’s why he wears the robe. Don’t look at the man. Pay no attention to his mannerisms, his quirks, his imperfections; ignore what the pagan community says about him. Listen to his voice. Listen to his words. Look at the things he does that God tells him to do. In order for God to be with us – Immanuel – as we say – in order for God to be with us, we must have this voice in our midst. God comes to us only where His word is heard.

The preacher isn’t worthy to preach the Gospel. That’s why he points away from himself. He needs God with him as much as you need God with you. That’s why he points to Jesus. He is not worthy of the Office into which God has placed him. But God has placed him. And what God has placed him to do is bound to be questioned. It is bound to offend. Jesus said so. But it is also bound to bring forth fruit, and save sinners from hell.

The Jews could not understand why John would be baptizing, if he wasn’t Elijah, or Christ, or someone important. “Why are you so hardnosed, if you’re not trying to establish your own notoriety? What good do you expect to accomplish?” That’s the question. What good do we expect to accomplish? But the power to do good is not in what I do. The power is in what God does through me. The one who does not know Christ will not see this. The one who does not repent of his sin and hold firmly to what God accomplishes in his Baptism will not see this. He will only look at the man. But the pastor isn’t worthy to be God’s instrument in the teensiest most inconsequential way. He isn’t worthy to untie the Lord’s sandal, let alone baptize and preach and consecrate bread and wine.

But Christ is worthy. And He comes to us. The word of God that we hear, again and again, the word of God that gives power to Baptism’s water to wash your sins away and to seal you as God’s child forever, the word of God that affects plain bread and wine so that we might receive our Lord’s very body and blood, this word of God makes us worthy—because it brings to us the righteousness of Jesus and says that it is our own. This word of God, which Himself became flesh to make friends between God and man by shedding His blood for you – this Word comes to dwell with us. He comes in peace. He brings joy. He comes. He forgives everything you have done. He forgives every doubt. He forgives every criticism, lust, and worry. He comes again. He clothes you with the same righteousness that you couldn’t by your own power or discipline hold onto – but that the word of God keeps giving you. He comes again. And again, and again, we rejoice.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

December 23, 2012


Luke 1:39-56 Advent IV

Mary’s Song Is the Church’s Hymn

Beholding the marvels of God by witnessing the birth of a child is about the most magnificent thing in the world. And the advent of this little girl right here is beyond doubt for me the highlight of this winter season. I can count on one hand the number of times that I have been even close to this happy. Mary was pregnant too. Great joy and happiness awaited her. But she did not wait to rejoice. She didn’t wait till Christmas. It is Advent right now. People call it the Christmas season. And for everyone, it’s a time of cheer and joy in the midst of and despite short days and long cold nights. People find all sorts of ways to fill this time of year with reasons to rejoice. Whether it be babies, or the excitement of Christmas shopping, or time with family, there is an air of festivity in this Christmas season. But seldom do we find in the predominant mood around us, the true joy of Christmas. Seldom do people truly rejoice.

Most people have never learned how to rejoice. And this is because most people have never learned to sing the song that Mary teaches us in our Gospel lesson this morning. It is called the Magnificat. In this song, Mary teaches the Church how to rejoice in God. But her joy was not simply that a life was being brought into the world like Monica here. No, it was the joy that through her Child, life would be restored to sinners. In the Magnificat, Mary teaches us how to rejoice in Christmas by providing three lessons on what it means to rejoice. First, rejoicing means recognizing God as our Savior from sin. Second, rejoicing means finding joy in God’s regard for us. And third, rejoicing means recounting the works of God through faith in His promises. Let’s consider each of these lessons, and so discover how humble sinners find perfect and lasting joy in the forgiveness of sins through the promised Christ Child.

If we want to rejoice, we must first acknowledge that we are sinners in need of God’s mercy. Now, if you ever want to spoil someone’s mood, the first thing you should do is bring up the subject of sin – especially during Advent time. Talking about sin is like the Grinch stealing Christmas. People tend to avoid the topic of sin since there’s no graceful way to talk about it. If your aim is to charm, the topic of sin will surely cramp your style. The best way to avoid it is to get rid of the idea altogether. People do this all the time by exaggerating human virtue and carefully covering up every stain of sin’s corruption.

If I may offer a personal example of how this is done, I’ll direct you to the cute little girl in her mother’s arms right there. She’s a sinner. She was born in sin, and in sin her mother conceived her. I saw her born. But I didn’t see her sin. No one else did either. She’s perfect they all said. I smiled. I agree – as far as things go. But she’s a sinner. People don’t want to hear it. But it has to be said. Literally. It has to be confessed with words, because otherwise we won’t believe it, that the purest form of life that any of us have ever beheld, that a sweet little baby no crying she makes is a sinner as bound to die as her most elderly and sickly counterpart. Naked we came into this world and naked we must return to the dust. But who wants to talk about sin and death at a time so ripe for celebrating new life? We do. Because it is in the death of Christ that our life begins. By bringing this little sinner to be baptized into the death of Jesus who was born to be her Savior, she has been taught to sing what Mary sang. Because it is in our Baptism that God exalts the lowly.

Since God comes to sinners, you better be a sinner. Until you’ve come to the conviction that apart from God’s grace you’re a slave to sin and doomed to hell, the Advent of the Messiah will never arouse more than mild curiosity in you. It’s when you know how desperately you need Him that the Lord lifts your spirit from mourning and despair to gladness and praise. A man who knows he’s hopelessly in debt, who thinks every waking minute of his inability to pay that debt, reacts with joy at hearing that his entire debt has been canceled. If the joyful trumpets of Christ’s final Advent will mean anything to us, we must ourselves be poor, brokenhearted, captive to sin, bound in chains, and mourning our spiritual death.

So this is our first priority this Advent. If we will rejoice, we must lay all of our sin before our Savior, whatever we have done against His holy law, whatever accuses our conscience, whatever robs us of joy despite all earthly joys besides. We must ask ourselves, “Do we need more or less mercy now than when we were first born? What have we done? What have we not done?” Lay it all before Him. Don’t sift through your conscience trying to figure out what has been a sin and what hasn’t. Instead, confess what you are, and throw yourself on God’s mercy in Christ and admit that you haven’t loved God or your neighbor as He demands. Admit that you are a sinner, and rejoice, with Mary, in God your Savior! 

This brings us to our second lesson on what it means to rejoice in Christmas. Mary teaches us that true joy is found in God’s gracious regard for our lowly estate. She sings: “[F]or he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden…” Mary found joy in God’s regard. She didn’t rejoice in her humility. No. She rejoiced in God’s mercy. She rejoiced that every good thing came to her because God had regard for her. And nowhere is God’s favorable regard for us made clearer than where He saves us. For what else is our salvation than our justification? And what else is justification than to be regarded as righteous, that is, to be declared innocent and blessed in God’s sight? And this is exactly why we rejoice!

But if we hold God’s regard as a small thing, if we put our trust in how good we have been, how successful or popular we are, how wealthy, how wise, then we cannot rejoice in the Lord, and whatever joy we will have will be shallow. Our flesh prefers this joy. Our flesh doesn’t want to be exposed by God. So our flesh searches for whatever it can find to justify itself before Him. It pretends to cover its filth with social virtues and feel-good stories of moral improvement or basks in the romantic innocence of new life. But these efforts will never satisfy us. Because our failures come to light again, and even our beautiful children grow up to be poor miserable sinners. Dear Christians, we will not discover joy by looking into ourselves, regardless of what we find or feel—no matter what we call it.

If we want to be truly happy, if we want to truly rejoice, we must take Mary’s example and look to God, who regarded our lowly state. Look to the Son of God who took our human flesh into Himself and sanctified it by His grace even as a little baby. Look to the manger in Bethlehem, where the Word made flesh joins our humble estate and sympathizes with our weakness. Look to the promised Christ child, who grew up in the presence of the Lord, living our life to God’s glory, and dying our death to God’s eternal satisfaction. That is how God regards you, dear Christian! When God looks at you, He doesn’t expose your sin and misery. In fact, He doesn’t even see it. Instead, He sees you through blood of His dear Son and regards you as righteous, innocent, pure and holy. God Himself adorns your soul with holy gladness, as the prophet Isaiah wrote so long ago: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

This brings us to our third lesson. By recalling the wonderful works of God, Mary teaches us what it means to live by faith in God’s promises. Mary didn’t wait to rejoice until her child was born. She didn’t fret in the meantime, asking, ‘Is it a boy or a girl? Is he or she healthy? What joys will he bring me?’ No. She recounted the deeds of Jesus, the unborn fruit of her womb, as if they had already taken place: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted those of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he has sent empty away.

Throughout the Old Testament, those saints “who feared God from generation to generation,” would often rejoice in things that were not yet accomplished as if they were already done. God’s promises are so certain that we are able to speak of them as if they already took place. Consider Abraham. Abraham died nearly two thousand years before the Advent of Christ, and yet Jesus tells the Jews in John 8: Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). With his physical eyes Abraham saw only what we see—his own sin and his own death, but the glorious vision of his eternal salvation was granted to him through the promise of faith. In the same way, God’s promises to us require – not sight, not feeling, not emotion – but faith alone. When Mary sings the praises of our Lord, she demonstrates how “the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab 2:4), which is “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

When we possess Christ by faith, we have everything that God has to give in heaven and on earth; and we have it right now. As the hymn goes,

We have all things, Christ possessing:
Life eternal, second birth,
Present pardon, peace, and blessing
While we tarry here on earth;
And by faith’s anticipation,
Foretaste of the joy above
Freely giv’n us with salvation
By the Father in His love.

This is a very important lesson because we do not always find reason to rejoice in our lives. Our lives are full of grief—even in times of joy and happiness. We suffer disease. Our loved ones die. The economy fails. Our friends desert us. Our children disappoint us. Depression seizes us. We get discouraged. We fall into sin. We lose heart. But Mary teaches us to take heart even in our darkest hour. If God’s promises were seen or felt in our bodies, if they were characterized by a seasonal cheer or a good mood, then they wouldn’t be by faith, would they? As long as we are living in this world, clothed in the mortality of this flesh, God’s promises will be granted to us through the faith that He works in us through the gifts here offered where he fills the hungry with good things. True Joy arises out of this conviction that even when nothing seems to be going right, when our next effort is another failure, yet God’s deeds in Christ are certain and sure.

If we will rejoice this Christmas season, we must do so in a humble spirit. We must rejoice in God’s word of promise, and confess with Mary: He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.” You see how it works? God promises, and we believe Him. Abraham believed God’s promise. Mary believed it. And we believe it. And we rejoice. We rejoice because God never stops being gracious to us. We rejoice because God continues to forgive our sins. We rejoice because God continues to regard our lowly estate.

Advent is a time of emotion and feeling. And all feelings, good or bad, will pass away. You can’t hold on to them forever, and you certainly can’t put your trust in them. Even the illusionary innocence of this little sinner here will manifest itself for all of us to see. But like us, she has been taught this morning to sing what Mary sang, and to delight in the fact that God has regarded her lowly state. So, whether you are experiencing joy or sadness, whether your life is happy, or hectic, or lonely, may this conviction rest in your hearts and minds this Christmas season: “that unto you was born this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Yes, unto you, dear Christian, a Savior from sin and the highest regard from God our Father! Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice! Let us pray:

I lay in fetters, groaning;
Thou com’st to set me free.
I stood, my shame bemoaning;
Thou com’st to honor me.
A glory Thou dost give me,
A treasure safe on high
That will not fail or leave me
As earthly riches fly.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

December 18, 2011

 Matthew 5:1-12 All Saints’

The Blessedness of the Christian Life 

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November 1st was All Saints’ Day. But we celebrate this holiday today in order to remember those saints who have gone before us. But what exactly is a saint? To be a saint is to be sinless, and perfectly holy. Our Epistle reading from Revelation 7 provides the most excellent definition: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Even in heaven, a saint’s identity continues to be found, not in his or her own good works, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A saint is one who is blessed by God.

Although saints certainly do good works on earth, and they are indeed rewarded in heaven, a saint is a saint not because of his own righteousness that he earned by obeying the law. A saint is a saint because he receives Christ’s righteousness that Jesus earned by obeying the law in our place. God calls them saints who have been baptized into the death of Christ and share in His resurrection victory over sin and the grave. A saint is one who while yet living on earth reasoned accordingly: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; I am a sinner; therefore Jesus took away my sin too. That’s what a saint believes. And God counts this faith to him as righteousness and calls him holy. A saint is one who has washed his robe in Jesus’ blood, and it has come out spotless, and it remains spotless forever. That’s what a saint is.

We are saints. We are also sinners. We are saints and yet, while we remain in these bodies of corruption, we are sinners at the same time. This seems to be a great contradiction. But the life that we live as saints we live by faith in Jesus, and so we can’t see our saintliness in ourselves. But we see it in Christ. What we do see and feel in ourselves is the life that we live as sinners. It is marked by sorrows as we struggle against the desires of our fallen flesh, and as we suffer the consequences. The saints of God are oppressed by sin from without and from within. It is a constant battle.

The reason there is so much pain in the world is because of sin. When loved-ones grow ill or when tragedy disrupts our lives, it is because of sin. When homes are broken, or when children have no father, it is because of sin. In order to talk about heaven and about our departed Christian loved ones who now live with God in heavenly joy – to even begin such a pleasant discussion requires that we first consider and acknowledge the unpleasant reality of our sin. This doesn’t mean that we must trace all our sadness and pain to some specific transgression of the Law (although sometimes we can). But it means that in this valley of sorrow as often as we must suffer, we must also learn to repent of our sin whether or not we see any connection between our sin and our suffering. This is life the life of a saint on earth.

But in heaven there is no sadness or regret, there is no pain – neither physical nor emotional, there is no guilt or shame; in heaven there is only pure and holy joy, health, peace, and life, and it lasts forever. The reason heaven is so wonderful is because in heaven there is no sin. And so we can’t have any sin either. But one does not get to heaven by doing good. One gets to heaven by being good. That’s why it’s so important that in this earthly life we learn to find our goodness not in the things that we do, but in that which Jesus has done for us.

And this is exactly what Jesus teaches us. Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them.” By teaching us who is blessèd, Jesus teaches us how we are blessed.

Blessèd are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To be poor in spirit does not mean that you don’t have money and wealth. It means that you don’t trust in it. God blesses rich people with more money than they need just the same as He blesses poor people with what seems like not enough. But the riches of this world fade away and are eaten by moth and rust. Blessèd is he who regards his inheritance as a child of God more highly than anything the world treasures.

Blessèd are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” What do you mourn? The death or illness of a loved-one? The loss of property? The scorn and betrayal of friends? Contrary to what the world teaches, this is not an indication that God has refused to bless you. Right here from Jesus’ own mouth, you who mourn are blessed by God. His strength is made perfect in your weakness. Woe to false preachers who preach a gospel of earthly prosperity instead of the Gospel that comforts sinners. And so we mourn. We mourn death, and pain and whatever else our sin has justly earned. We mourn our lack of faith when things go wrong. We mourn our doubts and our worries. We mourn our failure to live virtuous and God-pleasing lives. We mourn as sinners, repenting our sins. How miserable this looks to the world. But these are they whom God calls blessed. He blesses us who mourn by comforting us with the forgiveness of our sins.

Blessèd are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” We know the God who creates and sustains all that exists. And yet from the world’s perspective it looks like this God of ours is holding out. We are taught to be shrewd and competitive in order to get the things of this earth. And of course it’s good and honorable to work hard for your living. But we learn from the meekness of Jesus that every good thing comes from Him who holds the world in His hand. And so we wait on His mercy no matter how much or little we have, and we receive with thanksgiving even the smallest gifts that He gives. To those who wait on the Lord, God denies no good thing.

Blessèd are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” We are saints – holy people living holy lives who have holy desires. We see this world of sin and it grieves us. We see justice denied to those who are wronged, we see immorality prevail in our culture, and it fills us with righteous anger. But we know Him who avenges the needy, and who does not forget the cries of His saints. But the very unrighteousness that we hate is what we also see in our hearts and lives. God sees our need for a righteousness that we ourselves do not possess, and our desire to have what we cannot produce. Christ, who did what the law required, freely gives to us what He has earned. Jesus satisfies those who hunger and thirst for a righteousness not their own by fulfilling all righteousness for them.

Blessèd are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”–––“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Just as the forgiveness that we show to others finds its source in Christ for whose sake we are forgiven, so also the mercy we receive is the mercy that we show to those who need it. We look to where God’s vengeance against sin was taken out on Christ alone as He bore the sin of the world on Himself. In God’s justice, we see God’s mercy toward us. When we see the true cost of God’s mercy, we learn to value mercy toward others as more precious than anything else.

Blessèd are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Those saints in heaven who gather around the throne of God and worship Him day and night in His Temple have pure hearts. And they see God. We on earth gather around the throne of God’s mercy to confess our sinful hearts. And we see God. Jesus delighted in God’s holy Law and hated sin because His heart was pure from all evil desire. But He didn’t despise us in our sin. Instead, He took it upon Himself. He was punished in our place even as His Father in heaven hid from Him His face. This same Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the throne of His Father where He sees Him face to face. There in heaven Jesus makes constant intercession for us, showing the Father the satisfaction He has made, so that here on earth we too might see God. And we do. We see His gracious face in the words of the Absolution that give to us everything Christ’s sacrifice has earned. We see God when He places in our mouths the very body and blood of Jesus that purifies our hearts from all sin and blame and that gives us a foretaste of heaven.

Blessèd are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Jesus is the Son of God. By His death on the cross He made peace between God and man, as the angels sang at His birth: “Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled.” By doing what He was born to do, Jesus proved that He was begotten from the Father from all eternity. We who have been baptized into the name of God have also been born again to new life as sons of God and co-heirs with Jesus. Being called sons of God we share every blessing and honor that belongs to Christ.

Blessèd are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Christians are persecuted for doing good. Christian teenagers are teased who resist the temptation to fornicate. Christian mothers are sneered at who regard the fruit of the womb as a blessing from God and hold motherhood as a noble calling. Christian fathers are mocked who take seriously their job to discipline and teach their children the word of God. God’s saints are persecuted for doing what they are called to do. But in this persecution they are blessed by God, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessèd are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Blessèd are all of God’s saints who confess the Gospel and suffer for it. Blessèd are you who are mocked and laughed at and who lose respect from friends because you take a stand on the word of God even when it is unpopular to do so. It never has been popular. But he who makes a Christian confession receives a Christian’s reward.

Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day as we remember all those saints before us who have made this Christian confession and who now enjoy the reward that God has promised them. A saint is one who is blessed by God. But we don’t look very blessed. And, as we continue to struggle with our sin, we certainly don’t look like saints either. This entire list of blessings that we just heard from Jesus sure doesn’t seem to describe us. These are the very virtues that we lack.

But “blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). We don’t look at ourselves to be blessed. Instead we look at the blessed life that Jesus describes. Because He describes the righteousness and purity and meekness and mercy of Him who lived not for Himself and His own blessing, but who lived for us and for our blessing. He describes His own life that He lived for us and gives to us by faith in Him. Even now we are saints. For the righteous life that is ours by faith today is the same righteous life that is ours in heaven. It is the life that we share forever with Christ as we press toward glory, and with all the saints who have reached their goal.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.   

November 6, 2011


Revelation 7:2-19 & Matthew 5:1-12 All Saints’ Sunday

Being Blessed
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Those portions of Scripture, which we just heard a moment ago, which the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded in Revelation 7 and in Matthew 5, we now consider in Jesus’ name. Let us pray: These are Your words, Holy Father; sanctify us by Your truth; Your word is truth. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Consider with me, so far, since I have stepped up into this pulpit, what you have heard me say. I began by invoking the name of God that is familiar to all Christians: the triune name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. St. Paul tells us in Romans 10:13, that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And so that’s what we do. I then proceeded to, if not actually read the words of Scripture, to direct your attention to the word of God that we just heard. St. Paul tells us in 1st Timothy 4:5 that all things are “sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” And so that’s what we did next. We prayed. We prayed to the God who reveals Himself in His word, that He would, by His word, make us holy. After that, I spoke a blessing to you: grace, mercy, and peace. The Apostles would frequently begin their epistles with this same blessing or one similar to it. When God blesses you in this way, grace, mercy, and peace actually become yours. God gives it to you. God’s words are not mere sentiments or wishes. They are operative. They accomplish what God sends them out to accomplish.

Now, right here we have just condensed in few words a little mini-Divine Service. Think of it. This is the structure that we see fleshed out Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Invocation—word—prayer—blessing. *

I don’t know if anyone noticed or not, but today, when I spoke those opening words of invocation, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” I did not face you and make the sign of the cross, the way I did last Sunday, but instead what I did (and what I’ll be doing from now on) is face the altar – I faced God – I faced the direction where God speaks to us. Now, the reason for the change is really quite simple. First of all, even pastors can be corrected and learn new things here and there. Second of all, when the pastor in the church service is facing you, he is speaking those things, which God speaks to you. When the pastor is facing the altar, he is saying those things that we all say to God. When we gather here as Christians coming to hear God’s word, the first thing we do is call upon God in order that we may come into His presence. Just look at the word. Invocation – we invoke God. We call upon God – that’s what “invoke” means. I don’t invoke you. We invoke God. So let’s ask a couple of questions about the significance of this.

First, what gives us the right to call upon God!? Our Baptism does! And so when we call upon God, we use the same name that was placed upon us in our Baptism. Jesus reveals the triune God as He is: as the Father who sends His Son to bear the world’s sin and to reconcile us to Him whose law we have transgressed. And from this message of reconciliation, God sends forth His Holy Spirit to work faith in those who hear the Gospel. In our Baptism, we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. This being the case, it is by means of our Baptism that God claims us and seals us as His own. He gives us a birth from above, and sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we may with all boldness and confidence come before God as dear children approach their dear father. There’s our right to invoke God! When we call upon God, we make use of our Baptism!

So our second question: why? For what purpose do we invoke God’s name? Well, we want good things from Him, don’t we? We want Him to bless us, right? There is no blessing from God without God giving us the right to call upon Him; that much is certain. And so we begin our services by calling on the name of God that He has placed upon us, and then what is the first thing that we do? What is the first blessing we ask for? I turn around and say to you: “Beloved in the Lord, let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins – and to whom?unto God our Fatherour Fatherbeseeching Him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us what?what do we want?what blessing?to grant us forgiveness.”

And so to answer our question, why? – for what purpose do we invoke God’s name? We invoke God’s name in order to be saved from our sins. It is, again, as St. Paul says, quoting from the prophet Joel: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And so we do. And we ask for salvation.

Paul continues his train of thought in Romans 10, and so brings us to our next point of consideration. He says: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

The reason we come to church, the reason we invoke God’s name and step into his presence, is so that we might hear God’s word. We don’t come here in order to hear a charming voice. We don’t come here in order to listen to our own voices. We come here in order to learn, and re-learn, and hear again and again what God has to say. The first thing that God says to you here is the Absolution. He forgives you your sins through the mouth of your pastor. And then God continues to teach you through the Scripture readings that you hear, and even through the words that you recite and chant and sing, and through the words that your pastor so carefully crafts in his sermon. God speaks. What God speaks, we repeat. This is the essence of praise. It is our response to God’s word. It is faith.

St. Paul writes in that same chapter of Romans (chapter 10) that I keep quoting from:

But what does [Scripture] say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

We come here to hear about Jesus. We come here because Jesus is here. We come before God and sing His praises. Our praises correspond to what we hear. Our praises are our confession. When we praise, we confess what we believe.

In the 2nd Commandment, which forbids us to take God’s name in vain, we are taught that, instead of abusing God’s name, we should use it. We should “call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” In the 1st Petition of the Lord's Prayer, we pray that we might keep this very commandment by praying that God’s name be kept holy among us. How is this done, we ask. And here we find the only one of Luther’s explanations in the Small Catechism that actually breaks out into a little prayer itself: “When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity,” we say, “and when we as the children of God also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven. But he who teaches and lives contrary to God's Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, Heavenly Father.”

God blesses us with His word. We come here for blessing. We come here with prayers for good things we lack. We come here with thanksgiving for the good things that God gives us. We come here with sin and regret, and a heart in need of cleansing. And if you don’t, I sure hope that while you are here, you learn that that is what you’ve got. You’ve got a need that only God can satisfy, because it is a need for peace with Him. And for that peace, you need God’s grace and mercy. You need God to bless you with what you do not deserve. It is precisely because we have not kept our own lives pure and holy that we need God’s word to be kept pure for us.

And that is why our songs and hymns and everything we proclaim and confess in our church services revolve around this: not on what we do for God, but what God does for us in Christ. This is what we sing about. This is what we do. All we do as Christians revolves around this. Our life – both here in time as it is marked by tribulation and suffering and failure and the need for mercy – and even our life in heaven, as it is marked by endless peace and joy and righteousness – our whole life revolves around the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And so we sing about Him. We sing about what He has accomplished for us. Not simply because there is no better subject to sing about, but because it is for Jesus’ sake that we are able to approach God and sing in the first place. And it is because of Jesus that this singing and praising will have no end.

The entire Divine Service is marked first and foremost by God’s service to us. Our sacrifices to God – both the ones that we present with our voices, and the ones we offer as we live our lives for God in service to one another – all our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving are both offered and accepted with Christ’s service to us as their focus. And so this is the focus of our life. The Divine Service reflects the Christian life, because it is by God serving us regularly through the forgiveness of sins that we have and hold onto the life that Christ gives.

Now, it might look at this point like I have not really addressed our texts for this morning. I even said as much that we will be considering Revelation 7 and Matthew 5. What wonderful portions of Scripture! But I have not failed to address them. Having spent so much time talking about what goes on in the Divine Service here, take a moment and consider what takes place in heaven too! The Divine Service reflects the Christian life not only here in time, but hereafter in eternity as well. In St. John’s vision, he describes a heaven that is filled with praise to the Lamb to whom salvation belongs. There will be no more sin, no more temptation, no more regret. No more sadness at the death of loved ones, but there will be a happy reunion with all who have died in Christian faith, and there will be no more separation.

All the wonders of heaven are mostly described in terms of what heaven is not. No pain, no sorrow, no hunger, no thirst, and so on. These will not be there. But the most significant thing about heaven is actually described in terms of what will be there. Jesus will be there. All sin will be gone. It will be forgotten as a dream that is passed. But we will most certainly know and remember why and how we are there – just as we know why and how we are here. All tears in heaven will be wiped away; but in heaven we will continue to be with the Lamb who shepherds us through this valley of tears today. He has guided us to the still waters of His word. He has clothed us in white robes washed and made clean and spotless in His own blood shed for sinners. If we want to know eternal joy in heaven, we must become acquainted with it here on earth.

But first, we must become acquainted with tribulation. Here we struggle. The great tribulation that we hear about in Revelation 7, and from which the great multitude of saints comes forth, is not some future time in history when things get really bad. No. It is today. It is your life on earth. It is you trying to be poor in spirit and meek. It is you trying and failing to hunger and thirst for righteousness as you ought to. It is you regretting and bemoaning the fact that you have foolishly sought worldly pleasures instead. It is you not being merciful, not making peace, and not forgiving as you ought to. It is you seeing that blessing comes by being pure in heart – they will see God – but what is in your heart? The tribulation of life comes not only in the form of persecution from without – although there is plenty of that. But persecution comes also in the form of temptation from within.

The hatred of the world toward those who claim to have a righteousness so pure that it shines before God in heaven is at its root no different than the doubt in your heart that seeks to be blessed by fulfilling the law. But you can’t. The world hates the idea that the Son of God must shed His innocent blood to redeem sinners from hell. And your flesh agrees. This is where persecution begins. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven. The reign of Christ. The forgiveness of sins. Blessed are those who see no cause to be blessed within themselves, who suffer under the burden of the law that demands what they cannot render, but who see in the life of Christ the blessing they need.

The blessings that Jesus enumerates in His sermon on the mount as recorded in Matthew 5, are the blessings that you need. They are the blessings that you receive. They are the blessings that define your life here by faith, and by sight in heaven. Those saints who gather around God above first become saints by gathering around God below. And so we gather, by calling upon His name, confessing our sins to Him who sent His Son to live a perfect life in our place, and to bear our punishment and earn our blessing. We come here to hear His word, and to begin here in prayer what will continue forever in heaven as endless praise. We come here to be blessed. We come here to have God place His name upon us in the Benediction at the end of the service – the same name that we received in our Baptism, and that seals us forever as saints marked with the sign of the cross on their foreheads. We stand here as brothers and sisters to approach our God so that we may – with all the saints – our believing parents and children, grandparents and siblings – stand in heaven forever around God and the Lamb who saves us.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

November 4, 2012

Matthew 3:13-17 Quinquagesima/Baptism of Jesus

Preaching Baptism

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We call him John the Baptist because he baptized. But John the Baptist was also a preacher. St. Mark writes,
“he came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mk. 1:4). John’s Baptism and his preaching were inseparable from each other. In fact, the sacrament of Baptism can never be separated from the preaching of God’s word. After all, it’s from the word of God that Baptism gets its power to save in the first place.

Baptism doesn’t wash away sin simply by getting people wet—like some sort of magic potion. No, it washes away sin by the power of the word that Jesus Himself attaches to the water. He attaches His word to the water first by commanding that everyone be baptized, and second, by promising that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved. Because of God’s command and promise we are able to point to our Baptism with confidence and say that that is where God forgives us our sin, rescues us from death and the devil, and gives us eternal life.

Baptism is for sinners. We need to know this. John knew this. The law he preached exposed sinners for what they were and prepared them to receive what they could not find in their hearts. This is what it means to preach repentance. The gospel he preached and the Baptism he administered forgave sinners for the sake of Him who would bear their sin on the cross. This is what it means to preach Christ crucified.

John was a great preacher! Like all faithful preachers, John took the words he preached and applied them also to himself. He knew his own need for the forgiveness of sins. And He knew who it was who took his sin away. And that’s because he knew Jesus. He had already identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world. Jesus was the very content and the fulfillment of the Gospel that John was sent to proclaim.

And now here came Jesus, wanting to be baptized by John. From John’s perspective, the idea of baptizing Jesus was as ridiculous as telling Jesus to repent of His sin. John wasn’t even worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals, let alone preach to Him. He knew that Jesus was a righteous man. And he knew that he himself was not. Jesus needed nothing from John, but John needed everything from Jesus. And that’s why he tried to prevent Him from being baptized. “I need to be baptized by You,” he said, “and are You coming to me?”

But Jesus quickly persuaded him. “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This convinced John. …But why? Jesus didn’t really say much. I suppose it was enough that Jesus commanded him: “Permit it be so. Baptize Me.” One should always do what Jesus tells him to do, after all. Jesus says to us, “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And so we do. We obey His command. But surely for us, as well as for John the Baptist, there is more than just the command that persuades us to bring our children to the font and to hold fast to our own Baptism as well. There must also, with the command, be a promise.

Jesus said, “For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was already righteous. He was born without sin. He lived a sinless life. He never did anything wrong. He never left any duty undone. And He certainly didn’t need to be baptized in order to become a righteous man. He already was a righteous man. And here we find the promise. Because Jesus was not baptized for Himself. He was baptized for us.

When Jesus submitted to Baptism, He placed into the water His righteousness, which our Baptism gives to us, and He took from the water our sin and unrighteousness that our Baptism washes away. Here in the Baptism of Jesus we see the blessed exchange of our salvation. Here Jesus commits Himself fully to the work of our redemption – to live a righteous life, to die the death of a sinner, and to deliver us from evil. Just as Christ’s Baptism obliged Him to do battle against the devil – both in the wilderness and on the cross – so also our Baptism gives us victory over the devil He defeated. Jesus placed into Holy Baptism all the treasures that we receive from it.  

When Jesus was baptized the Holy Trinity was clearly revealed. This teaches us that our salvation is the work of the entire Godhead. The Father spoke in a voice that came from heaven. The Son was standing in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. In this way, Christ’s Baptism is joined to ours, because we are also baptized in the name of the same Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” When God forgives us our sins, He always does so for Jesus’ sake. There is no such thing as forgiveness that is not earned by Christ. No, our salvation is the direct result of Jesus’ obedient life and satisfactory death. We do not rely on the general goodness of God to save us from our sin. No, we rely on a God who is pleased with His beloved Son for specific things that His beloved Son has done. We rely on the goodness of God that is revealed nowhere else than where His Son takes upon Himself the sin of the world. We don’t look for where God is doing anything else in order to find Him in His mercy. Instead we look only to where Jesus is living the life that pleases His Father, and setting His course toward the cross to satisfy His wrath in our place. We look to where Jesus commits Himself to our salvation by being baptized by John in the Jordan.

When the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, He confirmed this. The Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of Life. He rests upon those in whom He is pleased. And He is pleased with us only where we receive by faith the life that Christ has lived for us. Here is where you find life. Here is where you find all the benefits of Christian faith. You find it all in your Baptism.

We call him John the Baptist because he baptized. It’s ironic that when we hear the word Baptist today, we usually think of a group of Christians who deny that we should baptize babies and who don’t believe that Baptism even saves. They teach instead that this sacrament is an act of commitment on the part of him who is baptized, rather than a commitment on the part of God who baptizes. They sort of hear the command, but then they certainly ignore the promise.

The main argument that they give against the teaching that Baptism saves is that we are saved by faith alone. Well this is true. We are saved by faith alone. But faith in what? Is not our faith placed in Him who fulfilled all righteousness? Is not our faith placed in the Father’s declaration that He is well pleased with us? Is not faith engendered by the Holy Spirit alone who turns us from the strivings of our sinful hearts to trust in the merits of Jesus Christ instead? Yes. That is exactly what faith does. Faith holds onto the promises that God makes.

And where does God make these promises? And to whom does He make them? Listen to what St. Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit had been fully poured out on the infant Church: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

This answers our question. God makes the promise of forgiveness where the Lord our God calls us in Baptism. And this promise is for us and our children as well. Faith holds onto this promise. Infant faith, adult faith, weak faith, strong faith – faith holds onto what God gives in the life-giving waters that joined our name to His. Faith holds onto what reason despises. But faith receives what the natural man cannot.

We will not find the power of Baptism in our own commitment to God. For then what a lowly thing Baptism would be! Just look at your commitments. How often have you sworn to be more patient, more helpful, kinder, less gossipy? How often have you made the concerted commitment to read the word of God more regularly, to do family devotions at home, to go to church more often like you know you ought to? How often have you promised yourself never to do that again – those things that bring pain to your loved ones, that give you a guilty conscience, and that bring shame to the holy Name which God has placed on you? How often have you not behaved like a Christian, or not lived like a child of God?

But the power of Baptism is not in your commitment. No, it is in God’s commitment to you. The value of faith is not in our own hearts. No, it is in the waters of Baptism where God gives to our faith what the Lamb of God accomplished as our Substitute.

Baptism is for sinners. It is for those who see their sin, and see that it makes them filthy. Baptism is for sinners, because it saves sinners – not by a removal of filth from the body, but, as St. Peter writes in our Epistle this morning, by cleansing the filth of our conscience, so that we can with all boldness and confidence approach God as our true Father who sees no sin in us at all. But what does He see? He sees His own dear child clothed in the righteousness of His Son whose labors for you pleased Him. And so the Father says to you as well: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus suffered and died once. The just for the unjust. St. Paul tells us that in Baptism we have been joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. So we too need only be baptized once. But we return to our Baptism as often as we hear the preaching of the Gospel. We return to our Baptism as often as we take part in the Holy Supper where the body and blood of Christ confirm that we are united to Him in one body forever. We return to our Baptism right here where every Sunday we invoke the same Triune Name by which we were made God’s children. When we return to our Baptism we find refuge in Christ. 

Do this, dear Christians. Our good Lord has commanded us. But in this command, He requires nothing of us, only that we become as little children and receive what is good and beneficial from your Father in heaven. Do this. For in His command you receive the promise that you are God’s own dear child.

Jesus had you in mind when He was baptized by John in order to fulfill all righteousness. He knew the struggles that you would face, and the temptations under which you would stumble. He knew your failures to fulfill the good name of ‘Christian’. And so He fulfilled it for you. And in His Baptism, and in yours, He wants you to know that you are a sinless saint clothed in His own righteousness forever. Your Baptism seals this verdict. And you may boldly claim what is yours as a child of God.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

February 19, 2012


Matthew 3:13-17 Baptism of Jesus

Fulfilling All Righteousness

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Baptism works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

This is a lot of power to attribute to Baptism. But we have the words and promises of God to prove our claim. We have these words of Jesus: He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe shall be condemned. Baptism forgives sins. Baptism gives to us what Jesus won for us. Jesus said so. He who believes what Jesus says has what his Baptism promises. He who does not believe what Jesus says, rejects what Jesus has won. We cherish our Baptism for the exact same reason that we cherish our Savior. Jesus saves us by suffering and dying on the cross to take our sin away. Baptism saves us by bringing to us the benefits of His great sacrifice. Jesus saves us by overcoming death in our place and rising from the dead. Baptism saves us because through it Jesus joins us to Himself – so closely — as Paul says, “we were buried with Him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

Baptism, the word itself, simply means a washing. It is a washing of water. But we know that it is not plain water, because Jesus has bound His command and promise to it. The command of Jesus is that all nations be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The water is not the operative part though – although it is part of the command, and so it can’t be replaced with anything else. But the water can be splashed or sprinkled; the one being baptized can be dunked or hardly even get wet. It doesn’t matter.

What gives Baptism its power to wash away sin is not the impressive looking symbolism of the act. No. Baptism’s power is in the word of God. With the word of God, Baptism is a life-giving water, and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit. With the word of God, it is a washing that gives us a clean conscience in Christ. It cleanses us with the blood that flowed from Christ’s pierced side – and if you remember, what flowed with it? It was water – in order to teach us where this blood of Christ benefits us. And where is that? It is where He who took our sin away washes us and robes us in His righteousness by the power of water and the word.

God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord by preaching the word of God. Of course he baptized. Yes, but he didn’t just organize some sort of assembly line and send people on their ways once they dried off. Baptism cannot be divorced from clear Law-Gospel preaching. To ignore and not want to hear the preaching of God’s word is to deny your Baptism. John’s Baptism was a Baptism of repentance, after all, for the remission of sins – something we need every day. This means that what John did for sinners in the Jordan River could not be separated from what he preached. And what happened to each one of us – and for most of us while we were still babies – cannot be separated from what all Christians continually need to hear lest our faith be starved and we lose the Holy Spirit.

John preached repentance – no, more than that, he preached a life of repentance – a life of constantly being mindful of our sinful nature and our sinful failings. It sounds depressing, I know. But we need to know what we’re up against. Our sinful nature is not just a weakness that slows us down. No. It must be repented of. The Old Adam must be drowned. A new man must be put on daily to rise and live before God in faith.

That is why we need Jesus. Without His grace and Spirit, we can neither repent of our sin nor begin to live a life that is pleasing to Him. We need Him to take our sin away. We need to know God’s favor and kindness. We need Him to whom John pointed: the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world. It is only through the preaching of the Gospel that God creates faith in our convicted hearts – faith to believe the promise and to live at peace with God.

Baptism is not for people who have no sin. It is for sinners who need to repent of their sins and who need their sin to be taken away. Plain and simple. And so consider John’s surprise when Jesus of all people – the Lord whose way he had come to prepare – came to be baptized by him. “But I need to be baptized by You,” John objected, “and are You coming to me?” “You are sinless. I am not. I need what You have. You do not need what I have. All I have is sin.” But Jesus wanted what John had. That’s the point. And John needed Jesus to take it, even as we need Him to take what we have as well. That’s why Jesus responded the way He did: “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Now, let’s consider a bit these words of our Lord, especially seeing how quickly and easily they persuaded John to do what He said.
What does it mean to fulfill all righteousness?

Righteousness. The absence of sin. Full obedience to the Law. Jesus did and was exactly what God required of a man to do and be. And it pleased Him. His life was immaculate. He was conceived and born without sin, but in perfect holiness. His life He lived in full obedience to His earthly parents. He submitted Himself to the cares and needs of His neighbor in perfect love. And in perfect love He feared and trusted His Father. Jesus lived the only life that the law cannot condemn. In fact, the law must reward it.

It seems, then, that Jesus had already fulfilled all righteousness. What more did He need to do? Certainly He did not need anything from the filthy water of a sinner’s Bath. But that’s exactly what He needed. He needed our sin. He needed to take upon Himself and into Himself everything that our Baptism washed off of us – like a filthy sponge. He needed to become the Man, the new Adam in our place, who not only lived His life in active obedience to His Father, doing what the Law says, but who gave up His life in passive obedience as well, receiving what the law threatens.

This is what God required. The law decrees that the one who sins shall die. But in His mercy, God sent His Son to take our place. When Jesus was baptized, He sealed the deal. He would die. The just for the unjust. He marked Himself as the Man. And so here we see righteousness fulfilled, not for His own sake, but for ours.

And so this is how it works: when we are baptized, all our sins are washed away and left in the water, and we emerge perfect and spotless, not marked as those to die, but as saints of God who live forever. When Christ was baptized, He took upon Himself all our sins and became the sole sinner, the sole transgressor, the sole idolater, adulterer, fornicator, wife-beater, abortionist, homosexual, hen-pecker, disobedient child, oath-breaker, you name it. You confess it. Jesus became it. And He placed into the water of Baptism the perfect robe of righteousness that covers all these sins and that adorns all these sinners. Jesus could say, “Go and baptize all nations.” Why? Because in His own Baptism He took upon Himself the sins of all nations. That's why.

And with this God is pleased: that our sins be punished without mercy on the cross where His beloved Son must suffer and die in anguish, and that we be honored with His holy life that merits mercy, and that is crowned with glory.

Notice that Jesus said to John, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Well, of course Jesus is speaking to John. And look at what they fulfilled together. Nowhere is the blessed exchange between Christ and the world seen more clearly than here where John’s own ministry finds its fulfillment, and where Christ begins His own. But of course there’s more significance to this “us” that Jesus speaks of.

It is certainly true that the fulfillment of all righteousness is an historical event. It happened that Jesus lived a perfect life as a man and died in our place and rose from the dead to defeat the grave. It happened. There is nothing more that need be done. But righteousness is not simply fulfilled in the distant recesses of time. No. Righteousness is also fulfilled today when you have it. It is fulfilled when the sinner who confesses his guilt and mortality is justified by God and given life. There is righteousness fulfilled: where God forgives the sinner His sin for Jesus’ sake. When the sinner believes it and lives.

We are Christians. This means that we are Christ’s. We are joined to Him. We follow Him. We became Christians in our Baptism. We were baptized into the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Of course, God has always been Triune. How many endless references in the Old Testament are there to His threeness and yet to His oneness? But here at Jesus’ Baptism we see the Trinity revealed for the first time by name. The Holy Spirit descends upon the Son in the form of a dove. The Father speaks upon His Son from heaven.

The name of God is revealed where His saving work is revealed. And where is God’s name revealed in our life? There we find God’s saving work. Just as the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus at His Baptism to be the Christ who brings forth righteousness through His death on the cross, so also in our Baptism the Holy Spirit anoints us to be Christians who possess this righteousness by faith. Just as the Father spoke from heaven announcing that this is His beloved Son who pleases Him, so also the Father speaks at our Baptism, declaring us His beloved children, and covering us with the pleasing obedience of Jesus.

When Jesus commanded His Apostles to baptize all nations, He gave them the words we still use. These words are not magic. No, they are the words of God that join us to the works of God. These words are His very name.

Everyday we are called to return to our Baptism, where God placed His name upon us. We do this by listening to the word of God. By going to church and believing what we hear. God’s word teaches us how to live a life of repentance. We hear His holy law; we acknowledge our sin. We don’t grow fidgety when the word is taught, or when the message is less that giddy. No, we examine ourselves. What does God say about how you live your life, how you spend your time, what you think about? What does God say? What does He reveal that you don’t want brought up? Sin? Weak faith?

But dear Christian, look at why Jesus was anointed and consider why you were baptized. Listen to what the Father has said of Him, and what He still says of you. He comes not to condemn you, but to bring righteousness and to give it to you. He comes not to shout and make a scene, but to serve you humbly through the forgiveness of your sins. A bruised reed, hanging for its life, He will not break, but deal gently with all that burdens you and causes you to falter and bend. And He gives you strength. A smoking wick He will not snuff out. But He will continue to speak even to the weakest faith the words that bring unspeakable consolation and the bright light of Hope.

Return to your Baptism often. What is this to say other than: be a Christian. Hear the word of God. Go to where the Holy Spirit works faith in your heart through the word that the Father declares: You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. I am well pleased with you.

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

January 13, 2013


Luke 2: [22-32] 33-40 Christmas I

Remembering and Waiting for Christmas

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Simeon was just and devout. Of course, his justness—his righteousness he got in the same way that we get ours. He believed the Gospel. That’s what it means to be devout: To be devout is to make faithful use of the Means of Grace. It is to go to church and hear the word of God, knowing and believing that that is where you receive the righteousness of Christ. Being just and being devout go hand in hand. Simeon waited for what God promised in His word, and God counted this faith to him as righteousness in His sight.

Simeon waited for God to redeem Israel. He waited for God to bring salvation to the Gentiles. He waited for the Temple once again to be filled by the Glory of the Lord. He waited for what God had promised.

But, unlike his fathers who went before him, to Simeon the Holy Spirit actually revealed that before he died, he would see with his own eyes the promised Messiah. And he finally did. And when he did, he gave two blessings. He blessed God. And he blessed Mary and Joseph. I’d like to consider both of these blessings this morning.

Now, of course, God doesn’t need our blessing. What thing that we have could possibly benefit God? Nothing. But what does God want? He wants us. He wants us to believe that for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ we have eternal life through the forgiveness of our sins. We bless God by confessing what God does. We point to His promises and we say Amen. That’s what Simeon did: Lord, now You let Your servant depart in peace according to Your word.

His waiting was over. God said it would happen, and it did. He saw his salvation. He saw the Light to lighten the Gentiles. He saw the Glory of God’s people Israel – not filling the Temple and forcing everyone out, but hidden in the form of an infant and inviting everyone in. His joy was filled. Since there was nothing left to wait for, Simeon confessed rightly the significance of what he saw. It meant that he could now die in peace. It meant that the Child in his arms was the very Prince of Peace Himself who, in bearing all his sin away, would also destroy the fear of death.

We have peace with God. It is as the angels announced at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Jesus earns peace between God and man as true God and true man. He does what only God can do. He does what man must do. He lives a holy life. He sheds His holy blood on the cross. He makes peace between God and man by offering the final sacrifice that God required. This is what we devoutly celebrate week in and week out, and year after year. As St. Paul says, For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

We live by faith – just like Simeon did. God confirmed Simeon’s faith and made His promise more certain when He gave Himself to be held in Simeon’s arms. And that’s why we also sing his words of blessing to God – not when we hold Christ in our arms, but when He gives to us His own body and blood to eat and to drink, in order that we might become partakers of the sacrifice that bought us our peace with God. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word.”

Simeon teaches us how to bless God: “Now I can die.” Without any explanation, it sure sounds like a strange way to bless God. But if that is strange, consider the ominous words that Simeon includes when he blesses Mary and Joseph. It’s as if he reasoned in his mind: If this Boy is the One who makes for my peace with God, then there is much in store for Him that will shake the world and grieve this mother.

Simeon turned to Mary and said, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Simeon foretells of this little Baby’s death. This little Child would be despised and rejected by those He was sent to save. He would suffer and die a painful and shameful death at their hands. How else could a prophet tell a mother that this would happen to her own Son before her own eyes than to say that a sword would pierce her soul? But this death would serve a great purpose as we know. This death would pay for the sins of the world. By this violent death, all sinners, including Mary herself, are given hope of dying at peace with their God.

But many would be offended by this. Why? It is such good news! But Jesus was destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel. This doesn’t mean that this was Jesus’ purpose or pleasure or intention that people be scandalized by the Gospel. It means that the self-righteous would reject him. Those who refused to see their war with God would make war on Jesus. Simeon does little more than affirm what the prophets had always said:

Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

or what Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians, which words have become familiar on our bulletins:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Jesus is the very obstacle that sinners cannot overcome. The self-appointed wise expect something that makes more sense, and persuade them. But their minds are dark. The religious types are looking for a sign that proclaims their own virtue. But the cross publishes the wages of their sin. “Behold, this Child is appointed – He is destined for a sign that is spoken against so that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed.” This sign is the cross of Jesus. It is the crucifixion. It offends. It reveals the death that sin deserves. It reveals what unbelief does and how God’s wrath responds. But it reveals what God has done for us, to take our place under the law and redeem us. But for those who do not find in this death the guarantee of a peaceful death for themselves, the cross of Christ is nothing but a sign to speak against, a sign to oppose - foolishness. But in their rejection, their thoughts are revealed. Because the heart that despises what God has arranged for our peace right here is a heart that is filled with vain and evil imaginations.

People resent the suggestion that they have no life apart from Jesus. They won’t tolerate the idea that one’s status before God depends entirely on his relationship with Christ—that all the things they do and give for God do nothing to gain eternal life, but that they must come here to receive it.  To teach that no one can find eternal life except through faith in the obedience and suffering of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is to teach that every other religion in the world – every other religious impulse in the heart of man – is fundamentally useless.  No wonder they oppose Jesus.

But for us who confess our sins and the vanity of our thoughts, we find in Christ our life. For us who recognize the warfare that exists between sinners and God, and admit that it is our fault, we find in Christ our peace. For us who are loaded down by guilt and the weight of sin’s burden and confess to God our need for Jesus to retrieve us from our wandering, this Christ was appointed for our rising. What thoughts are in your heart? They are revealed to God. Sure, you see sin. You see regrets – perhaps particularly at this time of year as yet another New Year closes in. These painful thoughts that wallow in our hearts, we lay on Jesus. And He takes them. For this reason He was born. For this reason He comes to us in such a lowly and unthreatening way. He comes to forgive us – to raise us up and give us confidence and faith that we are God’s true children just as He promised when He baptized us.

But there’s another pain that we still feel. It is a pain that Mary felt when she saw her countrymen, her family, reject and despise her Son who was their Savior. The sword that pierced Mary’s soul pierces the soul of the Church as well. It hurts to see others reject and ridicule what we love. It is a very sad thing to see the world around us deny the gospel. Gentiles regard the Light to lighten the nations as inconsequential darkness. The Glory of God’s nation Israel is rejected by those who call themselves Israel today. The enemies of the Church whose assaults we must withstand are the very ones for whom Jesus died to save. They are often the ones we love: our friends, our parents, our siblings, our children and grandchildren who do not believe who do not wait like Simeon, who are not devout in hearing the word of God at church. They are the ones for whom we never stop praying. It is therefore very painful to see what is the most precious thing on earth ignored and discarded as useless.

But our joy in the gospel is in spite of this pain. It does not take away our joy, because the world’s rejection of Jesus is not a sign that we are spoken against or opposed by God, as though His promise has become less sure. No. It is a sign that we are spoken against by the world. Go figure. So was Jesus. But Jesus never grew bitter against those who persecuted Him, but prayed for their repentance. So do we, even as we never fail to point them to the cross. That’s what Anna did, and she didn’t stop no matter how old she was, no matter how many years she had waited in sorrow and disappointment – she pointed everyone she saw to the cross where God would curse His own Son so that He might bless you and me, and yes even those who don’t seem to care.

We are blessed by God. We have heard it. We know it. We are glad. And so we bless God who prepares us to depart in peace from this vale of tears. We are ready, because we have the sign of the cross in our midst, that is, the message of Christ crucified by whom God has reconcile even the most doubting, bitter, and disobedient sinner to Himself.

That’s what happened when you were baptized. “Receive the sign of the cross to mark you as one redeemed by Christ Jesus.” And then God gave to you His own sign and seal that you are His. Do not speak against your Baptism. Do not stumble because you still see sin in yourself. Do not be scandalized to see this precious blessing ignored by others. Do not lose heart when your Savior is opposed. Rather go to where Jesus continues today to bring you that joy that no sorrow can dim, and that peace that no sin can cancel out.

Go to where God still demonstrates His goodwill toward you, where Jesus gives His own body and blood to eat and to drink in the Sacrament of the Altar as a pledge of the peace that is yours forever. Because this is freely given to us in the forgiveness of our sins, we also can bless God as Simeon once did. Pay close attention to the words you will soon be singing, called the Nunc Dimittis. We sing these words when departing in peace from the Lord’s Supper. Simeon said these words when departing in peace from life on earth. There is no difference. Ready is ready. This peace is ours and it is safely kept for us in Christ. It prepares us for everything—both life and death—and so it also gives us the strength and confidence in God to keep living and waiting for what God has promised.

In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

December 30, 2012


John 1:1-14 Christmas Day

The Word Remains Flesh
In Jesus Christ, God Has Come to Stay

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At the risk of spoiling whatever rhetorical force these opening words might have had, I would like to encourage you all to pay close attention and learn – learn about Christmas. This will not be a fluffy sermon. But it will be true …

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

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee. How much less this temple which I have built!”

So said Solomon, the son of King David when he dedicated the first and greatest Temple in Jerusalem that was constructed under his peaceful reign. It was beautiful. It has been called the eighth wonder of the ancient world. If the gold and silver and other precious materials used in its construction were valued today – just the materials – it would amount to as much as $200 billion. The nations gathered to hear Solomon’s wisdom and to marvel at the Temple he built as a dwelling place for the Lord God of Israel. Heaven and earth couldn’t contain Him – hence Solomon’s exclamation of marvel – yet God chose so kindly to be available exclusively there where He said He would dwell.

And here it was. It was where the tablets of the Law that testified of the Gospel were kept within the Ark of the Testimony—that’s the Ark of the Covenant—which, when it was brought with them into battle, it led them into certain victory. That’s how God established this mighty kingdom of peace for Solomon to rule. Solomon’s name itself means “peace.” God dwelt there in the Temple where the sacrifices were offered continually on the altar of the Lord – where the blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, which was placed above the Ark. God was there in a building erected by the sweat and labor of 30 thousand men, but designed meticulously by God Himself so that every last detail served to point ahead in some way to the Coming Christ. It was magnificent in every way! It was the glory of God’s people Israel, and it was known among the nations as the Perfection of Beauty. But, it was still earthly. Would God indeed dwell on earth?

This question was answered with a resounding yes when the Temple filled with smoke – the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. God was there. The smoke was so thick that the priests and all who were in the whole Temple had to leave. God was there. It was the same as it was in the days of Moses and the Tabernacle, as we just heard in our Old Testament lesson. Except now, there would be no more wandering in the wilderness for the children of Israel – no more following the Glory Cloud of the Lord from place to place. No, here with this solid Temple, God was here in a permanent location. God indeed dwelt on earth.

But of course it didn’t last. Israel was unfaithful. So naturally war ensued. They gave God’s glory to foreign gods. So God gave them to foreign nations. The nations that once sought the beauty of the Temple came and destroyed it. They took its gold and silver and everything precious, and did God-knows-what-blasphemous-thing with it, and led God’s people into captivity in distant Babylon. That hymn we sing – O Come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, was written based upon those words of Scripture that pleaded to God to have mercy and come to rescue His people from this captivity, and to bring His glory back to the Temple.

Well, God answered their prayer. He had promised He would. Isaiah said He would in those words on which the hymn is based: Comfort, comfort ye My people, speak ye peace, thus saith our God. He rescued them and brought them back when the Persian Empire supplanted the Babylonian Empire. God punished their captors. The second Temple was built under the leadership of the prophet Ezra. Now, its beauty and glory, however, paled in comparison with the first. I suppose a people fresh from captivity didn’t have much gold to spare.1 And of course the Ark of the Covenant, the most precious and defining Jewel of the Temple, was never retrieved. But the most important thing remained. True worship of the Lord God resumed within it. It still facilitated the sacrifices, and it still pointed to Christ. And besides this, God promised that He would do even more than restore His dwelling to its former glory. He said He would make it better.

I’d like to read to you a brief portion from the prophet Haggai. He was one of those who came back from Babylon and who oversaw the reconstruction and rededication of the second Temple. He comforted God’s people with these words. Please listen closely:

Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more in a little while I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the Desire of Nations shall come, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’1 says the Lord of hosts. ‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:6-9).2

If all these things seem like boring historical details, I encourage you please to rethink and to continue to pay attention. If we are bored with history, especially the history of God speaking to and dwelling with His people, then we have no real business celebrating on Christmas Day the incarnation of the Son of God. This happened in history. History is important. Because some day history will end and eternity will dawn, and if we are to find joy on that Day, we must know what happened in time: The eternal God, who made you, unbound by time or any measurement Himself, entered the strictures of worldly time in order to redeem sinners bound by the strictures of law. This is history. The omnipresent God who is everywhere at all times, in order to save, chooses one location.

We celebrate Christmas because we know where that is.

In the Old Testament, we know, it was the Tabernacle, and then the Temple. These passed away. But you know that second temple that Haggai saw, never did see its former glory; and it certainly never surpassed it. The nations never gathered to pay homage; and peace never lasted very long. But this wasn’t the temple that God had in mind when He made that promise that I just read. No. The latter Temple that would surpass Solomon’s Temple was the One that Solomon’s Temple pointed to – it pointed to King David’s greater Son who would sit on His throne forever – the true Prince of Peace Himself – to the Temple that was made without hands. It was the Temple knit together in the womb of the Virgin Mary when the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her. This Temple was filled with glory, not by the appearance of thick smoke, but hidden in the humility of a nursing baby. For it pleased the Father, as we read in Colossians, that in Him – in a baby! – the fullness of God should dwell. And God was in Him reconciling the world to Himself.

The fullness of God dwells in the Person of Jesus Christ in order that God might indeed dwell on earth. As we read: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

But I suppose this isn’t just some historical detail, is it? No, it didn’t just happen … and then … end. No. God is still man. The significance of Christmas continues today, because the Word remains flesh. As the hymn puts it:

God is man, man to deliver;
His dear Son
Now is one
With our blood forever.

Will God indeed dwell on the earth? In the Person of Jesus Christ, God came to stay. He didn’t assume our flesh and blood in order to get the job done and then leave. No, the job He came to do was to unite mankind to Himself forever—to reconcile God and man—so that He would never leave us. Nowhere is this made more clear than when we consider the Incarnation at Christmastime. The glory of God in the highest is seen where? What do the angels teach us? The glory of God is seen when there is peace on earth and good will toward men. When God and sinners are reconciled. When a baby is born so long ago in the city of David: Christ the Lord, our Savior. This is where God joins man.

Man has the delusion of his own glory, though, and of his own spiritual strength and righteousness. That’s why he reinvents Christmas in so many ways to be relevant to himself and his culture. It’s really the same thing that the Israelites did when they were unfaithful to the Temple. Man turns God’s merciful service to sinners into some sort of celebration of man’s own virtue. Man thinks that he is too good to be judged – not by some young preacher who hasn’t lived life – ha! No that’s not it. Man won’t be judged by God. Man is incorrigibly obsessed with himself and impenitent. That is why man is doomed by God’s law to die. That is why man needs to be delivered, not from poverty and hunger and social injustice and oppressive rulers – these are just symptoms. Man needs to be delivered from himself – from his sin. But he can’t. But only the holy God can do that! That’s why He becomes one of us.

God teaches the true measure of man where He teaches the true measure of His grace – when He takes upon Himself to deliver man. He comes humbly, lowly. He is born of a poor maiden – a young girl who looks to have a lot of rough days ahead of her. And if anyone so thought to encourage her by saying that God was with her, what an understatement. For in her womb, united inextricably to her own flesh and blood was her very God and Savior who would overthrow the devil’s kingdom. Her womb – pure and untouched by anything but God – became the new Ark of the Covenant – the Ark of the New Testament bringing God’s glory back to His people and leading them out of captivity and into victory over sin, death, and hell.

And this was God’s plan from the beginning. It’s not an afterthought. This is not a 2000-year-old breakthrough in religious thought. No, the details of the Old Testament prove and confirm that this event of the Lord’s Nativity have been on God’s mind since He ever looked kindly on fallen man. This is the Word that from the beginning was God, was with God, and by whom all things were made. This Word became flesh. This Jesus is the Seed of the virgin woman who crushes the devil’s lying head. This Jesus is the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world. And this Lamb of God to whom pointed the countless millions of animals that were sacrificed within the Temple – this Lamb of God was Himself the Temple who would offer a much more perfect sacrifice within the sanctuary of His holy body.

He becomes the Lamb that taketh
Sin away
And for aye
Full atonement maketh.
For our life His own He tenders
And our race,
By His grace,
Meet for glory renders.

The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,” says God. But it wasn’t gold and silver that would adorn this long awaited Dwelling of God. No, because these weren’t valuable enough. St. Peter tells us in his first Epistle, “know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

The Temple of God’s dwelling, the body of Christ was adorned instead by shame and scorn, by the mockings and beatings of unbelievers, by His own blood. Instead of incense, it was the stench of sin and cruelty that oppressed His soul. And yet His prayers still rose to God to forgive the sins of those who struck Him. Here, in this lowly body, despised, ugly, rejected—and I’m not just talking like at the time of His crucifixion – no, but even today our Lord is hated whenever sinners think that all this is too much—Here in our crucified and embarrassing Jesus, we find the Perfection of Beauty as the Desire of Nations becomes the object of God’s wrath, and as the Son of God bears our sin and death on the cross.

He dies. Death is lonely. Death is unavoidable and undefeatable. We know it. On the cross, bearing the burden that our lives have placed on Him, the Son of Man gives up His Spirit. Will God indeed dwell on the earth?

But God does not abandon His handiwork. His soul is not left to perish in hell, nor does His body see decay. He does not flee this Temple. Jesus Himself assured us, speaking of His own body, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). And He did. The Word remains flesh. He remains healthy, strong, living, life-giving flesh, no longer hiding His glory, but perfected. The Word of God, come down from heaven, accomplished what pleases God, and has prospered in that thing for which He was sent. He does not return to heaven void. No, He returns to heaven bearing the sheaves of victory over all our foes.

And from there He rules us in mercy—because the Word continues today to dwell in His Church on earth through His Means of Grace—wherever His Word is heard and believed – wherever your sins are forgiven on account of Jesus’ blood and merit – wherever He joins His own body and blood to bread and wine in order that He may dwell in you by faith, and so makes you His own holy temple set apart for what your gracious God has planned. The glory of the latter Temple turns out to be far greater than the first. We have beheld it, because we know the peace that only Jesus gives. We have beheld the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. By grace, He serves us, still today as unintimidating as He did when He came as a Child. In truth, He teaches us, and makes us true children of the Most High God in order that He may share with us His glory.

This is such good news. Your sins are forgiven. You will live forever with God. It is so good that our feeble thoughts cannot hold onto it. It’s hard to live by faith, because our fallen flesh fights against what God says. Our doubts try to claim us. Our minds wander. We sin. And those moments of joy at hearing the Gospel, just like the tranquility of Christmas Eve, seem to fade so quickly and out of reach. And so we pray: “O Come, O come Lord Jesus, come quickly,” because we see that our hearts cannot contain the surety and joy of God’s promise. Well don’t be surprised. Neither can heaven and earth. So come to where God defies such earthly limitations, and joins Himself to you today. Come to where the Almighty God who controls the universe bows down to feed you with the very body and blood that the little Lord Jesus first revealed in a stable and glorified on the cross. The Word became flesh. And through the Word you hear on Christmas morning, God indeed dwells on earth. And He will never leave. No matter how much people forget about the true meaning of Christmas, no matter how much disappointment and guilt and sorrow and death, God is with us. He is our Immanuel. The cloud will not pass or move on. And so we sing today with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven what the angels first taught the shepherds: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men! Evermore and evermore!

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

1 But read through Ezra and Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah: according to Cyrus’ decree, and as Artaxerxes affirmed, gold and silver etc., confiscated by Nebuchadnezzar was indeed given back from the store of Persia to supply the needs of Ezra and Zerubbabel to build the “house of the God of heaven.”

2 See also Hebrews 12:26.

December 25, 2012


Luke 2:1-14 & Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 Christmas Eve 

His Name Shall Be Called Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined…

6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

The world walks in darkness. People behave like fools when they can’t see where they’re going. And so there’s no real surprise that the world seeks enlightenment where there is no light, and wisdom where there is no knowledge. People think that if one is powerful, and if he can persuade the multitudes to behave and think as he tells them to, that this is the determining factor of what is true and good. Oh, people deny this as they claim to seek justice and equality and all sorts of virtues. They’ll walk according to their inner lights, but in the end, might always makes right. The multitudes are invariably impressed by power. They think they have control of their hearts, they think they know where their progress is taking them. But their hearts are fickle and predictable, and the end result is always deeper and deeper darkness.

Power can be seen all over the world as influential characters sway popular opinion, and as authoritative figures impose their will on the masses. These two forces usually go hand-in-hand. Just think, for example, of the homosexualist agenda that has in the past couple decades gained so much momentum. Who would have thought even when I was a young boy that it would get to this? That’s power! Hardly, though, can we think of anything darker and more damaging to the soul than slavery to sexual perversion. But enough celebrities speak in favor of it, and enough judges spout their opinions about it and the next thing you know, what was once universally regarded as shameful is now defended tooth and nail — even against the kindest and most thoughtful attempts to rebuke it. True Christian concern for sinners who need to repent and find mercy in Christ is now mocked and condemned as hate speech. So-called progress is power all right — it is the power of darkness.

Brothers and sisters, the world walks in darkness. It always has. But God is not like the world. He stands in light. He stands in his own light. He is light. And it is he who orders all the affairs of this world. Now that’s something to consider, especially when it looks like things must be way out of his control. But consider the affairs of this world.

2000 years ago, Caesar Augustus reigned over the mighty Roman Empire, which was steeped more deeply in sexual perversion and idolatry than even our own American empire. Caesar regarded himself as a god – others did too. People worship power, remember; they always have. He had power. He made a decree and the world obeyed. The word for decree in Greek is dogma. You know that word. Dogma. It’s usually seen in a negative light because it smacks of religious inflexibility and intolerance. But the world has its dogma too. And when these dogmas are uttered, like in the case of Caesar, or Hollywood, the world bends. And woe to you if you oppose! What an impressive feat this was for Caesar Augustus. What a massive movement of people he caused. He decrees and all bow to his dogma. He speaks and the world listens to his command.

All people under his reign travelled to the home of their fathers in order to be counted and taxed. But in these events that seemed to exalt Caesar’s dominion and influence, God took note of all people born – dead, forgotten, and yet to come. By Caesar’s decree, which he took to be very important, God caused a humble virgin in whose womb rested the almighty and eternal God to travel with her husband to their ancestral town, the city of David. The world that sat in darkness saw Caesar being obeyed. But God was there ordering all things according to his wisdom so that Christ might be obedient in our place. Caesar would have had no power at all had it not been given to him by God who desired Jesus to be born in Bethlehem.

Isn’t it funny that Augustus thought this dogma of his was so important? But who would even remember the decree of Caesar Augustus were it not for the Christmas story we Christians listen to every year? Rome has long since fallen and all the coins with Caesar’s inscription are prized as mere curiosities of history. And who even remembers who Quirinius was? But through this otherwise forgotten decree of ancient history, God provided that his ancient promise would be kept — that the Savior would one day be born in Bethlehem.

In the city of David, when all the world dwelling under the dark shadow of death thought that the biggest thing going on was the decree of Caesar Augustus, God had a bigger thing going on. He sent his Son as the Light of the world.

It seems like some pretty big things are going on today – things that undermine the influence of the Church, things that are meant to hurt us. But do not fear. God cares about history. He cares what happens from millennium to millennium. He cares what happens from year to year. He cares about Rome, Persia, China, and about America. He cares about your day-to-day as mundane and soiled with sin as it might be. And just as he ordered events in Roman Palestine 2000 years ago to facilitate the birth of Christ in the city of David, so also he orders the affairs of our fallen world today to facilitate the coming of Christ to you.

But proof of God’s loving concern for us is not found in the decrees of the world’s movers and shakers, or in the “progress” that people like to brag about and impose on others. No, proof of God’s care is found in the fact that, in spite of all this and even in the midst of it, and even through it, God sent his Son, and that he continues in the same conditions to send his Son through the message of the gospel today.

Yes, God could have spoken his Word, and all the earth would have bent and crumbled. But instead, he sent his Word to take on human flesh and blood to have mercy on the very kind of unbelief and self-righteousness that makes us so angry in this world today. He has mercy on that! That is where the light shines. In the darkness. And this is good, because he therefore has mercy on you. See yourselves in the shepherds:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.”

Of course they were. They were in darkness. Their eyes had adjusted to darkness. How much more so does the eye of the soul adjust itself to its own sin — so that the world outside of us looks so sinful and so damnable until we begin to make ourselves the standard of true light and purity? And as surely as your eyes are burned by the midnight turning-on of the lights while you’re trying to sleep, so also the shepherds had no idea how dark it was until the bright glory of the Lord almighty shone around them! In this way these shepherds learned to be afraid of God. It was not only their eyes that stung. They were sinners. And in an instant they knew it like never before. They realized what darkness was in their own hearts. We must realize this too. There is no sin that the world defends, that God’s word condemns, that grosses us out, that does not also have its source within each one of us. In order to know the light of God’s grace, we must know that we are sitting with the rest of the world in the land of the shadow of death. The world is dark because of what proceeds from our hearts. By the brightness of the law, we must learn with the shepherds to be sorely afraid of what it reveals in us.

But to the shepherds the angeL also gave a decree. Not a decree like Caesar to gather here and there to be taxed. But a gracious decree that directed them to where God would take upon himself what humanity owed. He dogmatically spoke what they needed to hear – and we need to hear it too:

Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The glory that terrifies you – yes, and you were right to be afraid – the glory that the law reflects – is the very glory of God who now rests at his mother’s breast – for you. This is good news. He comes not to condemn. He comes to turn your fear into joy, to take the sin and darkness of all mankind into himself. He comes to obey the very demands that make you afraid, or embarrassed, or unworthy to come to God, because you have disobeyed. But he takes your unworthiness upon himself. He takes your reason to be afraid away. He suffers in your place, because he is your Savior.

We do not find our acceptance from God, our special status with him, by looking at how dark it is out there and how light it is in here. No, the law is intended to even that out. Instead we go to the same place that the angel directed the shepherds. It’s where he directs all people – including those who continue to sit in darkness. It is where Jesus is. Only the good news of Jesus’ birth can adjust our eyes from darkness to light so that we see clearly.

The shepherds received a sign:

You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

So also, we are given a sign. We are pointed outside of ourselves. We are pointed to where Christ comes to us in humility in his word and sacraments. We are pointed to where it appears that God is helpless to really address the real problems of the world. But by the gospel decree that enlightens our hearts, we know that true power is found right here where God takes our sins away and the sins of the whole world wandering in the darkness of sin. It is where the Word made flesh makes his home in our hearts as surely as he once made his cradle in a manger.

And that is why the angels taught us to sing as we do:

Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

God’s glory on high is found here below where he makes peace with sinners by shedding his blood on the cross. And he shows us his favor today where he continues to rule our hearts and consciences with the forgiveness of our sins.

This is what makes Jesus our Everlasting Father. It is the same thing that makes him our Prince of Peace. Isaiah says that the Child born to us will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. To call Jesus Everlasting Father is not to confuse him with the first person of the Trinity, who sent his Son to be our Savior. Rather, it is to say that it is Jesus who orders and governs all things to work for our best. And how? By bringing us peace – peace with the Father who is reconciled to us through the blood he shed. And this is true no matter what the world says. We do not come to know the Father by ascending to where he is above – by escaping this world, but by seeking where Jesus is below – right here were we are. As Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” And we know where to see him.

In the same way we do not find God’s glory by ascending on high (Glory to God in the highest). No, we find it here below where he gives sinners peace with God (And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!). Jesus is our Prince of Peace. Where his gospel is heard, divine light continues to shine into the darkness of the world – into the darkness of our hearts. This is why we celebrate Christmas.

God joins us in our helplessness to change the world let alone our own hearts, and so in him we find the true Light who brings lasting joy to all men. Christ joins us in our darkness and guilt, and so we find a good conscience forever before God in heaven. Amen.  

December 24, 2013


Luke 2:11-12 Christmas Eve

Word & Sign: Finding God’s Glory

There is something very peaceful about the image of the shepherds watching their flocks by night. How relaxing. What opportunity for contemplation. What time for staring at the stars and considering those words of Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” Ah, the glory of God. So gentle. So sweet. There’s something kind of romantic about the scene. Peaceful. Uneventful. But then the sky cracked. An angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around him. And they were greatly afraid. And they should have been. The glory of God, the thing of thoughts and musings turned out to be terrifying. But what did the angel say to them? “Do not be afraid.”

They needed to hear that word. The glory of God seems to be synonymous in our minds with, maybe beauty, or amazingness. But the glory of God reveals man’s unworthiness. The glory of God causes fear in man, because it reveals how far we have fallen. Only when God assures us that His glory is present for a peaceful purpose can the heart take courage. The Gospel tells us not to be afraid.

Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Then a great multitude of angelic armies joined in. See what mercy God shows. This would have killed them. But first God sends one angel to allay their fear, and only then does the night sky fully light up to announce what has since been immortalized in the songs and hymns of the Church: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” “Do not fear,” the angel said. “For God’s glory now resides in a manger in order to take your sins away. Do not fear, for we teach you now how to glorify God in the highest: by singing of Him who establishes peace on earth.” And then they learned to sing. At least, you might imagine that’s what they did when “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.”

As it was told them. In the short sermon they heard, the angels joined two things together: God’s glory and peace on earth. This is the content of every truly Christian sermon that has since been preached. God’s glory consists in the fact that Christ has made peace between God and man. He did this by becoming a little baby so that He might take upon Himself our sin. The little Baby grew up, and lived a perfect life in the place of every sinner who ever fell short of the glory of God. The little baby was born to die – not as the fates would have it – but as God the Father demanded – in order to make satisfaction for the sins of the whole world on the cross. God is most glorified when our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. This is God’s goodwill toward us.

It’s the great paradox of the Gospel. It flies in the face of human reason. God’s glory is seen in that the Son of God hid His glory in a lowly stable. God’s power is seen in that He hid his strength as a little Baby. And here lies the greatest paradox: God’s justice is seen in that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God’s justice is revealed when God justifies sinners.

The mystery of the Incarnation offends people because it insults their reason. And we must admit that we cannot understand it ourselves. God became man. The creator and sustainer of the whole universe relied for a time on His mother for sustenance. This blessed contradiction is expressed very well in these words by Martin Luther:

He whom the world cannot enclose
In Mary’s bosom doth repose;
To be a little Child he deigns
Who all things by Himself sustains. Alleluia.

This most certainly does offend human reason. But what offends human reason is the good news that God has united Himself to us forever. The shepherds didn’t pause and try to figure it out. No. They were too afraid to worry about that. And we must be too. Because what offends our reason obtains for us sinners the forgiveness of our sins and life everlasting in heaven. What offends your reason is “Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled.” Let reason be offended! The eternal Son of God has assumed human flesh and blood, not changing it, but making our nature His very own, in order that He might come to serve us in meekness as our Brother. It is in this humility that God brings peace on earth because it is in this humility that He comes to bear our sin.

He whom the sea
And wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God's own Son,
With us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.

What does reason have to say to that? This is peace with God. God is most glorified when He forgives us our sins for Jesus’ sake.

When we insist that that little Baby in the manger so long ago is God almighty, the greatest offense, however, is not against man’s reason. It is against man’s righteousness. People are willing to look past all sorts of inconsistencies, especially today in this so-called postmodern world where it is said that truth cannot even be known. Even very intelligent people, in the name of spirituality, are willing to accept things that don’t strictly conform to the rules of logic. But despite all this, a sinner is not willing to admit that he is a lost and condemned creature who is powerless to affect his own salvation. God must convince us of that.

Sin is war against God. God reveals this to us in His holy law against which we have sinned. But we don’t want to admit it. We like ourselves, and among all the pleasures that sift through our hands in life, the least we can hold onto is what we guard with jealousy: our pride. We would rather be enemies with God than let this imagination of our own goodness and glory go. Our sin is a deep delusion. It is enmity with God. It is war.

But the angels preached about peace. They pointed the shepherds to a stable where there lay a little Baby Boy who was born to be the Savior. What looked as lowly as can be to their eyes, they knew to be the greatest glory in heaven and on earth, because there lay the King of Glory who had come to make peace between God and man. And in His humility, God shows sinners still tonight where true glory lies. But we need a sign.

That’s how the shepherds knew where to find this glory. They knew it because of what the angels had told them: “You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” They couldn’t have known it otherwise. Apart from the word that God teaches us, we will naturally look for peace with God in our own negotiations and promises. But the angel of the Lord gave the shepherds a sign. There were no negotiations there. There was only something to behold.

There was no light shining forth. There was no star above the stable. There was nothing but the signs that the angel had told them about. Totally unintimidating. Totally harmless and unimpressive, like the countless nights keeping watch over their flocks. But here, according to what they had been told by the Lord, contained more glory than the sky could hold.

God gives us signs. He directs us to our Baptism where we are joined with that little Christ Child, where His birth is ours. Our birth is lowly. It seems to do nothing, but just as the sign of the angels pointed to what the eyes of man would have never guessed, so the sign of our Baptism points to eternal peace we have with God and the goodwill of a Father. I need not go through a list of the Lord's Supper and Absolution, and the faithful preaching of the Gospel. Hopefully you know what they are; and doubtlessly you know how lowly they are as well. But God points you to them. God, whose glory should terrify you, directs your heart and conscience to where His glory is hidden and reserved for the eyes of faith, and where goodness and mercy are revealed.

Hark! a voice from yonder manger,
Soft and sweet, Doth entreat:
"Flee from woe and danger.
Brethren, from all ills that grieve you
You are freed; All you need
I will surely give you."

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. Their lives went back to normal, filled with all the troubles and humdrum that our lives tend to get filled with. They no doubt often looked back on that night when they were so honored to be visited by angels, when they saw with their own eyes their infant Savior come to serve them. But they could not go back. The experience was long gone. All that was left was the memory.

The shepherds had to go back to their fields. But the joy of Christmas remained. This is because the peace of Christmas remained. And so it is for us. We return home. From a pleasant evening at church, from a relaxing visit with family, back to work, back to school, back to whatever seems to fill our lives. And Christmas will be over soon. Our troubles will commence and all the joys of Christmases past will seem more and more out of reach as the time flies by, although every new celebration has its joys. Yes, life will continue. Our children will grow, our loved ones will die. And we will continue to see the sin in our lives rising up against us. How we often wish that we could return to more pleasant times, fewer temptations, fewer regrets, to more glorious days. Such is life. But listen now to these words by Paul Gerhardt as he tells us what we are to remember about Christmas,

Thou Christian heart
Whoe’er thou art
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee
For God’s own Child
In mercy mild
Joins thee to Him. How greatly God must love thee!

Remember thou
What glory now
The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.
The angel host
Can never boast
Of greater glory, greater bliss or gladness.

We know how to glorify our God. That is Christmas. We know how to glorify and praise God for all the things that we have heard because God has shown His glory by forgiving us our sins. And so when we cannot return to more pleasant times, we can return to where we see the true glory of God – when through word and sacrament He gives to us the righteousness that the little Baby Jesus of Bethlehem has won for us.

To the world this Gospel lacks the glory that they expect from God. But to us who are being saved, it is the greatest power and strength unto eternal life.

In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

December 24, 2012


Mark 16:1-8 Easter Sunday

He Is Risen! He Is Raised! The Stone Is Rolled!

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Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! What more appropriate thing to say on this day when we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead? The proclamation speaks for itself. There is so much significance to the fact that Jesus who was dead is now alive that it is hard to say anything more significant than the plain and simple fact: Christ is risen. Alleluia! Every Christian should meditate on this. And so we will.

Christ is risen. Christ is raised. What’s the difference? Well, it’s the same difference as between lie and lay, or sit and set. But this is more than a lesson on proper grammar – believe it or not, there’s something useful to be learned from this distinction. To rise is to stand up by one’s own power. That’s what Jesus did. To raise is to cause something else to stand up that has no power in itself. That’s what the Father did for Jesus.

So who did what? Did Jesus rise? Did the Father raise? Well, both. Just as the golden sun rises in the east, so the glorious Son of God rose from the dead. Just as parents raise up a child, so the Father raised His crucified only begotten Son from the grave. Let’s consider both of these statements: Jesus rose. The Father raised.

Jesus rose from the dead because it was not possible for death to hold Him. He was the sinless Son of God who was not subject to death. He submitted to death — not because He owed something to death, but out of obedience to the Father who laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Jesus willingly endured. He says in John chapter 10, “No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father (Jn. 10:18). “This command.” Jesus speaks of it as one command; but it was two-pronged; and Jesus obeyed it on both counts. First, He went uncomplaining forth to bear the sins of the whole world. And second, He broke victoriously from the strong bands of death in order to destroy the power of sin in us. To die was Jesus’ will; to rise was His prerogative. Jesus does everything that the Father gives Him to do.

When we consider Christ’s suffering, death, and His whole life of seeming weakness from conception to cross, we call this His state of humiliation – that time when the Son of God humbled Himself by not making use of all His divine power. When we think of Christ obeying the Father, I think we tend to conceive of this obedience as a part of His humiliation. But this isn’t quite accurate.

Rendering complete obedience to God has not always required that Christ lay aside His glory. Obedience has always marked the eternal relationship of the Son to His Father. Yes, it was in humiliation that the Son obeyed the Father and came not to be served but to serve; yes, it was in humiliation that Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45). That’s true. In His death, we see humility and obedience united in perfect love. But look at where it is that Jesus’ humiliation ends and where His exultation begins: it’s marked by nothing less than obedience! It’s when He obeyed His Father’s call to come forth from the cold grip of death and to reclaim Life as His rightful possession. And so in exulted glory—not in humility— Jesus obeyed His Father and claimed for Himself and for us what He humbled Himself to earn. Christ rose! Alleluia! He rose indeed!

The will and power of the Father and the Son are one. Jesus did not claim His right to live apart from the Father’s desire for Him to die. He didn’t appeal to His innocence, but accepted the verdict of guilty in our place. So also Jesus did not claim His right to rise apart from His Father’s desire to raise Him. He didn’t say, “I shouldn’t stay dead this long! I’m innocent; I’m gonna rise.” No, instead He waited patiently; He fulfilled the Sabbath by resting in death until the Father declared Him innocent on Sunday morning. He declared Him innocent by raising Him from the dead. The Father raised Jesus! Alleluia! He raised Him indeed!

God loves life. He is the author of life and our Creator. And that is why He hates sin. The wages of sin is death because by our sin we seek to find the source of life in ourselves rather than in the God who made us. Think of it. That’s exactly what sin is. When we covet what we think will improve our lives, we deny God as the one who makes life good. When we lust for flesh that grows old and fades like grass, we deny the God who took on our flesh to redeem it and sanctify us. When we value our life above another’s – whether by speaking ill of someone or harboring hatred in our hearts toward our weaker brothers – we deny love to those who have been made in the image of the living God. This is sin. The soul who sins shall die (Ezek. 18:20).

That’s why Jesus died. One man died. The Father took everything that the law can possibly condemn in you and He imputed it to His Son. Yes, Jesus was unlawfully lynched by murderers. But He was tried, convicted, and justly executed by His Almighty and righteous Father, who for our sake laid on His Son the iniquity of us all. Sin needed to be punished. And so it pleased the Lord, for our sake, to bruise Him, as Isaiah tells us. The Lord is the one who put Him to grief, as Isaiah foretold. But He saw the travail of His soul, as Isaiah said He would, and He was satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.” And bore them He did (Is. 53:10-11). And here it is that we see how strong His love to save us is. Christ was delivered up because of our offenses,” St. Paul tells us. “[But He] was raised [again] because of our justification.”

Jesus was raised by the glory of the Father. Jesus rose. This is true. But Jesus being alive wouldn’t mean anything for us if the Father hadn’t raised Him. Because when the Father raised the Son He declared Him who bore our sin not guilty. He declared Him who became sin for us to be free from anything deserving of death. But what does this mean? If all our sin and the sin of the whole world was placed on Jesus who was tortured, crucified, and forsaken by His God, then what does it mean that this same Jesus was declared righteous and innocent by His Father? It means that the sin and guilt He bore is no more. It is gone. It is paid for. God accepted His holy sacrifice as the true Paschal Lamb. And so in the Resurrection of Christ, God declares the whole world innocent of everything that the Lamb of God took away. This is true even before you believe it. It must be. Your sins are forgiven. You stand righteous before God your Maker. This is the proclamation that works faith and saves.

The will and power of the Father and the Son are one. What do they want? Well, what does God do? This is what we learn on Easter Sunday: that in these glorious events God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. When Jesus died, the Father killed. When Jesus rose, the Father raised. When Jesus was vindicated, the Father justified you. When Jesus was quickened, eternal life was made yours. And so we shall see the saying fulfilled, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In His death, Jesus said, “It is finished.” In His Resurrection, the Father echoed the triumphant declaration. “Christ rose! I raised Him! He is Risen indeed.” Alleluia! This proclamation speaks for itself. There is so much significance to the fact that Jesus who was dead is now alive that it is hard to say anything more significant than the plain and simple fact. But say it we must. We shout it from the roof-tops. We gather together every Easter – every first day of the week to declare what we believe. Here is salvation where Christ crucified and raised for sinners is proclaimed for you. It is as St. Paul tells us: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

But,” as Paul soon after asks, how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Let us then return to our text and consider again the words of the first Easter preacher. The women in sorrow sought Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. They loved Him. He was righteous. He had the words of eternal life. They sought to honor His death. But whom did they encounter instead. St. Mark calls him a young man. Youth, life, and vitality reflected from the angel fresh from before the glorious throne of God. “Do not be afraid,” he says. That’s what I say. Fear not, daughter of Zion. This is where the preaching of the gospel begins.

You come here with death on your mind. You come here with sorrow over sins and a resume of misbehavior and hate in your hearts. You come here with what you have earned. You come here in faith seeking Him who was crucified for you. But your faith makes nothing happen. The preacher who has news for you has a message of a victory that happened while you were still weak and helpless. But your faith receives what has been accomplished long ago while the faithful women were sleeping and while we were yet unborn.

He is not here” the angel said. And for these women who had come to honor the death of their Lord, this was cause to disperse in further terror. But for you, dear Christians, He is here. He is risen. But He is here. Because we do not come to His grave to honor the dead. No, we come to His Church where our risen Lord comes to us. The Father honored His death for us—not with spices to anoint Him—but with Life eternal with which He in turn anoints you. Christ has been highly exalted – and we with Him – so that at the name of Jesus we gladly bow as we tread death and all things under our feet.

If the stone had not been rolled, the women would have remained in grief, clawing their way into an empty grave soon to become their home. And so would we. But the angel rolled the stone away so that we might see the impotence of death—its empty hand who could not hold onto Him who bore all sin. And so neither can it hold onto you. Neither can it hold onto your parents, your husband, your wife, your children. Shall we fear? Or could the Head rise and leave His members dead? No. For by faith you are too closely bound to Him who died and rose. In Baptism, we have been buried with Him so that by faith today and sight tomorrow we shall also rise. Therefore listen to the tomb rolled away for you. It is here in the Easter hymns you sing and in the Sunday morning anthems we raise. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  There is so much compacted in this little phrase that we could dwell on it forever.  The angel rolled away the stone so that we can and will.  Alleluia.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

April 8, 2012


John 20:19-31 Quasimodo Geniti

The Arm of The Lord Is Revealed

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Amen.
On Good Friday I preached a sermon on St. John’s account of our Lord’s Passion. I decided to focus on an event that occurred only after Jesus died on the cross, but while His dead body was still suspended for all to see. The piercing of Jesus’ side fulfilled Scripture not only by sparing His bones from being broken, but also because, as Zechariah foretold, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” When Jesus was pierced by the Roman soldier, a flow of blood and water came forth from His side.

John, the Apostle, saw it. He bore witness. And yet only the Holy Spirit can reveal to us the significance of Christ’s death.

And He does. We learn from the Holy Spirit by listening to the inspired words of Holy Scripture. The One who was nailed to the cross on Mt. Calvary is the eternal Son of God. The eternal Son of God came to save us in no other way than by becoming the despised Son of Man. This is He who came by water and blood. This is what John is talking about in the Epistle lesson we just heard——And what it means is that the Holy Spirit does not direct us to the God of our salvation apart from where our God shed His blood on the cross to redeem us. If our faith is to embrace God and so taste victory over sin and death, then our faith must embrace the cross of Jesus. Our faith must embrace that which John himself witnessed and swore by. And the Spirit, the water, and the blood all agree. That is why we also – still by faith today – look on Him whom we have pierced.

I had hoped last Friday to renew an appreciation for the symbol of the crucifix, because the piercing of Christ reveals for us that, even in His resurrected glory, Jesus is identified by His wounds. We see this played out very clearly in our Gospel lesson this morning.

And, you know, I took my own words to heart a little bit. Last Sunday on Easter I looked at that beautiful crucifix on the altar and saw the gash in His side. But then I also noticed something about the way both Jesus’ hands were positioned that I hadn’t noticed before. And it struck me that this is really great symbolism too. He’s holding His hands like this: +. This is what I do when I absolve and consecrate and bless — whenever I make the sign of the cross on you, I hold my hand like this.

Now, there’s significance to how I position my fingers, and whoever crafted that crucifix there knew it. Let me explain. I’ve got my three fingers here: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s blessings are always triune. The forgiveness of sins is always the forgiveness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And the Father and the Son and the Spirit agree! But there is no way to communicate with this God, there is no way that this God communicates with us other than through these two fingers here: the two natures of Christ. We’ve got the divine nature and the human nature – always and forever together, bound as One. The divine Son of God always deals with us as the Man Jesus Christ who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. And how does He deal with us? Well, He forgives us. And this forgiveness is the forgiveness of the eternal, triune God. This is how the Arm of the Lord, so-to-speak, is revealed. Even on the cross where His hands were nailed, God’s purpose was clear, and that-there crucifix symbolizes it: that Christ suffered and died with you in mind, that through His death, you would be blessed.

And this is how this all ties into our Gospel lesson this morning. While the disciples were gathered together, with the door locked for fear of the Jews who killed Jesus, Jesus who was killed by the Jews came and stood in their midst. What terror! This is He from whose death they fled. This is the One whom they forsook. This is the Lord whom they loved, whom they swore they would never leave – even if they had to die with Him. And yet while He was despised and rejected by men, they too hid, as it were, their faces from Him. He was despised, and they did not esteem Him.

And now in His resurrected glory, He stood before them. We ought to assume that they were scared. They were. But Jesus had not come to condemn them for their sin. Instead, He dispelled all fear by saying, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, what did He do? He showed them His hands and His side. He showed them what we have symbolized right here on the crucifix. He showed them that which paid for the peace He was freely giving.

Then, and only then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

Jesus forgave them their sins. And in their happiness that He was alive, Jesus gave also to us the significance of the fact that He lives:

Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”

Even here we see that the forgiveness of sins is the forgiveness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The forgiveness I speak in Jesus’ name is not mine. It is God’s. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, He sent me. When I deal with you +, therefore, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, it is your Lord who deals with you. The position of my hand should remind you of this. Of course, it is only symbolism — my hand that is — just like the symbol of the crucifix. It’s just a symbol. But the words are not mere symbols.

A symbol points to a reality outside of itself. But the words of Jesus actually deliver the reality. They are grounded in events that actually happened. And that’s why we use these symbols to remind us of the events that actually happened. Jesus was crucified. The Father sent Him for this very purpose – to pay for the sins of humanity. The judgment against your thoughts and wasted hours of selfishness were executed by God upon His Son for you. Every drop of righteous anger was poured out and drunk to its bitter dregs even to the point when Jesus breathed His last by committing to His Father the Holy Spirit. This happened.

Death alone on its own is a terrible thing. It reminds us of what our sins have earned. Maybe this is why the image of the crucifix has been rejected among Protestants for so long in favor of a bare cross. But the symbolism teaches us so much! Because the Christ who was crucified is the Christ who is risen. And just as the Father sent Him to pay for salvation, so Jesus sends His ministers to deliver what He paid for. Just as Jesus breathed out His Spirit when He had earned salvation on the cross, so He breathed out His Spirit when giving it to us as well. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”

When we open our Divine Services with the Confession of sins and Absolution, we are not just trudging through a ritual. It’s not symbolic. Reality itself is being affected. Of course your sins were forgiven long ago. That’s reality. And the whole world was absolved when Jesus, who bore the world’s sin, was raised by the Father. That’s reality. But here through the words that Jesus speaks, the Holy Spirit is given to you so that you might believe it. You need reality to come to you. You need to know that God’s forgiveness is real. And just as Jesus permeated closed doors to stand bodily in the midst of His scared disciples, so He permeates our unbelieving hearts today. He does so by speaking. And we hear it.

He is here — not just in some mystical or symbolic sense, not simply insofar as our emotions allow it to feel real. No, He is here as true God and true Man wherever His words are spoken to give to you what He has earned. And His words are spoken – here, where two or three, or a hundred and ten are gathered in His name. He is here. Jesus says your sins are forgiven. And they are.

Faith believes it. Unbelief rejects it.

Thomas didn’t believe. He wasn’t there. Eight days passed. Nothing would persuade him. He knew Jesus died. But He could not believe that He had risen. By not believing that Jesus had been raised, He wasn't just doubting the fact that Jesus was now OK and doing well. No, he was doubting the fact that Jesus’ sacrifice accomplished anything worth while. He was doubting that his sins had been paid for, and that Jesus’ payment was accepted by the Father. By doubting the resurrection, He was refusing to believe that Jesus’ life had any lasting value at all.

Well, Eight days later, Jesus came and appeared to Thomas. And perhaps Jesus chided him a little bit. Thomas is easy to pick on for this. “Doubting Thomas,” we call him. The other disciples had told you, Thomas. Why didn’t you believe? But we know perfectly well why he didn’t believe. He didn’t see.

I’m not sure if Thomas was being overly obstinate. I think for sure he was being honest. “If I don’t see for myself,” he said, “I know that I won’t believe!” Neither would have any of the other disciples. Thomas knew his weakness. Oh, they tried to persuade him – sure. But the disciples learned a valuable lesson themselves, you know. Their methods of persuasion, their urgency and assurance of faith were not enough to dispel doubt in Thomas’ heart. The passion of the preacher is not what grounds the Christian in true faith. No. Thomas needed Jesus. So do we. And so Jesus came to Him. He showed Thomas what He showed His other disciples. He showed him His hands that bore the wrath of God against his sin, and His side that revealed it was finished. He showed him His resurrected body. He gave Thomas what he needed to believe.

And He did so in order to give to us what we need to believe.

My Lord and my God!” Thomas cried. Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now, this is not to say that Jesus is so impressed with our visionless faith as compared to Thomas’. No. This is not where our blessedness comes from. Our blessedness comes from the same place that Thomas’s came from. Jesus gave Thomas what he needed to see and feel to believe in order to ground the preaching of the Apostles in reality. They did not spread the Gospel by proclaiming what was in their hearts – what they wanted to believe – no, but by proclaiming what God had done beyond a shadow of a doubt. Jesus gave Thomas what he needed to believe, because his faith depended on it. Yes, and so does ours.

Our faith depends on that which Thomas witnessed. The Holy Spirit witnesses to facts when He creates faith in our hearts. Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world because it lays hold of Him who overcame all sin and doubt by dying and rising. That is why the ministry of the Gospel that saves you is a message that deals with facts. It announces to you what God has done, and pronounces on you what God says because of it.

Isaiah, in his 53rd chapter, which is the clearest treatment in all Scripture of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross, begins by asking the question: “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” The preaching of the cross is an easily despised message. To think that God’s strength is found in such a display of weakness. Who would believe it? Thomas wouldn’t. Neither would we. We should know our weakness, as Thomas learned his. We would not – we could not – believe the Gospel unless the peace that Jesus won on the cross were delivered to us by our risen Lord.

And it is. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples not to erase the image of His suffering and death, but to remind them of it – to root their preaching in it, and to base their absolution on it. We cannot see Jesus. But we hear the Holy Spirit testify to what Thomas saw when we hear the preaching of Christ crucified and raised. And blessed are we who are content to see Him, not in His resurrected glory, but + in the sign of the cross — where God forgives us, where He blesses us and keeps us, makes His face shine upon us, and gives us peace. This is where God acts. This is the arm of the Lord revealed.

In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

April 7, 2013


John 10:22-30 Misericordias Domini
Good Shepherd Sunday

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Jesus Christ is Lord. This is the most fundamental confession of the Christian faith. In Luther’s Small Catechism we confess in the second article of the Apostles’ Creed,
“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.” Immediately once we confess who Jesus is, namely, that He is true God and true man, we also confess what He has done. This is important. The two confessions always go together. And so we continue, “who has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.” It is not possible to separate who Jesus is from what He does for our salvation. By calling Him Lord, we always confess both.

In the Gospel of Matthew, it is recorded that Jesus once asked His disciples who they believed Him to be. You probably remember Peter’s response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” What a clear and straightforward answer. That is exactly who Jesus is! Peter did not learn this, however, by being really clever. He learned this from God. That’s what Jesus said when He responded: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Now let’s consider this for a second. How is this possible? When did the Father reveal this to Peter? What is Jesus talking about? The disciples had spent their time on earth listening to Jesus who was flesh and blood, not in heaven listening to the Father. And by listening to Jesus and seeing what Jesus was able to do, they came to the conclusion, seemingly apart from the Father, that Jesus was the Christ. So then, why does Jesus say that the Father revealed to Peter what he confessed?

Jesus answers this very question for us in today’s reading from the Gospel of John which we just heard. “I and My Father are one.” There is only one God. The work that Jesus did for our salvation was the work that God the Father gave Him to do. It was the will of our Father in heaven to redeem us. Jesus did His Father’s will. Thank God! What Jesus has done for us reveals the Father’s love for us. “I and My Father are one,” said Jesus. That is why He gives His Father the credit for revealing who He Himself is. To separate who Jesus is from the Father’s love for us is to separate who Jesus is from what Jesus has done. Peter learned who Jesus is by the work Jesus did.

Jesus had asked him a very straightforward question, “Who do you say I am?” He got a very straightforward answer. “You are the Christ.” The Jews in our Gospel lesson asked Jesus a just as straightforward question, “Are you the Christ?” Why didn’t Jesus just say, “Yes.” Why didn’t He just say, “I am the Christ, the Son of the living God.”? He is! Wouldn’t that have given them what they needed to believe? Why didn’t Jesus just give them a straightforward answer? Instead it almost seems like He dodged the question: “I told you, and you do not believe.”

Although we don’t have any record of Jesus telling them in so many clear words, Jesus didn’t dodge the question. Who Christ is is always revealed by what He does. And what did Jesus do? He healed the sick; He made the lame walk; He gave hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind. Jesus forgave sins! Only God is able to do any of this. And Jesus did it all. He never hid the fact that the work He did was the work of the Father. And therefore He never hid the fact that He was the Christ. Jesus revealed who He was by doing the work His Father gave Him to do.

The Jews who gathered around Jesus did not believe that He had sufficiently proven Himself to be the Christ because they didn’t care about what He did. They didn’t believe that they were sinners who needed God’s mercy – they relied on what flesh and blood could reveal instead of upon what God revealed. We are sinners in need of God’s mercy. God reveals His mercy in Christ alone. We learn that Jesus is our savior from sin, death and the power of the devil, not by being really clever. We learn it just like Peter did: from God. God teaches us in Holy Scripture. That’s why we listen to it. That’s why we commit to memory from Luther’s Catechism and promise to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the faith we have confessed.

Nowhere is God’s work in our lives more clearly revealed than when we see a little baby baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This should remind us all of our own baptism. Just like us, this little Sadiejo right here has not become Jesus’ little lamb by any cleverness of her own. No, our God in heaven has revealed Himself as our dear Father by joining us to His Son’s greatest work of dying and rising through the promise attached to water. Here we see Christ’s power! As a lost stanza of that hymn we sang this morning says it:

As the Son of God I know Thee
For I see Thy sov’reign pow’r;
Sin and death shall not o’er throw me
Even in my dying hour;
For Thy resurrection is
Surety for my heav’nly bliss,
And my baptism a reflection
Of Thy death and resurrection.

When we confess that Jesus is Lord, we confess also that He is our Lord. We say, “I believe that Jesus Christ … is my Lord, who has redeemed me … who has purchased and won me … that I may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom.” It is not possible to separate what Jesus has done in the Father’s name from the fact that He has done it for you. That is very important! Christ is our Lord. We own Him as our Savior. And we are His children. He has redeemed us so that we might be His own and have eternal life with Him. Our relationship with Jesus certainly is personal. Both ways. We are His sheep. He is our Good Shepherd. Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” We belong to Jesus.

What a beautiful comparison between sheep and Christians! The thing about sheep, though, is that they are not very good at anything. They are dim-witted, defenseless animals that rely 100% on the protection and guidance of their shepherds. They are among the most un-clever animals on earth. But there is one peculiar and very helpful skill that sheep do have. They are able to recognize the voice of their own shepherd in distinction to all other voices. That is about all they have going for them, but it is a skill that keeps them alive. Their only defense from predators lies in the strength and faithfulness of their shepherd whose voice they listen to and trust. It is very important, therefore, for sheep to have good shepherds whose voice they continue to hear. Otherwise they will die.

So it is for us. Our greatest skill as Christ’s flock is that we recognize the voice of our Good Shepherd. This is the most important thing that a Christian does. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me.” That is what Christians do. It is what a Christian is. Christians listen to the Good Shepherd. Just like it is with Christ Himself, so also it is with each Christian: what a Christian is and what a Christian does can never be separated. Christians go to church. We do this in order to hear the word of God because the word of God alone rescues us from sin and death and gives us life. This is not a legalistic requirement. It is simply a matter of fact. Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. That’s what we do; we go where His voice is heard so that we may be, and because we are His sheep.

But how can we be certain that the voice we listen to is the voice of our Good Shepherd? If it is so important to hear His voice, we must be sure that we are listening to His. There are lots of voices out there, and they’re not all saying the same thing. Sometimes what we hear doesn’t sound all that bad either. Many preachers are able to give really good advice that meets the needs of all sorts of people. Maybe they can even give you good advice. Maybe they can help improve a relationship of yours that needs a little guidance. Perhaps they can also lift your spirits by providing a cheery and vibrant atmosphere in church that you cannot find at work or school or even at home. We can’t deny that, humanly speaking, these voices are sometimes helpful to a certain degree. But that does not make them the voice of our Good Shepherd.

We are told to flee from false shepherds. St. Paul warns that ravenous wolves will rise up from even among us! We are warned that not all voices are beneficial to listen to but can actually hurt us. But sometimes when what we hear sounds good and we are not sure how to tell the difference between what our Good Shepherd says and what the wolf says, we want to say to Jesus as the Jews did in our Gospel lesson, “How long will you keep us in suspense? … Tell us plainly; give us a straightforward answer! Which voice is yours? What church should I go to? What shepherd should I listen to? Am I your sheep?”

But Christians, remember: who Jesus is and what He does always go together. It is much simpler than the wolf would want you to believe. We identify who Christ is by what He has done for us on the cross. And so too that is also how we identify His voice. Do you want to know the voice of your Good Shepherd? Do you want to always be certain that what you listen to and rely upon is what Jesus wants you to hear and trust in? Then consider your need. Do not consider the need that man can fill, the need that clever words can fix. Consider that need of yours that only God can meet. Consider how you have lived in the sight of your Father in heaven. Consider how you have treated your mother, your father, your husband or wife, your friends, your enemies. Have you refused to forgive those who don’t deserve it? Have you refused to show respect to those who haven’t earned it? Have you used your body as though it were your own, and not God’s temple? Are you a sheep who has gone astray? Have you chosen for yourself your own way? Are you a sinner who needs God to have mercy on you and forgive you all your sins? This is your greatest need. Other needs often feel more pressing. But they simply aren’t.

Do not rely on your own wit and cleverness to learn the voice of your Shepherd. Flesh and blood will reveal nothing to you. Look instead at what your Father in heaven has done to meet your need in the life and death of Jesus Christ your Savior. Look to where Jesus, who did not go astray, suffered the punishment for all your sin by thought word and deed. See the work of God accomplished for us on the cross. When we see Jesus do the work of the Father in our place, we find the mercy of God that we need.

We know the voice of our Shepherd. And we know where this voice is heard. It is where we receive again and again the same forgiveness that became ours in holy Baptism. It is where we are given the very body and blood of our Savior for the forgiveness that He will never stop giving us – because we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Only this Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. Only this Shepherd takes it back again.

When we place our confidence in what Jesus does we place our confidence in God who gave Him the work to do in the first place. If what Jesus has done to save us is pleasing to His Father, that means that we are too. From His hand no one can ever snatch us. That’s what Jesus said! His voice is clear, because who He is and what He does for us – today and every day – these two things can never be separated.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.  

April 14, 2013


John 16:16-23 Jubilate, Easter IV

80th Anniversary of Trinity Lutheran Church

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A few months ago, the idea was suggested that we celebrate our 80
th anniversary this spring. December 11 marked 80 years since this congregation was first founded. That’s a long time. And yet it’s young enough to be remembered by several of our oldest members. There is a lot to celebrate here. How many of you, and your children have been baptized here and confirmed here? How many of you were married here? How many of you, in sadder times, looked at the face of a beloved husband or wife or mother or child for the last time here – and yet received here the certain consolation that you would see them again? And this is all because here it is that we hear the word of God. We celebrate 80 years of God doing what God does. He calls us, gathers us, enlightens and sanctifies us – by His word. He fills our greatest need. How many of you having been burdened by sin, or having been stiff-necked and bitter at God, or perhaps filled with doubt and unanswered questions – how many of you, having been reproved by the law and persuaded of your sin, were then compelled to confess them here to a gracious God, only then to be served by that gracious God through the preaching of your crucified Savior Jesus Christ? How many of you, having been fed with His very body and blood have received what Jesus secured for you in His resurrection? —How many of you have thus been strengthened and preserved in the one true faith? That’s what God does here. That’s what we celebrate. He forgives your sin and gives you life everlasting.

Joy, O joy, beyond all gladness!
Christ hath done away with sadness!
Hence, all sorrow and repining,
For the Son of grace is shining.

It was just a few months ago that some of the ladies here were planning a date to celebrate. Jubilate Sunday was suggested. That means rejoice, right? Yes, it does. How appropriate. I agreed. But I must confess that I knew the irony of this suggestion from the beginning. And if you listened to our Gospel lesson this morning, maybe you know what I’m talking about — The story of joy must always include its seasons of sadness. True joy is not a contrived happiness that celebrates itself. True joy, as we know well, comes to grips with reality, faces it, and rejoices in the promise of the Gospel that overcomes it all. So let’s consider where sorrow first began in order that, as Christians, we might also see where true rejoicing begins.

We go back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned by rejecting God’s word. They believed a lie – a little lie – they didn’t think it was a big deal. But by rejecting God’s word, they rejected God Himself. They turned themselves away from His face. But God did not turn His face away from them. In spite of their fall into disobedience, God still shined His gracious face upon them even before the curse came into full effect. He promised that the woman’s Seed would crush the head of the evil foe. And by crushing the devil’s head, God would save sinful man from the lies that our flesh is still inclined to believe. Even before He pronounced the law that exposes our sin, God established the foundation of saving faith by preaching the Gospel: God promised to send His Son to fulfill the law and to die in our place.

The first curse that God spoke, He spoke to the devil; and in his curse, our first parents seized onto the first promise of salvation. They looked forward to the coming Seed. Despite their sorrow, here it was that they found their hope of joy.

But you know the Gospel doesn’t make the law go away. The Gospel puts the law in its proper place. Christ is the end of the law for all who believe. Amen. In repentance, Adam and Eve believed it. So do we. But just as we, on account of our sinful flesh, still need the law to serve us by daily driving home our need for God’s mercy, so also, our first parents needed to hear the curse so that they might likewise live by faith — so that they might continue to find their righteousness apart from their own works and good feelings, but in Jesus Christ alone who would obey the law in their place.

So, God spoke His curse. He cursed the woman. In pain she would conceive and bear children. Her submission to her husband would no longer be the spontaneous joy that God created her to have, but would become an external imposition upon her that she would resist. She would come to know the sorrow of being a sinful wife and mother.

And God cursed the man. Adam would come to know the sorrow of fruitless labor, working by the sweat of his brow to provide, but in the end having to rely on God’s grace and mercy to feed and clothe his growing family. He would come to know the sorrow of being a sinful husband and father. He, his wife, and all his children would return to the ground from which he was formed.

What sadness! But all was not lost. The curse wouldn’t last forever. Despite the sorrow and pain, they knew it was just temporary! God said so. By her Seed, through the life that God would place into the woman’s womb, God would put an end to this awful curse and redeem them. And so it would actually be through her sorrow and pain that God would do this great thing! And that’s why Adam named his wife Eve – because she was the mother of all living. Through her, all life would be born – but more than that – through her, the One who would bring eternal life would make His home among us.

Isn’t this wonderful? Adam believed the Gospel. He named her Eve because it was through the fruit of her womb that their Savior would be born, who would take the curse upon Himself and save us all. She truly was the mother of all living.

In the meantime, the only thing that could make the pain of the curse bearable – including the pain of bearing children – was that they knew their sadness would last only a while. This was the promise. In fact, it was after Eve had given birth to her first son that she too expressed faith in the promise. She named her son Cain, which means “acquired,” saying, “I have acquired a man, the Lord.” That’s Genesis 4:1. Eve thought that she had just given birth to the Messiah.

Of course, she couldn’t have been more wrong. Cain would not be the One who was to give life. In fact, he was the first to take life. Her son became a murderer. Like every mother here, she gave birth to a sinner who needed a savior just as much as we do – a sinner who disappointed her and brought heartache to her life. Adam and Eve learned the hard way that what Jesus said was true: “That which is born of flesh is flesh.” Yes, but, as Jesus continues, “that which is born of Spirit is spirit.” Therefore, in the face of earthly disappointments – whatever they are – what more can we do than cling to the promise of the Gospel, through which we find new life.

That’s what Adam and Eve did. Unfortunately for them, their “little while” lasted a little longer than they had hoped. But, you know, the Gospel remained true. They died knowing that, in good time, they would be redeemed and raised to life. And their hope was not disappointed. For, as Paul writes in Galatians 4, when the fullness of time had finally come, God did indeed send forth His Son, born of a woman – just like He said – made under the law, to redeem those who – with their first parents – languished under the curse.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, the long while that spanned the ages of the Old Testament was swiftly drawing to its fulfillment as Jesus spoke with His disciples. “Just a little while longer,” He told them, “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” What Jesus was talking about was plain enough. He would die and rise. This was good news. Jesus was about to endure the curse that God had spoken against all humanity, just as He promised He would. It was the curse spoken to Adam and Eve. It was the curse that still indicts our sinful flesh and condemns our thoughts and actions. It was the curse of the law. And Jesus was about to bear it for us. In order for Jesus to bruise the serpent’s head, the serpent would have to bruise His heel — as St. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (as it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’).”

Jesus told His disciples that in a little while He would die on the cross to take away their sins and on the third day rise again. But they didn’t understand Him. They were confused. And the reason was simple: they didn’t know the value of suffering.

Suffering for them was something to avoid. It was something that they were supposed to be rescued from. And now their only hope for salvation, Jesus, is found here speaking about how He Himself is going to suffer. They had hoped for something a little more glorious, you know? A little more triumphant.

And isn’t this how it goes? Salvation should be joyous, right? Sadness just ruins it all. And so when trouble comes, or problems arise that bring us sorrow and disappointment, we talk amongst ourselves to see how we might make sense of it, or even fix it. That’s what the disciples did. But they came to no solution. Only Jesus could give them the answer they needed. And the answer that Jesus gave required that they suffer too. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”

True joy comes through sorrow. Adam and Eve’s suffering didn’t earn them anything. We know that. But it was valuable. Because it taught them the measure of their strength, and it directed them to their Savior who would suffer in their place. True joy comes through sorrow. The very thing that was about to make the disciples so sad was to become the foundation of their eternal happiness.

What makes us so sad? What little whiles must we endure, that seem to last forever? Are you a sinful wife or mother, or a disobedient child? Are you a sinful husband or father? Have you neglected your duties? Have you chafed under God’s chastening hand? Have you regarded your suffering as pointless? But dear Christians, in our suffering and sadness, even when we’re enduring the pain that our own sin has brought us, Jesus directs us to what He endured in our place. Jesus binds us to Himself in His suffering in order that He might be bound to us in our sorrow. He does this by preserving for us the pure message of the cross. He teaches you the Gospel. That’s what He does here where we preach Christ crucified. Suffering is not pointless. In the cross of Jesus we see what it has earned. And so we are enabled to bear our own crosses too.

This church is full this morning. That makes me happy. I know it makes you happy too. In fact, it might even bring back memories of what seem like better times. It’s tempting to make this the standard of success and joy. Because it hurts to see this place empty. And it hurts to see the world rejoice.

The world rejoices to see this church shrink in number, and the Church at large lose influence in the culture. Our nation has turned away from the word of God. Some of our children have as well. This congregation is not brimming with people every Sunday like I have heard it once did. We sorrow. But it will only last a little while. In the meantime, God teaches us, as He taught Adam and Eve, and as Jesus taught His disciples — true joy comes through sorrow.

So we don’t look for what we think will make us happy.

A woman who has given birth is not filled with joy simply because the pain is over. She is filled with joy because she has borne life. A human being has been born into the world.

What have we borne? Through Christ, faith is borne.

Whether 2, 3, 19 or 200 people gathered here, what we celebrate is not what we look like, but what we possess by faith – through the proclamation that we gather to hear!

This joy no one will ever take away! It is not possible where Christ crucified is preached.

In Jesus’ name, let us pray:

Jesus, guard and guide Thy members,
Fill Thy brethren with Thy grace,
Hear their prayers in every place.
Quicken now life’s faintest embers;
Grant all Christians, gath’ring here,
Holy peace, through coming years!
Joy, O joy, beyond all gladness,
Christ hath done away with sadness!
Hence, all sorrow and repining,
For the Sun of Grace is shining! Amen.  

Pastor John Christian Preus April 21, 2013


Mark 16:1:8 Easter Sunday

God’s Words & Actions Speak Loudly
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There’s a famous saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, who lived about 800 years ago, that says:
“Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” Now, people like to pretend that this is really profound, as though the true nature of the Gospel is seen in the things that we do rather than in the things that we say. But it is not profound. It sounds pretty clever, sure. But it’s really quite absurd. And we know that! Because the Gospel consists of words. They are God’s words. They tell us something. God’s words report His actions, and, in fact, it is God’s word itself that carry out His actions. God’s word actually accomplishes what He speaks.

They say that actions speak louder than words. Well, sure they do. This is true as far as we are concerned, but not with God. With us, when there’s a disconnect between what we say and do, we call it hypocrisy – like when someone says one thing and then does another. Or we might simply chalk it up to weakness – like when someone makes a promise to do something, but then lacks the strength to perform. But with God, neither of these is possible. First of all, because God cannot deny Himself or lie. Second of all, because God is almighty. It’s not possible for Him to say that He’ll do something and then find Himself unable to do it. He’s God. There is no dissonance or discrepancy between what God says and what God does.

God is true to His word. And if He has done anything that we need to know about, He’ll tell us. So consider what God does – consider what He tells us.

By the word of His mouth, He created heaven and earth. God saw that what He made was good. And then as the crown of His creation, He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to be fruitful and multiply. It was very good. God did all this through His Word. But when man disobeyed God’s word, God cursed His creation. No longer would it serve man as it had. The earth that once perfectly reflected the pure kindness and love of Him who spoke it all into existence, now echoed another word of God – a word of wrath: “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

God speaks. And we die. That’s how it happens. That’s where death comes from. God’s words and God’s actions go together. As Isaiah says in chapter 40: “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, {and why?} because the breath of the Lord blows upon it.” That’s why.

God’s words and God’s actions go together. And even nature, inasmuch as we all die, confirms this. But there in the Garden of Eden God spoke another word – a better word – a word that nature could not teach us. God spoke a word that had just as much power to accomplish what He intended to do. He intended to save us. He revealed His kindness and love by preaching the Gospel.

Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.”

Yeah, well, Francis, God used words. And it was necessary. Because man needed to hear it. We all do. We can’t live without it, because it give us life in place of death. We can’t know what God does unless we know what God says. And some 4000 years after He made this promise, God did what He said He’d do. He sent His Son into our flesh to crush the devil’s head by receiving a fatal blow Himself. God would die our death by placing Himself under His own curse. He kept His word. God’s words and God’s actions go together.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” And so we look to where the word of God was fulfilled in the greatest act of love ever accomplished by man: Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, died on the cross as the spotless Lamb of God, bearing the sin of all of Adam’s children.

The women in our Gospel lesson saw it. What a death! – the death of One who had lived such a life. And what a life! – the life that honored His God and served His neighbor. In the silence and stillness of the morning after the Sabbath had ended, they came to anoint His body – to honor His death. They loved Him. They brought spices in order to anoint Him. But, you know, no matter what they did, their deeds were only the helpless acts of sad women grieving what they lost. No matter what they did, they could not have made Jesus their savior – they could not have made Him alive.

But God could. They went to anoint Him. But God anointed Him first. The word Christ in Greek, the word Messiah in Hebrew means Anointed One. The One whom God anointed and so chose to die is the One whom God anointed and so chose to rise. The women's actions were only as powerful as their words. And you know what they say about words and actions. But God’s word … well, God’s words and God’s actions always go together. And God acted loudly.

There was no body for them to anoint and honor. But God did one better. God honored the body of Jesus by raising Him from the dead. And He sent His angel to speak His word – to proclaim what He had done: “He has risen.” And you can say it too. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! You can say it too because you have heard the same word that the angel told them. It’s what the preacher preaches to you. He preaches what God has done.

That’s why we gather here on Sunday morning. We seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified under Pontius Pilate. And like the women, this is where we expect to find Him. We hear that He has risen – according to the Scriptures. No need to marvel. We have heard it and learned it and we believe it. It’s true – just like the angel said. But there is one thing that the angel said that we will not hear from our preachers: “He is not here.” Because Jesus is here. “Where two or three are gathered in My name,” Jesus said, “so am I also in your midst.”

But just like it was not the devotion of the women on that first Easter morning that actually accomplished anything, so it is not our gathering on a Sunday morning that makes Jesus here. It’s God’s word – it is Jesus’ name. Just as their intent to honor Christ did not make anything happen, so it is not our devotion to Jesus or even our prayers that affect or actuate anything. No. It is God’s word. Our faith does not make Jesus here. Our faith does not make God love us. Our faith does not make us righteous in His sight. No, our faith receives. And that’s why we have gathered. Faith begins by receiving God’s word. God’s words and God’s actions go together. By hearing God’s word, we learn and receive what God has done.

The angel reported the facts. This is what God did. Faith believes it. And so faith receives what Jesus won. St. Paul makes the point in Romans 4 that just as Abraham believed the promise of Christ and it was accounted to him for righteousness, so also by faith, righteousness is credited to “us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Faith believes the facts. What did God do? Paul tells us. He says that Jesus “was delivered up because of our offenses” — we believe that! — “and He was raised because of our justification.” Now, what does this mean?

Jesus was raised because of our justification. Think of that. He wasn’t just raised in order to justify us. He was raised because God had justified us. He was raised because He had offered His holy innocence to take our place, and had satisfied all God’s wrath against our sin. He was raised because there was no sin left to condemn Him or to keep Him dead. It had been paid for. When God the Father raised His Son Jesus Christ from death, His actions spoke loudly – as words – so to speak. He raised Him not out of pity, but because justice had been fully served. He raised Him because all our sin had been paid for. It really was finished. The world whose sins He bore God declared righteous in His sight.

God speaks loud and clear by acting. And there is no disconnect or dissonance. If Jesus is risen from the dead, our sins must be paid for, we must stand righteous before God. There is nothing more that needs to be accomplished. There is no spiritual process that we need to complete, because when the Father raised His Son from the dead with the very flesh that hung forsaken on the cross – God echoed and affirmed what Jesus Himself declared: It is finished.

Faith hears this, and so receives everything that faith seeks.

Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” This is supposed to uphold the dignity of good works and acts of kindness. And certainly we understand the concern. Such fruits of faith reveal our faith. We should love one another. We have been joined to Christ’s death and resurrection in Holy Baptism in order that we might be made new and so live as new creatures as the body of Christ. But the Gospel itself is not found in what we do or how we live. It is found in what God does for us and in the life He gives. It is a real danger to confuse the two – both because it is so easy to do, and because it is so dangerous.

When the Gospel becomes what we do, then, instead of simply receiving what Jesus has accomplished, and hearing God’s word of forgiveness, our faith becomes the sort of catalyst, the finishing touch to God’s work. And so we spend our lives trying to polish up this work of faith until we think, maybe, we hope that it is good enough – and woe to him who thinks it is. Such a presumptuous spirit that focuses so much on its own work is not the Spirit of Christ.

The reason we naturally want our faith and our devotion to play such a backward role in our salvation is because we want to trust in what we do, which means that we want to justify ourselves. We want to hold onto what we can accomplish, because we think it is more trustworthy than what God has done. But it isn’t. We need to know it.

This is why God cursed the ground. He did so to show Adam and Eve and all their children the futility of our works. He cursed the ground in order to drive us to His word. God’s words and actions go together. We see that this is true nowhere more clearly than in the life of Christ — where God takes our curse upon Himself in order to free us from sin – and where He rises from the dead in order to reclaim the life we lost. They say that actions speak louder than words. That’s true as far as it goes. I’ll teach that to my kids. But God’s actions are found in His words.

Through His word, He calls us to new life. He creates in us the image of God that Adam and Even lost. He does so by forgiving us our sins for Jesus’ sake who obeyed the law in our place. By making Jesus alive, God made Him your Savior. This was out of our control. Thank God. It is His action. God’s words and actions go together. And so by speaking to us the Gospel we hear, God re-crowns the crown of His creation with the righteousness of His own Son.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Pastor John Christian Preus March 31, 2013


1 Peter 3:17-22 Easter Sunrise

Crushing the Devil’s Head 
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Jesus purchased and won us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He did so not with perishable things like gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He did this in order that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom of grace here on earth. This life consists of the forgiveness of all our sins, and the daily cleansing of a bad conscience. We have been redeemed to serve God in holiness. We live by faith — because, although we are given the Holy Spirit who works new desires in our hearts to will and perform what pleases God, we still must contend with our flesh and blood. We sin. The holiness we possess as redeemed children of God is a holiness that we possess by faith in the Son of God. We see this holiness in Christ, not in ourselves. He is the life of all the living.

But in good time, when in God’s wisdom we leave this world – whether by death or by our Lord’s imminent return, we will live forever in God’s kingdom of glory. What we now know and see dimly will be made clear and bright. We will no longer struggle against sin or doubt or depression or chronic pain or whatever else makes life such a bear. Our bodies will be glorified and spiritual even as Christ’s body has been glorified. Our minds will be enlightened and wise and sharp because they will be completely conformed to the mind of Christ. Our holiness will no longer be an article of faith, because the mystery of our union with Christ will be unhidden. We will know our Lord even as we are known. We will spend eternity in the presence of Him who once was slain to redeem us. His blood will clothe us forever in the righteousness that will never leave us ashamed.

Jesus purchased and won us. He bought us. I think just about everyone at at least some early point in his life kind of assumes that this ransom was paid to the devil. It makes sense. He is the one who tempts us. He is the one who lays claim on us. He is the one who holds us in bondage to the natural desires of our fallen flesh. But His claim is bogus. Jesus did not pay Him anything. Just like God did not bribe Pharaoh to let His people go – no, He judged him. And then He spared His people from the same judgment through the blood of the Passover Lamb. So in the same way, Jesus did not bribe the devil. He paid the price for our salvation to God by shedding His own blood. He did so as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by suffering and dying for the sin of the world.

Jesus purchased us from God’s judgment by paying to God the debt we owed. The reason God demanded this payment is because God loves us. He wanted us to be His. He gave His Son into death in order that He might destroy the power of death at its source – by freeing us from our sin. Even when He went to the cross, His glorious resurrection was on God’s mind. Consider these words from that wonderful Lenten hymn by Paul Gerhardt, A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth:

O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!
The Father offers up His Son!
The Son, content, descendeth!
O Love, how strong Thou art to save!
Thou beddest Him within the grave
Whose word the boulders rendeth.

Whose word the boulders rendeth. The word of Christ rends the boulders. This is great foreshadowing! It means that the proclamation of Christ’s victory over all our enemies tears the rock in half. That’s the power of His resurrection. The Father sent the Son to die our death in order that He might rise, and bring us with Him. The stone that sealed His grave could not hold Him. The earth that holds our bodies when to dust we return must obey His command as well.

And that’s why it’s so important to be united to Christ in a death like His through Holy Baptism – so that we might be united to Him in a resurrection like His as well.

The death that we are united to is a humble and lowly death. Christ humbled Himself so much that He could declare Himself a worm and not a man. He placed Himself under everything – under the law, under judgment, under lawlessness, under sin, under death. But when He paid our redemption price in full, all these things were placed under His feet – so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow –of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Christ is risen! Alleluia! The strife is o’er, the battle done. Now … whose knee will bow first?

Consider. It does little good to win a battle if your enemy doesn’t know he lost. The shout of victory in a military camp does very little good if it is not also announced on the other side as well. In fact, lest there be unneeded casualties of war, the victory must always first be announced to the enemy and then only afterwards be announced to those whose battle has been won.

This is how God did it in the Garden of Eden. From Adam to Eve to the devil, God got to the source of the mischief. And even before He announced His curse against Adam’s sin, what did He say? He cursed the devil. He proclaimed His defeat and cursed him even more than the earth itself:

Because you have done this,
are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”

God cursed the devil by proclaiming that the promised Seed would take the curse of man upon Himself. He would give His life. But in giving His life, He would strip the devil of his power. His heel would be bruised. But He would live again. The serpent’s head would be bruised; and under the weight of Christ’s wounded heel, he would be silenced forever.

Think of this. It is often called the protoevangelium – the first gospel. The first gospel promise was not spoken to Adam and Eve. It was spoken to the devil within their earshot. Our enemy heard the proclamation of his defeat and our victory even before we did – even before it was accomplished.

But, then, it was accomplished. Jesus took our sin away. He died for the sins that the devil leads us into. He endured the condemnation that God once threatened against disobedience. He suffered for us – the Just for the unjust – in order that He might bring us to God. He was put to death in the flesh. But He was made alive again by the Spirit. This means that the God who forsook Him on the cross when Jesus gave up His Spirit and died returned to give Him life again.

Jesus rose bodily from the dead. It wasn’t just some spiritual resurrection. His human flesh was raised from death. But His flesh is spiritual. It is glorified. It’s not bound to one location like ours. That’s how He is able to give His body and blood in the Lord's Supper for the forgiveness of our sins. It is also how He was able to descend into hell and proclaim His victory. Even before Jesus appeared to His disciples or even before He appeared to the women who so devoutly came looking for His body, Jesus descended in His resurrected glory to pronounce victory to the spirits in hell. His enemies needed to hear the news first.

The world mocks the Gospel. The children of disobedience – ironically – want to trust in their own obedience, their own virtues, their own pretty-goodness in order to stand and live before God. But they will not. They will die and go to hell forever because they have despised the preaching of repentance and have rejected the promise of Jesus. They obey the devil. They believe lies. Jesus descended to hell to proclaim the truth and to mock the devil’s lies. I did it, He said. What Noah preached was true. His hope saved him. I saved him. And all who place their trust in Me cannot be harmed by the lies that you believed.

Jesus still proclaims the truth. He proclaims it here to us. He saves us from lies. He gives us victory over our sin and death and the fear of destruction by joining us to Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism. This victory is not potential. It is complete. In our day of regret and sorrow over sins committed against God, in our hours of fear and shame, we can speak this victory to our guilty conscience, knowing that the devil and all the hordes of hell have been notified as well: Christ lives! He is risen! And because He lives, I am free from my sin.

We don’t need to persuade the devil. And we dare not try to persuade our sinful flesh or our bad conscience either. That’s like trying to persuade the grave to give up its dead. No, there’s nothing to convince them of. There’s only victory to declare. Cold hard victory with no strings attached that leaves the devil’s head crushed in the dust of death. Victory that drowns the old Adam in us by daily repentance. Victory that cleanses our conscience from evil by forgiving us our sins. Victory that gives us new life by faith, and the sure hope of the resurrection.

We don’t answer to the devil. We answer to God. And our faith does not rely on negotiations. Our faith relies on His word. That is why we return to our baptism that saves us from hell as surely as Noah was saved from the flood. We return to the word God spoke when we were buried and raised with Christ through water and His word so that we might give our answer to God with a good conscience.

With Christ, we also proclaim – to all our enemies – that the battle is over. The victory is won. And through Holy Baptism it is ours. Though the devil still roams around us like a roaring lion, trying to claim our affections and seize our conscience, nonetheless, in the work of Christ for us, who descended to the pit of hell, we see our God shut his mouth and keep us safe. And so we sing:

Satan hear this proclamation:
I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation,
I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny,
God my Lord unites with me!

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Pastor John Christian Preus March 31, 2013


Luke 2:41-52 Epiphany One January 12, 2014

Whose Children Are We

I remember when Monica and I brought our oldest child home from the hospital after he was born. As far as anyone could have assumed, we were totally prepared for it. We had fixed up his room; we had a bunch of diapers and stuff; and his car seat was all strapped in. But once we were actually on our way to our apartment, it struck us how crazy it was that they were actually letting us take him home. Did they know how little experience we had being a mother and a father? Did they actually trust us to take care of this child? Certainly, he would be better off in the hospital where the inevitable blunders of his parents could at least be offset by ready access to medical attention. Well, of course, we were just nervous. And as it turned out, he was much better off in our home. And seeing as he’ll be turning six in a month, our inexperience wasn’t as dangerous as we thought. But besides all this, it’s not like they “let” us take him home at all. He was never theirs. God gave him to us, not to them.

And this is the greater mystery to ponder: not that nurses and doctors let us go home with a baby, but that God commits to our care little children whom he loves. They are his. He gives them to us. They are his before they are ours. He gives them to us so that we might take care of them. He loves them before we know them. It is therefore our chief responsibility as parents to teach our children of the great love their Father in heaven has for them. That is why we bring our children to be baptized according to Jesus’ command and promise.

This parental duty goes together with the first commandment, as God says in Deuteronomy 6:

 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

This means that the word of God is to take the highest place of honor in the Christian home. And this is not only for the sake of our salvation, but for the sake of our children’s salvation. The father who fails to teach his child the word of God will have to answer to God as to why he did not.

The world doesn’t regard this as a real duty. “Oh, religion isn’t necessarily bad,” they might say, “but it probably is bad to shove it down their throats. Let the kids decide for themselves.” I’ve heard this a lot – even from people who call themselves Christians. But we don’t live in a spiritually neutral world. If we leave our children to decide for themselves, that’s exactly what will happen. Their flesh will choose what the flesh desires and they will reap the due reward of sin. As St. Paul writes, “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:8). It is a sin to let children make up their own minds regarding how to worship God. God commands fathers – and mothers as well – to make up their minds for them. We teach them the pure word of God, and the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in their hearts. We can’t make them believe. No. But we can be faithful in confessing the God who alone is able to give them life.

We don’t make children. God does. People think they do make children. They look at children as a commodity that they can reproduce at will, or else as a burden to be put on hold. And certainly this outlook has an effect on what they think their duties are toward their kids. Even Christians will talk this way as they cleverly plan out their families according to their own wisdom as though they were in charge of these things – as though they knew what was best. But they’re not – and they don’t. Christian couples should know this. God makes children. God is in charge. God knows what is best – both for us and for the life he commits to our care. That’s why he cares for them even while their lives are in our hands. God calls children a blessing, and it is he who both opens and closes the womb, even as he so richly blesses the children he gives us. Since it is God, and God alone, who gives life, it is also God who establishes the responsibilities that fathers and mothers have toward the kids entrusted to their keeping.

Some responsibilities come naturally. It isn’t long before new parents are in the swing of things. Their own inexperience becomes less an obstacle and more of a cause for adventure really. And this is good. Through sickness and temper tantrums and the occasional popcorn kernel stuck up the nose, young parents learn to take things in stride and not be discouraged by how unprepared they often feel. After all, the tools are available to deal with whatever may come. And so we give these tools to our children too, and teach them to make their own decisions. We equip them with the necessary tools to deal with the world wisely as they grow more and more ready to leave the nest.

And yet how many Christian parents neglect the most important preparation for their children! They are satisfied to see their children provided for in ways that even unbelievers are attentive. They make sure they are healthy, that they are doing well in school, that they are enjoying whatever sport they might be in – as though any of this matters at all compared to the gift of eternal life in Christ. And if they do permit religious instruction, they are satisfied to have someone else do it for them like with the rest of their education, forgetting that it is their responsibility first.

But how? How do Christian parents become so influenced by the world in seeing to their children’s needs that they neglect to teach them the greater need that Christ has filled? Well it’s a spiritual problem. It’s because – just like their inexperience once stopped feeling like such an obstacle to their parenting, so also their sin stops feeling like such an obstacle. It doesn’t seem to be as dangerous as they thought. But it is an obstacle. And it is dangerous. And it remains this way for every single one of us throughout our lives. We must not take our sin in stride, but deal with it squarely and promptly with the word of God — or rather permit God to deal with us according to his word — as often as it occurs to us that we are poor miserable sinners.

And hardly can anything do a more effective job of teaching us how unworthy and inadequate we are than the task of raising children. It is a task so far above us that it cannot help but humble us. This is so true not only as we consider how selfish we are and lazy, and intemperate, and whatever other vice we might struggle with as a father or mother — but it is true especially as we see our children manifest the very sin that we ourselves cannot overcome. They have inherited our sin. And they mimic our sin as well.

To what can we turn when we see our failures as parents? What comfort can we find when we see that we have sinned against the God who gave us life – especially when the fruit of our failures in many cases just may spell eternal death for one we love? This is what is so wonderful about what God requires of us in the first place. Because it is to this that we sinners return as often as we fail. We return to the gospel. We flee to Christ. In our guilt and shame and regret that we can’t do or undo this or that, we find forgiveness in the very gospel that God tells us to teach to our children. And it remains the gospel. We remain God’s children. Surely if our affection does not fade, God’s commitment cannot waver. He keeps his promises long after we have broken them.

Knowing this, that we are God’s beloved children, is what equips us to raise his children as godly parents. It’s like what those radio commercials tell us: you don’t need to be perfect to be a perfect parent. It’s clever, isn’t it? And there’s something to it. But we do need to know who is perfect, and who lived the perfect life in our place. Because he’s the one who takes our guilt away.

Mary and Joseph were not perfect parents. They knew it better than anyone who ever lived. Can you imagine the pensiveness with which they would have embarked on being this Child’s mom and dad? The knowledge of their own inadequacy can’t even be compared to the most unprepared young couple driving home from the postnatal ward for the first time. Their God lay in their care. God was committed to sinners. Their Creator who required from them what he required from every father and mother here humbled himself to depend on them to do the job right. What a responsibility! How did they manage?

Well, they managed in the same way that God expects us to manage. They studied the word of God. They clung to it. They found encouragement and a good conscience knowing that they were doing the right thing in teaching this Child what God had taught them. They found forgiveness for their foolishness, and for their failures, and for their doubt. They found God’s grace and mercy in the word that they were required to teach this Boy. He was the Word of God made flesh. But he submitted with eager ears to the instruction of sinful parents who taught him from the Bible. Not only does this tell us how God regards the office of father and mother, that he would submit to their authority and learn from them, but it teaches us how God regards the written word of Scripture as well.

Jesus knew as much as he did while spending his time in the Temple talking with the priests because Joseph and Mary had taught him at home. As God commanded, they brought him to celebrate the Passover, and taught him what it meant. Of course as God, he knew all of this. But he had humbled himself. This means he didn’t make use of his divine knowledge of all things. In his humility, he chose to learn it as a Child. And he learned it well. He chose to take our place, and the place of our children – not only to be instructed by the law, but to fulfill it.

St. Paul writes to Timothy: “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). So also from childhood Christ Jesus learned to know the Scriptures. He who was divine Wisdom incarnate, submitted to what the Bible teaches in order to fulfill its promises and save us. The Bible taught him what it teaches us. It teaches us concerning our Father’s business. That’s what Jesus said when Mary scolded him. “You should have known where to find me. You taught me. I am here in the Temple where the blood of the sacrifices is shed. I am here, learning what it is that my Father will require of me. This is where you need me to be.”

And this is where we need our children to be too. We need them to be where Christ has shed his blood to fulfill the Father’s wrath against sin. We need them to be where the Father’s face shines graciously upon sinners for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ who obeyed him in all things. This is the Father’s business: it is to give to us what his obedient Child fulfilled, and to lay on his Son what we, his disobedient children, deserve. That is why we come here – with out children – or if they are grown, with our children in our hearts and prayers — we come here because Jesus is here about his Father’s business. He is here covering us in his own righteousness, claiming us as his brothers and sisters through the waters of Baptism, and feeding us as his children through the Sacrament of his body and blood. He forgives us. He gives us life.

It is hard to raise children. It is humbling to see that they are sinners, patterned after our own weaknesses. In your children’s failures and stubbornness, you see your own. But you will not find your worthiness as a father or mother in your ability to do what God requires of you. Instead, find your worthiness in the perfect obedience that Jesus rendered to Joseph and Mary. Jesus shows what kind of sinners he came to redeem by going home with them and being subject to them. And so he goes home with us as well, and serves us. He blesses our homes. He covers our sin. He loves our children and seeks their eternal good. They are his. And so are we.

In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Pastor John Christian Preus



John 2:1-11 Epiphany II

 Miraculous Mercy

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The word miracle is generally defined as something that we can’t explain by natural cause. But that’s not always how the word is used. At the birth of a child, for instance, people say, “What a miracle.” But babies are about as natural as it gets. Sure it’s amazing, but if that’s the standard for what we call a miracle, then we should just as much call the germination of a seed a miracle. Or the growing of a little sprout into a full-grown vine. Or the ripening of a grape, the fermentation of its juice into alcohol, the perfection of a fine wine. Amazing! Yes. But all of this is perfectly natural; so it’s technically not miraculous at all. In nature, God turns water into wine every day.

But outside of nature, God did this only once. When we talk about miracles in the New Testament, we’re talking about specific things that Jesus did that go beyond God’s normal activity in the natural world around us. These miracles, which the Apostle John calls signs, serve three purposes which we’ll consider this morning: 1st - Jesus’ miracles reveal His glory as the Son of God, 2nd - they were performed for the benefit of others, and 3rd - they teach something still today about His mission as the Savior of sinners.


Unlike the birth of any baby today, the incarnation of God’s Son was a miracle. St. John makes reference to this miracle in the prologue to his Gospel: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But then John continues with the following words that describe events that occurred years later: “and we beheld His glory,” he writes, “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” This glory of which John speaks of beholding was first beheld in that portion of his Gospel which we just heard.

It took Jesus 30 years before He manifested the fact the He was God. Talk about patience. Of course, Mary knew it all along. Although she didn’t always understand what He did and said and why—there was always more for her to ponder in her heart than for her to comprehend with her mind. But she knew who her Son was, and she knew what He was capable of doing. And that is why even before we hear of the first miracle that Jesus performed, we hear Mary make a bold request to her Son, and in this request, we hear the Church’s very first prayer to Jesus: Help.

What a wonderful prayer. That’s what we pray, Help—Help us Good Lord. When we pray for Jesus to help us, we are praying for Jesus to manifest Himself as the Son of God our Savior. And that’s exactly what Mary prayed for too. But look at what she said. All she actually did was plainly state her predicament. “They have no wine,” she said. Simple enough. And that’s what we do. We bring to Jesus not some convincing appeal as to why He should help us. We simply lay before Him the obvious – what we lack – what only God can fill – all our problems. In this lesson, Mary teaches us the confidence of prayer that the Christian Church assumes toward Jesus.

But look at how Jesus responds. “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” It almost sounds disrespectful, doesn’t it? Calling her woman. But on the contrary, this is how Jesus honored her. Not only was the title of ‘woman’ a respectful title in those days, but by calling her woman, Jesus also confirmed her faith in Him. He did this by hearkening back to that first promise of the Gospel that God had made to Adam and Eve. I will put enmity between you and the woman,” He said to the devil, “and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” By addressing Mary as ‘woman,’ Jesus essentially said to her, “Mother, you were right to ask for help from Me. I am the Seed of the woman; you are the woman. You were right to look to the Son of God to save you from all your troubles.” All this in the word woman. 

Woman … My hour has not yet come.” With these words, Jesus conceded that He had an hour that would come—an hour when His heel would be bruised by the one whose head He had come to crush – an hour of darkness on the cross where God would die for the sins of men as the eternal Father turned His angry face from His eternal Son. A time was set for Jesus to reveal Himself as the Savior on the cross. But this time had not yet come. What had come was the time for Him to manifest Himself as the Son of God. This was the first purpose of His miracle.


The second purpose of the miracles that Jesus performed was to benefit others. We see this very clearly when Jesus turned water into wine. The celebration of a wedding in first century Palestine was the party of a lifetime. Great deals of money and time were invested to make a wedding a wonderful event. And even greater than this — a couple’s future honor and good name were also invested. To run out of wine would have been more than a disappointment or buzz kill. It would have brought shame on them. They had a huge problem – even if from our perspective it might seem superfluous and petty. They needed help.

Mary must have been close to the bride and groom. And so she brought the problem to Him who was able to help. “[But] what does this have to do with Me?” Jesus said. Well, that’s a good question. What did it have to do with Jesus? But Jesus wasn’t showing a lack of concern for the problem. No. He just wanted to put it in its proper place. What do our problems have to do with Jesus? We should always know the answer to this question when we pray to Him. And Jesus shows us the answer by turning water into wine. He made this young couple’s problem His own.

It’s significant that Jesus chose a wedding to reveal His glory for the first time. By doing so, Jesus honored marriage. He honored that first estate upon which all society is built. He honored that institution that is so easily despised. He honored that sacred relationship against which, and within which, I think, most of our sins are committed.

Now, it’s easy to look at how the world around us dishonors marriage. Nowadays, people redefine it even to accommodate homosexual union. But God created them male and female. People justify sex outside of marriage simply by appealing to mutual consent. But what about God’s consent? Some people don’t even look for God’s blessing at all, but rather prize more highly their own commitment to each other as though this is what will sustain their relationship. But such marriages crumble as quickly as the fickle feelings of devotion upon which they are built. A solid marriage needs God. And even within the marriages of Christians, children have been regarded as a burden to be avoided and prevented rather than as a blessing to be welcomed from God. Even among Christians, divorce has become the catch-all problem solver.

What other sins do we Christians commit against marriage? Do husbands love their wives as they ought? Do wives honor their husbands? Do husbands act as worthy heads? Do they lead devotions at home? Do wives encourage them? What problems do these cause for us and for our families?

Look at the problems that our culture faces right now, and it seems that almost all of them can be traced to a bad attitude toward marriage. We see many of our own problems have the same source – whether we’re married or not.

But when Jesus honored marriage the way He did, He gave promise to ours as well. He didn’t just honor marriage as some lofty idea – an institutional ideal. No, He restored joy to one particular union of a man and a woman whose names we don’t know. He saw their problem and He made it His own. He saw what they needed and He gave it to them.

So what problems has your sin caused you? What heart-ache, what regret? Maybe you can’t even trace it to any given sin at all – but there’s trouble in your life. There’s worry that plagues your heart. And not just within marriage, but in your life in general. Yet look at what Mary did. She told Jesus what the problem was. She didn’t explain it. She didn’t say how it happened. She simply expressed her concern to Him who had the power and the willingness to help.

And look at what Jesus did. He didn’t give advice on how to plan a better party. He helped. “What does this have to do with Me?” He asked. Everything. There is no problem too common or minor for Jesus to help us with. We may not ask for or expect, or get a miracle. But by performing this first miracle as He did on this day, Jesus put all of our problems in their proper perspective. And He showed Himself willing to help even us. But He doesn’t help us just by giving us marital advice. No, He helps us by joining Himself to our marriages – by coming into our homes. By providing Himself as the foundation – He teaches us to forgive one another by forgiving us.


The third purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to teach us about His mission as the Savior of sinners. And so, through the help He offers us, Jesus teaches us what our true need is. When we pray to God for help, when we cast our cares on Him who cares for us, we do so as sinners. We don’t simply present a list of fix-it requests so that our lives might be molded to our own desires. Rather we confess to Him our sinful desires, and ask that He create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. When we present to Jesus our problems and failures, we present to Jesus our sin—whether you see the connection between our sins and our troubles or not. Because it is for the sake of the forgiveness that He wins for us that He also gives us all things.

Now since I’ve been preaching as much about what Mary did as what Jesus did, I’d like to point out the last thing that she said. She didn’t say it to Jesus. She didn’t tell Him what to do or how to help. Instead she told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” In the same way that Mary teaches the Church to pray and bring all petitions to God through Jesus Christ His Son, so also Mary teaches the Church today and through all ages what to tell Christ’s ministers. Do what Jesus tells you to do.

We don’t provide our pastors with programs and methods on how to solve our problems. We don’t call on Christ’s ministers to manipulate His Divine Service in order to meet our felt needs. No, we call them to do what Jesus gave them to do—to deliver to us what Jesus earned for us as He lived a life of obedience in our place to the very law that exposes the source of our guilt and misery. We call them to preach the gospel that delivers to each one of us the life that Christ earned for us by giving His life into death. We call His servants to humbly heed the word of our Lord who through them performs an even greater miracle than turning water into wine—but for our eternal benefit He turns wine into the very blood He shed on the cross to make total satisfaction for all our sin.

And what greater joy could we reap than by receiving that which quenches our deepest thirst and greatest need for a righteousness that we have not produced? Just as the nervous moments leading up to that first taste-test in Cana were met with more than relief that the water was wine, so also the heaviest heart that comes to this altar believing what this blood has won for you, will be met with more than glad relief, but a pledge of eternal peace from God Himself that cannot be taken away.

On that day in Cana at a wedding, Jesus first manifested His glory as the Son of God by turning water into wine. He helped the seemingly fleeting need of a young couple who staked their happiness on how much wine there was to drink. In so doing, Jesus showed Himself to be happy and able to heal our marriages, to mend our relationships, and to restore our lost joys. But much more importantly, He provided a sign – as St. John calls His miracles – a sign by which His disciples first believed in Him. And so we fix our hearts on that sign that He prepares today – through the word you hear and through that which you will receive – that what the Son of God accomplished for you on Calvary is also yours today. Believe it. On this we stake our happiness, and our eternal life in heaven.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Pastor John Preus January 15, 2012



Matthew 8:1-13 Epiphany III

God’s Will, God’s Word

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The leper said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Everything depends on God’s will. If God doesn’t want to do something, it won’t be done. It’s that simple. But Jesus was willing. He touched this man and healed him. This is what the leper had counted on.

The centurion said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Everything depends on God speaking. God says it and so it is. This is how He created the universe. God’s word is powerful. Jesus didn’t have to go anywhere in order to heal this man’s servant. He only had to say the word. The centurion relied on the power of God’s word.

These are the two things that our faith is concerned about: God’s will and God’s word. Everything depends on these. In fact, since we’re not able to know God’s will apart from His word, as far as we are concerned, these two things are really the same thing. We can’t know what God wants without Him telling us what He wants? We have no access to God’s thoughts toward us apart from where He makes His thoughts crystal clear. Nowhere else does He do this than in the words that He inspired His prophets and apostles to write. We call this word Holy Scripture, or the Bible. These are the two things that faith trusts in: God’s gracious will, and the power of God’s word.

It is significant that Jesus healed the leper in our Gospel lesson by touching him with real physical contact, because physical contact between a leper and anyone else was absolutely out of the question. He was unclean. He wasn’t allowed to even come near anyone, but was required by law to shout out, “Unclean! Unclean!” in order to warn healthy people who might have come near. He was totally helpless. There was no cure for him, there was only more pain, more misery, loneliness, and rejection. But this man wasn’t afraid to go to Jesus. Why not? Because he knew something about Jesus. He knew that Jesus would not turn him away or reject him because of his uncleanness. There is only one way he could have had such confidence. He had heard the true word about Jesus. There is no other possible explanation for his bold approach. Somebody must have told him who Jesus was and what He could do, and that He was willing to do it. This is how it works: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  

The centurion was also an outsider. He was a Gentile, not a Jew. He came to Jesus to intercede for his servant who was paralyzed and in terrible pain. Jesus praised this man’s faith as being greater than any He had seen in Israel. Why? Because this man knew that what Jesus said was all that mattered.

The leper appealed to the Lord’s goodwill. The centurion appealed to the power of His word. These are the two things that faith is concerned about. In fact they are the very foundation of our Christian faith. Faith is trust in God that He is willing to help and save us. Faith is trust that when God’s word promises help, it is as good as given. And, as we’ve seen, the two are inseparable. We can only know God’s goodwill in His word, and when we have His word, we have His goodwill.  

Apart from God’s clear promises we are in darkness—we are left to rely on ourselves. We can pray for help. We can wish for help. We can imagine that help will come. But without Him speaking to us and promising His help, our prayers are no more than wishes without anymore solid a foundation than our own imaginations. Think about it. It doesn’t matter what we want from God if God hasn’t promised to give it to us.   We need to be well acquainted with what God promises in His word to give.

In the eighteenth century a movement known as rationalism swept across Europe. Many who considered themselves more enlightened attacked the truth of God’s word as unreasonable, and mocked the idea of faith as an old vestige of ignorance. The church greatly suffered because of this.

But the Christian church suffered perhaps even more because of the foolish efforts of a certain German theologian by the name of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Schleiermacher took it upon himself to try and reconcile the doctrine of the church to the so-called “enlightened” opinions of modern man. He thought he could redeem the respectability of religion by redefining a few terms so that they weren’t so hard for rationalists to accept. Of course, all this did was change the very message of the Gospel. But of all these terms, the greatest damage that Schleiermacher did through his influence in the church was in redefining the word faith itself. Here is his definition: “Faith is the feeling of absolute dependence on God.” With this definition, he made the phenomenon of faith itself more important than the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).

But faith is more than a feeling. We don’t rely on how dependent we feel towards God. That would be a reliance on our own religious efforts. The activity of faith is not to look at all the things that we want, and then to realize how much we depend on God to give it to us. NO. The activity of faith is to learn from God’s word what God wants! It is to learn His gracious will toward us, and to trust Him when He promises to give us what we need.

To this day, Schleiermacher is celebrated by many as the man who saved religion. But he did so only by inventing a false one. And it’s no different from the false religion that sinners have been inventing from the beginning. This is the nature of idolatry. From the beginning, people have been inventing false gods by inventing false promises from their false gods. This idolatry lives in every human heart. It is the essence of sin to place confidence in what you yourself feel rather than what God Himself says. The idolater refuses to recognize the authority of God’s will because he refuses to be bound by God’s word.  

But look at the faith of the man suffering from leprosy. His faith was different. He did not search his faith for what he needed, but sought Jesus. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” With this, he confessed that Jesus was God. He called him Lord. And when he said: “If you are willing,” he was not questioning that Jesus was willing to show him mercy. Just the opposite—he was appealing to God’s gracious and merciful will. He was confessing that Jesus was the God who could help him. He was acknowledging his own helplessness, and inability to help himself in any way. Lord if YOU are willing. The leper did not depend on his own will or desire to cure himself or to be cured.   He didn’t depend on his own feeling of dependence, but depended instead on God’s willingness to help.

The leper did not say to Jesus, “If I am willing, you can make me clean.” No. He said, “If YOU are willing.” Neither did Jesus respond by grilling the man to see how much he truly wanted to be helped. No. He directed Him to what Christian faith holds onto, and then He gave it to him. He gave him what his faith desired; He gave him what GOD truly wanted.

The source of our faith does not reside in our own will. It resides in God’s will. It is God’s willingness – not ours – that faith receives and depends upon. Our will, our wants, our desires can accomplish nothing at all. But God’s will – what He desires for us – is everything. And it is revealed and given in His word alone.

Our Gospel lesson this morning teaches us about the power and confidence of Christian prayer. Christians pray. If you don’t pray, you’re not a Christian. Yet, we don’t look to the fervor of our prayers in order to know the value and strength of our faith. No, we look to the word of God that we put our faith in and that teaches us how to pray. In the same way, we do not look to our prayers to guide us through life. We are not guided by our prayers. We are not guided by where we express our desires, but where God expresses His.

God directs our lives by His will, not by our own. This is why our Lord has taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” The power of prayer is not that it gains information about God’s will apart from God’s word. It is precisely the opposite. Prayer always flows from faith in His word. As Jesus promises in John 15, “If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”  

Faith does not expect from God what He has NOT promised. Faith expects and trusts in what God HAS promised. There is a world of difference. It’s the difference between playing God and trusting in God. It is the difference between trying to get God’s will to conform to ours, and submitting to His will, knowing that it must be gracious even as God is gracious. True faith believes that God knows better than we do about what we need. You can be sure of this: If God hasn’t promised something to you in the words of Holy Scripture, you don’t need it. If He has promised it to you, you can be sure that He will give it to you. Both the leper and the centurion prayed to Jesus. Both prayed in faith. Their faith was expressed by appealing to God’s will and God’s word.  

We are currently celebrating the season which we call Epiphany. Epiphany means manifestation. Jesus manifested and revealed His glory — not the glory of God which is that unapproachable light that would destroy all who seek him, but the glory of God that seeks out to save those who suffer from sin and all its consequences. This is the Light that enlightens the Gentiles by revealing what God wants to give to all nations in Christ.

While Jesus’ miracles revealed the power of His divine word, Jesus’ suffering on Calvary reveals His goodwill to sinners. These two go together. Jesus is able – powerful enough – to give you forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He is God. He wants to give you forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He is your Savior. He who bore your sins on the cross reveals this same glory today.

No, He doesn’t promise that He will remove every sickness from our bodies. That is why we must pray, “If it is Your will,” when we pray for health and healing. But He does promise forgiveness for every sin. And that is why, even more importantly, we do NOT pray, IF it is your will, forgive me for my wrong.” We know it is His will. He has said so in the Bible. He has proven it by fulfilling the Father’s will that man live a perfect life of obedience, and by offering His own perfect life to pay for our lives of sin. And here where He speaks to us His word, He has said that we need this forgiveness, that He has died to win this forgiveness, that He has risen to make it ours, and that He gives this forgiveness through the very words He speaks to us – as He baptizes us, as He absolves us, as He gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink. Here His will and His word are bound together for us still today. Faith comes to us by hearing of God’s goodwill toward us – so that by prayer we may confess with our mouths what we believe in our hearts, and ask of Him what He has promised to give.

In Jesus name, Amen.

Pastor John Preus January 22, 2012



John 19:31-37 Good Friday

That the Scripture Should Be Fulfilled

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Our Lord suffered in body and soul on the cross to save us poor sinners from the eternal sufferings of hell. Isaiah foretold it in that beautiful chapter that I just read. God’s Servant bore our sin. The Lord God laid them on Him so that He might take our place. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted as though He were responsible for every sin that makes God mad. That’s what it means to take our place. He took our place under His Father’s anger – an anger that He totally agreed with. And He agreed to endure it too. No one has ever known such pain. But He knew it. And by His knowledge, God’s righteous Servant justified many. Because His pain was not useless — it was not senseless. By suffering the way He did, Jesus bore our iniquities.

God justifies us, that is, He declares us to be righteous in His sight, by taking our sin away in a very real way. God requires that we live a holy life. He also requires that the sinner be punished for his sin. God receives satisfaction for both – both the obedience that we could not render and the deserving death of the sinner – in the same place! He demands the perfect life of His Son. And so, in obedience to His Father’s will, Jesus poured out His soul unto death.

And when He did, although His physical thirst was mocked by sour wine, His thirst for our salvation was fully quenched — because it was in His pain, and in the mockery He endured that Jesus made peace between God and sinners. There was nothing beyond the painful death of Jesus that God demanded for our salvation. This was it! And that’s why Jesus was able to cry out what He did: “It is finished! – it’s done!”

And so we thank Him for it—“for that last triumphant cry,” we sing. He paid for everything. Our salvation was won. Jesus did what He came to do. But of course, just because our salvation was accomplished, just because it was finished, does not mean that we are finished learning. God continues to teach us through the death of His Son.

And so I’d like to consider this evening the events recorded right after Jesus died. The image of the crucifixion of Jesus has so much to teach us. It’s like a visual sound bite of His triumphant cry: “It is finished.”

People often find the symbol of the crucifix unsettling, though. Christians even will make the claim that, because we worship a risen Lord, the image of Him hanging on the cross is inappropriate. But this doesn’t make sense for two reasons. First of all, an empty cross can indicate that the body is rotting in the grave just as much as it can indicate that the body is raised. All the empty cross really signifies is that the body has been removed. Now, an empty cross is a perfectly fine symbol inasmuch as it reminds us of what happened there. But it does not teach the resurrection of Christ any better than the crucifix does. In fact, as I’ll explain in the conclusion of my sermon, the crucifix does a much better job!

Now the other reason that the objection to the crucifix doesn’t make sense is because Holy Scripture doesn’t object to the crucifix. On the contrary, Scripture draws our attention to it. Our God wants to be known and can only be known, in the death of His Son. That’s why it is His good will that we preach Christ crucified. So let’s see what the image of our Savior’s lifeless body still teaches us today by looking at what it taught St. John.

As an eyewitness to the horrors which artists have ever since labored to portray, the Evangelist records for us how evening was fast approaching. The ever-so-pious Jews did not want to curse the new day by leaving a dead body hanging on the Sabbath (especially since it was during the Passover), and so they requested that the legs of those crucified be broken. This would hasten their death so that their bodies could be taken down and discarded. Pontius Pilate obliged them. First the two thieves were put out of their misery.

But upon approaching Jesus, they noticed that He was already dead. Something else had killed Him. And so to make sure that breaking His bones would not be needed, they lunged a spear into His side. And from His body poured out blood and water.

Now, John saw the whole thing: His groaning, sighing, bleeding, dying. It happened. He was there. But it’s interesting that John doesn’t swear by the fact that he saw Jesus tortured and killed. He doesn’t break out and say “And he who has seen has testified…” about the actual crucifixion of Jesus. Of course he could’ve – ‘cause he saw it. But no, instead these events John swears by – isn’t that interesting? – these events that occurred only once it was finished. He interrupts His beautiful narrative for the first time in order to confirm what happened once Jesus was already dead. And the reason He did is because these two events prove that Scripture was fulfilled.

Not one bone was broken.

God commanded Moses that not one bone of the Passover lamb be broken. It was to be pure and without blemish. The fact that none of Jesus’ bones were broken proved that He really was the true Passover Lamb that all the other lambs pointed to. An imperfect lamb was not to be chosen for the Passover, because God would not choose an imperfect Lamb — God would not choose His second-best. He would choose His own Son who would live a holy life in order that His sacrifice on the cross might be valuable. God kept Him whole. He guarded His ways. He kept Him safe from the mob who wanted to break His bones time and again with stones. God preserved Him in order that He might give Himself willingly when His hour finally came. And His hour came.

Jesus bore the sin of the world. What killed Him was not the fact that He was beaten so badly, or the fact that His bones were weak and out of joint – although the pain He endured can’t be measured. But what killed Him was the fact that God poured out upon Him all His wrath against our sin. The pain in His soul – the guilt that our own consciences only dimly feel – Jesus felt acutely. We hear the law that condemns us. We put it out of our minds. We find ways to lessen the pain. We make excuses. We ignore our sin – sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how honest we’re trying to be. We ignore the sins of others – maybe those we love – as though it were an act of gentleness on our part. Oh, we know what the law says … we know…

But Jesus knew the law better. He reflected the law’s goodness in His own Person as the eternal Son of the Father. He agreed with the law’s condemnation against sin, because He loved the righteousness it required. And so when He took our sin upon Himself and became the sinner in our place, He knew our sin better than we do. God did not ignore it. He was not gentle. And the pain was more than we can imagine. He made no excuses, but bowed His head in submission to every painful and embarrassing accusation of guilt – even as darkness hung around His soul and the very sun that He placed in the sky turned black.

Only He could bear the sin of all, because only He who knew no sin, truly knew the depth of the sin He bore – so much that St. Paul says, “He became sin for us.” The angel of death unsheathed his sword and demanded the lifeblood of Him whose bones were not broken. Scripture was fulfilled. God kept His promise.

Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, the wrath of God has passed over us. The piercing spear made this known. The spear didn’t kill Him. But it revealed who did, and for whom. By demanding the life of Jesus in our place, God had mercy.

The pierced side of Jesus revealed to those who did not hear His cry that it was indeed finished. He was dead. And it reveals this to us too. But it also reveals so much more! That’s why John swears by it: “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled…” Our faith rests in that which fulfills Scripture.

The reason God demanded that all bones be left unbroken was because God was not done with this body. It was not to be discarded. Because the body of Christ on the cross, even in death, remained true God and true Man. God did not abandon His body. Jesus did not stop being fully God and fully Man even when He was dead on the cross. As we sing in the hymn:

O sorrow dread!
Our God is dead,
Upon the cross extended.

Yes, but there on the cross, His bones were preserved for the day of His resurrection. And this is why the symbol of the crucifix is so precious. Because it reveals not only Christ’s cry of triumph over God’s wrath – it is finished. But it also means that death is not the end. Not for Jesus who bore our sin – not for us who still struggle against it. The dead body of Jesus on the cross means life for us.

If a dead body were pierced today, blood and water would not flow forth. Death would flow forth – half-coagulated blood that stinks. That’s the value of death. That’s what we have to offer. But Jesus’ body was not like other dead bodies. Just as His bones were spared from breaking, so His body was spared from rotting – as the Psalm that we will be chanting early Easter morning says it:

Therefore my heart is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in the grave,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

They pierced Him to see if He would move. But even in His motionless death, life flowed forth. Blood – that gives life to sinners — water – which cleanses us from all unrighteousness and quenches our thirst for what we have not earned. But Jesus earned it. And He gives it. Even in His death, the promise of His resurrection shines forth. And so in the image of His crucifixion, we find our own hope for resurrection as well.

Look at the crucifixes that you own – on your walls, the ones that hang around your neck. Look closely. He’s dead. Look closer. See what John saw. You’ll see a little mark in His side where He was pierced. The Scriptures foretold it: “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” We pierced Him. And so by faith we look – to the death that gives us life.

The crucifix not only directs us to where our salvation was won. It directs us to where it is given out. It directs us to the Scripture it fulfilled. It leads us to find in the unbroken body, and in the blood once shed the forgiveness for our sins in Holy Communion. It leads us to the water that once buried us with Christ in Holy Baptism – that joined us to His death in order that we might be joined to His resurrection as well. If God so honors Him who bore your sins, surely He will honor you whose sins have been washed away.

And so we continue by faith to keep our eyes fixed on Him who died and rose until we behold by sight and unspeakable joy the Lamb slain at His eternal banquet in heaven.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Pastor John Preus March 29, 2013



John 18-19 Good Friday

What is Truth?
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:

O Son of God, eternal Word,
Divine Redeemer, dearest Lord,
We marvel at Thy suff’ring;
For Thy disgrace, and pain, and shame,
We'll ever magnify Thy name,
And praise Thy glorious off’ring. 

. Jesus teaches us to say Amen. Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer, which we have been considering during our evening services this Lent, and so we say Amen to it. Jesus teaches us to say Amen not simply by telling us to say Amen when we end our prayers. But He Himself also sets the example.

Jesus says Amen when He wants to affirm that something is true. How many times throughout His ministry here on earth did He say this word! Amen is the word of one who is confident of the truth. And Jesus was very confident of the truth. In fact, He was the very truth of which He spoke. Jesus declared to His disciples shortly before He went to the cross: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; nobody comes to the Father, except through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus is truth, and His words are truth.

In our day of postmodernism and moral relativism, Jesus’ claim to have the truth is very offensive. Not only does this claim exclude everyone’s own lofty ideas of what is true and good, but Jesus’ claim to truth also includes the uncompromising condemnation of sinners. If we are to say Amen to Jesus’ Amen, we must confess that we and all other people in the world were born in sin, born enemies of God, and opposed to everything good and righteous. Now, this isn’t very nice to say. But that is what Jesus says: “Amen, Amen, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). If we say Amen to Jesus’ Amen, we are confessing that without Jesus we are slaves to unrighteousness and enemies of God.

And it’s not only our modern world that finds this Amen so offensive. When Jesus told the Jews that they needed him because they were all lost in their sins, they became so angry—they were so offended—that they tried to kill Him. When we say Amen to Jesus’ Amen, we are confessing with Jesus and Isaiah that all our righteousness is as filthy rags. Think of it! We are confirming with conviction that outside of Christ all the nice things we do, all the nice thoughts we have, all the nice words we speak – everything – is sin and earns us death and eternal condemnation. When we say Amen to Jesus’ Amen, we are confessing that we need Jesus absolutely, that we need a new birth from Him, a new heart, new emotions, and a new life. Saying Amen to Jesus’ Amen is difficult. In fact, it is impossible for sinners to do it by any skill or will of their own. Those words that Martin Luther taught us in the Small Catechism, he himself learned from Jesus, when he writes: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.” So Jesus says: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Saying Amen to Jesus’ Amen means to confess that we are so broken, so pathetic, that we don’t even have the power to recognize the depth of our misery outside of the inspiration of God.

To say Amen is to confess that what we have said is the truth. This is why Jesus says Amen so often. As He said to Pilate: “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37). Jesus came into the world to bear witness to the truth. Up to the time when He was handed over to Pontius Pilate, Jesus had borne witness to the truth. That’s what He was sent to do; that’s what He enjoyed doing. He was faithful to this task not only out of obedient love to His Father in heaven, but also in humble love toward sinners who needed the truth to set them free. Jesus preached for three years to the lost children of Israel and to the Gentiles too. He had taught them that they were sinners and that they needed Him. And for bearing witness to this truth, for preaching this message, Jesus had been led to Pilate to be crucified. And then Pilate responds: “What is truth?”

It is as if Pilate had said: “Why do you say Amen so often? How are you so certain of this truth?” Jesus spoke the truth – how it would set people free, liberate them from their bondage, ease their pain, save them from death, hell, and the devil. And now finally someone asks the simple question: “What is truth? Why do you keep saying that?” Here’s His chance! – to explain how undeniable – how irrevocable – how incorruptible everything He has said truly is, and yet, what does He do? Jesus says nothing. But by saying nothing, He says it all. He says nothing, but He does answer Pilate’s question. He chooses to answer Pilate by suffering instead of speaking. And so He silently affirms the truth of Isaiah’s prophecy: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet he opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” And by so doing He shows Pilate and the whole world the truth.

The truth that Jesus preached, the truth that we believe and confess, the truth that sets us free, the truth in which we rejoice and of which we speak without ceasing, this truth is Christ crucified for sinners. Dear Christians, this day is called good because on it Jesus recorded His last Amen. In His humble and miserable death on the cross, Christ showed the entire world the truth of all His preaching. He revealed the depth of our sin, for which the holy Son of God must die. And He revealed the depth of God’s love, who would hand His Son over to sinners to be shamed, insulted, and executed to take away the sins of the world.

All time and eternity meets its summit on Good Friday, when the incarnate Son of God sheds His blood for sinners. From eternity, God planned humanity’s redemption, and for the sake of Jesus’ bloody passion and death, He stayed His anger for countless generations. Finally, stripped of His clothes, beaten bloody by mockers and scoffers, crowned with thorns amid blasphemous curses and derision, Jesus humbly climbs Mount Calvary. Though sinners nail His hands and feet to the cross, this pain pales in comparison to the distress the Holy One of Israel must now face. The Father curses His Son. God names Jesus the guilty one of Israel, the substitute for all the sins of all humanity. God pours out His wrath on His beloved Son, the Son whom He had loved for all eternity. And Jesus, in His agony and abandonment, consents to it all. Without uttering a word, His Amen resounds clearly.

Pilate asked: “What is truth? Why do you say Amen?” And Jesus showed him. And He shows us what the truth is and why we can be so certain of it. The truth, as Jesus and His Apostles preached, is that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The truth is that we are sinners. And the truth is that Jesus has saved us from our sins. The truth is that Christ has freed us from sin to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. And we can be sure and certain of this truth because Jesus said Amen. He said, “It is finished,” and therefore it is finished.

With this Amen, as Isaiah foretold, He sprinkled many nations with His atoning blood. By His silent Amen, kings shut their mouths at Him. What more could Pilate do or say but wash His hands of this? For what had not been told him, he saw, as Isaiah said he would. And what he had not heard he was forced to consider (Isaiah 53:15).

Jesus has defined truth for us and confirmed it with the Amen of His suffering and death on the cross. And so we rejoice in the truth, and we boldly confess it and attach our Amen to it. We pray the Lord’s Prayer with confidence, knowing that the God who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up to suffer and die for us, will surely in Him give us all things. We call God our Father because through Christ’s death we have become God’s children. We pray that God’s name be kept holy among us, because at the name of Jesus all death and sin and evil must flee and we can abide with Him in love and holiness. We pray that God’s kingdom come because through Jesus’ death we no longer fear the coming of our Judge, but look forward to it with joy and hope. We pray that God’s will be done, because we know that it is good and gracious in our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that God will provide us with all that we need to support this body and life, because we know that God forsook His Son’s needs to care for ours. We pray that God would forgive us our sins, knowing that it pleased God that His Son be crucified for our iniquities. We pray that God would lead us away from temptation to doubt, despair and other great shame and vice by leading us to where the Lamb of God went uncomplaining forth. We pray that God would deliver us from evil, because we who lost in the mire of our own evil have been brought back to a love for goodness and righteousness through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. And finally we say Amen, because Jesus is our unfailing security, and in Him, in His blood and merit, we have the confidence to boldly confess our sin and our Savior, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Let us pray:

Your soul in griefs unbounded,
Your head with thorns surrounded,
You died to ransom me.
The cross for me enduring,
The crown for me securing,
You healed my wounds and set me free.

Your cords of love, my Savior,
Bind me to You forever,
I am no longer mine.
To you I gladly tender
All that my life can render
And all I have to You resign.

In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

John Christian Preus April 6, 2012



Matthew 4:1-11 Invocavit, Lent I

To Keep You in All Your Ways

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The eternal Son of God became Man and placed Himself under the law to redeem humanity whom the law condemned.

Jesus did not pretend to humble Himself. He didn’t pretend to be an ordinary man in order to put on some sort of show of heroism and holiness. No, He was truly humbled. In His mercy and wisdom, He declined to make full use of His divine prerogatives as the eternal Son of God in order that He might, as a man, fulfill what we could not. This is a mystery. And it means not only that, although He was God, Jesus hungered and thirsted as a man—and that He got tired and slept. It means also that, as a man, He trusted the word of God. He trusted the word of God as one who needed the word of God, as one who had no strength apart from it. He relied on it completely. Jesus did not claim a relationship with the Father other than the relationship that the Father revealed by speaking His word. Think of that! When Jesus prayed, He didn’t take a break from His state of humiliation in order to tap into some spiritual connection unavailable to you and me. No. He prayed as one who believed God’s promise to hear Him. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15). Jesus believed this. That’s why He prayed so much.

And talk about the day of trouble. Our Gospel lesson this morning sums up for us what trouble does—what trouble looks like when the devil’s wiles and cunning afflict the weakness of human flesh. It wasn’t just a generic trouble that Jesus faced, like some obstacle course. It was an attack specifically designed against the Son of God. The attacks of the devil that Jesus faced are not the attacks that the unbelieving world experiences. They are the attacks that only he experiences who can rightly call himself a child of God. They are the temptations of a Christian. The devil attacks those whom God has claimed.

Remember Jesus’ Baptism. It took place immediately before our text begins. God claimed Him. When Jesus was baptized, the Father spoke from heaven and identified Him as His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. And as this word could be heard, the Holy Spirit could be seen descending upon Him in the form of a dove. God claimed Him. “This is My beloved Son…” Of course He is. He is His Son from eternity. “…In whom I am well pleased.” Of course He is. As the Son of Man, He has obeyed the will of God in every way. And so the devil attacked.

Remember your Baptism. God claimed you. Water was applied like any other water, but with the word of God attached, it had power to give you a new birth, and make you His child and heir. You are His beloved. Consider what Paul writes in Galatians 3: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). So then, having put on Christ, you have put on His spotless robe of righteousness; you are adorned with His obedience by faith in the promise that requires nothing of you. With you, God is well pleased. And to you His Holy Spirit is given so that you can call out “Abba, Father” in the day of trouble. And He will deliver you. And yet, how shaky our faith is. We are threatened on every side.

It is no coincidence, that, having received God’s love and favor and mark of approval, that the Holy Spirit immediately led Jesus to where the devil would tempt Him. God didn’t tempt Him. No! God doesn’t tempt. He chastens. God tests our faith in order to plant it more firmly in His word. And so we see in Jesus, and even in our own lives, the Scriptures fulfilled:

Whom the Lord loves He corrects,
Just as a father the son in whom he delights.

God allows us to suffer the devil’s assaults precisely because we are His dear children. We are His children by faith alone. Not by sight or experience. We must know this. And so, in our place, as our Substitute as well as our example, Jesus lived the life of faith for us, and so was tempted for us.

The reason Jesus fasted was to make His body weak. Because in weakness He found strength. In weakness He had nothing to rely upon but God’s almighty word. He was hungry. It wouldn’t have been wrong for Him to eat. But the devil didn’t just tempt Jesus to eat – as though breaking His fast would have somehow ruined everything. No. It wouldn’t have. But the devil tempted Jesus to claim His right as the Son of God apart from God’s word. That’s what the temptation was. It was to act like He had the right to have what His body desired apart from Him who opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. But for a son to act like he deserves what his father gives him is to deny his father and to denounce his sonship.

And how often does this temptation succeed in us without so much as a fight? We go without. We suffer loss or must wait for what we want. “Ah, but no,” we complain, “I must claim it for myself now, because God might not give it otherwise. So it goes. We don’t deserve what we have. But we sure act like we do. Do we thank God for what He graciously gives us? Or do we credit our own labors? Is working on Sunday morning so that God can bless you more important than hearing His word? You do your job. I do mine. We all gotta make a living, right? That’s how we get our daily bread in the real world, right? Wrong. For where do we go so that we might know God as our Father in the first place? Where do we go that we might be His children, who gives us all things by grace? Jesus tells us. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

In his second temptation, the devil again appealed to Jesus’ Sonship. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, as he brought Jesus to the top of the Temple, if You really live on every word that He speaks, then “throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Now, the devil wasn’t just tempting Jesus to have a joyride or to live recklessly like by driving fast without a seatbelt. He was tempting Jesus to enjoy God’s gracious protection on His own terms. “God will take care of you. If you are truly His beloved, if He is truly well pleased with you, then He won’t let anything happen no matter what you do.” So the devil tempts. And of course there’s a grain of truth in what he says. He quotes Scripture, after all. It’s true that God sends His angels to tend to our needs. It’s true that God defends us against all danger and guards and protects us from all evil, as the Catechism puts it. But how does God do this? Consider Psalm 91, from which the devil quoted – these words – that served as our Gradual reading this morning. See if you can pick out the line that the devil omitted.

For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.
In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.

God protects us by keeping us in all our ways. God protected Jesus from harm and danger by keeping Him firmly planted where He was standing on top of the temple. I am standing here. I am not falling to my doom. By this fact alone I know that God is defending me. I don’t need to do something dangerous in order to experience His saving presence. No. Because it is not by straying from God’s word that one experiences its power. It is by remaining firmly grounded in it.

The devil will use religious experiences and spiritual feelings to distract the Christian from the plain meaning of God’s word, just like he tried to distract Christ. And so many Christians fall to this temptation. They tempt God, and so shipwreck their faith. “My faith is strong enough,” they say. “I believe in God, and the Gospel, and all that. I can rest securely in this, that I am a child of God.” And then all the while they neglect to hear God’s word. They throw caution to the wind, thinking that they could not possibly lose their faith, until the wind is blown out from under their wings, and they fall.

To identify yourself as a Christian apart from where God makes you a Christian is to tempt God. That is to say, it is to tempt God to think that you can retain saving faith without hearing the word of God upon which your faith relies. We think we can bear ourselves up on our own religious thoughts, and our own spiritual feelings. But we can’t. There is not a day in our lives that we can safely go without hearing God’s word. Sin and lust and temptation rise up every minute. And when a bad conscience is left untreated by the forgiveness we need to hear, then the heart grows numb, and divine mercy loses its appeal. God forbid.

Jesus resisted the devil’s temptation by standing firm on the word of God. That’s really the point here. Every temptation the devil concocts is centered in this. He aims to rip us away from God by ripping us away from what God says. He says, “If you are God’s son, if you are His beloved, if you are forgiven and justified and in God’s good favor, if you are baptized, then these are the things that you can expect from Him.” But the devil is a liar. We can expect that. We can expect to be deceived by everything he says, by everything in the world, and by every affection of our sinful hearts. We can expect disappointment. And in the midst of temptation, when our flesh is weak, we might wonder why God doesn’t just pluck us out and rescue us. Why must we be tested so? But it is in order that we might be drawn to His word. This is how He keeps us in all our ways – not by giving us a trouble-free life, but by giving us a way out of every temptation, and mercy in every failure. This is what we expect from God.

The final temptation in our Gospel lesson seems like the easiest to resist. Worship the devil? What is Satan thinking? “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” But take a look at what the devil promised Jesus. He promised what Jesus wanted the most! He took Him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” All these. But it is all these that God the Father already promised His Son if His Son remained faithful to Him. Listen to these words from Psalm 2:

I will declare the decree:
The Lord has said to Me,
are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give
The nations
for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth
for Your possession” (Psalm 2:7-8).

What was the devil hoping to accomplish? He was trying to keep Jesus from going to the cross. That’s what. He was trying to keep Jesus from His day of trouble, when He would glorify God by bearing the sin of the world. He was trying to retain his rule and authority over the sinful world stuck in darkness. But Jesus did not heed the devil’s temptation. He trusted His Father to deliver Him. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance. That’s what He did. He called upon God in the day of trouble. God delivered Him – He delivered Him into death, and Jesus glorified God.

Jesus glorified the Father and inherited the nations, not by avoiding pain, but by enduring pain. By enduring the weakness of our flesh, and by being fully acquainted with every way in which we suffer and struggle, Jesus truly sympathizes. He was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. But He does not just bear with us like a counselor (although He most certainly does). But He bears for us as our Savior. He prays for us. He intercedes for us and pleads His own obedience and victory in our place. Jesus didn’t become man and live by faith for His own exercise. He came down from heaven to redeem sinners who fall into temptation and sin against God every day. He came to fulfill what God demands of His children in order to give it to us. He came to receive in His body what God threatens the sons of disobedience in order to spare us. He came to earn all authority in heaven and on earth in order that He might exercise His authority over all nations by forgiving us all our sins. He inherits us. He makes us His brothers and sisters and rescues us from the wiles of Satan.

The devil promises what your flesh feels entitled to. He promises pleasure apart from pain. He promises what the nations have to offer, and what it seems God has failed to give us. But the devil is a liar. He leaves us high and dry and bemoaning our own guilt and shame, and the disappointment that our flesh is so weak. But God’s word is strong. And in human flesh and blood, our God took our place to give to us by faith in His word the strength we need to defeat the devil, and the righteousness we need to stand before God as blameless.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Pastor John Preus February 17, 2013


Matthew 4:1-11 Lent I/Midweek

Hallowed Be Thy Name

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It has been said that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. Well, that’s a pretty good trick. When people don’t believe that the devil is real, then they’re not prepared to defend themselves against his wiles. In fact, they soon become his accomplices in the evil that he wants to accomplish. The devil is a tempter. He leads people into sin. That’s how he accomplishes his work. We don’t see the devil. But we most certainly do experience sin.

But people don’t generally like to hear about the devil as though he actually existed — for the same reason that they don’t like to hear about their sin as though they were actually accountable to God.

Because of this, it’s not a very popular thing to talk about such things as sin, or Satan, or anything really religious-sounding like that. If you make mention of any of this kind of stuff, you just might be met with scoffing criticism or dismissal even by your friends. “Keep it in the pulpit!” they say. “These are the things of myths, and religion; but they are not real life.” This could not be more false. In this midweek Lenten series, we pastors will be addressing the theme of modern unbelief, as the front of your bulletin puts it. And so I’ll try to give a contemporary example of how the devil’s wiles are made light of by the unbelieving world:

About a week ago, one of the candidates running for the Republican nomination for President was given some grief by the media for a statement that he had made some years back. He called the battle that our country was fighting a “spiritual war.” He said that the father of lies has his sights set on the United States of America because we are “a good, decent, powerful, influential country.” “If you were Satan,” he asked, “who would you attack in this day and age?”

Boy did he get it. But even more than because they disagreed with his political views, many of his fiercest critics took issue with what he said because they don’t believe that the devil is real; they don’t believe that sin is real; they don’t believe that God will judge sinners or that our nation depends on God’s blessing in order to be prosperous. But they are wrong. They believe lies.

The devil is most certainly real. The dilapidation of our culture and the rampant spread and defense of immoral behavior around us can all be traced to the devil’s works and ways. And God judges sin. His judgment is real. The problems we see in our society —ranging from abortion and homosexuality to materialism and the doctrine of evolution— most certainly do provide some evidence that the devil is real and at work.

But this doesn’t mean that the statement I quoted earlier is without its flaws. It is not. If it is an effective trick to convince people that he doesn’t exist, it is an even more effective trick to confuse people about what it is that he does – more specifically, about who it is that he attacks.

The devil doesn’t attack us because we are Americans. He attacks us because we are children of God. And he attacks America or any other land in order to do harm to the Church that is found within it. It is not our patriotism or our industriousness, or our zeal for liberty and justice that makes the devil hate us. It is the righteousness of Christ that covers our consciences and makes us stand innocent before God our Maker. That is why he is active in the world. It is not our own virtue or any name that we can make for ourselves that makes the devil our fiercest enemy. No, it is the name of God, which has been placed upon us in Holy Baptism, it is His work that the devil despises.

If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?” What a silly question. The devil does not look for something new to attack in different eras of world history. He has always attacked the same thing. He attacks the word of God. He attacks the life of those who are called by God to live righteously. St. Peter warns us that he roams around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). His goal is always to tempt and harm Christ’s Church, and to bring shame to the name of God.

The devil hates God. God has called us to be His children in Holy baptism by joining His name to ours. When God joined us to Himself, He also made His enemies our enemies. But He does not leave us without defense. He gives us His word to fend off every assault. Look at what Jesus did in our Gospel lesson. Being God almighty, He could have told the devil to be gone from the very beginning. He could have said, “Not now, Satan. Go away from me. I will not be tempted today.” But no. Instead He endured his every attack and fought him off every single time by using the very weapon that He gives also to us – the word of God.

But Jesus did not just give us an example to follow in His run-in with the devil. Although it is a great example – and one which we must certainly follow. But no, He faced the devil in the wilderness in order to fulfill the righteousness that He gives to us in our Baptism. He fulfilled the very righteousness that we failed to fulfill. Since this was His mission, He needed to face the very temptations that we have faced and which we have succumbed to. Remember how the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His Baptism, when the voice of the Father announced His good pleasure with His Son. This same Holy Spirit is the one who led Jesus to be tempted in our place by the devil.

The righteousness that God promises and gives to us in the word and Sacraments is not just some abstract goodness that God graciously credits to our account. It is the actual success of Jesus’ life in our place. Jesus’ obedience perfectly meets and replaces our disobedience. In the temptation of Jesus, not only do we see Jesus’ victory over the devil, we also see how this is a victory over our sin and failures as well.

1st the devil tempted Him to believe that God was holding out. That He should trust in what His own work would provide. But Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus silenced the devil with the word.

2nd the devil brought Jesus to the top of the Temple, the House of the Lord – the TOP OF IT! Here is the height of religious experience. We too are tempted to rely in our religious experiences and our own spiritual devotion – But what word of God does Jesus refute such a temptation with? “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” We do not try to get God to affirm our religious experiences with any act of valor and spiritual bravery on our part – No, we go to the means of grace to receive what He wants to give us. Jesus needed nothing more. Neither do we. The Lord our God already gives us everything.

3rd the devil brings Jesus to the top of a mountain to see all the glory of all the kingdoms. The devil makes a pretty nice promise. And Jesus could avoid all suffering too. All glory!! But the promise that His Father made was better. From His Father, He would also inherit all nations. As we hear in Psalm 2: “You are my Son, today I have begotten You, Ask of Me and I will give you the nations for Your inheritance and the end of the earth as Your possession.” This promise was better because Jesus would inherit not the glory of the nations, but He would be the glory of all nations as he won their redemption.

He would inherit all of our sin and all of our failures to withstand these very temptations. But this reward would come through much suffering. He must pay for the sins of the world. And that he did. He who withstood the devil could not withstand the wrath of God that was against us. He suffered more in 3 hours than He could in 40 days. And so He earned what we could not.

The temptation of Jesus serves not only as a warning to us, but also as a comfort that whatever sin this reveals in us has been blotted out and replaced by the success of Jesus Christ. And He shares this success with us – not by giving us worldly power. But by giving us heavenly power – not the sword of the government, but the sword of the Spirit of God that gives and supports our faith in Him. God defends His name not with political or worldly might, but with His word. We pray, Hallowed be Thy name – not ours, but Thine. Listen to the explanation…

Hallowed be Thy name.

What does this mean?

God's name is certainly holy in itself; but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.

How is God’s name kept holy?

God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches and lives contrary to God's Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father.

When we pray that God’s name be kept holy, we pray for faith. We pray for what we first received when God joined his name to us. We pray that God defend us against the devil who would lead us into misbelief, despair and other great shame and vice.

When we were baptized, as we still hear in the Baptismal Liturgy today, we renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways. We continue to do so today by receiving the faith that clings to this word and that shows itself in fruits of righteousness and good works. God’s name is not kept holy by our sinful lives. Rather, it is kept holy by the righteous life of Christ which can be seen nowhere more clearly than where He wins victory over our every temptation. The value of our name as Christians is not determined by what we have done. Thank God that it is determined by what Christ has done for us.

In Jesus’ name. Amen

Pastor John Preus February 29, 2012


Psalm 32 [Matthew 4:1-11] Invocavit, Lent I

Blessed Is He Whose Transgression Is Forgiven

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A while back there was a popular movie that I remember watching. In it, the main character was a crooked lawyer who made a living getting criminals off the hook. But then something magical happened that made it impossible for this man to tell lies. A lawyer who couldn’t lie. Well it made for a pretty funny movie at least. In one scene, right after this lawyer lost his ability to lie, a faithful customer of his called him on the phone. He had just committed yet another crime, and, wanting to avoid punishment, he asked for legal advice. He received from his lawyer, however, a helplessly honest response:
“Quit breaking the law!”

What good advice. There are consequences to breaking the law. It’s wise to obey it. When one obeys the law, he has nothing to fear from those who enforce it. We avoid all sorts of punishment by doing what the one who is able to punish tells us to do.

It’s the same with the law of God. The law teaches us how to live good and pleasing life before God and man. Scripture teaches us that those who do according to what God’s law demands will live; those who don’t will die. We don’t. Therefore, the law reveals in us exactly what the law condemns. And the wages of what it reveals is death. This is the relationship between the law and the sinner.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we just didn’t sin? Think of all the heartache and pain that we bring to ourselves and to others that we could avoid. We agree that the law is good and wise. It’s beneficial for everyone if we all just obey it. Perhaps that’s what we should do. But our agreement to what is good is not the same as doing what is good. Praising virtues is not the same as being virtuous. We have to actually obey the law in order to avoid its threats and earn its blessings.

All of us here, in some way or another, regularly benefit from the blessings promised to those who obey the law – because we all, to some degree or another, obey the law. We know this is true from experience. There’s much blessing in living a life free from drunkenness, fornication, infidelity, laziness, and so forth. The young man who resists sexual temptation and who instead honors the marriage bed finds that his future marriage benefits because of his self-control. The woman who avoids conversation that tears down her sister and who instead defends her against petty gossip will earn the respect and trust of her friends who will then be more inclined to do the same for her. The man who does not cheat and steal finds satisfaction in the fruit of his own labor. There is much reward in such personal discipline. Blessed is he who resists temptation, who keeps on the straight and narrow.

But these blessings are only temporal. We can’t take them with us when we die. Of course we’re all able to obey the law externally by guarding our hands and our mouths; in fact it’s good for society when this happens. But this righteousness that we are able to perform only avails before man. The law requires much more than that. The law requires perfect and willing obedience from pure and loving hearts. Have you held back your hand from evil? But to what desires has your heart fallen prey? Have you held your tongue? But what uncharitable judgment have you harbored against your brother or sister? Have you worked for what you have? But what treasure have you idolized here on earth? The law requires a righteousness that avails before God.

But the law can’t bring that about! It can dangle the blessings it promises in front of us. But it can’t give them to us. It can teach us what is required. But it can’t give us the ability to do it. St. Paul wrote in Romans 8 that the law was weak because of our sin. This means a sinner can’t use the law to make himself righteous before God. That’s not what the law is for. When it comes to making sinners into saints, the law is weak. No, more than that – the law is powerless – because we are powerless. The law retains, however, its own peculiar strength for the use that God has given it. The law has the power to kill. It shows us our sin and what we deserve because of it. The law silences all excuses and withholds its greatest blessing. Oh, if only we just didn’t sin.

But listen, dear Christians, to what the Psalmist teaches us today. He does not sing of the blessedness of him who knows no sin. That’s a song that the law will teach us. No, the Psalmist sings of the blessedness of him whose sin is forgiven, who apart from any work that he has done is freely counted righteous by God.

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

When God’s law first does its work on sinners, it is true that we are left speechless and without excuse. But God doesn’t want us to remain speechless, as though by ignoring the accusations, the condemnation will just go away. When we keep silent, the law does not keep silent. It keeps accusing. The condemnation will not just go away. It remains as long as our sin remains. We need our sin to be taken away. We need someone else to bear it for us. We need to know this need. We need to know how serious our disobedience to God is in our daily life – in our heart of hearts – and how dangerous it is to keep silent about it. Because when we do, we remain sinners. God wants us to confess our sins to Him.

David complains in the Psalm that when he kept silent, his bones grew old. When he kept his sins to himself as though he could deal with them on his own, his strength dried up like by the heat of summer. But he remained a sinner. God’s hand was heavy upon him and it hurt. And it’s because God loved him. And God’s hand is often heavy upon us as well for the same reason. It is for one gracious purpose: always to direct us to where His hand was heaviest, to where our sin and all the wrath of God was borne for us on the cross. God taught David in the same way that He teaches us that we should not ever try on our own to cover what His holy law exposes in us. He wants to cover it for us. And He does a much better job than we do.

Blessed is the man … in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Blessed is he indeed, because the one who does not deceive himself is the one who confesses his sins to God who is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus faced the devil. He was just baptized. He had just committed Himself to earning our salvation. And this is how He needed to do it. It was the Holy Spirit who led Him to be tempted by the devil in order that He might resist his wiles for us and live the life that pleases God. And He did. When we recall our status as children of God, we do not recount all of our successes against temptation. Let God reward the good that we do in faith. No, we consider our failures. We consider where our heart was a million miles away from loving our neighbor even as we did the outward work. We consider how despite the willingness of the spirit, the weakness of our flesh has succumbed time and again to the devil’s lies and lures. We consider our unrighteousness so that we might clearly see and love the righteousness that Jesus fulfilled in our place as our holy Substitute. We see our blessedness not only in His perfectly obedient life, but in His precious death that fulfilled the Father’s wrath which the law had revealed against us.

Jesus resisted the devil by the word of God. And He gives us His victory by the same word. And so that is what we cling to as well. It is Him to whom we run in prayer when the devil assaults us. And He rescues us from trouble. As the Psalm says:

For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not come near him. You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.”

This is what it means to be blessed. This is what the godly do. We bring our sins and our guilty consciences, and everything that makes us ashamed to come before God, and we confess it. We confess it because we know where God is found. He is found always where His Son Jesus Christ is standing there before Him showing what He has done to atone for everything that the law revealed in us. Everything! Surely in a flood of great waters, surely when all the evils of a bad conscience, and all the dead-on accusations of the law rise up to drag us back down to the pit of despair where we are forced to keep silent, surely in this flood of great waters, they shall not come near us. Because Christ is our hiding place. The waters of Baptism have already buried us into His death. In His wounds we always find refuge, and there we are preserved from everything that can trouble our consciences or grieve our hearts. This is blessedness.

To the world this is a strange blessedness. With all its laws and good ideas and wise rules that punish and reward, this appears to be the greatest miscarriage of justice that one can possibly imagine. The innocent Son of God became Man to suffer and die for disobedient sinners who can’t offer a thing in return. The world sings a different tune than we do. They sing the song that the law teaches. “Blessed is he who has no sin.” No kidding. We already know what we could avoid if we just didn’t sin.

But Scripture does not teach us to sing about the blessedness of such a man. Instead we sing of that Man’s suffering and death. We do not sing of the blessedness of Him who resisted the devil’s every temptation until we have first sung of Him who redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). We sing of Him who truly knew no sin, who became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). That’s the song that we sing. That’s the song of deliverance that our faithful God surrounds us with.

While we still tarry here on earth, while our spirit continues in the battle against our flesh and the devil, the law will also continue to show us its demands and accuses us. But let us not answer the law as though we were subject to it. We do not depend on the law for the blessing that it promises. “We answer not to you, O law. We answer to God.” And so we speak to God these words that the Holy Spirit once gave to David, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Let the law keep demanding an answer; we don’t need its blessing. We have already the blessing of our Savior Jesus Christ. He fulfilled the law in our place, and gives to us not only the blessedness of the man who lives a righteous life, but He shares also with us the glorious inheritance of the Son of God Himself.

Many sorrows shall be to the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him.” That’s the blessed life of a Christian.
In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Pastor John Preus February 26, 2012



Luke 23:33-34 Lent I-V Midweek

Confession & Absolution / Office of the Keys
Forgive them!

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And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said,
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

O sinner, come thy sin to mourn,
So vast and vile that it has borne
Christ to this vale of anguish;
Son of a Virgin, sweet and mild
In poverty the Holy Child,
Thy substitute, did languish;
Behold, with faith, God’s only Son!
Come nigh and see what Love has done
To save thee from damnation;
The Father cast on Him thy guilt,
For thee His precious blood was spilt,
To bless thee with salvation. Amen.  

The reason we confess our sins is because we need the forgiveness of sins. We confess our sins to God, because it is against God whom we have sinned. After Nathan went and spoke to David, David prayed these words of Psalm 51:
“Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” There is no sin we commit that is not committed against God. That is why we need God to forgive us for every sin we commit—every sin of thought, word, and deed. For it is by these that we have justly deserved His temporal and eternal punishment.

His punishment is just, because God is right to be angry with us for our disobedience. He created us to be perfect and holy, and we have turned aside, each one of us, to our own way. You can’t confess your sin to God unless you agree that God is right to be angry at your sin—unless you agree that the punishment He threatens is the punishment you deserve. Consider the 10 Commandments. Consider what they say to you. Consider how good they are – how they teach you to fear and love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself. And then consider how you have lived by them. These are the sins that we ought to confess.

Now it’s one thing to agree with what is good and bad, and so forth. Even David while yet unrepentant, was persuaded that the one who did the heartless deed described by Nathan ought to die. He said so himself: As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! He agreed that the law was good, and that its punishment was just. But the law teaches us more than what is right and wrong. It teaches us who we are. It teaches us where we stand underneath its demands and judgments and curse. It teaches us that we individually need to confess our sins to God, because we individually deserve His just punishment.

Confession has two parts: first that we confess our sins, and second that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness for our sins. There is no big in-between that we need to fulfill. There is no quota of guilt and regret that we have to show or feel. No. There is repentance (which is true sorrow) and there is forgiveness (that is, absolution – that means it’s gone!). God works repentance. We don’t conjure it up; we simply agree to what God says about us. God grants forgiveness. We don’t earn it; we simply agree to what God says about Christ.

God forgives us freely for Jesus’ sake. Jesus has purchased the authority to forgive sins by His own innocent suffering and death. This authority to forgive sins Jesus has given to his Church on earth. We call it the Office of the Keys, because it is this authority that locks and unlocks the door to heaven. It is the authority to forgive the sins of those who are sorry for their sins, and to retain, that is, not forgive or bind the sins of those who are not sorry for them. If your sins are forgiven, then heaven is opened to you. If your sins are not forgiven, then heaven is closed to you. Everything depends on whether your sins are forgiven.

The sins that God forgives are the sins that Jesus died for. Jesus suffered and died for all sins. When Jesus prayed to His Father to forgive those whose wickedness grieved His soul, He was praying that not one of your sins be omitted – that not one ounce of God’s wrath against you be held back from Him. Jesus was praying for God’s just punishment (which He agreed with!) not to be mitigated in the least, but fully spent upon His sacred body and filled up in His innocent soul as He hung on the cross, shamefully dying for you. Jesus was praying for the authority to say it Himself, to say it to you, as you languish in the depths of woe and regret: “I bore those sins! Therefore they are forgiven.”

Isaiah foretold it in his 53rd chapter – that Jesus would receive such authority to forgive sins for the following reasons:

Because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors,* and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors * (Isaiah 53:12).

That’s why Jesus received such authority. Jesus earned the authority to forgive your sins on the cross where he bore your sins. And He continues to intercede for the sinner today. He shows before the Father’s throne in heaven what He did to atone for our sins on earth.

But we cannot go to the Father’s throne in order to see this forgiveness. And we cannot go back to the cross where Jesus earned it. We can’t fly back in time and pray to Jesus to remember us in His Kingdom or to hear Him pray on our behalf that we be forgiven – because we know not what we do. We are told to behold in faith God’s only Son, to come nigh and see what Love has done. But how can we do that when it all happened 2000 years ago. Jesus has since been removed from the cross, raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven. But between now and when He comes back to judge the living and the dead, where do we go to place our faith? Upon what do we hold onto and trust?

We go to where God answered Jesus’ prayer. “Father, forgive them!” The Father answered His Son’s prayer by accepting His perfect sacrifice. And He made this public when He raised His Son from the dead. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He absolved the whole world of its sin. Christ’s resurrection is the world’s absolution.

And when Jesus appeared to His disciples on that first Easter evening, you know the 1st thing on His mind; He gave to them His Holy Spirit and commanded them to speak this very same absolution to all who repented of their sins. This is the authority that Jesus gave to His Church on earth. It is the authority that Jesus prayed for. It is not a coercive authority. It is not a political or military power. It is the Gospel. Where the Gospel is preached, there is the Church. And the Church is wherever sins are being forgiven in Jesus’ name.

When Jesus sent His Apostles to forgive sins and preach the Gospel, He wasn’t just instituting a bunch of duties that need to be fulfilled. No. He sent specific men to do it. And when He did, He instituted an office for the Church, which if a man is called to this office, it is His duty to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments and forgive sins in Jesus’ name. We usually call this office the pastoral office, or the Office of the Ministry. Ministry means service.

Jesus cannot be separated from His Church. You cannot find the Church apart from the Ministry that Jesus instituted for the Church. The Church does not and cannot exist apart from where Jesus serves her with the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus created and sustains His Church, that is, all believers in Him, by serving the Church. This is how He deals with us… through His servants. “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God,” Paul says. Christ serves you through your pastor. This does not mean that your pastor is your servant. No, he is God’s servant; he is God’s minister. A pastor is only your servant inasmuch as he is Christ’s servant – inasmuch as he is doing what Jesus told him to do. “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.”

The Office of the Keys is given to the Church in order that Christ may serve her with the forgiveness of sins. That’s why you have a pastor. That’s what you should expect from your pastor. The Office is given to you, the Church. You exercise this Office when you call pastors to do what the Office requires. That is what makes the call that you issue to your pastor God’s call. God doesn’t call a pastor to do anything other than what Jesus died on the cross to give you.

And so this is what the pastor must do. Jesus prayed to His Father, “Father forgive them.” God answered His Son’s prayer. And so in His resurrected glory, Jesus said to His Apostles, and to all whom He calls to preach, “Pastor, forgive them.” Forgive them. In order for a pastor to faithfully do this, as Jesus commands him, he must preach both the law and the gospel.

He needs to preach against sin. He needs to preach against your sin. The sin that makes you mad to hear about …. He needs to speak the law clearly so as to identify for you what and who you are. As Nathan faithfully spoke to David, although he was scared: “You are the man!”

The pastor needs to preach the gospel. He must do so clearly. He must not place conditions on the forgiveness of sins, because Jesus places no condition. He must apply what Jesus did on the cross for all sinners to all sinners who confess their sins. It is not his job to weed out those who don’t truly believe. It is his job to faithfully expose what God’s law condemns, and to faithfully speak what God’s word says to repentant sinners. And God’s word imparts reality. “Your sins are forgiven.” And your sins are forgiven. As Nathan said, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

The pastor speaks for God. What you seek from your pastor, you seek from God. And God tells you what to seek, because He tells your pastor what to speak. God forgives us our sins for the sake of the innocent suffering and death of Jesus. Just like in Nathan’s story that indicted David, it was David’s sin that brought the little lamb to its unjust slaughter, so also it was our own sins that brought Jesus, God’s Lamb, to the cross. But it is the death that our sins merited that ends up saving us. It is the carrying out of our own punishment that rescues. Such a wondrous plan could not have entered into the heart of man. No way. And of course it didn’t. “They know not what they do,” Jesus said. Oh, no. They have no idea. Not only that this was God they were slaying – not only that He was an innocent man numbered with transgressors, but that by this awful death, their own sins were being taken away and forgiven.

To deny what your sins have earned is to deny what Christ has suffered. That is why impenitence cannot receive forgiveness. That is why the one who does not repent must continue to hear the law until he sees with David that he is that man. But to confess what your sins have borne, to see in Christ, the Lamb of God’s death what your sins have merited, and yet to see in the same vicarious suffering God’s boundless grace that covers all your sins—this is to know the Gospel.

You need not go to your pastor to empty your heart and unload your conscience. But that is why he’s there. You can confess your sins to your brother, sister, your daughter even, and receive God’s absolution from the same. You can. Do. But in your midst, for His Church, God has sent you a pastor whose job it is to serve Christ by serving you. Your pastor is obliged by his ordination vow never to reveal to anyone anything that anyone confesses to him. The confession is made to the God who dismisses our sins, removing them from us as far as the east is from the west. Sins that are forgiven are not revealed. They are covered by the blood of Jesus who bore them for all the world to see. Thank God that Christ serves us here through the Ministry He continues to give.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Pastor John Preus February 20, 27; March 6, 13, 20, 2013



Matthew 15:21-28 Reminiscere, Lent II

Wrestling with God

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Our Introit this morning comes from Psalm 25 and begins by asking God to remember His tender mercies and lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old. That is to say that they are from a long time ago. That’s why, I suppose, the Psalmist, who is King David here, asks God to remember them. It’s not like God forgets. He doesn’t.
We do. We take them for granted. We take advantage of our freedom under God’s grace. We cave into fleshly lusts of various stripes, and so we forget who we are as children of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ. We ignore God’s word to our peril, and so forget who God is as our merciful Father, reconciled by the propitiating sacrifice of His Son. And as often as we in our sinful weakness forget, we ask God to remember. We cry to God for mercy. And this is what it means to be saved by grace through faith. It means that God continue to recall and apply His promises of old. And we continue to ask Him to. We don’t ask for something new when we cry for mercy. We ask for something old. We ask for the same thing. We ask that God once again, as He has already done so many countless times, open up and reveal His heart to us sinners, so that we might again know and believe His love for us. And God remembers.

I remember learning the German word for “remember.” I’ll spare you the pronunciation of the word with its guttural R’s, but it’s a really neat word. It literally means to bring something deep within yourself so as to be able to retrieve it at will. It’s a helpful picture of what it means to remember.

But when we ask God to remember something, we’re not asking Him to recall something that He forgot, or that He had to commit to memory one time like a confirmation student. No, we’re asking Him to bring to expression the love that is and has been in the heart of the Father from all eternity. He remembers it, because it is already so deep within Him that it is in fact His very essence. He knows it by heart, so to speak, because it has been on His mind since before time. It is the love of Christ the eternal Son of God who reveals the Father’s heart to us poor sinners. His mercies are sure; His lovingkindnesses never fail. Remember these, O Lord, we pray. And this is to say, Give us the gospel. Give us Jesus.

Because when we pray for mercy, we’re not just asking God to
find it within Himself to forgive us – like: Somewhere in that big heart of Yours, You will surely have regard for me and my piddly affairs. No. We are praying always for the sake of the specific love that God has long ago revealed. In the Old Testament, He revealed this love in the promises that He made to send His Son. The second Person of the Holy Trinity would take on our very nature so as to redeem us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. The Son of God would become the Son of David. He would keep His promise. He would rule His Kingdom of heaven here on earth by forgiving sins. On Calvary, the long-expected King of the Jews established His Kingdom over all nations by ascending the throne of His cross. There He earned the right to rule us by grace.

Telling God to recall His mercy and be gracious to us does not require any worthiness in us. It does not require that some condition be met within our own heart. It requires that a condition be met within God’s heart. God is the one we’re asking to remember. And the condition within the Father’s heart was met when the one in whom His heart delighted bore our sin and shed His blood. Jesus earned God’s blessing. He lived the perfect life that we did not. Temptation? He resisted; and then He gave all glory to God when He did. Vengeance? Oh, He knew sin when He saw it. And He knew what it deserved. But He committed to His Father alone all power to execute justice. And His Father executed justice by demanding His pain and death. This was in order to reconcile Himself to us sinners who at our very best take the credit for resisting the few temptations we do.

But when we cry to God for mercy, we dare not claim any merit or worthiness like that, any achievement or improvement that we are proud of. No. We must pray God to recall that which happened in time far out of our control or input. We pray to God to bless us on account of the fact that He cursed His own Son in our place.

Consider Jacob. What claim could he have made? Recall the context of our Old Testament lesson. Jacob had stolen, with his mother’s manipulative help, the birthright blessing from his eldest brother Esau. The birthright blessing rightfully belonged to Esau. He was born first. The blessing entailed two things: 1st, it meant you would inherit all animals and land and wealth. This is what Esau wanted. And 2nd, it meant that through your line the promised Messiah would come. This is what Jacob wanted. Esau was coming for Jacob to claim what was his. In his distress, Jacob waited and slept a restless night. He wrestled with God that night. Not for land or animals or anything that he might have needed to feed his large family. No he wrestled with God in order to procure the blessing of mercy that he did not deserve.

He didn’t deserve it. But he didn’t let go of it on that account. He held onto his mighty contender even though his hip was dislodged from its joint. In pain and weakness and defeat, he kept wrestling. He wouldn’t let go until God blessed him. And God did. He gave him a name that we all know well. Jacob became Israel, for he strove with God and with men and prevailed. God blessed him. God remembered the promise that He had made to Abraham and to Isaac. And so by grace, likewise, He blessed Jacob as well.

Jacob’s faith didn’t earn a thing. Rather it acknowledged its poverty and demanded God’s wealth. That’s what faith does. Nowhere is this noble activity of faith more clearly seen than in prayer, when we request, and even demand, from God what we do not deserve.

Consider now the Canaanite woman whose daughter was severely demon-possessed. She had even less claim on God’s mercy than Jacob. She was a Gentile from the pagan land of Tyre and Sidon where devils were worshiped as gods. Her fathers didn’t wrestle with the Lord. Her fathers rejected Him. And yet, this woman saw in Christ the Father’s heart open wide. She saw Him who could help – who had power over her greatest enemy – not a jealous brother seeking his birthright, but the devil who had claimed her daughter. And so she prayed.

People often complain that folks don’t pray when things are going well, but only when things are going poorly. I suppose this convicts us all – not just the Canaanite woman. We should pray at all times. But we don’t. And yet certainly praying when things are going badly is better than not praying at all. In fact, this is how God often prompts us to pray. He doesn’t lead us into trouble. But He does allow trouble to follow us in order that we might be driven to His promises.

God allows His angels to permit a breach in their guard so that the devil can slip in and cause harm. But God does not allow the devil to do harm that cannot be mended. Precisely not! He only allows the devil to do enough that will bring to light our truest need. We need God to have mercy on us poor miserable sinners.

Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you—
The sure mercies of David. (Isaiah 55:3)

And so this desperate mother inclined her ear to Jesus even as she cried out to Him for mercy. She called on Him to remember the unmerited promises He had once made to His own people Israel: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”

But He ignored her. That’s what it looked like. What a blow. So it is often for us. It’s hard enough contending with all the problems in life – all the things we pray about. It’s enough of a struggle to wrestle these things down to the ground and manage them. But in God’s silence – as though He doesn’t even hear us – He sets Himself up as our greatest opponent – our greatest contender to wrestle with.

I’ve got to quote the hymn now, because there’s a reason I chose it as an insert. It addresses this dilemma very well; and it encourages us.

Learn to mark God’s wondrous dealing
With the people that He loves;
When His chast’ning hand they're feeling,
Then their faith the strongest proves.
God is nigh, and notes their tears,
Though He answers not, He hears;
Pray with faith, for though He try you,
No good thing can God deny you.

This woman’s faith proved strongest in her rejection – if in nothing else than that she didn’t stop praying. Knowing that Jesus could not deny her in the end, she cried out all the more – so much that the disciples asked Jesus to do something good for her just to shut her up. But here an even harsher blow is dealt. Denial. The promise is not for you. That’s what it sounds like. But of course this wasn’t the case.

Now, what Jesus said is true. Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This was how and where He would fulfill His mission to save all nations. He was not sent to the Greeks or the Romans or the Persians or Germans. He wasn’t. He was sent to the Jews. But by being sent TO the Jews, He was sent FOR all nations.

When our prayers remain unanswered – though we pray and pray and pray, when we wrestle with God and then find ourselves injured by His silence and seeming denial, then the devil tempts us to believe that perhaps God’s promise is not for us. We think that His silence and inactivity is a sign of His denial. Jesus is for the more holy. He is for the more faithful. He is for those who don’t fall into temptation quite so much. He is for those who pray more often. But what a lie. If Jesus is sent to Israel, then He is sent to the man in our Old Testament lesson who wrestled with God Himself and would not let go. If Jesus is sent to Israel, then He is sent to King David who seduced Bathsheba and killed her husband. If Jesus is sent only to lost sheep, then come to grips, dear Christians, with how lost you are without Him. Jesus is sent to sinners. So fall down on your knees with this frantic woman and ask for help.

Pray with faith, for though He try you,
No good thing can God deny you.

But then it seems like Jesus does: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But if this is still a wrestling match, in this fatal maneuver Jesus opened His own breach to the wrangling determination of a desperate woman in prayer. With Jesus’ own words, she pinned Him to the ground. “If I must be a dog, so be it. You are correct to say that it is not right to throw Your bread of mercy to me. I don’t deserve it. But I’m not claiming my own merit here, am I? I’m claiming Your mercy. And if I have to snatch up what those more worthy than I have let fall to the ground, so be it. That’s what I came here for.” If this is a wrestling match, this woman won.

She won because she claimed the words of Jesus. That's how prayer wins. That’s how prayer finds its focus and God’s open ear. We don’t cash in favors when we pray. We beg for what God does not owe. In fact we beg for what we do owe and can never pay back. We beg for God to do good to us. This woman prayed that Jesus would do good to her – by doing good to Israel. That’s how it works.

There would have been no crumbs if it were not for the bread given to the children. And so there is no hope for God to have mercy on us as individuals apart from where God blesses and nourishes His whole Church. We don’t ask God for special favors. This woman didn’t. We only ask that we might benefit from the mercy shown where God calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Church God daily and richly forgives all sins. And so that’s where we go. We go to where crumbs are falling to the ground. We go to where God is willing to engage us in our struggles with sin and doubt by speaking His word – by reproving, admonishing, exposing, condemning, and forgiving us. We go to where Jesus remembers His ancient struggle with Israel so that He will not forget to bless us as well.

“‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” Jesus never intended not to save her little girl. But Jesus wrestled with her so that she and we might know who our true enemies are – so that we might look to where Christ wrestled and defeated all powers of darkness in our place. There He focuses our faith. There is what makes faith great. Great faith is faith that remembers what God sometimes seems to forget. Great faith remembers the sure mercies of David as revealed on the cross where David’s Son and David’s Lord crushed the devil’s head.

We forget. God does not. We remember the sins of our youth – the sins that our flesh has grown so accustomed to. We return to them like dogs return to their vomit. And so as dogs, we return to Jesus. We beg Him not to remember the sins of our youth or put us to shame, but to remember instead His tender mercies and lovingkindnesses of old. And He does. It may seem He doesn’t. But that is only so that we might remember all the more. God is faithful. He remembers and beholds forever that which we also place before our own eyes. If He did not spare His own Son, how will He deny you anything you pray for?

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Pastor John Preus February 24, 2013



Psalm 121/Matthew 15:21-28
Reminiscere, Lent II

Our help comes from the Lord

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Last Sunday, I preached on the Psalm that was appointed for the first Sunday in Lent, Psalm 32. Psalm 32 is what we call a penitential Psalm, because it teaches us to repent of our sins, to confess them to God, and to place our faith in Him who forgives us our sins for Jesus’ sake. This Psalm even gives us the very words to use. And in fact we do use them—regularly, just as we did this morning: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord.’ And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

The Psalm appointed for today is different. It’s not a penitential Psalm. But in our same liturgy, right before we speak these words from Psalm 32, we pray the words that today’s Psalm teaches us to pray. See if you can pick these words out as we read Psalm 121 in Jesus’ name:

1I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help.
2 My help
comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord
is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.

These are Your words holy Father; sanctify us by Your truth; Your word is truth. Amen.

Imagine in your mind a lady in distress, within a village overrun by bandits, looking with the glimmer of hope in her longing eyes to the distant horizon, where from behind a hill appears the heartening silhouette of what looks like it might be a brave hero coming to offer his help and save the day. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills,” she says, “from whence—maybe, I hope, boy wouldn’t it be nice if my help were to come.” Ah, but there’s no confidence here. There’s no guarantee of rescue. Her desire for help cannot assure her of anything.

Our Psalm this morning is not just some romantic expression of aimless hope that God just might come and save us from our enemies. No, this Psalm teaches us to be confident of where our Help most certainly does come.

His name is the Lord. He is the only God who is. He is the one who made heaven and earth. And although He fills heaven and earth and all things, there is only one specific place where He is to be found by sinners who seek Him. And we know where that is. That’s why we look to the hills—to the mountains. This is just a poetic way of saying that we look to Mt. Zion in Jerusalem where there is the Tabernacle, the Temple, the Holy of holies, the Ark of the Covenant, the presence of God where He has promised to be. There is confidence in this statement: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help.” I know who helps me. I know His name. I know He is the Lord who has made me and all creatures. And I know where to find Him in every time of need, because I know where He comes to me in order to help—I look to the hills.

Psalm 121 is what is called a Song of Ascent, because the children of Israel would sing this Psalm and others like it as they ascended up to Jerusalem to give their sacrifices. By singing such confident words, they proclaimed that the sacrifices that they were about to offer were acceptable to God even before they offered them. They had His command and promise already. He was their God, after all, who guarded them from all danger, protected them from all harm, who kept their souls from evil. He was their God in whom they could trust even before they approached Him.

In order to confess our sins to the Lord, we also need this same confidence. We need to know who the Lord is. We need to know where He is found. We need to know where to go in order to receive His absolution. And we do know. When we say, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” we are proclaiming the same thing that the children of Israel proclaimed—that the one whom we approach to confess our transgressions is the very Lord God who, even before we ask Him, forgives us the iniquity of our sins. And He does that here. And so we come here. We lift our eyes to where the pure word of God is preached, to where our sins are forgiven by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to where the sacraments are administered according to His command and promise.

Lent is a time of repentance. It’s a penitential season. We learn about repentance by learning about Jesus. By meditating on His suffering for us we learn to consider the weight of our sin that He bore. We learn to consider our lovelessness, our impatience toward others, the grudges we harbor, and the gossip that we repeat. We learn to stop hiding the lusts of our heart, and the ones we have shamefully acted on, but confess them instead to our God. True repentance requires that we be truly sorry for our sins. A truly penitent heart acknowledges the depth of its own corruption, and utterly despairs of its own ability to help itself. But it does not despair of God’s ability and God’s willingness to forgive. St. Paul tells us that godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). This means that the true repentance that the Holy Spirit works in our hearts is inseparable from the divinely wrought certainty of God’s mercy even before we utter our plea for help.

It is good to be a Christian. Psalm 121 is a Psalm for the Church. We are the new Israel to whom all the promises of the Psalms and prophets apply. Through our holy calling to be His own special people, we have inherited the status as children of God. That is who we are by faith. We have the right to pray for help in any and every need. Our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

But sometimes it seems like it doesn’t come. Sometimes, no matter how much we adore our God as the one who promises to be there for us, our pleas for help seem to be unanswered. Sometimes, rather than like a confident Church, we feel more like the maiden in distress devising false hopes with every movement we see beyond the hills. Because our problems remain, we feel and appear un-helped.

But do not believe it. Often God takes His good time in answering our most earnest requests. He does this to test our faith and to focus it more clearly on His promise to us.

Consider the woman from Canaan in our Gospel lesson this morning. Consider her need, her request. And consider your own. Her daughter was possessed and tortured by a demon. What more pressing need for help could there be? But what does Jesus do? He ignores her. Or so it seems. But she doesn’t stop asking. Jesus tells her that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. She was not an Israelite. And yet undaunted, she kneels before Him. And while her eyes see nothing but dust, the eyes of her heart are lifted to the hills as she prays the words that were given to the children of Israel to pray: “Lord, help me.”

But even then: “it is not right,” says Jesus, “to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She does not give up. But like her spiritual father Jacob, she wrestles with this Man who is her God and demands the blessing that belongs to Israel alone: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table—bless me!” This woman prevailed. She won. Like Jacob before her, she would not believe that God could say ‘no’ when He had already promised to say ‘yes.’ And she was right. She received more than crumbs. She had wrestled with the Bread of Life who feeds the multitudes, and received everything that faith demands.

Today is Reminiscere Sunday—a fancy word, I know. It comes from the Latin for “remember,” or “reminisce” — as in the first words of our Introit for today: “Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your loving-kindnesses, for they are from of old. Let not my enemies triumph over me. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all their troubles!”

The woman from Canaan remembered. She recalled that promise made to father Abraham many years ago from Genesis 22:18, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” She claimed her status as a child of Adam, a sinner, and before her God who had made heaven and earth, she held Him to His promise. And she received it. Jacob remembered. His father Isaac had given him the blessing of first born. This blessing was contested by his brother Esau who had become his enemy. But God had made a promise, and Jacob held Him to it. And he received His blessing.

We remember. We are surrounded by enemies – both spiritual and worldly. Temptations assault us; failures hold us down; our sin enslaves us; regret and shame keep our eyes bowed down; our helplessness leads us to despair. But we do not despair of God. We remember. We remember that we were bought with a price, not with gold or silver but with the holy precious blood of God’s dear Son Jesus Christ who suffered bitterly to make us His own. We remember that we were washed in the cleansing waters of holy Baptism that made us His children even before we knew how to ask for any blessing. The righteous life of Jesus was made ours, and our lives of sin and trouble were made His. We hold God to the promise of forgiveness and every eternal blessing in Christ. And we receive it.

Because God remembers. He remembers His tender mercies, His loving-kindnesses of old. He remembers the suffering and death that made satisfaction for all our sins of commission and omission. And as our risen Advocate stands ever before Him at His throne, He remembers not our sin. This God who sees and has felt our every temptation and trouble and pain will not allow our foot to be moved from this Rock of our Salvation; for He neither slumbers nor sleeps. His word of pardon and constant blessing is yours to ponder day and night.

This Lent, and even every day, when we repent and ask for forgiveness we remember too that we are praying to our God who promises to help us in our every need. What do you need? Do you request health? Or is it rest from financial stress that you need? Do you pray without reprieve for a loved-one to find his way back to church? Is there strife between children that you cannot mediate? Is there doubt at home that won’t leave your stormy breast? But consider who it is to whom you cry for help. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, will surely give us every good thing when we cry to Him for help – in His own way, in his own time, according to His wisdom.

And we know where He is found. And so we lift our eyes to the hill of Calvary where our Savior shed His blood—from there comes our help. Under His cross we are shaded from the scorching demands of the law by day, and from the dim reflections of a troubled conscience by night. We lift up our eyes to receive the body and blood of the Lamb of God placed into our mouths—from there this help is confirmed. And through these, He shall preserve us from all evil; He shall preserve our soul. And the blessing first spoken to us when we were baptized shall abide: The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Pastor John Christian Preus March 4, 2012


John 4:5-30, 39-42 Lent II-V/Midweek

Thy Will Be Done

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On Ash Wednesday, when we began this midweek Lenten series on the Lord’s Prayer, I used my daughter Nadia as an example of a child asking something from her father. Just as the words
“please” and “thank you” teach children that the things they receive from their parents are undeserved gifts, so also the words “Our Father” teach us who it is that gives us everything we have.

Although at the time my daughter didn’t have the foggiest idea the point I was trying to make, she sure thought it was neat that I said her name. So did her big brother. In fact, after church, my son asked me why I didn’t mention him. He said, “I want you to talk about me in your sermon.” Well, as with other silly requests that little boys make, this was a fine opportunity to teach yet another lesson: You can’t always get what you want.

Children don’t always know what to ask for or how to ask. They just say “I want, I want, I want.” They look inside of themselves and express the natural desires that they find. And so they pray: “My will be done!” I suppose that’s why we have to tell them “no” so often. But sometimes children will ask for things that they want, and then get them, because they just happen to ask for something that we already know they need, and that we were going to give them anyway. It’s pretty convenient when this happens. In fact, it prevents a lot of headaches to teach our children to want what they already need, and to request what we’re already going to give them.

And this is what God teaches us as well. Just like children, we need to be taught what we should want in order that we might ask for what we need. We need God’s will to be done. That is to say, WE NEED WHAT GOD WANTS.

Jesus is God. In our text this evening, Jesus wanted water. He Himself created it. But the flesh and blood He assumed as true Man required it. And so He asked for it. In the fourth Petition to the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us to ask God for our daily bread, which of course includes water. We are to ask for everything that we need to support this body and life. This is what Jesus did, and so we do too. And as it was in the case of Jesus, that the Father provided for the livelihood of the body that bore our sin, so also He provides for our bodies that are born in sin. He does this purely out of grace.

Although the order of the petitions are kind of being shuffled a bit with this preaching rotation, it is significant that Jesus teaches us to pray that the will of the Father be done on earth as it is in heaven even before He teaches us to pray for our earthly needs. Why is this? Because God knows what we need even before our stomach grumbles. That’s why. More than that, God is willing, that is, God wants to give us more than what our bodies yearn to receive. And God’s good and gracious will is done.

And that is why Jesus teaches us to pray that it may be done among us also. WE NEED WHAT GOD WANTS. Jesus came to do the Father’s will. To speak of the Father’s will is one and the same as to speak of the will of Jesus. And I can think of nowhere that this is more beautifully expressed than in that great Lenten hymn of ours, A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth:

Go forth, My Son,” the Father saith,
“And free men from the fear of death,
From guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Thy Passion men shall share
The fruit of Thy salvation.”

Yea, Father, yea, most willingly
I'll bear what Thou commandest;
My will conforms to Thy decree,
I do what Thou demandest.”

The will of the Father and the Son are one. Jesus wanted water. That means that the Father wanted to give it to Him. But there was something that God wanted more—even more than what His Son needed to live. Here Jesus encountered a sinner. And her need for something much greater than His own bodily need distracted Him from His original request. Forget the water! And so instead Jesus offered her water that only He could give.

Yes, it is the Father’s will to give us what quenches the thirst of our tongue. But first and foremost it is the Father’s will to quench our thirst for righteousness. And so it is the Father’s will to teach us to want what He wants to give us.

Jesus offered this woman the still waters to which the Good Shepherd leads His sheep to drink. The Good Shepherd leads His sheep to Himself—to His own suffering and death that give eternal life to those who are perishing. Jesus offered what He lived a holy life to earn for sinners. He offered what required not only that He deny Himself a drink of water and other bodily needs, but that He give up His very life-blood on the cross to atone for your sins and mine – even as water and blood flowed from His pierced side. By offering her what she did not ask for (and could not have asked for, and what we in our sin would not even want), Jesus was teaching her and teaches us what we all need.

But this woman did not immediately know her need. Here was an upstanding Jewish man speaking to a lowlife Samaritan woman who was not of the house of Israel. But, just like my kids on Ash Wednesday, she may have thought it was pretty neat, but she didn’t have the foggiest idea what Jesus was talking about. Sure, she wanted some—living water that if you drink of it, you won’t thirst again! Great! But she didn’t know what she was asking for. She was thirsty for the wrong thing. {***} She thought this would fill some material need of hers, but that’s not what the gospel does. She needed to learn her true need.

And look at when she finally realizes that Jesus was offering something with a spiritual benefit. It’s when He calls her out on her sin. “Go get your husband,” He says. “Ah, but you’ve had five already, and you’re living in sin right now.” This woman was a sinner. She knew it. God in heaven knew it. And now standing before her was God on earth revealing to her conscience what she needed the most.

When we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” what are we praying? Are we telling God what we want? What do we want? First we must know what we need——and we need to know that we are sinners. We need to know that the sinful corruption we confess every week is not just an incidental inconvenience that we will die someday, or that we make mistakes sometimes. No. We need to know that our very will is a will that is captive to sin and that strives against God’s will. That it is fundamentally evil, and that our souls deserve damnation.

What must be revealed in your life to prove this to you as it was proved to the woman in our text? She was a fornicator. Are you? Or do you hold grudges? Do you lie to people? Do you steal? Do you gossip? The woman in our text was married five times before. How many times have you returned to the same sins that weigh down your conscience? How often do you want what God forbids? Do you see your need, dear Christian?

Then look at what God wants and see your need fulfilled. As His eternal Son reigns with Him in heaven, the Father wants to send Him to serve under the law. As Jesus lives a perfect life that merits more than what God could ever create, the Father wants Him punished. As His anguish-stricken Child pleads on the Mt. of Olives to take the cup of His wrath away, nonetheless the Father gets what he wants – that Jesus commence His journey to Mt. Calvary to suffer and die for the sins of the world. JESUS DOES THE FATHER’S WILL. That’s what God wants. He wants what we need. And so we pray that His will be done.

On the cross God’s will was done to save us all from all our sin and guilt. Christ has borne it for us, and has left it in the grave from which He rose. There we see God’s will done—where we see our sins forgiven and our victory won. But where is God’s will done today? In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther says that God’s good and gracious will is done,

When [He] breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His gracious and good will.

The Samaritan woman asked where we are to worship the true God – on this mountain or that – where does God want us? But we today neither go to the Mt. of Olives nor to the Mt. of Calvary. No, instead we gather where His name is hallowed and His kingdom of grace and mercy comes by the pure preaching of His word, and administration of His sacraments. We worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth by praying in faith this little petition here. Because in this petition we learn to want what God wants. And so living waters flow from our hearts unto everlasting life. That is, by His word, God works in our hearts the faith that is certain that for Jesus’ sake God’s will is good and gracious toward sinners.

My son James asked me to mention him in my sermon. That’s what he wanted. And I suppose it doesn’t do much harm, if it doesn’t distract you too much. But sometimes our wants do distract us. And so God must gently tell us “no” in order to point us to where He always says “yes.” Just as we modify our children’s requests for pop and junk-food to fit their real needs for bread and water, so also God modifies our requests. Whatever else we may ask of Him, one thing is certain – that He will always give us that one thing we need. And so we pray that He would continue to do so.

We don’t pray, My will be done.” We pray Thy will be done.” After every plea that He would spare us from pain, heal our loved-ones, protect those who travel – and so forth – after every request we make, we append this petition, “Thy will be done, not ours.” But this is no gamble. This does not render our prayers meaningless. No, it renders our prayers acceptable and pleasing to God in heaven. Because this prayer can only be prayed by faith in Christ who shows us the Father’s good and gracious will by fulfilling it on the cross. When we pray that God’s will be done, we are telling Him that we want what He wants. We are telling Him that we love the Love by which He loved us, and that we trust in that holy sacrifice that is ever before His eyes. And He always answers this prayer. Even if He does not give us all the little things we want, He most certainly will give us what we need — here on earth and forever in heaven.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Pastor John Preus March 7 (14, 21, 28), 2012



John 6:1-15 Laetare, Lent IV

Bread of Life

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For 40 days, Jesus fasted in the wilderness. He went entirely without food, and drank only water. He was incredibly hungry. This exercise was not intended to provide some sort of health benefit. In fact, by today’s fitness-obsessed standards, this was physically reckless of Jesus. Neither was this exercise of hunger intended to drive Him deeper into Himself for some sort of soul-searching journey. No, but as Jesus says in John 4,
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” In His hunger, therefore, Jesus sought the will of His Father. He did not seek council in the wanderings of His human mind, but found solid refuge in the written word of God.

And that’s what we do—because Jesus teaches us how. At the end of these 40 days, when He was tempted by the devil to use His divine power to feed Himself, Jesus resisted by quoting from Deuteronomy 8: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” This was the lesson that God had given the children of Israel by feeding them manna as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. These events were recorded for our learning. And so by the patience and comfort of the Scriptures, Jesus learned the same lesson Himself during His 40 days of fasting. He hungered and thirsted for us. And in His self-denial, Jesus fulfilled what we have left undone.

It is Lent. It is a time for repentance. During these 40 days we give special consideration to the sin of which we ought to repent, and to our need for God to have mercy on us. We do this first by solemnly listening to His word and consenting to its verdict of guilty; and second by seeking refuge in His word that pronounces us innocent. We need to hear both words – both the law that exposes and kills us, and the gospel that covers and revives us. Both words are necessary. We live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

It used to be that during the 40 days of Lent, people would follow the example of Jesus and fast. In fact, in German the word for Lent literally means “time to fast.” Sometimes people will still give something up to commemorate the season. But whether during Lent or not, whenever we do deprive ourselves of something for a time, we learn to recognize two things: how little we really needed it; and how much we seemed to depend on it.

Well, we don’t need bread just a little; we need it a lot. We really do depend on it. Our desire to fill our stomachs with food is what helps keep us alive. That and, of course, the fact that we need God to give it to us. And He does. God who creates also provides. Although we typically attribute the preservation of our bodies to God the Father, we should be careful that our distinctions don’t divide the Godhead. God is one. Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, is the very same God who gives us our daily bread.

In our Gospel this morning, an enormous crowd of people, who were hungry for what they needed to survive, followed their God deep into the barren wilderness. There’s something admirable here. They didn’t fast for forty days, but they certainly gave something up! These folks willingly followed Jesus far away from any source of nourishment in order to see His miracles and hear Him preach. And unwittingly they followed the very source of life Himself.

But how much did they know? Perhaps they knew that He who healed the sick and gave sight to the blind was certainly able to give them food as well—or that He who showed mercy to the cast down and lowly would certainly have compassion on their hunger. Perhaps they had even figured out that Jesus was God. At least Jesus certainly made this clear once He fed them. Only God can make something out of nothing, and that’s exactly what He did. Jesus fed 5,000 men plus women and children, with more to spare than they originally had.

In showing mercy, Jesus proved who He was. His desire to feed these people found its source in two places: not only in the fact that He was God almighty who satisfies the wants of all creatures—but also in the fact that He Himself had learned as a Man what it meant to hunger. God was moved with real compassion when He saw the crowds without food. He had been there. Here in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s gracious generosity toward all He has made, and His personal empathy toward you is found united in the same place. This is the mystery of the incarnation. Only in the flesh and blood of the almighty God do we find God’s mercy toward sinners revealed. Sinners who need mercy need Jesus.

This is what Jesus wanted the crowds to know. “Man shall not live by bread alone; but listen to what I say. I feed you so that you will know whose words I speak; I show mercy so that you will know the power and purpose of this word to save you.” Jesus wanted them to know that He was God incarnate – God enfleshed – who had come to save His people from their sins.

But this was not the lesson they wanted to learn. People are generally more concerned about the stuff that they have and don’t have than they are about whether or not their sins are forgiven by God. And so instead they wanted to receive the reward that so many have wanted — and that we have wanted too — the reward for having followed Jesus long and far, the reward for having given something up for the kingdom of God. They wanted to make Jesus a king on their own terms. They even tried to force Him. “We have followed You so far; now use Your power to feed us more bread — to give us more stuff — with You as our king, we will never go hungry. What could be better, after all, than having God Himself providing for our every physical need – giving us our daily bread?”

But how foolish. God has always provided daily bread – to everyone – even without our prayer – even to the very evil. It is God who makes grass to grow on the mountains, who gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens that cry (Ps. 37). Surely it is God who gives you what you need. But Jesus was not born of the Virgin Mary in order to do what our gracious Father in heaven has always been doing. No, God became man in order to save us from our sin. And by doing this, Jesus would reveal the true reason that the Father has always fed and continues to feed His creation: He does so for the sake of His Church, the bride of Christ. God continues to feed our life and all life for the sake of Christ who redeems the world and gives eternal life to those who believe.

Just as Jesus in His temptation did not appeal to His status as the Son of God to get some bread for Himself, so we do not appeal to our status as the children of God to get the stuff we want. Instead we listen to God’s word because it is more important.

It’s a good practice to give things up once in a while. When we deprive ourselves of something, we teach ourselves to prize the One who gave it more highly than the thing itself. This is especially true because we know that the One who gives it is also the One who gave His life for ours. So then, what do we give up?

We don’t really fast, do we? … But how then will we ever learn that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God? God will teach us. That’s how. These words that Jesus took from Deuteronomy 8 when He fasted in the desert for 40 days were originally spoken to the Israelites who had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. They had learned the hard way to trust in God for their life bread every waking morning. In a manner of speaking, they also fasted—but not by their own choice. But even while they grumbled about it, God knew what they needed to learn. And He taught them. Soon after this quotation from Deuteronomy, God also reminds His people, and teaches us, “Know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.”

How do we learn that we do not live by bread alone? How do we learn to find our life instead in the words He speaks? God chastens us. That’s how. That’s how He teaches us. He disciplines us. He doesn’t command us to fast or give anything up, although it may certainly be helpful. But in order to teach us the same lesson, He still takes things away from us. He allows our money to be spent away. He allows cancer to destroy our bodies. He allows friends and family to forsake us, and the injustice of the world to oppress us. He gives us so many good things. But then He gathers the fragments away from our safe keeping so that we can’t trust in the things we have, or in the things that we are able to save. But instead we must look to God alone who has compassion on the hungry. Our good things must always be found with Him.

When we suffer want, when we lose things that we regarded as valuable and that we would never have willingly given up had necessity not taken it from us, when God takes the spice of life away and leaves us bitter, we discover not just pain and sorrow over our loss, but we discover idolatry in our hearts. We discover what we had been relying on. We discover what we thought we had deserved from God for being such faithful followers. And here it is that we discover our need for the mercy that we have not earned.

And this is the work of Jesus for you. Just as He led thousands far into the wilderness where He once fasted and starved as their Substitute, so He leads us to suffer with Him and to see where he suffered for us. He leads us to know and confess our own sinful mortality and weakness, and to hunger for a righteousness that we cannot produce. In the midst of death, as thousands were surrounded by nothing but withered grass, Jesus made bread to give them life. So in the midst of our dying flesh that withers like grass when the breath of the Lord blows upon it, Jesus the Bread of Life give us Himself; he gives us the righteousness that only He can give—because He suffered for us to win it.

He directs us gently by His word, and compels us firmly by the crosses He gives us to bear, to see our true need that daily bread cannot satisfy – and to see it fulfilled where Love was perfected for us on His cross. There He died as the bread-worshipper. There He died as the one who sought carnal pleasures. There He died as the presumptuous sinner trying to earn something from God. But as the sinless Son of God took upon Himself the sins of the world He earned everything for us. Where we see God the Father deny all the necessities of life to His own eternal Son as He hangs abandoned on the cross, we see also where He denies us nothing, but gives us eternal life and salvation by forgiving us all our sin.

We see our need most clearly when we see our need most fully met. And your need is met for you this morning as your God comes to you by the food that feeds your deepest hunger. Jesus is the Bread of Life, your righteousness. We can go without bread for a while; but we cannot live without the life that He offers us from His cross. And this He will never take away. Even in the midst of your sorrow and anguish and deepest loss, God will never deprive you of the promises He makes through the blood of Christ His Son. He who died for you now lives for you to give you here in His word, and in bread and wine what He fasted and suffered and died to earn. Here He fills you. Here He gives you peace with God your Maker. Here He never runs out of what we need.

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” God’s word gives you life because it forgives you your sin for Jesus’ sake. And so in true faith we feast on every word our God speaks. He will not deny you what He has promised to give.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Pastor John Christian Preus March 18, 2012



John 8:46-59 Judica, Lent V

Seeing Death Aright

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To be “of God” means to be born of God. It means to have faith in God. The Holy Spirit engenders faith in our hearts through the forgiveness of sins. That’s how we are born of God. We receive forgiveness by believing God’s word. The power to give us new birth in the Sacrament of Baptism is nothing other than the command and promise of Jesus that through this Sacrament of water our sins are indeed forgiven and we are received as God’s dear children. The power here again is in the words He speaks. We benefit from Jesus’ words by believing Jesus’ words. Through faith in Him, God rescues us from the sin and death that we have inherited from our father in the flesh, Adam. And He gives to us by faith a new and better inheritance – it’s a spiritual inheritance with His eternal Son, and our Brother in the flesh, Jesus Christ. He is the second Adam, the Perfect Man. Who can convict Him of sin? No one. Not even God.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

So wrote King David at the end of Psalm 139. And yet only Jesus is able to say this with full confidence of impunity: search Me; try Me. He says this to God! And “which one of you,” He asked the Jews, “convicts Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” Jesus exposed their unbelief. They couldn’t accuse Him of anything false He had either said or done, but they didn’t believe Him anyway. And Jesus told them why: “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Now this is as simple as it gets. The reason why people don’t listen to the word of God is because they are not God’s children. The reason they are not God’s children is because they do not listen to the word of God. The reason why they don’t listen to God is because they’re listening to someone else. They’re listening to their own father, the devil. He is the father of lies. He is the one who caused our first father Adam to fall. He deceived Adam’s wife who was flesh of his flesh in the garden. And so he continues to deceive Adam’s children who are born of his flesh on earth. Jesus calls the devil a murderer. He’s been a murderer from the beginning. He murders by speaking lies. He appeals to our sinful nature in order to destroy our faith in God.

But God rescues us from Satan’s lies by speaking the truth. He gives us life by giving us a new birth. That which is born of flesh is flesh. Yes. But that which is born of Spirit is spirit.

Abraham was born of the Spirit, because God made a promise to him and Abraham believed it. That’s how it works. The promise of the Gospel always tells us not to put confidence in our flesh and blood – no matter how pious or disciplined or religious or sanctified it is – but to put all confidence in Christ alone. He is the one who cannot be convicted of sin! And this was the promise that Abraham heard: “In your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). That is, through your line of children the promised Seed shall come who will crush the serpent’s lying head. This Seed is Christ. He will be your blessing. He will be your innocence. He will be your answer to every accusation of sin – even in the face of death – because He will die death for you. By the promise of Christ, Abraham Himself was blessed – he was justified. He cherished the promise because the promise gave him life. Abraham was therefore “of God.” “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” Abraham did.

Now, all nations would be blessed. This is to say that all those born in the natural way would find their blessing in the One who was born of a virgin to take their place. He is our Substitute. God provided Him so that we would not have to die in our sin.

Abraham looked forward to seeing this day. That’s what Jesus says. He said that Abraham rejoiced that he would one day be able to see the promise fulfilled. And he saw it. And he was glad. What did he see? Let’s consider this.

Our Old Testament lesson for this morning is well selected. It records one of the most startling events in all of Scripture. God tested Abraham. He tested his faith by demanding from him that he offer as a sacrifice his one and only son whom he loved. There is really no commentary about how Abraham felt here. But you can imagine, can’t you. Abraham with his wife Sarah had been childless. By a miracle God gave life in Sarah’s womb, although her womb was as good as dead, being over 90 years old. They must have loved that boy. And now God demanded his life.

But Abraham’s test of faith was much more than just: how much are you willing to give up for Me? How much pain are you willing to self-inflict for Me? No, because, see, it was through Isaac, this boy, that God promised the Savior to come. God did not give Isaac to Abraham and Sarah just so that they would hear the patter of little feet and childish laughter fill their home. They had Ishmael for that. No, but it was through Isaac that all the nations of the earth would be blessed and through whom Abraham’s own soul would be saved from hell. Without Isaac, how would God fulfill his promise to send Jesus? This was the test.

And Abraham passed. He passed because of what he consoled himself with. He consoled himself with God’s word. Young Isaac asked his dad: “My father! Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Did Abraham then lie to his son? Did he say whatever might make Isaac less nervous? No! He confessed what God had promised when He first told him that in his Seed all nations would be blessed (Gen. 18:18, 21:12). – including Isaac! Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” And He would. Even if Isaac died, God would not renege on his promise to send His own Son to bear the sin and guilt of all humanity. God would provide the Lamb. Abraham knew it. And so he said it. Consider these words from Hebrews 11:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.

Now this figurative sense refers to the fact that Abraham received Isaac from the dead – in a sense – because Sarah’s womb was dead. Think of that! God had already proven Himself to be able to bring life where only death reigned. Certainly God could bring life from the loins of Isaac even if Isaac had to die first – just like his mother’s womb had to die first.

Now, this is a little much, I know. But it is fantastic! Abraham’s sole contribution, as it were, to the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Savior was found in the life of his son. That’s all he had! But God had given it to him. And now God demanded it from him. But Abraham believed the promise. He didn’t lay stock in what his flesh had sired or in what his eyes could see. God will provide a Substitute. He will. He promised. That had been the content of every promise that Abraham had heard and every hope he had. And he believed it. He told his son the truth. God will provide.

Abraham was willing to give up his own son because he knew that God was intending to give up His own Son. God will provide the Lamb. Abraham didn’t know about the ram that was caught in the thicket. If he had known, he would have said so: that God would provide a ram. But he didn’t. He was focused on the ultimate promise. He was focused on the Lamb of God whom God would provide to take away your sin and mine – the sin of the whole world. God will provide a Lamb.

And so he went through with it. He intended to kill his own son. The knife was raised. But God was also focused on the Lamb who would take our place. He sent His angel, the angel of the Lord, who is the very Son of God Himself – and we know this because He speaks as God – “now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” He says. “From Me!” 2000 years before He would be conceived of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, the pre-incarnate Christ interceded and saved Isaac from death: “Do not harm the boy.”

Think of this. Abraham had believed that God could have raised his son in order to keep his promise to send the Savior through his line. But what a relief! What a joy! God’s plan was even more gracious than that. He would not require Isaac’s death at all. He would see his boy grow up. And he would show his son how the Lord provided. He offered the ram in his place.

So let’s go back to that question that we have been considering. Jesus said that Abraham saw His day and was glad. Well this is what Abraham saw – what I just explained. He saw His Savior make a surprise appearance before His time to spare the life of Isaac whom he loved. He would see that God provided a ram to take his place. How glad was Abraham. Words can hardly express how happy he was not to have to do what God demanded of him. Isaac was his little boy. But the joy that Jesus mentions in our Gospel lesson is not just the joy of a father who loves his child. It is the joy of having seen the day of his Lord. It is the joy of knowing that God will still forgive you your sins. See, because Abraham was taught something wonderful here.

The very God of God, the great I Am’ who would one day be led like a Lamb to the slaughter by the will and counsel of His own eternal Father— He, in a dramatic display, revealed what it meant to spare us from death. I will not require the death of the boy. I will not require your death either. I will not require the death of the world. But look what God requires: the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. God gave Abraham a ram on Mt. Moriah, caught in the thicket by his horns, in order that by sacrificing it, he might confess what our Lord would one day do on Mt. Calvary. This is what Abraham saw. It made him glad.

In the midst of his trial, Abraham believed the promise. This is what made him “of God.” And this is what makes us sons of Abraham today. We are his spiritual heirs when we believe in Him whom Abraham also trusted. Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death.” Abraham kept Jesus’ word. And he saw a token of God’s faithfulness by which he was assured that he would live forever.

Where do we find tokens of God’s faithfulness? Do we know that God is faithful because of how faithfully we have lived? Do we know that God is pleased with us because of what we are willing to give up? Do we know that God is generous because we produce so much fruit? This is what the Jews who argued with Jesus believed. This is what the devil had persuaded them of. But of course it’s a lie.

The truth is that our lives do not glorify God. Our lives are full of sin. Even our good works are tainted. Our hearts doubt. We desire what isn’t ours – and not just sex and money – we desire honor and justice for wrongs done. We desire respect for our strong faith and our very public life of prayer. We desire what the devil promises us. We desire to present before God some token of our own virtue that our flesh has produced.

But in order to test us – in order to temper our faith – God demands everything from us. He demands that we kill what we love the most and call it no more. He demands that we forsake our own righteousness. Just like God demanded from Abraham the only thing he had that made the promise more sure, so He demands from us that we rely 100% on Him who provides and 0% on ourselves.

But God provides. Not only does He provide the Lamb who bears the heat of God’s wrath in our place. But He provides the ram, so to speak – a visible token of God’s favor in the Sacrament that we eat and drink. Just as 2000 years before Christ, Abraham confessed the death of his Savior by sacrificing a ram in the place of his son, so also 2000 years after His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, we proclaim His death by eating and drinking His very body and blood by which He earned God’s favor.

And so we keep His word. We keep His word by finding our righteousness in Christ’s obedient suffering. We keep His word by finding our life in His death. We keep His word by heeding His command to eat and drink His body and blood – often – for the forgiveness of our sins. And by keeping the word of our eternal God who tasted death for us, we shall live forever in Him being clothed in His impeccable righteousness – so that we also can say to God as His own dear children:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

For Jesus’ sake, Amen.  

Pastor John Christian Preus March 17, 2013



John 8:46-59 Judica, Lent V/Annunciation

Of God 

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When children are naughty we discipline them. Proverbs 13:24 tells us,
“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” Now, this isn’t to say that you have to spank your kids. I suppose it depends on the child. Some children need no more than a furrowing of the brow and they tear up and begin to step in line. Whereas with others, before they even begin to take you seriously, you need to threaten to thrash the living daylights out of them, as my mother would put it. Whatever works. Children need to be taught to listen to their parents.

It is our job to discipline and correct our children. It is a sin not to do this. The 4th Commandment gives a special responsibility to parents as well as to children. Of course parents should not be overly harsh. St. Paul tells us, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” It is to our children’s temporal and eternal benefit that we teach them to listen to the words that we say. When they know that our authority is real, then they learn that God’s authority is real. When we teach them that our authority is a sham or that our threats are empty, then they learn that God’s authority is a sham and that His threats are empty. Children need to be taught the truth about God.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). A father who will not teach his son in the way he should go shows no love for him. But when a child who receives firm discipline grows up, he learns the value of that which was once unpleasant. And in his acquired wisdom he learns to be grateful to his parents for the guidance he received. This can be aptly compared to our relationship with God: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

A father teaches his son. A son learns from his father. God teaches us and we learn from Him. He is our Father. A son who despises discipline and who will not heed the words of his father hates his father—he denies the relationship into which God has placed him. So also, he who despises the Lord’s instruction and will not listen to what God says hates God. He denies the relationship that God desires to have with His children. He is not of God. This is what Jesus says in our Gospel this morning. “Whoever is of God hears God’s words.” Then Jesus continued, “The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” So He said to those who despised the words He spoke.

God is the Father of all. But the saving relationship we have with God is not based simply on the fact that He made us. God made the birds of the air and the beasts of the field that have no souls to save. And indeed God is the maker and preserver even of those who by their unbelief have rejected His salvation. The saving relationship we have with God is also not based on the fact that we obey Him and please Him by our own works. My son is my son not because of anything he does or doesn’t do. But as my son, I love him, and so I teach him, and he receives my words. And here lies the relationship between us and God. We listen to Him when He speaks, and He has the words of eternal life.

God loves us. We are born to be His children by faith through water and the word where He covers and forgives us all our sins for Jesus’ sake. It is this same word by which He teaches us what it means to be His children: He teaches us who He is and who we are; He teaches us what to believe; He teaches us how to behave. Ah, but just as my children are towards me, and your children are towards you, we also often disobey our Father in heaven.

Oh, we have heard His word. We have learned the 10 Commandments. We have all been taught what they require of us and what they tell us not to do. When we covet, when we lust, when we gossip and hold grudges, we are disobeying what God has clearly told us not to do.

This disobedience begins in our hearts. The desire to have what your neighbor has begins in the dissatisfaction toward what God has given you. The willingness to put the worst construction on something you hear about someone else finds its source in your heart that desires to find glory at the expense of others. Our ungratefulness for all the earthly benefits that God showers upon us, our desire for more and more despite how much wealth God has given — all of this can most appropriately be compared to a child who takes for granted the love and nurture of his parents.

So what is our relationship to God? Is He still our Father? Are we still His children? Well, if we look for a natural kinship, we will find that we are by nature sinful and unclean. If we look for a relationship that we have earned, we will find that we have merited His temporal and eternal punishment. This is what God’s word teaches us.

St. Paul writes to us in Ephesians 5, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [that is, because of the various sins of idolatry] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” By nature, by deed, we are sons of disobedience. But by adoption, by grace, we are sons of God. When we listen to what He says, we are not deceived by empty words. We are enlivened and enlightened by the very word that brought life and light into existence. And here we find our relationship with our Maker and Redeemer as sons and daughters of God.

We do not deny what we are by nature in order to pretend to have a familial relationship with God. No, we confess what we are. God tells us to. We don’t appeal to our family ties; we don’t appeal to our church membership or to our association to someone with a strong faith; we don’t appeal to how well we have behaved. Instead we appeal to our status as baptized sons and daughters. There in our Baptism His holy word turned plain water into a life-giving bath that washed our sins away. We appeal to the good conscience we have towards our Father in heaven for the sake of the suffering and death of His eternal Son. By faith in the words that He says, God credits to us Christ’s pleasing life of obedience. So we hear God. We are His children. And we who are sinful from birth hold onto the rebirth that made us heirs of heaven. We listen to His words. And so we are today, as Jesus says, of God.

Children tend to disobey their parents. That’s just what they do. If ever it seems like you have found a child who perhaps does not disobey his parents, watch out for that one. He’s sneaky, and he’s probably getting away with something. All children are naughty to some degree. And even in their most earnest desires to please mom and dad they struggle with a weakness that they cannot uproot from their hyper little hearts. They’re sinners. They all do things that require constant correction and discipline until that day when they leave the nest. So do we.

Just like a naughty little child, no sinner completely masters his sinful flesh. We must all wrestle with our naughtiness, our vanity, our selfish judgments and desires until the day we die. And just like a naughty child often draws the attention and scrutiny of more than just his parents, so also, God is not the only one who notices our sin. The world will see it. The devil will see it. And they will accuse. They will judge. We who call ourselves God’s children fall into doing those very things that our God forbids. “What kind of child are you?” the devil will say, “You are not a child of God, but a son of disobedience? Just look at all your sin.” The devil will chide us, “You do not deserve to claim such a relationship with God.”

Now the devil may be right. But he is not our father. He has no right to lecture us. We are not of the devil, remember. He is a liar. But we are of God. He tells the truth. Yes, we see by our sin that we have been disobedient children, and so we confess it. We don’t deny it. We do not say that we are without sin because then the truth would not be in us. But we are of God, and so we heed God’s word and confess that His judgment is true. And our Father in heaven is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He gives us a better judgment, because when God our Father sees our sin He covers it for Jesus’ sake.

What makes us the children of God is not our perfect behavior. Rather what makes us His children is that we have received His correction as from a father, and we continue to receive it. We have not despised it. And why? Because like a true child we know His love for us. Long before the devil could accuse us, before the world could mock us, before our consciences were even ashamed, God, in love for us, corrected and chastised His only begotten Son on the cross. There hung the only son of disobedience being punished by His eternal Father. But it was our sin. In our place, Jesus bore the wrath and stripes that are hard to bear. And by His passion we share the fruit of His salvation. Here we find the obedience of a Son: “Yeah, Father, Yeah, most willingly, I’ll bear what Thou commandest.” Here we find the love and patience that God demands of His children. Here we find the punishment we deserve and which God has spared us.

The devil and the world and our consciences might convict us of sin; but they cannot convict Christ of sin. And that’s what really matters. Because He is the spotless Lamb of God who bore sin for us. This is how our Gospel lesson began: Jesus said, Which one of you convicts Me of sin?” And of course they could not. Jesus told the truth. His status as the Son of God from eternity remained uncontested. “Before Abraham was,” Jesus said, “I AM.” He existed as the eternal God even as He made the Gospel promise to Abraham. And even today, it is the eternal God who makes His promise to us. And so we who are of God hear His word.

Today is March 25. Nine months from today it will be Christmas. Today the church has historically celebrated the day that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Jesus is Of God. The whole truth of the Gospel hinges on this. By the word of the angel, the eternal Son of the Father was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. There God chose to dwell in the midst of sinful flesh. We are also Of God. Our salvation depends on this. By the word that is preached to us through the power of the Holy Spirit we are born in the womb of the Christian Church. God makes His home in us by the same word through which He made His home in Mary, and became the Savior of the world.

Jesus said, Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” To ‘keep’ means to cherish. It means to treasure and guard and hold as valuable. Mary heard the words of God from Gabriel and kept them and pondered them in her heart. And she gave birth to the Lord of Life who conquered her own sin and death. She kept God’s words, but oh, she saw death; she saw as her own son endured the most heinous torture and suffered the darkest demise. She saw death. But Jesus tasted it for her. Her vision of death was beatific and it was one that we pray would be imprinted upon our hearts as well. Because in her tear-stained vision she witnessed her God tasting what she and we have been spared: the death that our sins have deserved. She saw what Abraham saw – she saw her Substitute who endured what God demanded. And so during this Lent, we ponder the conception of the Son of God, and with it we ponder the reason God became man – to suffer and die for His children on earth, and to rise again to bring us to life eternal.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Pastor John Christian Preus March 25, 2012



John 13:1-15 Maundy Thursday

Here Is Where We Learn of Love

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Jesus loved His disciples. He spent three years teaching them what He had come to teach us. He taught them that the Son of Man must be betrayed and suffer many things, and that He must be lifted up and draw all men to Himself. He taught them what it meant to love by teaching them what it meant to be loved by God. Jesus is loved by His Father. This love extends
before time and into eternity. But it is grounded in time in the hour that Jesus had waited for. “Therefore My Father loves Me,” Jesus said, “because I lay down My life that I may take it again. Think of what this means! This means that the love that the Father and the Son had shared from eternity was from before all time wrapped and bound in that singular act that Jesus had been born to do. God’s boundless love that knows neither beginning nor end cannot be known at all apart from what happened once and for all on the cross. HERE ALONE IS WHERE WE LEARN OF LOVE.

But this doesn’t keep people from talking about love as though they were experts on the subject. Poets redefine love as some sort of romantic feeling. Hollywood treats love at best like a benevolent impulse in the heart of man, but more often as a passing urge or lust. Instead of self-giving and sacrificial, people turn love into something that is self-seeking and greedy. Scarcely has the word love suffered more shameful assaults than in a culture where people are actually taught that before they can love others they must first learn to love themselves. What a lie! And because of this lie we see marriage routinely disparaged as confining; we see motherhood avoided and mocked as oppressive and stifling; we see charity measured by the tax-break it provides rather than by the mercy from which it ought to flow. What damage the noble virtue of love has suffered among us. This is what happens in a sinful world.

And yet despite such tragic desecration of the beautiful word love, still nowhere does the word suffer more than where sinners try to talk about God’s love apart from where God’s Son bore our sin on the cross. HERE ALONE IS WHERE WE LEARN OF TRUE LOVE. But again, this doesn’t keep people from talking about it as though they were experts on this subject too.

Spiritual speculation regularly replaces divine instruction. Sinners are always redefining the love of God according to their own fancy. Just look at what happens. In His revealed word, God threatens death and hell to those who transgress His commands; and how do folks respond? “Oh, but God wouldn’t do that. God is loving.” But what is this love? Instead of pointing to what God in love does for sinners on the cross, they ascribe to God their own invented notion of love. But this love doesn’t do anything at all to save us. It just looks the other way at sin. We need a love that deals with sin – that addresses sin squarely. We can’t fend off a bad conscience and the threats of the law simply by asserting that God is too loving to punish us so harshly. No. We point to where God’s love required the harsh punishment of His beloved Son in our place.

There is a poem that my grandpa taught me that was written by the famous Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen that speaks to this subject very well:

Of what this paltering world calls love
I will not know I cannot speak.
I know but His who reigns above;
And His is neither mild nor weak.
Hard even unto death is this,
And smiting with its awful kiss,
What was the answer of God’s love
Of old when in the olive grove,
In anguish sweat His own Son lay
And prayed “Oh, take this cup away.”
Did God take then from Him the cup?
No son His Child must drink it up.

God teaches us what love is. He teaches us what love requires. He teaches us in the obedience of Christ. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). This isn’t just a dry lesson on some lofty self-giving virtue that man aims to attain. No this is the divine plan to save sinners from hell.

Behold in Faith God’s only Son
Come nigh and see what Love has done
To save thee from damnation.
The Father lays on Him thy guilt,
For thee His precious blood is spilt
To bless thee with salvation.

This is what we need Love to do because of what we have failed to do. We are sinners who cave into the world’s redefinition of love all the time—we define love by what we want—we love ourselves instead of others—and so we need God to teach us again and again what true love is. We don’t need to learn how to perfect our own. This won’t save us. We need to know where God perfected His love toward us in that hour of darkness that He required His beloved Son to endure.

And this hour had finally come, as John records in our Gospel this evening. But the hour had not yet passed. Life was still coursing through His veins. His body was still warm. He still ate. He still served. He served in love. He loved them to the end. But it was not yet the end. Jesus, the true Passover Lamb, had already taken upon Himself the sins of the world. But there was still one more thing that He had to do before He paid for them on the cross.

And on this night when Jesus was betrayed, in love what did our Savior do? The Father had already given all things into His hands. And what did Jesus then distribute with those very hands? John doesn’t record the events of the Last Supper as it was handed down to Paul in our Epistle Lesson. Instead, He records the events immediately following.

Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. By doing so, Jesus taught His disciples and He teaches us where the source of love must always begin. It must begin with God serving us. When Jesus stoops down to serve those whose sins He bears, He is teaching the relationship between God and sinners. And we find this relationship nowhere more clearly than where Jesus gives to us His body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of all our sins. It is here that He stoops down in utter humility to make us clean. It is here that He delivers to us what He once delivered to His Father on the cross. That which once satisfied the Father’s wrath against sinners, now satisfies our need for peace with God.

Peter thought it was strange for Jesus to wash his feet. More than that, He thought it was inappropriate. But then Jesus said, If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” And so Peter allowed it. How strange it sounds to us to say that Jesus gives His body and blood for us to eat and to drink. Indeed, how inappropriate. But Jesus says, “Take eat. Take drink.” And so we do.

Once Peter learned that he needed Jesus to serve him, he did what a lot of people do. He started to tell Jesus how to go about it: Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” But all Peter needed from Jesus was for his feet to be washed and he was clean. Jesus serves us on His own terms.

We also know that we need Jesus to serve us. But what exactly do we need Him to do? Of course, we don’t need Jesus to wash our feet. This was a symbolic gesture that Jesus did so that we might follow His example of love and service toward one another. We are to wash each other’s feet. That is, we are to serve and love each other and bear one another’s burdens. But what do we need in order to do this? What do we need in order to resist the temptations of our loveless flesh – as we pray in that petition, “And lead us not into temptation”? What do we need in order to be delivered from evil – as Jesus has taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer? We need Jesus to forgive us our sins. That’s what we need. We don’t tell Jesus how to fill our need. No, but we humbly receive from Him what He gives us; and in His service to us we find our every prayer answered.

There is nothing more important than the forgiveness of our sins. There is no union with God, there is no fellowship with man, there is no safety from danger, there is no resurrection from the dead apart from the forgiveness that Jesus gives us – and He gives it to us because He earned it for us in His hour that had come.

St. John makes no distinction in our Gospel this evening between the hour when Jesus would give His body to be broken and His blood to be shed on the cross and the hour when Jesus gave His body and blood for sinners to eat and to drink. It is the same hour. That is why we examine ourselves before we come to this altar. We examine our need. We examine where we have not served our brothers and sisters, but have gossiped instead. We examine where we have not loved our spouse, where we have not covered faults and blemishes; we examine where we have given with a stingy heart. We examine our failure to love as we have been loved and to serve as we have been served. And as we examine ourselves, we also examine what we receive right here.

And so we see our deepest need met. See it, dear Christian. Taste it. Receive what your Teacher and Lord, what your God and Brother gives to you tonight. Receive it often. And so receive what Love has done for you. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim what the death of Christ has earned for you. He who is washed need only his feet to be washed and he is clean. And he who eats and drinks need only believe what he here receives. Believe it dear Christian, and forgiveness of sins is yours. And where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Pastor John Christian Preus April 5, 2012


Exodus 12:1-14/Matthew 26:17-30 Maundy Thursday

For You

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The Passover was to be celebrated as a statute forever. Even before God commanded Moses what to do, He made it very clear how important its celebration would be for years to come and even forevermore.
“This month shall be for you the beginning of months.” Their whole calendar would be reoriented around the events that God would soon accomplish. “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord, throughout your generations, as a statute forever.”

But, of course, we don’t celebrate it anymore, do we? The reason is simple. Christ fulfilled it. The Passover pointed to what Jesus would do to save sinners from eternal punishment. The reason God was so adamant about its continual celebration wasn’t because of the ritual itself. No, it was because God requires faith in Christ. Consider these words from Psalm 51:

O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.

God delights in our faith not because it is some virtue that pleases Him, but because it receives in repentance what Christ has earned for us. His sacrifice is the only sacrifice that God really cares about. And it is for the sake of this sacrifice that God accepts our own offerings as well.

The reason we don’t celebrate the Passover is because Jesus fulfilled it. On the other hand, the reason why Moses and the Israelites for generation after generation did celebrate the Passover was for the same reason – because Christ would fulfill it. It all centers in Christ. What He accomplishes is the focus of all saving faith from beginning to end.

Now, since the Passover pointed to Christ, the events of that first Passover night teach us very well how we ought to consider the night when Jesus was betrayed — because just as the angel of death went through the streets of Egypt, claiming what God said He would claim, so on the night of Christ’s betrayal, God claimed from His Son the price for our salvation. So let’s consider.

God’s children were in slavery. No threat would persuade Pharaoh to let them go. Nine plagues God had sent. But all they did was harden his heart. The tenth plague, however, was different. It would take human lives. God would require the life of every eldest son from every household. This last plague was different from the others in another way too. God would require the eldest son from every household. He didn’t make an exception for the Jews like He had with most of the other plagues. Think about that —the flies, the boils, the hail, the darkness— none of these things touched the Israelites. But with this final plague, when blood would be shed, God did not give His people a special exemption. Instead, He offered them redemption. By the blood of a spotless lamb painted on the doorframe of their homes, their eldest sons were spared. Nothing else distinguished them from the Egyptians that night other than the blood that marked their doors.

In this way, the Passover feast that God commanded taught them something more than just about this one event in Egypt. It taught them about how God would meet their spiritual need for deliverance as well. It taught them what distinguished them from the rest of the world. It was not their own goodness or obedience. It was not the blood running through their own veins. It was the blood that God commanded be shed; it was the blood that faith pointed to. Just as every inch of the lamb had to be pure and spotless to symbolize the purity that God required of them, so also every inch of the innocent lamb had to be thoroughly roasted by fire in order to symbolize God’s burning judgment against their sin.

And then they ate it. They took part in the sacrifice. By eating it, they said, “This lamb was slain for us!” They ate it with bitter herbs so to remember the hardship that they had to endure under Egyptian slavery. But of course the bitter slavery to sin oppressed them harder. The Lord’s Passover commemorated the night when God saved His people from Egypt. But it pointed forward to the day when He would free them from sin. They ate it in haste as refugees ready to flee.

Year after year, this night was remembered. God saved His people. He brought them out of Egypt through the Red Sea, through the desert, and into the Promised Land. He was their God and they were His people. And God preserved for Himself always a remnant who kept the feast in true faith – that is, who kept the feast with their eyes fixed on Christ.

And that’s why Jesus wanted to celebrate the Passover so badly. We hear Him say to His disciples in St. Luke’s Gospel, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” This word for fervent desire is almost always used in the New Testament to refer to lust or passion or covetousness – something sinful – because it’s the strongest urge a man can have. But Jesus’ urge, although strong, was holy. He desired to celebrate the Passover before He suffered and died because He wanted to join the ancient expectation of God’s people to His own fulfillment of it. In other words, He wanted to ground their faith in the fact that He would redeem them – not from Egyptian or Roman bondage, but from their sin–from death—from the impending wrath of God. He would do this by shedding His own blood. He wanted nothing more.

because this final celebration of the Passover would not merely recall that night when God’s wrath passed over to spare the eldest sons of Israel. No, the wrath of God would remain and fall upon the only Son of the Father as He bore the sins of the world. This is what Jesus fervently desired — because His fervent desire was to save us from our sin, and to give us eternal life with God.

Now, it’s interesting that even before the night of the Passover God commanded Moses that this would be a statute forever – to keep throughout their generations. And then in the same way, even before Jesus gave His body into death and shed His blood on the cross, what did He do? He instituted for His Church throughout the rest of time the Sacrament of His body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness He would soon purchase from God.

This is great! Even before God does what needs to be done for our salvation, He first makes sure that our faith knows what to cling to – where to find it. He doesn’t just save us in some distant corner – making the sacrifice some private affair between Him and His Father. No, He brings salvation to us – He transcends time and space to make us partakers of the sacrifice. We need Him to. Just as God’s people of old depended on the instructions of Moses to escape death that frightful night, so we need Jesus’ instruction to escape death today. And His instructions are so simple: Take, eat; take, drink.

On the night when Jesus was betrayed, on the same night when He fulfilled the Passover by becoming the true Passover Lamb of God, Jesus gave to us the fulfillment of the Old Testament by instituting for us the New Testament in His blood. Now, in the Old Testament, you couldn’t eat the blood. God was very strict about this. It was to be offered to God alone — because the life was in the blood. It was for making atonement. God demanded blood because God demanded that life be given to atone for our sins.

But now Christ has atoned for our sins. The blood that God once and for all demanded in order to make peace He no longer holds back. Christ offers His body and blood for us Christians to eat and drink in order to deliver the peace He won. It is not dead blood we receive. It is not His corpse we are eating. It is the risen and glorious body of Christ, and it is His living blood, which itself gives life.

When we eat the body of Christ, we declare: that was given into death for me! When we drink the blood of Christ, we declare: that was shed for me! Faith identifies what it receives.

Saving faith points to Christ. But more than that: saving faith receives Christ and all His blessings. That is why, to strengthen our faith, our dear Lord instituted this Sacrament. Our faith points not to something far away that must be reached and grasped by great spiritual discipline. No, our faith points to that which is given to us right here and now –that which that is placed into our very mouths for the forgiveness of our sins. What can possibly dispel our doubt more thoroughly? Jesus comes to us.

The Lord's Supper is not just a memorial of what once happened. It is a participation in it. The body offered in death and raised to life is given to us. The lifeblood shed to make peace between us and God delivers that peace. We do it in remembrance of Christ, not in order to be sentimental, but in order to know what this body and blood has earned — and so that we might believe it. When we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim our Lord’s death! We proclaim it until He comes again in glory to rescue us from the oppression of this sinful world.

And He will come. He will come as surely as He comes today. But since we don’t know when that will be, we don’t celebrate the Sacrament in haste like the Passover. We’re in no hurry. And it is not bitter like the Passover either. It’s refreshing, because it gives to us what every promise points to. But we do eat it – we do drink it with our loins girded and our staff in hand – so to speak. That is, we do partake of Christ’s atoning sacrifice ready to flee – at any time – ready to leave behind the slavery that binds us and that burdens us week in and week out. We celebrate this meal ready to depart in peace. Because that’s what it gives us.

Jesus said, after instituting the Sacrament, “I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” The reason Jesus gives to us the Sacrament of the Altar is so that we might feast with Him in heaven forever. It will be a feast of victory. The joy we know in part today through faith in the forgiveness of sins will be so full and so great that it cannot be expressed. All sin and doubt and weakness and death and sadness will be forever gone.

But for now, we don’t feast, do we? For now, we seem to just eek by. Our sins oppress us. And sometimes we even amaze ourselves at how selfish we can be. Our slave master is the very flesh that drives us. And we feed it, while we fail to hunger and thirst for what pleases God. We fall to temptation. We indulge our laziness, our lusts, our judgmental hearts. We are so far from the paradise of peace and joy that we are promised. We are so unworthy to feast with God.

But dear Christian, these are all the more reasons to receive what Jesus offers. No need to look at the Lord's Supper as a feast, where you need to conjure up good feelings, put on your best, and act happy. Look at it rather like a meal, like your daily bread – like supper. Look at it as what you need to get by, to survive. Because that’s what it gives you. It gives you life. It gives you what you need – not on special occasions, but often. It gives you everything that Jesus lived a holy life for. It gives you everything that Jesus died for. It gives you Jesus Himself. It gives you the forgiveness of all your sins and makes you worthy to receive all the joys that await you. You may come empty, hungry, and with nothing to offer. But Jesus blesses your weakness, and sends you away with more than heaven can hold. He makes us new every time we come – and so we come often to proclaim the death that gives us life until all death is forgotten in the newness of the heavenly banquet.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Pastor John Preus March 28, 2013



Luke 2:21 New Year’s Day


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And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

There’s a lot in a name – what other people call you, what you call yourself. Your name is your identity. It says a lot about who you are. Or maybe it says more about who your parents had hoped you would live up to. I myself am named after the Apostle John. If am to live up to my name, I have some pretty big shoes to fill. It’s fitting for me therefore that my name means “the Lord is gracious.” Thank God. Lots of other names have important meanings too. My daughter Nadia Christi has a neat name. It means “Hope of Christ.” Her name reflects that which she was given in her Baptism. I have a brother who is visiting today whose name I have always liked: Stephen Keyser Preus. His name means “Crowned Emperor of Prussia.” Pretty cool, huh? But … he’s not an emperor; he’s just my little brother. Some names, no matter how great in meaning, do not always accurately describe who you are. Now, although he’s done a great job so far, my brother, just like the rest of us, needs to make a name for himself, so to speak. We all have to do this; we must imbue our own name with our own character. And perhaps with the New Year, and with all our resolutions and stuff, we are particularly focused on this very task today.

But of course, I am not here to give you tips on how to do that. We’re here today to consider the name of Jesus. Unlike the rest of us, Jesus is what His name means. That’s why the name was given to Him by the angel Gabriel even before He was conceived. The name Jesus comes from the Hebrew for “the Lord saves.” Jesus is called Jesus because He is our Savior. And [Mary] will bring forth a Son,” Gabriel told Joseph, “and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

On Christmas we celebrate the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus being born to be our Savior. The eternal Word was made flesh. Today we celebrate another kind of birth of Jesus. We celebrate how the eternal Word was made under the Law. St. Paul writes in Galatians 4: But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Jesus was born to be a Jesus. This was the name given to Him before He was made true Man. But Jesus didn’t receive this name as His own until after He made it a name for Himself by submitting to the very law that held in bondage those whom He came to save. Jesus first submitted to the law by being circumcised on the eighth day as the law had required. This is what we celebrate today. When we consider the name of Jesus, we should always think of how He obeyed the law in our place.

Circumcision was the mark and seal of the everlasting covenant that God had made between Himself and Abraham and all of his dependents. All baby boys were to be circumcised on the eighth day by the removal of flesh from the body. This, of course, was symbolic of the removal of sin. Those who complied with this command received in their flesh the seal of the Gospel that their sins were forgiven on account of the future obedience of Jesus. Now, the mere act of doing this did not save anyone. It was always faith alone in the promise of Christ that saved those who were circumcised. Through circumcision God put His Old Testament people into a relationship with Himself whereby they received His grace and favor. By submitting to circumcision, Jesus was brought into this same relationship—though not as one receiving mercy, but as the One supplying mercy by fulfilling the law in our place.

Jesus was born for this express purpose – to be our Savior. This is a nice thought: savior. People imagine all sorts of things that they’d like to be saved from. And so, without regard for their own sinful condition, people have invoked the name of God, specifically the name Jesus, to serve as the banner for every sort of worldly cause. Even among so-called Christians, the name of Jesus has been misused – taken in vain – in order to promote salvation from something other than that which Jesus came to rescue us from.

What do we need to be saved from? What kind of Jesus do we need?

Around the time of the Civil War, in their efforts to confront the problem of American slavery, many abolitionists crafted the Gospel into a new message that appeared to address more accurately the problems of the Southern slave. It was a message of liberation from earthly taskmasters. And boy, isn’t that what they needed?! So many people painted Jesus as a moral champion of human rights who came to establish liberty and justice for all. Unfortunately this worldly message often replaced the heavenly message — that gave true freedom from the spiritual captivity to sin that held all men in bondage. By confusing their true need for Jesus, real sinners were deprived of their real Savior who came to save them from a much more oppressive master than what the American South could have ever produced.

Compared to the slavery of the 19th century, surely our problems seem small. But small or not, all the problems we face in life sure work to distract us from our greatest need. We have bills to pay, debt to deal with, relationships to repair, futures to plan, reputations to defend … And many of the things that occupy our minds and distract our hearts this morning will probably not even be solved by the time this calendar year is ended – and it has just begun. Such is life, so they say. I suppose it becomes a sort of slavery. And as swiftly as our lives are filled with problems from which we are incapable of freeing ourselves, so swiftly do we go chasing after false saviors, so swiftly do are hearts craft for themselves special jesuses, fit to rescue us from all of life’s troubles. But the saviors that we invent inevitably fail to give us true freedom. Another year past, and more trouble ahead. You can count on it. But even more than we need to be saved from all the burdens that our lives pile upon us, we need to be saved from a much more oppressive master.

This oppressive master is our own sin. It doesn’t just bind our hands and our feet while we dream of freedom. No, it binds our own heart and will so that even our hopes and dreams are by nature evil and opposed to God. It is this slavery of sin and doubt and disobedience to God’s holy law that we need more than anything to be rescued from. We need a very specific Jesus. We need the Jesus who was born under the law to redeem those who were under the law. We need the Jesus who was named Jesus because He will save His people from their sins by taking their sins away from them all the way to the cross. This is the Jesus we need.

It is good to know what Jesus’ name means, because then we know what Jesus does. He saves. But more specifically, He saves sinners. As wonderful as it is to know what Jesus’ name means, it is even more important to know what name we should assume for ourselves. There are two names that I’d like you to consider this morning as the most precious names that you can claim for yourself. The first is sinner. The second is Christian.

Jesus does not save us by giving us an example to follow. Have you ever wondered why we don’t name our children Jesus? It just seems kid of disrespectful, doesn’t it? But we name our kids after other great men and women whose lives are exemplary in the hopes that they will also grow up to imitate their virtues. But the life of Jesus is different than anyone else’s life. He does not fulfill His name by setting an example for us to follow. He fulfills His name by placing Himself under the very law that gave us the name of sinner. He fulfills His name by obeying what we were too weak to fulfill, and by shedding His blood to spare us from what he was unwilling for us to suffer.

But to be an example, Jesus would not have needed to be circumcised. Instead, Jesus submitted Himself to circumcision so that He could be under the law with us, no more than that, for us – to be our savior. Circumcision was God’s sign to sinners, to the unrighteous who needed forgiveness, because they could not keep God’s law. When Jesus submitted Himself to circumcision, He was placing Himself under the very law that demands everything from you. It demands complete perfection of the heart – of every thought, word, and deed. It demands what you cannot do. It demands a better name than you can make for yourself. It demands that you call yourself a sinner. And that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. He allowed Himself, who had no sin, to be called a sinner. This is what God required of His Son when He required that He be circumcised. He required that He “who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

But if we will not be sinners then we have no right to call ourselves Christians. Christians are those who know their sin, and know the one who has taken their sin upon Himself. At His circumcision, Jesus began the long road of obeying the law in our place, and received a foretaste of the pain and bloodshed that He would endure to save us from condemnation. And the end of this road was death for Jesus. It was on the cross that God named Jesus the sinner, so that you could adopt a new name, a name that God Himself would place on you in the name of His Son. That name is the name: Christian.

No longer does God command circumcision. Jesus fulfilled it. No longer can the law demand from you that you produce a righteousness worthy of life eternal. Jesus fulfilled this law in your place. No longer can death threaten you with its dark grave as your time on earth goes rolling on. Jesus your Savior has died this death once and for all, and in your Baptism has brought you with Him to join in His victory over all your spiritual enemies, and weaknesses, and failures. It is here where you were joined not to the covenant of future blood shed, but to the eternal covenant of your salvation won where you were buried and raised together with your Savior. It is here that you were first called a Christian, and the right to be called sons of God.

Dear Christians, you have been given the name of Christ, the Holy One of God, the Lamb whose holiness is so pure that angels blush before it. And this holiness is yours. This is what it means to be a Christian. It means having every heavenly gift imaginable. It means being called the very children of God. It means that whatever the law said you were, said you owed, said you deserved to suffer, has been replaced with the perfect obedience of the God Man Jesus Christ whose quest for your salvation began as a little baby the day He received the most precious name we can speak or hear: Jesus, Savior.

So what is the character of your name? You know what name you have earned for yourselves. You know the character of that name. It has burdened you. It has weighed heavy on your conscience this year and even now as the New Year dawns. It is the name of sinner. But hold on to this name. Do not let it go. But thank God that “this is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” And so, we rejoice in the name that God has given us in our Baptism where He joined us not just to an empty name, but to the righteous obedience and eternal life that belongs to the name of Christ Jesus our Savior. We rejoice in the name Christian, for this is the name which we are given. We are Christ’s and Christ is ours. He is our namesake.

Let us pray:

To me the preaching of the cross
Is wisdom everlasting;
Thy death alone redeems my loss;
On Thee my burden casting,
I, in Thy name,
A refuge claim
From sin and death and from all shame—
Blest be Thy name, O Jesus! Amen.

Pastor John Preus January 1, 2012


Luke 2:21 New Year’s (Eve)

According to the Law

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It’s the last day of 2012. Another year is passed. For better or worse, this mile marker measures the accomplishments and events of our lives. But I suppose we could use any other day as a mile marker. Think of all the other calendars that measure the year. There’s the fiscal year. That’s important to some people. There’s the academic year. This is engraved in the mind of anyone who’s been a student. There is, of course, the church year. This is the one that governs what we celebrate here in church. And finally there is the legal year, the one we’re all about to celebrate tonight, which runs from January 1st – December 31st.

Legal year. That makes it sound kind of unexciting. But I call it the legal year, because that’s exactly what it is. What else is it? Tomorrow is legally, according to the law, 2013. 2012 will legally be over. There’s no avoiding or undoing the passage of time. We know that. The law, however, with its legal years, makes sure that we don’t forget it either. That’s what the law does in all of its forms. It doesn’t make anything so. It just tells you what’s what. 2012 will soon be over and it will be too late to make 2012 anything other than what it was. That’s the law.

Tonight we close a year lived under God’s grace by commending a new year into His care. But consider what else brings us here tonight. January 1st just so happens to mark that day when the legal calendar intersects perfectly with the church calendar. It’s really kind of neat. Consider the theme. Just as the year begins on January 1st, according to the law, so also, for the church year, it is on January 1st that we celebrate how Jesus placed Himself under the law. In His birth, God submitted to our physical limitations. That’s Christmas. Eight days later, in His circumcision, God submitted to our legal restrictions. That’s New Year’s.

But when the fullness of the time had come,” Paul writes in Galatians 4, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

These two births are two different occasions – 8 days apart from each other. But they are both equally necessary for our redemption. We celebrate Christmas. In time the almighty God took on human flesh in order to dwell with sinners. How gracious. But God did not become man just to be our example. No. Because then we would have to save ourselves. But consider that that’s all He would have been for us, had He not eight days after He was born of a woman also submitted Himself to what God’s law required of sinners.

But couldn’t He have fulfilled the law without having been circumcised? Couldn’t He have still lived a holy and commendable life in full obedience to His Father? Couldn’t He have loved His neighbor as Himself, helped him, spoken well of him, protected him, and kept Himself pure form all lustful thoughts? Couldn’t He have? Well of course He could have! He would have! But He would have done it only for Himself. His obedience would have done us no good.

But by submitting His infant body to circumcision, Jesus placed Himself where we were. He placed Himself under the law that held us and convicted us as sinners. Jesus was circumcised so that all the good that He did, all the bad that He suffered – He did and suffered for us – in our place, for our benefit.

Now before I go on, I’d like to explain a little bit about circumcision so that this makes sense.

God called Abram – that was his name – it means exalted father – but God had given him no children – sort of an embarrassing name. But anyway God called Abram out from idolatry to come and serve only the one true God. How does one serve the one true God? Well, by believing in Christ, of course – by finding in Christ alone God’s eternal favor. God promised childless Abram that in his Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This Seed was Christ. This was the promise that Abram believed and that was counted to him as righteousness in God’s sight. It is the exact same faith by which all sinners are and have ever been justified. It is faith in Jesus.

As a sign and seal that God would keep His promise and send the Savior of the nations through his lineage – as an Old Testament sacrament if you will – God later circumcised Abram by removing a portion of his flesh. And when he was circumcised, God reiterated the promise He had made by giving him a new name. No longer would he be “exalted father.” He would be Abraham, “father of many nations. His new name reflected the promise that was made to him concerning Christ in whom all the nations would be blessed. It was for this reason that it became a tradition among the Jews to name their sons when they were circumcised. It was a confession of the Gospel.

Later, God gave the law to Moses, and so also reasserted the covenant of circumcision. The law did then what it does now. It revealed what Abraham had known about himself. It revealed sin. It revealed the innate corruption of man’s heart, and his inborn unbelief and hatred of God. It does this still today by showing us our failures to do what God requires. This is a corruption that we’re born with. That which is born of the flesh is flesh.

Circumcision indicated this by being a mark in the flesh. And consider what portion of the flesh was removed, and consider why. The very line of children that Abraham would sire and through which the Savior would come was a line of children conceived and born as sinners, under the law, accountable to God. That’s why only the boys were circumcised – because it was Adam who sinned and it is through this our first father’s sin that we all have inherited our corruption. This sin is ours because we were conceived in the natural way. Because of this, we are all destined to return to the ground from which we came, and from which Adam got his name. Circumcision was a mark of death. It was a mark of pain. It shed blood. It was for sinners marked as sinners who needed to be redeemed – whose children needed to be redeemed. It was a reminder of their need for Christ.

But in it, was also a sign of what would come in the fullness of time. Christ would be born without sin, because He was born of God from eternity. He would be born without sin, because He would be born of a virgin, without the help of a man. He would be born of a woman, who in herself bore no such sign of mortality – think of this – there’s a reason why girls weren’t circumcised – no seed was sown that would bring death. But from Mary’s womb, God brought forth life who would freely give Himself into death. The Seed that was promised to Abraham became the Seed of the woman who in bruising His heel would crush the serpent’s head.

Christ was born to be a Savior. That’s what the angel told Joseph. “And you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus means the Lord saves. But He did not receive this name until He fully committed Himself to redeem sinners by placing Himself under the law that condemned sinners. In His circumcision, Jesus was sealed as one who would die. He was marked as one who was accountable to God. He was appointed as one who would bleed, and even there in His circumcision, He would shed His first drops of blood to redeem us. And in so doing, He justly became what His name said He was: Savior.

Jesus came to do what the law commanded. He did. Jesus came to suffer what the law threatened. He suffered. After having lived the life that we could not, the life that earns only praise and reward, Jesus suffered on the cross for every life that fell short. He suffered in His body the death of a hundred billion sinners and more who were born spiritually blind, dead, and hostile to God. But by His perfect life and passion, He reconciled them all to their God. As St. Paul writes in Romans 10: For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

The law speaks and it is done. 2012 is over. It’s soon to be legal. What happened happened. The law keeps records and numbers what You have done and left undone. The law works wrath and makes a sinner out of you. But it couldn’t make a sinner out of Jesus. That’s what makes Him our Savior. He gives us His perfect year, His perfect 2012, His perfect life that will extend far beyond 2013. He gives to us His righteousness not where He has removed flesh from our bodies like in circumcision that marks a man as one who will die and who will sow seeds of death. No, He clothes us in His perfect obedience in Holy Baptism, where He buries us into His own death and raises us with Him in His glorious resurrection so that we will bear fruit that lasts forever.

God keeps His promises. The covenant he sealed with circumcision proves this. The death that circumcision pointed to has occurred. And now Christ joins us to it, so that we might rise and live with Him forever.

  • We are His members.

    • Through Baptism.

    • Not by flesh removed but by sin removed, and the answer of a good conscience toward God.

    • Old Man drowned. New Man raised.

    • New desires. Live before God forever. Honor God’s name here in time and hereafter in eternity.

  • We are reminded of our Baptism here in the benediction from Num. 6.

    • The name/work of God is placed upon us and applied to us.

    • God blesses us by giving us His name. Jesus fulfills His name.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Pastor John Preus December 31, 2012



John 12:12-19 Palm Sunday

Praising our King

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Every election cycle we witness it all over again – although this year it has seemed to last especially long – politicians running for public office trying to sell themselves as public servants who have your best interests in mind. It’s an interesting thing to watch if you don’t let it depress you too much. But while they all try to court your trust and win your vote with affected displays of meekness, it becomes painfully clear every year that it is not always your peace and prosperity that drives these men and women to aspire for public office. It is raw power.

Now, I know this sounds pretty cynical of me. And I know there are some politicians out there who have good intentions to rule wisely and fairly. But true statesmen are few and far between. Power corrupts. The very taste of it turns seemingly harmless ideologues into oppressive tyrants. When we go to the polls, we often resign ourselves to choose the lesser of two evils. We’re not looking for a political messiah; we don’t expect one; we’re just looking to get the best we can. Of course, it’s good to pray for, and even campaign for, good rulers. But this doesn’t mean we have much confidence in the things they can accomplish for us. It is as it says in Psalm 118:

It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man; it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (Psalm 118:8-9).

The Palm Sunday crowd knew this. They knew that they needed to trust in the Lord, because they knew that they needed what only the Lord could give. Earthly rulers promise earthly benefits, but these earthly benefits never last. Jesus promised life and salvation that lasts forever. And that is why the crowds sang those words that they had learned from the same Psalm 118 that taught them not to trust in rulers, “Hosanna—Oh, save us now! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”

This Psalm could not be sung to any other king. Jesus was a man, but He was not just a man. Jesus was a prince. But more than that; He was the Prince of Peace who had come in the name of the Lord. Jesus could be trusted. The crowds hailed Him, not because He had promoted better policies than Pontius Pilate or Caesar. They laid their clothing and palm branches upon His royal path, not because He had shown Himself to be more personable than Herod. No, they worshipped their King, because Jesus came in the name of the Lord. He who by the power of the Lord had raised up Lazarus came to bring salvation over sin and death just as the prophet had foretold:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

These words from the prophet Zechariah Jesus fulfilled as He rode humbly into Jerusalem to bear the sin of the world. Only Jesus can save us from our sin. He is the Lord God of Israel who took on human flesh and blood. Only this Man comes in the name of the Lord.

Humbly. Lowly. Riding on a donkey. Jesus was different than earthly kings in every way. Earthly rulers come with pomp in order to dictate. Jesus comes in humility in order to serve. Earthly rulers defend and retain their power by threatening punishment to all who transgress their commands — and they should! God tells them to. But what did the Father tell Jesus? — To earn His right to rule sinners by laying aside His glory – to endure what no man willingly endures. Earthly rulers, if they are wise, reward good behavior with wealth and opportunity. But in the wisdom of God, Jesus freely gives to disobedient sinners the eternal wealth and reward that He alone earned when He was rejected by man and forsaken by God.

No, Jesus certainly wasn’t like other kings. The victory that He set out to win was different from any other victory, because the foe was different than any other foe. Victory over sin, death, and the devil required what no king could fulfill. It required what no man can render because man is neither willing nor able. It required the perfect life of obedience to God and of service to the neighbor. It required humility. Sinners cannot raise themselves to God no matter how much power and might they have. In fact it is their power and might that gets in the way. Sinners must learn to bow before God in humble repentance; they must learn to lay aside themselves and their own selfish desires; they must despair of their own righteousness, their own power, their own glory. Sinners must find it only in Him who is righteous, who is selfless, whose power and glory is found in weakness and lowliness.

God lowered Himself to man because the victory that God set out to win required that Man be humble and lowly. It required that, though Jesus was in the form of God, that He not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, although this equality belonged to Him from eternity. Instead it required that He make Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant and humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus did not come in His own name, flying His own flag like earthly rulers, doing good for his own good, and winning hearts for his own sake. No, He came in the name of the Lord – in order to do good for the sake of His neighbor, and to win hearts for the kingdom of God. The authority by which He came to earth demanded from Him that He suffer and die to take away the sin of the world. And so in humble obedience to His Father, our King responded:

Yea, Father, yea, most willingly
I'll bear what Thou commandest;
My will conforms to Thy decree,
I do what Thou demandest.

Jesus came obeying His Father. His Father required that He submit to the death that man would impose. What injustice. It’s an injustice that we by nature shirk off and resist. But it is an injustice that repentant sinners rejoice in. By humbly riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, by hiding His divine glory which would destroy us all, Jesus teaches us that the manner by which He saves us is one of humble obedience to God. He does this by rendering humble service to sinners – by doing the exact opposite of what sinners do. The crowd of sinners cried out “Hosanna! Oh, save us now!” They needed a savior. But Jesus could not have answered this prayer of that first Palm Sunday crowd that extolled Him as their King without first enduring what the Good Friday crowd demanded, the crowd that cried out, “We have no king, but Caesar!”

But Jesus did not give in to the demand of the Good Friday mob like some weak, defeated king.  No, He answered the prayer of the Palm Sunday worshippers as the glorious King that He is.  It was not the cry of bloodlust that put Jesus on the cross.  It was God’s love for sinners that put Jesus on the cross. And so it is with our cry for mercy, for forgiveness, for salvation, for life. We find the answer to our prayer of “Hosanna” on the cross of Jesus, because there we see the love of God for us:

O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!
The Father offers up His Son!
The Son, content, descendeth!
O Love, how strong Thou art to save!
Thou beddest Him within the grave
Whose word the mountains rendeth.

There in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago, the Lamb of God went uncomplaining forth to save us from the fear of death. Days later, that same Lamb of God did the actual saving. He bore the sin and guilt of the whole world in His holy body upon the cross. There He suffered and died in our place bearing all of our sins away forever. There on the cross 2000 years ago our salvation was won.

But here, today, this same salvation is distributed to each one of us. We can expect it to come to us in no more glorious a way than when it rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. But it most certainly does come. Jesus continues to bring the salvation He won for us to us in a likewise humble manner. Plain and common water, included in God’s command and combined with God’s promise washes away your sin, makes you God’s child, and gives you eternal life. When sinful lips forgive your sins right here this morning, God assures you that you are forgiven before His throne in heaven.

Humbly. Lowly. This is the manner in which Jesus brings us salvation. And so this is the manner in which we receive it. We cry for mercy from our loving God who has demonstrated in the humble obedience of His Son how He truly desires to be merciful to us. And so with all our sins that we need our God to graciously cover, we come to Him with confidence, singing what that first crowd sang: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna, oh Lord, save us now!” And He does. That is why we Christians have been singing these words for nearly 2000 years as we rejoice in the fact that Christ so humbly comes to us in the Lord’s Supper, giving to us His body and blood for us to eat and to drink. It is here that we receive the forgiveness of all of our sins. And where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. It comes in a humble manner. But look at what it accomplishes for you!

The prophet Zechariah tells us to rejoice. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!” The daughter of Zion is the Christian Church. “Behold, your king is coming to you.” By the hand of St. John the Evangelist, the Holy Spirit has rendered this same prophecy with these words: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming.” One tells us to rejoice; the other tells us not to be afraid. Is this an inconsistency? No. It’s the same thing. This’s what God teaches us.

To rejoice in what God has done for us is not the same as when we rejoice in what an earthly hero can do. Powerful rulers can win victories and establish peace, but the impending fear that this peace will not last is always there. One day we rejoice; the next day it is our enemies’ turn to taste the sweet joy of victory over us. And so it is with our heart and conscience as well, as we fight the battle against our own sinful flesh. Every time we have conquered a temptation to sin, and we think we have found a reason to rejoice, we find ourselves falling prey to another sin, and another, and we return right back to the old familiar fear that accompanies our guilt. But because we cannot place our confidence in what sinners can do, we must place all our trust in Christ our King who comes in the name of the Lord. This is what Jesus has taught us.

When God forgives us all our sins for Jesus’ sake, He bids us to have confidence in that forgiveness. He bids us to have no fear that our victory over death and hell can ever be taken away. It cannot. Earthly joy is often mixed with such fear, but it is not so with the joy that we have in our God’s salvation.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Pastor John Christian Preus April 1, 2012



John 14:23-31 Pentecost

Keeping Jesus’ Words

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When you can’t understand another person’s language, there is very little from that person that you can learn. Once you understand the language, the learning can begin. But what do you learn? A few years ago, Monica and I and our son James spent ten months in Germany. I was there as a student of theology, but I spent most of my time trying to learn as much of the language as I could. Although I was still very far from mastering the language, I do remember the first day in Germany that I was able to completely understand a long, compound German sentence. For weeks I had been listening in the classroom, and concentrating so hard, trying to catch as many words as possible. When I finally understood, I was so proud and excited at my progress, that with a big smile on my face, and sitting high in my chair, I could hardly contain my delight. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard, for no other reason than that I could finally understand it – I had figured it out!

Here’s an English translation of what my professor said that made me so happy: “In my personal opinion, there’s nothing wrong with ordaining women as pastors.” He continued, “Those passages in Scripture, where the Apostle Paul said that women cannot be pastors no longer apply to us today because Paul wasn’t aware of our contemporary situation.” My professor was wrong. What he said was contrary to the word of God. And yet it made me happy simply to understand what he said. Now, although there is satisfaction in figuring things out, there’s not much benefit to understanding something, if what you learn by it is not true. But that’s life. Typically, we have to figure things out and come to understand them before we are able to determine whether or not they are reliable.

But this isn’t the way it is with what the Holy Spirit teaches us. Jesus calls him the Spirit of truth. We don’t master his words in order to gauge their reliability. Rather, what the Holy Spirit teaches us in Scripture becomes our master because what he teaches us is itself reliable. He is God. The Holy Spirit convinces us through the gospel. He creates faith in our hearts to believe what God tells us despite all the objections of our flesh, which is by nature inclined to place itself above God and his word. Mankind has been doing this since the fall.

It was for this reason that God confused the language of the earth at Babel when the sons of men tried to build a tower to heaven. They all understood each other; but there was nothing they were saying that was worth understanding. They weren’t speaking the word of God. They weren’t recounting his promises to save sinners. Instead, they spoke of their own glory. They recounted their own accomplishments. Having forgotten the holy name of God, they sought to make a name for themselves. God taught a great lesson when he thwarted their efforts by confusing their speech:

We don’t raise ourselves up to God in order to figure him out. Instead we assume a posture of humility. We rely on what God teaches us despite the fact that it goes against our modern sensibilities, and despite our inability to fully understand why he says what he says. We don’t learn about what is important by talking. We learn by listening.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he promised his disciples to send the Holy Spirit. He fulfilled this promise to them on Pentecost, when, as the disciples were gathered, the Holy Spirit came down and filled them. Tongues of fire rested upon their heads. The curse of Babel was reversed as he gave them the ability to speak languages that they had never learned. He confused man’s language when man had nothing useful to talk about. But he restored what he had taken away once they had something worthwhile to teach. People from every nation and tongue who were in Jerusalem were able to hear the gospel of God’s love in Christ preached to them in their own languages. They didn’t have to strain their ears or spend a year abroad to sift through untrustworthy “personal opinions.” No, each person understood and heard what was beneficial and true. God’s name was hallowed as the word of God was taught in its truth and purity.

The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts to trust for our salvation in the merits of Christ alone who made full satisfaction for the sins of all sinners by bearing all sin. That is the Spirit’s work, not ours. We don’t have the ability or strength to believe in Jesus or call on his name apart from him who calls us by the gospel and enlightens us by his gifts. The Holy Spirit teaches us to love Jesus by teaching us to cherish the word that he speaks.

Many churches, that call themselves Pentecostal after the day of Pentecost, teach that we should expect something further from the Holy Spirit. They say that the Holy Spirit enters us when we by our own choice accept Jesus into our hearts. Of course, that’s not possible. From this point, though, they teach that we should expect a similar experience as the one that occurred on that first Pentecost. This is the big deal, they say. They teach that we find true evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in our lives if only we are moved to such spiritual excitement that we begin to speak in tongues.

But Jesus never promised that this would happen for us. The gift of tongues that was given in those first days to certain people for a limited time was intended for a specific purpose. It was not as a confirmation of their own salvation. No, it was so that they could preach salvation to others. Jesus never promised to give us any experience like this that would confirm or make more certain our own personal faith in him. Instead Jesus gives us something much better than tongues. He gives us his word; he gives us his Holy Spirit who bears witness in our hearts that we are sons of God through faith in Christ. He does this by forgiving us our sins for Jesus’ sake. He creates and sustains our trust in God for all good things by giving us in word and sacrament that which Jesus purchased for us: eternal life and peace with God. That is what the Holy Spirit does.

But the Holy Spirit does more, doesn’t he? The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, doesn’t he? Christians are called to a life of love and service to God and others, aren’t they? We experience the Holy Spirit working in our lives, don’t we? Of course we experience the Holy Spirit! He who gives us new life by faith also sanctifies our life by filling us with love. He changes the way we feel and think and behave. But what he does within us in this life on earth is never complete. As long as we remain living in these mortal bodies we remain sinners with sinful desires. No matter how much progress in our spiritual life that we might ever think we see, we will never find in our own love and behavior assurance that we have peace with God. Our love is incomplete. But God’s love for us is perfect. And our confidence rests on that which is certain.

Our faith will never rely on what we, through spiritual exercise, may become capable of. We never graduate from trusting in Jesus. The Holy Spirit does not tell us to look inside of ourselves to have peace with God, and he never will. Inside of us we find our own sin. We find what makes God angry. We find the problem—and that is all that we will ever find in this life. When we examine our own experiences we don’t encounter proof that the Holy Spirit is living in us and making us fit for heaven; we encounter our own weaknesses and failures to live the life that God has called us to live. Spiritual strength that consists of the ability to look inside of ourselves for strength and guidance is a spirituality that is hostile to God, because the Holy Spirit always does the opposite; he directs our attention outside of us. He points us to Jesus.

We don’t measure our spiritual health by measuring our moral progress. That’s what the folks at Babel did. Rather we find our spiritual nourishment in the clear words of Jesus – “Come unto Me;” “He who believes and is baptized;” “This is my body;”—because it is here that he gives us peace with God. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. The peace that Jesus promises is not a peace that he gathered an army to win. It is not a peace that he built a city and a mighty tower to protect. It is not the kind of peace that the world can give because this peace with our God was not acquired in the way that the world acquires peace.

Instead it is the peace that only Jesus can give, because only Jesus laid down all arms and humbly submitted himself to the very sinners whose guilt he bore. Only Jesus who had every right to point to himself and inside of himself and say there is righteousness, there is eternal life, there is all the strength I need, nonetheless for our sake this Jesus emptied and humbled himself before God. He pointed to his Father and said, “I go to him who is greater than I. By myself I am equal to him. But look at all the sin I bear that makes me a worm and no man. I do this for you. I show my perfect life of obedience to God and then I go to the cross in the place of those who were disobedient.” On the cross, Jesus confronted his Father’s wrath against all sinners, and endured every last threat the law ever spoke against us. We will never find the perfect life inside our hearts. But in the life of Jesus our Savior we find not only the blameless life that God demands from us, we find also the spotless life that God our Father graciously reckons to us.

That professor of mine in Germany was wrong when he said that there are portions of Scripture that no longer apply to us. All Scripture most certainly does apply to us. It is the voice of God. It does not speak to us only insofar as we are able to master its words. It speaks to us because the Spirit of God seeks to master our hearts and save us. He does this by teaching us all things as Jesus sent him to do. And everything he tells us is beneficial. He teaches us the truth about ourselves unto repentance, and he teaches us the truth about Jesus unto everlasting life.

And he is most certainly familiar with our contemporary situation. Not only is he acquainted with what goes on in the world today, he is aware of what goes on within each one of our hearts. He is more aware of the sin in our hearts than we are. “Who can understand his errors?” we pray, “Cleanse me from my secret faults.” And he does. He does, because the Holy Spirit cares about every little thing that litters our lives – our struggles, our regrets, our shame, our weakness, our cancer, our sickness, our doubts, our lusts that won’t let up. Our problems that find their source deep within us matter deeply to him, and he teaches us who made these problems his own.

He directs our hearts to Jesus who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows – he purifies us as he bears witness to the blood that cleanses us from all unrighteousness. He points us to where he washed us once in the waters of Baptism where we were sanctified and made God’s own dear children. He guides us to the Sacrament of the Altar where Jesus himself forgives us all our sins by giving us the very body and blood that took them away. He points us to every word that proceeds from his mouth, because by the word of Jesus that we keep and cherish, we are convinced that no other word from God can possibly do us harm. The peace with God that Jesus gives us is not ours to doubt; it is ours to believe; it is ours to rejoice in, because we do not rely on that which we can figure out, but upon that which surpasses all understanding.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Pastor John Preus May 27, 2012


John 14:23-31

The Holy Spirit Clears Confusion by Giving Peace with the Father through Jesus Christ

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After God had rescued Noah and his family from the destruction of the flood, God told Noah and his children to spread out and fill the whole earth. They didn’t. Admittedly, they couldn’t have done so right away — and God didn’t expect them to. It would take a few generations for three women to have enough children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to begin filling the earth. They’d have to wait for God to bless them. Well, their numbers grew. They had big families. God told them to be fruitful and multiply. And they did, because God blessed them. But instead of looking at their increase as a blessing come down from God, they looked at their increase as something to raise up to God, to show Him what they had become. They got it all backwards. They were proud. And in their pride, instead of spreading out, like God told them to, they settled in the valley of Shinar and sought to make a name for themselves.

The reason God gave them children was in order that He might bless their children. God would provide. God would protect. God would put His own name on them and be their God. They were to trust in God – wherever they were, wherever they went. Spreading out would have required that they trust God to care for them. But by choosing instead to stay put and build a city, they showed their preference for their own protection and providence over God’s. By building a tower that would reach to heaven, they placed their own name above God’s. Now it’s not like they were trying to build some physical tower that would bring them to heaven like a staircase. They weren’t Neanderthals—stupid. They understood the distinction between spiritual and physical just like we do. What they were doing was try to work together and build something great and beautiful and sturdy that God in heaven would take note of and be impressed with. By showing God what they could do when they cooperated with one another, they thought they were offering God some sort of worship. But they were really just worshiping themselves. They were building an altar to their own accomplishments.

So it goes. This is exactly how folks today continue to offer praise to God. They raise up to God their noble deeds, their goodwill toward man and charitable giving, they publicize their grand efforts to improve society, to right wrongs and establish justice on earth as though all this should impress God. But they’ve got it all backwards. They make a name for themselves, when they should be calling on the name of the Lord, asking Him for mercy. God requires more than teamwork with one another. He requires more than all children of man holding hands and singing. He requires perfect obedience toward God, and pure holiness from the heart.

By confusing the language of our ancient parents, God shattered all their efforts to work together, to live in their imagined peace, and to establish safety in numbers. Now don’t get this wrong. God is not the author of confusion. He is the author of peace. But by confusing their language, God simply reflected their own spiritual confusion. They thought that they could affect peace on earth by their own work. They were wrong. It was an illusion, just like it is today. God showed them that heaven was not to be found on earth. They thought they were safe so long as they found a way to stick together. They were wrong. Had they forgotten so soon how God revealed His wrath in the flood when the children of Adam and Eve stuck together and perished? I suppose they had. If they would not listen to God, therefore, neither would they be able to listen to each other. In the confusion of their languages, God showed them the wicked confusion of their hearts. Distrust and malice was soon made plain between them. No longer could they work together, or even live together. They abandoned their efforts, and the half-built edifice to their own glory was named Babel, because there God confused their language.

The confusion of language is not the cause of human strife. It simply reflects it. As God said moments after Noah and his family stepped off the ark, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” What divides us from each other is our sin. It’s true. Our ability to communicate does not reduce sin. If anything, it increases it. The reason God scattered man by confusing his language was in order to slow down man’s rapid decline.

The language barrier, as we call it, is most certainly an obstacle for human cooperation in any task. Perhaps you’ve worked with a migrant worker or something and have noticed this yourself. But this obstacle, you know, is not the worst thing. Human cooperation is over-rated. Although accomplishing great things – especially in this age of mass-communication, it cannot solve or even really address our deepest problem anyway. It’s our own rebellion against God that needs to be dealt with. That’s our problem. And God must face it.

If, at any point in human history, God had lifted the curse of Babel, allowing the greatest minds to work together in perfect concert, offering solution after solution in one common language, not only would we not have accomplished the redemption we need, but we would not have even thought of it. Our best efforts would merely have sunk us deeper into self-delusion and self-righteousness. In other words, teamwork leads us only further from God. Just look at all the false religions and mass confusion that man’s best efforts have created. It is as St. Paul tells us, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he receive them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

No, man could not have thunk in a million years God’s plan for our salvation. No way. No how. As Paul also says right before that, quoting from Isaiah 64:

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Then Paul continues, “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

That’s what we celebrate today on Pentecost: the giving of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us these deep things of God. He teaches us what God has prepared for us who love Him. He teaches us to love Him. He teaches us what love is by working faith in our hearts to believe the promises of our God in Christ — that the Father sent forth His Son, whom He loved, to redeem sinners like you and me — confused sinners, who by their own powers and merit were lost and condemned.

It’s not our communication with one another – no matter how clear we can be – that brings us together as the Church. It is God’s communication with us. He speaks. We listen to Him. We listen to the words that Jesus speaks. We listen to the words that the Holy Spirit inspired to be written for our learning. We listen to these words and we keep them in pure hearts. That means we believe them. And so we teach and confess clearly what the Spirit teaches us about Christ who brings us to the Father. It is not our own words that we hold sacred. It is the very word of God.

In the events of that first Pentecost, which we heard from Acts 2, we see that what I have explained about the shortcomings of human communication is true. When the Holy Spirit was first poured down on those faithful believers who prophesied in languages they had never learned, notice the reaction they first got. The mere overcoming of the language barrier didn’t put an end to their deep confusion at all – no matter how miraculous it was – No. Rather, it heightened their confusion. St. Luke tells us: “And when this sound [of rushing wind] occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.” They were confused. Think of that.

The speaking in tongues itself was not the solution to the problem they faced. What they were saying was. It was the message: “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” God intended that the miracle of Pentecost be a sign that all nations should heed the message of the Gospel. And so that’s what we expect to hear in our own language too. We expect to hear the wonderful things that God has done for everyone. God heals our divisions with each other – and even overcomes language barriers – by healing our division with Himself. He sends His Son to reconcile Himself to us. And He sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts so that we can call out to Him, “Abba, Father.” He doesn’t do this by speaking soft and still nothings into our hearts, but only through the external word that we hear.

There are those today who call themselves Pentecostals, named after this day of Pentecost, (100 years or so) who try to prove the Holy Spirit’s working in their lives by doing what they call “speaking in tongues.” Of course they communicate nothing. It’s gibberish at best. The “languages” they speak are not real, but merely the result of hyped-up emotions. I’m not saying they’re necessarily faking anything. Emotions are very real, as anyone who’s been a teenager can attest. And if you’ve ever been to one of these church services, you will see that the whole program is designed to maximize your emotional response. What I am saying is that it’s not the Holy Spirit. Obviously it is no good at all when it draws people away from the word of God and gets them to focus instead on whatever might be stirring within. God’s word is truth. Our hearts are the source of confusion.

And yet people are actually taught to turn inward to find the Spirit’s working in their lives. So-called “speaking in tongues” becomes not a means to speak the Gospel so that others might hear and be saved. Rather it becomes a demonstration of one’s own spiritual powers. It functions more like a tower of Babel than a pulpit: “Look at my spiritual strength! Look at how favored I am in God’s sight! Look at how much I must love Jesus!” But you don’t need me or anyone else to blabber on and prove that the Holy Spirit is working in me or that my love for the Lord is real. You don’t need that. The world doesn’t need that. What we need is for Christ to be preached. What we need is for God to be reconciled to sinners for Jesus’ sake. Isn’t that what Peter did on that Pentecost day?

What comes from within us, whether it feels holy or not, whether it is intelligible or not, is going to be nothing but confusion. It’s sin. But what comes from without, what comes from God brings light. The Holy Spirit leads us to truth.

The miracle of Pentecost continues today, not through spasmatic reenactments of tongues, but through the preaching of God’s holy word and the right administration of Christ’s holy sacraments. Jesus said to His disciples, “But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit continues to lead the Church into all truth by leading us to the peace that Jesus has earned with the Father. It is a peace that the world cannot give. It is a peace that the world does not, on her own, recognize. Just look at the confusion that reigns on earth.

Whether it be so-called gay marriage, or a woman’s right to choose, or even the seemingly innocuous mantra that you should “believe in yourself” — all of this confusion is nothing less than straight-up war against God.

In our own lusts and pride and selfish goals we find this war going on in our own hearts as well. We have loved what we should not. We have ignored our need for what we should have loved, including those around us. We are sinners. But in the darkness of our confused hearts, our Savior God shines His light. He clears all confusion by giving us what no heart could have requested, and no tongue declared. But the Spirit declares it. What speaks to our confusion and weakness is not a show of human strength and holiness. That won’t do. Such towers of human contrivance are never completed. But it’s the pure words of Jesus, which are spirit and life. His work is most certainly completed. And His work brings us to heaven.

By teaching us to know Christ, the Holy Spirit teaches us a pure language. It is by the faith that the Holy Spirit works in us that Zephaniah’s prophesy has come true:

For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language,
That they all may call on the name of the Lord,
To serve Him with one accord” (Zephaniah 3:9)

We know how to call on the name of the Lord, because we know how to talk about God. Jesus teaches us how. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

We love Jesus by loving what He accomplishes. By loving the righteousness that the law requires, but that Jesus fulfills in pure obedience. He brings us to the Father. When the Holy Spirit enters our hearts (through the word we keep) to work faith, He brings with Himself our Lord Jesus who atoned for all our sins, and also the Father who through Jesus’ suffering and death is reconciled to us. Their home is with us.

That is why we can be certain that our cry for mercy to the name of God will always find an open ear. This cry pierces the heavens and the love of God dispels all confusion and gives us peace.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Pastor John Christian Preus May 19, 2013


Matthew 11:25-30 Pentecost 7

God Elects us in Christ’s Suffering

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What is God’s plan for my life? What does the Maker of heaven and earth want for me – today, tomorrow, forever? What does God have in store for
you, your children, for all of us beyond this short life of ours on earth? Many people exert a lot of energy and spend lifetimes trying to figure out the answer to such questions. And we can hardly blame them? These are really deep questions. It’s not easy to just stumble upon the right answer (though many believe they have). But who is to say when you think you’ve figured it out, that you haven’t just been deluded and deceived – especially considering that greater and wiser men than we have spent their entire lives seeking such understanding without any success? Who’s to say that what we have figured out, on one hand, and what God has chosen, on the other hand, are not totally different? It’s a hard question, and it’s even harder to answer it. And so people often give up and pretend like it isn’t even an all that important question anyway. But it is. Our life depends on it. And we here at Trinity Lutheran Church know the answer to it. We learn of God’s will for our eternal welfare when we learn what His will for each one of us is right here today: GOD’S GOOD WILL IS FOR CHRIST TO BEAR OUR BURDENS.

Jesus said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.’” God the Father hides from some that which He reveals to others. Wow! This presents one of the most difficult teachings of Holy Scripture: God’s eternal election, or what is called the doctrine of predestination. But what exactly does God hide? And what exactly does He reveal? How do we find out what God’s eternal choice is for us, and whether He is holding something back by hiding something from us? Since these questions are so pressing and fundamental to a true knowledge of our God, many theologians have attempted in different ways to provide definitive answers.

In the 1500’s, the great Swiss theologian, and father of the Reformed church, John Calvin, tried to answer the impossible question of “why are some saved and not others.” He did so by stressing the supreme sovereignty of God. He thought that this is where we could find God’s plan for our eternal future. Calvin taught that God had chosen from eternity some people for salvation, and that He had chosen from eternity other people for damnation. He bolstered this false doctrine of his with the just-as-false teaching that Jesus only died for the sins of those whom God had elected for salvation, but He had not died for those whom He had elected for damnation. It makes sense. Both choices, Calvin taught, serve to bring glory to the almighty and sovereign Lord God. Which choice He has made for you … is ultimately unknowable until you die.

As you could well imagine, this attempt to understand God’s hidden will by employing reasonable arguments is not without its problems. People want a little bit more certainty concerning their salvation than just the distant hope that God’