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“Temptation,” Matthew 4:1-11

1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  JesusTempted74But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”  7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  9And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  10Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  11Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.  (Matthew 4:1-11, ESV)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

St. James, in his epistle, writes, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12)

The life of the Christian is a life lived under the cross, under the cross in faith to Christ, under the cross bearing what we are given to bear as Christians, as God’s people who are baptized into God’s Holy Name, as God’s people who look to Christ’s Second Coming and our eternal home.

While here on earth, we are on a pilgrimage, our final resting place being that of heaven, the place which awaits all who endure to the end in the true faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The faith of which we speak is not a blind faith or a faith which simply says that things will get better.

The Christian faith is not faith which looks for peace on earth or hopes to change the world.

Neither is the Christian faith a faith which seeks to escape all kinds of sufferings in the world.

The Christian faith is that faith which places trust in the Lord Jesus alone for help and salvation.

God does not promise that the world will get better.

Nor does He promise that the struggles and the challenges we face as Christians will lessen or lighten.

In truth, as the day of our Lord’s return draws closer, our Lord says, “In latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

Again, He says, “Know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

In certainty does our Lord Jesus say to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” But He also continues, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Like unto His disciples, the Lord draws attention, not to ourselves or to our own strengths, but to Him, to Him who has overcome the world, to Him who has overcome death by His death and who by that same death destroyed Him who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

True faith looks to Christ for help and aid.

In the Jesus who overcame the world, so you also overcome the world, as St. John writes in his first epistle, “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Through the waters of Holy Baptism, you were born of God, even as John writes in his Gospel concerning Jesus Christ, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

As children of the Almighty God, baptized into Christ, you have His promise of faithfulness.

Living by faith in Christ Jesus, you know and believe that where there is sin, there is also forgiveness.

Where there is struggle, there is also God’s Word and promise.

Where there is temptation, there is also the Lord providing help.

We pray to our heavenly Father in the 6th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” and in the 7th, “But deliver us from evil.”

Help our Lord does indeed provide.

But our Lord does not always take the temptation away.

Instead, He draws you to Himself, that you call upon Him in prayer and trust in His Word.

God’s grace is sufficient for you that you endure that which is called temptation.

By temptation is meant that which would lead to sin, that which would lead away from God and His Word, that which would lead to forsake Christ.

Temptations to sin abounds, as you yourselves know from experience.

Not a day goes by that you don’t encounter the temptation to break the Commandments of God, to doubt the Lord’s faithfulness to His Word, to place confidence in self and not in Christ.

So easily we get distracted from the One thing needful—Christ!

Jesus Himself says, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Temptations often come when and where we least expect them and even where we might think that we are the strongest.

And even should God seem far away or doesn’t seem to be paying attention, God’s Word still stands—His Word that He does not deny, retract, or forget.

He says, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:4).

He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Again, He says, “‘For a mere moment I have forsaken you, But with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ Says the LORD, your Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:7-8).

The Psalmist says, “His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

By yourself, enduring temptation and lasting at all to the end would certainly be impossible.

But you are not alone.

Given in Hebrews chapter 2 are these words:

“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:14-18 NKJ).

And in chapter 4:

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:14-15 NKJ).

Christ has indeed overcome death, the grave, and Satan and His wiles, even by His own death.

Also, Christ Jesus has indeed endured temptation—for you.

Three times, Saints Mathew and Luke tell us, Jesus was tempted by the devil, immediately after His baptism.

With every temptation, Jesus wielded the sword of the Spirit.

Through the Word of the living God, through His Word, He remained steadfast, faithful, and true.

When tempted to turn stone into bread, quoting from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, Jesus said, “It is written, Man shall not live be bread alone” (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4—Deuteronomy 8:3).

When tempted to listen to Satan, who twisted Scripture to make it say what he wanted it to say, Jesus answered, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12—Deuteronomy 6:16).

When tempted to worship the devil, Jesus answered, “It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8; Matthew 4:10—Deuteronomy 6:13).

Jesus is THE example for overcoming temptation, and for using Scriptural rightly against the attacks of Satan.

But Jesus is more than example.

If Jesus is only an example, He’s still not your Savior.

The Christian faith is not about what Jesus would do.

The Christian faith is not about doing what Jesus did.

The Christian faith is about believing Jesus according to His Word, believing what He has done—for you.

He is your Savior and your Deliverer.

Jesus was tempted in every way as you are, the Bible says, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

He overcame temptation, sin, and death, overcoming what you could not, for He is your salvation.

Though it is true that you can’t avoid temptation, temptation doesn’t have the last word.

Our Lord says in 1 Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Though you do and will face temptations for as long as you live because you bear Christ’s Name as a Christian, this doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you or that you’re somehow not of God, or that you’re a bad Christian.

These struggles mean that you still live in the world and wrestle with your sin, the world, and the devil, just as all of God’s people have and continue to do as they continue to breath on this earth.

Such struggles also may mean that you are more aware of your condition as a sinner and your greater need for God’s help.

Dr. Luther takes note of this in The Large Catechism where he writes:

107 To feel temptation is quite a different thing from consenting and yielding to it. We must all feel it, though not all to the same degree; some have more frequent and severe temptations than others. Youths, for example, are tempted chiefly by the flesh; older people are tempted by the world. Others, who are concerned with spiritual matters (that is, strong Christians) are tempted by the devil. 108 But we cannot be harmed by the mere feeling of temptation as long as it is contrary to our will and we would prefer to be rid of it. If we did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation. But to consent to it is to give it free rein and neither resist it nor pray for help against it. (Luther’s Large Catechism, 6th Petition, Lead us not into temptation)

When temptations do come, and they will, do not think that God has left you.

God is faithful, faithful to His Word, and faithful to help.

Remember Jesus, your Help and Your salvation. So He is. So, He will. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, forgive me  for giving into temptation.  Help me to resist the temptation to sin against you and to disbelieve your Word. Make me confidently yours in Christ Jesus, who was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), that I be found in Him alone and so endure what befalls me, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

 

“The Transfiguration of our Lord,” Matthew 17:1-9

1And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

      9And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

On the mount of transfiguration, to a select three, Jesus manifested Himself in all His glory

Flesh and blood no longer concealed Christ’s divinity, the truth that Jesus is God.  Though Christ’s humanity concealed His divine nature both before and after that mountain top experience until His glorious resurrection, the disciples saw a glimpse of what was under the veil.

To those three, Jesus revealed Himself as the Son of the living God in a real, tangible way.  They saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears the glory and honor of God the Father and Christ, His beloved Son.

We do too.  God reveals Himself through His Holy Word and through His visible means called Sacraments.  By these do we see the God of heaven and earth working among us, planting and cultivating the seed of faith within our hearts, calling us to believe the Gospel, and strengthening the faith which God Himself has given.

It is as St. Peter says in what is our Epistle reading this day.  He spoke thus about his presence on the mount of transfiguration:

“We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

Peter was certainly there on the mount, just as the Scripture says, and just as He recounts in his second letter.  But then He speaks of a greater assurance than His experience on the mountain.

He speaks of the word, the prophetic word, the prophetic word which was confirmed, namely, what God had given—that word which had come to pass.

Of this word, Peter says, “You do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place” (2 Peter 2:19).

The Psalmist speaks a similar note where He writes, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).  So it is.

The Lord’s Word leads the way to go and lightens the path.

This is none other than to Christ, the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Hearing Him is hearing God.

Looking to Him is seeing the glory of God, not condemning us for our sins, but saving us through crucifixion and cross.

In humility, Christ lived; but not in honor before men.

Through His Word and work alone will you see and know Christ for who He really is, not as only man suffering and dying, but as the almighty God, saving and delivering all who trust in Him.

God reveals Himself through the very means that He Himself gives.

It’s not for you to decide when, where, or how God manifests His glory.  This is in His hands.

If it be through a baby being born of a virgin, so be it.

If it be through a man “despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” then it is (Isaiah 53:3).

If it be on a mountain to only three disciples, Christ speaking with Moses and Elijah, Old Testament prophets of the Lord Most High, so it is.

And if it be by means of Word with water, Word with bread and wine, and through Word preached, we recognize these as God’s works and give thanks.

Christ says, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-40).

By this reference to Jonah, the Lord shifts our gaze from seeking Him anywhere to where He promises to be—to Christ Himself.

Whether it be to the glory on the mountain or to the humbleness of the plains, Jesus Christ remains and always will be the One to whom you are to look.  He is your only salvation.

Just before the account of the Transfiguration, Jesus asked a question of His disciples.

He said, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (Matthew 16:13).

“So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:14-16).

Peter’s answer was right on.

From that time on, the Gospel says, “Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21).

It is this same Christ who is your Savior.

 Jesus doesn’t save through power and might, but through obedience, suffering, and death.

It was not on the Mount of Transfiguration that Christ took away your sin.  It was on another Mount, Mount Calvary.

There, He crushed the serpent’s head and canceled out your sin, for good.

By His death, there is life.

Peter was right in declaring Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).  But the Jesus promised in the Old Testament and fulfiller of the New is He who tasted death for all and slayed sin by shedding His own blood.

It seems too earthy of a thing that God become one of us, not as a figure of Greek mythology, but as it is in truth, God in the flesh, not for Himself, but for us who are by nature dead in our sins.

But this is just the kind of God we have.

The popular spirituality of the day focuses on personal benefit and self-progress, self-desire and gratified fulfillment.

The spirituality of God directs to the Lord Jesus and His Word, recognizes and acknowledges sin and looks to God for mercy in Christ.

True spirituality attends to God’s revelation, to His Holy Word and there, in Christ, finds its dwelling place.

The Christian faith is a “revealed” religion.

It is not made up by man.

It is not a religion of how to get right with God.

It is not a religion that preaches positive thinking, self-help, or self-improvement.

The Christian faith is a religion with Jesus at the center:  Jesus receiving God’s justice and God forgiving the real sins of real sinners.

Here, man does not get right with God; Nor does man get a right relationship with God.

It is God who makes the move, taking from you what is inherently yours and giving you what you don’t deserve.  He takes your sin and death and gives you eternal life.

God reconciled you and the world to Himself through His Son on Calvary’s cross (2 Corinthians 5:19).  It is not you who do for God.  It is God who does for you.  Everything depends on Christ.  Take Him away, and you have nothing.

On the cross, Jesus died for sinners, none excluded.

This was the fulfillment of the words spoken through the Law and the Prophets.

Representative of them were the Moses and Elijah on Transfiguration’s mount.  These were the same saints of the Old Testament: Moses, the one who led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 13); and Elijah, the one through whom God also spoke, even raising a dead woman’s son (1 Kings 17:17-24) and later taken to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11).

On the mountain called Sinai, God gave Moses the Ten Words (Commandments), that the people of God live according to them.

On another mountain, Mount Carmel, God revealed Himself to be the true God, in contrast to the false prophets of the false god (god with a small ‘g’) Baal, by consuming a sacrifice with fire from heaven.  Thus, seeing this work of God, the people proclaimed, “The Lord, He is God!  The Lord, He is God!” (1 Kings 18:20-40).

On yet another mountain, the mount of transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with Jesus.

In Jesus, the words of Moses and Elijah find fulfillment.

Jesus Christ came, not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).

It is right to say that the Bible is all about Christ.

Though the Bible appear to many like just other book, there is Christ, revealing Himself as your Savior; not Christ against you, but Christ for you.

Christ for you in birth, Christ for you in Baptism, Christ for you in transfiguration, Christ for you in suffering and death, Christ for you in Resurrection and Ascension, Christ for you in His Second Coming.

Jesus’ words, “Rise, and have no fear” (Matthew 17:7), He also says now to you.

Though your sins trouble you, and though you are indeed a sinner in thought, word, and deed, those sins no longer condemn you.

 Before God—alone—you have everything to fear.

In Christ, you are not alone.  In Christ, you have nothing to fear.

Even as Jesus worked and spoke humbly in the flesh to His disciples before us, Jesus today still works humbly and lowly, in Word and in Sacrament, His glory hidden, revealed by Word.

The voice from heaven on the Mount, of Jesus, heard by the disciples Peter, James, and John, is also for you to hear.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, give me everlasting peace through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Calm all of my fears before You, for Jesus is my Savior. Give me boldness and sure confidence of Your mercies, always. Amen.

 

 

“True Righteousness,” Matthew 5:21-37

21[Jesus said:] “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

      27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

      31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

      33“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

In Gospel reading, continuing from Matthew 5 and Jesus’ teaching on the Mount, Jesus reveals that the commandments of God are not at all kept by the simple outward doing of them.

Keeping the commandments in the way of “righteousness” that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20) is first a matter of the heart and doing rightly before God, the just judge.

The three particular commandments that Jesus addresses in today’s reading are these: “You shall not murder,” the 5th Commandment (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17 ); “You shall not commit adultery,” the 6th Commandment (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18); and “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God,” the 2nd Commandment (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11).

Jesus reveals these commandments in such a way that no one is excusable before Him.

The One who is truly righteous is only He who originally is, Jesus Himself.  Salvation must come from outside of us, and it is found in Christ alone.

Only after being blessed of God through His Son do we begin to rightly exhibit that righteousness which is Christ’s, thus being salt of the earth and light of the world (Matthew 5:13, 14).

Concerning the 5th Commandment, “You shall not murder,” Jesus connects anger and insult.  Here, we could certainly add hate, too, for St. John writes in his first epistle, “He who does not love his brother abides in death.  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:14-16).

Instead of hate, insult, and anger, God would have us love, build up, speak kindly, and sacrifice ourselves for others.

Jesus condemns the physical act of murder, including euthanasia, abortion, and even neglect, but He also condemns hatred, bitterness, holding grudges, and harboring resentment.

 “Out of the heart,” Jesus says, “proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.  These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matthew 15:19-20).

What we need is a Savior.

In Jesus, you have yours.

Those things of not murdering, not hating, not insulting others, and not harboring bitterness, Jesus has thus fulfilled.

Such is the love Jesus has for sinners like us that He turned the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), suffered the reproach and mockery of men, as well as suffered even death at the hands of sinners-for the sake of sinners (Matthew 20:19; 26:45).

On the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

In doing so, Jesus demonstrated, not hate, but the love of God by which He reconciled you to God, saved you from sin and death, and through whom you have a new heart and a new mind, that you not put yourself first but others, and seek peace.

Christ forgives you. You you also forgive others.

In today’s text, Jesus cuts through the falsehood of only outwardly doing the law before others.  He speaks of the heart before God and our actions before others, not only regarding the Fifth Commandment, “Do not murder,” but also with regard to the Sixth Commandment, “Do not commit adultery.”

“He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:17-20 NKJ).

Only where God has first cleansed the heart and forgiven sins does one then begin to rightly do what God commands.

Of himself and apart from Christ, all that the sinner does before God is just show, even if it be great in the eyes of the world.  But before God is what eternally matters!

Once again, Jesus penetrates through the hypocrisy of those in Jesus’ day and our own.

Not just committing the act of adultery is sin, but even looking or lusting after another is sin, too.

Here especially, our society and culture don’t at all help the Christian remain Christian.  In our schools, on TV and in movies, on billboards and posters, and not least of all, on the internet, one cannot escape the amount of skin shown and the type of clothing worn, or not worn, and the lack of modesty, in order to attract and allure, to tempt and to evoke.

Sex sells, they say.

Even Christians, whether younger or older, male or female, are not immune to such enticements.

Also, the number of couples living together before marriage, according to one statistic, is 66% (Aug 2019, https://www.thespruce.com/cohabitation-facts-and-statistics-2302236).

Even within the church, what is considered sin before God is considered less so today, especially by those who wish, and do, advocate and legitimatize same-sex attractions, let alone perversions of many kinds, contrary to God’s creative order and will.

Christians, those who seek to abide by God’s Word and will, seek to avoid temptations, of all kinds.

We cannot, however, avoid our sinful hearts. This is a cross that the godly continue to bear.

Thus, do we pray, “Lead us not into temptation” and “Deliver us from the evil one” (6th & 7th Petitions of the Lord’s Prayer).

These two petitions, respectively, have these explanations (The Lutheran Confessions):

“God indeed tempts no one. But we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Though we are attacked by these things, we pray that still we may finally overcome them and gain the victory.” (Meaning to 6th Petition)

“We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from all kinds of evil, of body and soul, property and honor. And finally, when our last hour shall come, we pray that He would grant us a blessed end and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself into heaven.” (Meaning to 7th Petition)

“‘God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:6-8, NKJ).

Seek the Lord and His help.  Look to His Word.  Remember your Baptism, daily, and boldly say, “I am a child of God.  I am not my own.  I was bought at a price.  Thus, will I “Glorify God in” my “body and in” my “spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20), God helping me.

Continue the struggle and look to Christ alone for your help and stay!

“If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 Jn. 3:20-21 NKJ).

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:1-5 NKJ).

Common in Jesus’ day, and in ours, was the notion that murder only meant physically taking someone’s life, and that someone committed adultery only when the physical act was committed.

Jesus dispels such limitations.

Both issues stem from the heart, and given in to, make themselves known in word and deed.

Committing sin inwardly, though not committing the sin outwardly, Jesus points out, is still sin before God.

It is the sin being born of the heart that leads to the actual doing of it, if not held in check.

With reference to divorce and the corresponding to the 6th Commandment, Jesus had said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

These words had, and have, to a large degree, fallen by the wayside in many minds today, almost as if they don’t exist, as if God had not done the joining.

Having forsaken the will of God for the will of man, many reasons were, and are, given for justification to divorce one’s spouse.

Because of the hardness of hearts, Moses had permitted the certificate of divorce to be granted, but, as Jesus says, “From the beginning this was not so” (Matthew 19:8).

The prophet Malachi declares, “The LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16).

Divorce is not according to God’s will.

Yet, note the exception that our Lord here gives, that of the sexual immorality of the other.

As Christians, we want to recognize the boundaries that God gives to protect marriage between man and woman, as that’s the only kind of marriage instituted and acceptable to God, and so also to His people.

We also want to distinguish between what is pleasing to God from what is not.

Bearing with one another, forgiving one another, and even suffering another’s faults is according to God’s will. This includes, especially, within that union of two people bound to one another through the sacred institution of holy matrimony.

Faithfulness to one’s spouse, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness are according to God’s will should one be married.

In the book of Proverbs, it is written, “Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins” (Proverbs 10:12).

Love does cover all sins.  A husband’s love for his wife.  A wife’s love for her husband.

Not least of all, God’s love in Christ for the sinner, for you.  He does not and will not divorce you.

Rather does He speak kindly to your hearts and give that which alone truly comforts and gives true contentment – even life and salvation.

The love of God in Jesus Christ covers all your sins.

His blood cleanses you, and your conscience, from all unrighteousness, guilt, and shame.

As for the last part of today’s Gospel, concerning oaths, Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”  The people of Jesus’ day had a way of casually and carelessly making oaths.  They swore here and there without a second thought.  They misused God’s Name and used it in vain to their own ends.  They believed it to be ok to defend themselves with God’s honor for even insignificant things.

One’s word should cast no doubt as to it being true, without the need for further embellishments.  Rather than trying to reinforce our words with oaths and vows, we are to simply say, “Yes” or “No.”

We are to use the Name of the Lord rightly and in a way that pleases, not ourselves, but Him who calls us, as Luther addresses in the Small Catechism, the 1st Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”

So did Jesus speak all that the Father gave Him to speak.

His Word is Spirit and it is life (John 6:63).

So does Jesus speak rightly and truly in all that He says and makes known.

His yes was yes.  His no, no. All that He said He would do He did.

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and…He was buried, and…rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4 NKJ)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus dispels the myth that the keeping of God’s law only has to do with making a good show before the world and doing right on the outside alone, or assuming justification before God because of what we believe to be right, contrary to His Holy Word.

Keeping the commandments means that one’s “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20).

This means not first doing rightly according to the Law, but first believing rightly according to God’s revelation in Christ, having faith in God’s Son for the forgiveness of sins, and resting on Christ alone, and not at all on what you do at all for salvation or for anything else.

This truth extols Jesus Christ as the keeper and the doer of the commandments, the One Who had come, not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, in their entirety (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus held no bitterness or hatred toward anyone, only true, agape (sacrificial) love, even toward those who crucified Him on the cross, even towards you, that you have life.  Jesus had and has a pure heart, desiring only your good.

He is faithful—always—to His Word and promise.  This He demonstrated, not with extra oaths and meaningless vows, but with the shedding of His blood on the cross, even that which is poured out, for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus alone is pure in heart.  As His Father is, so is He.

As His people, so do we seek to be, and so we seek to follow.

As children of God in Christ, so we believe – so we do. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, forgive me my sins.  I have sinned against You and ask for Your undeserved mercy in Christ Jesus. Help me to live according to Your Word and will. Amen.

 

 

“Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets,” Matthew 5:13-20

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Psalm 112 reads in part, “Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments! … Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous” (Ps. 112:1,4 ESV).

These words correspond very well with today’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, the 5th chapter.

There, Jesus talks about salt and light, the very things that His disciples, His followers, believers, in fact and in deed, are, not by virtue of their own actions, but as a result of Whose they are, as well as what they are in Christ—blessed.

The words that direct our attention this morning are those that follow what are called
“The Beatitudes” in St. Matthew’s Gospel, also chapter 5, where Jesus opened up His mouth and began teaching, and continues to teach, His disciples.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15 NKJ).

Today’s text cannot be rightly understood apart from the very words of blessedness that precede it.

To be blessed by God, to have God’s blessing, is nothing other than to receive from Him His good will and favor through His Son Jesus Christ.

It is to believe in Jesus alone for help and salvation, and to find nothing in oneself by which one can be helped before the just God.

Self-righteousness, arrogance, and hypocrisy are not the way of Christians, who humble themselves before the Lord and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ alone, even as they pray, “Forgive us our trespasses” and confess their sins before God and one another, gladly receiving the absolution of God.  For this, they give thanks and praise to God, who wipes their slates clean before Him and reckons to them the righteousness of Christ as their own.

With such blessing from God, in no way attributed to our own endeavors or attempts, we proceed with today’s text.

First, it should be stated clearly that when Jesus speaks the plural yous in both verse 13 and 14 of chapter 5 concerning salt and light, Jesus is specifically addressing His disciples, namely, the blessed ones, those who are blessed because of the promises of God and who believe those promises.

Jesus is not there talking about all people, let alone only Americans, and least of all, nonbelievers, idolaters, believers in false religions, or anyone else who is not included with those who are blessed of God in Jesus Christ.

When such words are taken out of context and applied to nonChristians, the meaning of the text is corrupted and lends itself to false teaching, saying what the text does not say.

NonChristians cannot be the salt and light that Jesus speaks of because their works before God are not good, though all the world would say otherwise.   They are not blessed of God as those described in the “Beatitudes,” not because they don’t do what might be considered visibly “good” according to sinful man, but because they don’t believe in the One whom the Father sent—He alone who Is Good, and through Whom alone anything that we do is acceptable and pleasing to God.

Without Christ, all that we do is sinful—the result of the Fall in the garden—Original sin.

Any hope that the world has is not in or by what we do, but in Him who came into the world as a babe through His virgin mother and died on the wooden cross, shedding His blood for our redemption.  Apart from that One, all is lost.  But in and through Him, all is won.

Before one can be salt of the earth and light of the world, one must first be changed from not being salt and not being light to being salt and to being light.

This change does not take place by going “through the motions” of Christian piety in order to appear “good” before others (aka. What Pharisees do)?

This change does not take place by appearing as if one is Christian while not at all believing what God says (aka hypocrisy)?

This change does not occur by doing the “right” things, but for the wrong reasons, or, merely having “good” intent, but not doing what is “right” before God.

Becoming salt and light is a power that we do not have.

All who believe that they can “make it happen,” of themselves, deceive themselves.

Children of God are those who do not trust in themselves but hope in Christ alone for help and salvation, even that they be ‘salt and light’.

With such hoping, not in themselves, but in Another, they are the salt and the light, as God gives them to be.

God’s people are far from perfect.  You know this from experience, of others and of yourselves.

If you don’t, reflect for a moment just on the First Table of the Law, summed up with the words,  “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37 NKJ).

Do you, at all times and in all places, in every circumstance, under every condition, and in the far reaches of your own heart and mind, love God above everything else, not just with the mouth, but with your whole being, wanting none other than to serve Him, and Him alone, regardless of the cost to yourself, your family, your everything, and not for gain or reward, but simply because God is all-gracious and giving and good towards you?

So does St. Paul also say,

“What I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”  For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:15, 18-19 NKJ).

Not only with the First Table of the Law do we fall waaay short, but also with the Second Table, we fail.

Loving neighbor as self, including those closest to us—family—as well as those in the household of faith—the church—not for selfish gain or recognition, but simply for the sake of the other, because of need, without any strings attached, giving freely, does not come natural to us.

More often than not, we do what we do to get something, whether it be recognition, praise, or simply, that “feeling” of doing something “good.”

Being salt and light does not have to do with how you fail and fall short.

Your saltiness and the brightness of your light doesn’t originate with you.

Christians reflect Christ and His light, not their own.

So does our Lord say, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:3-5 NKJ).

St. Peter says,  “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 NKJ).

Any who do not confess Christ and seek to live as His blessed child, confessing their sin and denying themselves (Matthew 10:38), who desire instead to live by their own rules, according to their own self-righteous ways and not according to His Word, by faith, are not His and are not worthy of Him.

In distinction from play Christians are they who plead for mercy and help from the Lord Jesus, seeking His mercy and His grace, for Christ’s sake alone.  These alone are the salt of earth and the light of the world, and they are so because they do not trust at all in themselves or their own ways, but to God alone is the glory.  Their boast is in Christ alone, as with St. Paul, who declares,

“God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14 NKJ).

In so far as we’ve come this far in the text, we now briefly transition to the words of our Lord concerning the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.  This much is plain from the text.  What might not be so clear is how these words connect to what is previous to them.

As an introduction, the Law refers generally to the Law of God, the entirety of the Ten Commandments.

Connected with the Prophets, the Law and the Prophets is shorthand for the whole Old Testament, which consists of God’s Commands and promise, the prophecies concerning Christ, the Messiah.  Thus, Jesus came to fulfill both the Law of God and the prophecies about Him in the Old Testament.  And He has.

Yet, Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and Prophets, even to death on the cross, in no way implies the abolishing of God’s Law, as if it is no longer necessary or obligatory for us to live morally under God’s order; not for God (as if He needed anything), but toward one another and according to God’s Word.

As long as we remain in the flesh, we continue to struggle with our sin, and the Law is necessary, that we might more clearly know our sin and more greatly see our Savior.

In Christ, sin no longer is the last word.

Yes, we struggle with it, but under God’s grace (Romans 6:14), we have the certainty of God’s grace and favor, even the sure hope of eternal life.

Far from leading us to live in sin in the way of our sinful flesh, such hope in God’s grace moves us to live unto God, bearing fruit and doing what God would have us do, living the way that God would have us live, not for ourselves, but to God as we serve others, according to the Command, fulfilled in love.

St. James writes that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20, 26).

These words are true.

Faith reveals itself by what we say and do.

Our hope, at the same time, is not in what we say and do.  This would be placing our trust in our own words and in our own actions, the very thing that the blessed of God do not do.

Instead, our hope is in Christ.

As our hope is in Christ, so will we also seek to do according to His will as He reveals it.

In this way, you are salt and you are light, and you remain so, as you remain in Christ.  Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasPrayer: Gracious God, forgive me for not being who You have called me to be and for not doing what You have called me to do. Help me to change my sinful ways and to abide in You according to Your Holy Word, for I am Yours. Amen.

 

 

“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.

 

 

“God’s Timing,” Galatians 4:4-7

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

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The confidence and the hope that God gives is not uncertain.

It is not doubtful.

It is just the opposite.

God always keeps His promises.

Because God does not change, neither does His Word.

His is the greatest comfort and the only true sure thing you have in life.  People fail you.

God’s promises do not.

God’s promises are as sure as Christ’s birth, His death, and His resurrection.

The confession of our faith is nothing but certainty.

God Himself gives what to believe.

You don’t make up your doctrines, and God does not promise continuing revelations or new doctrines.

God has given you the sure foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone (Ps. 118:22; Matt. 21:42; Mk. 12:10; Lk. 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:6, 7).

What God has given in Holy Scripture is sufficient, even as Christ’s death for your sin is sufficient for your salvation.  There is nothing to add. There is nothing to take.

True certainty comes from the Biblical text itself.

The Words are of God, not of man.

They speak of the One who was sent by the Father, born of woman and born under the law.

It was of that birth that Paul says, “When the fullness of time had come.”

No one could have guessed when that time would be, just as no one can figure out when Christ will return.

We aren’t given that info. It is not our concern.

What is our concern is that He who came did come, and that He will come again, and that we be ready for His return to judge between the living and the dead.

And how are we to be ready?

By believing in Him who was born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.

This indicates two parts: One, that we are under the law, and two, that Christ redeems us from that law.

As to the first, that we are under the law, by nature we know this.

When we do something wrong, our conscience is awakened.

From what we see in the world, know in our families, and perceive in ourselves, we know that things are not as they should be.

Most everyone will agree that things in the world could be better.  But what many will deny is how bad things, and we, really are.

There is a spark of good in each of us, they say.

If God demands perfection, that must mean that we can be perfect.

If we only try hard enough, God will overlook our faults and shortcomings.

But no matter how hard we try, enough is never enough.

God demands of us what we are not able to do.  The Psalmist writes, “There is none who does good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:3; 53:3).

The Law of God says, ‘do’, and we do not.

God commands, ‘don’t do this’, and that we do.

He calls hating murder and lusting adultery (1 John 3:15; Matthew 5:28).

Jesus says that it’s not what goes into a man but what comes out of him that makes him unclean (Matthew 15:19-20).

The Psalmist says, and we pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

By nature, we know that something is wrong, but only God reveals how wrong things are.

He declares through Paul, “Whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20).

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.”

God sent His Son to save you from eternal death, to redeem you from the curse of the law, for all who are under the law are under a curse, deserving not only physical death, but eternal death.

This is really how bad things are!

Because of your sin, even yours, you are under God’s law.

But thanks be to God!

God did send His Son, that One who was laid in the lowly manger, that One who moved around at such a young age from those who desired His death, that One who was wrapped in swaddling cloths and visited by the shepherds.

The Lord had a different death in mind for His Son than death by a King Herod or death by the hand of others, until another time had come for Jesus to be put to death, even put to death on the cross.

That’s where Jesus took care of all your wrongs and all your should haves.

On Mt. Calvary, Christ placed Himself under the curse of the law for you, though He Himself knew no sin, nor was any sin found in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

He was the One bearing the full load of your sin.

You are no longer under God’s wrath but have His favor.

That One really born of a woman and really born under the law has indeed really redeemed you, Jesus Himself becoming a curse for you (Galatians 3:13).

The law is no longer your burden.  That burden was already carried by another.  The weight has been removed.

Instead of slaves to sin, you are free in Christ, children of the Heavenly Father—heirs of the promise.

As children of our gracious God, yours is the inheritance of eternal life.

You are under God’s grace, having been purchased with Christ’s own precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death.

You are now His own and will live under Him in His kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  This is most certainly true.

God’s Spirit testifies to this, and “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!’” Galatians 4:6 (ESV).

All who desire the Christ of Scripture also love God’s Word and have this Spirit.

These will not be fruitless in their labors.

These continue in Christ and in His Word and have the confidence of a gracious God, “not having” their “own righteousness, which is from the law, but that” righteousness “which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

These recognize that He who was born of a woman, the Christ child, born on that day of Christmas, whom we celebrate and confess, this same One, is also God in the flesh.

God in the flesh for you and for me, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem us from under the law, when the fullness of time had come.

God’s timing is not your own.

Yet, that should not worry you.

What does draw your attention, because you are the Lord’s, is His Word—what He speaks—what He has said.

There, you find reason to rejoice, and reason to joyfully enter the New Year, in confidence.

God’s timing is always where He would have it be. Amen.

 

Prayer: Gracious God, Your will be done, when and where You please.  Keep me from pride, arrogance, and stubborness toward You and Your Holy Word. Amen.

 

 

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