Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Updates on Blogroll

just a quick note for any readers that may have perused my links to other lutheran blogs before. I haven't checked or updated almost any of them for probably 3 years. I thought it was about time, and checked them to see how many were broken, expired, etc. To my surprise, there were several that had been taken over by ridiculous advertising, and had none of their original content. Some had all kinds of strange videos, one was completely turned into Japanese advertisements for snack foods, and other unusual things. Other blogs are now defunct or whatever, so I removed a bunch. I didn't add any new ones, simply because I have so little time to read blogs that I don't even know what's happening on some of those I used to read infrequently. Of course, I claim no endorsement of the blogs I listed,either. Nothing personal if any of the links are gone. Just pared it down. :) Happy blogging!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sermon on Luke 24:36-49, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter. "Jesus Speaks Peace to Our Fears!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. When Jesus reentered the world of the disciples for the first time after Easter, He was entering a world of fear. Their hopes and expectations had been dashed by Jesus’ crucifixion and death, and it appeared as though mankind’s greatest enemy had stolen their greatest hope. In the Gospel for today, we’ll look at how Jesus enters our world of fears and speaks peace to our fears. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The disciples were gathered to talk about these things, after several of them and the women had seen the resurrected Lord. Even with these eyewitness reports, there was still an uneasy fear and apprehension that gripped them. They weren’t quite ready to fully believe this, or even understand what it all meant. We’re often in their company. Even with the knowledge of the resurrection, both for Christ and for our eternal hope, we’re gripped by fear and apprehension when death approaches. There’s no doubt that we want to believe in the resurrection, just like them. But like the disciples, death seems just a cold, hard fact, and to have witnessed Jesus’ brutal death…it seemed impossible that this could be reversed. We have difficulty fitting the resurrection into our frame of thinking. They saw a human body reduced to shambles; a body “from whom men hide their faces; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:3b). Marred, beaten, bloody, and speared. Death seemed inescapably destructive. Jesus’ body was in shambles, then dead. Like a vise crushing out any hope. Who hasn’t thought the same after seeing someone suffering great illness or pain? A body in shambles?

Yet into our world of fear and doubt, Jesus enters in and speaks peace to our fears. He knows that our finite minds have difficulty grasping that something so ugly and complete as death can be reversed. That the very body that died can be gloriously raised and restored, in even greater life than before. So He walks in among the disciples and speaks peace: “Peace to you!” The jolt of seeing Him alive at first startles and frightens—is He a spirit?!? But so they may know for certain that He isn’t a disembodied spirit, He shows them Him His hands and feet and extends them to the disciples to touch and see. Flesh and bones! Restored! Healthy and whole! But with the nail prints of His love still engraved on His palms (Is. 49:16). Even then they were disbelieving for joy. Their small world of fear and their little frame of thinking that couldn’t accommodate this radical truth, was being transformed and burst open. Life was proving stronger than death. Jesus’ Life.

When our bodies decline and age, do we begin to hate the body that God has given? But this is the body He’ll restore! Do we begin to idolize having a different one?? What is the message that advertising and movie stars and magazines subtly sell us? The message that average or ordinary bodies aren’t good enough! That we need to chase after an impossible ideal to feel satisfied. But the body we’ll have resurrected from our graves isn’t going to be sick or diseased, or broken in any way. It won’t be flawed as we see it. But it’ll be our body, restored and glorified like Jesus’ was—all the death and brutality that had been inflicted on His body, undone. And when we rise, all the death and disease, the crippling handicaps and the mental ailments, will be undone. The curse of sin will have been lifted, and all its debilitating effects will be erased. We’ll have our bodies as they should’ve been.

Disbelieving for joy would’ve been the response we’d have, seeing a dying grandparent, with their body and mind nearly gone, and wracked in pain, then die, and to see them three days later, alive and vigorous and healthy. But so glowing with life and vitality that you couldn’t even believe it was them you were seeing. They would look even better and more alive than you ever remembered them being. An ageless look, but radiant. This is what they’ll be someday. This is what you’ll be someday if you trust in Jesus Christ and His resurrection. It would be like the difference of seeing some faded, grainy, black and white photograph, compared to seeing the real living person face to face in 3-D, in glorious health. The difference would seem so great, that you could hardly recognize them, hardly believe your eyes. But it still would be them, really them.

Jesus’ resurrection appearances spoke peace to their confusion and failure to understand the Old Testament scriptures. His appearance put the puzzle pieces into place, so they could clearly see the picture that all their fragmented teachings and beliefs and worship practices pointed toward. Jesus opened their minds to all the Scripture written concerning Him, so that they could see this was all in God’s plan, and that these events brought into fulfillment all the Scriptures. We struggle with the same lack of understanding of the Old Testament that the disciples did, even though they were much more well-versed in the Scriptures than us. We often read the Old Testament as a book of dead history, or of obscure laws. We tend to read it like they did, with a veil over their minds. The Scriptures are still a closed book, so long as we read them without Christ in view. Jesus in these verses shows that He’s the heart of Scripture, the linchpin, the center in which all things hold together, the golden thread that runs through the Scriptures. Because of this, Luther wrote that if you cut a page from Scripture, it bleeds Christ.

Through Christ we understand the sacrificial system that led to His one perfect sacrifice. The principle of the innocent animal dying in place of the guilty, taught them the substitution that was perfected in Christ for our salvation. Through Christ we see the resolution of God’s wrath and His love. We see the resolution of His Word of Law to convict and condemn sin, and His Word of Gospel to proclaim the forgiveness of sins. Israel’s whole history was an unfolding picture of what salvation would be in Christ. The Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, led by the hand of Moses, depicted the deliverance that Christ would accomplish by leading us from the captivity of sin, and delivering the Church from the devil’s yoke of slavery through the washing of baptism, like in the Red Sea. Christ Himself fed them with spiritual food and drink in the wilderness, the water from the Rock and the manna from heaven. He’s for us the Living Water and the Bread of Life. All the Old Testament lived and breathed Christ, and created the precise context and place for His arrival in history during the reign of Caesar Augustus, when Jesus was born in the humble manger. And Christ’s resurrection gave them the clarity to understand all the Scriptures in this light.

In the light of the Resurrection, we begin to see how everything Jesus endured and suffered was Divine Necessity. Jesus said it was necessary for Him to suffer and die in this way, then to be raised after three days. So much of Christianity today does NOT treat Jesus death as though it were necessary. Christians that have grown accustomed to being the majority in society, or accustomed to having society generally look favorably on the church begin to get comfortable with this acceptance. Not wanting to lose the favor of society, we start to minimize the death of Christ on the cross and His resurrection. We start to hide it or move it into the background, to take away the offense of the cross. But the offense of the cross is the very heart and center of the Gospel! This is the saving message, and we cannot hide it or make it secondary to whatever part of Christianity personally pleases us the most. This is the message that Christ brings to speak peace to our fear, and to our guilt from sin.

Jesus’ blood shed on the cross and His resurrection speak peace to repentant sinners. He speaks peace to us, so that we may know our sins are forgiven in Him.

So this message of the cross and resurrection must stand at the forefront of the Christian proclamation, so that we carry out Jesus’ command to the disciples that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem.” There can be no replacements or substitutes, the cross and resurrection cannot fade into the background. For on these are founded the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life. This is no philosophical teaching to be relegated to the ivory towers and the philosophical debate halls. This was a message for every man and every woman, a message that HAD to get out and had to be heard. It was not a lifeless, inert message. It was life-changing and life-giving. This news couldn’t stay with the disciples.

So there was one more fear that had to be cast out—one more fear to which Jesus spoke peace. That was the fear of going out and proclaiming this message to all. Knowing that the same doubts and apprehensions, the same fear and disbelieving joy would be felt by those who heard this incredible Easter news. Fear that some would reject this message and persecute them for their beliefs. Some would die for what they saw and believed. Others faced the scorn of the people. Many of us feel that same fear in trying to speak up and tell others about God. A fear that rarely is present in the faith of a child, who can boldly tell what Jesus has done. But Jesus speaks peace to this fear as well.

For the disciples, this would require boldness and courage that they lacked on the night on which He was betrayed. It would require a stamina and determination that would weather brutal opposition to their message. They would face the very people who had put Jesus to death and had the power to do the same to them, and proclaim to them that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and brings them forgiveness. Don’t be surprised that you too will face opposition to what you share if you tell people the good news about Jesus. But everything required was supplied in full by the eyewitness of the resurrection and the power from on high—the Holy Spirit. The courage and boldness they lacked before, was now confirmed by having seen and touched Jesus with their own eyes and hands. They received the power from on High when the Holy Spirit filled them on Pentecost. The same Holy Spirit that transformed the men hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, is the Holy Spirit that dwells in you and gives you faith. The Spirit send by Jesus, who speaks peace to our fears, and who gives us the courage to speak.

The Spirit creates in us an attitude that looks at every person, and knows that “This is a person for whom Christ died, and they need to know that.” That we eagerly desire to tell this message to everyone, not under compulsion or fear, but out of a desire for them to share the peace that we know in Christ. He has spoken peace to us, so that our fear of death has been answered by the Word of His Resurrection. He has spoken peace to us so that our doubts and misunderstandings are answered by His Word of Certainty and Truth. He has spoken peace to us so that our guilt and sin are answered for in His precious blood that speaks a better Word than the blood of Abel. He has spoken peace to our fear of sharing His good news, so that His Spirit of boldness may fill our hearts and lives with the readiness to speak the Gospel of Peace. For there is no room for fear, when Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. What are some ways we express our fears about death, and how does that leave us without peace? How do we try to hide ourselves from death, rather than facing it?

2. How does Jesus speak peace to the disciples’ (and our) fear about death? What doubts about the resurrection did He allay?

3. How is our understanding of the Old Testament, and Scripture as a whole, incomplete without the knowledge and centrality of Christ? How does Scripture seem without Christ? With Christ?

4. What made Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection an act of Divine Necessity? Why did these things have to be so?

5. What was the consequence for the disciples of hearing and seeing this resurrection for themselves? What message must now go out? (re-read Luke 24:45-49).

6. How did the disciples, and how do we, gain the courage and confidence to share this message with others? How does Christ’s resurrection awaken us to the need of others to hear this message?

7. What makes this message essential to all who live in a world of fear?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tired Truths?

Have you ever heard someone use the expression, “Tired Truths?” What did they mean by it? Or what were they referring to? I was reflecting on this phrase, and thinking of how some might apply it to the Christian church. I could hear someone saying that the church always just recites the same old “tired truths” again and again. The church doesn’t say anything new, or innovative or different. It’s the “same-old, same-old.” You know: confessing the creeds, talk about sin and humanity’s separation from God, talk about God’s Son sent as our Savior and the need to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. “Jesus died on the cross for you.” I suppose the complaint might be that these are the same “tired truths” we’ve always heard. This is no kind of attitude to have toward the truth.

But as I reflected on that phrase, I began to realize that there really is no such thing as tired truths. On the contrary, there are only tired people who are not brought into the vitality of THE TRUTH. The Truth isn’t something that wears out or becomes irrelevant, or that changes from culture to culture or from time and place. The truth of existence: “Why are we here?” The question, “Is there a God?” The follow-up question of, “If there is a God, what is my relationship to Him?” And questions like these. The truth, more specifically, found in Christianity and the Bible, the answers to the questions about how we find salvation, and in whom do we find it. Answers to the questions about meaning and purpose of life and existence are found in the Bible, and they aren’t shifting or changing or “relative.” Nor are they “tired truths” that don’t apply any longer. The truth always bears repeating, because the truth is always so easily forgotten or supplanted by imitations, distortions, and lies.

Further, though we might wish to always hear the truth in a winsome and persuasive way, nevertheless the truth is no less the truth if it is spoken simply or even crudely, than if it is spoken magnificently and eloquently. In the same way, lies can be told in a crude and unconvincing manner, or they can be spoken with great eloquence and fine speech. So to recognize the truth requires of us thoughtful discernment. That we look at the heart and content of what is said, not merely the outward form, and evaluate truth on the grounds of Scripture.

The truth, especially the truth of salvation and the meaning and purpose of life, are always essential or applicable to our lives. Since these matters are critical to our eternal future, as well as our spiritual peace and well-being here on earth, they must continue to be heard. The church is not a place to market new or “faddish” ideas. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for sinners is and will always remain the church’s proclamation until Christ comes. And so there really cannot be such a thing as “tired truths,” in reference to the church. The only thing that happens is for people to get bored with truth and seek to find something that will satisfy their “itching ears” (read 2 Tim. 4:3). But it is no fault of the truth that people become uninterested. But when people truly grasp the vitality, the dynamism of the truth, then this sacred truth will no longer seem tired, but rather life-giving and as desirable as cold water is to a thirsty traveler.

So if you do begin to find the truth “tiresome,” might I suggest that you need to get deeper into it, and discover the vitality and joy that is in Christ Jesus and His Word? For ultimately, truth leads to Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). For Jesus clearly stated: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). And when we find the Truth in Him, we realize that He is the living water that we have been thirsting for (John 4:10ff). In Him, the truth cannot seem stale or ordinary or mundane—for salvation, life and peace are in Him. In Him, we will be tired no more!

Sermon on 1 John 1:1-2:2, for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, "Propitiation for our Sins"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. I have to admit that as a pastor, when I see a big, unfamiliar, theological word in our readings, like “propitiation,” it’s just too juicy to resist. These words grab our attention if for no other reason than they are so uncommon and strange. But this word is pregnant with meaning, and has a rich and personal meaning to tell us about the significance of Christ’s death on the cross. I owe special credit to Pastor Steven Starke, a brother in the ministry whom I haven’t met, but who’s a prolific hymn-writer for our new hymnal, and whose excellent sermon on this topic did much to motivate my message today. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Propitiation. Not the word you want to get stuck with in the spelling bee. Probably a word we don’t run across in our average reading, and one that none of us use in our everyday conversation. Archaic? Irrelevant? But let’s not rush to relegate this word to the bookshelf and the dusty dictionaries. Perhaps some of you heard it recently in our Good Friday liturgy in the Lenten response that quotes this verse: “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. He was delivered up to death, He was delivered for the sins of the people.” From the context, you may already figure out that it has something to do with Jesus being delivered up to death; or you may be familiar with this verse in the NIV translation, which reads, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” But “atoning sacrifice” is still a weaker substitute for the archaic old word, “propitiation.” But what does it mean already?

Propitiation means, “to turn away God’s wrath over sin.” You’re probably primed for this definition if you remember a month or so ago, when the sermon was about the “cup of wrath” that Jesus was going to drink, when He died on the cross. Remember that the disciples wanted to share in His glory, but He said first they had to share in His cup? A bitter cup that He would have to drink before receiving His glory? How that cup was the Old Testament image of all God’s wrath filled up to overflowing against sin, and that this cup of wrath would make the one who drank it stagger and stumble? Remember that Jesus drank this cup of wrath for us, so that we would be spared from God’s wrath? This is what it means that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. “The death of Jesus Christ on the cross was the way in which God’s anger was stilled, the way of removing divine wrath from sinners.” In a very personal way, He turned away God’s wrath from you and I, by drinking that cup of wrath that we deserved. So the word “propitiation” really has everything to do with the cross.

The reason we ought to hang on to and keep this peculiar “cross-word” in our vocabulary, is so that we’ll know and understand how God has responded to sin. The fact that our sins need to be propitiated means that we really were estranged from God, and that the rebellion of sin has shattered our relationship with Him. His wrath against sin is entirely righteous and just, because there is no excuse or defense for evil and wrongdoing. It’s never defensible, even if it’s done in response to some other evil. So God’s righteous wrath against sin is a terror to sinners. We know that we have justly deserved His present and eternal punishment. So knowing this wrath, we must now face our sinfulness, and know what our response will be. Do we desire to have joy and fellowship with our heavenly Father, by having His wrath turned away from us? Do we desire to walk in the light as He is in the light, and have fellowship with one another, and have our sin cleansed by Jesus’ blood?

If this is our desire, and we do desire to be in fellowship with God, and walk in His light, then we must come clean with our sins. We must admit our sin through confession and repentance. And why Jesus’ propitiation is so important, is that because we know that Jesus has turned away God’s wrath forever, we are free to “turn ourselves in” for what we have done, and repent of all our wrong. We can turn ourselves in to God because we know that since Christ has propitiated God’s wrath, it’s safe to approach His throne of mercy through Jesus’ shed blood. There is no danger involved in turning ourselves in, at least not with God, because “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” To do this is to be truthful to God about ourselves, and to practice the truth by walking in the light. When we practice the truth in this way, then we have fellowship with Him.

But there’s another response that we can choose to have to God’s wrath or to the knowledge of our sin. That response is to be false with God, and to lie to ourselves and make Him out to be a liar. This response bars us from having fellowship with Him, for it is to choose walking in the darkness over walking in the light. That is when we “say we have no sin” and “deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” “If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” It is remarkably easy to deceive yourself. A Greek philosopher wrote, “Nothing is so easy as to deceive oneself; for what we wish, we readily believe” (Demosthenes, 384-322 BC). If we wish to believe that we are without sin, we will readily deceive ourselves into thinking that this is true. But we’re usually sly enough to make it seem like we’re really not entirely sinless—we’ll readily admit we aren’t perfect, or we’ll cough-up some of the sins we don’t particularly care for ourselves. But it’s those pet sins, the ones that we so love to do—the ones that are most difficult to change—that we won’t let go of and confess.

I mean, why is Christianity so demanding?!? Why do we always have to say “no” to our sinful desires, and put to death the sinful nature through repentance and return to baptism? Doesn’t God want us to have any “fun?” But this reaction mistakes “walking in the light” for a joyless, legalistic existence. That is a caricature of what God wants for us. God is not a “killjoy” who wants us to spend our lives perpetually somber and without laughter and amusement. We come up with this caricature as a way of trying to excuse or justify our sin, which again is our easy deception. On the contrary, God wants our joy to be full, and to experience His richest peace, joy, and blessing. And living according to God’s 10 Commandments is not to keep us from joy, but to help us to walk in the light, so that we may truly experience God’s blessing. For living according to the good design of His law, we will have joy and even “fun,” but not in a way that is selfish, or comes at the expense of others, as happens when we violate His commands.

So…to be truthful with God and ourselves, and confess our sins? Or to deceive ourselves and make God to be a liar? I think the choice is an obvious one, though it’s never easy to own up to our sin, turn ourselves in to God, and seek His strength to change our sinful ways. But there’s joy in knowing that there’s no uncertainty in God’s response to us, if we speak what’s true and confess our sins. He’ll always be faithful and just to forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. John tells us that the reason he’s writing about these things to us, is so that we won’t sin. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He’s the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Luther said that this part about “not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world,” is added so that our hearts can never deceive us to think: “The Lord died for Peter and Paul, but not for me.” Since we too are part of the world, this means that Jesus has also turned away God’s wrath from our sin as well.

This is what makes the eyewitness testimony to Jesus’ resurrection so important in this reading and in the Gospel. Why is John so emphatic in describing the disciples’ eyewitness of the Resurrected Christ? He starts, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands concerning the word of life”—this “we proclaim to you also that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” John hammers it home in such stark, physical terms. It wasn’t just hearsay that Jesus had risen. It was no dream or vision. They saw Him with their own eyes. Their skepticism and doubt was conquered by His face to face appearance with them, on multiple occasions. And should their eyes have deceived them, they not only heard and saw Him, but they looked upon Him and touched Him with their own hands! Thomas stuck his fingers in the wounds of Jesus’ hands and side in holy awe at what he’d refused to believe. They ate and drank with Him in the most basic, physical, human experience—removing any shadow of a doubt that He was no ghost or phantom. But why is this eyewitness testimony of the resurrection so crucially related to Jesus’ propitiation for our sins??

Because the Resurrection of Jesus is proof that God really accepted Jesus’ propitiation, that He truly has turned away His wrath against our sins, and that Jesus has ended our estrangement with Himself. Had Jesus not risen, we’d have no way of knowing whether God was still angry over our sins, or whether we were next in line or not, to face His wrath. We couldn’t know if God was a God of Love or of vengeance. But the way we know, the way we have assurance that God accepted this propitiation for our sins, that Jesus has turned away His anger against sin, is that He raised Jesus from the dead. This is Jesus’ vindication, God’s approval of His sacrifice and approval of His innocence. Jesus Christ our blessed Savior, turned away God’s Wrath forever (LSB 627). Now our joy can be complete, for we know that God’s wrath has personally been taken away from us.

With this knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection, confirmed and eye-witnessed by the company of the apostles, we can truly share in the joy and peace that Christ spoke to the apostles. “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” We are truly at peace with God, because Christ has been faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We are assured of His propitiation by His bodily resurrection from the dead. Our joy is complete because He has given this message to His church to proclaim and distribute to all who seek God’s mercy for their sin, and this message extends not only to us, but also to the whole world. Jesus has turned away God’s wrath; He is the Propitiation for our sins. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. What does propitiation mean, and why is this “cross-word” worth adding to or keeping in our vocabulary? How did Jesus “propitiate” our sins?
2. How does sin estrange us from God? (read Psalm 5)
3. What is the truthful response to the knowledge of our sin and God’s wrath against sin? How does this response bring us into light and fellowship with Him? (reread 1 John 1)
4. What is the false response to knowledge of sin? How does this make God out to be a liar?
5. What sins or sinful patterns of life are you hanging on to that you refuse to surrender? What are some deceptions that we tell ourselves to justify sin?
6. Why was the eyewitness testimony of the Resurrection so vitally important, in relation to Jesus’ propitiation for our sins?
7. How does this knowledge enable our joy and fellowship with God to be complete?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sermon on Mark 16:1-8 for Easter, the Resurrection of Our Lord. "He Will Swallow Up Death Forever."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! We’re here this Easter morn because we believe that death isn’t the end. We’re here because there’s One who has truly conquered death, as witnessed by the women at the tomb, the twelve apostles, more than 500 disciples at one time, His unbelieving brother James, and lastly Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of the church, later known as Paul. We’re here to celebrate how Jesus has conquered death for us, for we live on in this hope and promise. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Easter is God’s answer to our greatest enemy. For death is the great leveler of mankind. Death steals from our joy; it robs us of those we love; it leaves life and ambition unfinished and incomplete. Death spares none, and makes no distinction between the rich or poor, the young or old, no language, tribe or people. No one is unaffected by this common enemy, and so this message of the Resurrection is for all. Today we celebrate that Death has met its end in Christ Jesus. But we realize that death isn’t easily ignored or forgotten.

The women that came to the tomb that morning were proof of this, and proof of how large death looms in our minds. They came to the tomb with spices to anoint the corpse, so that it wouldn’t smell. They were expecting Him to remain dead; not to find their Risen Lord. The hope of the resurrection was lost for them. But so deep was their love for their Rabbi, that they underwent this fearful and risky journey to the tomb. Did they know about the guard set on the tomb and the seal? They knew the great stone was too large for them to move. Love compelled them to honor His body, even in death, by anointing Him properly for burial. For one so dearly loved in life, this was the least they could do for Him in death. Love endured past death.

Their love was mixed with sorrow over the fresh memories of Jesus’ terrible death on the cross, but they also failed to remember His promises. Death loomed large in their minds, and doubt and fear had weakened their faith. The grave had swallowed up their faith and the memory of Jesus’ promised resurrection so that they expected to find a dead body. For them, death had become greater than life. Had they believed Jesus’ words, they should’ve been waiting with joyful expectation to see Him alive, in Galilee, where He had told them they should find Him (Mk. 14:28). They wouldn’t have come to the empty tomb with spices, they would’ve been watching for Him in Galilee, for their joyful reunion! But again, they couldn’t see past His death.

How about us? Has the joy of the resurrection taken hold of our lives? Do we live as though death is the end and mourn as those who have no hope? Believers in Jesus have been promised a resurrection like His. But do we live as though we expect to find a corpse in the tomb? As if we had lost the hope of the resurrection? Do we regard loved ones who’ve died in the Lord as lost to us? Or do we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come? Do we live our lives with the resurrection joy, and with the knowledge that how we believe here in this life has eternal consequences? For there are eternal consequences to how we believe. For the unbelieving and the unrepentant, the resurrection will not be a joyful thing, because their bodies too will be raised, but for punishment, not blessedness.

So how shall we live then? We live with the Easter joy that death is not the end, and that by faith in Christ there waits for us the resurrection of the body, to the blessedness of our Father. We live with the knowledge that all who wait on the Lord will be glad and rejoice in His salvation. For He’ll swallow up death forever. To live with the joy of the resurrection is to know that “the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken” (Is. 25:8). Having this joy, we know that when our loved ones die in the Lord, they’ll have their tears wiped away and sorrow will be no more. Living with Easter joy is knowing that He’ll swallow up death forever. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

The yawning mouth of the tomb had swallowed Jesus into three days of darkness. And so this darkness of death loomed over the imagination of the disciples, and it really seemed as if death had swallowed up life, and that there was no coming back. But Jesus had used a marvelous image to prophesy His resurrection. He spoke of a seed, a single grain of wheat, falling into the earth and dying. The mouth of the tomb swallowed Jesus, that single “grain of wheat that [fell] into the earth and die[d]” (John 12:24). He was that single grain that died, then germinated into new life that burst forth from the tomb, rending the power of death; releasing its captives. Every time you see concrete blocks on the sidewalk split and upturned by a tree, think of the power of a tiny seed and the life contained in it. As a seed germinates in the ground, it splits open the dead hull and thrusts forward to the light. No stone, no seal, no guard set over the tomb—not even Satan himself could keep Jesus in the grave.

Jesus’ body, buried in the tomb, swallowed by death, was the hidden dynamite that would explode death from the inside out. “In a strange and dreadful strife, life and death contended. The victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended. Holy Scripture plainly sa[ys], Death is swallowed up by death, its sting is lost forever. Alleluia! (LSB 458:4)” Christ swallowed up death by His death on the cross and burial in the tomb. Though it seemed as though the grave had been the victor, and this is what the ladies who came to the tomb expected to find, death had met its conqueror. One who couldn’t be kept in the grave, but burst from the spiced tomb as He rose to His heavenly way (LSB 604).

So imagine the surprise of the women when they arrived at the tomb. It’s not hard to understand their alarm and astonishment that the tomb was opened, and a young man in a bright, white robe was seated there. How would you react if you went to the newly buried grave of your family member to lay flowers there, and found the grave dug up and empty? You might very well demand to know where they had taken the body of your loved one! Even though they’re dead, the body is still precious to you. This is how the women felt. But they were more alarmed and astonished when the angel told them that “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.”

This news was too great and wonderful for them to process. Still fearful and uncertain of what all this meant, they fled from the tomb in trembling and astonishment. Sure they knew Jesus was no ordinary boy from Nazareth, but that He had just risen from three days of death?!? Could it be true? It was one thing to see Him raise others from the dead, but Himself? Clearly they weren’t expecting this. But it was true! Not long and they would see Him with their own eyes! Jesus of Nazareth, the same son of Mary who’d been buried in that tomb, had risen. His crucifixion had been part of that strange and dreadful strife as death and life contended. What they’d taken for defeat was in reality great victory! This was a necessary part of God’s plan to save us. Jesus said that He laid down His life of His own accord, no one took it from Him—and that He had the power to take it up again (John 10:18). This is precisely what He did that Sunday morning. His death on the cross had been necessary, to take our sin to His grave.

Is our response of equal amazement? Do we refuse to believe what seems too good to be true? Does death still cast fear and a dark shadow over our lives, so that we tremble when we face it? Or is the resurrection joy taking hold in your life? Do you begin to see that it was no accident that eternity was written on our hearts (Eccles. 3:11)? That the wholesome unfulfilled longings we have and the fact that our love endures beyond the death of someone we love—that these point us beyond this life? That we really can be raised from the dead, just as Jesus was? By faith in Jesus, sorrow isn’t the end. Jesus’ resurrection ensures that He’ll swallow up death forever, and that one day there’ll be uninterrupted joy and peace, as the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He’ll take away” (Is. 25:8). This is no wishful thinking or rosy-glassed optimism, for hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Jesus alive from His tomb. They were just as astonished and disbelieving at first as we would’ve been.

There was even a special word of comfort from the angel, who said, “Go and tell the disciples, and Peter, that he is going before you to Galilee.” Why was Peter especially mentioned? One preacher put it this way: “Peter is especially named and the command given to announce the resurrection of Christ to him so that he would not possibly think that since His denial was the greatest of all the disciples’ [denials], he thus would have to be totally expelled from God’s grace; rather, the worse Peter’s denial made the situation, the more richly God allows him to be comforted after his repentance, to the extent that He specifically commands that the resurrection of His Son be proclaimed to Peter as a testimony to all repentant sinners of the marvelous, incomprehensible kindness of God. All this is done in order that one may not be led to think—even though he has already repented—that his sins are too great, or that he may not receive the benefits of Christ’s resurrection.” This special comfort is for us too, that we’ll know that if Jesus forgave even such a denial from His trusted friend, that He’ll also forgive us.

It’s because of the incomprehensible kindness of God, because of the triumphant power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, that we poor sinners can share in the benefits of His resurrection. Though death makes no distinction, and ruthlessly takes one and all, Christ has swallowed up death in His victorious life. So that we won’t become the nameless victims of death, Christ has called us and made us His own in baptism. Our fears and doubts may now be swallowed up by life. And His love for us will endure past death, so that when we fall like wheat into the earth, His resurrection power will live in us. Then we will sprout forth with His new life in us. Death will have been swallowed up forever, and God Himself will wipe away our tears. Then hope will have become reality in Christ. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. Why is the Easter message universal?
2. Who were the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection? How many were there? (1 Cor. 15:1-11)
3. How had death overshadowed the faith and hope of the women that came to the tomb? What should they have been looking for? (see Mark 14:28)
4. How has the joy of the resurrection grasped your life? How does it affect your outlook on life? On death, both of loved ones, and your own?
5. How did death get swallowed up in victory? Was that how it appeared at first? (Is. 25:8; John 12:24)
6. Do we sometimes think that this Easter news is too good to be true? How does that doubt express itself?
7. What special comfort is given for those who are doubtful whether they too can share in the benefits of the Resurrection?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 27:24 for Good Friday, "I Joy to Call Thee Mine"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. On this Good Friday, we turn our eyes to the bitter suffering and death of Jesus Christ for our sins. The sermon is based on the Passion of Jesus, and Matthew 27:24, “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Seeing Christ crucified may generate all kinds of mixed emotions for us. Some of those are best expressed in the words of the hymns we sing today. Perhaps it is sheer horror at the wickedness of men, in their abuse and mistreatment of Jesus. A wicked mob of people shouts to crucify an innocent man, with the shouts and cries of people today mixed in with them, “This man was no Son of God!” Whippings from the cruel scourge, that alone could’ve been enough to kill Him. The crooked, bristling crown of thorns pressing down on His forehead which induced a throbbing headache. Even Pilate began to have qualms about what He was doing, and insisted three times that he found no basis for a charge against Jesus.

Pilate was even more afraid when he heard that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God, and tried to find a way to set Jesus free. His guilty conscience in this dilemma made him desperate for an escape. But the Jews pressed his loyalty to Caesar, against his better judgment not to condemn an innocent man. With no apparent solution, Pilate aims to save his conscience by washing his hands of the matter, and proclaiming himself innocent of this man’s blood. But what was his proclamation of his own innocence worth? Do we react the same way to Jesus’ death? Does it seem better to be appalled and offended at the cruelty, than to admit our own participation in it? Do we aim to save our guilty conscience by proclaiming our own innocence in Jesus’ death?

But what will our proclamation of our innocence be worth? No, we weren’t there, and I’m not suggesting that we all would have been part of the angry mob that cried for His death. There were those who mourned and objected to His unjust death, even if from a distance. But none of this makes us guiltless in the matter. As the words of the hymn put it, “[You] who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great, here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load; ‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man and Son of God” (LSB 451). In other words, the cross ought to produce this response in us—seeing Jesus’ death should drive us not to underestimate the evil or guilt of sin. Can anyone truly estimate the cost of their own sin? The cross is proof that sin is no light and easy matter, that it isn’t brushed off by God as irrelevant or trifling. Sin was an awful load, far worse than the physical punishments He endured. The “deepest stroke that pierced Him was the stroke that justice gave” (LSB 451). So it is futile to proclaim ourselves innocent, to try to wash our hands of Jesus’ death.

He didn’t try to escape His death. He didn’t make a defense of His innocence, even though lies were slung against Him. He didn’t run from the guards or put up a fight. He isn’t looking for our excuses. He isn’t looking for us to prove our innocence in His death. He didn’t ask whether you or I wanted Him to take our sin and guilt. He just did. He took all the sin and guilt of every person, those who loved Him, those who hated Him. He must have been difficult to face for those who wouldn’t admit their own sin, because standing near Him, everyone realized or felt their guilt. Even if they went to every effort to deny it or excuse it or wash it off their hands and conscience. But guilty hands and guilty mouths cannot cleanse the guilty conscience. All our scrubbing and excusing is in vain. Remember that Jesus took this upon Himself willingly. “The Prince of Life from heaven, Himself has freely given, to shame and blows and bitter death” (LSB 453). He looks not for our excuses, but for our repentance. To own our part in His death.

Because Jesus’ death for us offers a far better proclamation than our own empty proclamation of innocence. His death accomplishes for us a real proclamation of innocence. First to Himself, as His resurrection from the dead would proclaim that God had found Him innocent. But secondly also to us, who believe in Him and repent of our sin and our part in His death. For those who turn to God in repentance and desire the mercy of this death for us, God declares us innocent! Wait! God declares us innocent?!? Precisely. Not by what we have done, but by faith in what Jesus has done. The Great Reversal of Justice that He endured in His innocent death, was for our guilt to be taken away. His Divine and perfect life throws an eternal weight into the scales of justice that makes us rise like a light and empty scale. But without His divine death for our sins, the scale of humanity would sink with the dreadful weight of sin and guilt. What then, is this proclamation of innocence? It is nothing else than the forgiveness of sins. It is your justification. We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Justified simply means that God has “declared you innocent!” He has taken away your guilt, so that His innocence is yours by faith.

This is our verdict, by faith, and this is a proclamation of innocence that doesn’t come from guilty lips, and it is a cleansing of conscience that doesn’t come from guilty hands. The only hands that could wash our guilty conscience clean, were the hands that were innocent of any wrongdoing. The hands that were innocent of any guilt, but had only done good. The hands that heal and raise the dead, the hands that touch our forehead and pronounce to us “Your sins are forgiven!” The hands of Jesus that were nailed to the tree. And the lips that were pure of any evil or hateful word, the lips and mouth that spoke only what was true and pure. These lips speak to us of God’s Divine mercy, they speak to us of forgiveness for what we have done. They speak of forgiveness from the cross where we placed Him. But no truer words can be spoken than those from the mouth of the only Son of God, Jesus Christ. His verdict of innocence for those who believe is unquestionable. We are justified by faith in Him.

So Dearest Jesus, on this Good Friday, as we behold you despised and gory on the cross, may our sadness turn us from sin, but may we also with gladness look upon your cross and say, “I joy to call Thee mine.” Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sermon on Mark 14:12-26 and Exodus 24:3-11 for Maundy Thursday. "The Blood of the Covenant"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. On this night we remember Maundy Thursday, the night on which Jesus was betrayed, and celebrated His Last Supper with the disciples. The sermon will be based on our Old Testament and Gospel readings, which link together the blood of the old covenant, and the blood of the new covenant. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why are these two passages so closely linked, since the time and place of their occurrence are so different? Approximately 1,500 years apart, with Moses speaking to the 12 tribes of Israel at the base of Mount Sinai in the desert, while Jesus is speaking to the 12 disciples alone in the upper room of a home in Jerusalem. At first there seems to be little similarity—but notice one uncommon phrase that appears in both readings. “The Blood of the Covenant.” These words only infrequently appear together in the Bible. When Moses first spoke them, God had just delivered all of His commands and rules to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. The 12 tribes of Israel responded with a hearty, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do and we will be obedient.” So Moses then took some of the blood from the sacrifices, and sprinkled it on the people and spoke these words: “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Sprinkled with the blood of the covenant, they were sealed by God’s promise and command.

But another curious thing happens after they make this pledge to obey the covenant. It says that 70 elders of Israel, with Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, went up on the mountain and saw the God of Israel! Standing on sapphire pavement, like the very heaven for clearness—they saw Him. They glimpsed God’s heavenly splendor while here on earth. Even more amazing, was the fact that they did not perish because of their sin. It says that God did not stretch out His hand; “they beheld God, and ate and drank.” Seeing God, they did not die, and they participated in a sacred meal, eating and drinking while they beheld God. Purified under the blood of the covenant (Heb. 9:22), they ate a meal in God’s presence.

This covenant at Sinai remained binding on the people of Israel until you fast-forward 1,500 years to that Thursday night on which Jesus was betrayed. On that night, Jesus celebrated the customary Jewish Passover Meal with His disciples. But afterward, He instituted a new supper, and announced to them as He gave the bread to eat and the cup to drink, that “this is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many.” Jesus’ words were astonishing! There hadn’t been a new covenant given to Israel, sealed in blood, since the time of Moses! And what sort of covenant was Jesus talking about? The Old Covenant, under Moses, was a conditional covenant, meaning that in order for it to be kept in whole, both God and the Israelites had to do their respective parts. It was made with the 10 Commandments and other regulations of law, and gave them the promise of peace and prosperity in the Promised Land if they kept His Word.

But as you probably know, Israel repeatedly sinned and turned away from God, as the prophet Jeremiah described centuries later. There God described Israel’s failure to keep that Old Covent. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord” (Jer. 31:31-32). Now with Jesus’ words, that new covenant was finally being made. Not like the old one, a covenant of outward laws and decrees that was broken not only by Israel but also by us. But a covenant with His law written in our hearts and in which He would forgive our iniquity and remember our sins no more. This covenant was an unconditional covenant, not based on our obedience, but on God’s merciful forgiveness. This covenant was initiated with Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper—the new covenant in His blood. This covenant would be fulfilled by Christ alone.

As Moses sealed the 12 tribes of Israel by sprinkling them with the blood of the covenant, so Jesus, when He initiated the new covenant with His 12 disciples, established it with His blood of the covenant. His blood that would be shed in sacrifice to purify for Himself the people of God. This covenant, far superior to the first covenant, is made on better promises (Heb. 8:6). In this covenant, Jesus promises the forgiveness of sins through His shed blood. Through this forgiveness, we have the promise of salvation and life eternal. But this covenant is also different from the Old Covenant in that when Jesus established it, it was His own blood that founded it. Which meant that He would die to seal it. In reality, this means that this covenant was a last will and testament. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He was giving His disciples His last will and testament, to be sealed in His blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of our sins.

As the book of Hebrews describes this last will and testament, it says, “For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood” (Heb. 9:16-18). So just like an ordinary human will, Jesus’ will—His new testament with His people, couldn’t be put into effect until He died. But once He died, that new covenant or testament was now sealed in His blood, and no one can change or add to that covenant.

And what followed the sealing of that covenant in His blood, presented to them in cup He blessed and gave to His disciples? They ate a meal in God’s presence. They saw the God of Israel in human flesh and had a glimpse of heaven, here on earth. They saw the one who showed heavenly love with unerring perfection. They were in God’s presence, and did not perish because of their sin. Christ did not stretch out His hand against them. They beheld God and ate and drank. Seeing God, they did not die, and they participated in a sacred meal, eating and drinking while they beheld Jesus. Purified under the blood of the covenant (Heb. 9:22), they ate a meal in God’s presence, forgiven and cleansed from their sins.

This table is now spread before us, as Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We eat and drink Christ’s body and blood, and therefore are in God’s presence. He is present in body and blood among us in the bread and the wine. His blood of the covenant is poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins, and we partake in this sacred meal, witnessing God in His forgiving love. With His body and blood on our lips to purify them of sin and guilt (Is. 6), we behold God as we eat and drink. Christ’s atoning blood has been shed for us at the cross, the cross to which He was betrayed on this night. Betrayed for our sins, betrayed into death. But the death that would once and for all seal this new covenant, His last will and testament to all of us as His disciples. The last will and testament that seals for us the inheritance of His forgiveness, life, and salvation. And so we celebrate this new testament in His blood until the end of time, until He joins us anew by drinking the fruit of the vine with us in the kingdom of God. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Caution about purchasing Study Bibles

This was recently brought to my attention by the editor at Concordia Publishing House, Rev. Paul McCain, concerning the upcoming CPH project "The Lutheran Study Bible" based on the ESV translation:

UPDATE: Further comparison is available at this link http://cyberbrethren.com/2009/04/03/two-lutheran-bibles/
As many of you are aware, Concordia Publishing House has been working hard at producing and publishing The Lutheran Study Bible. This work began nearly six years ago, and the title of the Bible was announced publicly a long time ago. We learned a year or so ago that the ELCA was producing a Bible and that they decided to call it: “Lutheran Study Bible.” The ELCA Bible is now in print. I encourage you, particularly if you are a pastor, to advise your folks that the ELCA Bible is not The Lutheran Study Bible by CPH. The two Bibles are quite different in content, style and purpose. Most significantly, the ELCA Bible takes a different approach on key doctrinal points than does The Lutheran Study Bible. So, please be aware, and spread the word, that The Lutheran Study Bible is coming, from CPH, in October 2009, and that the ELCA Bible is something quite different. Be sure to point people to The Lutheran Study Bible web site, or its Facebook Group, or Twitter feed. I respectfully request and encourage you to share this blog post on your blog site, e-mails, congregation newsletters, etc.

As an example of the differences between these two Bibles, here is how each deals with the Great Commission in Matthew 28. First, the comments from The Lutheran Study Bible, then the comments from the ELCA Bible. Each Bible’s notes on these passages are quoted in their entirety, without editing or excerpting.

The Lutheran Study Bible on the Great Commission
28:18–20 Though all God’s people are to bear witness to the Lord (cf Ps 145; Is 43:10), the focus here is on the apostles and their calling as leading witnesses and representatives of Jesus. (Compare to the authorization in Mt 10:1–7.)

28:18 “All authority.” Christ’s human nature, which had refrained from exercising the divine authority belonging to the person of Christ, now is fully exalted and given free use of divine authority (cf v 19). “He can also powerfully effect and do everything that He says and promises” (FC SD VII 43). “The Church’s authority and the State’s authority must not be confused. The Church’s authority has its own commission to teach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments [Matthew 28:19–20]. Let it not break into the office of another. Let it not transfer the kingdoms of this world to itself. Let it not abolish the laws of civil rulers. Let it not abolish lawful obedience” (AC XXVIII 12–13).

28:19 “make disciples.” See note, 5:1. Jesus gives us the tools to make disciples: Baptism and His teaching. all nations. Not just the Jews, but Gentiles too (cf 10:5–6). baptizing them in the name. “Name” is singular, followed by the threefold naming of the divine persons. This illustrates the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. See p 0000. Those baptized in the name of the Father have God as their Father; baptized in the name of the Son, they receive all the benefits of the Son’s redeeming act; baptized in the name of the Spirit, they receive the life-giving, life-sustaining power and presence of the Spirit. Christian Baptism is founded on this institution. See note, Nu 6:22–27. baptizing. Washing with the water of new birth. “Baptism is no human plaything, but it is instituted by God Himself” (LC IV 6). “It is necessary to baptize little children, that the promise of salvation may be applied to them, according to Christ’s command to baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19). Just as in this passage salvation is offered to all, so Baptism is offered to all, to men, women, children, infants. It clearly follows, therefore, that infants are to be baptized, because salvation is offered with Baptism” (Ap IX 52).

28:20 “teaching.” Disciples are made not only through Baptism, but through the ongoing catechetical work of the Church. observe all. Christians are called to do more than “obey”; they are called to treasure God’s Word in their hearts. commanded. Not only Christ’s moral injunctions (the Law) but also His invitation to trust in Him (the Gospel). I am with you always. Not only in Spirit but also according to His human nature. See “be with,” p 0000. “He is present especially in His Church and congregation on earth as Mediator, Head, King, and High Priest. This presence is not a part, or only one half of Him. Christ’s entire person is present, to which both natures belong, the divine and the human—not only according to His divinity, but also according to, and with, His received human nature” (FC SD VIII 78). end of the age. When He returns visibly.

28:16–20 Christ commissions His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations through Baptism and teaching. Christ promises to be with us, and He is the one who makes disciples through our baptizing and teaching. Today, remember your Baptism and confirmation in the faith, which are precious blessings for the Lord’s disciples. His love and care are new for you every morning. • Send us, Lord, to make disciples in Your name in accordance with our callings in life. Amen.

The ELCA Bible on the Great Commission
28:16-20 the eleven disciples went to Galilee: The eleven meet Jesus on a mountain in Galilee. Even when the eleven see him, some doubt. Jesus’ resurrection returns to the question of his authority in 7:28-9:34; 21:23-32. Through the resurrection, God has given Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. This does not mean that only now does Jesus have authority. It establishes his authority exercised throughout his life and ministry (28:20). The end of the Gospel sends the reader back to the beginning (4:12-9:34), and it gives God’s answer to the Pharisees’ charge (9:34). In contrast to 10:5-6, 23, Jesus now send the disciples to make disciples of all nations. That does not mean make everyone disciples. Most people who are helped by Jesus and believe in him never become disciples. Jesus includes in salvation people who do not believe in him or ever know about him (5:30; 25:31-45). Disciples are students, called for the sake of the world to learn from Jesus and to bear witness to the kingdom. They are salt and light (5:13-16). Jesus promises to be with them always as they carry out this mission. Previously, Jesus promised to be present in the exercise of forgiveness (18:18-20) and in the “least of these” who suffer (25:31-45). (p. 1658)

End of quotes.

Please refrain, when commenting in this discussion, from specific attacks on any specific publishing companies. The purpose of this post is simply to lend clarfication and issue a word of caution about potential confusion. Thanks for your kind and patient understanding.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sermon on Mark 15:1-47, for Palm Sunday. "Palms or Thorns for a King"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Palm Sunday or the Sunday of the Passion is a day of real contrasts. As the first day of Holy Week, the week of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and death, it starts the week on a joyful note of praises. But a week that quickly turned to great gloom and despair. It seems so disjointed, that Jesus’ week would start with such a joyful celebration and the triumphal procession for a King, but by the end of the week that the crowds would have turned so decisively against Him. They began the week with palms for their King, He ended it in thorns. The significant days of Holy Week are Palm Sunday, which we just celebrated with the Palm Processional into the sanctuary. Maundy Thursday, the night when Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples, instituted the Lord’s Supper, and was betrayed. Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial. On Holy Saturday, Jesus lay buried in the tomb. A week of contrasts, leading up to the unparalleled rejoicing of Easter morn, with the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

There’s a lot happening in all of the readings today, with the Palm Sunday processional, and the lengthy account of Jesus’ Passion. But the common thread I see running through it all is the Kingship of Jesus. Strange indeed that the Kingship of Jesus would center around His ignoble death on the cross. But His entrance into Jerusalem on the donkey was a certain sign of His kingship, as the prophecy from Zechariah said. “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” He was not a king bent on warfare or destruction, but He rode humbly to His death. He was not dressed in fine robes or fancy jewels. In lowly pomp He rode on to die. He rode on to the fiercest strife He would face. His battle was not with “flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

This is to say that it was a cosmic warfare that took place, and the stakes were far higher than any earthly conflict. It was not the lives of thousands or even millions that was at stake, nor the political boundary lines of nations, nor the possession of wealth and resources, strategic locations or sovereignty. This conflict had at stake the eternal destiny of untold billions of human lives, every man, woman, and child descended from Adam and Eve. Whether they’d be consigned to an eternal fate of destruction and separation from God because of their sin, or whether God would redeem those who trust in Him to once again be His sole possession. And with the fanfare of a crowd who grossly underestimated the glory of what He was about to achieve, Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem, hailed as king to the shouts of loud hosannas. “Save Us!” Hosanna means. But they had little idea how appropriate those words were.

Into this cosmic warfare for the fate of humanity, Jesus rode as a king to conquer and take all the spoils of the enemy. The spiritual forces of evil, Satan and his fallen angels, our own sinful flesh, and sin and death. Facing the darkest foes, He saw the prize. He saw us, the captives. He would speak peace to all the nations. But for this declaration of peace to occur, He first had to overthrow the spiritual forces of darkness. And as He pursued that road to Jerusalem, and to His cross, the many who cheered Him soon fell aside in betrayal, cowardice, fear and misunderstanding. By the end of that week, the words of the Pharisees—“You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him”—hardly seemed necessary. By the end of the week, who was left by His side?

But the theme of His kingship turned 180 degrees. He went from being praised and hailed as the King of Israel, to the cynical question of Pilate: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Truly it must have seemed bewildering to the Roman government, what fickle-minded people these were, to hold a triumphant parade for this man one day, and so soon afterward be arresting Him and handing Him over to Pilate for trial. Jesus answers Pilate simply: “You said it.” He acknowledged that it was true, that He was the King of the Jews, but making no attempt to defend His innocence against the accusations and slander of His enemies. This King, in this battle, could not resort to using the weapons of the enemy…hatred, malice, revenge, slander. These were part of the very evil He was to overthrow. He remained silent.

It almost seemed that Pilate was rubbing it in their faces, or teasing them when he asked them whether they wanted Barabbas, or the “King of the Jews.” Or was he convinced that he had found such a repulsive criminal in Barabbas…a murderer and a rebel…that they wouldn’t dare to choose him over their newly-spurned king? But they did the unbelievable. “A murderer they save; the Prince of Life they slay.” More evidence that what was at work in this battle against the King of the Jews was more than flesh and blood. A darker hatred and malice moved the people to despise such a King, who was unwilling even to silence their cries. Refusing to even name His crimes, the brazen cry of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” rose up to the King. And as men will when they fear the people, Pilate catered to the crowd’s wishes, rather than standing on principle to see that the innocent did not die. He chose what was politically expedient and popular with the crowd, rather than do what was right. Moses had written God’s command in Exodus that: “You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice” (Ex. 23:2). If justice is perverted, what protection do the innocent have? What of the innocent in our nation, who die because there is no justice?

The mockery of Jesus’ kingship accelerated with the sadistic glee of the soldiers, who robed Him in purple to “honor” His majesty. They crowned Him with thorns—a disgraceful crown to rule the Creation cursed with thorns. Adam’s labor was cursed with thorns and thistles, and this King came to break the curse. Made the object of humiliation, His temples were pierced with thorns, till His blood flowed for the healing of the nations. With a reed in His hand, a purple robe on His back, being spat upon and bowed to in mock homage, He was the image of a king of this cursed earth. With the curse of sin wrapped around His brow, and the jeering, spitting subjects, He seemed a weak and powerless king. He would not even struggle to defend Himself. His warfare was not yet ended, though His enemies pummeled Him with blows.

Finally the King was mounted on His throne, the cross. A jarring image of hate and torture, with hands and feet fixed to the beams. With the sign above His head, “King of the Jews,” who would worship this king? Who would see in this death, the cosmic victory that was swallowing up all this misery and hatred and sin and pain, into an unfathomable ocean of love? Who would see that as His life was poured out, that every mockery, accusation, and lie, every cruel word or action was being absorbed into a love so great, so cosmic, that even the devil was blind to it? By passively taking all the abuse and scorn, by becoming our sin, all evil was emptied against Jesus, the King of the Jews. But His love drowned it all. Yet for those dying moments when our sin wracked His body, when our guilt and shame caused His head to throb, He spoke the loneliest words that could ever be spoken.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God-forsaken. A word of emptiness and desolation. To be in a place where life is gone. Sorrow and loneliness are the only companions of the forsaken. And Jesus knew forsakenness as none other could—when God turned His face from the sin He bore in His body. Here the King was left with no companions, no fellows to fight with Him in this desolate battle. Unarmed and pinioned to the cross, He won this victory alone. And with a sharp cry, He exhaled His last breath, with death His victory was certain. Evil had spent it’s mighty force with unmatched fury against the King of the Jews, and it took it’s deadly toll. But by the power of His unconquerable life, He decisively dealt the death-blow to evil’s power over us. And from His cross, this King spoke peace to the nations.

And so it fell to a Roman centurion—a man familiar with warfare and undoubtedly witness to many such deaths by crucifixion—to proclaim the truly extraordinary character of this Jesus’ death. Perhaps the first hint that someone realized the cosmic significance of the battle that had taken place. So he preached, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” After three hours of unearthly darkness in the middle of the afternoon, during Jesus’ death—the light was starting to dawn on what had been done. Man was just beginning to perceive who had been crucified this day, and what power must be His. Three days would pass till this King would prove His power once and for all. Amen
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1. How does the change in mood from Lent and Holy Week, all the way through Good Friday, prepare us for Easter?
2. What pointed to Jesus’ kingship in the Scriptures, on Palm Sunday? On Good Friday?
3. What was the scale of the conflict into which Jesus entered? What was the method of His battle? How did it seem to the people?
4. Why did Jesus remain silent to His accusers? Read Isaiah 53.
5. What warning is there in this about perverting justice? How are we (and our leaders) tempted to do this today? See Exodus 23.
6. How was the cross the place where Jesus gained His glory? How was His kingship made evident there? What was different about His kingship?
7. How does Jesus identify with the “God-forsaken?” Read Psalm 22. What did His unparalleled forsakenness accomplish for us?

Sermon on Matthew 26:57-68 for Lent 6, "If you are the Christ, the Son of God..."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The 6th and final part of our sermon series on “Questions about Jesus they don’t want answered” is really as much a demand as it is a question. The high priest Caiaphas says, “I adjure you by the Living God, tells us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!” A man appointed to be the mediator between the people of Israel and God, used his office of high priest to thunder against the very Son of God. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Under the cover of darkness, the ruling council of the Sanhedrin convened, as Jesus had been betrayed and arrested at night. With unmasked intentions they pursue a way to put Him to death. The frustrating part was how to condemn an innocent man. There were no charges that could stick—so they gathered false witnesses that broke the 8th commandment to slander Him. Twisting His words, they claimed He was going to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days. What Jesus had actually said, was that if they were to destroy “this temple”, He would raise it again in three days. He was referring to the temple of His body, and how they would destroy it, but He would rise from the dead in three days (John 2:19-22). But rather than lash back with words, Jesus remained silent. Isaiah wrote, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth” (Is. 53:7).

Throughout the Gospels the persistent questioning of the Pharisees and chief priests had aimed at discovering the identity of Jesus, and whether He was the Christ, the Son of God. Though Jesus’ answers continually drew them to this conclusion, they refused to believe. Now He makes it unmistakable. When the high priest summoned all his authority and charged Jesus by oath to the Living God to tell them plainly if He was the Christ, the Son of God—Jesus answered: “You said it.” They thought they had offered Him every opportunity to deny it and to avoid the penalty of death for blasphemy, but to their dismay He confirms that it is as they say. He is the Christ, the Son of God. Now it is incontrovertible. In their rage they cannot bear to believe that this man is the Christ, the Son of God, and so they declare Him worthy of death.

The high priest was a man who was given the greatest honor to serve before God in the Temple, and was the highest religious authority among the Jews. He was to intercede before Israel for the sins of the people, and was dressed in the rich priestly garments that represented the holiness of the Lord (Ex. 28). He alone was given the privilege to enter the “Holy of Holies” once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to atone for the sins of the people. But here, Caiaphas, the high priest, dishonored his priestly office by thundering against the very Son of God. The high priest had surrendered his role as intercessor for the people, and become the accuser of the Son of God. He tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy!!!” If only he had recognized that Jesus was the True High Priest, who was now giving Himself up for death on their behalf! But Caiaphas failed to recognize in Jesus, the One who would permanently replace him as the High Priest. He failed to recognize the one who would clothe Zion’s priests with righteousness and salvation, so that the saints would shout for joy (Ps. 132:9, 16).

Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God—the One who is the True High Priest. He was not a priest from the tribe of Levi, or one of the descendants of Aaron, the first High Priest. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, which never served in the priesthood. But as the book of Hebrews states, He became a priest, not by legal requirement, but by the power of His indestructible life (Heb. 7:16). He is the Resurrection and the Life, so He alone could defeat death. This is His qualification for the eternal priesthood.

The Levite high priest Caiaphas was face to face with the True High Priest Jesus, who was from the greater priestly order of Melchizedek. And face to face, priest to priest, one stood accusing and condemning the only Son of God, while the other was silently interceding to God for the sins of His accuser. But Jesus, the True High Priest, was far superior. Since He was sinless, He had no need of making sacrifices for His own sin, in addition to those for the people. Rather He was sacrificed once for all our sins, to complete the sacrificial system permanently (Heb. 7:27). And unlike the priests that went before Him, including Caiaphas, Jesus would live forever to make intercession for the people. Even as they carried Him away to crucifixion and death, He would in three days return to life to continue His ongoing priestly intercession for us.

And how is He thanked? They spit in His face and struck Him with their fists! They struck Him and addressed Him in mock adoration, “Prophesy to us, O Christ! Who struck you?” Where did this hatred come from? “What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight” (LSB 430:4). Jesus said before that this would fulfill what had been written, “They hated me without cause” (John 15:24). But hatred is met with a wondrous love, the depth of which no heart has sounded (LSB 439:7). It is a marvel that they were not struck dead immediately when they spit on the Son of God, or struck His face. O God, why are we not struck dead when we strike You? Why are the angry slaps of our sin, not met with death?! What Divine Love that turns the other cheek!

It is for my sins that He here languishes in pain—all the wrath and woe that I merited, He inherited. Though it was not my hands that slapped Him or my mouth that spit on Him, He feels the hate and anger when I hurt a brother. He is wounded when my mouth speaks lies about another. He feels the spit on His face when my heart turns from God. Here my True High Priest, and yours, stands interceding for us—stands with open arms to those who mock Him and tell lies about Him. He the master, pays the debts His servants owe Him. Never was there love like this. Never was there grief like His. But this was His great joy as our True High Priest. Here He was interceding as God intended the priesthood to do.

So that we could be clothed with righteousness and salvation, He was stripped of everything. So that we could sing and shout for joy, He endured the greatest grief in silence. So that we sinful children might live in gladness, He died in sadness. But in His death on the cross, and His subsequent resurrection after three days, there was the greatest proof of His claim that He really was the Christ, the Son of God. His resurrection from the dead proved that He really was the Divine Son of God, and that God had vindicated Him of all guilt, that all the false charges of blasphemy were empty lies—and that He was who He said He was. And one day every eye will see Him at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.