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“The Passion of the Lord,” John 12:20-43

 

For audio, go here.

 

20Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; JesusInSynagogue, copybut if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

      27“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered,  “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35So Jesus said to them,  “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

      When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,  40“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Today is the day in the Church year called “Palm Sunday,” that day in which the Lord entered Jerusalem on a donkey, that day in which the people, with palm branches, cried out, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (John 12:13 || Psalm 118:25, 26).

On this day, the people proclaimed acclamation to God.

Here was Jesus, entering Jerusalem, the people declaring what was right and true.

In less than five days, this same One, so gloriously welcomed by the people as He entered Jerusalem, would undergo trial for crimes that He didn’t commit, suffer shame and contempt for preaching the truth, and be crucified for sins not His own.

On this day called Palm Sunday, Jesus, and we, enter the week of the Church year called “Holy,” where our attention turns to the events suffered by our Lord in this last week prior to His glorious resurrection.

This day is also called “Sunday of the Passion.”  Our attention draws to the last hours of Christ in His State of Humiliation.

Our attention also draws to the reality of our own passion, our own suffering, as followers of Christ, as our Lord Jesus Himself testifies.

In short order, today’s second Gospel reading follows the account of our Lord on Palm Sunday after the people met Him on the road with the shouts and praises and acts of worship.

Shortly thereafter, Greeks asked to see Jesus.  It is at this point that Jesus begins His discourse, words to be taken to heart.  Jesus here speaks about His forthcoming death, what it means, and its purpose.

Connecting the later reading of today’s Gospel with the former reading of John’s Gospel at the beginning of the service, a close connection reveals itself.

The last few words of the Palm Sunday reading earlier this morning were these, spoken by the Pharisees among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!” (John 12:19).

Immediately following these words by the Pharisees, John the evangelist records that certain Greeks then sought Jesus.

Jesus’ word and work were not only for the Jews.

The expectation of the Messiah, the Christ, as recorded in the Old Testament, was not only for the chosen people of national Israel.

Remember Jonah…God sent Him to Nineveh, a Gentile city, to call them to repentance.

It was Isaiah whom God moved to write, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).  These very words Jesus Himself also spoke in the clearing of the temple (as recorded by Mark 11:17).

The “House of prayer for all nations” referred to by Isaiah under inspiration, and then by Jesus, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), was a reference to God’s house where God is worshiped.  All nations include Jews and Gentiles. God’s house is for all people, none excluded.

This is the irony of what those Pharisees had said among themselves about Jesus, that “the world has gone after Him.”

They were right.

This is how it was, and how it was to be, as the Psalmist declares, “Let the peoples praise, You God; Let all the peoples praise you” (Psalm 67:3).

What is ironic here is that the Pharisees despised the very thing that was happening that God had said would happen, and yet they claimed to be teachers of truth.

Far from it!

Those of the truth hear God’s voice (John 18:37).

Greeks, non-Jews were seeking to see and hear Jesus, yet the Pharisees closed their ears to Him.

Salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22), but salvation is for all people, not just for the Jews alone.

But how does such salvation come?  Through what means is salvation won?

This is where the words of our Lord Jesus from today’s second Gospel reading come in.  Jesus’ Word in response to those Greeks who sought Him reveal that by His death, there is life.  This is a great paradox: by means of death is life.

Jesus also stated that “Whoever loves his life loses it.” Both verbs, love and lose, are in the present tense.

Jesus also says, “Whoever hates his life in this world” (present tense) “will keep it” (future tense) for eternal life.

These words, too, are paradoxical.

Life through death—loving life and losing it—hating life and keeping it—these statements seem to be contradictory.

One lives by living, not by dying.  You keep your life by loving it, not by hating it.  You lose your life by hating it, not by loving it…

This is what fallen man considers to be true.  He wants to believe that God works the way that the world works—not according to what God the Creator says, but according to what man the creation says and what it wants to say/mean.

If the world had its way, Jesus would not have entered Jerusalem on a donkey.

Jesus would not have been unjustly accused and then, “crucified, died, and buried.”

Jesus would not have suffered as He had.

Blood would not have been shed.

Sinners would bear their own sin (to each his own) but could make amends for their transgressions and iniquities by simply trying harder and convincing themselves that this is how one gets right with God.

If the world had its way, sinners would only be sinners as they much as they saw themselves as sinners.

The problem is that it’s not us—or the world—who determines right and wrong, good and bad, the truth and the lie.

God does.

When it comes to paradoxes, we don’t determine their veracity.  God does.

Things that don’t make sense to us don’t make them untrue.  What makes something true or not true is not dependent on our understanding of it, our belief in it, or our acceptance of it.

What makes something true or not true is not established by us.

Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6).

What He says is true, whether we believe it or not.

What He declares to be is so, because He said it.

This way of “reasoning” might seem like a blind kind of faith, but a truly blind kind of faith is that kind of “faith” which follows a thing that it cannot see or know.

We follow what we know, not blindly, but with certainty.

Christians don’t follow what they don’t know or that which is uncertain.

We follow and believe God’s Word as its been given.

We hear it and we listen to it.

We read it and we study it.  We believe it.

To believe God’s Word is not blindness.

God’s Word is not unsure.

What is blindly following something, “blind faith,” is following where one cannot see where one is going.

We don’t follow the Bible this way.

We are not blind to where we’re going.

We know where we’re going.

We know our eternity is with God in heaven.

We don’t know everything that will be—Only God does.  But we do know that we are known by Him Who knows everything.

Because God knows us as His people, because God is our Savior from sin, death, and hell, we don’t need to know all that He knows.  He is God.  We are not.

What we do know, according to His Word, this is what we are to believe and that which we do believe.

Following Christ’s Word, God’s Word, is not blind faith.  It is faith founded on the sure foundation, on that Word made flesh, on Him who suffered, was crucified, died, buried, and three days later, rose again from the dead.

Such a faith rests in Jesus according to His Word.

That Word reveals to you that through His death, you have life.  His blood conceals, covers, and cleanses you of your sin before the Father.

Loving your life means not resting in Jesus alone, not entrusting yourself fully into His care and keeping.

Hating your life means recognizing your uncleanliness before Him Who is pure, your unholiness before Him Who is Holy (1 Peter 1:15), your sin before Him Who is sinless; lamenting your unrighteousness before Him Who is Righteous.

Hating your life is acknowledging that you deserve only judgment from the just God and despising your own sinfulness.

Hating your life means also not trusting in yourself for salvation, but resting in Jesus alone, trusting in God’s mercy through His beloved Son, “seeing” that Christ’s death means—is—your life.

The Son of Man, Jesus, is He Who is life, He through whom you have life, He who gives you life.

Along with the paradox of your life through His death is the paradox of Christ’s glorification.

The word glorify can have the meaning of “Bestow glory upon”; “Elevate or idealize”; and “Cause to seem more splendid” (The Sage’s English Dictionary and Thesaurus).

These things we associate with the high and the mighty, the majestic and the glorious, the strong and the proud.

Yet Christ’s glorification, as revealed in today’s second Gospel reading, is not associated with the worldly understanding of that word.  Contrasted to our view of glory, the glory of Christ is in His lowliness, weakness, and humility, even as he hangs on a tree, “having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

“Though Jesus was in the form of God, (He) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, the week of our Lord’s Passion, the entrance of our Lord into His suffering and then death.

Like our Lord, as we fix our eyes on what is to come, we also are aware of our own suffering and struggles.

Amid these, there is Christ.

The Lord comes to serve, giving His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Lowly He enters Jerusalem.

Lowly, and rejected, He journeys to Calvary, to Golgotha, to His death.

He does so that you live—eternally. Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1Almighty and everlasting God, You sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Himself our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross. Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience and be made partakers of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect of the Day, Passion Sunday)

 

For audio, go here.

 

The Small Catechism, Part VI: The Sacrament of the Altar

 

For audio, see here.

 

First Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on last-supper2the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (NKJ)

Second Reading: Mark 14:22-25

22 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 23 Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. 25 “Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”” (NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

By way of introduction to this final Chief Part of Luther’s Small Catechism, Part VI: The Sacrament of the Altar, we find a similarity to Part IV of the Catechism concerning Holy Baptism.

As with Holy Baptism, as well as with The Sacrament of the Altar, Luther helpfully raises four questions, four questions that get right to the main thing of The Sacrament, its use and benefit.

Summarized, these four questions are as follows:

  1. What is it?
  2. What is its benefit?
  3. How can this do what it does?
  4. Who receives it worthily?

As we have touched on Holy Baptism previously, our focus here will be on The Sacrament of the Altar, also known as The Lord’s Supper and Holy Communion.

These various ways of referencing the Lord’s Meal draw attention to its significance.  They say something about what it is.

The Sacrament of the Altar, in its most verbal sense, indicates that it is a sacred act of God distributed from the Altar.

That word, “Sacrament,” however, carries with it more than the sacredness of the institution.

Accompanied with this “sacred act” is God’s institution, and the purpose and use of it being given, “for the forgiveness of sins.”

No insignificant thing is at all going on in The Sacrament of the Altar, by any means.

Also, with the reference, “The Lord’s Supper.”

As it is the Supper of the Lord, given by Him to do as He will, it is not ours to do with what we please.

I’ve heard some use this phrase in the sense that, “as the Lord’s Supper is the Lord’s, we should not deny any to partake, because it is the Lord’s Supper, not ours.”

The last part is true.  The Lord’s Supper is not ours.

Yet, the same Supper that is not ours, but the Lord’s, is the same Supper that Christ has given to the Church, not to do with as she pleases, but to be responsible with in its distribution as the Lord has so given.

Just as the doctor is given to aid and help, and not to harm and hurt, so also the church.

She is not given to harm or hurt, but to instruct, teach and lead with the very Word of God.

In doing so, the church will say yes to some and no to others, as recognized by their confession.

Do they agree and confess the Word of God here or do they not?

Are they catechized/instructed in the true faith?

Do they give voice with us in unity of that faith, including also of our corrupt sinful human nature, or do they not do so, believing something different, not only concerning the Holy Supper itself, but also of God’s doctrine as revealed in His Word?

These are questions for which the church expects an answer.

The church of God is not a mere assembly of like-minded people.

The church is an assembly of those who confess unity in doctrine according to the Word of God.

Everyone is thus welcome to join in hearing the Word.

But to receive “Holy Communion,” yet another reference to what we’re talking about, is not something that all should do, because it is Holy, of God, and true fellowship with Him.

The unrepentant, the hardened of heart against God and His Word, the unbelieving—these are not to commune because to do so brings judgment.

It is not a question of faith that determines whether the Lord’s Supper is the Body and Blood of Christ.

Just as in Holy Baptism, Holy Communion is what it is because God says it is.

My belief or unbelief doesn’t change the substance of the thing, just as the person or faith of the pastor doesn’t influence what it is or isn’t.

Your confidence here, as with all else having to do with the things of God, is not your faith, but the Word.

That’s it.

Just as Jesus says, so it is.

The Words of Institution clearly express this, where Jesus, giving bread, says, “This is my body,” and giving wine, says, “This is my blood.”

You get the one, you get the other.

Fallen, corrupt reason will deny this and say that it cannot be:

The bread must symbolize or only represent something else. It cannot be the body of Christ.

The wine must symbolize or only represent something else. It cannot be the blood of Christ.

With the Word of God, here and everywhere, the child of God does not go by fallen, corrupt reason.

To do so would be to go against that which is of God—to go by unbelief—to place oneself above God and His Word.

Being of God, we don’t raise ourselves above God and His ways, telling God what He should have meant or giving a meaning to the Word which God has not given.

Instead, being of God, we humble ourselves before Him, acknowledging God to be God, not disbelieving what we don’t understand, but entrusting ourselves to the very Word He has given, where, and only where, genuine confidence and everlasting surety reside.

So,

[Luther’s Small Catechism, VI. The Sacrament of the Altar]

What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink. (SC, Question 1)

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” shows us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. (SC, Question 2)

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words   written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sins.” (SC, Question 3)

Who receives this sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe. (SC, Question 4)

SC & LC.jpgIn conclusion, we hear from Luther on Christ’s Testament:

20 …Now we come to its (the Sacrament’s) power and benefit, the purpose for which the sacrament was really instituted, for it is most necessary that we know what we should seek and obtain there.

21 This is plainly evident from the words… “This is my body and blood, given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

22 In other words, we go to the sacrament because we receive there a great treasure, through and in which we obtain the forgiveness of sins. Why? Because the words are there through which this is imparted! Christ bids me eat and drink in order that the sacrament may be mine and may be a source of blessing to me as a sure pledge and sign—indeed, as the very gift he has provided for me against my sins, death, and all evils.

23 Therefore, it is appropriately called the food of the soul since it nourishes and strengthens the new man. While it is true that through Baptism we are first born anew, our human flesh and blood have not lost their old skin. There are so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faint, at times even stumble.

24 The Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh and strengthen itself and not weaken in the struggle but grow continually stronger.

25 For the new life should be one that continually develops and progresses.

26 Meanwhile it must suffer much opposition. The devil is a furious enemy; when he sees that we resist him and attack the old man, and when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and skulks about everywhere, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce our faith or yield hand and foot and become indifferent or impatient.

27 For such times, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.

28 Here again our clever spirits contort themselves with their great learning and wisdom, bellowing and blustering, “How can bread and wine forgive sins or strengthen faith?” Yet they know that we do not claim this of bread and wine—since in itself bread is bread—but of that bread and wine which are Christ’s body and blood and with which the words are coupled. These and no other, we say, are the treasure through which forgiveness is obtained.

29 This treasure is conveyed and communicated to us in no other way than through the words, “given and poured out for you.” Here you have both truths, that it is Christ’s body and blood and that these are yours as your treasure and gift.

30 Christ’s body can never be an unfruitful, vain thing, impotent and useless. Yet, however great the treasure may be in itself, it must be comprehended in the Word and offered to us through the Word, otherwise we could never know of it or seek it.

31 Therefore it is absurd to say that Christ’s body and blood are not given and poured out for us in the Lord’s Supper and hence that we cannot have forgiveness of sins in the sacrament. Although the work was accomplished and forgiveness of sins was acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. (Tappert, LC ¶ 20-31). Amen.

LSB7

“For Your consoling supper, Lord,

Be praised throughout all ages!

Preserve it, for in ev’ry place

The world against it rages.

Grant that this sacrament may be

 A blessed comfort unto me

When living and when dying.”

(Lutheran Service Book 622, “Lord Jesus Christ, You Have Prepared,” v8)

 

For audio, see here.

 

 

“Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life,” John 11:1-53

 

For an audio podcast, go here.

 

The Reading…

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

      5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

      17Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha Jesus.EmptyTombheard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

      28When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

      38Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

      45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The words of Caiaphas the high priest to the chief priests and the Pharisees, recorded towards the end of today’s Gospel reading, were prophetic.

Concerning Jesus, Caiaphas had said, “It is better…that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:50).

Caiaphas spoke the truth.

It is better that one man die for all than for all to die.

It is better that Jesus suffer in the stead of the sinner than that all sinners perish.

“If by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17 NKJ).

“The death that He died, He died to sin once for all” (Rom. 6:10 NKJ).

The context in which Caiaphas prophesied such a prophecy concerning Christ Jesus was none other than what we heard in the Gospel account of St. John, following the miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus Raising LazarusThe man Lazarus had been dead for four days—four days—when the Lord cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43).

Lazarus was a man who had no breath and no life, but Jesus, by His Word alone, raised him who was dead.

Jesus has authority over death.

Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus had said, “Truly, truly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).

With Lazarus, so with you.

St. Paul writes, “You He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:1-5 NKJ)

Christ speaks to you the very Words of life.  He raises you up from the deadness of your sins to new life in Him by His Words of absolution.

Jesus’ Words are spirit and they are life (John 6:63).

They give what Jesus says and Jesus says what they give.

Jesus speaks forgiveness.  You are forgiven.

Jesus speaks life.  You live.

Because of Christ, physical death, the last trial of life, does not defeat.

When the Lord returns in glory, you shall meet Him as He is in resurrected bodies.

The grave will not retain its hold.

You belong to Christ.

“You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold…but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19 NKJ).

Jesus had said to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

Of Himself Jesus speaks.

Right in front of her was THE resurrection and THE life.

Though He Himself would die, even as Caiaphas had said, so He would also rise again on the third day.

So He did.

It is this way for all who live and believe in Jesus.

Such is the promise of the Lord, He “shall never die.”

One who lives and believes in the Lord will not die eternally.

Death has its day, but that day will not last for they who are in the Lord.

God grants everlasting blessedness and joy to they who trust in the Lord’s salvation, won by Christ, who died for the people that the whole nation, the whole world, would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

The once dead Lazarus was raised from the dead was a work of God that none could deny.

Even the Pharisees, upon hearing the news, could not denounce the testimony of so many witnesses.

Because they did not believe, they could not but act against the truth that they saw with their own eyes.

In their deliberations to put Jesus to death, their disdain for the truth, for Christ Himself, and the love that they had for themselves clearly showed itself.

The council of the Pharisees and the chief priests agreed to bring about the death of the Christ.

Their thoughts and their motives were turned inward on their own well-being rather than on that of their neighbors.

What a distinction we see between the motives of the self-righteous chief priests and Pharisees to protect their own selfish interests at the expense of another and the motives of the Other on whom the council would dish out their death wish.

The council was completely self-centered.

Christ Jesus was completely other-centered.  They meant to only benefit themselves, whom they considered deserving.

Jesus meant only for the good of others, those who the world considers undeserving.

Jesus had authority to lay down His life down that He take it again (John 10:17).

Jesus Himself said, “No one takes it (my life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:18).

No action could be taken against our Lord except it be permitted to do so.

Here foreshadow the words of the dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Jesus, where Pilate asks Jesus,

“‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin’” (John 19:9-11).

Pilate had been given authority from above to carry out the death of Jesus.  So had the council been permitted to arrest Jesus in the garden by the hand of Judas Iscariot.

Though the wicked have their way (for a time), God even works through what we cannot comprehend.

Through the death of Jesus, God gathers “into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:52).

Through that which was done to Jesus, even His death on the cross, Jesus saved the world and draws all men to Himself.

Through Christ’s death, “God reconciled Himself to the world” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

No longer are the children of God scattered abroad.

They come together in Christ.

He is your Head.

Christ and His truth truly unite.

The reason all are not one in this unity is because all do not accept the truth.

But it is the Lord Jesus alone Who saves.

Though you don’t always see or understand how things, circumstances, afflictions, trials, sufferings, or even death can be for good or that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:18), you don’t need to.

It’s in what God has done in Christ Jesus and by what He has spoken, by what He speaks in His Holy Word, that you are sure that they do.  Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1Almighty God, by Your great goodness mercifully look upon Your people that we may be governed and preserved evermore in body and soul; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent)

 

For an audio podcast, go here.

 

 

“Eyes Opened,” John 9:1-41

 

John 9:1-41

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus-healing manIn today’s text from the ninth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, there was a man born blind to whom our Lord Jesus gave sight.

There was a common belief, then, as now, that if one was born blind, lame, deaf, mute, with a birth defect, or had another noticeable mark, there was a reason for it.

That reason was either that one or both of parents had sinned, or that somehow the child born with the condition had done something to deserve such a condition.

When the disciples of our Lord asked Jesus who had sinned, the blind man or his parents, that he was born blind, they assumed that the blindness was some kind of punishment.

It is true in general that we receive the consequences for the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden and for our own sin, including sickness, pandemics, and death.

Also, for the things that we do or don’t do in caring for the bod, there can be consequences.

But to say that a sin committed by the parents or a sin committed by the son resulted in the punishment of blindness is something that we cannot say.

To the disciples who had asked the question, Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).

Jesus didn’t mean by this that neither the man who was born blind nor his parents were sinless.

What Jesus meant was that the blindness was not a punishment for a specific sin, the very thing that the disciples were thinking.

The man’s blindness, Jesus says, was not because he or his parents committed anything to bring it about, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

And revealed in him they indeed were.

Jesus healed the man of His blindness.

But even more than that, the Lord Jesus opened the man’s eyes to see Him for who He really was, the Son of Man, God’s Son and Savior of the world.

First, Jesus worked the work of God in giving the blind man the ability to physically see, then He worked the work of God in giving the blind man the “eyes” of faith to believe in Jesus.

Jesus had done, and does similarly, for you.

The works of God are revealed today in you.

You still bear the effects and consequences of sin in your bodies and in the world.

This we can see clearly today, also as we see the spread of that for which we have little control.

It is only by God’s abounding grace that the Lord continues to provide for all our bodily needs, even through medical advances, doctors, nurses, hospitals, medications, treatments, and vaccines, as He wills.

Of greater value than these things, your Lord gives you the gift of sight that you see His promises.

Our Lord, by means of His Word, works the miracle of faith in your hearts by which He gives you faith to believe Jesus to be your Savior, your Savior from that same sin which brings forth physical, spiritual, and eternal death, your Savior from that same sin which Adam and Eve brought into the world.

Because Jesus died on the cross and was raised on the third day, you have no need to fear physical death.

You have no need to fear physical death because you know, on account of Christ’s resurrection, that you too will not remain in the grave.

Jesus Himself said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

He also said, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).

Because it is Jesus who said these words, you have no reason to doubt them.

You have no reason to doubt them because Jesus is who He claimed to be.

Jesus is He through whom you have the precious forgiveness of sins; He through whom you have no need to fear eternal death.

The things of this life are only temporary.  And though they certainly are real, they will not last.  Nor do they define who you are as baptized children of God.  God does.

By His Word, our Lord gives you faith to continue believing what He says to be so, that you not think of yourselves higher than you ought to think, but that you humbly look to Him for help and hope (Romans 12:3).

In Him is where you find such things, for such is His promise, now, and when He returns.

All that you rightfully deserved because of your sin Christ Jesus suffered and bore on the cross.

St. Paul says it this way, that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). There too does he also say that “Through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation” (Romans 5:18).

As that man born blind from birth could not bring about his own sight, so you too are helpless in your own condition to get yourselves out of it.

The Bible says that “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

By nature, our fallen condition, we don’t believe in the Lord Jesus because we are spiritually dead.

Unless God breathes into us the breath of life, His Spirit, in our sin we will remain.

Natural man can give himself life as much as a baby in or outside of the womb can give itself life.

The baby doesn’t give itself life.  Its mother does.

Natural man doesn’t give himself life.  God does.

So also, with the new birth of water and word in Holy Baptism.

One doesn’t choose or decide to be born again.  It is a gift of God.

Because of this new life given to us, we desire this new life to also be given to others.

We thus desire to speak the truth in love and pray our Lord to give boldness that we not compromise our witness by what we say or don’t say or do or don’t do.

We pray that we not be ashamed of our Lord, even as that man born blind in our text who was given to see did not back down when questioned about how he came to see.

He stood his ground and gave testimony to what had happened to him and how Jesus had healed him.

How much greater it is that Jesus brought that same man to faith!

Not only did Jesus give him the sight to see worldly things.  Jesus gave Him eternal life, and the faith to believe it.

So, to you, too, does our Lord reveal your salvation.

On you, God shows mercy.

“Through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Romans 5:18).

 “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8).

Through the preaching of this Good News, God gives faith.

God gives faith to take hold of what God has done for you, that you know and believe that what Jesus has done He has done for you.

God gives faith that you know and believe that what Jesus still does He does for you.

God gives faith that you continue to have life in His Name, that you see His goodness to you, and rejoice, give thanks, and follow Him, praising is Name.

God gives faith that your eyes be opened to His mercy and His grace, given and declared to you in Jesus, now and always.  Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, give me eyes to believe Your Son, always, and to confess Him alone to be my Savior. Amen.

 

 

“Worship in Spirit and in Truth,” John 4:5-30, 39-42

 

5[Jesus] came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

      7There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jesus & Samaritan Woman at well 2Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

      16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

      27Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30They went out of the town and were coming to him. . .

      39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

It is truly extraordinary that our God came in the likeness of sinful man.

He became flesh and blood to take your place under the law in order to redeem you from the curse of the law (Galatians 4:5).

You don’t ascend to Him.

He comes to you.

He comes to you in such a way that you can even approach Him.

It was this way for the woman in our text.

At first, she didn’t recognize the identity of our Lord.

She didn’t recognize Him because He didn’t look like anything spectacular.

He looked like a Jewish man of that time, because that’s what He was.

Jesus is also God, but not God revealed in His glory-God concealed in humanity.

You couldn’t tell that Jesus was God just by looking at Him, even as you can’t tell that Jesus is here present, but by His Word.

The woman thought Jesus was just like any other Jew.

Jesus was indeed a man, with all the physical needs that are also our own.

We need to eat.  We need to drink.  We need sleep.

Jesus too experienced these bodily necessities.  “He humbled Himself…taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).

He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus asked the woman for water with the intention of directing her to things eternal, not only to things temporal.

As He spoke to her about “living water,” she didn’t get it.

Like with Nicodemus before (John 3), He had told her earthly things, and because she didn’t get those things, she wouldn’t understand as He told her spiritual things.

She continued seeking earthly kinds of things and not the heavenly, even though Jesus sought to draw her attention to matters of eternal significance and away from things temporal.

Jesus is this way with us, too.

We are yet in the flesh.

How often we set our minds on things of the earth and neglect the heavenly things promised in Christ! (Colossians 3:1-2)

We fret and worry about life’s circumstances.

We not only fail to see God’s Word and promises right before our eyes.  We demonstrate lack of confidence and faith in what our Lord has said, even seeking comfort and help from that which is not of God.

We feel sad, get frustrated, and become depressed because things aren’t going our way or because things are just so hard.

We doubt the very promises of our Lord.

We are tempted to think that God doesn’t care.

We fail to see the blessings of our Lord in the midst of difficult times.

We are distracted by the here and now and we miss the big picture, the big picture of the eternal, that which is, and will be, according to what God says, and that which is our sure hope in Jesus.

Like the woman at the well who heard of living water and sought after only earthly water, we hear about prosperity and blessing and temporary fulfillment.

We might think that God promises earthly wealth and a worldly kind of happiness.

We hear the words of peace and we might think that God promises an earthly utopia.

We hear the words of forgiveness and we might think that God is okay with sin and that sin is really no big deal.

Truly this is how some even perceive the Christian faith, that it has more to do with earthly kind of things than even of heaven itself.

A worldly kind of gospel finds a great following among many today, but it is a gospel that has little to do with the Jesus of the Bible and more to do with feeding the dream of success, earthly contentment, worldly peace, and self-satisfaction.

THE Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has to do with eternity.

It has to do with contentment in Christ, not in what one does or doesn’t have in the world.

It has to do with how you now stand before God because of Jesus—truly forgiven, your sins not being added to your account, not because your sins are in any way minimized, but because Jesus paid the full price, purchasing you with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has to do with the message of eternal life, not earthly wealth, earthly gain, success, popularity, or acceptance.

The things of the world are passing away, the Bible says, but the Word of the Lord endures forever (1 Peter 1:25).

The circumstances, conditions, and emotions of our lives constantly change, up the one moment and down the next.

We experience uncertainty.

But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

We know God’s disposition towards us from day to day because of Him: for good, and not for evil; for salvation, not for condemnation; for help, not for destruction.

“Salvation is,” as our Lord says, “from the Jews.”

Jesus Himself was a Jew, born of Mary, the very seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 1:2).

Herein is your hope.

You don’t climb a mountain or go to Jerusalem to worship.  Nor do you not know Who you worship.

You do.

You do know who you worship because of Him who reveals Himself to you in the Word as the Christ.

This One reveals to you that He is the Son of the heavenly Father, whose Father is now also your Father.

When Jesus says as He does in our text, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth,” Jesus is NOT saying that you worship our Lord however you want.

Worship in spirit and truth does not mean that.

Spirit and truth kind of worship is that kind of worship that is according to God’s Word and Will.

That kind of worship which is according to God’s Word and Will is that kind of worship which has Christ Jesus as the center.

At one point in Jesus’ ministry, he had said, “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).

It is not the one who only thinks that He is worshiping God who truly is, but the one who actually is worshiping God as God wills Himself to be worshiped, that is, through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Bible doesn’t talk about a generic god.

Nor does it talk about a god that contradicts himself or allows inconsistencies to abound.

Any and all who say that all religions worship the same God don’t worship the true God, for the true God they do not know.

Any and all who say that Jews and Muslims worship the true God don’t know the true God, for the true God is He who does not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11).

The true God reveals Himself as Triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; not three gods, but one God; three persons, yet one God.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is indeed a mystery—a mystery that you believe just the same.

You are happy and bold to confess the Trinity.

Also are you glad and bold to confess God’s Son, Jesus.

“Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22, 23).

“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son.   He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.   And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.   He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:9-12).

We worship the Lord God in Christ Jesus.

We confess Christ, seek forgiveness of sins from Him, and seek everlasting life from Him.

Because we believe Christ to be the only begotten Son of God, who gives true and living water unto eternal life, we also gather here in this place.

We know that Jesus is here.

God promises that here, Jesus speaks, according to His Holy Word.

Means of Grace-window-round1Here, Jesus gives His own body and blood to eat and to drink, not to condemn, but to forgive and strengthen faith.

Here, Jesus absolves you of your sin and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.

Worship in spirit and in truth is not about you doing for God.

Worship in spirit and truth is seeking from God mercy and forgiveness, life and salvation—through His Son.

Worship in spirit and in truth is looking to Jesus.

It is believing Jesus and trusting His Word and promise.

From this, all else follows.  Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasFather, forgive me for worshiping You my own way.  Grant me to worship in spirit and truth, according to Your Holy Word and Holy will, trusting Your Word, believing Your promises, confessing Your Name, and so living. Amen.

 

“God So Loved the World,” John 3:1-17

1There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, JesusOnCrossOverWorldunless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

      9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

      16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (ESV)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Perhaps the most “well-known” words of today’s Gospel reading are those of v16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Rightly so.

But such words, as truly expressive as they are of God’s love in Christ, can be easily misunderstood and misapplied, as if to suggest that man has to do something to keep from perishing, to suggest that man has to believe, and that such believing is within his own power to do so, or else he does not have eternal life.

Other errors applied to this text, though apart from the words of the text, include the idea that believing is only the beginning part or that faith in Christ alone is insufficient for salvation.  Something else is still needed other than simple faith. Something remains dependent upon us—what we do, how we live, for eternal life to be and remain ours.

As an example of this are the words of this “testimony” found in a Thrivent magazine article, without qualification and without correction:

“Even though I had been a Christian for many years, it was on a mission trip…that a friend reminded me that if I was a believer but didn’t include ‘service’ in that belief system, I wasn’t really living the way God wanted me to!…I know that simply believing in God isn’t enough.  We must be His servants…” (Thrivent, March 2017, p3).

Within Christianity, these and similar words are accepted as true, the idea that “believing” is not enough.

But “enough” for what?

That service to others is necessary, we wholeheartedly agree, as does Holy Scripture.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus says (Matthew 19:19||Leviticus 19:18).

St. Paul the apostle writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10, NKJ).

Service to neighbor, however, is not the main thing of the Christian faith and life, though it is not excluded from the life of the Christian.

Our Lord directs our attention to His Word, in which He says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NKJ).

If you want to do what God says, hear and believe Word.

But if such belief is in a god, generically, and not in God’s Son, Jesus, who died on the cross, that faith is not at all sufficient, because such a faith is a false faith and not at all that which saves.

If belief in God is such a faith that looks to something other than God’s mercy in Christ alone for help and salvation, even to one’s own service as completing faith, then, again, that faith is not godly faith through which is eternal life.

The faith that saves is that faith which does not at all believe in self or any other, but rests all hope in Jesus alone for forgiveness and only upon God’s mercy.

It is not our service to others that completes faith by which we are then saved, nor is it our love that makes faith sufficient for salvation.

It is God’s love in Christ alone by which you have your sins forgiven, God’s mercy, and heaven itself as your promised inheritance.

Only in God sending His Son and the Son being sent and lifted on the tree of death in crucifixion is your salvation.

God did, and does, so love the world.

God’s love is unconditional.

God’s love is not conditioned by the response to that love with which God so loves the world.

God’s love is not only for the believer and those who will believe.

For the worst of sinners and for the ungodly did God send His Son into the world.

“When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6 NKJ).

“To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5 NKJ).

God’s love extends to all people, none excluded.

Such words, however, don’t make sense to sinful reason. They seem utter nonsense.

Who would give something for nothing in return?

Who would freely give a gift to someone only to have it rejected?

God’s kind of love for us sinners cannot be understood by sinful man.

“O love, how deep, how broad, how high, Beyond all thought and fantasy,

 That God, the Son of God, should take – Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.”

“For us by wickedness betrayed, For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,

He bore the shameful cross and death; For us He gave His dying breath.”

(LSB 544 “O Love, How Deep,” v1)

What is sin before God is not only that which others can see.

Sin before God includes also what others cannot see.

Sin before God includes not only the “big” sins, as we define them, but the “little” sins, too, those sins which perhaps we have little concern about, yet are still condemned by God, regardless of how we think of them.

Sin includes not only that which is known, but also that which remains hidden, even to ourselves.

Sin is not only an action.  It is a condition, which all people since the Fall have inherited.

God shows no partiality (i.e. Acts 10:34).

Before God, one sinner is just as guilty as the next.

The sin might look bigger when compared to another.

But before God, sin is sin. Even eating a forbidden fruit brings about eternal death, not because of the size of the violation (as we see it), but because of who the violation is against.

Adam and Eve were not cast out of Paradise for simply eating fruit.

They were cast out of Paradise for eating fruit that God had forbidden them to eat.

It was not the fruit that got them into trouble.

It was their disobedience God, their disbelief in His Word.

In addition to their being cast out, their disobedience, their unbelief, brought death and destruction into the world.

The consequences of their sin we, too, receive.

“Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12 NKJ).

“All mankind fell in Adam’s fall; One common sin infects us all.

From one to all the curse descends, And over all God’s wrath impends.

(LSB 562 “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall, v1)

Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, and because of our own sin, we are all lumped together before God as sinners.

Some sins might be more obvious than others; other sins are more concealed and hidden (1 Timothy 5:24).

But for this world full of open and secret sinners, God sent His Son, because He so loved the world.

Because He so loved you!

What encouraging words these are!

You are in the world.

Therefore, has God sent His Son for you.

Because of Jesus, you know that the God who made heaven and earth loves you with an enduring love, an unconditional love, an everlasting love.

God’s love is yours, for Christ was lifted in death.

Your belief or unbelief cannot and does not change what Jesus has already done.

Christ already died and lives forevermore.

Lest there be those who hear this as license to sin, St. Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”  “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NKJ)

Rather, it means all the more that you try to resist temptation, are earnest in prayer, and seek all the more to do what pleases the Lord.

For absolute confidence of God’s love, however, look only to Christ, who says, “Whoever believes—Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

It is not in or by your progress, or lack thereof, that is either your encouragement or reason to despair.

Only see Christ, for in Him is your true and only hope and certainty before God.

There are many who say that God is a “God of love,” for so He is (1 John 4:8, 16).

But many of these do not believe in Jesus Christ.

They believe God to be a god who allows everything and anything, a god who is open to all kinds of different lifestyles, a god who allows all kinds of sins to continue, a god who is  tolerant of the worst kinds of sins, a god who does not condemn sin, a god who simply looks the other way, a god who pats on the back and says, “keep trying” and “just do your best, for that is all that I expect” (as you determine what that “best” is and what that “trying” means).

Such a god is a god of one’s own making and not the God of the Bible.

The God of the Bible says “no” to sin and condemns it.

The God of the Bible does not tolerate godlessness.

Rather does He promise sure punishment upon all who do not turn from their sinful ways and seek mercy, the mercy that is found only in the One whom the Father sent.

God gives you to believe His Son, His Son who gave Himself freely in sacrifice for the debt of your sin, the punishment for which you are not able to pay but by eternal death.

Jesus has truly paid that debt, by means of His death on the cross.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Such is God’s love.

It is not by what you do or how good you are that have the certainty of God’s love for you in Christ.

True joy and peace does not come from you or from what you do, but from God, from God in and through Jesus Christ.

This Good News is not made known by the work of man.

It is not gotten to by man’s reason.

It is not rational according to human logic.

It is not deserved or merited.

The Good News of sins forgiven in Christ is the gift of God, revealed by Him through His Son.

By nature, we do not know this Good News of Jesus Christ.

We were born of the flesh, and being born of the flesh, we could not know, for “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14, NKJ).

But thanks be to God! “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

In the waters of Holy Baptism, God birthed you anew in the spirit.  Now, you are born from above, born-again, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13, NKJ).

“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” (Tit. 3:4-7, NKJ).

You are heirs of the kingdom—through faith in God’s Son.

You believe this, not because of you or because of your own choice, decision, or work, but because such faith is from the very God who gives it.

“Flesh and blood” neither reveal the wonderful works of God, nor the Savior (Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:50).

It is the Giver, the “Father…who is in heaven,” that does (Matthew 16:17). Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, because You so loved the world, because You so loved me, You sent Your 0nly-Begotten Son to die my death and to be my Savior. Give me faith to believe, for I am not able to believe without You creating the faith within me and sustaining that faith so given that I remain Yours. Amen.

 

 

“The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord,” Luke 2:22-40

Simeon&Jesus22When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, [Mary and Joseph] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation  31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

      33And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

      36And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

      39And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Of the accounts of our Lord Jesus, probably the most recognized are that of His birth, and that of His death and resurrection.  The birth of Jesus means God coming in the flesh, for you and for me, to save us from our sins, even as the writer to the Hebrews writes, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same” (Hebrews 2:14).

The death of Jesus by crucifixion on Good Friday means that your sin has been dealt with in a real way and that it can no longer condemn you, as St. Paul writes, “In Him,” in Jesus, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

The resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead means that you are no longer in your sins.

It means that your faith in the resurrected Christ is not futile (1 Corinthians 15:17).

It means that Jesus “has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:21-23).

St. Peter also writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Though the more familiar accounts of our Lord Jesus Christ might be that of His birth, death, and resurrection, not to mention the numerous works of God that He did before His death, like raising the dead, healing the sick, and casting out demons, and the wonderful Words which He spoke, less familiar might be the accounts of His early childhood, specifically, those early days of His life—those days shortly after His birth.

Of these days, St. Luke writes about in today’s Gospel.  Simply said, they are the accounts of 1Jesus’s presentation in the temple, 2the words of Simeon and his song which we call the Nunc Dimittis, and 3the account of Anna, who gave thanks to the Lord, having seen Jesus.

These three accounts serve as the outline for today’s message.

According to the Law of Moses, a woman who had given birth to a male child was considered unclean for a period of 40 days.  It was at this time that Mary and Joseph brought the child to the temple and gave their offering.  At this time, the first-born son was presented to the Lord.

As the first-born males of Egypt had died in the last plague before Pharaoh freed the children of Israel from their bondage in the Old Testament, so would the first-born males be redeemed by the sacrifice of an animal.

Now—the Sacrifice, He who would redeem—buy back—deliver, not only Israel, but Gentiles, all people—you—was being presented to the Lord, even according to the Law.

Being presented to the Lord in obedience to the Law, Jesus was The One who would redeem—buy back—deliver—you by His sacrifice, that you be acceptable to God.

In Jesus, you are acceptable to God, for He his The Sacrifice for your sins.

Through His blood, God cleanses you of all your sin once and for all (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10).

Where sin is cleansed, “There is no longer an offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18).

Jesus, coming into His temple—even as a baby just over a month old—is not without significance.

It is Jesus that we are talking about here(!), not a child conceived of man, but conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin.  Yet a baby Jesus at the time, none-the-less.

According to the eye, who would know Jesus to be the Savior of the World?

Who would know Jesus to be THE ONE through whom sin is forgiven?

Who would know that through Jesus, through that baby, there is peace with God?

Simeon was such a man, such a man who recognized Jesus for who He was.

He didn’t know this truth by sight.

He didn’t know that Jesus was THE ONE because of how Jesus looked, or because there was some sort of aura about Him.

Jesus appeared as any other baby boy that had been brought to the temple.

So how did Simeon know what He did about Jesus?

Was it through the local or the national news channel?

Was it through an emotionally, charismatically charged, excited televangelist?

Was it through e-mail or social media?

None of these, of course, revealed to single Simeon that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah come into the world.

It was by God’s Spirit alone that Simeon knew the identity of the child Jesus brought into the temple.

No other way would he have known.

No other way do you know the truth of Jesus’ identity except by God’s Spirit—God’s Spirit working through the Word of God—God’s Spirit working faith in your hearts that you believe in Jesus according to that Word.

It is through God’s Word that God makes known to you His will, that you forsake your will and tendencies and instead, to follow Him—to trust in Him alone and not in the things of this world, as tempting as they might be.

According to the Word of God, we know that Jesus is the Consolation, not only of Israel, but of all people, Jew and Gentile alike.

In Him, and in Him alone, is their rest on every side (Matthew 11:28-30).

In Him, and in Him alone, do you have peace within, even if everything else does not appear so.

Even as few believe the Words of our Lord, we pray that God give strength that we remain firm to the end.

We pray that the Lord work faith in the hearts of those who disbelieve, that they too know of God’s grace in Christ.

We pray that they too see Christ, that they not go according to what they see, what think they know, or according to disbelief, but take hold of the bare Scriptures and have them as they are, that they too see the salvation of God, even as we do, and even as Simeon did.

By God’s grace, Simeon received the promise of God and was ready to “depart,” even to die, “in peace”.

The Lord’s salvation in Christ gives such readiness.

We don’t know how old Simeon really was, but seeing the Lord’s Christ, the promise of God having been fulfilled, it doesn’t matter.  According to the Lord’s Word, any who are in Christ, regardless of age, are ready to “depart in peace”, for Christ is their peace.

Having heard the Lord’s Word, His promise of salvation fulfilled in Christ, the expected ONE having come, we too are ready.  You need nothing else—nothing else but Christ, and Him God has sent, Him God has given.

In our liturgies, we boldly confess having this Christ, even as Simeon had.

Note the location of Simeon’s song, also called the Nunc Dimittis, in today’s Divine Service, not yet sung.

The words in part read,

“Lord now You let Your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of every people.”

Such blessed words, parallel with those of Simeon who beheld Jesus and held him in his arms, are also those blessed words of those who behold the Christ in body and blood and bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar.

No mere ordinance keeping memorial meal at all here.

Jesus, giving His very body and blood for your salvation, the forgiveness of your sins.

We sing the song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, because just as Simeon, so also do we see the Lord’s Christ in Holy Communion, according to the Lord’s Word.

His Word means something.

He says what He means and means what He says.

Only those of Christ and having faith in Christ, look to Christ for freedom from sin, death, and hell.  There is no other to turn to.  There is no other lasting comfort.  He alone is sufficient.  And for this ONE, Anna gave thanks to the Lord and spoke “of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem”.

The one who hears such words and believes, who has seen the Lord’s Christ and so confesses Him to be the Lord, can’t help but give thanks, as the Psalmist says,

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD!” (Psalm 105:1-3).

The Lord Christ was brought into the temple according to the Lord’s will at that time by his parents, as recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel.

Anna, by God’s grace, was also given to see the child, as Simeon had.

With a thankful heart she spoke of Jesus—with a thankful heart because of the Lord’s kindness to her in making Himself known.

It is like this with you, too.

In Jesus, God makes known to you your salvation.

He makes known to you your peace with God.

This is all His doing.

Readily does our Lord do this—by means of His Word.

By means of His Word, you, like Anna and like Simeon, are given the very gifts God gives you—Jesus, Jesus—your hope—and Jesus—your Savior and salvation.

We close with words from Luther: “Whosoever has this Savior, the Savior of God, may have a peaceful, quiet heart.  For though death be as terrible, the sin as mighty, the devil as evil and poisonous as he ever will, yet we have the Savior of God, that is, an almighty, eternal Savior; He is strong enough to move us out of death into life, out of sin into righteousness.” Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, by means of Your Word alone, give me faith to believe Your Son to be my Savior and so rejoice in Him all my days. Amen.

 

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