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Easter 3 — Psalm 23

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

…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

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

Fellow redeemed: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me” That seems nice, but about as interesting as watching paint dry. But this is a translation I’m reading. What about the original Hebrew?

If you’ll indulge me a while, my friends, the original is an entirely different kettle of fish, not bland at all— we aren’t getting a plain chowder today, beloved in Christ, we are getting a bold pot of cioppino to feast on in God’s Word today! — I want you to get just a taste of the real spice, boldness, and force that really does belong to the Twenty-Third Psalm.

 The word translated ‘follow’ is a form of רָדַף [rakapf]. But it means more than just tagging along, following. The meaning of this verb רָדַף [rakapf] is “to pursue with hostile intent,” as in, when a policeman chases after a bad guy, and will cross from one jurisdiction into another, crossing property lines and so forth, he is said to be “in hot pursuit.” רָדַף  [rakapf], if you will, then, is ‘hot pursuit’. It doesn’t stop until the person is absolutely captured, subdued, and in custody. Nothing stops this sort of ‘following.’ רָדַף  [rakapf] is relentless. But in the popular translations of the twenty-third Psalm,  it’s commonly translated “shall follow me.” I want you to get the relentless, stop-at-nothing force behind the rather bland translation.

So it’s in hot pursuit of you. Here It’s the word that describes what goodness and mercy are doing, chasing after you. So what would the literal translation be? Goodness and mercy will relentlessly come after me in hot pursuit all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the L
ORD for ever.

Goodness and mercy are in hot pursuit, coming for you, and they’re absolutely relentless. They will not stop, they will not be denied, and you will not escape from them.

Goodness and mercy are coming, and they will have their way with you.

Speaking of mercy, again, let’s go to the Hebrew. The word is חֶ֣סֶד [Chesed] and it has the most intense meaning that could be translated ‘mercy’ for us— if we would take a closer look at it. חֶ֣סֶד [Chesed]  carries the depth, the passion, a parent has for a child. Consider the starving victim of famine, who continues to nurse her infant, knowing that she is sacrificing her health when she does so, the mom running barefoot, chasing the school bus, after her kid who forgot his jacket, heedless of her own dignity. The dad who pulls his kid out of harm’s way, never minding the fact that he is putting himself in danger— though he may be crippled or killed. This is the intense meaning of חֶ֣סֶד [Chesed]. This is such mercy as values the life of its subject more important than the giver values his own. “There’s no greater love than this, that a man lay down his own life for a friend”, Jesus teaches. This is the self-sacrificing mercy and love with which Jesus treats you— even when you were in the midst of your sin.

Jesus is your Good Shepherd, and He makes hot pursuit with His good gifts and spirit, His full measure of goodness and mercy. He overcomes you in your sin, slams right into death in your place, giving Himself even over to the suffering and death of the cross, lest you know even a moment of eternal hell.

For you see, it is your sin, your death, that Jesus, your Good Shepherd gives all to protect you from. Even in the midst of overwhelming death and danger, even with all the host of hell, and the devil’s countless minions arrayed against you, Jesus would set His Table for you, and feast you even here and now in this fallen, sad, and dying world, on His Body and Blood. He has led you already to the quiet waters of Holy Baptism. Your Good Shepherd has given you so much, and will continue to chase you with His Gifts till at last you may rise that wondrous morning, and see Him face to face, and never know sorrow, nor sighing, nor sickness, nor sin, nor shame, nor dying, nor loss ever again forevermore.

Passionately your Good Shepherd leads you, guides you, defends and protects you with the rod and staff of His Word, and keeps you His own, in spite of all those things which are sent to beguile you away, and in spite, most especially, of that sinful nature and will which yet clings to you this side of the grave.

Jesus is your Good Shepherd, and He gives you every good thing— and He causes you to abide in Him, to hear His Word and thereby to know Him. And He enables you even to follow, and even to work with Him, as the bleating of the sheep may draw other sheep to His Good flock, so you are made able to give a good answer to those who ask for the hope that is in you, with gentleness and respect.

There is much to learn and grow in understanding about following Jesus. But today let this be enough— He is your Good Shepherd. And He gives you His Good Blessings with a ferocious, absolutely unrelenting, unconditional and fierce love, and an incredibly passionate mercy and grace that nothing in this world can stop. Though you may resist His Goodness here and there, Jesus has pursued you nevertheless, and even used the sharp blow of His Law, His shepherd’s staff, to stop you, in your hell-bound tracks, and bring you to your senses from time to time, to rescue you, even though such chastening may not have been pleasant, but such blows have come to you not to damn and kill, but to arrest and reign you back from eternal death. In everything, whether harsh or pleasant in the moment, Jesus is bringing you to His good pasture, that is, here and now, to the house of His Church, where you may feast on His Word and Means of Grace to heal and strengthen, to warn, and to warm you— and soon, come that never-ending day— to a Home He has prepared for you in His Father’s house, where there are many mansions, and one for you; better by far than ever you’ve dreamed it could be.

Your Good Shepherd has laid down His life for you, His sheep, and has taken it up again for your justification. He takes you nowhere He Himself has not been. And He is bringing you to His own Home, the new heavens and earth, to abide forevermore with you, and you with Him. Rejoice, for you are in the midst of the flock most beloved by the best One, your Good Shepherd, Jesus. And He is saving you every step of this life’s way.

The Peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Lent 3 — St. Luke 4.31–37

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

Then He 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.

This is Your Word heavenly Father, sanctify us by Your Truth, Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: The reading begins “Then”. So you have to ask “then, what?” Having endured forty days of fasting in the wilderness, and the devil’s tempting, Jesus had gone home to Nazareth, where He taught in the synagogue He’d grown up in; and He was rejected. So then He went about a day’s journey away, to Capernaum, a market and fishing town on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This is where Jesus centered His earthly ministry. This is the town where a number of the Twelve Disciples called home.

Jesus did just what He had done in Nazareth. He went to the synagogue and taught. And here, Jesus was better received, than back home. So Saturday after Saturday you would find Him teaching and preaching— doubtless other days of the week too, when men would gather to study the Scriptures. What was He talking about? Nothing new! Jesus was teaching His own Word, from Genesis through Malachi, week after week, doubtlessly following the appointed readings for the Sabbaths through the year. Indeed, why would Jesus say anything else, when in fact He is the Word made flesh—the true Author of the Holy Scriptures? We know what Jesus taught from the examples given in the Gospels, including what He had said that one time in Nazareth. He was showing all who would hear Him, from His Word, that the promise of the Redeemer was now being filled. The Kingdom of God was at hand. The Ruler of All was about to take up His Kingship among men.

From this point on, Jesus lived much of His time in Capernaum as a rabbi. That is to say, He occupied the preaching Office. But unlike many preachers those days (and yes, in these sad days too)— who would shy away from an unconditioned declaration of God’s Word, but vacillated, preferring to suggest that while this teacher had this opinion, there was also another school who said that— Jesus’ teaching astonished those who heard Him. For “His word was with authority”. Like the mighty prophets of old, Jesus was not shy about declaring ‘Thus says the LORD.’

And this is what you need to hear. You need to hear God’s Word clearly taught. You need to hear the full counsel of His Word— this is one reason why it is good that the Church since ancient times has moved systematically through the Scriptures every year. Contrary to some of the popular opinions being voiced these days, Jesus did not come preaching a revolutionary message. He taught the oldest, most straightforward teachings of Scripture. Jesus taught radically from the original meaning of the word ‘radical’ that is to say, ‘from the root.’ Jesus got down to the root of the matter, which is His Holy Word, and did not equivocate or compromise with it. He came to declare His Law without taking a thing away from it. He proclaimed it in its full severity: Here is the holy Will of God for you, and you do not live up to it, nor can you, for you were born in sin, and you have added to that dreadful fault by your thoughts, words, and deeds, daily. Jesus did not come to destroy the Law. It is after all, His own Word! But He came to fulfill it. And His Law exists for this primary purpose— to uncover, reveal, illuminate, and show you your own most grievous fault in sin, that you know yourself unable at the end to make things better by your own work. He preached His Word in such a way that the hearers in the synagogue of Capernaum knew they needed rescue. They needed a Savior. This is the task of any man who today should occupy the pulpit or dare to take up the Preaching Office— the Holy Ministry. For what the folk of Capernaum needed to hear twenty centuries ago is also what all of us now need to hear. And so your pastors must not swerve this way or that, according to our own opinions, or give in to our fear that you won’t like God’s Word, and we must preach it as simply and boldly as Jesus proclaims His Word in the Gospels, and as we see the holy Apostles and Prophets who rightly spoke in His Name in ancient time. We take the Word of the Lord and dare to speak it as Jesus shows us over and over again. For otherwise we all would be like the seaweed in the bay at the turning of the tide, or in a passing ship’s wake, or like windblown grass in the meadow, waving this way and that, with any current of opinion, favor, or fad.

Lo and behold, Jesus proclaimed before them the full counsel of God with great authority, and astonished them by it, for in His Word He then could proclaim to hearts so crushed of their self-delusion and pretense by the Law that He Himself is the remedy and cure. The promise of old that the Seed of the woman would take into Himself the wound of the Serpent— who has brought us sin (and the sting of sin is death)— and that this Promised One would deliver us sinners from it, fulfill the Law for us, and take on the full punishment in the place of us sinners. As He had declared boldly in the synagogue of Nazareth before, reading from the prophet “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus proclaimed with authority the full counsel of God’s Word. He preached Law without compromise, and the Good News of His Gospel with all its saving power. In Nazareth the hearers rejected Jesus. In Capernaum though, it astonished them. But this is the Word the devil, and our fallen world can’t stand, isn’t it? Here is hope, and for those who wilfully live in the delusion of sin, the word of hope in Jesus must be rejected. And so we read:

“Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon. And he 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!”’

This fallen world, our own sinful flesh, and those in thrall to that despicable worm the devil, are repelled by the Light of Life, and the smell of Redemption. They now scuttle away like the bugs when you flip over a piece of old bark in the forest, and now, desperate to keep salvation at bay, will snarl and snap, lashing out and trying to intimidate hearer and speaker of God’s Word alike, lest they lose their eternal grip on another sinner who is brought from chains and darkness into liberty and the light of Christ.

The demon howled “LET US ALONE!” And Jesus rebuked him. Silenced the devil, and cast him from the wretch who had been so miserably possessed.

Notice this happened in the synagogue. It happened on the Sabbath. This happened in the midst of the Church, during the Divine Service, in the reading of God’s Word! And I would suggest that this is not uncommon, my friend, for mixed into the assembly of the Church are those still enthralled to sin and satan. But in Jesus’ presence, this demon was made to cry out and declare himself. For Jesus would show you His authority over the demon and all the host of hell. The devil is undone before the Word of the Lord. Having declared himself, Jesus rebuked and bound that worm and ordered him away from that fellow and out of the synagogue.

Does sin, death, fallen flesh, and the devil still plague us here and now? Surely they do! But take heart, my beloved friends, Jesus is greater than all the power set against Him. And His Word is stronger than all the ranting and raving that attempt to drown Him out.

No matter how dreadful you are now accused by memory of your own sin. No matter how impossible you have found it to struggle against the accuser of your soul, I want you to know that by His Word and Sacrament, Jesus is with you. And Jesus is mightier. One little Word can fell all who would drag you to hell. And Jesus is here for you right now, in His Holy Word. For, wherever two or three are gathered in the Name of Jesus, He promises to be here in our midst. And Today Jesus feeds Himself into you, you are here to receive His Body and Blood for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.

On that day in Capernaum, seeing how Jesus taught His Word straightforward and with clear authority, the people “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.”

I want you to know that Jesus’ authority is in His Word. And Jesus’ power to release you from bondage to death and sin is given through His Word. And I want you to know that His Good and Holy Spirit is at work here and now, according to His Promise. You are set free. Your sin is forgiven you! Let this be the topic of your discussion this week— let the Word about Jesus go out into every place you go. And rejoice that the liberty proclaimed by Jesus for that demon possessed man in that synagogue long ago, that liberty, He also proclaims here and now by His Word and Promise and Sacrament for you. Rejoice, Jesus is here in His Word and Sacrament. His promise is true. Rejoice, you are free!

The peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Lent 2 — Reminiscere — St. Matthew 15:21-28

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

Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!

These are Your words, heavenly Father; sanctify us by Your truth, Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: Jesus taught that He came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. As we come to Him today, Jesus is doing a lot of fulfilling. Just before our Gospel reading from Matthew, He declared that it isn’t what goes into a man’s mouth, but what comes from his mouth that makes him unclean. The kosher law of the Old Testament is being fulfilled. Jesus is making food that formerly was unsuitable– unclean, clean.

Then He takes quite a hike, all the way from Genesarret, near the Sea of Galilee, over the highlands, out to the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea north of Galilee, in what today is southern Lebanon. He leaves the territory of the Jews, who were considered clean, and enters the region of Tyre and Sidon, home to the unclean Greeks, Syrophonecians, the remnants of the Canaanites, where He is met by the mother of a girl who suffers demon possession. Jesus has, in short, plunged Himself into the world of the unclean.

Jesus, plunged Himself into… your world. By rights, that woman, and her daughter were unsuitable, unclean, Canaanite pagans, the descendants of a people so shameful that the Lord God had taken their land from them and promised it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their heirs after them– the sons of Israel. The Lord commanded Joshua, when he led Israel at last across the parted waters of the Jordan to destroy the Canaanites, to utterly extinguish them from the land. This was the righteous judgment of God against this people because of their gross sinfulness. They were unclean, and their presence was a pollution to the land in which they lived.

But the people of Israel didn’t kill them all. A remnant remained. The Israelites too were sinners and unclean. Their history illustrates their shame all too well. Sinners cannot be holy, and are unable to truly cleanse a polluted land.

You are by nature sinful and unclean. Though the Law is written on your heart, and accuses you, though you have heard the Law as the Lord delivered it to Moses, that the words forever might be proclaimed, you have not rid yourself entirely of sin. Your shame, hidden away though it may be, is deep. As the Lord once gave Israel a land for their blessing, but they could not cleanse it by their works under God’s Law, so you have been given an eternal inheritance of Life for your blessing, but so long as you remain in this present life, you too cannot cleanse your own heart and mind by your good intentions and works of righteousness. Like the Israel of old, you are unable to be holy as the Lord your God is holy, and has called you to be holy.

So some of the daughters of Canaan lived on, in their sin, in their guilt, in their shame, till Jesus comes to them. He journeyed from afar. This was no chance meeting. Jesus had to set foot after foot, all the way from the Galilee to the unclean places where sinners dwelt, to meet the mother of the demon possessed daughter.

Wait a moment. Let’s take another look at what He had been doing. How could Jesus declare that unkosher food was now kosher? How could Jesus come to this unclean Canaanite, and give her any blessing? How in fact, could He declare to Peter one day not so long after, as the Apostle napped on the rooftop of a friends house not to call unclean, unkosher, what Christ called clean, had made kosher, that he would then willingly meet the visitors who just then knocked on the door to request that Peter should come with them to the home of the unclean gentile Cornelius, whom Peter baptized, with the entire household? How could Jesus seemingly reverse the pattern, letter, and meaning of God’s Law like that? What I’m really asking is, how could you ever be regarded as clean, holy, acceptable in the eyes of God?

Jesus could only do so by plunging His own holiness, righteousness, blessedness into our sin, sorrow, uncleanness, and shame. Jesus came not to destroy, but to fulfill the Law. He is the very Lamb of God, come to take away the sin of the world, come, to have mercy upon you.

Jesus came to take off of you the crushing burden of all your uncleanness, sin, and shame; To take that deadly yoke which harnesses you to sin, death, and the power of the devil, and set you free by loading that burden upon Himself.

The unclean mother pleads for her daughter. But Jesus presses her, seems even to be rude. So too had Joseph pressed his brothers, long before, when they came to Egypt to obtain the grain they needed to survive. They did not know who he was, for Joseph appeared to them after all those years as a great king of the Egyptians. He pressed them, do you remember the story as it is recorded in Genesis? He pressed them in order to show them mercy. He pressed them hard, till they acknowledged their sin, for they long before had sought to murder their little brother, but settled for selling him into slavery to a passing caravan. Only then, in their admission that they were unworthy to receive any help during this time of famine, could their joy be complete. They confessed, and He absolved, filling their grain sacks and more, revealing himself, their lost brother, now their lord and master whom they had long discomforted, who now in love brought to them such comfort as they could never afford, and reconciled them all again.

So Jesus presses the mother. He came first to the children, the children He had raised up from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob’s sons– the brothers whom their lost brother Joseph long before had restored. They came first, this was Jesus’ first order of business. It wouldn’t be right to pass over them in favor of the unclean Canaanite dogs. He pressed her hard, to show her mercy. And she received His admonition, and admitted herself a dog, a little dog, but see that the children aren’t eating everything. The food Jesus was bringing, some was falling, there were leftovers, couldn’t even such dogs as she and her daughter have some of those falling crumbs of the Word which proceeded from God? She acknowledged that Jesus was setting the Master’s Table, the eternal feast of the one true God and Lord, King forever, the eternal Son of David. She confessed not her own worth, not her daughter’s worth, but the worth of Jesus, and what He brings.

This is the ground of that Faith which the Holy Spirit creates, here is the Clean Heart which He creates within you– not a confession of your worth, but of Christ. Even the crumbs, the unwanted by those He first would be revealed to, the rejected Word of God would more than fill her every need, and the need of her daughter, and your need too, for healing, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

As Joseph of old in the land of Egypt recognized his own, long afterward so Jesus, whom, by the way, another Joseph had led out of Egypt by the hand of the Lord, came to this unclean Canaanite woman and recognized His own, not what went into her mouth, but what came out of it– for the faith which came out of her mouth was His Gift, the gift of His Spirit calling to the Giver of Life. And He praised His own, for though a Canaanite, it wasn’t what went into her, not her sin, filth, shame; not that sin which is within you to your deep shame, it is what proceeds from her, the confession of her heart, of your heart too, which is expressed from her lips, the confession which you too express with your mouth, which returns the Gift to the Giver. The Lord your God has come to this unclean woman, and by His Word places in her a clean heart to believe, and makes your heart of stone a heart of flesh, alive and ever new, to confess back the Promise, God had given of old, of victory over sin and death by His Son for us.

The Holy One took on your flesh, became your fellow man, declared Himself your brother, and plunged Himself into your world, your sin, your death, took it all, took that Canaanite woman’s sin and death, took off of her daughter the demonic spirit and spiritual chains of death which bound her, and put them on, all on Himself, took the uncleanness of a fallen world, of our fallen human race, and put that pollution on Himself, to pay for the demands of the Law, to meet the holy rage of the righteous God, to ransom you, and that woman, and her daughter, and mankind entire with the price of His own Body and Blood, given and shed in your place.

And now He puts His Spirit within you, enlivening you to His Grace and Life by His Word.

The unclean Canaanite woman came to Jesus, crediting His righteousness, not claiming any merit of her own, and plead not for her own, but her daughter’s salvation. Like the Virgin before her in the land of the Jews, whom God would make the Mother of our Lord, this faithful mother added her ‘Yes’ to the eternal chorus of Faith in God’s Word, the counter to our first mother’s ‘No’ when she preferred to sin in that long-ago Garden. And redeeming the children of the first Adam, the second, the eternal Adam, the One who is known as the Son of Adam, the royal Son of David, the... Son of Man, Jesus, sees His own, and adds His divine ‘Yes’ to the confession of the Canaanite mother. She too, you see, is an icon, an image for our sakes of mother Church, the eternal Bride of Christ, who does not count her own merit for beauty, but is adorned and made ready by the Groom, Jesus, our Lord.

I have wandered far and wide this morning, through the stories laid down for us in God’s Word. It all comes to this point of high theology: God loves you for Jesus’ sake, and has given you His eternal merit and righteousness. Your sin may be great, your shame may be deep. But Jesus is greater, and your sin is forgiven, your shame is taken from you, and you are honored in His sight. In your life, in all your doings live as free, as beloved, and add the confession of God’s righteousness for you through Jesus, that what comes out of your mouth this week, your ‘Yes’ to the Lord your God declares you before heaven and earth, to the heavenly host above, and to your neighbors met in your earthly vocation here below that in Jesus, you are clean. His holiness, His Grace, His Life is yours.

As He then, just after our reading today, fed the multitude from a few loaves and fishes, now you come, and feast on His Body and Blood given to refresh you. His Table is set. You are His. He invites you, and He declares you alive, forgiven, holy.

The Peace of God which passes all understanding guard your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Quinquagesima— February 15, 2015— St. Luke 18.31–43

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

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: Now here’s something weird: last Sunday we heard Jesus tell the parable of the sower and the seed, and how it fell on all kinds of different soil. After telling it, Jesus took the twelve aside and explained it to them, saying “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.’” But today, when Jesus doesn’t speak in a parable, but plainly and simply tells the twelve what’s going to happen to him when they get to Jerusalem— that He’s going to be killed and then rise from the dead— “they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

Why didn’t the disciples understand Jesus? It’s because it was “hidden from them.” They didn’t get it because Jesus didn’t allow them to get it. What is going on here?

Our Lord is in control of what the twelve are going to understand. And in fact, along with the crowds to whom He spoke in parables, none of us understand the Word of the Lord, unless He opens it to us, and enables us to receive it. And this isn’t merely due to not having studied enough, or just needing to know more. You cannot, I cannot, the twelve could not, the crowd could not understand God’s Word because we have been knocked insensible to it by our sin. Our ears and heads are stuffed full of things that bespeak our sin— vile, deadly gossip, hideous lies, and all the junk that the devil, the world, and your own sinful self continually jam in there. It is no wonder that man is deafened to God’s Word, and that in his fallen condition when he does hear it, it makes no sense to him. The things of God are hidden from man, even as the meaning of Jesus’ telling the twelve about His impending death and resurrection was “hidden from them.”

Face it, apart from the gracious work of God, you cannot by your own reason or strength make a lick of sense out of God’s Word. It only seems so much nonsense, except He opens its meaning to you, opens your ears, you heart and mind, to hear and receive His Good News and He convince you by it that His Grace truly and really is for you. Otherwise, it is hidden from you. Sin makes you dead. Sin makes your ears spiritually deaf. That it is ever otherwise is only, ever, and always the most gracious work and abiding presence of our Lord.

The twelve didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. Fallen and dead in sin, the world cannot receive the Word. The seed only hits pavement, falls in the middle of a blackberry thicket, lands in acidic toxic waste. Your ears and heart are salted so thoroughly by sin’s poison nothing could ever live or grow there.

If it is ever going to be otherwise, the Lord has to do it. The twelve couldn’t. You can’t. Nobody can. Except the Lord does His thing.

To illustrate the point that His grace is necessary for us, Jesus does His thing.

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.

The twelve couldn’t see what Jesus had told them about going up to Jerusalem and being betrayed, handed over, killed, an rising on the third day. They just couldn’t see the things of God. The twelve were just like you and me and everybody in this fallen and sinful planet is today. So Jesus shows them, and He shows us, how to see.

He encounters a blind man and He heals him. Before, no matter what, the blind man could not see. Now, because of what Jesus does and brings to him, the blind man is able to see.

What does Jesus say made the blind man well? He said “your faith has made you well.” This faith is the work and gift of Jesus in you to hear His Word and believe it. What is the work God demands of you? It is to hear His Word and believe it. What was the problem with the twelve? What is the problem with you and me and our whole world? It is this: without God working His gift of faith in us, we cannot hear His Word, and we cannot believe it.

And we see this over and over again as Jesus continues with the twelve. Even after He is raised from the dead, the disciples say dumb things to Jesus, revealing that they still can’t get it, can’t see what He’s really doing. So Jesus, on the day He ascends to the Father’s Right Hand commands them to go back into Jerusalem and just stay put till the Spirit should come. Ten days later the Spirit came, and He brought to them the Gift of faith. And the twelve, having heard the Word, believed it. They got it (finally!), and they began to speak it too.

The Holy Spirit works through the Word so that your spiritual ears are unstopped to hear, so that your eyes are made to see the things of God which through sin have been hidden from the unbelieving world. And now you hear, and you believe. And now having heard, having seen, what did the blind man do? He “followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” and what did the disciples do when the Spirit came to them and at last they too could see and hear? They spoke the Word of the Lord, following Him, glorifying God. And this was infectious, for the Holy Spirit works through that Word, so that others, when they saw it, when they heard the Word, they too gave praise to God.

And this is the way of the Church, isn’t it? Here we come, and we hear the Word and receive the Sacrament and the Spirit enlightens, enlivens, and strengthens you and me, and in response we too glorify God through our prayer, and we speak His Word to one another, and He enables us to live and work and change the world around us in our daily lives, and others hear, and the Holy Spirit does His thing in their lives too, and the Church breathes in grace, breathes out the Good News and works pleasing to God and neighbor alike, and all are blessed.

This is all God’s gift to you. It is all the grace of Jesus. It is all the work of the Spirit. And what a wonderful impact it has. You are forgiven. You who once were deaf and blind and dead are living and seeing and hearing the Good News of Jesus. And oh, what pours out of you in your prayer, in your joy, in your work, this is simply the result of God’s Working Word. You hear His Word and by His Grace you believe it. And that changes you. That changes the world around you. Jesus’ Grace changes everything.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Sexagesima — St. Luke 8.4–15

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

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.”

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

Fellow redeemed: Jesus explained to the Twelve that He was talking about the effect of God’s Word on people. And hearing this, you begin wondering what kind you are. Are you the path, the rock, the thorn-choked ground, or are you what farmers call friable soil, in which the seed can take root and spring up strong and fruitful?

Jesus explained this parable to the Twelve. And how did they receive the Word made flesh Who dwelt among them, called them by name, and even now was explaining His parable to them? They didn’t get it, did they. Time and again, they did not understand. One betrayed Jesus. The rest? They abandoned and denied Him. Even after He rose from the dead for them (and for us), and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father, and then sent the Spirit upon them, we still see examples of how they sometimes still didn’t get it, as when Peter withdrew from fellowship with Greek Christians when some came from Jerusalem to Antioch, and Paul called him on it.

What kind of recipient of God’s Word are you? Do you suppose you are better than Peter? Or must you also confess that you— with me— are pretty lousy soil, unfit, really, to receive the Seed of the Word of the Lord?

Speaking of old Saint Peter, it’s kind of funny, if you think about it— his name essentially translates to our nickname ‘Rocky.’ Jesus gave him that name, remember? The fisherman turned disciple’s given name was Simon, but Jesus called him ‘Peter’, ‘Rocky.’ The seed fell on the rock… I wonder what Peter thought about that!

Are you any less rocky, trail-packed, thorny than the Holy Apostle? I know I’m not.

You hear this parable and you begin thinking what sort of soil you must be. And if you are at all honest, you can despair of any hope at all. You are a lost and condemned sinner, no more able to change your lot than a big old block of basalt is able to produce a fine crop.

You consider this, and there’s only one thing for it: do the Peter thing. Repent. Turn from your hopeless, helpless sinful nature, get your eyes off of your own condition, and put them on the One Who comes to you anyway. Put your eyes on the One who didn’t come for the healthy, but for the sick. Put your eyes on the Word of the Lord who for your sake has given Himself into your place to give you His place as the beloved Son of the Living God. Stop listening to the always condemning silence within, stop navel-gazing, oh fellow sinner, and hear the Word of the Lord which falls generously all around you and upon you, as so much seed packed with such Life as no earthly seed has ever had.

The seed of God’s Word can do something amazing. It can change the dirt— that is the person— it falls on. The Word of God is compared in the Old Testament today to rain. It doesn’t just land on you, but it can soak right into you. Even a seed that lands in the crack of a rock in our natural world is not a passive, but a living thing, isn’t it? And the rain can penetrate, and dissolve the toughest rock. The seed that has found the tiniest fissure can create a home for itself, digging in, tunneling through the surface even just a little, and tiny roots begin breaking the rock, the pathway, the unsuitable dirt down, changing it. The rain that falls has the energy, not the dirt it lands on. The seed that is sown is the living thing, not the rock where it comes to rest. And the Word of the Lord is sown without method or measure, landing on sin-dead-sinners of every description.

In many cases, yes, the Word will roll off the rocky heart, or be lost in the choking, weedy, distracted mind. And we may be tempted to just give up. But it’s the Word that’s the Living Thing. And some mighty unacceptable, unworthy, unlikely folks are transformed by it. You may well know this yourself. Your heart of stone and your deaf ears were softened in the watery Word of Holy Baptism, and the seed that has fallen upon you, the Law of the Lord, has crushed you. And the Good News of Jesus has done His Thing in you, just as you saw your need for a Savior. And the Holy Spirit has given you Faith, and sustains you in it, and returns you faithfully to hear the Word anew. That’s what brings you time and again to the House of the Lord. Here you are watered anew, seeded afresh, and Jesus undoes you and refashions you and makes you His Own, a Christian, a ‘little Christ’ as you learn to follow Him for the hope and the joy which He brings.

Like rocky old Peter, you again and again fail and fall. The world may see you as pretty unsuitable for this religious stuff. But the Lord is afoot with His Word, and you repent anew, and He calls, gathers, and enlightens and enlivens you daily, and not you only, but the whole assembly of the Saints, the whole Church around you.

Daily, you repent and return to the Lord. Daily He renews and strengthens and makes you whole and new. And daily you grow— or I should say the Word of the Lord grows in and through you.

The Word of the Lord you see, is like a seed. It is living and active, though to the unbelieving world it appears dry and dead. But it grows up in and through you and your brothers and sisters in Christ and creates a new and clean heart in you and grows like a Garden planted by the Lord Himself. You become in Christ like a little Eden; an oasis in a desert world where the lost and dying around you might even see that life you have, that hope you have, and wonder, and hearing your good answer, they too may be saved, and may begin to grow, the Word of the Lord going forth and doing His thing to you, through you, forming us all into the Body of Christ.

Every step of the way, this seed which is sown, the Word of God tears down the old sinner in you, and creates in its place something, Someone, wonderful. You are being formed anew in the Image of God. Your sin is forgiven you. You are being given New Life in Christ, for His sake. You, who once were dead, are being made alive in Christ. And for His sake you are being made the most beautiful thing in all Creation.

The Peace of God which passes all understanding guard your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Epiphany 1 — St. Luke 2.41–52

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

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

“Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

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

 Fellow redeemed: Where is Jesus? That was an important question, wasn’t it? Mary and Joseph certainly thought it was, when they discovered that He wasn’t where they had thought He’d be— off with a cousin, or hanging out with an uncle or grandpa on their journey from Jerusalem back to Nazareth. Where did they find Him? They found Jesus in the temple, sitting among the teachers, and this astonished Mary and Joseph.

Where is Jesus? That’s an important question, isn’t it? Is Jesus to be found where many seem to be looking for Him today? Some go to the wilderness to commune with God. Some suppose He may be found out on a lake, or at sea. After all, didn’t Jesus choose fishers to be His closest companions? Didn’t Jesus often seek out solitude in the wilderness to fast and pray? Of course. But you know, I’ll bet that Mary and Joseph also reasoned like that. They had surely seen Jesus off playing with the local kids, or hanging out with older relatives. But what is it they say in those commercials? ‘Past performance is no guarantee of future results’, right? Just because Jesus borrowed Peter’s fishing boat, or sought out quiet places to pray from time to time is no guarantee that’s where we can find Him now.

Where is Jesus? Do you find Him by recreating events from His earthly ministry? Some churches have tried that. They try to reenact the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday. Out goes the communion ware, and the altar, and the pulpit, and in comes a version of the Passover feast. But, did Jesus tell us to slaughter a lamb and roast it, and to drink several glasses of wine with this feast, before we can truly have what He gives in His Supper? I’ve even heard that some try to find Jesus by attempting to join Him in His passion. They take scourges and whip themselves until the blood is flowing and stripes cover their backs. Some even subject themselves to ritual self-crucifixion, down to the nails being pounded through their hands and feet, to hang for several minutes before being pried free. But is that where Jesus is now?

Where is Jesus? Mary and Joseph didn’t know. So they were beside themselves when they finally found Him in the Temple. Where is Jesus? Many today rationalize that maybe they’ll find Him along with a nice steelhead on the river, or have some mystical encounter out camping. Others, certainly more earnest, suppose that if they pretend they are with Him two millennia ago, that somehow Jesus will be there.

Where is Jesus? My friend, He’s just where He has promised to be. Hear the Word of the Lord. Pay special attention to the promises. When God Himself promises you He’ll be here or there for you, you can rely on Him to keep His Word. You don’t have to make up scenarios for Jesus. He isn’t playing pretend with you. Seek Him where (and while!) He may be found. Jesus may be found where He has promised to be for you.

The camper or fisher or sleeper-inner may rationalize ‘but isn’t God everywhere?’ Yes, that is true. God is indeed omnipresent. Jesus spoke all things into being and sustains everything, everywhere right now, so He most certainly knows the path of the fish in the lake, and how many blankets you prefer when you are having a good lie-in. But the real question is, where is Jesus *for you?* We do well to remember that we do not seek the company of a creature, but of our most holy Creator. That man should imagine he may find God on terms of our own choosing is neither wise, nor safe. Instead, hear His Word. Pay heed to His promise to be for you, and go just there. There you indeed will find Jesus. And you will find Him for you, with His gifts, with His countenance, that is to say, with His support for you.

Where was Jesus? Jesus was in His Father’s house. Where was Jesus? Jesus was attending to His Own Word, as it was being read and taught by the great teachers of Israel. Note that Jesus respected the means of the teachers to convey His Word. He didn’t directly teach here, but He taught (as He commanded His people to teach throughout the Old Testament) by means of the teachers, the rabbis of the people. Jesus listened along with the rest, and only asked questions— and these questions amazed the teachers and hearers, for a good question certainly reveals insight and understanding. And as Jesus regarded the means He had established to teach His Word, through the rabbis of the Temple, who by that time in history were organized into the great academies of Gamaliel (Paul was his student— and I wonder whether he might even have been there that day) and Shammai, and so He also did not seek to raise Himself except by the means of the parents, Mary and Joseph, He had given to serve in that vocation, so that, having taught this lesson that He is to be found where Jesus is promised to be, He went with them and was submissive to them as a son who honors His father and His mother.

And as a son is to honor his father and mother, so we parents are to imitate the Holy Family, Mary, and Joseph, and do as they did, bringing their boy to the House of the Lord, and raising Him up through instruction in God’s Word and prayer.

But let’s get back to that in a minute. Where is Jesus for you now? Where is He for your children? Jesus is where His Word promises He will be for you. Wherever even a tiny congregation of two or three are gathered together in His name— which is to say in His Word fully and rightly read and examined, and yes, that is talking especially about right preaching and teaching— Jesus promises He is with you also. When the Invocation was made ‘In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ today, that is to introduce you to the true presence of Him who promises to be here. Jesus is here, as we are about His Word, and are gathered together in His Name. And no, not only His spirit, for the Person of Jesus cannot be divided! He is here according to His Divine and Human nature. Jesus is here fully, truly, more profoundly even than you yourself are here. Though you cannot see Him, believe His Promise.

Where is Jesus? His Word Promises that He is joined to you with the Holy Spirit and Word and water of Holy Baptism. In that cleansing flood Jesus covers you over in His righteousness. And you are returned daily to His blessings of Baptism through repentance and contrition. When you confess your sin, and your pastor absolves you, Jesus is with you, cleansing you anew, and the Holy Spirit is strengthening you.

Where is Jesus? He promises you that He is present, feeding into you His Body and Blood for the remission of your sin, in His Supper. You are to return again and again and again, and this Supper is to be provided often for your sake, that Jesus is for you in this great Sacrament.

So, where is Jesus? Is He in the Temple today? No, that was destroyed long ago. Is He in the Old Testament Passover? No, that was fulfilled in Jesus’ Last Supper, as He established for your sake His ongoing banquet of grace, the Holy Communion. Jesus then is where He promises to be for you, in the gathering together around His Name, in His Means of Grace, that is to say, in the Divine Service of the Church. And here, to get back to the example of the Holy Family, here is where you are to be bringing your sons and daughters and raising them up in the fear and admonition and grace and joy of the Lord!

God grant us children as at home in the Church today as the twelve year old Jesus was in the courtyards of the Temple of old! For Jesus is here for you, and for your sons and daughters, and for all who are afar off, for all who would be saved. For Jesus is here, you see, not to condemn the world, but that through Him the world, that is you and your children and your neighbors might be saved and rescued from the power and sting of sin which is eternal death. For Jesus gathers you here into His life and His death in your place, in which He has undone death’s sting, and made even death itself a door to eternal life with Him. For Jesus, where and how He has promised, brings to you through His Word and Sacrament forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Where is Jesus? Jesus is right here. What’s He doing? As in the Temple as a child He worked His Word of grace by the means of those who taught it, so you are hearing His Word now, and He is cleansing you, and filling you with His presence, His true Body and Blood. You are forgiven your sin. You are being brought from death to life with Him forevermore.

Where is Jesus? He is here. And joy eternal is yours for His sake.

The peace of God which passes all understanding post guard over your heart and mind through Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Advent 4

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

Rain down, you heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness. Let the earth open, and bring forth salvation.

This is Your word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.
Fellow redeemed: “Let the earth open and bring forth salvation.” But see how the earth first obtained such salvation. Jesus was born in a stable hewn out of the earth and laid in a manger, in due time, decades later, He was laid again in a tomb hewn from the earth where He was buried to rest in death. So the earth has received the One who alone could save. And three days later the earth burst open, the door of the tomb was flung back, as our Savior was brought forth triumphant in resurrection, having defeated death, the sting of sin, for us all.

Jesus, from heavenly glory on high, has come down to us, to we whom were formed by His Hand from the earth, the Word of God suffered Himself to be made flesh to breathe back into us the Breath of Life anew.

From ancient time, the blood of Abel cries out from the earth the guilt of Cain; and not the guilt of that primeval murder only, no, the whole creation groans under the weight of the shame and sin of mankind entire. Every dishonor, every sin you have committed oh, earthling, has struck the earth beneath you like the piano’s hammer striking its string, to set the world a-vibrating with a discordant note, a lasting witness to what you’ve done wrong, to your fundamental wrongness, to your loss of holiness and God’s presence by your rejection of Him, and with Him, your life was made forfeit, and as He once had breathed into you His Life, now that Life is no more, and you had lost your life in sin, and eternal dying was your dreadful companion.

But Christ has descended to us from on high, leaving His heavenly throne, coming down, as on the Ladder which Jacob beheld, humbled Himself to be born of the Virgin, was made subject to every condition and temptation and hurt of mankind, finally to allow His lifeblood to be shed, providing in the fulness of time a covering over Abel’s blood, His lifeblood providing a covering over your nakedness in sin, casting a covering over mankind entire that they might be saved from eternal dying and separation from the God of Life— His life to be given, to release the groaning guilt of man and to relieve and renew Creation for us, that we might live again.

Christ Jesus for your sake has Himself dropped down, rained down from heaven above to this earth below, to restore hope and life and forgiveness for sinners. His blood soaked into the earth, deep, deep as the sin of all mankind, drenched down into every drop of innocent blood violently shed. The body of Jesus, He Himself has been lowered into the earth, that He, fulfilling all things in our place should release us one and all from our dread and bondage and death and sin to hope and freedom and life and grace— in Jesus’ coming for you, dying for you, rising for you, your life before God created new, you are redeemed, purchased back from sin and death with the body and blood of the Living One, of Jesus Himself. And death’s terror is vanquished. Death’s bonds, broken. The stink of death which colors your breath (no matter how you brush), your grave which is closer to you now than when we began, these are of little bother. Jesus has been there, and undone that all for you. With your own eyes you shall behold Him, with your own tongue confess and sing praise of Him, Jesus stands ever alive for you, whom He makes ever alive.

Jesus has rained down His righteousness onto you, washed you clean. His Word patters your ears and renews your heart daily as you hear, and are returned to His Grace through such repentant turning, He enables this by His Good Spirit, and you are made ever new, ever clean, ever living in Christ. And He feasts you too, on His Body and Blood, that you are well nourished with the Good Medicine which brings you His. His Body, your very rich food which fills you completely, and His Blood, on which your woes and cares are staggered away onto Him, Jesus inebriates you in His Grace, and your eyes are cleared to see, your ears to hear more keenly His Voice, your trembling and weak members made strong, you are renewed on Him, in Him. Jesus rains down, and you are filled.

Your sin is no more. God has done it. He declares it gone! I agree. And as in heaven, so on earth, you are reconciled through the sure Gift of Jesus. He has done it. You are free. Rejoice, and be lively, you living one for Jesus’ sake! The earth has opened and brought forth salvation. The Child is delivered of the Virgin, and the Son of Man is made your Rescue. The door the women feared bars the way no longer, the earth-hewn tomb is burst open. Your Salvation flows forth in a flood mightier than old Noah’s, and you are caught in it, not to die, but are by it made alive in Christ.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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Advent 2 — St. Luke 21:25-36

Today's sermon is taken from the sainted U.V. Koren, a leading theologian and pastor of the Norwegian Synod, recently translated by Mark DeGarmeaux. Any errors are my fault in copying this fine Lutheran sermon. +jdw

Text: St. Luke 21:25-36

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

Fellow redeemed: There are two things that get in the way of our Christianity: fear and complacency. God’s Word is opposed to both. In last Sunday’s Gospel, Christ comes visibly as King in God’s kingdom, but lovingly, gentle, as our Savior. Should anyone be afraid of his Savior and flee from Him?

Today we are admonished concerning complacency, a greater and more common danger. One does not want to be careless and complacent when he learns to think about the moment when Christ will come in all His majesty and glory, with His heavenly hosts, to judge all people. We find this expectation also in the New Testament as a sign of the Christians in the apostolic congregations. The last words in Scripture, before the final greeting, are Jesus saying: “Yes, I am coming soon,” and this is the reply: “Amen— Yes, come, Lord Jesus!” How many can say that from the heart? Most would say: O don’t come yet! The purpose of our text today is that we should now learn to prepare ourselves with a proper attitude. The subject for our consideration then will be:

Expecting Jesus’ return.

We will try to understand what this is and what it does, so that we ourselves may truly have this expectation living in our heart. God help us to do this!

Why are we Christians? Why do we have pastors and churches and the things that go with that? Here in this life we do not have great advantage from it— often the opposite. Struggle, hardship, and difficult days come. That comes along with the gospel. The world has never been satisfied with the gospel. If the gospel is changed so that it fits with what people want to hear, then it is tolerated. But otherwise it happens just as it did with Christ and the Apostles. If one speaks correctly about sin, it is not tolerated, for the world wants to follow its own desires or have fame. If one speaks correctly about grace, that is not tolerated either, for the world wants to earn heaven. The more faithful we are to the truth, the more surely do we receive tribulation. And not just from the world outside us, but from our own mind, from the world in us. So why would anyone take this tribulation upon himself? Not everyone is willing to do so. Of Demas Paul says: He forsook me because he loved the present world [2 Tim 4.10]. But the worry disappears when we consider that it is only for a little while. If you who are sitting here think back a little bit— how many well-known customs have gone away! And if we look forward, then we must sing those words in the hymn: How swiftly can my breath forsake me!/ How soon can life’s last hour appear! [ELH 483.1]

Even if we continue here for several years, how few and short they really are! That’s why our Lord wants to help us look forward to the goal. That’s why the Apostles have constant thoughts about the Lord’s return. And that’s why we confess as Christians: “I believe in Jesus Christ, who shall come again to judge the living and the dead.” What will happen then? The last separation of people shall take place, for salvation or condemnation. In Scripture the glory and the misery are depicted in few expressions. Who can imagine the glory when the great host arrayed in white robes sees the Lord whom they trusted! Who can imagine the indescribably misery among those who are lost! It is helpful to think about it!

But what we should impress upon our thinking first and foremost is that we shall see Him ourselves. “Every eye shall see Him, even those who pierced Him” [Rev. 1.7]. You can’t be just an idle spectator there. That applies to you and me. We are the same people as we are here, with all the memories of our life. Then it will be revealed whether we have been with Him or against Him. For either we have been with Him, or we have been against Him. This is really serious. You and I will be there and will be presented the way we actually were in truth and reality, not just according to what we have said.

When these thoughts and expectations come to life in us, then everything that entices and tempts and blinds us there in the world gives way, along with everything built on it here. What is money then, or beauty, or prestige among people? The world’s glory fades. All our own honor and righteousness disappears, all our self-satisfaction. Before God only perfect purity can stand, not the wretched rags with which people want to hide their inner corruption. All hypocrisy is put to shame. To cry out “Lord, Lord” does not help [Mt. 7.21].

When we acquaint ourselves in this way with the thought of the Lord’s return, then we see that no sinful complacency can stand alongside this expectation. Jesus is the truth [John 14.6]. Everything is revealed. “Lo, the book, exactly worded,/ Wherein all has been recorded;/ Thence shall judgment be awarded” [ELH 537.2]

Therefore where the message of the Gospel from Jesus is received, it will have the same effect as it did among those in Thessalonica, of whom it is said: “They turned away from idols to serve the living and true God, and waited for His Son from heaven, who frees us from all the coming wrath [1Thes. 1.9]. It will work conversion, not just a change into other forms. But the conversion will be genuine and thorough, since it must come from obedient submission to God’s Word. This Word is the rule. Judment is made according to it. It is written: “The word that I have spoken shall judge men” [John 12.48]. This Word shows us our sin and guilt. Anger and trouble and worry come from them. This Word shows us God’s plan of salvation in Christ and teaches us to know that “there is no salvation in any other” [Acts 4.12]. From this Word come hope and comfort and confidence again. We understand that we not only dare to believe, but that He wants us to trust in Him with confidence. If we do this, then we learn to love Him and want to be pleasing to Him, and we await His return with a humble, obedient, willing, and hospitable Christian life.

See, dear friends, Christianity is a troubled heart’s confidence in Christ. It is completely different from much of what often goes under the name of Christianity in the world. There is a dark, sickly state of mind that continually cries out: “Don’t touch, don’t taste!” [Col. 2.21] and that enjoys condemning others. That is not the Christianity of the New Testament. There is a frivolous, unthinking confidence in which many live while at the same time they ensnare their hearts with the cares and pleasures of the world. That is not the Christianity of the New Testament. There is a complacency that relies on sweet, pleasant feelings within ourselves, and lasts no longer than these feelings. That is not the Christianity of the New Testament. And there is a confidence that relies on the outward customs and observance of the external forms. That is not the Christianity of the New Testament either.

But if by God’s grace in the Word we have honestly and genuinely learned to turn to our Savior with faith in our heart, what attitude should we then have in awaiting His return? Jesus Himself says: “When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near.” St. Peter recalls these words. That is why he exhorts Christians: “in holy conduct and godliness, look for and hasten the coming of the day of God” [2Pet. 3.11-12]. “Hasten,” he says. Then can we do anything except be frightened and terrified with such thoughts? Yes. If we know our Lord Jesus as He is, as our Savior, then it will be with hope and joy that we look toward His coming. He Himself has said we ought to do this. The Apostle Paul says: God has given us an eternal comfort and a good hope in grace (2Thes. 2), and Jesus delivers us from the coming wrath (1Thes. 1).

Many times we will indeed be frightened. Fear will force its way in at us again and again. Where should we turn then? We should turn to Him, our Savior, day after day. Here we walk now, each in a temporary vocation. One day we will stand before Him. This church is gathered around His Word. The work of your pastor is to invite you to Him— so that you can first learn to cry out: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” and then: “I know whom I have believe and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” [2Tim. 1].

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

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Advent Midweek 1 Luke 1.5-25

…But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.…” And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.…”

Fellow redeemed: When you pray, you are heard. And when you hear God’s Word, you hear God speaking. Zacharias prayed for a son, and the Lord sent Gabriel to tell him he was getting one. Zacharias didn’t believe him.

You pray. You pray for many things. A lot of the time you pray and think little more about it. You have things to do, and you get on with your life. A lot of the time you pray, and you forget that your words have just been heard. And when your prayer is answered, you don’t get it. You even find fault in it. Zacharias told the angel that he was too old now. You are just like Zacharias, aren’t you. You get sick and pray to get better. You get better and don’t consider the fact that you have just been healed. You rationalize ‘well it was only a cold, or a cough, or the flu, or cancer’ and you forget that people actually die even from what you might consider a trivial thing like a cold. You’ve been healed by God most high, time and again. You pray for your daily bread and you rarely need to skip a meal for want. But you might find fault in that nutritious bowl of soup or sandwich— you’d rather have a steak. You are like Zacharias.

So heed, oh fellow Zacharias, the word of the angel of the Most High “behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” And recognize that even when God commands him to shut his pie-hole, there is grace to it. Zacharias is deprived of the opportunity to continue to say stupid, sinful, God-denying things. God is giving him what he prayed for and in the meanwhile, Zacharias is shut-up. What a blessing!

What a blessing it would be if you and I were to mindfully make our requests of God in prayer, and then shut up about it, and then follow that old sinful priest in giving thanks and praise for a prayer answered, and a gift given. Let’s hear the word of the Lord, respond in fervent prayer for all those things we need, and shut up about it except to give thanks as those prayers are answered.

God hears your prayer. God answers your prayer. Stop picking at it, and enjoy what you have been most graciously given. You are the recipient of many gifts daily. Most especially your sin is forgiven for Christ’s sake. Rejoice! And fill your mouth not with the silence imposed on Zacharias, but with words of comfort and blessing to one another, to your neighbor, even to the stranger, as you are given any opportunity— that the blessing of God may pass through you, and you join in the angelic office of bestowing good news and life and peace and love all around. Do it, for your own prayers have been answered over and over, and the best of all is yet to come— you shall see your Savior face to face, and He shall give you a new song forevermore. Amen.
logo, Resurrection

The Last Sunday in the Church Year – St. Matthew 25.1-13

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

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

This is Your word heavenly Father, sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.

Fellow redeemed: Who gets to go to heaven? Do you go to heaven because you are better than those who don’t? What does Jesus say to you in today’s text? What is the single quality He mentions in the parable which speaks of whether a person is pure or not?

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins…”

Now you know that half of the group were shut out of the wedding, by which Jesus is saying that many shall be shut out of the Kingdom of heaven. But look at who Jesus divides, between those who get in and those who don’t. They are likened to “ten virgins.” Ok, so what can you do with that? Without anything to modify it, ‘virgin’ is simply untouched, and pure. Nothing about the moral character of the ten decided whether or not they would be included in the marriage.

Now think, is there a word which describes our moral condition before God? There are: ‘Fallen.’ ‘Sinner.’ and how about ‘Dead!’ In the sight of God these are the words which describe every son and daughter of Adam and Eve. Born into a fallen condition, you have continually added fault and sin to the list of reasons why you could never approach a holy God or enter into His Kingdom of Life. If you look to yourself there is nothing to give you any comfort, and much indeed to terrify your honest self-examination. And your neighbor is like you. We all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. According to the quality of your person and work, you may not come near God, and you have no good reason to hope for anything but eternal separation from Him. And that means that you are dead already, and may only anticipate the endless horror of eternal death and hell.

No, I don’t want to go on about it. Rather I commend to you your own darkest fear regarding your true moral condition, and your own memory of the sin you know yourself to be guilty of. The Law of God has been inscribed upon your heart, and it preaches your damnation to you more loudly and eloquently by half than any pulpit-thumping accusation from me could manage. Indeed, it would perhaps be easier on you if I just listed sins which you may have done, for then you could sit there and suppose I’m talking about the fellow over there. But your own heart stings you with your very own failings and evil thoughts and words and doings. Consider that sermon well. …

But remember what I said earlier about the characters in Jesus’ parable? Nothing about the moral character of the ten decided whether or not they would be included in the marriage. And Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven may be likened to what He here describes. If nothing about the moral character of the ten makes the difference (they were all virgins, after all) in the parable, then we must conclude that nothing about your moral character makes the difference as to whether or not you will be included in the Kingdom of Heaven (all of humanity, every one of us is a sinner, after all). So the common wisdom that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell isn’t true. If it were true, all of us would go to hell, for all have sinned and fall short of the Kingdom of God!

So how then may you be brought into the Kingdom of Heaven, if it isn’t how good you are?

“Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.”

Jesus is telling us this parable, likening the ten virgins to the Kingdom of Heaven. He is telling us that some are going to be ready when the moment comes for the Groom to arrive. Those who aren’t ready ahead of time will not gain access into that Kingdom. Jesus has chosen imagery that we must take note of. The setting of the parable is a marriage. The virgins are in waiting for the coming of the Groom. Elsewhere in Scripture the Church is named the Bride of Christ, and He, her Groom. The virgins in this parable would be those outwardly associated with the Bride, that is, with the Church. No man may judge the heart of another. We only can judge by appearances. As you know, looks can be deceiving! We see those who appear to be in the Church in the world today. And we should have no doubt that where the Word of God is proclaimed, and the Sacraments are rightly administered, that there are people who are in the Church truly, but so long as we remain in this world, the fact is that there are others who only, for whatever reason, have chosen to associate themselves with it for appearance’ sake while remaining apart from it.

I want to stress here that none of us has the ability to judge the heart, and so it is not given to any of us to say that this one is a believer, but the other one isn’t. That declaration is only to be made reluctantly, where the sin is blatant, and in the face of stubborn unrepentance. In fact most of the time the false brethren cannot be seen for what they are in the Church Militant. In fact it may well be that those who appear least good, least holy, only minimally Christian among us may be very close to our Lord indeed! and fighting such a struggle, carrying such a cross against temptation, that none of us may ever understand. When you consider such folk, remember that you do not know what you cannot see, and pray the more for them, that the armies of the heavenly host may rally to their cause and uplift them in their trouble!

Saying that the Bride is the Church and the Groom our Lord Jesus, the Virgins are those identified as being in the Church visible, both true and false, I could go on to note that the oil for their lamps is oftentime seen as a reference to the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens our hearts and minds through God’s Word and enables us to receive and hold it in saving faith. And here you would be right in saying that the analogy breaks down because the foolish virgins who didn’t have any spare oil went to get some from the merchants, albeit too late (although it is interesting to see that in the text it doesn’t actually say that the foolish virgins were successful in getting any when they went shopping). But that’s how it is with parables or any kind of illustration, really. At a certain point, if you push it too hard, it breaks down. We need to remember what Jesus’ point is in the parable of the virgins and only take it so far. His point is plain: the wise virgins enter into the joy of the wedding, for they already had the oil needed to wait for the arrival of the Bridegroom.

Jesus is true God. Seeing your lost condition in sin, He loved you so that He entered into your condition, taking on your flesh and being born of the blessed Virgin to live and suffer under the Law perfectly in your place, and though He had no sin of His own, He became sin for your sake, and was cursed, for cursed is every man that dies upon a tree. So He obeyed the loving will of the Father and was crucified, dying in your place, so that you might live in His, a royal and eternal heir of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus provided for this gracious deliverance from eternal death in sin to eternal life in holiness and grace to be delivered to you through His Word, where He has promised the Holy Spirit, that is to say the fullness of God through His Third Person should abide to fill you with the Gifts won for you by Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. And the Holy Spirit washes you into this Faith and Life, cleansing you from filth and death in Holy Baptism, and here it is right to speak of you, dear Christian, as in Christ a Virgin, in the sense that you are pure and cleansed without spot or wrinkle in His sight.

Jesus appeals to you by means of the parable of the Virgins that the moment to be ready for this glad eternity in Him is right now. He, our wondrous Groom shall return at a moment of His own choosing, and without warning beyond what you hear in His Word. Now is the day of your salvation, now the day His redemption, Grace, and Spirit are available in abundance to be obtained in His Word and Sacrament for you. When the Last Day comes, or when death suddenly comes calling, there shall be no more time. Now is the time. Be wise, therefore, and a keeper of the Word and Gift of the grace of Jesus in sincerity and truth. Do not be like the foolish, who think it enough for the moment just to tag along and be in the company of the Church as it is seen here in the world. Cast off your pretensions and stop lying to yourself for there is no time but this time, and there is no moment in the future you may be assured of, but the coming of Jesus, and the Judgment of all mankind. That will be no time to be scurrying about, trying to at last obtain what no longer is present for you, and so be lost forever!

Here it is: you are my fellow redeemed, for Jesus has given Himself for your sake. You have life in Him. His Word has been given to you, and you have heard it. You have been baptized into Christ, and His Spirit has met you there. Abandon all if needs be, but cling to the Faith given you. Here is your safe harbor, your full and unending supply of oil, your new heart of flesh to replace the burnt out stony heart of sin. Your sin is forgiven in Christ. You are undone and made new. And soon you shall see Him as He is, and Jesus shall wipe every tear from your eyes, and you shall abide in His presence, in the joy of His eternal wedding feast, forevermore a beloved Child of the Living God. Jesus is coming soon, and the Bride rejoices, and the virgins with her, ‘even so Lord, come quickly!’

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