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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 Penitential season of Lent

Blessing.AbsolutionWe are at the beginning of the penitential season called, as of Ash Wednesday.  During these 40 days, you’ll notice omissions in the Sunday Divine Services for the Sundays in Lent. These omissions include the Hymn of Praise (“This is the Feast,” “Gloria in Excelsis”), the “Alleluia” response(s) (i.e. before the Gospel reading), and the Post-Communion Canticle, “Thank the Lord.”

We omit such portions to draw attention to the solemnity of the Lenten season.

The word “penitential” means, “of or relating to penitence or penance” (Merriam-Webster, online).

The word “penance” as a noun, according to Merriam-Webster, can mean “an act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin.” So, the dictionary.

Christians do seek to mortify (put to death, crucify) their sinful flesh, as St. Paul writes, “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) and “your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).

Christians do this, however, not “to show sorrow or repentance for sin” for others to see (i.e. Matthew 6:1-4, 5-6, 7-8, 16-18), or to demonstrate to God that they are sorrowful (as if God can’t already see or doesn’t already know, 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Hebrews 4:13).

Rather, Christians, because they desire to live according to God’s Word, seek to amend their sinful lives.  They trust in the God of salvation; whose Son went to the cross for the salvation of the world (John 1:29; 3:16).

God calls all people to repent (i.e. Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9), to turn from their sinful ways and to believe in Jesus.

The season of Lent is just about this, and points to “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NKJ).

Now, about that word “penance” as a verb, “to impose penance on” (Merriam-Webster, online).

This word is not to be understood in the Roman Catholic way of “doing penance.” We know that if it was that, we could never do enough. Because of our sin, we are not able to “get right with God” by what we do (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16).  This is to minimize Christ and His work for our salvation.

Rather, salvation is not by our doing at all.  It is God alone who saves, through His Son alone.

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NKJ).

Christians don’t “do penance,” to show repentance, yet Christians are penitent. We sorrow over our sins and want to do better. We trust in Jesus alone for help and salvation.

We “Therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 NKJ).  We seek to hear the Word of God often.  We regularly partake of Christ’s body and blood for “forgiveness, life, and salvation.” We also recognize “that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts,” and also “that a new man should daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Fourth, What does such baptizing with water signify?). 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.

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

 

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

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

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Whose sacrifice removes The devil’s dread oppression.

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

            Who for our peace and joy Will full atonement win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Be still, and know that I am God…

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

(Ps. 46:10-11 NKJ)

 

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

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

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

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

Over what we cannot see, we trouble and fret.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

They came confessing their sins, for they were sinners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus needed no baptism.

This was the dilemma for John.

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

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

Fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus did not need to be baptized for Himself.

He had no sin for which to give answer.

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

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

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

Nor would the Spirit have descended and rested upon Jesus.

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

John permitted Jesus to be baptized by him

John humbly consented to baptizing Jesus.

He did not refuse Jesus his request.

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

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

He permitted to be what the Lord had spoken.

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

This is no small thing.

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

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

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

This is what the Lord’s disciples do.

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

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

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

And then what do we see?

John permits Jesus to be baptized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No more trying to impress God or earn His favor!

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

Like John, permit this to be so.

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

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

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

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

That Name is on you through water and Word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s hidden will remains hidden.

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

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

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

That God could do such a thing should not surprise.

As the Lord reveals, so it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was Herod’s way to deal with threats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the Lord that leads the way.

The Lord led the wise men by star and Word.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Luke 2:21

 

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

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God institutes the covenant.

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

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

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

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

Such was His faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such limitations on our part are not limitations of God.

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

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

So, what does circumcision have to do with Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Him, you see your salvation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what Abraham did.

This is what the descendants of Abraham do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your life is no longer your own.

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

This means something.

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

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

They are yours to eternity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is who He says He is.

His circumcision and the Name given Him mean something.

They mean everything.

Jesus is your life and your salvation.

Because of Him, you have a new name.

You have life and salvation.

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

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

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

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

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

God’s forgiveness in Christ is certain!

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

 

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

 

 

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