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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.

 

 

“God’s Timing,” Galatians 4:4-7

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

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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

It is not doubtful.

It is just the opposite.

God always keeps His promises.

Because God does not change, neither does His Word.

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

God’s promises do not.

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

The confession of our faith is nothing but certainty.

God Himself gives what to believe.

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

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

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

True certainty comes from the Biblical text itself.

The Words are of God, not of man.

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

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

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

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

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

And how are we to be ready?

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

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

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

When we do something wrong, our conscience is awakened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is really how bad things are!

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

But thanks be to God!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These will not be fruitless in their labors.

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

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

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

God’s timing is not your own.

Yet, that should not worry you.

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

“Christ is the One,” Matthew 11:2-15

 

2Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  4And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

      7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  8What then did you go out to see?  A man dressed in soft clothing?  Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.  9What then did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  10This is he of whom it is written,

       “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

11Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.  13For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.  15He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Here we have John the Baptist, the one who Jesus calls “more than a prophet” and the one of whom Jesus says, “Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:9, 11).

Jesus also says of John that he is Elijah who is to come, that same Elijah of the Old Testament who was said to come before the “coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” who would “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:5-6).

John is the one of whom it was written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You” (Matthew 11:10; Malachi 3:1).

It was this John of whom Jesus spoke so highly – who pointed to Christ.

He had not worn the soft clothes of king’s houses.

He was not a reed shaken by the wind.

He stood his ground.

Yet, it was this John who asked a question of Jesus that was plain and quite to the point, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John’s question is the question worth asking.

Everlasting life and the Kingdom of Heaven are worth being sure of.

The Coming One would save His people from death, forgive their sins, and establish His kingdom forever.

This was the One promised to Adam and Eve, the One who would crush the serpent’ head (Genesis 3:15), the Prophet like Moses whom God would raise, who would speak to the people all that God the Father commanded Him, and whoever would not hear His words which He speaks in the Father’s Name, it would be required of Him (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

The Coming One to which John referred was the One who would rule on King David’s throne forever.  He was the One who would build a house for the Lord’s Name whose kingdom would have no end.  This was He of whom the prophets prophesied and all the people had hoped to come.

Isaiah said of Him, “Say to those who are fearful-hearted, ‘Be strong, do not fear!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you.’  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.  Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing.  For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35:4-6).

In another place, of Him who would come, Isaiah writes, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound (Isaiah 61:1).

John was asking the question about this One.

This One is none other than Jesus the Christ, the Savior of the world, the One foretold by the prophets, He who fulfilled all righteousness, and He who gives eternal rest and peace to all that trust in Him.

This One is God in the flesh, born as one of us, yet without sin.

John the Baptist also looked to this One.  He declared Him to be THE ONE, and John’s ministry ended.  But the ministry of Jesus goes on.

After John had heard in prison the works of Christ, he sent to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

This question and its answer are not without significance, nor are they without import to us in the 21st century.

John had heard.  And Jesus told John’s disciples to tell John what they had heard and seen.

John first heard correctly the things about Jesus.

Those things that John heard about Jesus were true.

Jesus’ Word and work testify to His identity.

His works and His Words bear witness to who He is.

These reveal to you that Christ is the Coming One, the Messiah, the Savior of the World.

He is the expectation of all Israel.

He is the One who delivers from sin and death.

He is the resurrection and life and no one comes to Father except through Him, the Son of living God.

The Coming One is the One that all will seek who hope to be saved.

Only an unbeliever would turn away from Him who declares God’s grace and hope to save himself.

That you not look to yourselves, or to another, or to false hopes of peace and prosperity in the world, the Lord directs you, as He directed John and His disciples, to His Word and Work.

Jesus had indeed given sight to the blind.

On one occasion, two blind men had followed Him, crying out, “Son of David, have mercy on us!  And when” Jesus “had come into the house, the blind men came to Him.  And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’  They said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord.’  Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you’” (Matthew 9:27-29).

These two men received their sight from the only one who with a Word is able to do so.

On account of Christ, the lame walked.

A man who was lying on a bed was brought to Jesus.  Seeing the faith of the men who brought the one on the bed, Jesus said to the one lying down, “Your sins are forgiven.”

To demonstrate that the Son of Man, for so Jesus was, has power to forgive sins, He said to the man lying on the bed and who couldn’t walk, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house” (Matthew 9:6).

The man walked.

Christ not only forgives with the word, but has of Himself the power to heal with the word.

At the word of Jesus, lepers were cleansed.

In the 8th chapter of Matthew, we have this account.

“A leper came and worshiped Jesus, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’  Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’  Immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:2-3).

Jesus raises the dead.  Jairus’ daughter, who had died before Jesus came, was said to have been sleeping and not dead.  And the mourners and the wailing ones laughed Jesus to scorn when He said this.  “But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.  And the report of this went out into all that land” (Matthew 9:18-26).

Jesus did all of these things, and more.

Through Him, the blind received their sight.

The lame walked. Lepers were cleansed.

Deaf ears were opened.

Dead were raised.

Poor had the gospel preached to them.

These works of God testify that Jesus is the Coming One.

In Christ, the words of Isaiah the prophet find fulfillment, and in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus Himself reads them and then says, “Today, these Scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing.”

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3).

Jesus preaches the Gospel that you believe it.

He heals you with His Holy Word.

He proclaims you free from the fear of death.

What Jesus does and what He says give witness to His identity.

Jesus’ word and work point to His work of redemption for all people, not just of the body, but also of the soul.

On the cross, His work for that redemption came to its culmination, for there on that tree, Christ gave His life – that you be at peace with the Father and so live.

In Christ, you are.

John’s question whether Jesus was the Coming One or not is given answer for all to hear and see.

The Word and work of Christ reveal Christ to be your Savior and the Savior of all who call out to Him.

The proclamation of His gospel reveals that He continues His work today.

Poor miserable sinners though you are, God declares you wealthy saints in Christ, having the riches of heaven and God’s favor.

“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Jesus Christ came, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those that are sick (Matthew 9:12-13).

Jesus, and Jesus alone, gives true healing, not only partially, but completely.

He gives eyes of faith that you see His Works of grace and mercy.

He gives you to walk according to His Word, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

He cleanses you of your sin and declares you clean before Him.

He opens your ears that you hear and believe His promises, for they faileth not (Lamentations 3:22).

He raises you from the deadness of your sin to new and abundant life in Him.

He proclaims His Gospel through Word, Water, and Holy Supper.

Christ is the Great Physician of both body and soul.

Christ’s work identifies Him as the Coming One, for so He is—for John, for his disciples, for you!

His Word and work point to His work on the cross, through which He declares you reconciled to God.

By His Work and by His Word Jesus, proclaims to you that you need not look for another.

Jesus is the One and there is no other.  Amen.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to see Jesus and believe only in Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the salvation of my soul. Amen.

 

 

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” Matthew 3:1-12

1In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

     “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”

4Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

     7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

     11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

 

John the Baptist came preaching.

He preached a message of repentance.

He called his hearers to turn from their sin and to look for another who was coming.

In fulfillment of the prophecy made by Isaiah the prophet, John was that voice of one crying in the wilderness, crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (Matthew 3:3 || Isaiah 40:3).

God sent John to prepare the way of the Lord, for the Lord was indeed coming.

The Apostles, too, preached a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus, after His resurrection and before ascending into heaven, Jesus said to his disciples, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,  and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).

Jesus Himself preached repentance, as did John the Baptist.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, shortly after the account before us concerning the content of John’s message, and after John was put in prison by King Herod, Jesus “Began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 3:17).

Jesus preached what is right and true.  He preached what His Father in heaven had given Him to preach (John 14:24).

Not everyone appreciated His words, either because of what He said or even how He said them, but His words were true just the same.

Jesus spoke the truth concerning the human condition, concerning man’s corruption, even saying, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.  These are the things which defile a man” (Matthew 15:19-20a).

Jesus was bold to say, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

In another place, Jesus says to Martha, distracted in doing and failing to be about the one thing needful “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Yes, Jesus spoke the truth, as did John the Baptist who prepared His way, and as did the Apostles after them, as we have recorded in the Gospels and in their Epistles.

They were carrying on the words spoken by the prophets, Jesus fulfilling them, Jesus who came, just as Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

The prophets of the Old Testament pointed to the One who was coming, Jesus the Christ, to save sinners from their sins.

They, too, preached repentance, a turning from their sin to the Lord, who does indeed have mercy and compassion upon those who call upon Him in truth.

Like them, and like those who have gone before, the servants of the Lord today still preach that same message of repentance, that hearers not die in their sin, but turn from their sinful ways and find in the Lord Jesus their comfort and their hope.

But pastor, does this include us, too?

As God’s people, you know that you are forgiven.

You know of God’s love toward you on account of Christ.

You believe and know, by God’s grace, that the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to die your death and to pay the penalty for your sin.

Certainly there is more for you, there is more for you than just repenting of your sin.

You have heard the message of repentance before.

You have heard the Law.

You know your sin.

Can’t we just hear something different?  Can’t we hear instead only of how good things are between God and us, and how much better we’re becoming?

Why all this ‘negative’ talk?  Why such a ‘downer’ about sin and our condition and how we are by nature?

The reason is this…never in this life on earth will we be able to say that we are without sin and have no need for forgiveness.

To say such is really to say, according to what is believed, that Christ is no longer necessary.

If we are holy and upright of ourselves, we don’t need a Savior.

Additionally, if left to ourselves, we try to find in ourselves our own ways and means to please God, not according to what God has revealed, but according to our own tendencies.

As long as we live in this corrupt flesh, we will always have the pull and the temptation to go against God, small as it might to us seem to be.

So St. Paul, even after being called by God to be an Apostle while on his way to Damascus, says in his letter to the Christians in Rome, “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” (Romans 7:18).

In another place, he writes, “All have sinned and fallen short of the grace of God” (Romans 3:23).

Here, St. Paul includes himself.

Quoting the Psalmist, he says, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 || Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20).

And again does he say, even after his conversion, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

Alone and unto ourselves, we would believe, even as some do, that as Christians we have no need to repent, no need to change our ways, because, well, we’re Christians, saints of God.

Some even go so far as to say that as Christians, we no longer need to confess our sins, that we longer sin, that we, because we have a new nature and the Spirit within us, can easily and readily resist all temptation.

It is true, as St. Paul says, that “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

And it is also true, as he writes in another place, that “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.   For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.   For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).

With clarity God reveals that, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God”  (Romans 5:1-2).

But the truth that God no longer counts your sin against you and that you stand forgiven before Him on account of Christ Jesus dying in your stead and paying the price for your redemption does not mean that you no longer need to repent.

All the more does this mean that you long to be free from your sinful flesh and to serve the Lord without hindrance.

But as St. John writes in his first epistle and as we confessed earlier in today’s service “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.   If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

John is not saying this as a heathen, a Gentile, or a nonChristian.

John is saying this as one who believes and trusts in the Lord alone for salvation.

If that was the case with him, with one of the Lord’s closest disciples whom Jesus loved, that he, John, still confessed his sin to God, how much also with us?

If Paul, miraculously called by God to preach and to serve Him unto death, if he acknowledged his unrighteousness and wickedness before his righteous heavenly Father, how also with us?

According to Holy Scripture, that message, that true and godly message, of repentance, calling the sinner to turn from his or her sinful ways, namely, unbelief in God’s Word and Promise, that message still sounds forth.

God’s people will hear.

They will hear because they know the words to be true.

They know the words to be true because God so reveals them to be true in His Holy Word.

“Through the law we is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

With the message of repentance is not only the call to turn from sin, but to believe in another, to believe in Him who alone saves from sin, Jesus the Christ.

Living the Christian life, living as a child of God, is not about being converted one day and that’s it, once saved always saved.

Living the Christian life, living as a child of God, is living daily in repentance, daily turning away from sin, and daily trusting in Jesus for salvation.

It consists of this, “drowning the old man and putting on the new,” as Dr. Luther notes in the Small Catechism.

The Christian life is that life where one’s Baptism, God’s work, is remembered, reflected upon, and not at all forgotten.

“When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7)

“By daily contrition and repentance the Old Adam, our sinful nature, should be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” as it is written,  ‘We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life’” (Romans 6:4) (Holy Baptism, 4th Part, Small Catechism)

The life of repentance, this is the life of the Christian, confessing our sins to God and trusting His mercy in Christ for forgiveness and life and salvation.

Therefore do we confess our sins to God, all of them, believing that in Christ, all are forgiven.

We do this because we are God’s people, who follow, not what we feel, or what we think we know, but because we believe wholeheartedly what God says, whether we agree with it or not, whether it makes sense or not, and whether the majority accept it or not.

If we confessed our sins before God with dependence on the sincerity or the intensity of our confession, comparing ourselves with others, or on how we feel at any given moment, we would be unsure that such confession was ‘enough’ and would therefore be unsure of God’s mercy.

As it is, God’s forgiveness is not determined on the merit of our confession, but only upon His grace in Christ Jesus.

If it were otherwise, we would always be wondering, was I sincere enough?  Did I confess all my sins?  Was I in the right state of mind?  Was I wholeheartedly serious?

Yet, the Psalmist comprehensively states, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults” (Psalm 19:12).

Instead of forgiveness being based upon our confession, forgiveness is of God, and has His Word and promise as the foundation, and not anything we contribute.

What’s left for you is to only believe His Word declared and announced, His forgiveness preached, and His mercy given.

It is yours.

God forgives your sins in Christ. In His Word, God’s kingdom comes to you. In Word and Sacrament, God’s very Means of Grace, your Lord gives to you what you cannot obtain for yourself, life and salvation, in Christ alone.  Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I repent of my sin against you.  Forgive me, and help me to live the life you have called me to live, by faith in Your Holy Word.  Amen.

 

 

Faith is God’s Work

 

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (Jn. 6:29 NKJ).

 

“Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

Doing and fulfilling the Law

 

“Accustom yourself, then, to this language, that doing the works of the law and fulfilling the law are two very different things. The work of the law is everything that one does, or can do, toward keeping the law of his own free will or by his own powers. But since in the midst of all these works and along with them there remains in the heart a dislike of the law and compulsion with respect to it, these works are all wasted and have no value. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:20], when he says, “By works of the law will no man be justified in God’s sight.” Hence you see that the wranglers and sophists practice deception when they teach men to prepare themselves for grace by means of works. How can a man prepare himself for good by means of works, if he does good works only with aversion and unwillingness in his heart? How shall a work please God if it proceeds from a reluctant and resisting heart?

To fulfil the law, however, is to do its works with pleasure and love, to live a godly and good life of one’s own accord, without the compulsion of the law. This pleasure and love for the law is put into the heart by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in chapter 5[:5]. But the Holy Spirit is not given except in, with, and by faith in Jesus Christ, as St. Paul says in the introduction. Faith, moreover, comes only through God’s Word or gospel, which preaches Christ, saying that he is God’s Son and a man, and has died and risen again for our sakes, as he says in chapters 3[:25]; 4[:25], and 10[:9].

So it happens that faith alone makes a person righteous and fulfils the law. For out of the merit of Christ it brings forth the Spirit. And the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be. Thus good works emerge from faith itself. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:31]; after he has rejected the works of the law, it sounds as if he would overthrow the law by this faith. “No,” he says, “we uphold the law by faith”; that is, we fulfil it by faith.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

The Visitation, Luke 1:39-56

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Luke 1:39-56

“Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” 46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.”

 

“And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk. 1:39)

Luther: God is not magnified by us so far as His nature is concerned—He is unchangeable—but He is magnified in our knowledge and experience when we greatly esteem Him and highly regard Him, especially as to His grace and goodness. Therefore the holy mother does not say: “My voice or my mouth, my hand or my thoughts, my reason or my will, magnifies the Lord.” For there are many who praise God with a loud voice, preach about Him with high-sounding words, speak much of Him, dispute and write about Him, and paint His image; whose thoughts dwell often upon Him and who reach out after Him and speculate about Him with their reason; there are also many who exalt Him with false devotion and a false will. But Mary says, “My soul magnifies Him”—that is, my whole life and being, mind and strength, esteem Him highly. She is caught up, as it were, into Him and feels herself lifted up into His good and gracious will, as the following verse shows. It is the same when anyone shows us a signal favor; our whole life seems to incline to him, and we say: “Ah, I esteem him highly”; that is to say, “My soul magnifies him.” How much more will such a lively inclination be awakened in us when we experience the favor of God, which is exceeding great in His works. All words and thoughts fail us, and our whole life and soul must be set in motion, as though all that lived within us wanted to break forth into praise and singing.

But here we find two kinds of false spirits that cannot sing the Magnificat aright. First, there are those who will not praise Him unless He does well to them; as David says (Ps. 49:18): “He will praise Thee when Thou shalt do well to him.” These seem indeed to be greatly praising God; but because they are unwilling to suffer oppression and to be in the depths, they can never experience the proper works of God, and therefore can never truly love or praise Him. The whole world nowadays is filled with praise and service to God, with singing and preaching, with organs and trumpets, and the Magnificat is magnificently sung; but it is regrettable that this precious canticle should be rendered by us so utterly without salt or savor. For we sing only when it fares well with us; as soon as it fares ill, we stop our singing and no longer esteem God highly, but suppose He can or will do nothing for us. Then the Magnificat also must languish.

The other sort are more dangerous still. They err on the opposite side. They magnify themselves by reason of the good gifts of God and do not ascribe them to His goodness alone. They themselves desire to bear a part in them; they want to be honored and set above other men on account of them. When they behold the good things that God has done for them, they fall upon them and appropriate them as their own; they regard themselves as better than others who have no such things. This is really a smooth and slippery position. The good gifts of God will naturally produce proud and self-complacent hearts. Therefore we must here give heed to Mary’s last word, which is “God.” She does not say, “My soul magnifies itself” or “exalts me.” She does not desire herself to be esteemed; she magnifies God alone and gives all glory to Him. She leaves herself out and ascribes everything to God alone, from whom she received it. For though she experienced such an exceeding great work of God within herself, yet she was ever minded not to exalt herself above the humblest mortal living. Had she done so, she would have fallen, like Lucifer, into the abyss of hell (Is. 14:12).

She had no thought but this: if any other maiden had got such good things from God, she would be just as glad and would not grudge them to her; indeed, she regarded herself alone as unworthy of such honor and all others as worthy of it. She would have been well content had God withdrawn these blessings from her and bestowed them upon another before her very eyes. So little did she lay claim to anything, but left all of God’s gifts freely in His hands, being herself no more than a cheerful guest chamber and willing hostess to so great a Guest. Therefore she also kept all these things forever. That is to magnify God alone, to count only Him great and lay claim to nothing. We see here how strong an incentive she had to fall into sin, so that it is no less a miracle that she refrained from pride and arrogance than that she received the gifts she did. Tell me, was not hers a wondrous soul? She finds herself the Mother of God, exalted above all mortals, and still remains so simple and so calm that she does not think of any poor serving maid as beneath her. Oh, we poor mortals! If we come into a little wealth or might or honor, or even if we are a little prettier than other men, we cannot abide being made equal to anyone beneath us, but are puffed up beyond all measure. What should we do if we possessed such great and lofty blessings?

Therefore God lets us remain poor and hapless, because we cannot leave His tender gifts undefiled or keep an even mind, but let our spirits rise or fall according to how He gives or takes away His gifts. But Mary’s heart remains the same at all times; she lets God have His will with her and draws from it all only a good comfort, joy, and trust in God. Thus we too should do; that would be to sing a right Magnificat. [Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 21 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 307–309.]

 

Prayer: Lord, visit us that we blessed by Your Word through Your Son, believe Your Promises, confess Your Name, live by faith, proclaim Your praises, and entrust ourselves fully into Your blessed care. Amen.

 

 

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