Palm Sunday — Philippians 2:5-11
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Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

This is your word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: It is good that we consider what manner of thing Jesus is, whom today we celebrate in His royal arrival in Jerusalem where He is to give Himself into death for the sake of sinners. What sort of thing Jesus is must determine whether or not His life and death truly might be sufficient to buy us out of eternal hell.

In the early 80’s there was a monetary crisis in Mexico. Suddenly the peso was worth only a couple of pennies in our currency. But one of the Mexican coins was of the same weight and size as the U.S. quarter. Those who owned vending machines really were hurt as unscrupulous people used these nearly worthless coins. Some venders went out of business! The substitute coin was not sufficient to redeem the merchandise!

It matters, what is being offered to redeem a thing— whether or not it is of sufficient value. So this One riding on a donkey’s colt— is His life and death really worth the price of your eternal death? If so, gladly hail Him! If not, well, there’s really no purpose at all in following Jesus if in the end He could not pay the sufficient price.

So what manner of thing is Jesus? Your life hangs on this question, doesn’t it?

To look at Jesus in the years of His ministry, well frankly, there wasn’t much to look at. The Prophets foretold that he would look pretty commonplace. In modern clothing, I don’t think any of us would be able to pick Jesus out of a check-out line at the grocery store. Even approaching the City, He arrives on a beast of burden. The flesh is tempted to look at Jesus and think “nothing to see here, move along.” Paul writes that this Jesus “made Himself of no reputation.”

But even common wisdom informs us that sometime there’s more than meets the eye. To the untrained eye, it’s just another pebble in a crumbly hillside. To the experienced miner, the glory of an uncut gem of great value may just be perceived. It’s all the difference.

Paul tells us who Jesus is— and just what He is. As he commends us to live in imitation of Jesus’ humble service to men, Paul describes Jesus as the one “who [is] in the form of God”— Jesus from all eternity is true God. When you consider Jesus, remember first and before all else, by nature that He is God. Now think about this. How many gods are there? Scripture is very clear. There is only one true God. Jesus is the true God. When you consider Jesus, you consider the One who from all eternity and to all eternity is the changeless, all-powerful, only true God. This One True God is three persons. And as we consider these persons, the Father, Son, and Spirit, we encounter the mystery of the Trinity. And this is not something given for us to explain or attempt to pick apart. It is a profound mystery. We do not explain it. We confess it. We do not confess that there are three gods, but one God. And Jesus is this true God. He is all of God.

So the one mounted on the donkey riding into Jerusalem amidst palms and hosannas is the one true God. That is who Jesus is.

But for our sake, Jesus, true God, who by nature is equal with God, for He is God in fact, laid aside His uncreated glory and took on the form of a bondservant. What does a bondservant do? The bondservant performs a task in the place of another. Jesus set aside His glory and took on utter humiliation.

There was a show called ‘Dirty Jobs’ which focused on men and women who do the work nobody else really wants to do. The point was made episode after episode that without somebody doing such work, everything would really fall apart. Jesus, true God, for your sake has humbled Himself to do the work which we all cannot live without.

The One riding into Jerusalem is the One who comes to do the job nobody else can perform. He comes to take the filth of my sin, of your sin, even the sin we don’t, can’t!, even realize is on us (for we have grown so accustomed to it), and puts it all on Himself.

This bondservant who would take your sin on Himself is God. He is infinite. And we must admit an infinite God indeed may take on the vast load of the guilt and shame and filth and sin of every single person who ever has been, and who ever will be. God is infinite. And in Christ He humbles Himself, comes a’riding on a donkey, to use His infinite nature to take on the sin of the whole world, of the whole human race.

And Paul says Jesus has come “in the likeness of men.” That is to say, as Jesus is described as being in the “form of God” for in fact He is God, so too, Jesus has come to us men in our likeness, for He indeed has become a man. This is why we celebrated the Annunciation last week. God for our sake entered our human condition, was conceived in the Virgin Mary, was born (which we celebrate nine months after the Announcement— at Christmas), grew up, and lived, fully and completely human. The One riding in to the City is at one time fully and eternally God, but this One who has set aside His glory to take up the dirty job of our rescue from sin and death is also the One conceived and born among us as man. Jesus is fully God. Jesus is fully man.

God can by His infinite nature take on the load of our sin, no matter how great it is. And a man? A man may be subjected to every temptation, to every pain, to every sorrow, and you know what else a man may do? A man may die. This Man may die. This Man, this God, Jesus Christ has come, not two, but One Person, for this purpose: to do the job we cannot do. He who knew no sin took on all sin. God Himself took on your guilt and shame. Jesus is once and for all the Sinner. And He has come to Jerusalem this Palm Sunday to do what the crowds asked Him to do. “Hosanna” means ‘Save us!’ So He has determined to do from eternity. God loves you so much that seeing your hopeless condition as a sinner who is bound to eternal death, He has taken on your flesh and blood to put Himself in your place. The Man who in a few days would be made to suffer and would be nailed to the cross, and who would die, this Man Jesus is the One True God. He has come to do the job you could not do. The Dirty Job of Dying in your place.

Here is the One who indeed is worthy, Here is the One who’s life is worth more than any, for He is the perfect, sinless Man. And He is true God. Should He substitute Himself for you, and take your dreadful and eternal death, it is an infinite payment made for you and for all.

In fact, Jesus’ perfect obedience, even to the death of the cross is a full and eternal payment. The price is so fully paid there can never be another atoning sacrifice. All the lambs and goats sacrificed at the altar of the Temple only ever were pointing to Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world. He is the One who has had mercy on us all. This job is done once for all. This coin in the vending machine if you will, pays the price of your salvation forevermore. Jesus, true God, true man, is the opposite of the worthless coin. In Him the payment is infinite.

And His death? His death is so full that Jesus indeed destroys in the most profound manner, death forever.

…But let’s take that up in a few days!

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, comes to the cross, for you. This true God, this true Man riding on the foal of a donkey in humility comes to do this work of eternal redemption for you.

The price is paid. Jesus is come. Your sin is no more. You are set free. You are forgiven!

We cry ‘hosanna!’ ‘save us!’ and this is just what Jesus has done. Ponder that, O sinner. For in the eyes of True God you are forever holy, and you are a living, not a dying one forevermore.

The Peace of God which passes all understanding guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Lent 4 — St. John 6.1-15
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Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”

This is your word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: The story is familiar— the feeding of the 5,000— isn’t it. This morning let’s take a look from what may seem to be a different point of view. You are among those here and now waiting to be fed the Impossible Feast.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the logistics. There was a lot of grass there. Jesus used five barley loaves and two fish. There were 5,000 men— how many women and children besides, we do not know; a year’s wages wouldn’t be enough to buy food for them all, and so on.  Let’s not do that this time. That gets covered over and over and over. The logistics make this a clearly impossible task. Again, you are waiting to be fed here and now. Can Jesus provide this Impossible Feast for you?

Jesus tests his disciple Philip. Philip cannot pass the test. It’s a trick question, really, isn’t it. There are no stores. But Jesus is preparing Philip for another journey he will take in a lonely place with a hungry man who must be fed, on the wilderness road from Jerusalem to Gaza, where he met a man in a chariot who could not understand the Scripture he was reading about one who had been led uncomplaining as a sheep to slaughter. In that deserted place Philip would not even have a boy’s lunch, but he would feed the Treasurer of Ethiopia, and send him full, and fulfilled, away.

Where would the Feast to feed the 5,000, or the Ethiopian on that lonely road come from? How would that Feast even overflow from that man into Ethiopia’s royal court, and out across that great nation, and fill so many? How would you be fed here and now— for you are seated too— like the man in the chariot, and like the 5,000 in that wild place where there was much grass— for you are waiting right now to be filled in this Impossible—ongoing— Feast?

When you see how very great the need is— when you glimpse your dire condition, like an astronaut about to be cast without a spacesuit into the void, when you recognize your helplessness in the face of eternal death (you already are dying—you have been since you took your first breath), when you sense the hunger within, and nothing you can do to fill it, you see only lack, loss, and nothing to be done. When you look about you, and you see your neighbors all in the same condition, all unable, all dying, ‘change and decay in all around you see,’ you do the math and conclude there’s just not enough— and whatever little is at hand won’t even begin to help. You stand with the Disciples. Yes, Jesus here is testing you as well. And tested, you find yourself wanting. There isn’t enough, and nothing you can do about it.

Andrew notes a boy has a little lunch. Is it Andrew’s son, that he knows what the boy has packed with him? Nevermind, what is so little among so many?

What does Jesus demand? He commands the multitude to have a seat. Take rest. You are in the presence of Him who leads you into the green pastures, and beside the quiet waters. You rest. He shall feed you. Your provision is lacking, and of that Christ is well aware. That is why He has come— to gather and lead, and now to feed you. Even in the wilderness. This world’s a wilderness without the ability to give you what you need. Only Jesus has what you need. Not a mouthful either, but everything, to your fill, and more!

With a word Jesus bespoke all that is created into being. With a little blessing a bit of bread and a couple of fish are multiplied beyond measure— how much can so many eat? We don’t even know their full number! And plenty left after besides! When he was sent to meet the Ethiopian, a few words spoken by Philip were multiplied into a mighty transformation not only of the royal treasurer, but of the court, and of the nation as well. When Jesus speaks, things come into being. He speaks, and there was a feast for all.

But I’ve been going on, and you’ve come hungering and thirsting yourself, for such a feast. Know this: Jesus is working through His Word here and now, even as He worked through the lunch of the boy Andrew brought, and through the words of Philip. Jesus multiplies blessing here and now for you, just as we read about it in those ancient days when He taught and fed the multitude while He led that grand parade from the Galilee to Judea, to Jerusalem, and to the Cross. Jesus bespeaks a thing and it is so. The fish in the sea and the barley in the field were first spoken by Him which He used to feed the 5,000. And your release, your absolution from sin He speaks too. You are forgiven. You are at peace with God for Jesus’ sake. And as I forgive you here and now, it is so also before the throne of God because Jesus has declared it to be. And you too shall be feasted on a wondrous feast today. Jesus takes the bread and blesses it, and gives it to His Disciples saying “Take eat, this is My Body.” And the cup too “This is My Blood, shed for the remission of your sin.” And “do this often” for this Feast is ongoing. This Feast is unending. There is no lack, you shall not want. Jesus speaks, and it is so. He spoke the cosmos into being, He spoke the bread and fish into abundance, He speaks this bread, this cup His Body, His Blood, all of it for you. This is the beginning of the wonderful abundant wedding feast of the Church, the Bride, and Christ, her Groom. And you shall have no want. Even in the presence of your enemies, you shall fear no evil. For the whole Body and all the Blood too, are fed into you.

Take rest. Jesus here provides. Your sin is undone, and you are remade. Your hunger and thirst are filled. And there is no lack, no rationing. This is for you and for all. Even a whole nationful. Even a worldful. Jesus died once for all, the righteous for we unrighteous. And we shall be filled and at peace. Now and forevermore.

The peace of God which passes all understanding stands guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Oculi (Lent 3) — Revelation 2.1-7, St. Luke 4.31–37
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Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.

This is Your word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your word is truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: Our Lord delivers a sober warning to the church of Ephesus through His servant John in our reading from His Revelation this morning. Although there was much to commend in that church, their complacency had caused them to wander from their first love for Jesus and His Good News for themselves, and their lost and dying neighbors. But how bad could it be, really?

Jesus shows us how bad. In the Gospel reading Jesus casts out a demon. Where did this happen? What was the occasion? Believe it or not, this happened at church! Or I should say, during the weekly divine service of the synagogue in Capernaum. We just heard that Jesus

went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths. And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority. Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon.

We confess that the Church is “the congregation of saints, in which the Good News is rightly taught and the sacraments are rightly administered.” But when we start shying away from God’s Word, and when we grow lax in the proper administration of the Sacrament, things are going to go awry. The critique of the Ephesian church in the Revelation didn’t go so far as to say they were no longer Christians, but that they were in danger of letting the Faith slip away. They had lost their first love. And this is what had happened in the Old Testament church where Jesus had come and established His base during His public ministry in the Galilee. The Capernaum synagogue is the home congregation of Peter, Andrew, John, and James. They fished out of the town’s docks.

Jesus came into this synagogue and took His place to read the scrolls of God’s Word when a man in that congregation who was demon possessed suddenly

cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are— the Holy One of God!”

What had happened? How had things gotten so lax that one of the members of the synagogue should be possessed? Well, listen to what happened next

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him in their midst, it came out of him and did not hurt him. Then they were all amazed and spoke among themselves, saying, “What a word this is! For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” And the report about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

Here and elsewhere we get the picture that Jesus speaks unlike the usual preachers that congregation had ever heard. Jesus speaks with “authority and power,” and that makes all the difference.

What does this even mean? If we get a military drill instructor in here who knows how to bark orders to raw recruits, is that the authority and power the people saw in Jesus? Quite the contrary. That would just be a gimmick.

And the synagogues of the Galilee, in ancient time, and the congregations of Christians today too, have been taken in for a lot of gimmicks replacing true religion. At one time or another we’ve all fallen for this, so consider yourself before looking at your neighbor, and repent.

There was an order to worship back then, as there is today in our church. There was a schedule of readings which was maintained in the synagogue. Every sabbath, the readings from God’s Word would be read. And attendant Psalms would be chanted, and prayers would be said. In many ways, going to church in those last years under the Old Testament would have been something we would recognize.

After the readings of Scripture had been read, a teacher (‘rabbi’ means teacher) would preach. He was supposed to take the Scripture and unpack and apply God’s Word to the people’s lives he preached to. Having done this myself for many years I can tell you there is a risk involved for the preacher. Applying God’s Word to your lives can ruffle some feathers! Sometimes God’s Word is going to apply to you in a way that is downright uncomfortable, embarrassing, and in any case it is always going to show you your need to repent your sin! This is touchy— especially when the preacher knows he’s got to live with these people, right? So there was a temptation. The temptation is to go light on certain sins which he knows are going to rile folks up.

In the end, the rabbis of Jesus’ time had resorted to substituting mishnah for directly preaching the Scriptures. A mishnah is a review of what prominent teachers and preachers have said concerning a particular issue or Bible text. And there is some value in checking what the great scholars of God’s Word have written! But it had become a matter of simply going on about how Gamaliel says this, while Shamai says that, and dithering around in the commentary to the point that God’s Word gets lost in the shuffle and nevermind the fact that there is a real need for repentance and absolution in the real lives of the real people.

I’d like to say this sort of thing passed away. It didn’t. The various mishnah, or rabbinical commentaries eventually formed the text known today as the Talmud. Judaism became lost in the forest of commentary and the clear proclamation of God’s Word was forever hushed there.

And we Christians, already by the time of the Revelation late in that first Century were sometimes finding ourselves doing the same thing. Well, after all, it’s safer for the preacher, right? But look at the cost!

The Ephesian Church had already in a generation wandered from her first love of the clearly stated Good News— Jesus is your rescue! In Him is forgiveness for all your sin, and eternal life! — this was already being muddled. And as Jesus prepared to preach in the synagogue at Capernaum, there in the middle of the congregation happy as a clam (until then) are demons quite unperturbed by what had been passing for religion till the Son of Man began to preach!

That’s pretty bad, isn’t it? And where congregations of Christians have traded in the clear exposition and application of the Word of the Lord for gimmicks of every description, I fear there may be demons dwelling just as happily today! Pray then that you should always hunger and thirst for God’s Word, and that we as a congregation, and our synod too!, should never accept novelties, gimmicks, or anything whatsoever else, no matter how high sounding or noble seeming, which would shove the clear Word to the side!

Jesus speaks with power and authority because He speaks the Word. Indeed, for Jesus is the Word made flesh, and dwelling among us. But He charges us to both proclaim clearly and honestly hear that Word— and accept no substitutes.

One more thing. When the demon shouted “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are— the Holy One of God!”

He was clearly identifying Jesus.

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!”

Why did Jesus tell the demon to be silent when what he was saying is true? Very simply, good water cannot flow from a polluted spring. Even when satan speaks truth, it is to poison us. The most effective lies are always nearly true, aren’t they? But then the truth gets twisted this way or that, just so, and you are led off and away from what is good to what will kill you.

Our culture today informs you quite piously that there is truth to be found in all religions, and you should learn to celebrate such diversity. Don’t buy it! When men follow the teaching of demons (and that is just what false religion is), they are convinced by what may appear to be undeniably true and good. But then comes the little twist which perverts everything—  a little lie to poison the whole lot. Jesus did not come to rescue the devil from sin and death. Jesus came to be your deliverer. It may seem there is truth apart from Christian teaching, but looks can be deceiving. Stick to Jesus, stick to His clear, plain Word, stick to His redeeming you by His death, stick to Jesus like a burr sticks to your sock, so that nothing, not demons, nor satan himself, nor whatever may pass itself these days as popular may pry you from Him.

Return to your first love, dear one, stick to what it is that makes for your salvation— the Word of Jesus rightly proclaimed, and the Means of Grace (where Jesus has located His forgiveness for you according to His clear promise)— and accept nothing less.

Gimmicks shall save us never. But in Jesus you have life and salvation. And according to His promise your sin is even now forgiven you. You are at peace, and no demon can stand it! Let the demon be damned, but you, dear child of God, you in Jesus’ blood and righteousness are saved.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Reminiscere— Lent 2 St. Isaiah 45:20-25 / St. Matthew 15:21-28
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Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

“Assemble yourselves and come; Draw near together, you who have escaped from the nations.”

This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: You can be discouraged, when it seems that we are so few among so many. You can feel very lonely, living your life as a Christian. You can feel weird, when you realize that yours is the only car pulling out on your street to go to church. The world is very big, and we are very small. It can be daunting, can’t it, to stand and be counted as a follower of Jesus in a place where there are many followers of many other things, but not of our Lord.

And your discouragement may harden into doubt, and from doubt into despair of even trying any more. You want to just give it up and let it be. Like the woman who came to Jesus to have her daughter healed and found herself surrounded by men who didn’t much appreciate her, and to hear Jesus Himself shut her down. But what’s at stake is so much more than the comfort of going along with the world. What’s on the line is so much more important than how you happen to feel. Are you really going to let your feelings dictate how you shall live? Are you really going to give up just because you aren’t getting satisfaction? A mother flings herself again against that stone wall of rejection from the disciples and seeming indifference from Jesus because her daughter’s life is on the line, and her daughter is worth any humiliation. A lone car runs down the road on a Sunday morning headed for church, and what drives that car, what drives the driver of that car is the sense, the knowing, the peace which passes understanding that what is to be gained is greater even than the rejection of the whole world. Grace is afoot, God’s grace, and it is for you. Come, here it is.

For a moment she is despised and rejected by the Twelve, and turned aside by the Lord. But she will not leave without an answer for her child who is more precious to her than life itself. And at the right moment Jesus reveals the face of the God who loves, which is so often lost and hidden behind the indifference of man. Taken by the promise of Grace, surprised by joy, the woman gains healing for her daughter, and healing for her own spirit beyond her asking.

Sunday after Sunday you gather together, and you will not be dissuaded by the world’s indifference, nor by the comforts which are so easily available elsewhere. Your life is on the line— so you come. All the wealth and pleasure the world may promise is enticing, the kingdoms of this world may seem so glitteringly bright as they are laid out in devilish imagination before you— oh, the places you could be going!— but here is the place where you may receive what the world not only cannot give— but cannot —has not even dreamt of! Here you receive healing beyond your asking, for here you receive the Author, Redeemer, and Lover of your soul.

So you come. And so what if it seems that we are so few?

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers and sisters gathered together. For he today that stands defiant against a world asleep in their imagined pleasures, you who are gathered in Christ’s Name shall be His brother; be never so vile. This day shall gentle our condition. And gentlemen and fancy ladies, men and women who choose the things which in the moment seem more fun, those now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their souls cheap whiles any speaks that gathered with us in Word and Sacrament in Christ’s Name.

Let me tell you, we are more than what the world may see, for we few are joined in this noble pilgrimage by those few from the next neighborhood, and the next community, and the next state, and region, and nation, and our numbers mount up, though we do not see it all ourselves, and we are a mighty tide which is sweeping the world, and to that number add in all those who have come before, for they are neither forgotten, nor lacking in the Kingdom of the God who loves. Surrounded in a cloud of the Holy ones who have gone before us— the whole Host of heaven—our Lord is assembling us all, from every place, and from every time. Jesus is calling us by His Word, washing us clean, dressing us in the white baptismally robes of His holiness, gathering us into His almighty arms— His loving arms— making us His most noble, glorious and everlasting kingdom of princes, of heirs, of His dearly loved, of His blood-bought.

“Assemble yourselves and come; Draw near together, you who have escaped from the nations. They have no knowledge, who carry the wood of their carved image, and pray to a god that cannot save.”

Jesus has called you out of this time and place and people to Him; for this time, and place, and people cannot save you from the sin which marks you— the shame which burns you, the death which awaits— but you are called to Him who can, who has done all that is needed to deliver you and win your life from death eternal. Jesus, almighty king, has emptied Himself, and come lonely and abandoned and given His life into the hands of sinners to die, that sinners should now in Him find that life, forgiveness, and everlasting joy. Isn’t that a wonder? … This is what powers the lonely car headed for church down an empty street, it is the wonder of a King who died to make you who were dead in sin alive and give you His place in His Kingdom, which He prepares for you.

“Tell and bring forth your case; Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; There is none besides Me. “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him. In the LORD all the descendants of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory.’”

This is it: though you know loneliness and rejection all too well, and though even now your eyes do not see much in a world of indifference that stretches out in every way, you see Jesus, and there is none other like Him. You come and hear His Word, and His Word shows you plainly your sin and tells you of your heart’s sorrow and shame, and His Word shows you plainly the God who loves you, and has come to you, gives Himself for you, brings you healing in His wings. There is no other like the God whose presence you have been brought into today. He is here for you now. Jesus is here, His Word is here, and where His Word is, He is, and Jesus justifies you– that is, He presents you before His royal throne of Glory and judges you righteous and holy by reason of His own work has done for you, gives you life by His death for you; defeats all sin and sadness for you. And here and now gives you His gifts, the pledge of all that is to come forevermore. So I speak to you that pledge, and that reality which is greater than what the world may know or understand: you are forgiven. Your sin is taken away, you may stand without shame— so stand, dear one wrapped in the righteousness of the Valiant One, Jesus— for the God who loves, loves you now and always. Jesus has done this, and He is bringing you now into His infinite company and you are not alone. You are not alone. You are loved. You are in Christ.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guards over your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Invocavit (Lent 1) — from the barrel
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Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

This is your word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by your truth. Your word is truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: “Then” is immediately after His Baptism. Immediately after Jesus is baptized He is subjected to the temptations of the devil.

This is a lesson about the very real danger that follows Holy Baptism: Baptism clearly marks you as an enemy of Satan.

That’s because it clearly marks you as one of God’s own. By the Word of God proclaimed at your Baptism, God the Father declares you publicly to be His beloved child. At your Baptism, you receive the sign of the holy cross of Jesus, both upon your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. The water visibly poured upon you testifies that the Holy Spirit Who invisibly is present in the Word of Holy Baptism and so is with that water has poured Himself into you. And there you are, a newly-born child of God,…  and an enemy of Satan. For He is the ancient enemy of The Holy Trinity and all of His holy ones. This once-holy angel was jealous of the worship that God received from the heavenly host and from God’s first children, Adam and Eve. Lucifer desired to be worshipped in Heaven and on Earth in God’s place. So he led an army of rebelling angels, foolishly attempting to overthrow Almighty God, but was instead thrown out of Heaven with them all.

And then, out of anger toward God, he quickly began to bring that rebellion upon Earth. Out of spite for God and God’s own, He came to God’s recently-created children. He led us into temptation, and delivered us into evil. He first lied to our mother Eve, and then deceived our father Adam, and led them to disobey God’s Word and to rebel against God’s will for them. And then all of them were thrown out of Paradise— lest man should be separated from God in his sin forever! Note, Lucifer was cast down from heaven forever. But man was cast from the Garden so that in the fulness of time He might be redeemed, restored, and forgiven.

Of course, once man and woman were rebels against God, the devil left them alone. Satan followed the old saying that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” As long as Adam and Eve were also enemies of God because of their sin, the devil was happy with them.

So Satan is happy with us before our baptism. We are conceived with a sinful nature, inherited from Adam. We are at enmity with God, hostile to His Word and Will, from the moment of our birth. And, being the enemy of his enemy, the devil leaves us alone.

But once God takes hold of you by His grace, it’s a different story. For God puts enmity between Satan and God’s child, declaring you to be an enemy of the devil when God forgives you your sin on Christ’s account and brings you back into God’s friendship and your Father’s sonship. The devil sees you as his enemy, and sets his sights on you.

What will you do? How will you resist him? How will you survive his attacks?

Know this first: If you rely upon your own strength of body, mind or will, you will fall.

That is the lesson learned from the example of Adam and Eve. They had perfect bodies that wanted for nothing, and yet they hungrily devoured the forbidden fruit. They possessed perfect minds that gave them perfect knowledge of the things of God’s creation, and yet they saw the ugly fruit of sin as pleasing to the eye. They had perfect wills that were set to obey God and the Word that would make them wise unto eternal life, and yet they saw more desirable the lies that made them foolish. They were perfect, and yet, when they were tempted, they fell. Why should we not likewise expect to fall—we who possess sin-weakened flesh, fallen minds, and misdirected wills?

What will you do? How will you resist the devil? How will you survive his assault?

Look to the example of Jesus. How did He do it? How did He survive this all-out attack that Satan brought upon Him following His Baptism?

Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. And while He fasted, He prayed. Fasting is always connected with prayer in the Scriptures. So Jesus not only fasted, but He prayed for forty days and forty nights.

And what He prayed was for your deliverance from evil.

We know this, because this fasting and prayer of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament. It is found in the Book of Deuteronomy, in the words and actions of Moses. What Moses said and did is precisely the same as what Jesus said and did; hear these words as what Moses did, pointing to what Jesus for your sake would do. From the Book of Deuteronomy, the 9th Chapter:

“And I fell down before the LORD, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you committed in doing wickedly in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the LORD was angry with you, to destroy you. But the LORD listened to me at that time also.… You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you.  Thus I prostrated myself before the LORD; forty days and forty nights I kept prostrating myself, because the LORD had said He would destroy you. Therefore I prayed to the LORD, and said: 'O Lord GOD, do not destroy Your people and Your inheritance whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look on the stubbornness of this people, or on their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which You brought us should say, "Because the LORD was not able to bring them to the land which He promised them, and because He hated them, He has brought them out to kill them in the wilderness." Yet they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out by Your mighty power and by Your outstretched arm'”

So Jesus prayed, like Moses prayed, for God to not give His people over to the devil, but to save them.

God responded to that prayer like He always does. He always speaks back to His praying people by His Word.

That is why fasting is connected to prayer. The fast makes you hunger for food, preparing you to truly appreciate the nourishment you receive when the fast is broken. At the same time, the fast is preparing you to hunger for an answer to the prayer, preparing you to truly appreciate the sustenance that comes from God’s Word—as Moses speaks in Deuteronomy and as Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”.

So God responded to the prayer of Jesus by His Word. “It is written; it is written, it is written”. Each of the three temptations that the devil placed before Jesus were answered by the Word of God, written in the Holy Scriptures through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God Himself.

“Then the devil left Him”.

As always, Satan could not prevail against God. The deceiver could not eclipse the clear Word of God. The liar was defeated by the Truth. How could it be otherwise? When Lucifer was most powerful, and a third of the angels joined him, they were all defeated and cast out of heaven by the Word of the Lord. One little word indeed has cast down the evil one.

And this is the answer to our question: How will the baptized Christian survive the devil’s attack?

Firstly, by not relying upon our own strength of body or mind or will, for then we shall surely fall into sin. Bur rather, we look to Jesus—the Son of God Who was born of the Virgin, with perfect body and mind and will—the Son of Man Who has worked salvation from sin through His mighty power and by His outstretched arm, stretched out upon His cross. He took into His perfect body all of our sin and put it all to death by His death. Though Satan tempted Jesus to call upon His army of holy angels to save Him from such suffering, Jesus responded with His own Word, knowing that His cross is His glory. For though He would die, He also rose again from the dead on the third day, to bring everlasting glory to us through the forgiveness of sins that His death and resurrection brings.

And we resist the devil and his temptations in the same way that our Savior Jesus did: by prayer to God—even with fasting—and through the Word of God. We pray for strength of body and mind and will in the midst of temptation, trusting that the Lord will lead us through the time of temptation and will deliver us from the Evil One, by the power of His Word and Spirit. In other words, we take what God has promised in the Bible and hold those promises up to Him.

 We pray the prayer spoken at Baptism—the Lord's Prayer—and draw strength from the Word that God speaks about the power of Baptism to wash away forever the guilt of all sin and to empower us to live as new creatures bearing the mind of Christ and walking in accord with His will.

We pray the prayer spoken in the Divine Service—the Lord's Prayer—and hear Christ respond with the Word that He speaks to us at the Table where we break our fast: “Take and eat, this is My Body.… Take and drink, this is My blood.… Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, and for life lived by the indwelling of Christ.”

We pray the prayer spoken at every service in this House—The Lord’s Prayer—and the Lord responds through the Word that promises us 1) that He is our true Father and that we are His true children; 2) that His Kingdom comes to us as He sends us His Holy Spirit, 3) that His will is done as He breaks and hinders the wicked work of the devil and the unbelieving world and our own sinful flesh; 4) that He provides us everything that our bodies need each day; 5) that He provides us with what our souls need every day—the forgiveness of our sins and the power to graciously forgive others; 6) that He will not lead us into temptation; 7) and that He will deliver us from evil.

This is how your heavenly Father loves you in Christ Jesus, your Savior, your Friend, your Brother—then and now and forevermore.

You are baptized into Jesus. Your sin is forgiven. You are at peace with God— and the evil one cannot take that away.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Quinquagesima— St. Luke 18.31–43
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Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

Last Sunday we heard:

“And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”

Today we hear:
“And taking the twelve, He said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your word is truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: So when Jesus spoke in parables, it was to confound the unbelieving. He explained them to His disciples, and that gave us our Gospel reading last Sunday.

Jesus spoke, and His meaning was hidden from those who would not believe. But what about the Twelve? We didn’t ask about them so much last Sunday. They weren’t the point, after all. The point was Jesus’ Word explaining His parable. But did the Twelve believe Jesus? Did they understand what He told them? Today Jesus teaches them alone. He doesn’t speak in a parable, that it should be hidden. Jesus speaks as plainly as can be.

He said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

Did Jesus’ disciples believe Him? No.

Even after Jesus died and rose from the dead they didn’t get it.

Do you believe God’s Word, even when it is clearly and plainly declared to you? Do I? Can any of us believe it?

The answer is no. And you know what? That’s good. It’s good because if the crowds, or the Twelve, or you or I or anybody could believe, then we could take some credit for our life in Christ. And if you could take some credit because you could believe, then sin isn’t as bad as our Lord says it is. If we could reach out and obtain even a degree of righteousness, even by believing in Jesus by our own will and effort, then God is a liar when He says to Adam and Eve that if they would sin, they would die. If there should arise among men even one who could even climb his way out of hell, as some old pagan myths have it, through great and heroic action and adventure, then there should be no hope for the rest, even though Jesus should defeat sin and death for us, for the sad fact is that if your salvation ultimately relies on some quality in you… well, then your salvation would remain forever uncertain, wouldn’t it.

Sometimes what is hidden from those who reject Jesus is made clear to those who believe Him. It was Jesus’ explaining the parable that made the Twelve understand. So too for us, it is a plain fact that there is no understanding of the things of our Lord except the Holy Spirit make them understood to us. The first gift given every one of us in our life in Christ is the faith both to hear and to believe God’s Word. That’s why the Holy Spirit has infiltrated and dwells in His Word so that He may work through its proclamation and we hearers should by this means— by His doing, and not our own— receive it.

And today’s Gospel really drives the point home. That any should believe and have saving faith is the Lord’s doing from front to back, no exceptions.

Did you notice that even though Jesus was speaking with His disciples, He started off by saying “See”? We understand it, it’s a figure of speech. You are hearing something but you ‘see’ the point, right? Even so, it’s awkward. It’s awkward on purpose. Even though Jesus plainly told them He was going to Jerusalem and to His death on the Cross, and to be raised on the third day, they didn’t ‘see’ it. They didn’t understand. It was hidden from them (again, notice, that’s a visual word. It wasn’t that they didn’t hear Jesus. His words were ‘hidden’ from them). Jesus is making a point. And you know, He is making a point that strikes right at the heart of every pretension and false teaching there ever has been.

Apart from Him who first breathed life into Adam and made him a living being, none of us can do anything. Even in plain sight, the things of God are hidden. They are hidden because on our own we are blind to the things of God. Seeing, eyes open, nevertheless we do not, cannot see. He can be saying something as plain as the nose on your face but you won’t get it, apart from the work of the Lord to enable you to hear, to see, to believe.

Faith is God’s work, not our own.

The Twelve didn’t see it. But what happens next in our reading shows just Who is enabling anybody to get it. Because, you know, it was the least likely man who ‘saw’ Jesus. It was the blind man of Jericho:

As He drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, He inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he came near, He asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

Now just how is it the blind man was able to see what the Twelve could not? The Disciples certainly had heard far more from Jesus, and about Jesus in and around His base in northern Galilee than this blind fellow all the way down in the Judean southland of Jericho. It wasn’t familiarity. It wasn’t through his superior virtue and moral quality— the Disciples had forsaken all to follow Jesus— it was just what Jesus says enabled that man to see, first to see that in the sound of Jesus’ approach along the road, in the smell of the dust rising from the accompanying crowd, in the news that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was passing by that here is the One in whom a blind beggar-man could hope, here is One in whom mankind entire could trust— it wasn’t by his wits or personal virtue or genius or keen observation (his observation was impaired— he couldn’t see) no, it was as Jesus says “your faith has made you well.” Notice Jesus said ‘has made’ not ‘will make’ there’s no challenge ‘only have faith’ ‘only believe’ ‘only this or that’, but an already given and accomplished thing. It is by faith that he is already well. His physical sense of sight was the lesser gift. The greater thing which cannot be seen, is the work of the Holy Spirit in that man of Jericho to hear Jesus and believe Him.

Indeed, you are not saved by your works. You are not saved by your heroic action. As Paul has written:

“God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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… For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Would His disciples receive such faith as the blind man here displays, which sees what is hidden from fallen humanity? Yes. For Jesus breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ Yes, for as they were gathered in one place the room was filled with the sound of a rushing wind and the Holy Spirit descended on them. And they believed. And would you have this faith? Yes, for you are baptized into Christ. You have heard the Word of the Lord in which the Holy Spirit abides for your sake, to deliver this faith, and maintain and strengthen you in it. You have received God’s grace by His gift given. With the Twelve, with the blind man, with a great number which nobody can count, you have been given the grace of faith and received forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. It is not your doing. It is the work of God. And He is pleased so to bring you out of the darkness into His Light, for He so loves you that He has even suffered and died to pay the price of your salvation. This is Christ’s good pleasure— that you are in Him, and He in you, now, and forevermore.

The peace of God which passes all understanding mount guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Septuagesima — St. Matthew 20:1-16
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Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

Heavenly Father, sanctify us in the truth. Your word is truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: Jesus tells us this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. God Himself is the master of the house, for Jesus says that in his father’s house are many mansions. The holy apostle speaks of the assembly of the believers around the Means of Grace, which are the Word and Sacraments, a holy temple, and the house of God.

So the kingdom of heaven is about God here inviting and employing laborers for that vineyard which is in his household. Jesus tells us about this vineyard, saying “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And it is no coincidence that Jesus gives his blood for you to drink in the cup of the fruit of the vine by which he blesses you to be in him, and he in you, drinking it for the forgiveness of sins.

The master of the house, the Lord of the Church wastes no time, he goes out early, and then repeatedly through this long, last day, earnestly inviting whomever he finds to come and labor in his vineyard, which is Christ.

What is the labor to which our Lord Jesus would employ you? The mind leaps to the stories we all know, of the heroes of the Faith, great saints and martyrs who gave all, even laying down their lives in love for Christ and in service toward their fellow man. But what does Jesus say concerning the labor to which you are called in the Kingdom of Heaven?

Doesn’t Jesus cry out to you “come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”? Jesus is the vine, and he invites you, even employs you to be grafted into him, and find the delightful labor no man expects— something easy and light.

Why is this labor (of which we in our vanity may yet boast how we have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!) — why is this labor so easy?

Were you to take on the labor of satisfying God’s demands, your work truly would never be done— and you would be worse off at the end of the day than at the start, for in your sin you cannot by your works achieve righteousness or justify yourself in the eyes of the Holy One. But the Lord has seen your lost and helpless condition and has taken the burden of the law which has condemned you upon himself.

And you know, that’s why all the stuff about who was hired first and how hard it is really falls on deaf ears in this parable, isn’t it? These laborers are the people who were privileged to be in the house of the Lord from early on. Oh, you might think it’s hard, this business of hearing God’s Word and believing it, of taking Christ’s yoke upon you and learning from Him, but remember who Jesus is. He is true God, who for your sake, when you were not only dead in your sin but the enemy of all that is truly good and holy, nevertheless put aside all of his glory and humbled himself to be born fully as you are.

Now, Jesus wasn’t born with your sin. Jesus isn’t a sinner. But do you realize what he did with that difference? He perfectly obeyed the Father’s will, fulfilling the Law of righteousness in all his thoughts, words, and deeds. And then he took all the blame and guilt and shame and terror and loss and death and hell you should have— Jesus became the embodiment of sin. He who knew no sin became sin for you. While we are prepared a banquet even in the midst of our enemies, while we are led to the green pastures and quiet waters and our soul is restored, Jesus took on the yoke, the burden, the crushing, murderous weight of our sin and though fully blameless in all things, he was made to suffer and die in my, in our, in your place.

Now what was that complaining about how the other guy seems to have had his life in Christ go easier? Look at Jesus. He is “the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Do you know what the joy is that caused Jesus to willingly endure death as the sinner on the cross? The joy is that as he has taken your place in sin and death, you have been sought out, and given Jesus’ place in everlasting righteousness are now saved, redeemed, and restored.  There is no ground for complaint as we fix our eyes on Jesus.

This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. The Master comes again and again, inviting one and all who may be found to come into his house, to find employ and place in his vineyard, to be engrafted into the True Vine who is our life, our joy, our salvation, our peace, and our rest, Jesus. In this world we yet are troubled by sin and temptation and will find any cause for complaint. But fix your eyes on Jesus. Here is the true answer to your sorrow, your woe, even your dying! In Christ is life and light and no turning of shadow.

And now look again, you who are employed in this wonder-vineyard, and see your neighbor. Your life in Christ is given you. It is all gift. Your fellow worker has taken no advantage from you whatever, for you are given all, in the wage you receive in Christ, which is forgiveness, life, and salvation without limit or qualification. What now is given you to do?

Toward Christ again you are called to hear his word and believe it. To come into the vineyard and house and to be employed receiving his gifts, and always learning from his Word.

Now toward your neighbor, what do you have in your hands? What is found there? What is your daily vocation by which you might bless and sweeten your neighbor’s life? Go about this labor as of love, not working as though for yourself, but for the sake of those whom the Master of the vineyard has called, or would yet call, that any impediment to their joy, to their hearing the Good News of Jesus might be alleved. Spend life’s little day through whatever labor is yours as a servant to your neighbor, even as you enjoy the light labor of the yoke put on you in Christ to receive his gifts and hear and learn his word.

You are employed in the Lord’s vineyard, for he himself is the Vine, and you are grafted into those wounds opened for your sake. Christ nourishes you by his Word, washes you clean, feeds you in his body and blood. As you dwell in him, and he in you, you produce fruit befitting a child of God, and your neighbor is relieved and made glad for it. Even this little labor itself is made gift. You are the forgiven child of God, you are in Christ, and he owns you as his friend, and his brother and his co-heir of the Kingdom forever.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Feast of the Transfiguration — 2 Peter 1.16-21
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Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

This is Your word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your word is truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: There was a big event this week, viewed by hundreds of thousands on the internet, and covered by the major news networks. Ken Ham, a leading proponent of what is known as ‘Creationism’ debated Bill Nye, a leading proponent of what is known as ‘Evolution.’

Creationism and Evolution present different ideas of how all life came to be. Often they are called ‘theories’ but that isn’t really true. A theory is an idea which is subject to objective testing. Since we are all participants in life, no man can really get outside of it, or apart from the universe in which we dwell, and subject it to real testing. Creationism and Evolution aren’t theories; they are models. A model is an idea of how something may be. And while you cannot directly test a model, you can compare your idea to what can be observed in what it is trying to describe, and at any other credible evidence. So this week’s big debate was whether the idea that the world and life are created, or the world and life evolved from something is a better match with what can be observed about life and the world, and which one fits better with credible evidence.

This may seem pretty highfalutin but it really is what any mother does when she sees small muddy footprints leading from the open kitchen door through the house to the bathroom. Her little boy explains that he didn’t do it, a wild monster, left that mess! She wasn’t in the room at the time of course. And she can’t directly test the mystery of the muddy footprints and open door. But she can observe her son’s muddy shoes sitting there by the bathtub, the filthy towel on the floor next to it, the smear of mud on her son’s trousers, and his astonishing lack of concern that a wild monster has come into the house, but there are no tracks leading back out! She compares the facts she can observe and… well… you can probably figure out what model of what really happened she’s going to believe.

But you know what would really help? What if old uncle Joe, unknown to the youngster, was sitting in the recliner in the living room and saw the whole thing? As much as it pains him to say, no, there isn’t really a wild monster in the house, just a very dirty, semi-wild little boy. That would remove all doubt, wouldn’t it?

These days a lot of folks have gotten the notion that it is smart to ridicule the Bible. They claim it’s just a book of myths and fables. But when honest folks have looked at what the Bible says, and compared it to what can be observed or to other reliable evidence, they do wind up with a lot of things that fit as being obviously real and true.

Of course things like the creation of the world in six days can’t be directly observed. And some of the stories of miracles, and of Jesus in particular seem pretty different from what we can see about how the world usually works. But if everything else seems to line up… if the rest of the Bible can be demonstrated to be true, then the evidence for those incredible parts begins to seem more believable, doesn’t it? And you know what could really help us here? What if, especially in the case of the strange stories about Jesus, what if we had a reliable eye-witness account? With that in mind, hear again the portion of our Epistle text we started with:

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

Peter was there. And he told the truth. We can test that, you know. And Peter was tested. He was arrested because he kept telling the story of Jesus. In fact Peter was condemned to death for telling that story. At the end, as a detail dispatched by the Roman court was preparing him for execution, Peter was given a last chance to change his story. Instead, he told the detail that he was unworthy to die in the same manner Jesus had, for he had denied Him in those awful hours before Jesus was crucified. Peter repented of that later. But now he didn’t think he was worthy of the honor of dying like Jesus. So instead of denying what he knew about Jesus, Peter was crucified, but upside down. His eyewitness testimony is true. Peter died a martyr by this gruesome method rather than deny the truth. Peter was an eyewitness to Jesus. And so he wrote:
For [Jesus] received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

Peter was there, on the Mount of the Transfiguration with James and John. And he examined then the model presented about how God would save us from our sin and eternal death. He examined the Old Testament Scriptures and concluded in light of what he had witnessed that:

We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

The word of the prophets, that is the Old Testament, is true. It is valid. The word of the apostles, that is the New Testament, is also true. It is valid. Both the prophets and the apostles paid with their own blood and died as martyrs rather than deny the truth of God’s Word. The Bible is true. There is no doubting it. It is consistent with what may truly be observed as a matter of forensic data. It matches with all the historic evidence which is solid, true, and reliable. Moses was writing fact when he wrote the Creation account, and the story of the Flood. Peter, Matthew, and John all were direct eyewitnesses to the miracles and the resurrection of Jesus. The Bible is the Word of God. It is true and reliable in every part.

And the witness we read in the Bible is not subject to the errors and vauguaries of human memory, nor to the subjective agendas of men. For no Scripture is by the will of man. What we have in the Bible is the account rendered inerrant and validated by God himself. The Holy Spirit directed and controlled the account found in the Scriptures. It is reliable and true. And we can confidently know God’s Word, and what it means. It is not merely a matter of my interpretation, or yours, or that other guy’s. You can confidently know what God’s Word means because it will tell it to you plainly. The truth of the Scriptures is true objectively. It is true whether or not an individual believes it. It is true transcendently (that means everywhere and forever) and immanently too (that means it is true personally for every one of us).

And what does the Bible tell you? It tells you about your condition in sin. You were lost and without hope. In sin you could not make yourself right with God. In sin, even your good works are like filthy rags. But God so loves you that He was born fully one of us, Jesus, fully God, but also fully man. And Jesus did what we sinners cannot. He lived a life of perfect fulfillment of His Law. Jesus lived without sin at all. And in the end, putting on the sin of all mankind, Jesus suffered and died in our place. Jesus died for you without any question. He died in your place. The terrible penalty of eternal death is fully paid for. Jesus paid it. Because He is man, Jesus could die. Because He is God, that payment is infinite (for God is infinite) and so His death paid off the death penalty for everybody forever. And having so been destroyed, death could no longer hold Him. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.

And you know what? That’s what Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about on the Mount of Transfiguration. They were conversing about His exodus from this world of sin and death by His own death and resurrection. And it is because of Jesus’ death in our place that Moses and Elijah already were enjoying the heavenly glory. For in Jesus death has been undone. It can no longer hold those who are in Jesus. Death has been punched through— what once was a dungeon wall in which hell man should languish forever— now has been made by Jesus’ death a portal, a doorway to eternal life.

As Jesus died, Peter, James, John, and every one of us who are in Him die. But being baptized into Jesus, what goes for Him now and forevermore goes for us too. As Jesus was raised, so too Moses and Elijah and Peter and James and John and you too shall be raised.

This is a remarkable model of how things are. And men who think themselves very clever may mock and dismiss it. Except for one thing— we have eyewitnesses and validating testimony and evidence that this is so.

As Sherlock Holmes observed, once all other possibilities have been eliminated, what remains, no matter how fantastic, must be the truth. God’s Word methodically establishes and verifies this truth which seems unbelievable to an unbelieving world: Jesus has truly destroyed death. Sin and the grave have now no power over us. You are in Jesus. He loves you. Your sin is no more. You are forgiven. You are at peace. You are already living eternally. Even death is just a porthole to the glory yet to come. Be comforted, dear one, the best is yet to come. Jesus is for you, and eternity is going to be great!

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.


Christmas II— the 12th Day of Christmas
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Seeing that many folk who live out east were unable to attend the Divine Service this Sunday owing to cool temperatures, we are reprinting the entire set of Pastor Wilson's notes. The sermon is included.


January 5, 2014 — The Second Sunday of Christmas — Rite 2, p. 60

Hymn 165 Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord 1-5

Confession of Sin– option I

(in place of Introit) hymn 148 Praise God the Lord, Ye Sons of Men 1-4

Collect   O Lord God, heavenly Father, You allowed Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, to become a stranger and a sojourner in Egypt for our sakes, and led Him safely home to His fatherland: Mercifully grant that we poor sinners, who are strangers and sojourners in this perilous world, may soon be called home to our true fatherland, the kingdom of heaven, where we shall live in eternal joy and glory; through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

St. Isaiah 42.1–9   “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him;  He will bring forth justice to the nations.  He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.  A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench;  He will bring forth justice for truth.  He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth;  And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”  Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it:  “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand;  I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.  I am the LORD, that is My name;  And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images.  Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare;  Before they spring forth I tell you of them.”

1 Peter 4.12–19   Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now  “ If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”  Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.

St. Matthew 2.13–23   Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”  Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:  “ A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted,Because they are no more.”  Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”    

Hymn 165 Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord 6-9


Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

“Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.”

This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: Our Lord promises through His prophet that the Christ He would send would “not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth.” Well many a man, when he achieves a position of authority and power has promised himself he would not fail nor be discouraged, no matter what. And he knows that he has resources entrusted to his position and under his authority to keep failure and discouragement at bay.

Herod the Great, king of Judea by imperial appointment of Cæsar Augustus, was not a man known to give in to discouragement, nor would he take failure sitting down. The Creed reminds us of another man who would not settle for failure, Rome’s governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. And of course we heard just a couple of weeks ago about Pilate’s friend, and Herod the Great’s son, Herod, king of the Galilee. How did these men succeed? Well, when Herod of Galilee was criticized by the forerunner of the Christ, he had his men go seize him and throw John into the dungeon, and finally had them behead him. When Pontius Pilate was challenged by the High Priests, he had a man in whom he found no fault horribly scourged by his guard, and finally dispatched troops to crucify Him between two condemned thieves. And when old Herod the Great got a whiff of an infant who wise men named ‘King of the Jews’, what did he do to stave off discouragement? Why, he dispatched the might of the Judean army to go to the town of Bethlehem and slaughter every little boy two years old and younger whom they found.

The sad fact is that over and over again, from ancient emperors to modern tyrants, the pages of history are stained with the blood of those whom powerful men considered a challenge. Not that such men usually bloody their hands in doing it— see how nice and freshly washed are Pilate’s hands!— for they have men under their authority to do the low and dirty work for them. Herod didn’t have to survey the blooded cradles of Bethlehem. Pilate had no need to wield the scourge, hammer, or lance. And John the Baptist’s head was delivered to the king nice and neat on a charger.

Where do such dastardly fellows come from? Are they of some special breed? The sad truth is— these are your brothers and fathers. We are of a kind with these men history decries as evil monsters. And in your own petty way, in your thoughts and dark dreams, in your scheming, and when perchance you suppose you’ll get away with it, in your actions, you stand guilty of the same sin as they, for to stave off disaster or failure or discouragement you have also cheated, lied, robbed, and in a thousand tiny ways deprived your neighbor of peace, rest, contentment, and wellbeing. And if you could have it done for you? So much the better, eh?

We stand with the great sinners of old, and the tyrants and monsters of history. For we have done no better in our hearts. But this is only the way of things for fallen mankind. Sin has deprived us of the natural hope of life and contentment which God created us to dwell in. Change and decay and progressive loss are the assumed state of every man’s being. So we rob Peter to pay Paul, and if Paul doesn’t get it, and your wallet gets a little fatter, well, them’s the breaks. It’s not that it is only human. Humanity was created for better than that! No, this is only how it ever is for sinners. And it is into sin that our race has descended and in which we all have dwelt too long. Power and advantage are only gained at the cost of another. My joy may only come by your suffering. My life by your death. It is the way of sin. It is the way of a fallen and sad world.

But this is not how it is for a holy and gracious God. He comes humbly to us, born of a virgin, raised a carpenter’s son, who when threatened did not destroy Herod and his army. But sent His angel to appear to Joseph to warn him to flee. As another Joseph nearly two thousand years before had found refuge for his family in Egypt during a terrible time of drought and famine, so this Joseph would take Mary and the Child to that land to find shelter from the death that threatened in Judea. And in the fulness of time the Children of Israel came out of Egypt through the parted sea, so too, out of Egypt would come the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, to settle in the city of Nazareth of the Galilee.

As Jesus would not fail nor be discouraged even in His early years among us, neither would He be as the powerful among men. He lashed out at nobody. His safety and peace did not rely on the suffering and death of others; not even those who set themselves against Him as enemies.

And so Jesus would be called a Nazarene. St. Matthew records that this fulfills a prophecy. Not that the city even existed in the days of the Old Testament prophets, but they indeed had said that the Christ would be the shoot or branch from what to the world appeared to be the ruined, cut down, stump of the royal family of Israel, the line of David, the son of Jesse. And Nazareth literally means ‘branch-ville’ or ‘shoot-town’. Jesus indeed is the Son of David, of Jesse’s line, the enduring branch in that family tree Who would forevermore establish His kingship and dominion of salvation.

And Jesus’ kingship, authority, power, and might is not gained nor preserved by sending armies forth. As He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight….” and as He told Peter “do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” Jesus has infinite resources at His command. His angelic host number most certainly more than all the armies of man combined. He is after all, ‘Yahweh sabbaoth’ that is to say ‘Yahweh, commander of armies’ Even in His infancy Jesus is fully God, fully possessed of such authority, power, and might.

But to make war and destroy Herod, Pilate, or any other sinner — this is not the stuff of Jesus’ kingship. Though He undeniably has such power, Jesus’ kingship is established among us not by taking what is ours, or depriving men of power, but by giving of Himself to those who yet hate and despised Him. Jesus did not send heavenly troops against Herod’s army. He sent a messenger to Joseph to carry Him with Mary to safety. And when the time had finally come, after years of serving, teaching, healing, demonstrating His true claim as Christ, when that time was fulfilled, Jesus took His kingship not by war against those who are weaker (and we sinners all are weaker than God among us!), but in subjecting Himself utterly to humiliation and shame in our place and suffered the infinite pain of the condemnation and death of sinful mankind and was crucified— not to gain a thing for himself, for from eternity to eternity Jesus is, Creator, Unchanging God— but this kingship is to redeem you, to set you and all mankind free from the eternal penalty of sin, and to give mankind eternal life, peace, and joy again.

In this quest, King Jesus could not be discouraged, and He would not fail. For the very things that make for the discouragement and failure of the kings of this world are what Jesus took and used as His tools to wrest the power of sin and the chains of death from you, and undo and destroy them, and to set you free, and to make you new. And to declare you now His beloved, His brethren, and to share in His eternal inheritance of life with you. For you.

We began by discussing how mighty men get and stay mighty by exercising power against their fellow man. You recognized in yourself that same murderous sin, albeit more commonly in a thousand tiny ways, but no less sinful. And you see how God for you, your Jesus has not exercised His kingship by bringing sinners down but by lifting them up and redeeming and making them new again. And you may have wondered whether this is for you as well. The Law written on your heart accuses you for your sin. Learn this about Jesus: “A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench.” You feel your sin, you know you are weak. You believe, and yet you would cry ‘help my unbelief!’ It is for you, dear one, Jesus has exercised His Kingship of grace. It is your sin that is forgiven. It is you He loves. It is for you, and for all like you, He suffered and died. Jesus made Himself poor to make you rich. He died that you live. Here is the wonder. Jesus is for you. Your sin is forgiven.

The nations will rage, and kings and tyrants will lash out. The innocents of Bethlehem and many unknown villages suffer at the hands of such sinners. But Jesus is for you. And His recompense, His peace, is for the bruised, the weak, the repenting guilty. At the end, the sighs and tears of the countless victims of terror and sin will be met with the gladness and peace of God. Jesus is for you. And every tear will be wiped from their eyes. And sadness and hurt shall be remembered no more forever. Jesus is the everlasting King of Peace. He is for you.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of the Church
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. Let us bring our prayers before Him, trusting that God will pour out abundant blessing on all for whom we pray.
For the Church throughout the world; for pastors, and all the people, that, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, we may be holy and blameless before him. For our catechumens and those who instruct them, that they grow in understanding, discerning, and putting into practice the riches of God’s grace for us in Christ Jesus. Let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For those who govern, that they may lead with the wisdom and discernment that come from humility before God. Let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For all those whose lives are affected by war—our military personnel and their families, civilians, and our enemies—that the peace of God which surpasses understanding may overcome all hatred, heartache, violence, and despair. Let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For all who are stricken with illness, [especially __________], that they may be restored to health and wholeness. For the chronically or terminally ill, that they find comfort and hope in the promise of our eternal inheritance in Christ. Let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For parents, that treasuring in their hearts the riches of God’s grace in Christ, they raise their children to love and fear God. For children, that by the riches of God’s grace, they grow in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. Let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
In thanksgiving for the those who have died in Christ, that we may follow their example of rejoicing in our redemption through Christ’s blood, and join them in the praise of God’s glory into all eternity. Let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For this congregation, adopted into the family of God through Christ Jesus, that we may live to the praise of His glorious grace. Let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
We have heard the word of truth. We believe in Christ. We are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. To you, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, we entrust all for whom we pray in the name of Christ. Amen.

Proper Preface …for in the mystery of the Word made flesh You have given us a new revelation of Your glory, that, seeing You in the person of Your Son, we may be drawn to the love of those things which are not seen…

Hymn 148 Praise God the Lord, Ye Sons of Men 5-8
Hymn 164 Now Are the Days Fulfilled

Advent 4 — St. John 1.19-28
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Grace to you and Peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

We focus in today on the two questions asked, and John’s answers in today’s Gospel reading:

“Who are you… What do you say about yourself?”  He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  “Make straight the way of the LORD,”’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.  It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”

This is your word heavenly Father. Sanctify us in the truth. Your word is truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: John has two titles in his peculiar office as the prophet-cousin of our Lord, in whom is dovetailed the Old and New Testament ministry. We commonly call him ‘John the Baptizer,’ or ‘Baptist,’ but he is also known as ‘John the Forerunner.’ Today we hear those sent from the Pharisees (we can deduce that one of these men was Nicodemus, by the way, from Jesus’ conversation with him one evening some time later) — they asked two key questions. “What do you say about yourself?” and “Why do you baptize?” And if you will, it’s John the Baptizer who answers the second question, and John the Forerunner who answers the first.

What does John say about himself? Why is he preaching outside of the towns, out in the wilderness all the time, disturbing and upsetting the way things are all the way up to Jerusalem so that the Pharisees send out this delegation? He tells them “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  “Make straight the way of the LORD.”’ The words of the prophet Isaiah were doubtless recognized by the delegation. John is not acting on his own. His authority comes from God, and his office is foretold in God’s Word through Isaiah.

The Jerusalem Pharisees supposed John was some radical. In fact they were the ones upsetting things, for they had added their novelties to God’s Word. Jesus would have something to say about how these leaders of Jerusalem and the High Priests had turned even the courtyards of the Temple into a den of thieves, wouldn’t he? The Lord God sent John, as had been foretold by Isaiah, to announce His coming, and to prepare His way. John the Forerunner’s duty was fearlessly to proclaim God’s Word in its fulness. Those things which had been added to the Word, which men considered to be fine, tasteful, and precious amendments to true religion, were in fact worse than garbage dumps and junked tires and wrecked cars polluting and clogging the way of the Lord.

Our Lord has given us His Word. He provides our salvation. He gives us forgiveness, and eternal life. And He points us one to another, and to the lost and dying around us as the recipients of any good works we in gratitude for the Gifts received may perform.

And what have we done with this elegantly simple gift of Grace, and the works of thanksgiving which flow from it? Along with the Pharisees and High Priests of ancient days, we have twisted things all around in our minds and in our practice so that we suppose it’s our behavior that earns us God’s favor, and that the simple kindnesses which flow from hearts set free are garbage, so that our neighbor is neglected as we undertake an endless litany of works we suppose will force God to be impressed with us.

John the Forerunner is a preacher of Law and Gospel which sweeps away the pretense and innovation of the religion we concoct, or which we have received from those in error. God’s Word is powerful and sharp— like a huge bulldozer which cuts through the nonsense and shoves aside the trash we have mistaken for true religion— so that we are left with no thought that we might ever earn our way into heaven, and preparing the way of the Lord Jesus who comes to do the work of our salvation. You are not saved by your work. You are made just before the Father by the work of Jesus, who humbled Himself to be born of a woman, to live in your place and fulfill the law none of us sinners can obey. The law after all is not given that you might master it, but it is given to show you your absolute need for a Savior— Jesus— who fulfills it for you. John is therefore at the head of the great Apostolic train of men sent to proclaim in the wilderness, and in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the World, the full counsel of God’s Word. And as John once prepared the people of Jerusalem and all Judea to receive Jesus’ coming, so now we hear that same Word of Law and Gospel that we might be saved by the work of Jesus for us here and now, and for all eternity.

John was sent as a proclaimer of God’s Word, preparing the way of the Lord. And John was sent to apply that Word in Holy Baptism— already doing what Jesus would soon command for the cleansing of the nations:

And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.  It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”

John recognized that along with preparing the way through God’s Word, the ministry in which he had been placed— that peculiar ministry which joins the line of prophets of the Old Testament now with the ongoing line of those sent into the apostolic office of the New Testament— he was charged also with performing the duties of a new priesthood in baptizing those sent to him.

God’s Word has always been applied personally to His people by means. In the Old Testament the priests circumcised those who would be the sons of God’s people— and through this little sacrifice of body and blood they would be named before the Lord. And to this were added many priestly sacrifices of many kinds. This was the primary function of the Temple of the Lord from which these pharisees had been sent to inquire of John. But the time of sacrifice of body and blood, whether in circumcision or of lambs and goats, doves, pigeons, bulls and heifers, was soon to come to an end, for these all pointed to the One John had named ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World.’ Jesus came to fulfill the Law, and to take your sin onto Himself, and to give you His perfect righteousness. In Jesus’ dying, the moment of sacrifice was once and for all fulfilled. There is now no longer any sacrifice which is not the Cross of Christ Jesus for you.

Now John is given a new and lasting Means of Grace— the washing of God’s Word with water, in which we are personally added to God’s people, named in Christ, and given the righteousness of Jesus for us.

John rightly points away from himself— great though he was, John is but a man— to Jesus. It is His gift which sanctifies and fills the simple washing and talking of Baptism. Pastors apply a little water, and speak God’s Word as we are commanded. But God the Holy Trinity here snatches the baptized out of the devil’s jaws, and that washing becomes something more than mere water, mere words. It becomes a saving, gracious flood in which we are joined to the Lord Jesus who has cleansed us in His blood, and to the Holy Spirit, who creates faith to receive the Gifts here given. This is to the Father’s good pleasure. In this we are personally reconciled to God, as what Jesus has given in His perfect obedience, suffering, and death are applied according to His promise.

And it is here that you have been made Jesus’ brother. You are joined into the blessed fraternity of the heavenly host, of all saints and angels. You shall live because Jesus has given you His life in this Sacrament.

So John the Forerunner thundered God’s Word. John the Baptizer washes with water and Word— the Means of Grace. Here we have the ministry already given which Jesus would command for the sake of His bride, the Church, the Office of Word and Sacrament. But this office, and all that John did, are not a thing in themselves, but the means of delivering the Good News of Jesus to you: that in Jesus your sin is taken away and forever forgiven you. You are at peace with God. God loves you. And you rejoice in loving Him as He enables you, as you serve those around with gladness. This is His good pleasure.

You are in Christ. His Word and Sacrament are freely given. John pointed to Him. The Prophets of old pointed to Jesus. The Apostles pointed to Jesus. As a servant of Jesus, through Word and Sacrament, it is my good pleasure to point you to Jesus too. He is your salvation. You are forgiven. You are free.

Now look! We rejoice in the celebration of Jesus’ birth. And we eagerly await Jesus’ returning in Glory. Lift up your heads, your Redeemer is near!

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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