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Christ Your Hope

Jesus.EmptyTomb

 

19 If in this life we only have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

 1 Corinthians 15:19-21

He is Risen.  He is Risen indeed.  Alleluia!

On this joyous occasion, Christ’s church confidently rejoices in the bodily resurrection of Jesus her Lord.   The suffering and death that Christ had endured is now past.  Jesus reigns victoriously over death and the grave.  His three-day tomb remains forever empty.  Jesus is risen, just as He had said.  Sin has lost its power and dominion.

Jesus our Savior died with your sin on the cross Good Friday.  But He who knew no sin, who became sin for us, was the only victor, the only one of the two standing when all was said and done.  Darkness had covered the land with Jesus’ death.  But now, the light of Christ shines brightly, piercing through the darkness of death and rejoicing the heart with resurrected gladness.

News of Christ’s triumph flows as a river throughout the world, giving life to all who drink from it.  This water is the pure water of God’s truth.  This water contains no contaminates, nor is any harmful material to be found in it.  It does not make sick.  It brings to health.  It does not make weak.  It brings strength.  It does not cause complacency.  It moves to faith.  It does not cause despondency.  It moves to confidence.  It does not bring hopelessness.  It raises to blessed assurance, the blessed assurance that Jesus is yours, that He has overcome death and the grave.  Just as He has been resurrected from the dead, so you too are brought to life in Christ Jesus our Lord, raised from the deadness of your sin to the resurrection of eternal life.

This is good news!  Christ has now arisen.  Had Christ, who once was slain, not burst His three-day prison, our faith had been in vain.  The words of Hymn 482 in Lutheran Service Book, appropriately titled, “This Joyful Eastertide,” echo the words of St. Paul where he writes, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Corinthians 15:14).  With these words, St. Paul the apostle demonstrates the futility and the utter uselessness of faith apart from the bodily resurrection of our Lord.

In the day of this blessed apostle, there were those who claimed that there was no resurrection of the dead (v12).  For some reason, they had lost sight of the truth of Christ’s resurrection.   Having lost sight of that, they could do no other except lose sight of the hope and promise of God.  Though St. Paul proclaimed Christ as having been raised from the dead (v12), this message had lost significance among some in the church of Corinth.  Therefore, these men falsely concluded that there was no resurrection from the dead.  Having no confidence in the Lord’s resurrection, they could do no other except construct a hope of their own making.  In the process, the very hope that St. Paul had preached to them became null and void, not because it wasn’t true, but because there was no trust in what had been rightfully and diligently proclaimed.

Except it be for the witness and testimony of the Holy Scriptures, we too would be in the same boat of doubt and denial when it comes to the resurrection of the dead.   But the Words of God before us today reveal differently.  This day called Easter witnesses and testifies, according to the Bible, that there is a resurrection from the dead and that Christ is alive according to the flesh.

These things cannot be apprehended apart from God’s witness and testimony.  They cannot be understood and held to be true based on our own personal experiences.  Instead, the things of God are not naturally known.  They are revealed through the heavenly Word, not the heavenly word of our own heart or head, but the heavenly Word written and sealed in God’s book, written by the apostles’ and prophets.

If these Word’s of our Lord were not so, there would indeed be no bodily resurrection of Christ.  There would be no ‘rose again from the dead’ or ‘rose again according to the Scriptures’ of the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds.  Christians everywhere would be making false confessions and lying before the world of Him who died and rose again; if indeed Christ had not risen.

If there were no resurrection of the dead, all worship and praise would be empty and worthless.  There would be no need to worship in a Christian congregation, for all ‘roads would certainly lead to heaven.’  There would be no uniqueness to Christianity, for it would turn into a religion of salvation by works, as all the other religions are today.  Believers and nonbelievers alike would all be going to the same place.  It would not really matter what one believed, as long as one was sincere of heart.

If Christ did not rise, then it would truly be as St. Paul says, “If in this life we only have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (v19).  If there was no resurrection of the dead, and if Christ had not been raised, then the church’s proclamation of her risen Lord would be for nothing.  Her number one priority would not be preaching the Gospel of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, but preaching man’s works and emphasizing his own endeavors, not in the service of others, but for earning recognition with God.  God’s ministers would be false teachers and false witnesses, because they testify of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up – if in fact the dead do not rise (v14-15).

If Christ had not been raised, faith would be in vain.  Worship would be void and hypocritical.  There would be no reason to come to church, even only a few times a year, because there would be no hope in this hopeless world.  There would be no God but oneself, for who could know God if the Bible was untrue?  There would be no eternal hope for a blessed peace.  All would live as many do now, living for themselves and not for the Lord or for neighbor.  There would be little concern for the future and more for the instant gratification of today.

With no resurrection of the dead, nor resurrection of Christ, what would be the hope of sinful man before the just God?  Could man by His work or ability satisfy the penalty of sin, the debt of iniquity, or the guilt of transgression?  What would be the end of it all?   And what would be the end of the entire world, even of us who confess Christ Jesus to be Lord, except hopelessness, misery, and grief.  Satisfaction and contentment could never be guaranteed and everyone would be in the ‘rat race’ of trying to make peace with God at any expense and by any means.

But thanks be to God!  It is not as they in St. Paul’s day claimed.  Nor is it as many in our day believe, that Jesus is a crutch and that one has the power to altar or change one’s destiny before God.  Christ has indeed risen from the dead!  This means everything to us and to Christ’s church.  Death could not hold Him.  The grave could not bind Him.  The tomb could not contain Him.  Christ was not sealed in by death.  He opened the way to life, the hopeful life, the confident life, the blessed life, and the eternal life.

Christ is your hope this day.  By His death, He died your death.  By His life, you are raised to new life.  No longer does your guilt have the last word.  Consciences are clear and free.  The debt of your iniquity is paid.  The penalty of your sin, forgiven.  In Christ, you have everlasting hope before the just God.  Instead of liable, you are innocent.  Instead of accountable for sin, you are liberated from your sin.  Peace with God is now our state of affairs in the presence of God.  Christ is your peace.  Hopefulness, joy, and delight are now your end.  Instead of meaninglessness, there is meaningfulness in life.

Christ is risen from the dead!  Our faith in the resurrection is not in vain.  He who died lives forevermore.  There is reason for eager anticipation and joyous expectation of what will be.  Our heavenly homecoming is drawing near.  His Means of Grace are effective and powerful.  God’s Word gives what it says.  Even today, His Word works wonders.  Great expectations are the product of the faith founded on the Lord’s promises, not only for the future, but even in the present.

The Church’s proclamation of her risen Lord is not for nothing.  Her Lord is her everything.  Through liturgy and song, the church confesses her Savior.  Through prayer and praise, she confesses her Christ.  The preaching that man’s sins are forgiven in Christ Jesus continues to be the mission of the church.  Man does not earn recognition with God by what He does.  But God, in His mercy, grants His favor to man through His beloved Son.  Through Jesus, God recognizes you as saint, holy, and righteous.  The Lord’s resurrection is true.  God’s Word is not untrue.

Because Christ has risen from the dead, worship of the Triune God is not trivial and without value.  Worship of God in spirit and truth is full of meaning and import.  Because God and His Word are true, heavenly gifts are offered at the baptismal font and at the Lord’s altar.  Our Lord speaks words of life.  Those of His sheepfold listen to His voice and feast at His banqueting table of Word and Sacrament.  Because the Lord is risen from the dead, there is complete uniqueness to the religion called Christianity.  No other religion teaches the salvation of the God who became man, died, and rose again on the third day.   All other religions do lead to the same place, but Christ alone grants eternal life.  All others lead elsewhere.  It really does matter what one believes, regardless of how sincere one is.

The Apostolic and Nicene Creeds of Christendom are true.  They do give an accurate witness to the faith of Christians everywhere, both of Christians today and of Christians before.  Their confessions testify to the world of Christ’s resurrection and of Him who died and rose again.  There is a ‘rose again from the dead’ and a ‘rose again according to the Scriptures’, for Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.  The Scriptures are really true.  The testimonies are correct.  The Word is sure.  The truth is found.

There is much reason to rejoice this day.  The Christ, who had once been slain, has burst His three-day prison.  Death no longer entombs Him.  ‘Christ has triumphed!  He is living!  Alleluia!’  (LSB 465, “Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds”).  This is a ‘Joyful Eastertide’, for Christ ‘the Crucified has sprung to life’ (LSB 482, “This Joyful Eastertide”).  ‘He lives, yes, He lives, and will nevermore die’ (LSB 480, He‘s Risen, He’s Risen).  Jesus is your Savior, faithful and true.  Because He lives, you too shall live with Him, now and forevermore.  Amen.

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The Virgin Birth of Our Lord–An Article of Faith

“So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Luke 2:6-7

 

In the Name of Jesus, the Son of God.  Amen.

So insignificantly, lowly, and humbly did Christ enter the world.  Hardly did the world at all take notice.  Yet angels sang and the heavens rejoiced (Luke 2:13).  Mere shepherds went to Bethlehem to see that which the Lord made to pass by the announcement of the angel,  “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

If such record had not appeared in Holy Scripture, who would believe it—that God became flesh through the womb of a virgin, having been conceived of the Holy Spirit?  That God did become flesh, though without any sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15), is truly an article of faith.  Yet, this God-man Jesus became sin for us, for you, that you “might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Few believe such Good News today because they do not want such a Savior as the One whom God sent.  They want a savior of their own making.  But such a man-made savior does not save, nor will the vapor of false confidences remain.  Only One truly delivers from sin, death, and the devil.  This is none other than the Jesus Christ born of the Virgin and even laid in a manger; the Jesus Christ who was laid on the cross to bear our sin.

There, too, on the cross, Jesus did not look like much of a Savior.  But there, on the cross, is where all your sins died, with Christ’s death.  Yet He, approved by God, rose the third day.  In the grave your sins remained.  Yet He triumphed over death and the grave, and gives eternal life to all who believe this.

Insignificantly, lowly, and humbly does Christ come into the world still.  Through Word preached, Holy Baptism, and the Holy Supper of our Lord, Christ Jesus comes to you to give you life and salvation.  Indeed, these means and gifts of God mean little to the world.  But they do not lose their power because of that.  Nor do they lose their effectiveness because few believe and doubt.  They are effective because God Himself works through them, though the world deny such great blessings.  And they remain the very means by which God calls, gathers, and enlightens the Christian church on earth.

For now, this church appears as insignificant, lowly, and humbly as Christ did.  Yet as Christ comes again in all of His glory, so also will His bride be revealed in all her glory, which is Christ’s.

 

The Lord richly bless you this Time of Christmas as you rejoice in the gift of your Savior, Jesus Christ!  Amen.

 

 

Lord Jesus, as you came into the world, being laid in the manger low,

So greater faith and courage on me bestow,

That I may believe in Your Holy Word each and every day,

And not at all doubt whatever you say.

Lord Jesus, forgive me for dwelling on my sight

And for walking in the uncertainty of night.

Grant me an ever firmer trust and confidence that is daring and bold,

With a confession that is courageous and a heart that is neither lukewarm nor cold.

Lord Jesus, keep me in the holy and true faith and doctrine to the end,

And open my ears to gladly hear and believe the messengers whom you send,

For they speak of Jesus, who lived, died, and rose the third day,

To save me from my lawlessness and for all my sins to pay.

Give me joy and blessing this Christmas Tide and season

And bring me to live only by faith in Your Word above human reason,

For the world and its ways are corrupt and have an end,

Yet Your ways are holy and just, and my ways You transcend.

Amen.

Stubbornness and Idolatry

Then Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.

1 Samuel 15:22-23

 

Through Samuel the prophet, God had told King Saul to “utterly destroy” (v3) the Amalekites for what they had previously done to Israel, their men, their women, their animals, everything. But instead of doing what the Lord had said, King Saul “spared the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to destroy them” (v9).

Saul had done these things, in clear opposition to what the Lord had said, with what he (and we) would have thought to be the best of intentions, “to sacrifice to the Lord” (v15).  The problem was this, that King Saul did not follow the Word of the Lord, but “did his own thing” and what he thought was right.  As a result, God rejected Saul as king (1 Samuel 15).

In not obeying God’s Word and going “his own way,” Saul committed the sin of idolatry.  Even though he thought that he was doing right, he was greatly in the wrong, even going against God, for he acted in defiance of God by putting his own thoughts and ways above the One who gives all things.

As it was with Saul, the sin of idolatry is inherent in each of us.  Stubbornness is this way.  We have God’s Word, and yet, we act and do according to our own will and desire, even considering that “going our own way” is in keeping with God’s commandments.  God says one thing, and yet, we think we know better and do something else, all the while convincing ourselves that we’re “doing the right thing.”  Thus, like Saul, we defiantly disobey the Lord, forsake His Word, and delude ourselves into believing that we are in the right, though God has given another Word.  This is nothing less than a rejection of the Word of the Lord.

The child of God does not remain in this delusion, convincing himself that he is in the right when God speaks differently.  Rather, the child of God lives continually in the state of repentance, sorrowing and grieving because of his idolatrous heart.  The child of God hears the Words of the Lord and seeks mercy and forgiveness for his stubbornness.  He wants to be rid of his sin, for he sees it for what it is, Coram Deo, before God.  He sees himself for what he is before God—nothing but a sinner.

And yet, it is sinners that God saves!  It is sinners that God forgives.  It is sinners for whom Christ died (John 3:16; Luke 15; Acts 13:38; Romans 4:7; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; 1 John 1:9; 2:12).

Your sin of idolatry God forgives, for Jesus Christ not only committed no sin, no iniquity, and no idolatry (1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).  This Jesus, on the cross, shed His blood which covers all your idolatries, all your iniquities, all your sins.  These are no longer yours to bear, for Christ has born them all.  And in exchange for these, Christ gives to you His righteousness, His sinlessness, and His perfect love to the Father.

In Christ, you are born anew, born of God, given new life, good in God’s sight.  Instead of listening to your own voice and the words of sinful man, being born anew, you hear Christ and His words and “deny yourself” (Matthew 16:24).  As a child of God, you want to hear God’s servant, who preaches Christ to you.  You want to join with other Christians at the Lord’s Table who confess the same faith and are united in the one true doctrine according to Holy Scripture, the living Word of God.  And you forgive others their sins against you, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.  And so you do, by God’s grace!  Amen.

 

Quote

“American Protestantism and fundamentalism have, in large measure, adopted the U.S. consumer and marketing perspective; thus all different types of churches are marketing Jesus to particular segments of the community.  Individually, we are lords of our lives.  No community or family can tell me what my personal faith should be.  I can define it myself, then find a church to give me what I think I need.” (Harrison, Christ Have Mercy, 115)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, giver of all good things, grant that I not deny Your most Holy and precious Word for my sake, because I want to do my own thing and go my own way.  Keep me in the faith that I not deny you.  Lead me not into the temptation of trying to define faith or the church my way that I forsake Your life giving Word for what I think that I need.  Rather, keep me steadfast in only Your Word, for only in that is their true and everlasting life, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.  Amen.

 


A Belated Thanksgiving Devotion

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever.  Amen.”

Revelation 7:12

So do God’s servants praise God in heaven.  “Salvation belongs to our God” cry out the great multitudes (Revelation 7:9-10).  The saints in heaven sing this glorious song.  But also do we, as saints on this side of heaven, have reason to sing such a hymn.

Salvation does belong to our God, who sits upon the throne!

We have reason to give thanks, not only for the Lord’s bountiful goodness for the needful things of body and life.  God also gives salvation through His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

In His Word, God declares it.  In Christ’s Supper, God gives it.  In Baptism, God calls us His own special people.

Yes!  We do have reason to give thanks, knowing that God loves us.  We know this because of Jesus Christ!  To God be all the glory!  Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, receive our thanks to you, not for our sake, but only for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Forgive us for our selfishness and for taken for granted all which you freely give us.  Help us to use your gifts for the benefit of others.  Amen.

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