Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (also Feast of St. James)

Readings: Genesis 9:8-17 | Ephesians 3:14-21 | Mark 6:45-56

Text: Genesis 9:8-17

When people hear about the Flood, people in our culture might picture a boat with animals sticking out windows, and several people aboard.  Other cultures record the same event: The Chinese have the story of the family of Fuhi, who lived during the time when the whole land was flooded to the tops of the mountains, and how only his family survived and whose three sons repopulated the earth.  The Babylonian stories recorded by Gilgamesh include a man named Untapishtim, who was instructed to build a large ship and instructed to take a male and female of each type of animal.  The Aztecs record the story of Tapi, a pious man, who was told to take his wife and a pair of each animal. The people laughed at him, but when the waters came, they climbed the mountains but could not escape. After the water had dried, Tapi released a dove which did not return.

The account of the Flood is universal, recorded by ancient people from all over the earth.  In the same way, what happened afterward is universally known: God set the bow in the clouds.  Rainbows are known the world over, a beautiful meteorological phenomenon which display the whole spectrum of visible light.  Even though this wasn’t articulated until the 13th and 17th centuries by Roger Bacon and Isaac Newton, the rainbow is something all people can see and appreciate.

But God tells us more about the rainbow than we can learn from observation:

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

The rainbow is more than a natural phenomenon; it’s God’s sign.  His signs are those things where He joins something physical to His promise.  In this case, the rainbow in the sky is tied to a covenant He makes with every creature of the earth, and especially with every human being who descended from the three families that came out of the Ark.  Even if you don’t know a lick about God, or make it your mission to destroy all things spiritual in the name of reason, you can still see the rainbow in the sky.

But today we will focus on what God says about the rainbow, and the covenant which He makes which every creature, even with every single human being.  Just as the rainbow is universally familiar, God speaks to every single creature: Never again will the Flood happen to destroy the earth.  And why would God need to say that?  Because the Flood happened because, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” (Gen. 6:11-12)  This is far from what God created the earth and human beings on it for.  Corruption from man’s wicked heart, violence in destroying the beauty of this world and the lives of people precious in God’s sight.  It would be unjust for this to go unanswered.  How could God remain silent?  So, He sent the Flood, and only righteous Noah and his family heeded the warning.  Noah, his wife, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives—eight souls, were the only ones who saved their lives on the ark [1 Pet. 3:20].

And after this great act of judgment, God left the rainbow as a reminder.  It’s a twofold reminder, actually.  First, He says, “When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh.”  When the eyes of men see the bow in the clouds, God will remember the covenant He made that day after Noah and his family left the ark: Never again will He destroy all flesh with water, even though, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21).

The other side of the reminder is for God: “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  When God sees the bow in the clouds, after every time it rains, He remembers this covenant with the earth.  It’s a covenant that assures the all people of the earth that rain will not lead to complete destruction, even though it once did.  It’s a reminder to God to be gracious to a sinful and corrupt earth.

What this teaches us is that a rainbow is far more than a simple, accidental interaction between sunlight and water droplets.  It is actually a personal promise which God makes between Himself and every living creature on earth.  It has personal meaning for every person, because it is God’s sign to every generation which follows the Flood until the Day Christ returns.

By the rainbow, God is preaching to every person: I will be gracious to you, even though you are corrupt from your youth, even though your heart is thoroughly filled with evil.  What people use this for is to put the Lord to the test.  Like teenagers who revel in what they can “get away with” without getting punished, people take the patience of God as license to do what they please.  That’s the dullness of the human heart, and the shamelessness from which we all suffer.  But God tells us about His patience in Romans 2: “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4) 

And it’s not that people don’t recognize how dangerous a worldwide flood can be.  Otherwise, those many cultures wouldn’t have shared the account of destruction from above, and the fact that it was in response to the wickedness on the earth.  Every person can identify the danger of a flood, but the greater peril that the Flood tells us about is the peril of unbelief and the danger of unrepentance—the danger of hardness of heart.  If we think we’re safe because we “believe in God” or Jesus whatever we take Him to be, we’re gravely mistaken. St. James, whom the Church commemorates today, reminds us: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19)  No, a person actually needs to listen to what the One, True God says.  Our sinful flesh wants God to be there, but be silent.  We’d rather have a God who doesn’t speak, because then He cannot call us out for the evil of our hearts and actions.

But the God of heaven does speak, and He calls every single person not just to acknowledge He exists, but to repent of the evil of our hearts, our words, and our deeds.  This is the true peril, not of death by water, but eternal death in the fires of hell. 

What God means by His covenant, signified by the rainbow, is that He desires to all to repent and believe in the culmination of His riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience—His Son Jesus Christ who came as the universal Savior.  God makes no distinction between people, and just like the rainbow, His gracious work goes out for all people, speaking to them while they live and calling them back to fellowship with Him.  When He sees His bow in the clouds, He remembers not only the covenant He made with every person, but the covenant He made in the blood of His Son, and this is the new covenant which He has makes with you.

In Holy Baptism, He also delivers you through the waters: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)

His patience and kindness do remain until the Last Day, so that what He wants for all people would come about: that all who hear His voice and fear His judgment also believe that on account of Jesus Christ, He has put away your sin.  This is what His covenant with the earth is meant to lead all people of the earth to: To see His patience as a call to the waters of Baptism.  There, the water is judgment for our sin, putting it to death, and salvation for the Christian.

This is God’s meaning for the rainbow, which supersedes any meaning man can apply to it.  If man should say the rainbow is merely a random process that just happened to come out of chaos, God has taught us better to see Him actually active in His creation and speaking to every person.  If man should use the rainbow as a political and ethical symbol, what God does with it is better: He desires the salvation of all people, regardless of the way their sinful heart bears fruit.  He is patient and kind toward people, no matter how much evil they delight in, because it’s His desire and His power to work to call them away from destruction and to eternal life through His Son.  When you see the rainbow, remember the God who made the rainbow and gave it meaning for Himself, for you, and for every person.  Never write someone else off as a lost cause, because God hasn’t.  Let His Word be on your lips, so that the wicked person sees that there actually is a God in heaven who judges.  And when God works terror in their conscience, be ready to share the mercy God in Christ.  But even if that shouldn’t come immediately, pray for divine patience with them, just as God is patient toward them.  Remember this, when we see the world continuing on its evil course, that despite it, God is still speaking to them[1] with His unchanging Word.  He will continue speaking until the very Last Day, when it’s not the door of the Ark that will be shut, but the door of heaven.  Until then, we pray for God to deliver us from the works of our flesh, the deceit of the devil, and the wickedness in the world.  He truly will.  Amen.

[1] Another irony is that the United Church of Christ, a very progressive nominal Christian group, has the slogan “God is still speaking” which undermines the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  But even more true is that God is still speaking, with His authoritative and unchanging Word to call sinners to repentance and faith in His Son.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Jeremiah 23:1–6 | Ephesians 2:11–22 | Mark 6:30–44

Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

Tick, tick, tick, tick goes the rollercoaster as it climbs its way to the sky.  For a moment, there’s the feeling of exhilaration and weightlessness at the top.  But you know that in just a split second, you will be hurtling down—maybe even lower than where you started!

In chapter 1 of Ephesians, we were privileged to receive a glimpse into the heavenly counsel.  From the heights of the highest heaven, we heard, “[The Father] chose us in [His Son] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4)  But like the Transfiguration, none of us is able to stay for long without being yanked back into our present reality.  Chapter 2 gives such a whiplash to the depths of each person’s earth-born condition: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

It would be no wonder if you screamed at such a drop!  But God does not leave us in the depths of our depravity.  Two words signal us being lifted up out of grave: “But God,” as in, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6)

All of this is apparent from a heavenly perspective, and made known to us by the Holy Spirit speaking in the Word.  It isn’t clear from our experience.  When we go out from this place, we live in the same world as the “rest of mankind,” suffering all the same troubles and mortality.

God’s action to raise sinful people up from the depths of spiritual death also has another effect: Reconciliation and reunion among all who call upon the Name of the Lord:

(From today’s reading): 12 Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Not only was there a drop into the grave, but in sin, we are also separated, far off, alienated, even from God in the world. And this is what our experience is: Blinded by sin, people find reasons to separate from one another.  Whether it’s divisions of class, skin color, or nationality, mankind has shown itself to be an expert at xenophobia, or even xenocide (killing the alien).  But, in fact, the root of it all is that we were strangers from God (the root xeno means alien or stranger).  Without God, we were without hope because we could only look to this broken mess of a world for salvation.

Yet, just as God reached down into the grave to raise us up, He also reached out to us who were far away and alienated from Him to bring us near by the blood of Jesus Christ. 

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

And this division was expressed in the peculiarity of God’s people Israel.  God Himself was the One who set them apart, distinguished by the commandments and ordinances given through Moses.  They were set apart from all the other nations, not to intermix and keenly aware of the foreignness of the rest of the human race.

All of this, however, was an illustration of the divide between a holy God and the corrupt human race.  Our alienation from God resulted in enmity with each other, but God put an end to this with His own kind of violence.  Notice the words used here: “He has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing the law of commandments”…”killing the hostility.”  It was by the violence of sin and rebellion against God that He worked peace with His rebellious human creatures.  God broke down the dividing wall of enmity by fulfilling the promise made against Satan on behalf of our parents, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her Offspring and your offspring.” (Genesis 3:15)  The Lord abolished the condemnation of the Law by putting Himself under its judgment on our behalf: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21).  By being killed under the judgment of a sinner, He destroyed that enmity for us who in fact deserve the title, “sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). 

In the wake of God’s violence (His Son nailed to the cross), alienation (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” Matt. 27:46), and killing the hostility (“It is finished” John 19:30), the rollercoaster ride is finished because heaven and earth are united, Jews and Gentiles are part of one redeemed human family.  The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. (LSB 644, st. 1)

Now this passage also addresses a concern some have about a topic called “Replacement Theology,” which says that the Christian Church has replaced Israel in God’s plan, so that after Pentecost, anything referring to Israel is allegorized and actually refers to the New Testament Church.  Lutherans are accused of subscribing to this.

But what Lutherans actually subscribe to is what Scripture teaches, and it’s clear from Paul’s explanation that while Israel may have come first in time, the Gentiles who were far off were brought in and made part of God’s holy people.  It’s too simple to say that the Church replaced Israel, as if God didn’t really mean it when He spoke of an everlasting covenant.  Rather, in calling non-Jews by faith, God was fulfilling the promise of the covenant He made with Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3)  Israel is also called Abraham’s offspring, and Paul makes it very clear—when false teachers were confusing covenants—27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:27-29) God gave the commandments to show His holy will for humanity, but that by itself saves no one; Israel of all people showed just how much the Law couldn’t justify much less fix our sinful condition.  They showed how much they needed the Christ to be the Lamb of God!  They, along with all the families of the earth, are blessed because God has united His original covenant people in the covenant-now-fulfilled in Christ, and people of every nation through the new covenant in the blood of Jesus.

For all who benefit from the covenant in Jesus’ blood, the blessings prove true, so that we can rejoice as the “daughter of Zion” (Matt. 21:5) and citizens of the “Jerusalem from above” (Gal. 4:26).  God has always wanted, and still desires the descendants of Israel to repent of their idolatry and see the Messiah He has sent, but He won’t save them apart from the Way, the Truth, and the Life [Jn. 14:6]—who is Jesus Christ.  So Paul continues,

17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

This is the true reality for the Church: Peace with God, united together as fellow citizen with the saints and members of God’s household.  God preaches peace to us, and assures us of this truth.

While that rollercoaster ride is finished, our experience preaches another story.  For each of us, we struggled against the passions of our flesh which rear their ugly head in addiction, enmity, fits of anger, sexual sins, dissension, and rebellion against authority (to name a few).  Sometimes we are able to restrain our flesh, and other times we utterly fail.

The experience of the Christian Church on earth is similarly fraught with failure.  As one of four churches in town who bear the name Lutheran, it’s pretty clear how much we fail to live in that unity for which our Lord prays in John 17:11: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

If the future of our faith and the future of the Christian Church in the world depended on us, we would all be doomed.  But it is forever God who, out of His great love, saves us from destruction.  “Though with a scornful wonder, the world sees her oppressed/ By schism rent asunder, by heresy distressed/ Yet, saints their watch are keeping/ Their cry goes up, ‘How long?’”  The saints, and fellow members of the household of God rely on God’s faithful work.  His Church is:

20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

We can take comfort in God’s work alone.  It’s Him who pulled us up out from spiritual death and on the road to hell.  By grace we are saved through faith…”and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:9)  Why should we think that once He’s brought us near, that He’s going to leave it up to you to stay?  He has made you alive in Christ so that you know the heavenly perspective, the eternal view, and most of all that He brought you near and made peace by the blood of Christ.  You are baptized into Him.  Your sins are forgiven.  You have peace with God.  We have peace with God, and union with all the saints in Christ who believe this blessed Gospel. This is what God is bringing to pass, but will only be seen on the Last Day.  Until then, we hope in God, who alone is able to achieve this.  Remember, that it is only He who is able to bring people out of unbelief, up from the grave, and set them in the heavenly places to praise Him for eternity.  All glory and thanks be to God forever! Amen.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Amos 7:7-15 | Ephesians 1:3-14 | Mark 6:14-29

Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

What does God want to happen?  Well, get comfortable, because this is going to take a while.

 In all seriousness, God’s will is not an easy topic for us to consider because it’s so much greater than we can comprehend.  The Creator of Heaven and Earth rarely ever tells us what He’s doing in any given moment (He doesn’t post photos on Instagram).  There’s a lot that He does without involving or consulting us.  In response to that, we might say, “Well, God’s going to do what He’s going to do, so our part is just to deal with it.”  But that’s missing what God does make known about His heart and what He’s doing.

This first part of Ephesians is an ideal example of this.  Even though God is “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1:17), He reveals some tremendous good news to you and me.

The Holy Spirit moved St. Paul to open this letter with this prayer, which is neatly organized around the Holy Trinity: What God the Father does, what God the Son does, and what God the Holy Spirit does (vv. 3-6, 7-12, 13-14).  Each portion concludes with a statement of praise: “To the praise of His glorious grace…to the praise of His glory…to the praise of His glory.”

And in these more manageable chunks, you and I are able to see the tremendous plan and work of God to reach His goal:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

For us, we’re used to thinking about planning and preparation in terms of years. An Olympic gymnast has been practicing since she was 3 years old.   A successful businessman has been building his resume and reputation since his teenage years.  It depends on personal aptitude, decisions our parents made, resources we had or scholarships we received.

But how long has God been working toward achieving the goal of someone’s salvation? “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”  Literally from time immemorial, before God even said, “Let there be light,” (Gen. 1:3) His decision was to save you in body and soul through His Son, and that you would be counted as holy and blameless before Him.  Out of His magnificent love, He actually foreordained it all to take place—ancestry, events in world history, your place of birth, forming you in your mother’s womb, decisions of your parents, pastors and others who have shared the faith with you, experiences you’ve had including even some of your mistakes[1]—all of it, behind any scenes men are aware of, God worked it all so that you would be adopted by His grace.  Incredible to think that that and more was all orchestrated by the Almighty, for you to have the right to call Him “Father!”

This incredible accomplishment of God was achieved through the Beloved, His Son, Jesus Christ.  This is the name the Father declared at the Jordan River when all Three Persons of the Trinity announced the mighty divine work: 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matt. 3:16-17)

In the Father’s Beloved Son, Paul continues:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

If the first part of the prayer about the Father’s work blew us away, the awe only intensifies here.  It would be a fine, reasonable thing if God worked to save the right kind of people.  You know, the “diamond in the rough,” those gems who people say restore their hope in humanity.  But that’s not how it really was.  “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)  And Christ Himself said to the upstanding chief priests, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matt. 21:31) and after He had called a ruthless thief named Zacchaeus to salvation, He said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

So where do you measure up?  There have been those who said that God elected people in view (technical term: intuitu fidei) of the faith they would have in the future.  The trouble with that logic is that either God saves people because of their own merit, or He could be accused of stacking the deck and rigging the whole game.  But the truth is more incredible than that: We are all natural-born slaves to sin, the Devil, and death (John 8:31-36).  None of us could work off our debt or escape from sin which ruled over us.

And this is where we need to realize that this isn’t just a measure of our morals.  Here, the sober person has no advantage over the drunk; the faithfully married over the sexual deviant; the nurse over the abortion doctor.  God’s Word makes it clear: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:2-3)  Sin has permeated all of us from the heart outward.  It may flare up more in some than others, but it’s “out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-22)  It doesn’t matter how right you feel, or how you compare to the next guy: You and I and every person is liable to the righteous judgment of God.

But God, seeing that, paid the price of your debt, and purchased your release: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”  Completely undeserved, without even the thought of repayment, God in His love, has done this for you.  This He pours out upon you “in all wisdom and insight” because He also knows your heart and when you need to hear it, and how this good news will get through to you.  All of this together is the mystery of His will that He makes known to the Christian.  It was hinted at before, in types and shadows like the Flood, the Exodus, and the Temple, but the real deal when one knows and believes what God has done for him or her in Christ.  This is your treasure today.

But there is so much more to come!

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Zooming back out to the wide shot of God’s eternal purpose, you learn that God’s children also have an inheritance to look forward to.  It takes our mind away from the present worries and discouragement we feel, and the temptation and weakness we know all too well.  This inheritance gives us the confidence of Psalm 46:2-3: “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

But at this point, you might say, What beautiful words these are, but how can we be sure of this?  These “spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” seem far less concrete than the world in which we live, putting food on the table and meeting the needs of those around us.

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

When you make a big purchase, like a house or a car, you’re asked to put a significant amount of money down. It gives assurance that you will make good on paying for the rest of it.  Well, far greater than even the purchase of real estate (which can burn up) or a car (which can break) is the inheritance of eternal life which God has secured for you.  In order to give you surety about His intention to complete your redemption on the Last Day, He gave you a “guarantee” or more accurately, a “down payment.”[2]  The Holy Spirit is the down payment which a Christian has from God.  Even though the Spirit is compared to a down payment, this is far more than a business transaction.  He seals the Christian with the Holy Spirit.  Seal marks authority and ownership, as it’s described in Revelation 7:3: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”  Your salvation is far too important to God—who created, redeemed, and sanctifies you—to leave up to your own ability.  So He commands His angels concerning you; He preaches His saving Word into your ears; He hold back the Last Day Judgment until all who would believe do. 

Through His work, the Holy Spirit both assures us of the truth of all the Father has promised in Christ (John 15:26), and keeps us in that one, true faith, because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:8)

All that brings us back to where we started: What is God’s will?  There are many details we’re not sure of.  Yet, from this portion of His Word, He tells us that in every generation, every circumstance, for every person, it is our God’s will that every sinner heed His call to repent and believe, and that He whose eternal plans are fulfilled in your life, will also bring those to completion at last and for all eternity.  Consider this every time you ask the Lord, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” because hopefully now you can better appreciate what He does in answer to our prayer.

With all this our view, hear the benediction from St. Jude: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24)

[1] Consider the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:1-17, including the twists and turns in the lives of those through whom God preserved and brought forth His Son according to the flesh.

[2] Also could be translated as pledge or earnest money (ἀρραβών, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon)

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Exodus 24:1–11 | 2 Corinthians 12:1–10 | Mark 6:1–13

Text: Exodus 24:1-11

In his day, Jesus of Nazareth made quite a name for himself. As being the one who healed those who were sick and afflicted, and casting out demons. At the very worst there were those like in Nazareth, who didn’t receive him, and he could do no many. Not many mighty works were done among them. But crowds were drawn to where He was, and they did follow. They came in great hope and expectation.

Well, as these crowds were gathered around Jesus at the beginning of his ministry in Matthew’s gospel, the beginning of Chapter 5, it says

“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.”

Well, this is the picture of Jesus that we’re more accustomed to. Jesus, the man who is also the Lord God, may be somewhere in the background. But I’m afraid that something is lost If we start our journey with Jesus with a modern caricature of him: Jesus, the man as our role model, or Jesus the man our life coach.  When you struggle to run the race, it’s this Jesus who Pats you on the back and gives you a glass of water and encourages you that it’s OK. You’ve got this.

You can see how absurd this can get when we go in that direction.  Well, thank God we actually read our Bibles and we have a clearer picture of Jesus, don’t we? We know that Jesus was no mere equal among men. He wasn’t just the brother of James and Joses and Judas.

We’ve read Exodus, haven’t we?  And we’ve seen God from a very different angle.

“Then he said to Moses, come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the Elders of Israel, and worship from afar. Moses alone shall come near to the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

This is clearly different from the Jesus who is surrounded by crowds who were thronging about him and who at sometimes he even had to get in the boat to avoid being crushed. Instead, here on Mount Sinai, God is not to be approached, certainly not touched.  The Lord establishes these boundaries around his holy presence. The people could not even touch the mountain lest they die.

The priests could come a little closer. They could handle the holy things of God, but only according to God’s explicit command.  Yet, even Nadab and Abihu, who were there that day, later perished when they offered strange incense before the Lord. (Numbers 10) Only Moses was permitted to see God face to face, and even in that, Moses exposure to God and his presence had to be mitigated, as it says in Exodus 33:

“Moses said, please show me your glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness passed before you, and will proclaim before you my name. The Lord and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy, on whom I will show mercy. But, he said, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.

And the Lord said, behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock. And while my glory passes by, I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand, until I have passed. By then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

But why was this?

God’s presence is deadly. To sinners, as we’ll sing a little later in Holy, Holy, Holy (LSB 507). The Lord also says in Ezekiel 18, “the soul who sins shall die.”

And part of us knows this in our conscience. But there’s also a part of us that has greater say because of our sinful nature. That doesn’t really believe that we’ll die in God’s presence.  When we’re faced with something that we know is wrong, we put this unbelief into practice. God doesn’t really mind if I fudge the numbers a little bit on my taxes. After all, they’ll only waste it! Right?  How could he care if I made way too much food and had to throw out the rest? It can’t be too important to God.  And what does it matter if I go to a church with a little false doctrine? Maybe it won’t hurt me, or I know better than that.

The things which happened to Israel were written down, so we would know how real this is. From 1 Corinthians 10: “do not be idolaters, as some of them were as it is written. The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happen to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction on whom the end of the ages has come.”

God gave all of these very clear warnings about sin and the deadliness of sin. And it didn’t seem to reform the people.

But what God did do is he established sacrifice so that he could dwell in the midst of his people. The covenant that he established through Moses. There was a covenant established through death of a substitute: “Behold, the blood of the covenant, that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

These sacrifices that are described in Exodus and Leviticus, in gory detail, show this. These poor innocent animals, having their throats cut their blood drained out their bowels taken out, their fat burn on the altar. And what did they ever do to deserve that? we might ask. Well, it wasn’t preparation for your 4th of July barbecue!

It was the Lord giving this picture of what it takes for sin to be atoned for. We think in our conscience that we can somehow make up for the bad that we’ve done that we can silence that guilty voice in the back of our head by doing more good or just ignoring it.  Or maybe following someone who says that we’re good who maybe wears a collar and looks official and seems to act for God.

But the truth is, and the truth that our conscience tells us, is that sin demands a just retribution, and that’s what you see in the animals that are offered on God’s altar.

The difference came though when Christ did. John the Baptist looked to Jesus and said, “behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And Jesus himself said later in the beginning of his sermon on the Mount. “I have not come to abolish the law given by Moses or the prophets But to fulfill them.”

So, behold, Jesus Christ. The righteous one. Who was Scourged, who was made to bear his own cross, bleeding, scorn, suffocating and dying. This isn’t some grotesque Netflix movie; this is what your sin and my sin justly deserve.

The Covenant under Moses was established by the blood—blood that was thrown on the altar and blood which was thrown on the people—and the blood, that of God sacrifice sanctifies what it touches. You have been sanctified by the sacrifice of God’s own son, the Lamb of God, who willingly went to the cross and suffered these things for your sake, so that you would not suffer them for yourself.

And his blood has been poured out on you. You have been baptized into his death and resurrection, and so all of that scourging and flogging, and rejection of Christ of Christ, calling from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was for you.

All of those punishments have already been poured out upon the son of God for your sins. And that is how God wants to receive you through faith in this Christ who was offered up as your lamb as the one who was offered for the sins of the world. And that we may approach him believing and trusting in that Word.

God put all of it on him so that we could receive that piece so that we could stand in his presence in the presence that is even greater than what the children of Israel that day saw, it says in our reading that they saw God, “they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone like the very heaven for clearness.”

And while we might want some heavenly vision, we actually have something better because Jesus says in John Chapter 20, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” and that’s us.

God calls us out of our own imaginations to behold the Lamb of God, Who walked in Nazareth, Who ascended into heaven, and Who will come again in glory. We see a greater glory of God there in the flesh of Jesus Christ.

And even better than the presence of the Moses and the priests and the Elders of Israel. They ate and drank in God’s presence, and he didn’t lay his hand on them.

But we have something even greater than that. When Jesus our high priest, “On the night in which he was betrayed took bread, He broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, take eat this is my body which is given for you. And in the same way also he took the cup after supper, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, drink of it all of you. This cup is the New Testament, the new covenant, in my blood, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”

In remembrance of the Lamb of God, who has offered up for your sins. The Lamb of God, who was raised for your justification, who gives you hope when your life is about to end. When the lives of your loved ones end, you know that it’s not actually over, because Jesus says, “whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” And we believe this.

We believe that God has made his dwelling among us in his son, Jesus Christ. And that dwelling place is forever. It will not pass away.

And today we have the privilege of eating and drinking with God in his peace. And receiving that strength that he gives through this blessed sacrament.

And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding. Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.