Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi)

Readings: Exodus 8:16-24 | Ephesians 5:1-9 | Luke 11:14-28

Text: Luke 11:14-28

This time of year, many of us are looking at spring cleaning. As more light comes in the window, the grime on the windows and the dust in the air is harder to turn a blind eye to.

The first part of spring cleaning involves moving things out of the way to uncover what you haven’t been dealing with: dead leaves, fur, dust, long lost items that fell off behind the table. There’s an excitement about making visible progress.

As the job wears on, you may reach a point where you say, I never want to have to do this ever again! Let’s just do a massive purge! If we just didn’t amass all the stuff, it wouldn’t be so much trouble. Your stories of cleaning may vary…or it might be an unpleasant reminder of how you haven’t or can’t seem to get to it.

Of course, our Lord is not concerned whether our houses are tidy or messy, just as it doesn’t put Him off if the clothes you’re wearing today are up to cultural snuff. He is concerned with saving us from things far more insidious than dust mites.

If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. (Luke 11:20-22)

Satan is no friend to people. From the beginning, he has shown what sort of deceitful “friend” he is. Those who today claim to be Satanists, and who dabble in taboo practices like tarot and Ouija boards are embracing the sweet poison of the lies that Satan dispenses. C.S. Lewis was wise to depict Satan as a woman in white who invites the unsuspecting in with Turkish delight (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).

The difference between the devil and dust mites is that the clutter simply accumulates due to inattention, but this Satanic strong man and his demons are an active danger: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) The dust and daddy longlegs do not target you as Satan does. His aim is your eternal destruction with him. He would like to see you and your family, as well as every human being ripped away from God eternally because of spiritual death and proud rebellion (like him).

~ Demonic Possession ~

In the past, overt displays of violence and a show of strength to make people cower and avoid the demoniac. [Mark 5:1-20]

Today, it manifests itself in what Jesus says today: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather [together, that is, synagogue] with me scatters.”

What demonic lies have won over your friends, your children, and grandchildren that keep them from being gathered with the faithful?

23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Whoever is not with Christ is actually against Him. The lip service people pay to being a Christian (that is, one who follows Christ) is proved to be false by their way of life, and it will not escape the Judgment Day. Whoever does not synagogue with Him scatters. What this means is that the chief work of Satan we see today, and even more so after the COVID revolution, is when the victims of Satan are kept from the congregation.

The satanic way is to put the proverbial rock in your shoe: be it what you think of the other people at church, some supposed failing in the music or the manner in which the service is conducted, and perhaps Satan will even tempt your spouse so that they incite you and drive you away.

23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. For the one who has been rescued by the Lord, there is comfort and safety in the congregation. It’s not merely a matter of “church attendance,” but of the ground upon which our life is built: beginning with Baptism.

~ Living in Baptism ~

Baptism of Christ by Cima da Conegliano

We have to clean multiple times. It’s never truly complete until we move out of a house and lock the door for the last time. Then we can set down our mop. What are the sort of things we only have to do once? Get a social security card? Usually just take the driver’s test once.

We do confess in the Nicene Creed, “I believe in…one Baptism for the remission of sins.” But whenever we treat it like a past event as if it were a lifetime membership, a ticket to heaven, that is a lie out of hell. That is the work of Satan and his demons in our day.

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

In Holy Baptism, it begins with an exorcism. Not the Hollywood pea-soup kind, but a warning against the devil and all his host: This one being baptized now belongs to a new Lord and Master.

“Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?” (Rite of Holy Baptism, LSB 270)

  • Who is the devil, but a fallen angel who masquerades as an angel of God [2 Corinthians 11:14].
  • What are his works? He is a liar and a murderer from the beginning [John 8:44]. He twists God’s Word into exactly what He wants it to say, seeking spiritual and eternal death of men and women.
  • What are his ways? To appear as a pious friend, who tells you that you are right, and “the church” or people in it are wrong. [1 John 2:18-20]

The alternative rite for Holy Baptism, authored by Martin Luther puts it very frankly, “Depart, O unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!” And in our dull awareness of the spiritual realm, we think it can’t be all that bad away from Christ. I mean, they’re not shrieking and cursing Christ vocally. But that is not where the unclean spirits show themselves today in America.

They want to keep the baptized away from Baptism. There they lurk, in waterless places. That is, places away from the waters of Baptism. Listen to these wise words from the church father, Tertullian, speaking to us from the 3rd century:

“Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only such as are just becoming formed [in the faith], but them who, content with having simply believed, without full examination of the grounds of the traditions, carry (in mind), through ignorance, an untried though probable faith. The consequence is, that a viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism. Which is quite in accordance with nature; for vipers and asps and basilisks themselves generally do affect arid and waterless places. But we, little fishes, after the example of our ΙΧΘΥΣ [ichthus, an acronym for ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior’], Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water; so that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes, by taking them away from the water!” (Tertullian, On Baptism, 1)

Beloved little fishes at Bethlehem, Beelzebul is no friend and inert danger that we can steer clear of by our own wits. The Stronger Man, the Lord Jesus, has cast him out and away from you. He has saved you in the waters of Holy Baptism. Live in it every day. Begin every day in the sacred Name He places on you.

You have been cleaned out of the devil’s works and ways, in order to be filled with Him and the Word He speaks. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. By the Word which speaks to each of us in our lives—as husbands and wives, parents and children, leaders and followers, rulers and citizens—He shines the bright truth that we may recognize and flee from the craft of our enemy.

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you…14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11-14)

Amen.

Second Sunday in Lent (Reminiscere)

Readings: Genesis 32:22-32 | 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7 | Matthew 15:21-28

Text: Genesis 32:22-32

One of our world’s favorite questions is to ask, “Where is God?” When the floods rage, where is your God? When the tornadoes touch down, where is your God? When tidal waves destroy, when earthquakes level cities, or people die, where is your God? “I thought He was good. I thought He was all-powerful. I thought He loved you.”

In fact, why wait for the big things. What about when it happens in your life? When a loved one dies, where is your God? When you find out you have cancer, where is your God? When you can’t make ends meet, when everything goes wrong, when you hurt most of all, where is your God?

It’s a good question to ask, really. Because we don’t bother with where God is until something terrible comes up. Everyday routine stuff, what’s God have to do with that? I don’t go looking for God every time I write a check, or wash my hair. I don’t go looking for God when I put on my pajamas or watch an evening sitcom. I don’t go looking for God when the 49ers take the field…except when they lose the Super Bowl. Well, maybe then. But that’s different. For the most part, we can handle it on our own.

Jacob was also pretty good at handling things on his own. He skillfully negotiated Esau’s birthright out from under him for a bowl of stew without any help. Jacob and his Mom got Dad to give him the blessing instead of Esau without a single prayer. He convinced his future father-in-law to let him marry his daughter just on his own skills. He convinced his father-in-law to let him marry his other daughter after his father-in-law conned him into the ugly one—poor, unloved Leah. He came up with that plan all by himself. When he was only allowed to keep the defective sheep for his flock, he managed to breed them all to look  defective. When He heard his brothers-in-law were jealous enough to hurt him, He got his family the heck out of Dodge. And as we see in this text, when Esau’s on his way, he’s got an escape route all planned out, just in case things go south.

Jacob talks a big game about God. He’ll say that God blessed him with this. That God was looking out for him in that. That God is a really great guy. But you know? It’s been the Jacob show all along. And now, Esau has small army. And Esau was looking to kill him not that long ago. And Esau isn’t going to be bribed out of his anger. And even just sending the women and children across the river is only buying time. So Jacob, where is your God now?

Right in front of him, trying to pop him in the teeth. It’s funny, the word for wrestle in Hebrew: אבק. It literally means to kick up dust. And I think both meanings are intended here. Jacob has a history of turning tail. But God’s not going to let him go this time.

But now? Can’t you go wrestle Esau instead? This is the worst possible time, God. And God does come at the worst possible time. For Jacob, and for us. Can’t you wait until I’m ready? Can’t you wait until I’ve got time to deal with you? Our moment might not be a life and death showdown with Esau. But it’s often not far from that. It’s when there’s too much going on. Too much to handle. And we need to be completely on top of our game if we’re going to get through it.

It’s then that God gets up in our faces. Wrenches our hip out of socket. Breaks us in such a way that we just can’t do it anymore. Why?! And why now, God?! To teach us some divine object lesson? To show us that we need Him for everything? To knock us off our high horse? Humiliate us into bowing our heads? Perhaps. He’s there to tell Jacob, and tell you that, “you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Prevailed? Let me get this straight. God comes down, puts Jacob in a headlock, breaks his hip, all to tell Jacob that Jacob wins? God makes a trainwreck of my life, turns everything upside down, hurts me badly, all to tell me I win? How does that make any sense? I could understand it if he wanted to show me that I need Him. I could understand if He wanted to me to keep my eyes on Him at all times. I could understand if He wanted me to pray more, get Him more involved in my life, and stop doing it alone. True, He exercises our faith to that goal. But God uses that place and that time to give Jacob a message: You have already prevailed. It’s a message to us: You have already prevailed.

When you’re used to doing it on your own, it can be overwhelming when you can’t. When you’ve relied on only yourself and your own means, it’s frightening when there’s nothing left. When you’ve pulled yourself up by your bootstraps all your life, it’s absolutely crushing when there’s nowhere left to pull. You cannot win. You cannot prevail. So God has to tell you that you already have…yet not in a way that you can rest in your hard work.

Because Jesus died on your behalf. Jesus rose again for you. Jesus won. Jesus prevailed. Yes, He did. Sin, death and Hell, He conquered them all. Sin is overcome, because He carried all that sin with Him when He died. Death is undone, because it couldn’t hold Him when He rose on the third day. Hell is beaten, because He unlocked its gates and set the captives free. Satan is vanquished, all because of Jesus. Not us. Jesus.

So how can God tell us that we’ve already prevailed? Because Jesus has already given all this to you. It’s certainly not because you were always there. Not because you leaned on Him at the right time. (that would be a lie) Not because you had a good relationship with Him. You have overcome because God gives. He gives even to those who aren’t really good at doing the right thing–even to those like Jacob the swindler in our text.

That’s an incredible comfort for us. In a world that is so geared toward one’s own getting ahead. We see this in the wrestling of the Canaanite woman in the Gospel (Matt. 15:21-28). She comes to Jesus, and it seems like He’s her enemy. What’s up with Jesus’ responses? Saying He hasn’t been sent to her, implying that she’s a dog, and pushing her off these three times?

But in her responses, we see faith—the gift of God—at work. Look at them:

  • “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
  • But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
  • “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

As strange as this sounds, this is the work of faith. Faith doesn’t come to God boasting about how much we’ve done for God. It doesn’t count the hours we’ve agonized for those for whom we’ve kept vigil. Faith doesn’t expect that God should move heaven and earth because of something in us. No, faith comes in humility before God-in-the-flesh.

There’s a song that’s making the rounds right now that goes,

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours…
What You say of me, I believe” [1]

What if God were to say to you, “You don’t deserve His goodness”? “You are of no account, and ‘I have mercy on whom I have mercy’?” [Exodus 33:19] What if God calls you a dog, begging from the table? What faith says is, Yes and Amen. And in that confession, as weak as it sounds, you have the victory.

Jesus has given you His death and resurrection, and because you have that, God is right. You have already prevailed. Whatever you face in life, whatever the world does to you, and whatever Satan would use against you. You have already prevailed. In faith, you have faced off with God, and God has declared you the winner. What can anything else do to take that away?

None of the things that matter before God can be taken forever. The resurrection is coming. And we look forward to that with all our hearts. To our eyes, and to the eyes of those around us, it doesn’t look like victory. Does it ever look like defeat and Pollyannaism! Faith looks foolish to the unbelieving. But to the faithful, we trust that God has the victory; that God is true and we will say Amen to Him even though all others scoff. In the meantime, when the world asks, “Where is your God.” You have an answer. He’s right here, giving me Jesus.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.


[1] Lauren Daigle – “You Say”


	

First Sunday in Lent (Invocavit)

Readings: Genesis 3:1-21 | 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 | Matthew 4:1-11

Text: Genesis 3:1-21; Matthew 4:1-11

The Apostle Peter warns us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9

In the first reading from Genesis 3, we learn a great deal about the devil both in his works and his ways, as well as why we as Christians should be concerned with the devil. 

It doesn’t say exactly how long it was between Genesis 2 and 3, but it’s a stretch to imagine it was very long before the devil came to corrupt the only other creatures with a free will: man and woman.  He entices them by possessing a serpent.  Why a serpent?  Because it is crafty, stealthy, and shrewd: The serpent slips in where others are blocked, it stalks its food and lays in wait to strike, and it knows how to slip out of the scene before it is detected.  All of these qualities fit the devil’s ways, as we see in how he interacts with the woman.  God uses a turn of these traits when it comes to punishing the devil, however.  “On your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the day of your life.”  Just as Satan used the craftiness of the snake, now God uses the fact that the snake is a “creeping thing” to show that God will keep him in submission until the Lord’s ultimate victory: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15

Later in history the devil would be compared to other creatures, such as Leviathan the great sea beast, as lions, as a dragon (Psalm 74:12-14, Daniel 6:16-24, Isaiah 27:1).  In the New Testament, the legion of demons in Mark 5 ends up possessing a herd of unclean swine and being destroyed in a mock baptism.  Each of these teach us about the devil and his followers.  But, the point here isn’t the mechanics of how the devil possessed the serpent, or how an ordinarily mute animal spoke, but that we learn that the devil is a wily enemy to both God and us. 

Then what this crafty devil does first of all is attack their trust in God’s Word. He tramples on God’s order that the husband is the spiritual head of the household. He is apathetic to what misery will be wrought for all humanity. The devil’s boldness flies in the face of his Creator and Master

“He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1b-5)

The devil questions God’s truthfulness and he questions God’s good intentions for His creatures.  Our first parents, formed in innocence by the hand of God Himself, were tempted and sinned.  They sinned, not merely by breaking God’s rule, but by breaking faith with Him through disbelieving His Word.  Even from this primordial world, “man has lived by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)  The very definition of a right relationship between Creator and creature is on the basis of taking God at His Word. 

But sin changed all of that.  When the first doubt was planted in the heart of Adam and Eve, they now had another authority—themselves.  The question of what was good had a new answer: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”      

That is what humanity—and we ourselves each day—have been wrestling with ever since.  Do we take God at His Word, or look for another authority that tells us what our corrupt hearts want to hear? 

The devil consistently attacks the truthfulness of God’s will and His goodness toward us.  This is the root of why immorality persists and increases.  This is why there are so many religions in the world and even divisions within the Christian Church on earth.  This is why so few of the world’s population cares about God and what He says.  The devil’s work is to cause people to doubt and disbelieve God’s powerful, all-creating, life-giving Word. 

Do we take God at His Word or not?  Alas, it’s not really a choice so simple.  Every natural born offspring of Adam and Eve is born with this deafness and aversion to God’s Word.  So, the story of temptation with man is a story of failings.  The serpent was craftier than Adam and Eve, and deceived them so easily.  Now he exercises authority over us, their children. 

When we think of temptation as Christians…as human beings, it isn’t about trying to overcome the devil and make personal triumphs.  If our sinless parents fell, how much worse is it for us?  Listen to the diagnosis of our condition:

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.”
“The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” (1 Cor. 2:14, Gal. 5:17, Rom. 8:7)

Who is able to save us from this wretched condition?  Our only way out from under the devil’s thumb completely depends on this Man, facing the devil.  The sole Overcomer is Jesus Christ. 

(Read Matthew 4:1-11

Here the devil is called “the tempter” because his purpose is to lead men consistently to put God to the test (same word as “tempt”) without faith.  The devil does his worst to this man, Jesus, but He consistently replies with God’s Word rightly believed. 

These are the works and ways of the devil: to subtly slip in and break our faith.  In Holy Baptism, and again at Confirmation, we are asked: Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works? Do you renounce all his ways?  If it were up to you and your strength, you would say yes, but not be able to accomplish what these questions ask.  It is only by your Baptism into Christ, the Victor over the devil, that you gain the victory. 

That brings us back to the passage that we started out with: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”  The only power we have to resist and overcome the devil comes through baptismal grace.  Baptized into Christ, the Son of God, we have forgiveness and spiritual victory which lasts to eternal life.

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

Quinquagesima (About 50 days until Easter)

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13 | 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 | Luke 18:31-43

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

First Corinthians 13 is one of the most beloved passages of all Scripture. It is a favorite passage for weddings. It is written on knickknacks and tchotchkes we decorate our houses with. Pardon the pun, but we love this chapter of the Bible. And rightly so. It puts front and center what is essential to living in Christ. Without it, none of our good works, or even great works have any value whatsoever. But love covers all that we cannot do. 

But by today, these words—faith, hope, and love—have become disembodied slogans. They are no more than an allegory to a lost and forgotten past, the same way the works of Homer or Virgil used to be referenced as common knowledge. Faith, hope, and love are just decals to adorn your Hobby Lobby-inspired décor.

Meanwhile, our actual lives have become whatever we want them to be. By nature and by practice, our lives are the product of philosophies and peers. And because there is nothing new under the sun, it was not much different for the Christians in Corinth.

The Stoics believed only the spiritual mattered, so they denied the body everything of meaning. The Epicureans believed only the spiritual mattered, so the indulged the body in everything, no matter how degenerate. False teachers then and now emphasized that things like tongues, prophesies, healings, and powers were how to know you were spiritual. And Paul had to correct them all, while bringing them together.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” “Love never ends.”

There was nothing wrong with tongues, prophecies, knowledge, or powers. In fact, they could be good. But only so far as they loved one another. Without that divine love, none of those other things mattered. Without love, they were even a hindrance.

But what does it mean to love one another? The world alienated from God defines love differently than God and His people do. They show us that it’s a feeling you fall into. It’s a sense of comfort, of happiness. It’s your source of joy when you get what you want, and a source of sorrow when you don’t. It’s the emotion that drives people to do great things…or even terrible things. “They did it for love,” and that makes it all worth it. But love for our world is found inside you. There’s a selfishness to the world’s love. It can motivate one to do a lot, but always for one’s own sake. We want our feeling validated by others. We want to be loved in return. And when we don’t get what we want, when our feelings fade, so does our effort, our work. This “love” is a passing mist.

That’s not the kind of love that God has for us. His love is an action, not a feeling. God loves because that’s who He is, not because we have something He wants. In fact, when we do not do what He desires, He acts in love all the more, because we are in need. God’s love is selfless, self-sacrificial. And it never fades or fails. 

But such a love doesn’t look like we expect it to. Love is demonstrated for us in the Gospels. In Luke 4:16-30, Jesus does not give the people in His hometown of Nazareth the signs and miracles He did in Capernaum. They wanted them, and they would have loved Him for it (at least the way the world loves). Instead, He gave them something better: His Word which declared that the Lord’s Christ was in their midst. But they would not have heard His Word if He had given them miracles.

At other times, like when He met the rich man in Mark 10, we hear,

21  Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:21-22)

To us, it sounds like that love doesn’t get desirable results.

More importantly, do we love one another as Christ has loved us? I dare say we have not measured up too well. We have been impatient and mean to those who are not on our side. We have been envious, wishing we had what others seem to get. We have boasted about ourselves, how we know better than the rest. We have been arrogant enough to think we are better than others. Sometimes, we’re rude enough to tell that to their faces. We have insisted on our own way in all things. We have been irritable and resentful to all. We have rejoiced at wrongdoings, calling it justice, or comeuppance, or karma. We have borne little, believed little, hoped little, endured little. And had the audacity to say that we did it all in love. That kind of love cannot end soon enough.

Therefore we are to repent. We are to renounce such things. We must see all people as ones for whom Christ died, because He has—even those who irritate us the most. After all God loved us when we not only irritated Him, but openly rebelled against Him with our sin. Our neighbor needs our love. Not our feelings. Not our self-centered attempts to get what we want out of them. But self-sacrificial service. Jesus has done no less than that for us. 

Christian love is Christ’s love. Christ’s love is patient, bearing with our sin, like when He was betrayed by one of His closest friends. His love is kind, caring for us though we made ourselves His enemy, like he healed the ear of the high priest’s servant as they arrested Him. HIs love does not envy, like when Jesus was falsely accused before the Sanhedrin. His love does not boast, as He remained silent before His accusers. Jesus’ love it is not arrogant. He did not elevate Himself above others—even though He is truly the Son of God—but He was humiliated before all Jerusalem for our sake as He was carried before Pilate. His love is not rude, telling even Pilate, a gentile polytheist, of the truth. 

Jesus’ love, It does not insist on its own way, letting the soldiers put a reed in His hand to later be struck with, and a crown thorns upon His head in mockery. His love is not irritable, patiently bearing the blasphemous call from the chief priests and Pharisees to come down from the cross. His love is not resentful, as He even promised paradise to the repentant thief who earlier had mocked Him.

His love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. So at the last, He says it is finished, and gives up His Spirit. There He finished His great work of love. The ultimate self-sacrifice for every sinner. To pay for our sin, even the sin of failing to love as we ought. He gladly laid down His life for your sake and for mine. His love truly bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And the cross is the place He has loved you. By action, not by feeling. Jesus died for your sake. And has purchased you out of your slavery to your sin. 

The love of God never ends—not even death can snuff it out. After Jesus gave His life for your sake, He took it back up again. On the third Day Jesus rose from the dead. Another work accomplished for you, and a promise given to you. Since He died your death in your place, His resurrection is also made yours. A promise coming on the last day for you and for every believer.

 “The Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” (Ps. 100:5) This love is so intertwined with the cross, that Christians have made a practice of tracing the cross on themselves. That tradition is still preserved to this day, by the little Latin cross in the hymnal. Notice the places where it is:

  1. When we invoke His saving Name, remembering Holy Baptism where Jesus’ death becomes our death, and His resurrection our hope of the same (Romans 6:3-11)
  2. At the end of the Creed, where we confess our certain hope in the life of the world to come, which is made ours through the cross (Luke 18:29-30)
  3. Although it’s not printed, some choose to cross themselves at the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” because it is by the cross that “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame.” (Colossians 2:15)

This is what love actually is, by which He loved the world and us, so that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). This is what He teaches us, and in Him, we grow daily in Christian love for those same people God has loved. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Sexagesima (About 60 Days until Easter)

Readings: Isaiah 55:10-13 | 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9 | Luke 8:4-15

Text: Isaiah 55:1-3, 10-13

At the beginning of Isaiah 55, before we hear this familiar proclamation about God’s Word, we hear God’s heart with a different analogy—one we can all appreciate:

1“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.

“Come and be satisfied!” This is the message God is speaking to us today through his prophet Isaiah. Here in these verses, we see several things about the Lord’s invitation.

First, who are the ones to whom the Lord is extending this invitation? Isaiah tells us: everyone who thirsts” and “he who has no money.” Is that you? Are you thirsty? Do you realize your spiritual poverty? If so, then this invitation is for you. If not, then you should take a more spiritual look at yourself.

So, are you thirsty? In the New Testament, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6) To the sinful woman at the well, he says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.” (John 4:14, see ESV footnote) And at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37) You see, Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. When Isaiah says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters,” he’s really looking ahead to Jesus, who would give the waters that will satisfy our thirst.

So, are you thirsty? Do you know and feel your spiritual thirst? Do you realize something’s wrong, something’s wrong with you? That you are a sinner? That you have broken God’s good commandments and gone contrary to his will? That you haven’t done the things that you know God wants you to do? That you have done things you know you shouldn’t do? That’s sin, and it should make you thirsty, spiritually thirsty for something, anything, that will take away your guilt and your shame. Do you sense and feel your own lack of inner righteousness? That dissonance between what you know you ought to be and what you have been? That you aren’t good enough to stand before almighty God on the Day of Judgment?

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” How much does it cost to buy the food and drink the Lord here offers? Keep in mind, this is the greatest food and drink you could possibly imagine (keep the wine of Cana’s wedding in mind, John 2:1-11). This food is the forgiveness of your sins and the sure hope of everlasting life. Despite everything our bodily senses tell us, it doesn’t get any better than that. Even the most exquisite meal on earth will leave you hungry or thirsting again. But not what the Lord gives!

So how much does this grand feast cost? Absolutely nothing. You heard me: Nothing. No cost at all. No, wait. It does come at a cost, except you’re not the one who pays it. But for you, it’s free. No charge.

We’ve all heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Meaning, it may sound like it’s free, but it really isn’t. There are some strings attached. You may not be paying directly for that supposedly free lunch, but somewhere down the line, you are, whether in higher taxes or whatever. In this world, in this life, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

But when it comes to the food and drink that God offers, it is free, truly free. This is a gracious invitation, all by grace, a free gift. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Rom. 6:23-24; Eph. 2:8-9) And in Revelation 22, it says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

You see, you couldn’t buy this food and drink even if you tried. You cannot pile up enough good deeds to offset your sins and thereby purchase the priceless gift God gives you. You don’t have that kind of currency. But Jesus does. He has the righteousness that has infinite cash value. Enough to go around to cover the debts of every sinner everywhere. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

And when I say that God’s great feast does come at a cost, but you’re not the one who pays it, I’m talking about Jesus, of course. He’s the one who pays for your redemption, your rescue from sin and death. Christ paid that incalculable cost on the cross. There he, the sinless Son of God, paid the price that sets us sinners free. How did he do it? He “redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” (Small Catechism, 2nd Article) There is no greater price that could be paid than that. And this is how the Lord can offer you his gifts for free: Because they’ve already been paid for.

So why would you go after other things that cannot satisfy like the Lord’s gifts can? The unbelievers and our sinful flesh look all over the place for things they think will satisfy their hunger and thirst. But nothing else can do the job. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” That’s a good question. All these other avenues that people go down are dead ends. They will end in death. They may give momentary pleasure, but they will end in death.

Whether it is in a god made up in someone’s imagination, or to the desires of our flesh, or to the fleeting promises of this world, all of these are insufficient. Our fleshly desires always aim against God’s will for our bodies and lives. The world with its pursuits is passing away [1 John 2]. All hopes for an earthly paradise have and will fall flat, because people remain sinful.

We have the capability to turn even good things into an idol. Prosperity, pleasure, health, wealth, recreation, romance, a nice home, family, fun times. Even these good things, these good gifts from God, cannot ultimately satisfy. Don’t let them become an end in themselves. These things cannot forgive your sins. These things cannot rescue you from the grave or hell. Instead, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” Yes, it is the Word of God which satisfies our human need.

10“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”  (Isaiah 55:10–13)

Today, hear and heed the Lord’s gracious invitation, and come and eat and drink. Be fed by the feast of His Word which bring you peace with God, deliverance from death, and everlasting security! Eat and drink when that Word is joined to the bread and wine at the Lord’s table. This is rich food indeed!

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Original sermon by Pr. Charles Henrickson, adapted by Pr. Michael Miller

Septuagesima (about 70 days until Easter)

Readings: Exodus 17:1-7 | 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5 | Matthew 20:1-16

Text: Matthew 20:1-16

Quite often, the airwaves are abuzz with talk of fair wages and proper compensation.  Strong words come from politicians, talk show hosts, and probably in your own conversations, too.   Everyone wants to get what’s owed to them, and as much as possible.  But there seems to be no agreement on what that is.  So, the fiery debates continue.

But, here, in the Kingdom of Heaven, we need to leave all that clamor behind.  It’s earthly baggage.  If we try to bring it with us, we will be in grave danger of missing what grace really is.  So, leave the world while you’re in this place, and listen to your God and Savior.

We will focus especially on the Master’s question in the parable, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (v. 15)

“A master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”  Notice carefully what he does:  Nobody came to him looking to work in his vineyard.  Rather, he went out to look for them.  And notice the people that he hires: idlers.  If he hadn’t called them, they would have gone home at the end of the day empty-handed.  But did the landowner owe these workers a job?  Did these laborers have any claim on the master’s property?  Not at all.  It was the master’s free choice to go out and hire these laborers.  It was his vineyard, so he set the wage and the rules for working there.

The Lord once said to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.”[1]  The truth of the matter is, God does not owe any person anything.  He is the Creator, and we the creatures.  Not the other way around.   He is not accountable to us; we are to Him.  He formed us from the dust, and everything that makes us different from animals is due to Him creating us in His image.  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  God said this to the man and his wife after they brought sin into the world.[2]  And, boy, do we need that reminder!  In our sinful arrogance, we want to answer back to God and accuse Him of being unjust and stingy.  But it is He who formed us, and by His own will gave us body and soul, eyes, ears, our reason and all our senses.

And we must understand this in order to enter God’s heavenly Kingdom.  God does not owe us anything.  Is He guilty toward mankind?  It was man who turned away from Him, despite the warning of death’s consequence.  Is He guilty for accusing you of sinning against Him?  No, He “is justified in His words and blameless in His judgment.”[3]

He is the one who planned for your salvation, and fulfilled all of His saving promises.  He is the owner of the vineyard, as He also explains in Isaiah 5, “My beloved [which is God] had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.”[4]  God built it and prepared it, and put us in it.  Heaven and earth are His property.  He restored us, when all we deserved was to be thrown off his land.  Still, even after this, we have no claim on His property.

By our natural birth, we are those laborers standing idle in the marketplace.  And corrupt workforce that we are, we don’t even want to be in God’s vineyard, as the Psalm says, “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.”[5]  But He comes out seeking us through the preaching of the Gospel.  He preaches, “As far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed your transgressions from you”[6] and He calls us into His vineyard, His Kingdom.  And He does it all by His free choice, without any merit or worthiness in us.

And because it all belongs to Him, He has the authority to do what He wants with what’s His.  He has the power to hand out His gifts of forgiveness and life to whomever He wants.  Since none of us has a claim on it, it’s entirely up to Him who He gives it to.  “For he says, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’”[7]  To prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners?  The poor, the widows, and the orphans?  To wretches like me and you?  It’s His to freely give: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”[8]

God also has the power to give out His goods whenever He chooses, whether the first or the eleventh hour.  Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The Spirit moves where He wishes and you hear His voice, but you do not know where He comes from or where He is going.”[9]  God has called some of you from your mother’s arms.  This is His good and gracious will.  Others, He has called later in life, or even on their deathbed.  This is His good and gracious will.  He called people when it was accepted to be God’s people, and He called people when they would be berated and beheaded for confessing Jesus as Lord.

God gives larger or smaller burdens to be borne by each of us.  Often we take the attitude of those hired first, and grumble against our fellows who seem to have it easier, as if we were deserve better, now that we’re not bound for eternal torment.  He also portions how much work is accomplished by each laborer.  There are the famous saints—Moses, Elijah, Paul, and Luther—but the success all came from God.  St. Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”[10]

God also has the power to hand out as much as He wants of His goods.  That is, He gives the heavenly inheritance to everyone, regardless of seniority.  “When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.”  Seniority lists are not what we see in the kingdom of the world.  On the job, think of how much resentment comes from seeing upstarts and flatterers make it over those who worked hard! Such wrong is common to see! But not so in the Kingdom of God.  God is shows no favoritism and He cannot be bought off with gifts and flattering words. To David the noble King and Rahab the whore, He gives the same reward.  Moses and the thief on the cross stand around the same throne in paradise.  The Apostles Peter, James, and John bask the same glory as you and I will one day.

The footnote under the last part of verse 15 says, “Is your eye evil because I am good?”  When we bring our worldly baggage with us into heaven, we judge God.  But in fact, it’s our eyes that are evil and He is good.  God is in debt to no one.  And that makes our salvation that much more incredible.  The very heart of grace is that God chose to create you.  You owe your existence entirely to Him.  He chose to pay for your sins by the death of His Son.  He didn’t consult with you to check if it was a good idea.  And He chose to call you into His Kingdom.  You didn’t stumble through the door when your other options were used up (the point of the Prodigal Son is another lesson for another Sunday).  So rather than judge God for who He is and what He does with what’s His, we praise and exalt Him because of His grace and goodness, which He lavishes upon us.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.


[1] Job 38:4

[2] Genesis 3:19

[3] Psalm 51:4b

[4] Isaiah 5:1-2

[5] Psalm 14:1-2

[6] Psalm 103:12

[7] Romans 9:15, Exodus 33:19

[8] Ephesians 2:8

[9] John 3:8

[10] 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (Historic)

Readings: Exodus 34:29-35 | 2 Peter 1:16-21 | Matthew 17:1-9

Text: Matthew 17:1-9

Everyone hopes for heaven on earth. What can we do to hasten its arrival? What’s the “secret sauce” that nobody before has managed to discover, or how can I adjust my living so that I can be free of want?

The twentieth century was full of human schemes to create heaven on earth. Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam all thought that Communism was the answer. But even in our own country, the past several years have witnessed the belief that the “right” politicians will make things right: some by Republicans, some by Democrats.  The 21st century also continues in this line, with the notion of the Great Reset, which will bring about a new world order of sorts. However, In every case, people came closer to giving people hell than heaven. These schemes were not ill conceived or poorly organized. The schemes of humans always fail to bring heaven to earth, no matter how well planned, or efficiently organized.

While we might think that if we could just avoid the programs of those who are attempting to impose their view of an earthly heaven upon us, we would be able to create it for ourselves. We think that if we could just create the perfect family with children who are always obedient, and get the perfect job, which pays a large salary and does not require any work, we would be just fine. It would be like heaven. Some people think that if they check out of their responsibilities and move to a red state, that that would be heaven on earth.

Peter expressed that same wish in the Gospel today: And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” If we could only just stay here a while, that would be perfect.

But the problem with creating heaven on earth is me, not the stuff or the people around me. My sin and its guilt thwart heaven’s earthly arrival every time. Communism is poisoned by human greed—both a sinner’s desire for more and the selfishness of sinners in power. The problem isn’t one party against another, or even an independent party; it’s that every single representative is horribly flawed by sin. George Soros might have some grand ideas for society, but they cannot accommodate a country, or state, or city full of wicked sinners. And for all those who have hoped for the “perfect” church community where everyone is loving, the music is just what they wanted, and every need is abundantly met—is chasing after the wind.

However, our hope for heaven on earth alerts us to a desire that has been implanted in us by our Creator. Ecclesiastes 3, just after the famous “a time for everything” portion says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Eccl. 3:11) God made us for perfect fellowship with Him. He created us to inherit eternal life with Him. He designed us to experience a perfect home in His presence. Our desire is not wrong, but because of sin, it is misplaced. The desire of itself is in harmony with our true nature as creatures of God. We just cannot create what we so much desire to have.

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

In trying to create what we desire; our focus is wrong. It is fatally set upon our doing and our activity and our definition of heaven. God is the Creator of heaven and earth. Therefore, He is the one who can grant us heaven on earth. He does so in a way that appears to us to be so unspectacular and even unattractive. Yes, Peter, James, and John were awe-struck by the sight of the Transfiguration, but that was not to remain. It was a blessed vision to which they were eyewitnesses. But, the balance of their life was spent in ordinary life—in conversations, in Peter caring for his wife, in James suffering martyrdom, and John being exiled to Patmos. And all of them fled when the hour had come for Jesus to be glorified in the eyes of the Father.

Yet, in that most unpleasant—some might even say hellish—episode of Jesus’ passion, He was gaining heaven for us. Heaven for those who deserve it least. A Kingdom of Heaven, that can be found even in the midst of a fractured, dying, Satan-infested world.

“Thy Kingdom come,” we pray. The Father answers this prayer not with beatific visions on a mountain top, but through faith in the Word of His Son: “Listen to Him.”  He does it by granting us the body and blood of the Lord upon our altars. The church sings together with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven at the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar. Together with that heavenly host—with Moses and Elijah—to confess that heaven is where the Body of the Lord has come. If Christ’s body is here, then all the heavenly hosts must be present, even though unseen. Heaven bursts the bonds of mere sight through the gracious presence of the Lord’s Body among us.

Heaven on earth is attainable by our most fervent efforts. Heaven on earth comes only where God gives it to us as a gift. The 4th century bishop, John Chrysostom wrote:

“This mystery of the body of Christ makes earth become a heaven to you. Open only once the gates of heaven and look in; no, rather not of heaven, but of the heaven of heavens; and then you will see what I have been speaking of. For what is most precious of all there, I will show you upon earth. For as in royal palaces, what is most glorious of all is not the walls, nor golden roofs, but the person of the king sitting on the throne. So likewise in heaven the body of the King is most glorious. But this, you are now permitted to see upon earth. For it is not angels, nor archangels, nor heavens and heavens of heavens, that I show you, but their Lord and Owner. Don’t you perceive how that which is more precious than all things is seen on earth; and not merely seen, but also touched; and not only touched, but also eaten; and after receiving it you go home?

“Cleanse your soul then and prepare your mind for the reception of these mysteries. For if you were entrusted to carry a king’s child with the robes, the purple, and the diadem, you would cast away all earthly things. But now we are considering no child of man no matter how royal, but the only-begotten Son of God Himself, whom you received. Do you not thrill with awe and cast away the love of all earthly things, and have no boast but that with which to adorn yourself? Or do you still look toward the earthly, and love money, and pant after gold? What pardon then can you have? What excuse could you offer? But don’t you know that all this worldly luxury is loathsome to your Lord? Was it not for you that at His birth He was laid in a manger, and took to Himself a mother of low estate? Did He not for this say to him that was seeking gain, ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’? (Matt 8:20). John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 24.8

Nonetheless, the will of the Father is for you and I to hear the voice of His Son. We hear it as the Spirit enables us, and in that faith-filled hearing, we see what heaven really is: The very presence of God in the midst of His people. There, we see a God who reconciles Himself through the blood of Jesus, who hears our prayers, who cares for us in every need. Gathered as we are in the Body of Jesus, we pray together, “Our Father,” alongside the rest of the holy Church. If we are looking for heaven on earth, look no further than where the Father has sent His Son. In Him, we have peace with God and confidence in faith. The Holy Spirit seeks to preserve each of us in this true faith, until the day comes where there is no more room for doubt.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Readings: Amos 9:11-15 | Romans 12:6-16 | John 2:1-11

Text: John 2:1-11 

There are two Old Testament readings assigned for this Sunday. One is from Exodus 33:12-23. In that, we read: 

18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” 

Moses wanted to see God in His glory. The trouble is, sinful man cannot see Him and live. Moses was permitted to see his back. 

Centuries have been spent by man seeking the face and the glory of God: 

  • Mystics seek God in emotional experiences. 
  • Jewish mystics have sought it through a devotion to the Torah: “Kabbalah takes man beyond the normative understanding of reason. It goes beyond the exoteric part of Torah and transcends normative existence. It uncovers many of the infinite layers of the secrets of life, of Creation, of the soul, of the heavenly spheres. It penetrates beyond the garments and the body of the Torah. It is the very core and soul of Torah, the ultimate revelation of Divinity – exposing the inner meaning, effects and purpose of Torah and mitzvahs.”1 
  • Spiritualists old and new seek to find God through their own devices—repetition, music, occasionally intoxication—all so they can achieve what even Moses was not permitted to see. 
  • For His part, God gave the Levitical code to keep sinful man at a safe distance. Through the blood of sacrifice, water of purification, the smoke of incense, the veil before the Ark—God covered His glory so that they would not perish. 

Enter Jesus onto the scene. The Evangelist John comments that the “Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) It’s a new era for the glory of God and sinful man. The sin hasn’t gotten any better (that’s the delusion that humanity is advancing over generations). But while we were still as wicked as ever, Christ came and tabernacled in our midst. We certainly did not become more worthy of beholding the glory or face of God. The difference was the incarnation, and the gracious purpose of God to reconcile sinners to Himself. 

At the Wedding at Cana, we hear: 

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 

At first glance, it seems unrelated and trivial. So what? Jesus was invited to a friend’s wedding and saved them from a huge embarrassment. But in view of who Jesus is and what He has come to see, there is so much more to behold! 

  • The Lord is revealing Himself in His tabernacle among us in a new way. Where will people see God? Not just in the Temple. How will He show His glory? In this creative work which takes the old and fulfills it; which brings an abundance which man could never conjure up. To whom will He show His glory? Not simply to one man, but to His disciples who believe in Him! 
  • Under the Law, the glory of God had to be kept away from sinful man. When the Word became flesh, He made His intention clear that He wanted to take up a permanent dwelling among this fallen race. 
  • In the Old Testament Lesson we heard from Amos 9:11-15, the Lord says that this new era will be marked by “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it”—an abundance of cause to rejoice and celebrate. It is a joy and peace that alcohol by itself couldn’t possibly give in its intoxicating properties. As God gave us wine to “gladden the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15), it’s only in seeing the Son of God’s mighty deeds that we know true elation. 

So, this sign shows that God’s restoration has come. Jesus is the end of the waiting of the Law. He is the end of the divide between God and sinful man for all who believe. 

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. 
  • Here is the message of Jesus at the wedding in Cana: He is there to show what Moses and Amos anticipated. The glory of the Lord would be seen by people from all nations, even the “remnant of mankind.” (Amos 9 quoted in Acts 15:17). 
  • His glory is manifest in human form (Phil. 2:8). Moses could not see, but here, the Lord is present in the midst of sinners. He is approached by His mother with a request. He is an ordinary guest, and yet the Lord in His glory. 
  • The glory of God is not something for man to seek out on our own deceitful terms. Rather it is what God makes known in His own timing. 

Likewise, with the coming of Jesus in the flesh, and His glory manifest, the answer is no longer: “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). Now the face of God is visible in the Son of God [2 Cor. 3:18]. 

Jesus has come to hear our prayers, just as He did of His own mother, to bring us the joy of His salvation, and to make the face of God seen in our midst. This brings us full-circle back to something God gave during the ministry of the Levites. And it is with this unveiled face, and revealed glory, that the Divine Service ends with the Aaronic Benediction:  

24The Lord bless you and keep you;  
25the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;  
26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Num. 6:24-26)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. 

The Baptism of Our Lord

Readings: Isaiah 42:1-7 | 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 | Matthew 3:13-17

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

Who is Jesus? That’s one of the questions that comes up when we consider the Baptism of Our Lord.  Where can we look for an answer? To men? As the dialogue in Mark 8 with the disciples showed, even during His earthly life, there was misunderstanding and disagreement about who He is and what He’s up to. That’s why we, who are called by His Name some two millennia later, need to continually be reminded who Jesus is.

The Name, Jesus, was given to Him at His circumcision (Luke 2:21). It was given with the shedding of His blood. The Name, “The Lord saves” does not come without the shedding of the blood of God’s Son.

God’s Son was placed under the Law, as we heard last week:

4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4–7)

Under the Law, He became subject to everything we are—every bit of suffering both just and unjust—even though He was without sin and He was under no compulsion to do so. This is foundational to who Jesus is.

Likewise at His Baptism. Reason tells us He had no reason to be there. “I need to be baptized by You and do You come to me?” What is the sinless God-Man doing submitting to a baptism where they are confessing their sins? Just as at His circumcision, He received the mark of the covenant permanently on His body, at His Baptism, He is permanently marked—anointed by the Holy Spirit. He is set apart for God’s purpose.

The Baptism is where Jesus received the title, Christ: the Anointed One. It’s the anointing of the Holy Spirit, for the very work He had come to do: The Lord saves His people from their sins (Matt. 1:23).

He came as Prophet, through whom the Word of God came and is, and who still speaks to us in His Word today (which is why we stand for the Holy Gospel). “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18)

He came to be the Priest, who stands in that water of sinners because He is the one chosen to make the sin offering for the whole world. As St. Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6) And for our sakes, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Finally, He is anointed to be the King. He rules over a Kingdom which is not of this world (John 18:36). But His Kingdom does bring deliverance to her citizens. For us, Scripture describes what this King does for us: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

And if all of that isn’t clear enough in the title of Christ, God the Father adds His clear voice to the scene at the Jordan: “Behold! A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” In this declaration, it shows that Jesus is not simply a functionary—an underling sent to do the dirty work. This reminds us of the hymn, “He sent no angel to our race, of higher or of lower place, but wore the robe of human frame, and to this world Himself He came.” (LSB 544, “O Love, How Deep” v. 2) God is personally invested in reaching each one of us, seeking our eternal salvation!

His Circumcision and Baptism were not just for Him. They are a sermon to us: The Lord Saves. Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. “At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21) There God is…in the womb just as we once were, just as all people are. But there is God sanctifying the womb, making it a holy dwelling for His life-giving work. At His circumcision, there the Son of God is again, as a newborn, recently covered in vernix and blood and mucus. But here, He sheds His first blood and bears the mark of God’s promise: “So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 17:13; 12:3).

Likewise, His Baptism wasn’t just a show for one day. It was a teaching for us who were to come. It cannot be that we are saved simply by knowing about certain truths about God. James says that even the demons know truths about God, but this causes them to shudder [James 2:19]. It preaches a reality to us, by which we might also be called sons of God. Hear it once more:

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.’”

Certainly Adam would have been considered a son of God, but he and His bride forsook their position. They and their offspring became enemies of God, brutal rebels out to prove their place by their own way. This whole course was a dead end…a deadly end, in fact. Until Jesus was revealed—in the womb of Mary, in the arms of His mother and father, in the waters of the Jordan. He made His place with sinners, with whom He shared flesh and blood. There in flesh and blood, in the water with sinners, God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth, declared from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In the water, and in the Spirit, He declared this through His Son who shares our flesh.

He also has come to you at your Baptism.  There, you were permanently marked as His own, witnessing God’s covenant with His Church.  There you too were marked with His most holy Name.  God the Father marked you with His Name!  Bathed in the cleansing water and blood from His pierced side, you were given your personal name and placed into Jesus! And there, in the font, He brought you forgiveness, rescue, and the promise of eternal salvation!

And receiving this Name means a complete change for each of us—even if it took place many years ago in time, or we don’t remember it. At your Baptism, in the waters of Lebanon (or in my case, Piedmont, California), the heavens opened for you and the Holy Spirit was given to you, and the God the Father said about you—in Christ—”you are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” All of this is wrapped up in being called “Christian,” and this is why we call on God as our true Father, and we are indeed His true children.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

First Sunday after Christmas

Readings: Isaiah 11:1-5 | Galatians 4:1-7 | Luke 2:22-40

Text: Luke 2:33-40

Joseph and Mary marveled about what was spoken about their son by Simeon. The Song of Simeon, known to us as the Nunc Dimittis, summed up the longing of the people of God since the very entrance of sin into the world. About this child whom Mary carried in her arms, the prophet exclaimed that now, at long last, the Lord was releasing Him in peace. His Word—which was shorthand for the entire Old Testament—had now been fulfilled in the coming of this holy infant, now in the Temple. It was a promise which Simeon could see fulfilled, hold in his arms, and while holding this infant, bless God for accomplishing the long-promised mercy to a stiff-necked people.

Mary treasured all these things in her heart. But not everyone shared Simeon’s exultation at seeing Jesus. There were many more things that would also be spoken about Him as the child grew.

Is not this Joseph’s son?Luke 4:22

Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?Luke 5:21

“A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”Luke 7:16

Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?Luke 8:25

He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.Luke 23:5

Away with this man, and release to us BarabbasLuke 23:18

But this man has done nothing wrong.Luke 23:41

Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?Luke 24:32

All of these things were spoken by Israelites—the very recipients of God’s promised mercy. Some of them are true; others are false. But what is true about all of them is what Simeon also says: Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed (vv. 34-35). The coming of Israel’s Savior brought out what was in the hearts of all—whether faith, or unbelief.

The coming of Christ is a fulfillment of what is spoken by Isaiah: 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”[1]  Again, it is written in Psalm 118: 22The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  There is no greater stumbling block for sinful men than Jesus.

In Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata 152, titled “Step Forward on the Way of Faith,” Lutheran poet, Salomo Franck, expresses this mystery of stumbling over the Rock, Jesus.

Step forward on the way of faith,

God has laid the stone

that bears and supports Zion.

Man, do not stumble against it!

Step forward on the way of faith![2]

In the post-modern, post-Christian world that we live in, absolutes are rejected. The Christian faith is expected to “coexist” with other monotheistic religions, and even with religions that confess a whole host of gods. Every person has his or her own opinion about God, and that’s just great to the world.

Even the Christian Church on earth is riddled with differing opinions, which manifest themselves in denominations. For example, it’s common to hear that a person can’t be saved until they open the door for Jesus,[3] while others confess with Scripture, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”[4]

Yet God’s perspective is quite different. “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame”[5]  God is the one who defines who He is and what is to be believed about Him. Ironically, no person would stand to have lies told about themselves, but we want to reserve the right to say whatever we want about God, even if it isn’t true.

But all that is put to rest by this Rock of Stumbling. God establishes His Son as the standard for truth: Man is a corrupt, abominable sinner. God is man’s Savior and Jesus Christ is the blood-guilt offering for our sins and the sins of the whole world.[6]  This is most certainly true, and everything else is damnably false.

And this Rock is the only hope for lost and condemned sinners. He is the refuge of all who are convicted and dying. In the Cantata, Franck continues:

The Savior is appointed

in Israel for its fall and resurrection

The precious stone is without blame

if the evil world

injures itself on it

even falls over it to hell,

since the world runs against it so maliciously

and God’s favor

and grace does not recognize!

But blessed is

a Christian who has been chosen

who places the foundation of his faith on this cornerstone

since by this he finds salvation and redemption.

This Stone went out from Israel, to all the people of the earth. The preaching of Him went out to a world filled with evil men—including you and me. “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”[7]  He breaks to pieces our attempts to repair our sins and escape the grave. He crushes our pride which waves our own laurels in God’s face. Anyone who trusts in these vanities will be cast into hell with prideful Satan.

But blessed is everyone who is called by God to salvation. Blessed are those who are crushed by this Stone, “not having a righteousness of [their] own,”[8] as St. Paul says in Philippians, “but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  Blessed are you who have been crucified with Christ along with all your sin and evil desires, for you are raised to a pure life by faith in Him.

As for who will believe in or stumble on this Rock, that is entirely the business of God the Holy Spirit. We often trip on this question about the Rock, and wonder if there were another way that we could help fewer people to stumble. Should we change our worship? Should we change the Word we preach? Maybe if we just advertised more! But all of this is fumbling in the darkness of our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the Lord. He calls to faith, as the Son said in St. John, “The Spirit moves where He wills. You hear His voice, but you cannot tell where He is coming from or where He is going to.”[9]  The Holy Spirit brings Jesus to us and us to Jesus. He is the Rock of salvation[10] for all who believe.

The Word of God proclaims this Rock. An evil world will writhe against it, trying to destroy the God who speaks and the people who proclaim His Word. But it is God Himself who calls people out of this world—you and me—to believe in this Rock, to see our sins on Him, to see our life in Him, and to have refuge in Him for eternity. May God preserve faith in our hearts in this evil world, till our Savior comes again in glory!

We pray in the words of the Aria from Cantata 152:

Stone, which surpasses all treasures,

  help me, so that I at all times

through faith on you may place

  the foundation of my salvation

  and so that I may not injure myself on you,

Stone, which surpasses all treasures.

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


[1] Isaiah 8:14-15

[2] Translated by Francis Browne. Cited from http://bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV152-Eng3.htm

[3] Based on the understanding of Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” that Jesus speaks to those who are outside of His Church. Yet those who are addressed are already called His members in v. 14.

[4] Ephesians 2:8

[5] Romans 9:33

[6] 1 John 2:2

[7] Matthew 21:44

[8] Philippians 3:9

[9] John 3:8

[10] Psalm 62:7