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“Jesus, the Great Light,” Matthew 4:12-25

12Now when [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

   15“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

17From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

      18While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

      23And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

jesus-with-word-and-sacramentIn the Name of Jesus. Amen.

 “Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.”  “The Light no darkness can overcome” (Evening Prayer, Lutheran Service Book, p243, based on John 8:12; 1:5)

These words which begin the liturgy for Evening Prayer apply here and now just as much as the words from St. Matthew’s Gospel now apply.  Isaiah the prophet, writing hundreds of years earlier by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, prophesied of the Light which was to come (Isaiah 9:1-2).  That Light was Christ.  That Light is Christ.

Jesus had left Nazareth to live in the city of Capernaum, which just touched the Sea of Galilee on the Northwest side.  And there, “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadows of death, on them a light has dawned”.

There, in Capernaum, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, Jesus preached and taught and healed.

There, where Jesus did these things, where Jesus does these things, the Light does shine, for Christ is the Light, the true Light, “The true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world,” and “The light that no darkness can overcome” (John 1:9).

Where Christ is, there are His gracious gifts of live and salvation given—in Word, and water, and bread and wine.  There you can be sure that the Light is brightly shining, casting away sorrow and despair and instead, giving hope and courage.

Even should that Light appear dim, or hidden, it still shines.  This we know on account of God’s Holy Word.  His Word is true.  God is faithful to His promises.

Though your eyes not see, God works in real time through Jesus Christ, who has literally stepped into our world, taken all despondency, all worries, all despair, and all death, with Him to the cross.

Though when Jesus was on the cross there was darkness, that darkness did not remain.  There was that Easter morn, when Christ rose victoriously from the grave.

The light of Christ’s resurrection continues to shine forth.  It still shines brightly.

No darkness can overcome Christ, who Himself says, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).  There might be some who try, but even behind the clouds, the sun still shines, and shines ever the more brightly.

Even if there be rain or snow, even if the day be foggy and dreary, behind all that is the sun.

So also, in your days of dreariness or rain or snow, the S-O-N is still present.  He is still there keeping His Word, sustaining, preserving, and keeping a people for Himself through His Means of Grace, and giving confidence and joy in the blessed life and hope which is yours on account of His piercing through the darkness of your sin and overcoming it.

Your life now has meaning.  No more same old same old day in day out mediocre meaningless life, but the life of anticipation, joy, and rejoicing.

The Light of Christ still shines, and shines upon you.  “This is the day the Lord has made”, the Psalmist says, “We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

St. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

And our Lord Jesus Himself says, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Because Jesus has indeed overcome the world, done away with all that separates you from God, you have every reason not to fear God’s judgment and wrath.

If you have no reason to fear God’s judgment and wrath, you have no reason to fear what comes your way in the world, even suffering or death.

“Set your mind on things above,” St. Paul says, “not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:2-4).

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:31-34).

The joy which you have in Christ no one can take away.  You have God’s promise of life and salvation through His Son.

God demonstrated His love for you and to you in Jesus, His only begotten Son, who poured out His blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

These things must be so, for God has declared them.

Even if few believe that Christ died on the cross to save them from their sins or that only in Jesus does one have peace with God, unbelief doesn’t change the fact that Jesus has come.  (See Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer: 1st – 4th Petitions and meanings; Creed: Explanation to 3rd Article).

So also, even if few believe that the light of Christ still shines today where His Word is preached rightly and in truth and where His Sacraments are given according to their institution, unbelief doesn’t change the fact that Jesus does come where He promises to be.

Unbelief does not change what is true.

The truth that Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy when He came to dwell in Capernaum, in a real place and in real time in history, does not change if one disbelieves it.

We don’t add to, nor do we take away from, what is right and true.  We either believe it or we do not.

In like manner, we do not allow or permit God to do anything, as if we had the final word.  He does not walk with us or help us because we permit Him to.  He is God—the Creator.  We are human—His creation.  He is the One who acts.  We are only the recipients of what He deems to give.

As we take God at His Word, we receive His good pleasure.  Such is faith.  It does not say to God, “Here’s how it is or here’s how it will be,” but rather, “Your will be done.”

All who would have things in and by their own hands and fight against God’s Word and will certainly do not have God’s good pleasure—only His wrath and judgment, for this is to reject God’s grace and favor.

But to be done to by God, according to His Word, in the light of Christ—and only in the light of Christ—means nothing but blessing and good (i.e. Psalm 32:1-2; Romans 4:7-8).

The Gospel text before us demonstrates this.

The people who sat in darkness and those who sat in the region and shadow of death did not suddenly decide to turn the light switch on and have Christ come to them.  They were done to. They saw a great light because that light came from outside of them, not from within them to do anything.  On them the Light had dawned.

In the same way, Christ comes to you, not because you ask Him too, but because of who He is, because He is the compassionate Son of God who seeks to save sinners, who seeks to save you.

 It is not the world who first loved God.  It is God who first loved the world (1 John 4:19).

The world still does not love God—nor His Son.  The world speaks against Him, denies Him, and persecutes His dear children.  The world refuses to hear the truth but will hear everything else.

Yet, God still loves the world (John 3:16), not because of what the world does, but because of who He is, because God is the God of love, the God of love (1 John 4:7, 10) who does not turn a blind eye to sin or look the other way, but the God who sends His only Son to give Himself in sacrifice to save those who cannot save themselves.

It is not you who first loved God.  It is He who first loved you (1 John 4:19).

It is not you who first chose Him.  He, rather, first chose you.

By nature, we do not and cannot fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Because of our sinful condition, we, of ourselves, cannot please God.

But the Good News is this, that God’s Son is the One who pleases His Father in everything.  And because Jesus is pleasing to the Father, through Him, you are pleasing to the Father.

Jesus is the One who disperses your darkness.  No more is the fear of eternal death over your heads.  No more do you need to fear the darkness of death nor the shadows of your sin.  Christ, your Light, is come.  Christ, your Light, does come.  He comes feeding you with His Holy Word.

“Man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew/Luke 4:4).

Jesus Christ is that bread, the true bread from heaven.

Jesus is the Word, the Word made flesh who was with God in the beginning and who is Himself God (John 1:1ff).

You need not fear God because of your sin, your guilt, or your shame. All these were put on Christ. They no more can harm you.  They cannot change how God is toward you, your dear heavenly Father, because through Jesus, God declares you holy and without sin.  The Father now accepts you—because of Christ.

As Christ is the Light of the world, and the Light no darkness can overcome, as Christ is your Light, so it is by His Light that you walk.

The Word of the Lord, says the Psalmist, “Is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Again, the Psalmist says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear.  The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).

With the Psalmist, so also do we too declare these things to be so.

By God’s Word you do know the way.  By His Word and His Word alone you seek to walk, not in darkness, but in the light, even the Light of Christ.

All Scripture testifies and bears witness to Jesus your Savior.

As you are His, so do you seek to do.

You confess the Lord Jesus to be Savior, your Savior.  You speak and hallow His Name. You speak the truth.  And you are not ashamed.  Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasPrayer: Lord Jesus, be the light of my life.  Give me faith to believe Your Promises each and every moment of each and every day, that I be sure of Your faithfulness according to Your Holy Word. Amen.

God is the God of the Living, Luke 20:27-40

27 Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 28 saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 “Now there were seven brothers. And the first took a wife, and died without children. 30 “And the second took her as wife, and he died childless. 31 “Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died. 32 “Last of all the woman died also. 33 “Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become? For all seven had her as wife.” 34 And Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 “But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 “nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 “But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord `the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 “For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.” 40 But after that they dared not question Him anymore.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

In St. Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians, today’s Epistle, we hear the emphasis of what was to be in time to come.

“Now…concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thess. 2:1-2).

In today’s Gospel, we hear reference to Exodus chapter three, what is now.

“Even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’” (v37).

The context is this-In today’s Gospel, the Sadducees, a group of religious leaders in the Jewish community of Jesus’ day, tried to trick him.

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, nor angels or spirit (Acts 23:8).

They assumed that Jesus would have no plausible defense to give.

They were wrong!

More than simply disproving them, Jesus reveals their false teaching and their unbelief in a doctrine which is found throughout Scripture.

Of this teaching, Jesus testifies, using text with which they were familiar.  This doctrine of which we speak is the doctrine of the resurrection, the very doctrine that the Sadducees disbelieved and the very doctrine which today still has opposition.

Usually when we think of the doctrine of the resurrection, we rightly consider the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead on the third day.

Of this resurrection, Jesus Himself testified to before He died, and proved His Words to be true in rising from the dead, showing His hands and His side to His disciples, eating food in their midst, and ascending into heaven.

Of this resurrection of our Lord, Peter and John, and the other disciples, now apostles, and later Paul himself bore witness of, so that even the rulers of the people, “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John,” for example, “and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

The message of the early church immediately following the ascension of Christ into heaven was His resurrection from the dead.

St. Paul writes, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.   And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.   Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up — if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.   And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!   Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.   If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.   But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.   For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.   For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.   But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:13-23).

This same message that death did not hold Christ is also your own, for by it do you have the hope of eternal life.

Sin was put to death on Christ’s cross.

There, on that cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

He completed all the work that was needing to be done for your salvation (John 19:30).

There, on that cross, Jesus paid the debt of your sin in full.

To demonstrate that death has no more dominion over Him, or over you, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.

Through His death and resurrection, God gives you certainty of sins forgiven, the certainty that just as Christ rose from the dead, so shall you.

When we think of resurrection in the New Testament, we most certainly consider Christ’s resurrection, from whose resurrection we have the confidence of our own resurrection on the Last day.

Other resurrections, too, we find in the New Testament, which all point to Him who has power over death and the grave and through whom we too have the victory, through faith (1 John 5:4).

We might think of Jairus’ daughter, whom Jesus spoke to and said, “‘Little girl, arise.’   Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given something to eat” (Luke 8:54-55).

We might think of the account where Jesus “Went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd.   And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her.   When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’   Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’  So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.   Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God” (Luke 7:11-16).

We also might think of the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, even after Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, where “Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.   And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’”  The text goes on and says, “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’   And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’” (John 11:41-44).

St. Matthew also records the account of dead saints being raised from the dead following the death of Christ on the cross and appearing to many (Matthew 27:52-53).

Indeed, we rightly look to the New Testament to find the doctrine of the resurrection, the bodies of the deceased rising from the dead.

Also do we find this truth revealed in the Old Testament, too, for the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament.

The prophets Elijah and then Elisha both were used of God as instruments through whom God resurrected the dead.

Through Elijah, God returned life to a widow’s son who had died, of whom Elijah gave to his mother and said, “See, your son lives.  Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth’” (1 Kings 17:23-24).

Elisha also was used of God to raise a dead boy again to life again (2 Kings 4:87-37, Son of a Shunammite woman).

There is also the account of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, where Ezekiel writes, “The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.   Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry.   And He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ So I answered, ‘O Lord GOD, You know.’   Again He said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!’   ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.   I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.’” (Ezekiel 37:1-6).  What the Lord had told Ezekiel to do, He did, and because there is power in the Word of God, those very things came to pass.

These accounts in the Old Testament testify to the resurrection in the Old Testament.

But there’s more.

The Sadducees in today’s Gospel reading challenged Jesus using what Moses had written in the book of Deuteronomy about a brother marrying his brother’s widow should his brother die.

Hear the account as recorded in Deuteronomy 25, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.   And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

The Sadducees attempted to give a hypothetical situation of seven brothers having had the same wife, based on these words of Moses, to discredit Jesus.

They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead and they thought that they had Him.

They didn’t.

The Sadducees, by saying what they said, only demonstrated their ignorance of “the Scriptures” and “the power of God” (Matthew 22:29 || Mark 12:24).

God had instituted the estate of marriage between man and woman after creating Adam and Eve, for He says, “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

In the resurrection, Jesus says, there will not be marriage nor will there be any given in marriage.

Those who attain to the resurrection of the just are like the angels.

Note, however, that Jesus does not say that they become angels, as is falsely believed today.

We don’t become angels when we die.  We don’t get wings either.

Rather will we have bodies untainted by sin, without the aches and pains of aging, and glorified bodies with no pre-existent conditions with which to be concerned.

Also, to note concerning Jesus’ answer to the deluded Sadducees is the clear reference He makes to Moses and the burning bush.

Even in the second book of the Old Testament, the book of Exodus, there is reference to the resurrection, as we heard in today’s Old Testament reading, where it is written that “Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “ God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:13-15).

God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  This must mean that, though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are no more living in flesh and blood on this earth, still are they living, for God is their God.

This is what it means when we speak of the saints who are now with the Lord.

They are living, for God is the God of the living, not of the dead.

In Christ, we await the blessed consummation of the ages, when we in the flesh will join the deceased at the joyous feast of the Lord in all eternity.

When we speak of saints who are now with the Lord, we do not mean all people who have died, for the Holy Scriptures are very clear in making distinctions between believers and unbelievers, and those who have the sure hope of everlasting life from those who do not.

Saints are they who died in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The difference between them and us is this: their struggle with sin and death are over; ours still goes on.

They stand in the Lord’s presence face to face; we, not yet.

We yet undergo trial and affliction in this life.  They do not, but are completely at rest and at peace, awaiting the resurrection of their bodies from the grave.

The saints above and we saints below join together as the community of God’s Holy people in praise and glory to God most High.

God is the God of the saints above, and the God of us who are yet here in the flesh.

Their present joy is your future hope.

Heaven is your true home, not a house built by human hand, but the glorious abode prepared for those who trust in Jesus, who is “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

The words of Job which are the basis of that tried and tested hymn of the Christian faith concerning the resurrection are also your own, “I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27).

We confess these words with Job and we know them to be true because of He who died on Calvary and was raised on the third day.

You know that in Him, God forgives your sins and that you no longer are under God’s judgment, but rather do you have His grace and mercy, through Christ Jesus our Lord.

You have no need to fear God’s wrath, that wrath being taken away in Jesus.

In Jesus, you know that God is the God of the living, the living One, and your God, who keeps His Word and fulfills His promises.

The God of the living will keep you and sustain you a people unto Himself.

He will not leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

He will not leave you as orphans (John 14:18).

To Him you live, for He gives you life, that you remain in Him.

His Word is effective; His love-abundant; His mercy, abounding; His mercy, given, in His Son; Yours. Amen.

 

Prayer: Your Holy Word, O Lord, is effective and true. Give me faith to believe this of all Holy Scripture, that I believe Jesus to be the Christ and have the certainty of the resurrection unto eternal life. Amen.

 

 

“Jesus, the Lamb of God,” John 1:29-42

 

29The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

      35The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42He brought him to Jesus.  

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus-Abraham1 The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). 2 He alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all” (Isa. 53:6). 3 Moreover, “all have sinned,” and “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood” (Rom. 3:23-25).

4 Inasmuch as this must be believed and cannot be obtained or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that such faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says in Romans 3, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom. 3:28), and again, “that he [God] himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

5 Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised,6 even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed. For as St. Peter says, “There is no (tr-463) other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “And with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). (Smalcald Articles, Part II,  Article I. Christ and Faith)

About 70 hymns in our hymnal use the word “Lamb” in one or more verses, and more often than not, lamb refers, not to a child of God, but to Jesus.

Take for instance the hymn entitled, “The Lamb,” often sung during the season of Lent (and in the section entitled, “Redeemer,” LSB 547).  The first verse alone is pregnant with meaning, and quite related to today’s Gospel:

            The Lamb, the Lamb, O Father, where’s the sacrifice?

            Faith sees, believes God will provide the Lamb of price!

In the book of Genesis, Moses records the account of Abraham, whom God commanded to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac.  Abraham, in obedience to the Lord’s Word, sets out to do just this.  But just as Abraham is about to sacrifice his only son, whom he loves, the Lord stops him, and provides a substitute sacrifice, and Abraham called the name of the place, “The Lord will provide” (Genesis 22).  “God will provide the Lamb of price!”

The hymn, “The Lamb” is just one example of many where the word lamb refers to none other than Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Do a search in the hymnal on the phrase, “Lamb of God,” and you find about 25 times that this phrase is used.

Significantly, all of the references to “Lamb of God” in these hymns are of Christ.

The hymn, “When All the World Was Cursed,” an Advent hymn, is such a hymn (LSB 346).  The third verse of this meaningful hymn reads:

            Behold the Lamb of God That bears the world’s transgression,

            Whose sacrifice removes The devil’s dread oppression.

            Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away our sin,

            Who for our peace and joy Will full atonement win.

In a number of our hymns, we confess Christ as the Lamb of God.  Of this we need not be ashamed or hesitant, for Christ, by means of His death, has indeed done so.

There is another place in the hymnal that we confess and sing praise to the Lamb.  That place is the liturgy, even in today’s, where we sing the “Agnus Dei,” Latin for “Lamb of God.”

Based on John 1:29, St. John’s words about Jesus in today’s text, the Agnus Dei which we sing in our communion liturgies is of Christ, “that takest away the sin of the world—have mercy upon us” (LSB DS III, 198).  Here we also pray for the peace of Christ, that which we are not able to live without.

With this song of praise and acclamation of Christ and what He has truly done, we also note the location of such words in our liturgies.  We do not sing the Agnus Dei when Holy Communion is not offered.  But when it is, we certainly do.  The Agnus Dei is sung just after the Words of Institution and the Pax Domini, the Peace, and before the Distribution of Christ’s very body and blood (i.e. see LSB DS III, 197-199).

This is meant to say something.  By it, like John the Baptist, we declare the truth that Christ is truly and really present among us, and for us, in the Sacrament, according to His Word, according to His promise, “This is My Body…This is My Blood…Given for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Christ really and truly is present for you, forgiving you your sins and having mercy on you, even granting you peace.

And how do you know this?  Not at all because you see it, feel it, or sense it—but because of the Word of God which makes it known.

This Word is your certainty, and your reason for believing, for it is not the word of man, but the very Word of God.

Sight fades.  Feelings come and go.  Senses mislead.  But not our Lord!  Not His Word.

The words of our Lord are your confidence and foundation, your stand against all the naysayers and disbelievers.  Here, too, you are to know that not man’s word, but God’s Word, is and remains.

It is the Word of the Lord that John the Baptist proclaimed when he said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  God had made it clear to John that this Jesus was the Son of God (John 1:34)—in the flesh—the Messiah to come—the Lamb of God.

Of This Servant of the Lord, Isaiah the prophet writes,

“Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.  He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation?  For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken” (Isaiah 53:4-8).

The Lord’s Servant of whom Isaiah speaks is Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God.  The prophet writes of Him.  John declared Him.  This is He whom we sing and confess to be our Savior and the Savior of the world.

This Jesus, God’s Servant, is the Lamb of God who bears all your guilt, all your sin, and all your iniquity.  This Jesus is your Savior.  He is your Savior because by His sacrifice on the cross, the Lord has provided your peace with God.  In Jesus IS your peace with God.

Being in the world, Christ also died for you, for you are in the world.  None are excluded from His glorious and salvific work.  Your sin is not too great nor your works too evil, for Christ died for all.  Nor are your sins little before the just judge.  They merit your eternal death.  But this is just what makes Jesus’ work so kind and giving.  He dies that you might live.  He becomes the sinner that you might be the saint.  He becomes unclean that you might be nothing but clean and holy.

There is one Savior, and one Savior only.  It is He who redeemed you, not “with corruptible things, like silver or gold…but with His precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot,” as St. Peter writes, and as we confess in the 2nd Article of the Apostles’ Creed.

This Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, has taken away all your sin.  This means that your sin is no longer yours.  Believe Him to be your Savior and so He is, for so He says.  Look for another to save you and your sin will remain on you.

If you bear your own sin, you will die in it.  But if Christ bears your sin, you will live.

Jesus came in order that you live, therefore, in Him, you do.

Therefore, writes Luther, “May you ever cherish and treasure this thought. Christ is made a servant of sin, yea, a bearer of sin, and the lowliest and most despised person. He destroys all sin by Himself and says: “I came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). There is no greater bondage than that of sin; and there is no greater service than that displayed by the Son of God, who becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised they may be, and bears their sins.[1]

Thus do we gladly, and joyfully, as John did, look to Christ, and find Jesus alone to be our Lord and Savior, encouraging one another in this truth—in Word, in Hymn, in Liturgy, and in Life. Amen.

 

[1]Martin Luther, vol. 22, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1957), 22:166.

 

Prayer: Dear Jesus, give me faith to believe that you take away all my sins, according to Your Holy Word. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Be still, and know that I am God…

10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.”

(Ps. 46:10-11 NKJ)

 

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

Such words of our Lord bespeak what we of ourselves are unable to do.

Our Lord says, “Do no be anxious.” We worry.

He says, “Do not worry.” We are anxious.

Over what we cannot see, we trouble and fret.

We want to have control, have a hand in the outcome, consequences we consider to be of benefit to us.

Our Lord calls us to a different way, one of faith, trust in the Lord’s Word, confidence in the Lord’s doing and in His ways.

Only the Lord Himself can bring such a change, that we begin to see things His way, not our own.

This the Lord does, by means of His own Word, through which He gives faith and confidence and trust in the Lord’s gracious and kind acts, on account of Him of Whom the Father sent “when the fullness of time had come,” Who was born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem” us from our sins.

Therefore, we, as God’s people, rest in the Lord, believing that He is God of gods, King of kings, Lord of lords.

So resting, we wait upon the Lord, are confident in His promises, trust His mercies, live by faith, seeking all the more to please God by what we say, do, and believe, according to His Word, through which He reveals Christ. Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, lead us to rest fully in You, trusting in Your Word alone, believing Your Son, our Savior, for the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.  Keep us from pride and arrogance in our own ways.  Bring us to humbly approach Your throne of grace, calling to You in every need, ready to receive Your undeserved kindnesses, for which we give You praise and thanks. Amen.

 

The Baptism of our Lord, Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The text before us is a text is a most amazing text. Jesus, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made,” this same Jesus came to John the Baptist for the purpose of being baptized by him in the Jordan river (Nicene Creed).

This is a most strange, yet wonderful, doing of our Lord.

It is most strange because John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).

John the Baptist preached the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:1).

Those who came to John to be baptized by him were repentant, that is, they were sorry for their sins.

They came confessing their sins, for they were sinners.

John’s preaching of repentance was a call to turn from unbelief to belief in the Lord and His word and promises.

This is what is strange about Jesus coming to John the Baptist to be baptized by him—Jesus had nothing to repent of.

Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).  He had no need for forgiveness, for remission of sins, or for pardon.  Jesus had no sins to confess that were His own.  He was complete, whole, and without blemish.

It was not Jesus who needed forgiveness.  It was John himself and all who came to him who needed redemption, everyone else but Jesus.

For this reason, we might be able to understand John’s hesitation to baptize Jesus and why he said what he did when he said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

John knew and understood that Jesus was upright.  He recognized that Jesus was mightier, the greater, the Righteous (Matthew 3:11; John 3:30).

John understood that his baptizing was a baptism of repentance, a baptism for sinners.  Jesus was not a sinner.

Jesus needed no baptism.

This was the dilemma for John.

Jesus coming to him to be baptized by him did not make sense.

This is that strange thing concerning the text—Jesus, a non-sinner, comes to John to be baptized by him who baptizes sinners.

Fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness

As strange and incredible as Jesus coming to John to be baptized by him is, his coming to John to be baptized by him is also the wonderful doing of our Lord.

Jesus came to John to be baptized by him, not because He, that is, Jesus, had any sin of His person or because of anything that He had done wrong, did do wrong, or would do wrong.

 Jesus remained as sinless before His baptism as after His baptism.

Rather, Jesus came to John to be baptized by him because by doing so, He identified Himself with sinners and as a sinner, really, not only as “a” sinner, but “the” sinner.

By undergoing a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, Jesus identified Himself as THE ONE on whom all sin would rest—THE ONE on whom God’s judgment would rest—THE ONE who would stand in the place of a sinful people and be THE substitute for sinners, both in suffering their judgment for their sin and for fulfilling all righteousness by keeping God’s Law.

Jesus would be the one, who with John, would fulfill all righteousness: John, by baptizing Jesus; and Jesus, by being baptized by John as a sinner, though He knew no sin, even as St. Paul testifies, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

On the cross of Calvary, Jesus paid for your sins and mine.

By His being baptized, Jesus identified Himself as your substitute, even your righteousness, before God.

Jesus did not need to be baptized for Himself.

He had no sin for which to give answer.

However, for you was He baptized, that you not rest on your own doings for salvation, but on Him—and on Him alone—that you rest your hope and confidence in Christ and none other.

God the Father also testifies to this, for the voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

If Jesus’ baptism had not pleased the Father, the Father would not have said what He had said.

Nor would the Spirit have descended and rested upon Jesus.

The events of that day give evidence to God’s approval of His Son, and the approval of His work—a sin bearer and Savior for all of mankind.

John permitted Jesus to be baptized by him

John humbly consented to baptizing Jesus.

He did not refuse Jesus his request.

John did not resist Jesus’ Word because he didn’t understand it.

He simply let the Word of the Lord take the lead.

He permitted to be what the Lord had spoken.

Even though John was less than Jesus and Jesus the greater, John abided by the Word of the Lord, and, filling his office, he did according to the Word that the Lord gave Him to do.

This is no small thing.

It is the work of God that the sinner give in to God’s Word, believe it, and do it.

This is not the work of sinful man, but the grace of God to believe, even should one not know the reason for doing so—except that God say it.

Initially, John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized.  But at the Lord’s Word, he let it be.

This is what the Lord’s disciples do.

They let God’s Word be as it is—God’s Word—without equivocation, without misrepresentation, without falsification, and without reinterpretation.

They permit God’s Word to speak as it is, and on that alone do they rest their case, believe, and do.

The heaven’s opened—Jesus, the Spirit (as a dove), the Father (voice)—The Holy Trinity—The words of the Father–This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased

And then what do we see?

John permits Jesus to be baptized.

Jesus, so humbly, is baptized by the baptizer.  And the heavens are opened.  The Holy Spirit descends as a dove and rests upon Jesus.  There is a voice from the opened heaven.  And the voice of the Heavenly Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

What else can this mean but that Jesus is the one with whom the Father is well pleased?

What else can this mean but that Jesus, the one who “numbered” Himself “with the transgressors and…bore the sin of many,” who later “poured out His soul unto death, even the death of the cross” (Isaiah 53:12; Philippians 2:8) is your Savior, Redeemer, and deliverer from sin, death, and hell?

What else can these words of the Father about His Son mean than that in Jesus, you too, are well pleasing to the Father?

Christ, serving as your substitute, as the sinner of all sinners, means that all your sin is off you and on Him.

If your sin be on Him, your sin is not on you.

Therefore, that sin, your sin, is no more your judgement, for in Christ, that judgment is no more.

“He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:26-28), even your sins.

“He redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

All this means that the Father’s words about His Son now also apply to you—because of Jesus.

Because the Father is pleased with His beloved Son, and that Son fulfilled all righteousness and put to death your sins on the cross that they be no more, the Father is now pleased with you on account of Jesus.

No more trying to impress God or earn His favor!

Only believe Jesus, your Advocate (1 John 2:1) and Mediator (1 Timothy 2:4), and you have a gracious God.

Like John, permit this to be so.

Suffer the words of Jesus and the words of the Father.

Remember your Baptism, for as Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4, epistle).

Since both Jesus and the Father looked highly upon the baptism of Jesus, so also are you to look upon Christ’s baptism for you, and even your own baptism, for you were baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

God’s Name is no Name to minimize—it is the only Name to regard as High and mighty.

That Name is on you through water and Word.

Should you ever wonder God’s disposition towards you, should you ever doubt God’s favor upon you, should you ever be uncertain that your sins are forgiven, or should you ever find yourself questioning whether your sin is too great for God to forgive, look to Christ.

Hold fast to Christ’s Word, “You are forgiven.”

Be bold to say, “God’s own child I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ,” for so you are.

Through Baptism, God calls you His own.  You are His.

Also be bold to say, “Christ was baptized for me,” for so He was.

This is just the kind of Savior that you have in Jesus, One who truly saves, in whom you can say with certainty, “I am His, and He is mine.”  Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, in Holy Baptism, You made me Your own through water and Word.  Help me not to despise this, Your work, claiming it as my own, but to believe in your grace and favor to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

The Epiphany of our Lord, Matthew 2:1-12

1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

   6“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

      7Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

What is of God is revelatory, supernatural, and freely given.

What is of man is worldly, of the earth, and sought by man to be taken.

In today’s Gospel, that of the Epiphany of our Lord,

we see God at work for His own purposes, leading those of another nation, those living in the land of another religion, to the very Child come into the world to save it by means of His sacrificial death.

In distinction from God’s purposes, revealed by Him in Holy Scripture, we see the sinfulness of self-seeking selfishness pursuing its own gain, that of Herod the king.

Of God is the star, the same star through which the wise men came to be aware of the location of a king’s birth.

Concerning those wise men, we know very little.  Of their number, we are uncertain.  There could have been three.  There could have been more, or less.  We don’t know.

We do know the number of their treasures given to the King of kings, as the Bible tells us.

In addition, we know that according to the text, Jesus and His father and mother no longer were in the inn, but in a house.  Our Lord was no longer in the manger when the wise men honored Him.

The birth of our Lord and the Epiphany of our Lord are truly distinct events, and quite proper to distinguish.

We also know that the wise men were not of the house of Israel.  They were not Jews. They were of an unbelieving population.

Yet, these men were the same who were looking for the King of the Jews, being led by a star.

It is God who “created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1 NKJ).

It is God who had said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years;  and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.  Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.  God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:14 NKJ).

God as Creator does as He will.  He commands His creation, having full authority over it.

The reason why He does what He does we cannot know with certainty, unless He make such things known.

God’s hidden will remains hidden.

What He would have us know, He makes known in His Holy Word, the Bible.

Concerning that star referenced in the text, that same text indicates the star’s purpose—to lead the wise men to where the Christ Child was.

Thus, had the star “Come to rest over the place where the child was” (v9).

That God could do such a thing should not surprise.

As the Lord reveals, so it is.

We do not have command over wind and sea. God does.

We do not have control over every outcome, let alone God’s creation and the heavens. God does.

We do not have authority over life and death, over truth, or over what is and over what will be. God does.

As the heaven and the earth and everything in them remain in God’s hands, because of Christ, we know and believe that we remain in God’s good stead.

As we seek to wrestle the things of God into our own hands and strive to reason the will of God apart from the Word, we pursue what is not given and rebel against the Lord.

That which is God’s is God’s, and His prerogative, not yours.

That which is according to your own sphere and ability is that which the Lord has given you.

Having been led by the star, the wise men came to Jerusalem.  But the wise men were not to find the child there. They were to find the child elsewhere.

The Word alone would reveal this, as written by the prophet, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (v5, 6).

In hearing these words and following the narrative, we might gloss over them to give attention to Herod’s secretive summons of the wise men.  But to do so would be to omit a key element of the visitation of the wise men to the Lord’s Christ on this blessed day of Epiphany.

As the New Testament is not an isolated work unto itself, so the prophecy of Micah (5:2) and Ezekiel (34:23) find their Old Testament fulfillment of that “Ruler” and “Shepherd” to come (v6), in Jesus!

The Bible is a whole, the revelation of Christ to come and the appearance of that Christ who came and who will return in all His glory.

Now, the Lord’s presence remains hidden, but according to His Word.

Even when Christ was born, with the company of angelic hosts, only a few shepherds came to greet the Savior of the World.

Simeon and Anna later testified of the Lord’s Christ, even as He was several weeks old.

But the world was oblivious of Who had finally come into the world, as foretold in the Sacred Scriptures.

Yet, the prophets testified of this One, the One who remained hidden to so many, the One who remains hidden to so many still, because they will not have Him according to His Word.

Like the chief priests and scribes who claimed to know the Old Testament Scriptures and reported the same to King Herod, so today, many claim to know the Bible, but do not seek the Lord where He is to be found.

Instead, they seek the Lord only where they think that He ought to be, or where they want Him to be and not where He promises to be.

You don’t find Him according to appearances and perceptions, but according to the Word.

Just as the wise men had not testified of the star’s direction based on emotion, so we do not place confidence in how we might feel on a given day as to know the Lord’s will toward us.

Rather, we have certainty by means of what the Lord says.

Any signs accompanying such Word of the Lord, and in full agreement, bear the marks of God’s testimony.

Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are such signs.

Having the Word attached, these signs testify of God’s grace and forgiveness, won by Christ, for you.

If with these signs we went by appearance or our limited perception alone, we would be troubled as to whether these were the real thing as God declares, or likely consider true worthiness to partake to be somehow dependent on ourselves, on something from within, subjectively, in contrast to something from without, objectively.

If we thought ourselves, of ourselves, worthy to receive such great gifts, we would be deceiving ourselves and bring God’s judgment.

On the other hand, apart from God’s command and promise, our unworthiness would keep us from receiving such great gifts of life and salvation that God freely gives.

If we went by appearance alone, we would place greater confidence in the things of this world and our sinful nature rather than the sure Word of truth.

Unbelief entices away from the truth and dismisses it, as exampled by the chief priests and scribes, who knew the prophecy, but failed to pursue it, or, as in the case of Herod, he stealthily opposed it.

King Herod maintained His rule ruthlessly, and with no mercy.

Herod was the one who had those two-year-old boys and under slaughtered in Bethlehem.

This was Herod’s way to deal with threats.

He was concerned for his self-established kingdom, and nothing would get in his way.

The Lord, however, in great contrast, establishes His Kingdom, not by force, not by bitter rule, not by oppression, but in lowliness, humility, and liberty.

By means of His own death, Jesus overcame death and the grave.

“The Son has set you free” (John 8:36), not that you be more greatly burdened by your own sin and its weight, the sin of others, or be burdened by the ever-greater weight of keeping the law by your own power.

“The Son has set you free” (John 8:36), that you be free from the hold of sin’s weight and condemnation and the burden of the Law, that you be free to serve Him, willingly, having His peace and the surety of His salvation.Unlike Herod, who tried to hold on tightly to what he thought he had of himself, the Lord Jesus sacrificed Himself, that His kingdom be and remain forever.

You are heirs of this Kingdom, through faith, as like the wise men, you listen and heed, not the words or the will of man, but the Word and will of God.

It is the Lord that leads the way.

The Lord led the wise men by star and Word.

As that star led them to where the Christ Child was, so also by means of sign and Word does the Lord direct you to where Christ is—for you, not in king’s palaces and that which is of man and the world, but in that which is despised and rejected by the world, what seems so common and ordinary.

He who then escaped death by the edge of the sword, submitted Himself to death by crucifixion.

What revelation this is(!), that God works in such ways, that we take Him, not as we think Him to be, but as He Himself is for us, and according to what He says—the Savior!

Herod would not be king, but that One born in Bethlehem, having been laid in a manger.  This One, Jesus the Christ, rules and shepherds His people Israel, still. Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, lead me always by Your Holy Word, that I confidently believe in Christ as the One Whom You sent to save me from my sin. Amen.

 

 

Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Luke 2:21

 

21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

2019 was a dynamic year, and much has happened since its beginning last January.

From politics, broadly, to personal, individually, this year has been one of change, and also sameness.

As Christians, it is good to reflect on the past year, even as we move forward, recognizing God’s work among us.

It is also good, “meet, right, and salutary,” to reflect on the words and doings of our Lord as revealed in Holy Scripture.

Tonight, we want to consider eight days after our Lord’s birth to the Virgin Mary, the day of His circumcision and Naming.

We also want to consider the establishment of God’s covenant of circumcision with His people of Old, and God’s work among us, still today, not of circumcision, but according to His Word and promise.

Eight days after the birth of the Lord Jesus into the world, Jesus was circumcised.

In our day, circumcision is of little religious significance to us Christians on account of Christ.  But to the more immediate descendants of Abraham, to whom God gave such a covenant, circumcision was a “big deal.”

To refuse circumcision was to reject God’s promise and to demonstrate unbelief.

Circumcision, for us, does not have such a meaning.

Christians today generally view circumcision as a means of hygiene, not as a religious observance.

We can choose to circumcise or not to circumcise, not as a means of being in or out of the covenant with the Most High, but as a means of exercising our Christian freedom.

We are not bound to the ceremonial laws and institutions of the Old Testament as the people of the Old Covenant were.

Because of Christ and His work, we are no longer obligated to keep the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, like circumcision, the sacrificial system, keeping the Sabbath day, the priesthood, and the like, as St. Paul declares.

“Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:16).

For Abraham and his descendants until the time of Christ, circumcision was the sign of the covenant, given by God—to Abraham—by which God pledged His faithfulness to His people, for the sake of His people.

Circumcision was not Abraham choosing God.  Nor was circumcision primarily an act of obedience of Abraham to God, as if Abraham worked His way into God’s covenant by performing the rite of circumcision.

It was in Genesis 17 that God established this sign and pledge to Abraham, not for God’s sake, but for Abraham’s, and his descendants, that they might believe God’s Word.

In that account, God said to Abraham, “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;  and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations” (Genesis 17:10-12).

God institutes the covenant.

Abraham only receives what the Lord gives, as do we, and the receiving of what the Lord gives is faith in what the Lord gives according to His Word.

Abraham had no worthiness of himself by which he could claim anything before God.

Instead, humbly claiming only what the Lord said, and believing it, Abraham heeded the Word of the Lord and “took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him” (Genesis 17:23).

Abraham wasted no time in fulfilling the Lord’s Word.

Such was His faith.

But more than this, such was the Lord’s Word and promise.

As a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham, circumcision did not establish God’s mercy and faithfulness.

Rather, in the words of St. Paul the apostle, circumcision was “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he” (That is, Abraham) “had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11-12).

Abraham was good in God’s eyes and had God’s favor before the covenant of circumcision.

Before being circumcised, Abraham already believed, as recorded in Genesis 15, “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

This believing concerned God’s promise of many descendants, even when Abraham at that time had none.

Such limitations on our part are not limitations of God.

What we are unable to see because of unbelief, God reveals according to His Word.

This we believe, and believing according to the Lord’s Word, we, too, stand before God as righteous.

So, what does circumcision have to do with Jesus?

According to the covenant that God had given to Abraham, all males of the people of God were to be circumcised at the age of eight days old.

As a descendant of Abraham, from “the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), Jesus was to be circumcised.

Unlike the males before and after Him, however, Jesus did not need this sign of the covenant.

Jesus, God in the flesh, is in no need of God’s pledge of the Holy One to come, because Jesus IS that Holy One promised to Abraham through whom all nations would be blessed (Genesis 22:18; 26:4To Isaac; Acts 3:25).

Jesus is that One, that “Seed of the Woman” (Genesis 3:15) who would, and did, crush the serpent’s head, conquering death by means of His own death on the cross, “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and who was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25).

In being circumcised, Jesus demonstrated His obedience under the Law, not apart from you, but for you.

As the Holy One, Jesus became the sinner that you become the righteous.

The Lord God, in Jesus, fulfilled the Law and the Prophets in your stead.

In Him, you see your salvation.

Because Jesus is your salvation, you are no longer under the covenant of circumcision.  God has given you a new sign—the sign of Holy Baptism.

“In” Jesus, writes Paul, “you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.  And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:11-14).

In today’s Epistle reading, St. Paul reminds us what faith in Jesus and Holy Baptism means when he writes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:23-39).

Because of Christ, circumcision as God’s covenant is obsolete.  Christ having come means that we are no longer under the Old Covenant, but under the New, which Christ has now ushered in.  Life as God’s children is not about do’s and dont’s, as many assume it to be.

Being a Christian is about believing in the One whom God sent.

Such believing in the One whom God sent is also believing according to the very Word of our Lord.

This is what Abraham did.

This is what the descendants of Abraham do.

They desire to live, not by sight, but by faith, by faith in the promises of God.

They do not trust in themselves or in what might be, but have confidence in what the Lord has said, and rejoice in all that the Lord gives.

They look back on the previous year and the times before and find comfort in the Lord’s forgiveness and in His mercy.

For what is new and forthcoming, they seek the Lord’s will, leaving whatever may be in the Lord’s hands and entrust themselves into God’s gracious care and keeping.

They do this because they know that the present and the future do not rest on them, but on God alone.  As the Lord’s children, their life is not their own.  They are the Lord’s, as are you.

You’ve been given a name, a new name, that of Christian, bearing the Name of Christ.

Your life is no longer your own.

In the waters of Holy Baptism, you received your new identity, where God placed his Holy Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, upon you.

This means something.

Named of God, His Name upon you, you are His.

As a beloved child, as an heir of God’s eternal kingdom, all God’s blessings are yours.

They are yours to eternity.

Nothing do you lack, today, tomorrow, or for the remainder of your life here on this earth.

What is Christ’s is yours, because all that was yours, all that separated you from God, your sin, is Christ’s, and on the cross, Jesus put them to death.

This new name of yours means that you are clean before God, holy and righteous in His sight.

The Name of Jesus, given to Him by His parents at His circumcision, means something.

It was the Name given by the angel of the Child before He was born.

That Name “Jesus” means Savior, and that is just who Jesus is.

It was the angel who had told Joseph that Jesus to be the name of the Child, because “He” will “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

This is what Jesus did on the cross when He died, not for the sinless, but for sinners.

If He hadn’t, you would still be in your sins and your faith in Christ would truly be in vain.

We would be, in fact, the most pitiable of all people (1 Corinthians 15:16-19).

“But now Christ is risen from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Jesus is who He says He is.

His circumcision and the Name given Him mean something.

They mean everything.

Jesus is your life and your salvation.

Because of Him, you have a new name.

You have life and salvation.

“Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This new year do not be troubled by doubt or anxious with uncertainty about what has been or what might or might not be.

Do not worry about what tomorrow will bring. Rest in the Lord Jesus.

Take comfort in His salvation and in the Name placed upon you.

Though stumble and fall you will, the Lord will uphold and sustain you.

God’s forgiveness in Christ is certain!

Tomorrow is a new day.  Tomorrow begins a New year.  Yet, in the Lord, every day, and everything, is new!  Amen.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me to remember my baptism, that is, Your Holy work of placing Your Holy Name upon me, that I live forevermore to you, believing your salvation through Christ my Lord. Amen.

 

 

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