Fourth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 4:1-12 | 1 John 3:16-24 | John 10:11-18

Text: John 10:11-18

There are many shepherds in the Bible.  It’s a recurring theme, almost like God’s trying to teach us something.  We come across the first one very early with Abel “who was a keeper of sheep,” who was also killed by Cain.

Cain & Able

The next prominent one is Jacob, who tended Laban’s sheep out of his love for Rachel. Laban’s flocks and herds were blessed under his care, even though Laban dealt shrewdly with Jacob.


Then, we come to Moses, who after fleeing Egypt, for 40 years watched his father-in-law, Jethro’s, sheep in Midian.  After his call, Moses led the Lord’s people through the Red Sea and in the wilderness. And under Moses, the people confessed, “He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” (Ps. 95:7)


Then most prominent of all shepherds is King David, the youngest of 8 brothers, who no one paid regard because he was the youngest and kept the sheep.  But yet whom God sought out “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)


All of these were righteous men, men who had a heart for God and for the people of God.  One might also call these men good, but there is one more shepherd whom I haven’t mentioned: The Lord Jesus.  He is truly called the Good Shepherd, and for good reason: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  While Abel, Jacob, Moses, and David all tended literal sheep, we realize here that He’s not just talking about a dedication to livestock.  He’s talking about a devotion to mankind, to you.  Because what is the flock He shepherds?  “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

He shepherds the Lord’s flock, which is a picture of His people.  This should be no surprise to us, when we remember that Moses and David both went from shepherding sheep to shepherding God’s people.  Abel and Jacob were spared this, but Moses and David both found out that shepherding the people of God takes a fair bit more care and a healthy measure of longsuffering.  Moses often found out how fraught with trouble this work was several times, even before leaving Egypt.  But he especially felt this after the golden calf incident: “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” (Ex. 33:12-13)  Sheep, at least, can be herded except for the occasional stray, but often the whole congregation rose up against Moses and accused him of wrongdoing and drove him to frustration and anger on many occasions.

David, too, came to realize the great responsibility of shepherding God’s people as king.  The people who had previously asked for Saul to rule over them, were glad for David’s rule…at least until they forgot him and made Absalom king and exiled David.  David was by no means blameless in this, because of his own failings, but after David turned from the blindness of sin, he realized what personal cost there is for tending the Lord’s flock—the sunset of David’s rule was marked by uprising, insults aimed at the king, and plagues.

We are likened to a flock, but a flock that is a lot of work.  From Isaiah 53, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way”  Even the people of God are like that: stiff-necked, stubborn sheep. 

We need a better shepherd—a Good Shepherd.  “The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” And, “…the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  He is a Shepherd better than Abel: His innocent blood was shed by those who resisted God and refused to hear His rebuke.  Yet, even though He was slain, His blood cries up to heaven not for vengeance, but as a plea to God for grace (cf. Heb. 12:24).  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

He is a shepherd better than Jacob, who tends the flock not in expectation of the beautiful Rachel, but in order that He might make ugly Leah His own.  This, we have trouble understanding, but He exemplifies what God sets His love on:For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

He is also a shepherd better than Moses, because He faced off with Satan Himself.  He resisted the temptation to which we fell.  Then, He led the devil captive when he thought he had victory over him by putting to death the Son of God.  Yet, in His death and resurrection, He led Satan to his own destruction, destroying him and all his host, clogging their chariot wheels and driving them into confusion and panic!  Thus, our Good Shepherd leads you through the waters of Holy Baptism, where He destroys the devil’s hold on you and delivers you from the bonds of death.  Then, He also bears with you in your stiff-necked rebellion, He makes intercession for your great sins, and makes the once-for-all offering which alone is able to make atonement and find God’s gracious favor for sinners.

For as noble as David was, the Good Shepherd Jesus is David’s greater Son.  He rules as king over His people, bringing blessing and greater and greater rulership over His people—even in their weakness.   He brings into reality the inspired Psalm of David:

1  The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
     for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
     I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
     your rod and your staff,
     they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
     in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
     my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
     all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

And even better than these human examples, He shows us what kind of devotion He has for you: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”

The comparison He makes shows a dedication which He has in the cause of our salvation.  He teaches us by offering the alternative: a hired servant who cares more about a stable paycheck than he does for the goods of his master.  If any of you have owned a business, you’ve experienced the personal dedication you have for your business—its potential success or failure occupies you, keeps you up at night, eats away at your free time.  It’s that dedication which the Good Shepherd has for His flock—that His every attention is toward the salvation of His flock.  So, He bids us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” so that we know He answers by giving His all to saving sinners, to gathering the sheep of His hand, calling those who are not yet of His fold.  He is the sole-proprietor, the One and only Savior of His people, who hesitates not to give His live for the sheep.  And yet, unlike men with their business, He does not get overwhelmed at the magnitude of the work.  Instead, He says truly, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”  With the surety of Almighty God who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His people, He is able to gather His flock around Himself.  What we see in His work is caring for His flock.  Having laid down His life, He now speaks and the sheep hear His voice.  He brings us each, calls us by Name (like we talked about on Easter), and He gives to us blessings beyond our comprehension.

Let us pray.

O God, Your infinite love restores to the right way those who err, seeks the scattered, and preserves those whom You have gathered. Of Your tender mercy pour out on Your faithful people the grace of unity that, all schisms being ended, Your flock may be gathered to the true Shepherd of Your Church and may serve You in all faithfulness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.


The Gospel of Matthew: Jesus Teaches the Church

Bible Study on Matthew and Adult Information Class

Mondays from 6:30-8:00pm ~ 12 Sessions

The Gospel of Matthew was God-breathed for the purpose of teaching the Church to know Jesus Christ to be the very same God who revealed Himself in what we now call the Old Testament, and His work to be that ultimate deliverance from the curse of sin and slavery to death and the devil.

Join us in this 12-session study through the Gospel of Matthew, with special attention to teaching the foundations of Christian doctrine as explained in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. This class will serve to introduce and reaffirm the faith taught in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Attendants would thus be prepared and may then choose to become a member of our congregation.

Class Schedule

  • Session 1: Matthew 1-3 – The Person of Jesus
  • Session 2: Matthew 4-5 – Person of Jesus and Sermon on the Mount, Part 1
  • Session 4: Matthew 6-7 – Sermon on the Mount, Part 2
  • Session 5: Matthew 8-9 – The Deeds of Jesus Christ
  • Session 6: Matthew 10-12 – The Harvest Work and the Weeds
  • Session 7: Matthew 13-14 – The Kingdom in Parables and Deeds
  • Session 8: Matthew 15-16 – What Constitutes True Religion from God
  • Session 9: Matthew 17-20 – The Christ Revealed in Glory and Humility
  • Session 10: Matthew 21-24 – The Son of David Enters Jerusalem and Teaches
  • Session 11: Matthew 25-26 – The Close of the Age and The Scripture Fulfilled
  • Session 12: Matthew 27-28 – The Crucifixion, Death, and Rising of God’s Christ

Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:11–21 | 1 John 3:1–7 | Luke 24:36–49

Text: Luke 24:36-49

How can we know if what we hear is true?  In an age of fake news, deep fakes, and just plain bald-faced lies, it’s really a problem.  Because of these things, people’s trust of institutions and media agencies has plummeted.  A Pew Research study found that “Just 20% of U.S. adults say they trust the government in Washington to ‘do the right thing’ just about always or most of the time.”[1]

So many people want to have it proven to them.  But nobody can actually live out the tagline from the X-Files TV show: “Trust No One.”  We will always trust someone or something.

What does it take to convince us?  Often it has to do with who it comes from—personal contacts have a lot of influence over who we’ll trust.  Scammers take advantage of this when Facebook or email accounts are compromised and they pose as a trusted friend, trying to convince others to click this link or share personal information.

We also defer to “the experts”  This past year, we’ve heard plenty from experts, and easily follow what we’ve been told.  So it’s clear that experts have the qualifications needed to be trustworthy and make decisions about our life.

Another source we trust is medical professionals.  The best of medical science is at their disposal, they’ve gone to school and studied hard, and there have been plenty of malpractice lawsuits to keep things honest.  So when we go to the doctor, we are in the habit of trusting what they say and paying them good money for their advice.

It’s not that we’re wrong to put our faith in friends, experts, and doctors.  As far as God’s work is concerned, He does good to us by these.  I mentioned the negatives because these are all fallible people.

Now I want you compare these areas of trust to something even more important than how we spend our money, lead our lives, or care for our health.  That is our faith.  How can we trust what we know about Jesus?  Did it come from someone we trust?  Did it come from qualified experts like a pastor?  Do we entrust ourselves to a faithful physician?

Actually, to all of these, we have something even better than the avenues we trust today.

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

On the evening of His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples.  He went to extra pains to convince them of this, too.  It wasn’t a glorious appearance, like when Samson’s birth was announced (Judges 13), or a miraculous sign like Naaman’s cleansing (2 Kings 5).  Instead, it was a very ordinary proof: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see….He showed them His hands and His feet.”  And then He ate a piece of broiled fish before them.

At this, we might balk at what a boring detail this is.  Why would the evangelist Luke bother recording what kind of food Jesus ate?  Well, why not?!  The detail adds that specific truth to the testimony by the Apostles.  Luke says at the beginning of his Gospel, “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:3-4 NASB)  Adding that detail about what Jesus ate in their presence also shows the truth of the Gospel account, not afraid to include even the mundane.  I mean, if Jesus suddenly visited your home, would you have some elaborate and significant meal, or just whatever you had for dinner?

This is an eyewitness testimony of the risen Jesus on the very Day of Resurrection!  Maybe we’ll appreciate this better if we compare it to what others—even those hailed as experts—say about Jesus many years later.

Other gospels were written about Jesus, and given the names of James, Mary, Judas, and Thomas.  These texts make the claim that they have secret insight into the teaching of Jesus which He supposedly revealed to His disciples.  The trouble with this is that they were all written well after the first century AD.  What proof does that give?  They were clearly not written by their namesakes.  Since it is impossible that they were written by their pseudonym authors, we should also suspect their teaching.  Especially when they include things like this “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’ Jesus said, ‘Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.’” (Gospel of Thomas, 114) 

Several years ago now, a fragment was discovered that said that Jesus had a wife.  It created quite a stir in some circles because it seemed to include information which was omitted from the Gospels which the Church has held for centuries.[2]  But what wasn’t highlighted is that that fragment dated no earlier than the fourth century AD, and was written in Coptic, the language of Egypt.  So, when it comes down to it, are you going to believe the eyewitness of the Twelve and their associates or something that comes from far away, 300 years later?

Finally, an effort was made in 1985 called the Jesus Seminar.  They sought to read the Gospels and determine what they believed were genuine words of Jesus and what had been interpolated and inserted by editors over the centuries.  Together, 50 scholars under Robert Funk, voted using colored beads to determine what were genuine sayings of Jesus.  They considered it inauthentic whenever Jesus made “I am” statements or if, in the scholars’ opinion, the teaching appeared to be serving an agenda of the early Christian community.  They concluded that of the Lord’s Prayer, you could only trust the words, “Our Father” to be from the lips of Jesus. As a Los Angeles Times article from 1988 reported, “Three said it came from Jesus, six said it probably came from him, 10 said it probably did not and five said it did not.”[3]

Yet, in the Gospels, what we have is the eyewitness testimony.  When we compare it to what people say about Jesus more than 100 years later, it’s remarkable.  During his ministry, Peter even appealed to this eye-witness testimony in today’s reading from Acts: He says to the Jewish audience: “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”  This is the witness which we have, which the Lord Himself commissioned when He said on the evening of the Resurrection, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.”

I know that we’re used to communicating with people who already conclude that the Bible is God’s true Word, but we should also consider the historical evidence.  The substitutes for the eyewitness testimony are appalling.  In addition to that, the reliability of genuine Scripture compared to other ancient texts can’t be ignored.   Other texts include Homer’s Iliad, the works of Sophocles, and Aristotle.  The New Testament has 5600 manuscripts with 99.5% consistency, while the nearest runner-up is the Iliad with 95% accuracy.  When you talk about dating, the New Testament’s earliest existing (extant) manuscripts date from AD 130, while the oldest Iliad date from 500 years after the original.  If there are errors to be found, they should be found, but in such a wealth of manuscripts, what scholars—even critical ones—have found, is that the New Testament is reliable and consistent.

What does that mean for us?  It’s an incredible comfort in an age of changing truth and the flimsy truth of man.  God has given us in His Son an incredible gift, and we are wise, even from a reasonable standpoint, to commit our lives to the Word of God, which has been well-preserved and well-tested in the Bible we still have today.

With as trustworthy as this Word of Jesus resurrection is, we should be appalled at how little we listen to it.  Our days instead are filled with what we hear on the news, the drivel we read on social media, or to fill our days with complaining about life and people.  In His Holy Word, God has given us a satisfying, delicious feast…but we have asked for peanut butter and jelly.  People of God, He’s given you a tremendous treasure in His Word, which has endured over 3500 years, and will endure into eternity.

The friends and family, the experts, and the doctors all have their place, but they are all passing away.  Remember this, and put your faith in what your God says, read it for yourself, test and see because God will prove His truth to you that you might have faith in Him.  Know your God and His Word better than you know anything else.

In knowing Him, you will have life, and have it eternally.  Amen.

[1] (accessed 15 Apr 2021)

[2] (accessed 15 Apr 2021)

[3] (accessed 15 Apr 2021)

Second Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 4:32-35 | 1 John 1:1-2:2 | John 20:19-31

Text: 1 John 1:1—2:2

In the Introit at the beginning of service this morning, we heard: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Newborn babes are what Christians are to be like.  What does that mean?

They need to be nurtured by the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word.

Breastmilk from one’s own mother is always best. Although there are manmade alternatives and sometimes circumstances prevent this, the ideal is what God has given in breastfeeding.  The milk grows with the child and gives him the nutrients needed for each stage of development.  Breastmilk also contains personalized antibodies which the mother’s body wisely produces to combat infections.

What that means for us as children of God is that His Word nurtures us and causes us to grow up to salvation.  He feeds us at the breast of our mother, the Church.  In her bosom—not a manmade institution, but where He preserves the preaching of His holy Gospel and His means of grace—this is where we receive that precious spiritual milk of God’s Word.

At every stage, from newborn in the faith (whether you come new to the world, or highly weathered) all the way through temptation and tribulation, through times where you feel the world’s opposition and times of doubt, perhaps even through a time of falling away, but finally unto the end of your earthly life.  God gives each of us in His Word the milk and meat, the Body and Blood, the Confession and Absolution, that we need for each day.

Our wise Father gives us antidotes to the deceitful schemes of the devil, the delusions and excuses we tell ourselves, the apathy we sometimes develop toward His precious gifts.  With His Word and His Holy Spirit, He delivers us from the evil one and keeps us as His children and heirs of eternal life.

Newborn babes are utterly dependent.

Nobody would be so cruel to say a baby ought to feed, change, or dress herself.  Newborns especially need constant care, no matter how much that takes out of the parents. God gives the strength they need, because it’s through mom and dad that He is caring for this fragile little human.

Likewise, the Christian is constantly dependent on God’s care.  Yes, we grow and mature, for we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” “that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (2 Pet. 3:18; Eph. 4:14).  But God also knows that we are but dust and ashes, that “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” and “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Gen. 18:27; Matt. 26:41; Rom. 7:18).

Because of this, we are forever dependent upon God caring for us.  God must feed us (because like children, we only want the sweets that make us feel good in the moment).  We need to be shepherd by the Lord through His servant (not thinking ourselves strong enough to wander apart from the flock, and not charging on ahead in sophomoric foolishness).  Christ must clean us up as often as we make a mess, and we must always be clothed by Him in His righteousness, and not run around naked.

This is to say God knows we always need to be nurtured with the basics:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit speaking through John takes us to the foundation of the Church: The true and trustworthy witness of the Apostles, including Thomas, whom God made to be eyewitnesses of the marvelous works of Jesus Christ.  In Him we have life, which has been revealed to us by God.  Yet it’s more than me-and-Jesus, a personal fellowship with God, but that we also have fellowship with one another—this communion of saints who are called and made into the Body of the Church—with the Father and His Son, in the Holy Spirit. 

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

This must be the number one place that we fail.  Why else would God always be talking about forgiveness of sins, self-deceit, true fellowship with Him, and His Son who takes away the sin of the world? 

Yet, often people in the Church grow weary of hearing about the forgiveness of sins.  Why is the liturgy always the same, and why do we need to confess our sins every week?  Haven’t I already been forgiven?  Wouldn’t that time be better spent singing songs we like and being instructed on how to live a better life? 

If we think the forgiveness of our sins is a light matter that should be shuffled lower in the deck, then we need to read more of God’s Word (and come to Bible study!) and see how serious sin is to God, how deeply it’s broken our fellowship with Him and each other. Then, maybe we’ll better see what a treasure it is to hear these words of peace Christ puts on His servants’ lips: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them [John 20:23]…In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

It’s also our tendency to minimize sin because of what Jesus did on the cross.  Excellent! Our debt is paid off!  We’re free!  Now any sins I commit aren’t really that bad to God because He’s bought and paid for them already!  But to this self-deceit, He says, that we ought to “walk in the light as He is in the light.”  Our walk before God is necessarily holy and in line with His will—no excuses.  Our thoughts ought to be on the good and salvation of others, not on resentment and wishing them harm.  Our tongues ought to be used for praise and building up, not telling off-color jokes or sniping people in online forums.  Our deeds ought to be for the good of every person we see in need, not just empty talk about showing mercy.

And where we fail, our reaction dare not be, “Oh well. I might do better next time. Just give me a shot of forgiveness and I’ll be on my way…”  It should be, “Dear Lord, I have sinned against you because I have not walked in the light. I have sinned in my heart, with my words, and my actions.”  And to those who are contrite, He speaks this truth to you: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  For those who prefer their self-delusion, their sins remain on them, in the fervent desire that they will turn back, for the Lord says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matt. 18:3]

Basics, and yet always the essential foundation.  In God’s Word, that precious spiritual milk, “These things are written that you may believe, and that by believing, you may have life in His Name.”  “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.”  It’s daily feeding, daily cleansing, and daily being clothed in the spotless robes of Christ.

And from this cradle of the Divine Service, where God gathers His Church, He sends us out indeed to walk and grow.  As fruitful recipients of His forgiveness, we share that His blood was shed for the sins of all people.  We forgive, as we are forgiven.  As we mature, we long for more and more of God’s Word and He supplies it in daily devotions and Bible study.  In this life He supplies and nurtures through His Word, we find all that we need for these days, and in the end eternal life.  Amen.

The Resurrection of Our Lord

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9 | 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 | Mark 16:1-8

Text: Mark 16:1-9

In our day, despite ignorance of the Bible and a general apathy toward religion, Christianity is so ingrained into the society, that hardly anyone objects to the celebration of Easter.  So long as by Easter you mean spring, sprinkled with subtle hints of ancient fertility rites that involve rabbits, birds, and flowers.

But even still, it passes in polite society to have bare crosses draped in white.  Yes, people say, that’s why Christians revere this as a holiday, because they believe Jesus rose from the dead.  But without serious thought, that belief can be relegated to folk myth.  Really, the important thing is the Easter breakfast and ham dinners.  And my children would remind me of the candy! 

When I was a child, growing up in a home where the Bible was not read, this is what Easter meant to me.  It was right up there with Christmas as far as special days that commemorate something, but the upshot of them was giving of gifts, the special occasion of seeing family, and overeating.

The sad thing about only having a cultural Easter is that you can do all these things, while it doesn’t matter if the man Jesus is still in the grave or not, or even if history remembers him correctly.  It was not this way when Mark wrote his Gospel.  For Christians in the second half of the first century, it was very important whether the things they believed were actually true and trustworthy.  Their livelihoods and sometimes their lives were on the line, depending on where they lived and the bent of the current administration toward this Jewish sect.

For those who were risking their reputation and property based on the proclamation of Jesus, they longed for assurance.  In a time of social and institutional pressure, the young Church, increasingly comprised of second-generation believers, could have wished that they had been born just a little bit earlier, so they could have heard these teaching first-hand and they could have seen the signs and the resurrection for themselves.  Then, perhaps they would have an easier time when skeptics raised objection, and when their beliefs were considered alien by their family and neighbors.

The account of the Resurrection in Mark speaks to those concerns, and if you will allow, I believe it also speaks to our doubts, disappointments, and fears as worshipers of Jesus some 1930 years later.

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

Recall what we heard last Sunday when the Passion was read from Mark 15: 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.”  These women had been eye-witnesses of not only the death, but also the burial of Jesus.  Between these verses, 24 hours have passed, and during that time his disciples sat on proverbial pins and needles—despair over the merciless and gruesome death of Jesus, fear over whether Jesus’ associates would also be made into an example, anger at the corruption of justice and truth, and honest confusion about why God had allowed all this to take place.  Nonetheless, they kept the Sabbath rest, and as soon as it was over at sunset on Saturday, they bought spices to complete the burial of Jesus.  But things were far from clear to them at this point.

And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.

One of the marks of good literature is that the characters are polished and the action progresses smoothly.  The answers come in due time, and everything unfolds to a satisfactory conclusion.  But the Gospel is not this kind of good literature; it’s the truthful account of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth and His followers.  With a particular attention to detail, it mentions that these three women had wondered, “How are we going to move the stone?”  And for those of us who weren’t there, Mark adds, “it was very large” because it was a tomb for Joseph of Arimathea’s family.[1] 

We are along the road with them, wondering how things are going to work.  The future is unknown to us, wish as we might so that we could plan and prepare!  We are, like these women going to what they suppose to be a closed tomb, going step by step, with only God knowing what will come to pass.

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.

Those who have read Matthew and Luke will know that this is an angel of God, so it’s no wonder that they are in fearful awe.  And as students of the Scriptures, we’ll also recognize that when an angel comes on the scene, there is something very important happening, because this kind of appearance does not happen every day.  Every time God sends a glorious heavenly messenger, it has to do with His saving work—whether calling Sodom to repentance, the Exodus, the return of God’s people after the Exile, or the births of John and Jesus.  It’s these places that God uses fiery highlighter on so that we are in awe and pay attention to His Word.

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed.”

At this point, however, the Gospel shifts from being a simply a recounting of past events that we are watching play out.  Dr. James Voelz points out that the verbs change at this point from past tense to present tense.  Perhaps a closer translation will help: “He is saying to them, ‘Stop being alarmed!’” Like when Alfred Hitchcock turns to the camera and addresses the audience, or an aside in a play, the “fourth wall” is broken, and the message of the angel is also addressed to us who are listening. 

The first hearers were beset with uncertainty and fear.  They’re alarmed by the power the enemies of Christ seem to wield, by the uphill battle there seems to be against the powers of darkness at work in the world.  It’s akin to Jesus’ disciples who were convinced that evil had won over their beloved Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.

The angel speaks to us, God-fearing Christians who see the world arrayed against God, His Word and His ways.  We see trouble on the horizon as the powers at work in the world will demand that we choose between what they see as antiquated beliefs about gender and sexuality. That decision will impact our participation in school sports, employment practices, and the ability of Christian doctors to object to hormone therapies.  When we see this rising tide militantly aimed against us and what we believe, it’s scary. 

Stop being alarmed, says the angel.  Why?

You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One.[2] He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.

The world, Satan, and death did their worst against the Nazarene, Jesus.  They thought they had won.  But He is not there, because they did not succeed.  “Why do the nations rage  and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed…He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” (Ps. 2:1-2, 4) In fact, what they succeeded at was their own downfall.  God reckoned the sins of all on Jesus.  By His death, He destroyed the power of sin and death, and took away Satan’s accusations. 

And do we think that God who defeated evil at its apex, is not able to save His people today?  When we are afraid of what we see happening in the world, we need to go back and study the Scriptures more closely!  Mark how God is able to work all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)  When our relatives and friends wander away and drift into the darkness of life apart from their Savior, remember how strong God’s love is to save, and marvelous ways He calls the unlikely and unsuspecting to Himself—Rahab, Ruth, the Ninevites, Saul who became Paul, and even your pastor.

Then the angel directs them to this: “See the place where they laid Him.” See what?  He’s not there.  Exactly.  The empty tomb is the evidence that all this is true.  So, future disciples who cannot see for themselves may know they have the proof they need.  We do not see anything, but we have the faithful Word of God.  Just as He told you.

Lastly, the angel says to the women:

But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

There were a lot of failings of the disciples—unbelief, hardness of heart, infighting.[3]  However, the latest and most public of their sins was Peter’s fall from “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” to “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” (Mark 14:31, 71)  Peter, that rock of the Church, leader of the Twelve, betrayed His Lord, lied, and was immediately called to account by a crowing rooster.  But the angel especially mentioned Peter because even his great failing did not destroy the Lord’s saving work.  He bore that cross, bled and died, and was buried, all for Peter’s great sin, too. 

Personal shame is something that can keep us bound, hidden away even from the Lord.  We may not say it quite like, “How could God ever forgive me for that?” but the effect is the same when we can’t bear to look the people we betrayed in the eye.  Perhaps we even make righteous excuses why we can’t be around them, and weakly make something they’ve done be the reason we stay away.  Yet, beloved, for whom did Christ go to the cross, die, and rise for?  It was for every sinner—man, woman, and child—whose sins are great and small.  It was for murderers, slanderers, idolaters, homosexual and transgender, those who move in together before getting married, those who insult and neglect their parents, for drunks, for the gluttonous, and for all your sins which you know and feel or do not.  God’s angel is telling you that Jesus nevertheless has gone before you, to the cross, down into the grave, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven as the High Priest who prays for you and by whose sacrifice you have peace with God and man.

The angel points the women and us, not to what our eyes can see—for that moment in time has passed—but to the Words of Jesus, “Just has He said to you.”  Blessed, indeed, are those who hear the Word of God and keep it and treasure it in their hearts, because through His Word comes His Kingdom, His victory over sin and hell, and His unshakable and faithful promise to receive weak and fallible disciples in the riches of His glory. Amen.

[1] Matt. 27:60

[2] Translation reflects the perfect participle, used as part of the title: “Jesus, the Nazarene, the Crucified One”

[3] Mark 6:6, 6:52, 9:33-37

Sunrise of the Resurrection of Our Lord

Readings: Exodus 15:1-11 | 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8 | John 20:1-18

Text: John 20:1-18

Mary came early to the tomb of Jesus, similar to how we have gathered much earlier than normal for worship this morning.  She was intent to do for her Lord what they had not time for when He died.  She was prepared to show due reverence to her Lord’s body.  The Passover was over.  The Sabbath rest had passed.  And now what was she expecting to find?  The body of her dead Lord.  She had seen it happen, along with Mary and Salome. 

But it wasn’t as she expected.  The stone had been rolled away, so she runs without further investigation and tells Peter and John to report what she fears: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  The three of them all go back to the tomb, John and Peter even running to find out what had happened.  John reached it first, but only stooped to look in and see the linen cloths.  Perhaps he didn’t want to become ceremonially unclean and have to purify himself.  But then Peter comes up, and goes right in, and what he discovers is even more baffling: “He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.”  Mary had said they took the body of the Lord and laid it somewhere.  But what graverobber would bother to fold up the burial linens and fold the face cloth?  After this, John goes in and sees it too. 

All of these facts are recorded, and the disciples saw and believed this much: The Body of Jesus was indeed not there.  But they could not come up with a satisfactory reasonable explanation.  So, Peter and James just went home, believing only what their eyes could see and their minds could piece together. 

Mary stays on, and she too, is struggling to find a reasonable explanation to all these things.  She wept as she looked in at the tomb, which to her, looked all wrong because she was still assuming the Lord she saw die was still dead.  It makes me wonder where her formerly-dead brother, Lazarus was at this time, but in her grief, this did not cross her mind.

The three dear disciples, Mary, Peter, and John show us that reason will not come to the Lord.  Yes, reason is a gift from God which we use and treasure every day, but reason is limited.  Reason comes to conclusions which end in death and do not return.  Reason must submit to its master: the Word of God.   In all of this, John admits his own failing in retrospect, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”  Totally unreasonable!  Yet without the Lord’s Word, all we can conclude is that His Body has been stolen because as far as we can tell, death is permanent.

In belief of only the facts, Mary still weeps.  She sees the angels and answers them “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”  She even sees Jesus Himself with her eyes and supposes Him to be the gardener.

But everything changes when He speaks her name: “Mary.”  Like floodgates opening, she perceives what reason could not reveal: Her Lord is alive!  She sees Him now through faith in His Word and faith in what the Scriptures say! 

Faith comes to us when Jesus speaks our Name, too.  At the font, we hear His voice through the pastor.  _____, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  This is your Christian Name, wherein the Lord reveals Himself to you.  This is the name by which He will call you forth from your tomb on the Last Day [John 11:43], the name which is inscribed in the Book of Life [Rev. 3:5], as is said in Psalm 87:5-6:

And of Zion it shall be said,

“This one and that one were born in her”;

for the Most High himself will establish her.

    The Lord records as he registers the peoples,

“This one was born there.”

In that Word of Jesus, He reveals Himself to you, and gives you the Holy Spirit so that you believe not just the facts about Him.  You know the Scriptures, as they are fulfilled in your Lord Jesus.  So He is revealed first not in the flesh, but in His Word and in the holy waters of Baptism.

Then, He says to Mary, so overjoyed with seeing Him, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”  Do not cling to Him yet, because something far better follows His resurrection.  If He were to stay on earth, we would all have to flock to see Him in one place as crowds do with the pope visits.  But He ascends, yes to “my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  This is the blessed reality that is revealed by Him: He calls us His own by Name and then comes to dwell within us!  Ascended into heaven, filling all things, but especially making you a member of His own Body.

Your risen and ascended Lord lifts you up out of the alienation of sin and the darkness of reason and brings you into Himself where He nurtures and strengthens you.  You need not go to one place to cling to Him, because He is able now to give you His own Body and Blood to eat and drink.  It’s Communion with your Lord, who has called you by Name “to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23)  Faith clings to Him where He is: In His Word, which is Spirit and Life [Jn. 6:63] and in the appointed signs which deliver His salvation to you.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good Friday

Text: John 18-19

Additional Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 | Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9

Pontius Pilate marveled when he had Jesus in his court, because He wasn’t like any other person facing condemnation.  And he’s right.  Jesus is very different from other men, including you and me.

Take Gethsemane for instance:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. (John 18:1-3)

We go to great lengths to avoid calamity: Wearing masks, keeping our distances; fixing recall notices on our cars; having mammograms and prostate exams; covering electrical outlets and putting scissors out of reach.  And if one of those dreaded things happens, especially if it’s something we’ve been trying like crazy to prevent, there’s a double pang because it happened despite what we could do.

But not Jesus.  Gethsemane was a trap.  Judas had betrayed privileged information to the chief priests.  Jesus knew this, and instead of going anywhere else in the area, He knowingly went there and accepted the cup of woe His Father was giving Him to drink.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

                like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth. (Isa 53:7)

Yet, let there be no doubt that Jesus is the same God-Man who changed water into wine, who healed the sick, and raised the dead, who could at once ask His Father for twelve legions of angels.  When He answers, “I am He” they fall down at His majesty.  “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10)  Nevertheless, He, “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7, 8)  Jesus goes to His appointed end, and the Scriptures of God fulfilled.

Another example is when Jesus was before the High Priest:

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” (Jn. 18:19-22)

Who doesn’t say things in private that they would dread being exposed publicly?  Who doesn’t have a different private life than the face they put on before others?  Who wouldn’t be violated by having a part of their lives exposed to scrutiny?  That’s what the High Priest is counting on.  Surely there is some dirt on Jesus, some failing or false word we can find upon which to hang Him.  But Jesus has none. 

  Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?

And who shall stand in his holy place?

               He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

who does not lift up his soul to what is false

and does not swear deceitfully.

               He will receive blessing from the Lord

and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Ps. 24:3-5)

But as for us, we do have those thoughts we hope God doesn’t see, those harsh words we pray are overlooked, and those things in our nightstand or on our phone or computer we hope won’t be found by others.

Then there’s the trial before Pontius Pilate:

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

19:9[Later, Pilate] said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 18:33-36, 19:9-11)

It’s hard to stand alone in one’s conviction.  Most of the time such a person will be labelled delusional.  Likewise, it’s hard for a man to be a martyr without others at least to commiserate.  Much more often, we prefer to be on the winning team, even if it’s the underdog.  We seek the approval of those around us, and are feel justified in our choices when we see others doing the same.

But not the Lord Jesus.  He has remained the same throughout His ministry, in declaring Himself to be the promised Son of Man, the Messiah who is Savior of the World.  And now He stands alone. “He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11)  He was rejected by the people Israel, and without even His disciples.  Without a single other supporter, He holds to the work His Father gave to Him.  His Kingdom is not of this world. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:10)

  O Lord, all my longing is before you;

my sighing is not hidden from you.

    10          My heart throbs; my strength fails me,

and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.

    11          My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,

and my nearest kin stand far off. (Ps. 38:9-11)

Yes, Jesus is not like us, and indeed there is none like Him.  Where we flee the consequences and a justly-deserved eternal punishment, the Lord faced them head on in your place and for you:

  Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

                yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

               But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

                upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

               All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

                and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all. (Isa. 53:4-6)

For us, who harbor secrets and beg that our mistakes and evils aren’t found out, Jesus of Nazareth was blameless to the heart.  He had no iniquity or deceit, and all who are born anew into Him by water and the Spirit are reckoned righteous by God: “Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” (Ps. 24:6)

He stood alone, bearing witness to the truth.  He made the true good confession and never wavered, and where we are ignorant and vacillate, He remained faithful.  And even now He stands before His Father and makes intercession for you:

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

       by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

12    Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

       because he poured out his soul to death

and was numbered with the transgressors;

       yet he bore the sin of many,

and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isa. 53:11-12)

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Maundy Thursday

Text: Mark 14:12-26

Additional Reading: Exodus 24:3–11 | 1 Corinthians 10:16–17

Adapted from “The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper” by Johann Gerhard

In the Holy Supper of our Lord, we have a mystery placed before us.  Even though it cannot be explained with specific directions, counted in points for your diet, or given nutrition facts as other meals, the Holy Supper fills us with awe and adoration!

We know that the tree of life was planted by God in Eden, so that its fruit might preserve Adam and Eve and their children in the blessedness of their original immortality that He had gifted to them.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was also in that place.  God had given them their eternal life, but this other tree was there to test their obedience and devotion to Him.  But eating became the occasion for their death and eternal condemnation, when they yielded to Satan’s enticement and followed their own wicked desires.

So, in the Holy Supper of our Lord, we have the true tree of life set before us again, whose “leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month…Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezek. 47:12)  The fruit of the tree of the cross is here given, and its sweetness destroys the bitterness of all afflictions, even death itself!

In the wilderness, the Israelites were fed with manna, called bread from heaven (Ex. 16:4); in the Lord’s Supper, we have the true Bread which came down from heaven to give life to the world (John 6:33, 51).  Here, this heavenly Food is such that, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)  The sons of Israel also had the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat, where they could hear the Lord speaking with them (Ex. 25:21-22); but here in the Supper, we have the true ark of the covenant, the most holy Body of Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3)  Here we have the true mercy seat in the precious blood of Christ, through which God has made us accepted in the Beloved (Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:6).

Christ does not simply speak a word from a distance to comfort us; He takes up residence with us (John 1:14).  He doesn’t only feed with manna which appears and is collected; but He feeds us with Himself.  Because He is present, we can say with Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place… This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen. 28:16-17) and He is the true Ladder upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend (John 1:51).  

In giving us His Body and Blood to eat and drink, He gives us an infallible pledge of our salvation.  What can be more intimately united to the Lord than His own human nature?  Through His incarnation, He has assumed humanity into the Godhead.  His own Body and Blood are inseparable from Him, and yet He deigns to give these to us, unworthy creatures who are nothing but dry bones unless He revives us! (Ezek. 37:1-14)  Since He has so united Himself to us, how could He ever forget those to whom He gives His own Body?  How can Satan gain the victory over us when we are strengthened and made ready for our spiritual conflicts with this bread of heaven?

Christ holds us dear, as we can see because He bought us at so dear a price; He holds us dear since He feeds our souls with so dear and precious a food.  He holds us dear because we are members of His body, of His flesh. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph. 5:29-30)  This is the sovereign remedy for all the diseases of our souls; here is the only effective cure for mortality.  Men will pay physicians fortunes to extend their mortal lives, but here the true balm for every disease and antidote to death is freely given.

Consider this: What sin is so heinous? The sacred flesh of God makes atonement for it.  What sin is so great, that it cannot be healed by the life-giving flesh of Christ?  The fiery darts of the Devil are quenched in this fountain of divine grace.  What conscience is so stained with sin, but it may be cleansed by the blood of Jesus?

Our first parents were placed in Paradise, a peaceful and delightful garden, a type of the eternal blessedness of heaven, that being mindful of God’s goodness to them, they would render due obedience to their Creator.  But, in this Holy Supper, there is more than a paradise, because here the souls of God’s creatures are spiritually fed with the flesh of the Almighty Creator.

The conscience is cleansed from all its guilty stains in the blood of the Son of God.  The members of Christ, their spiritual head, are nourished with His own Body; the believing soul feasts itself at a divine and heavenly banquet. The holy flesh of the Son of God, so united with the divine nature, which the angelic hosts adore, before which archangels bow in lowly reverence, and before which the principalities and powers of heaven tremble and stand in awe, has become the spiritual nourishment of our souls.  “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,” (Ps. 96:11) but still more let the believing soul exult and sing for joy, to whom God gives such an unspeakable gift!  Amen.