Sermons


Palm Sunday - March 29, 2015

"What Evil Has He Done"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text that engages us this morning as we celebrate Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion comes from the Gospel reading from Sat. Mark chapter fifteen verses twelve through fifteen, "And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" And they cried out again, "Crucify him." And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him." So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Does it seem a bit strange for us to have just watched the children process into the sanctuary with palms in their hands while we were all singing the beautiful processional hymn "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" to sing our praise and thanks to God and then to also remember our Savior's trial before Pilate and to read the account of His crucifixion? In our Old Testament reading from Zechariah, the prophet writes under divine inspiration about how the Christ would enter into Jerusalem. "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." The kings of Israel traditionally rode on donkeys. They did not ride on horses. Horses were considered to be instruments of war. To ride into a place on a horse was to ride into a place as one who conquers.

Jesus certainly did not ride into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday as a conqueror. Jesus rode into town on a donkey. The passage from Zechariah also tells us some other things about Jesus. We are told that He is in fact our King. We are told that He is "righteous and having salvation." The passage continues as it describes what this King would do and how and where He would rule. The people who greeted Jesus that first Palm Sunday as He rode that donkey greeted Him as King and they cried out to Him with that cry of "Hosanna!" "Blessed is He who come in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!" They cry out to Jesus that cry of Hosanna! That cry of Lord, save us! Indeed, we join with those people who cried out to Jesus that day, Hosanna, Lord, save us! This morning we cried out to our Lord and our Savior and King with a joyful cry because we know how it all turned out. We know and believe and by faith have received the gift of grace and forgiveness that our humble king earned for us at the cross.

St. Paul writes in our appointed Epistle reading for this morning, Philippians 2:5-8, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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." Jesus did not come in power or in majesty. He did not come as a conqueror, but He did conquer. He did not set Himself up as King, but He is King.

Christ is the King who as He told the disciples in Matthew 20:28, "Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." To humbly and with obedience submit to the will of our heavenly Father and suffer through false trials and lying accusations without a word of defense. Less than a week after being welcomed as King as He entered Jerusalem, Jesus is arrested and put on trial for His life even though He Himself has done nothing wrong and is completely innocent and sinless. Can any of us imagine what it would be like to be arrested and put on trial for our lives for something that we had not done? Can any of us imagine being innocent but yet we are being falsely accused and lying witnesses are coming forward to testify against us? That is exactly what happened to Jesus. But Jesus didn't respond in a way that we would expect someone to respond. He did not respond how any of us would. We would have a lawyer. We would be continuously proclaiming our innocence every chance we had to everyone who would listen to us.

But of course we are not innocent are we? We are guilty. We make confession of our guilt and admit freely that we are "poor miserable sinners" we are "by nature sinful and unclean." We commit evil. We sin against God and against one another on a daily basis. We were sitting there with Barabbas, the rebel and the murderer, waiting for our rightful punishment to be carried out against us. We had rebelled against God. We daily disobey His commands. We ignore His authority and those He has placed over us. We ignore His command to care for our neighbor. We lie to one another and to God as we make promises we have no intention of keeping. We commit murder as we hate our brother or sister and refuse to forgive them as God forgives us.

But what had Jesus done? We see in our text as He is standing on trial before Pilate just how Jesus conducts Himself. He makes no defense and answers no questions other than when Pilate asks Him if He is a king and He answers, "You have said so." Scripture tells us that "Pilate was amazed." Pilate then asks the crowd who had gathered whether they wanted him to release Barabbas, the rebel and murderer; or Jesus, the King of the Jews. They say to release Barabbas and to send Jesus away to be crucified. Pilate asks them, "Why, what evil has He done?" But even in response to Pilate's question our text tells us that they "shouted all the more, "Crucify Him." So, what does Pilate do? What does the representative of an earthly government which prided itself on its justice do with an innocent man, a man who the one judging Him declares to be guiltless? Our text tells us exactly what Pilate does, he gives in to the crowd and releases the guilty and gives over Jesus, who is guiltless, to be scourged and crucified. Pilate certainly did not understand what was happening. The people crying out for Jesus' death did not understand. But Jesus did. Jesus understood perfectly well what He was doing, why He was doing it, and who would benefit from it. The hymn "Seek Where You May to Find a Way" LSB #557 verse 2 reads, "Seek where you may To be your stay, None can redeem his brother. All helpers failed; This man prevailed, The God-man and none other, Our Servant-King Of whom we sing. We're justified Because He died, The guilty being guiltless."

So, of course, the answer to Pilate's question of what evil had Jesus done is of course absolutely none. The crimes and sins that convicted Jesus and nailed Him to the cross are ours. The guilt is ours and not His. The evil belongs to us and not to Jesus. But Jesus suffered all for us and took upon Himself all the guilt, all the sin, all the evil and He did it gladly and willingly. He did it without a word of complaint or of feeling sorry for Himself. Jesus did not put up a defense so that He might be our defender. Because you and I are guilty and deserve God's present and eternal punishment; but when the devil tries to bring all of things up in order to accuse us Jesus intercedes on our behalf and tells the Father that the guilt and penalty for our sins has already been paid for. The sins of all people including Barabbas, the people who cried out "Hosanna" to Him on Palm Sunday, and also those who cried out to Pilate for His crucifixion have been paid for. Jesus answered the cry of those who called out Hosanna, save us; and He answered the cries of those who called out for His death. He did it by going to His death on the cross in order to pay, not for any evil He had done because there was none, but for all of the evil you and I have done. In doing this He has made us right with the Father as we who are found in Him receive the forgiveness and life He had earned.

Because of this St. Paul in Philippians writes in verses 9-11 of the epistle reading, "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. Our knees willingly bow and our tongues willingly confess Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord and we give praise and glory to the Father for answering our cries of "Hosanna" save us, save us from the evil we have done and grant us your grace, for Jesus sake. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Fifth Sunday in Lent - March 22, 2015



"Our Priest"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning comes from the epistle reading, particularly Hebrews 5:5-10, "So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"; as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek." In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek." Amen. So reads God's Word. Amen.

In the days of ancient Israel God gave instructions, command, on a system of ceremonies and sacrifices so that the people whom God had chosen for Himself could show their sorrow over their sins. The people brought various animals such as bulls, and sheep and goats. The death of these animals in the place of the people who had sinned made atonement for the person who had brought the sacrifice. Scripture clearly tells us the reason for all of this. God gave very specific instructions in His Word on exactly how these sacrifices and ceremonies were to be carried out and when they were to be made and of course who was to make them. There was one such day which was known as the Day of Atonement. On that day whoever was serving as high priest would go into the Holy Place of the Temple and make an offering of a bull in order to atone for his own sins. Then he was to take to male goats. He was to cast lots over them and one would be a sin offering for the people and the other would be sent out into the wilderness alive. It would be sent out alive into the wilderness after the High Priest had laid his hands on the goat's head and confessed the sins of the nation of Israel over it. The priest would then hand this goat over to a man who was waiting for it in order to lead it out and release it into the wilderness with the sins of the people laid upon it's head. This goat that the High Priest had sent away with the sins of the people upon it was known as the "scapegoat." All you have to do is to read the book of Leviticus and see all of the duties of the priests in Old Testament Israel. In the Old Testament we also see laid out before us just who the priests were and where they originated from.

Israel's priests were selected by none other than God Himself. God said to Moses in Exodus 28:1-2, ""Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests-Aaron and Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty." They were of the tribe of Levi. Soon we see that the Lord took for Himself all of the tribe of Levi to serve Him. We read in Exodus 32:26-29 during the Golden calf sin, "Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, "Who is on the Lord's side? Come to me." And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel, 'Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.'" And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. And Moses said, "Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day." This choosing of the tribe of Levi is affirmed in Numbers 3:6-7 and 12, "Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine." So, we clearly see that God Himself sets up the priesthood of Aaron and his sons and the service of the Levites at the temple. The priests and the Levities were set apart from the rest of the tribes of Israel to serve as priests to the Lord Yahweh on their behalf. They were to carry out the sacrifices that God had ordained and perform the other ceremonial duties that kept the people of Israel as the people who could be clearly see as God's people. A people who were chosen and set apart to and for God Himself. If the people as a nation sinned against God, or if an individual sinned against God or against their neighbor they would bring the appointed sin offering to the priest to make atonement for those sins. But those priests were always different, they were always changing from one man to another as those men who were serving died. Each generation had their own priests. None of those Levitical priests lasted forever. You see, these priests were merely placeholders for the one true High Priest who was to come.

Our text from Hebrews speaks of this High Priest. This time we know that he is speaking of a High Priest who had come and who also would never be required to surrender His Priesthood for any reason. This great High Priest was special and unlike any who had come before Him and there would be no need for any to come after Him.

This great High Priest is not of the tribe of Levi, He is of the tribe of Judah. This High Priest is of the line of the great King David of whom God said would always have a descendant to sit upon the throne of Israel. This great High Priest was also one of us, He could sympathize with our human weaknesses. Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us so very much about Him, "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." So, since this Great High Priest is without sin but yet was tempted just as we are; even though we are sinners we can still come to Him in repentance and faith and know that we will receive mercy and grace for His sake.

Our text explains that the Father appointed Jesus His Son our Lord to be our Great High Priest to make the one and only valid and necessary sacrifice for sins even though He was not of the tribe of Levi. The Father has made Jesus a priest after the order of Melchizedek who was the priest of "God Most High" in the Old Testament who Abraham himself received a blessing from. Our text tells us that Jesus, our Great High Priest, learned obedience through His suffering and that He became, because of His obedience, "the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him."

Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is the true priest. He is the only priest who did not have to approach the Most Holy place in fear because of His own sins. He is true man but without sin. He did not have to make a sacrifice for Himself first before making the sacrifice that was necessary for our sins. He is the One Great High Priest who also does not have to continue to offer the same sacrifices over and over again, as the former priests of the Old Testament were required to do because their sacrifices were never and could never be all sufficient. But, as our great High Priest Christ fulfilled the Law perfectly on our behalf and then He made the sacrifice of Himself on the altar of the Cross with the sins of the world on His head. He now still as true God and true man sits at the right hand of the Father and continues as our priest as He intercedes with the Father on our behalf.

Our Great High Priest is forever. Our Great High Priest is without sin. Our Great High Priest offered Himself up as the sacrificial Lamb of God, the Lamb without blemish because of and for our sins. Our Great High Priest died and was raised to life again in triumph over our enemies of sin, death, and the devil and now our Great High Priest gives the forgiveness and life that He has earned to us so that we too might live with Him forever in heaven. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, the sacrifice for our sins. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 15, 2015



"Whoever Believes"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word of God that engages us this morning is from John's Gospel chapter three verses 14-18 which reads, "And 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. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Amen. So stands God's Word.

We often talk about how God takes care of His creation. Scripture abounds with examples of God's providing all that His people need; from food and clothing, house and home, land, sun and rain, and protection from evil. In the Old Testament lesson we are told of one of those times where God's chosen people, whom He powerfully delivered from slavery in Egypt, are once again showing their unbelief. The people complain. In verse five of the Old Testament lesson we read, "And the people spoke against God and against Moses, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.'" This attitude is almost hard for us to believe and understand isn't it? After all that God had done for them they reject the gifts that He so graciously gave to them. In fact they go so far as to call the food He gave to them as "worthless"! Remember this is bread from heaven given to them in a miraculous fashion as they are in the wilderness so that they might live and not perish. What unbelief in a God who had done nothing but provide for them and lovingly protect and care for them. So God sends "fiery serpents" that bit the people and when they were bitten, they died. But, God still has mercy on His people. They repent and ask Moses to pray to the Lord on their behalf. Moses does this and the Lord commands him to make a fiery serpent out of bronze and place it high on a pole; so that if a person is bitten they can look up at it, see this serpent on the pole and live. Can you imagine being a person who had been bitten? The pain is terrible and you want relief. You have seen others bitten and you know that they have died. Then you are told that Yahweh has commanded Moses to fashion a serpent from bronze and all you have to do is look up at it and you will not die, you will live! So, do you do it? Do you believe the Word and Command of the Lord given through Moses? Did all of the people of Israel who were bitten believe and look up at the brnze serpent and so live? We are not told, but sinful human nature being what it is we can imagine that there were some who would not look, they would not believe. The gift of life. The gift of healing from God was by His grace through faith. Some who were bitten certainly rejected God's gracious gift which was received by faith in Him so that died. So, whoever believed God's Word looked to the bronze serpent and they were healed, they lived while those who did not or would not; they died in their sins and unbelief. They saw with their own eyes the grace of God which was poured out upon the people but they still rejected it and died. They rejected the bread God had sent them from heaven, calling it "worthless food" and also rejected God's forgiveness and life through the serpent lifted up in the wilderness.

What do you believe? Well, when you confessed the Nicene Creed just a short time ago you confessed that you believe a great many things. You confessed that you believed in "God the Father Almighty" and in Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done for us when He was lifted up for us on the cross. We confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church, Baptism for the remission of sins, and the resurrection of the dead and then eternal life. We believe and confess these things to be true because they are found in God's Word and they are promises of God; some that have been fulfilled and some that are to come. We have the fulfilled promise of Jesus Christ the Savior, who suffered, died, and rose again to atone for the sins of the world; your sins and my sins, everyone's sins. This is all due to God's great love and grace for us. In our text we are told the reason why God sent Jesus into the world. Verse sixteen of our text tells us that "For God so loved the world." You see that's the reason Jesus came. He came for us because like the people of Israel, we were in slavery. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt and we were slaves to sin. The people of Israel were in the wilderness and needed to rely on Yahweh to provide all that they needed in order to live, food, water and protection. God also gave them the ceremonial law to follow in order to make atonement by various sacrifices for their sins. They were saved because of their faith, because they believed God and His promises.

Jesus is now shown in our text speaking to the people and He reminds them of God's provision of life in the Old Testament reading. Jesus tells them that just "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." That's the key isn't it? We are told that "whoever believes in Him may have eternal life." We are told how important belief, faith is. Ephesians 2:8-9 reads, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." So, not only does God give us the means of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life; He also gives us the means by which we are able to believe this and to receive it.

But, people reject these gifts each and every day. God gave the Israelites manna, food from heaven to sustain them in the wilderness and the people said that they hated it and called it worthless. Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life. He told the people in John six, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe." Yet, there were those who did not believe and turned away and rejected the Christ and the forgiveness He has come to earn for them. Jesus spoke of the Pharisees and lawyers who rejected God's gifts in Luke chapter seven, "I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)"

We all have our moments of weakness, moments where we fall down and plead with God for His mercy and grace to strengthen our faith like the father in Mark 9 who Jesus told him, "All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!" God helps our unbelief though the gifts of the Means of Grace that create, preserve and strengthen our faith. In Luther's Small Catechism question #304 asks, "May those who are weak in faith come to the Lord's Table?" The answer, "Yes, for Christ instituted the Sacrament for the very purpose of strengthening and increasing our faith." We are saved by grace through faith (belief) because of Jesus' sacrifice for our sins.

But just as some of the people did not believe to look at the bronze serpent and live people continue to reject Jesus. Verse eighteen of our text has Jesus Himself say in no uncertain terms, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." As St. Paul said to the Philippian jailer in Acts sixteen, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." God's promise is sure, believe in Jesus Christ His Son for the forgiveness of your sins and be saved. Whoever believes shall be saved. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Third Sunday in Lent - March 8, 2015



"You Shall Not"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text that engages us this morning is from the Old Testament reading, Exodus 20:3-17, God is giving His people what we call The Ten Commandments. This is nothing other than the very Law of God given to men. When you hear the word "law" what do you think about? When you hear the word "law" do you think about something that is oppressive and restrictive or something that is given for our protection and for the proper order of our society? It is possible to have both kinds of law. There are societies today, as there have been in the past, where laws have been made to restrict and oppress certain members of the society. But what about God's Law? Why did God give us His Law, both upon our hearts and in His written Law? What is the meaning and purpose of God's Law? Let's read the Law as show in our text.

"You shall have no other gods before me. "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. "You shall not murder. "You shall not commit adultery. "You shall not steal. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

But this is of course not the only time and place where God had given His Law. God has also written His Law upon our hearts, as we had mentioned earlier. Scripture makes this perfectly clear. St. Paul writes in Romans 2:14-16, "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." Of course we also know that just because the Law of God is written upon our hearts and we feel it in our consciences when we sin or do wrong, our hearts and our consciences have been corrupted by sin and are unreliable as to truly be able to discern what is right and acceptable to God. So, God, I His mercy and His grace gave us His written Law with a twofold purpose, to act as a curb against sinful behavior and also to act as a mirror to accuse us and show us how sinful we are.

The Law is full of "shall not's" you know it goes on and on telling us what we are not supposed to be doing and some of us might even have been tempted to try and do our best to earn God's favor by keeping the Law to the best of our ability. We might try and tell ourselves that we have not done any of the things that the Law says I shouldn't do. But of course we would be foolish. Jesus Himself lays out certain parameters. Jesus says in Matthew 5:48, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Then we also read in James 2:10, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. Wow, that's tough! The standard is perfection. But, there are still some who may think after reading the Ten Commandments that they can I fact keep them. We know of one such person who came to Jesus and told Him that he had keep the commandments from his youth. But, even if we could keep the letter of the commandments perfectly, which we cannot, Jesus says that even more is expected of us. Jesus teaches that mere observance of the letter of the Law is not good enough but keeping the spirit of the Law is required. He says in Matthew chapter 5 that it is said that we should not murder or commit adultery but He says that if you hate your brother or look at someone with lust you are guilty. Jesus also taught us that the Law is all about love; love for God and love for our neighbor. When asked what the greatest commandment of the Law is Jesus answered in Matthew 22, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

All of this comes out as well in Luther's explanations of the Commandments. The title of this message is "You Shall Not" but a closer look at the Commandments reveals that there are also many, many "You Shall" as well. We can run through just a couple of examples that will easily illustrate this point. The First Commandment: "You shall have no other Gods." The explanation gives us a "you shall" of, "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." The Fifth Commandment: "You shall not murder." This gives us an explanation of, "We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need. Our last example is the Eighth Commandment: "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." The explanation tells us, "We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way." So it is clear that the commandments are all about love; first and foremost would be love for God and flowing from this would be naturally love for our neighbor. Earlier is this message I asked what you thought about when you hear the word law and whether you considered law to be oppressive, even God's Law. When you realize that God's Law is all about His love for us and that love never oppresses you see that God's Law given to us is good and is not given to oppress us but for our benefit.

St. Paul writes of the law in Romans 7:12-13, "So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure." God's Law shows us our sin and our need for a Savior, for Jesus.

Praise and thanks be to God that He sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior, to keep the Law perfectly for us. Galatians 4:4-5 reads, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." Out of love the Father sent His Son. Out of love Jesus, the Son was born and submitted Himself to the Law and fulfilled the spirit and letter of the Law completely for us. But yet even though He was perfect and without sin Jesus endured the scorn and mocking of those He came to save and the wrath of God the Father on our sin. As God He was sinned against according to the First Commandment as the people did not love or believe in Him. He was sinned against according to the Fifth Commandment as He was murdered on the cross. He was sinned against according to the Eighth Commandment as false witnesses were brought against Him to lie and accuse so that He might be put to death. But yet, because of love God sent Jesus and because of love Jesus endured all. Because of love God gave us His Law, both written on our hearts and written in His Word. The Law cannot save anyone but still the Law is about love. God's great love for us in Christ Jesus His Son our Lord; and, because God loved us first, our love for Him as we respond to the great gift of forgiveness, salvation, and life in and through Jesus with thanks, praise and obedience to His commands.

The Law is indeed full of "You shall Not's" but in the face of this there is an even more critical "you shall" which we see in Romans 5:8-10, "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved! That's God's promise, you shall! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Second Sunday in Lent - March 1, 2015



"The Things of Man"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is taken from the Gospel appointed for today, particularly Mark 8:31-33, "And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

The things of man and the things of God. In the beginning the things of man and the things of God were one and the same. Man was after all created in the very image and likeness of God and man's will and desires were in perfect sync with God's and there was no problem, everything was perfect and man lived in paradise. Living in today's world with all of its attendant problems paradise is something that is infinitely difficult to imagine isn't it? I imagine that while living in paradise thinking on and doing the things of God were probably a bit easier than they are for us today. In truth even knowing what that things of God even are might be difficult for some. The reason for this difficulty is that people are looking in the wrong place. People are looking for the things of God in their own minds and within the desires of their hearts. We look for the things of God in what seems good, right, and reasonable to us. Human reason and desire and even political correctness must after all be good things and if God has put this into my heart and my mind it must be His will, right? When we think this way what actually happens is that we get lost. We get lost because we ignore the lamp that is given for our feet and the given to guide our path, which is of course God's Word.

In the Gospel reading Jesus has asked the disciples who the people were saying that He was. There were various answers all the way from John the Baptist and Elijah to one of the other prophets. But Jesus then asks the disciples who they said Jesus is and we know that Peter answers by saying that "You are the Christ." Then as our text tells us Jesus started teaching them about what was going to happen to Him. Jesus tells them that, "that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again." Peter, using his reason, considered this and rejected it. This is clear from what he says to Jesus isn't it? Verse thirty-two of Mark eight says that Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. Rebuke is a word that we don't hear or use much but here is what the dictionary definition is; "To speak in an angry critical way to someone, to criticize sharply, to strongly disapprove of someone." So consider that as you think about this text and that Peter rebuked Jesus. Peter has just said and confessed that Jesus is the Christ and he knows that the Christ is the promised Messiah and the very Son of God; but just minutes later he rejects what the Christ has taught Him He had come to do.

Can we imagine the shock on Peter's face as Jesus turns to him and says, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." Was Jesus calling Peter Satan? No, probably not, but Peter was acting as Satan's mouthpiece in this case wasn't he? Whose goal was it that Jesus not continue down His path to the Cross? Who would benefit if Jesus did not in fact suffer and die at the hands of sinners and then rise again in glory on the third day? Well, maybe benefit is the wrong word because Satan's only benefit would be that he would have caused us to still be dead in our sins. Because the true sacrifice would not have been made. After Jesus had been baptized and the Spirit led Him out into the wilderness Satan came and tempted Him with the goal of knocking Him from His mission. Jesus defeated Him each time with God's Word. But we know that the devil was not going to give up so easy. We are told at the end of the temptation account in Luke's Gospel that Satan, "Departed from Him until an opportune time." The devil did rear his head from time to time and certainly this appears to be one of those times, but again Jesus has none of it and in fact He rebukes Peter for only having in mind the things of man.

When you think about it we know that this was not at all in humanities benefit but our sinful natures cannot comprehend this without the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace. St. Paul writing to the Corinthians said this in 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."

Jesus tells Peter that his minds is on only the things of man and not on the things of God. We see examples of the things of man constantly each and every day and the things of man are just not good and pleasing to God. The things of man caused God to send a worldwide flood to destroy all life except for Noah and his family and the animals who were with him. The things of man caused God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. The things of man are rebellion and disobedience against God and His commandments. The things of man have led to the murder of the unborn in the name of choice and calling it good. The things of man have led to recognition of same sex so-called marriage by society and even some so-called churches and calling it good. The things of man have led to not talking about sin and repentance in some churches because it hurts people's feelings; when it is only smoothing their journey into an eternity in hell with the devil and his angels. The things of man focus on the so-called glories of this world and that God only wants us to be happy and that as Christians only good is going to happen to us. The things of man are not in line with the things of God because the human heart and human reason have been corrupted by sin and every single human being on this earth have been infected. So instead of looking at the things of God we instead look to the things of man.

What are the things of God then? What does God want to us focus and have our minds on. Well, there is the reason for which Jesus Himself came to this earth as a man. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He came to seek and to save sinful human beings. He did not come to be an example. He did not come to be a great teacher. He did not come to heal people of their physical infirmities. He did not come to drive out demons. Jesus did not come to raise the dead. Yes, certainly He could and did all of those things; but that was not His primary purpose. All of those things were merely signs that showed and proved, gave evidence of who Jesus is. Jesus did not come to teach us how to lead better or more purpose filled lives because anyone can in fact do those things and still be lost in their sins and bound for an eternity in hell.

No, Jesus told Peter and the other disciples why He had come. "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly." He came to do this so that He could earn forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all people. In verse thirty-four Jesus tells the crowd, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." We do not seek earthly pleasure and glory we realize that being a Christian is not a promise of success in this life. It is a promise of tribulations and persecutions. Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:18-19, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." But the hatred of the world is not what matters, it is in fact just temporary and it will pass away with everything else that falls into the category of the things of man. What is eternal is what is of vital importance. What is of vital importance are the things of God; the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen again for sinners, for the world, for you and for me. The Father's love for us shown and expressed through His Son Jesus and the promises of forgiveness of sins and eternal life in His name from the Father. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The First Sunday in Lent - February 22, 2015



"God Will Provide"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text that engages us this First Sunday in Lent is from the Old Testament reading, particularly Genesis 22:5-8, "Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

How often do we say or maybe think that phrase in our minds, you know, "God will provide?" Certainly, this is a statement of faith and belief isn't it? We believe that our God and Father in heaven will provide all of our needs of body and soul for us. All of that is true and we see God in action everywhere and on a daily and even I would say a continuous basis providing for His creation.

We make confession of this when we speak the First Article of The Apostle's Creed. You all well know this, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." That simple statement carries a great deal behind it and when you stop and consider it you know that it is true. Luther's explanation of the First Article greatly expands on this one simple statement. He talks about our bodies and all of its parts. He talks about our possessions, relationships, our food, homes, and clothing. Luther then talks about how God also protects us from danger and evil. He places all of this under the umbrella of our heavenly Father's divine, and loving goodness and mercy that He has and daily extends to us. Our loving Father in heaven does indeed provide for us and He does this because He actually and really does love us and He shows His gracious provision and mercy to all people. Jesus says of the Father in Matthew 5:45, "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." So we do of course believe that God provides for all; He even provides for those who do not believe in or acknowledge Him. Those who do not believe in or acknowledge the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit either because they believe in another so-called god, or only trust in themselves still receive His earthly blessings and are the recipients of His gracious provision. But, they expose their own ignorance and foolishness and they are lost; they are still dead in their trespasses and sins. Psalm 14:1-3 tells us, "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one."

This is of course a tragedy. We heard Paul talk about the veil of unbelief that the devil places over the unbeliever. We also know very well the end result of this remaining in persistent unbelief. Jesus Himself spoke of this in John 3:18, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." People are dying of unbelief even though God has provided a Savior; and through Him forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This is far worse than someone dying of hunger or thirst when more than ample food and drink have been provided to them. Because dying in unbelief carries with it eternal consequences that are completely unnecessary because true food and true drink have been provided for us. This true food and true drink are that which give life to us. Jesus spoke of this in John 6:55-58 while He was teaching the people, "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." Jesus' is the broken body and shed blood that has made us right with our gracious and loving and providing God and Father and of which we partake and receive forgiveness and life, just as Jesus Himself promised.

In the Old Testament text for this morning we read of another example of God's gracious providing for His people. The background for our text is that Abraham had been called by God to be the father of God's people through whom the promised Savior would be provided to the world. The only problem was Abraham did not have a son but God kept His promise and gave Abraham and his wife Sara a Son, Isaac. But now it appears that God wants Isaac back. God is asking Abraham to take his son, his heir and place him on a altar and offer him up to God as a burnt offering. Abraham goes off to do just that. We don't know if he told anyone else, even Sara. It seems that he didn't because look at what he told the servants as they got close to the place of sacrifice, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." Abraham had ultimate faith in God and he was convinced that both he and his son would be returning home again. In fact the note to this verse in the Lutheran Study Bible says that Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead.

Abraham places the wood for the sacrifice on his son and he carried the fire and the knife. This in very similar to Jesus Himself carrying the wood for His Cross, the wood upon which He would be sacrificed for the sins of the world, Abraham's, Isaac's, and yours and mine. Isaac, seeing that they have everything they need for a sacrifice, except the most critical piece, the actual animal, the lamb; asks his father, ""Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Isaac asks a very important question for all people when he wants to know where the lamb for the offering was. Where was the lamb which they would offer up to Almighty God, where was the offering that would be made to make atonement for sins? Because an offering is in fact required. The writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 9:22, "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

Abraham was ready to obey God and to give up his only son, who he loved, in faith to God that God would in fact restore him. As again, the writer to the Hebrews says in 11:17-19, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back." Because, just as Abraham answered Isaac, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." Which He surely did; not only for Abraham and Isaac, as He provides the Ram with its horns caught in the thicket to take Isaac's place. But He also has provided the Lamb without blemish to be sacrificed for us. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptizer says of Him. Jesus Christ the only-begotten Son of the Father, who the Father loves. He is the one who the Father provides as the spotless, sinless Lamb for sacrifice. To take the punishment for your sins and my sins in our place. Praise and thanks be to the God our Father that He continues to provide. He provides our every need to support us in this body and life that He has also provided to us; but He also provides us all that we need for the life in the world to come. The forgiveness of sins through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, His only Son who He loves, who suffered and died for us all. The Lamb provided for the one and only sacrifice that is necessary. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Transfiguration of our Lord - February 15, 2015



"One God"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text that engages us this morning is from our epistle lesson particularly 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 which reads, "Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Think for just a moment about what a veil does. A veil serves to hide something or a veil can also serve to keep us from having to recognize something that we do not wish to acknowledge. A person using a veil can be very much like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand hoping that what they do not want to see or to acknowledge will just go away. It really is the concept that if I ignore something, especially something that makes me uncomfortable, maybe it will just go away and I won't have to deal with it. We human beings can do this in many areas of our lives. There are those who do this when it comes to their physical health for example. They are experiencing something happening in their body that they realize is not right but instead of acknowledging the problem and facing it and going to the doctor for help; they instead choose to ignore the evidence before them that their own bodies are presenting and they just hope that the problem will go away. This is a tragedy that can result in a great deal of suffering and even death that could have been avoided if the issue would not have been veiled, and veiled by the person themselves.

When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was on this earth as a true man conducting His ministry His true glory as God was veiled. Christ's glory and magnificence as the only-begotten Son of the Father was veiled by being within human flesh. Scripture addresses this as Paul writes in Philippians 2:5-8, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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." But we know that from time to time the veil that covered Jesus' true glory was lifted. It was lifted as He healed the sick. It was lifted as He drove out demons. It was lifted as He calmed storms. It was lifted as He raised people from the dead. But when you stop and really think about it, wasn't that veil also lifted when Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God was there in His presence and also when He forgave people's sins?

Today is the Sunday of the Transfiguration of our Lord. We read in the Gospel lesson how Jesus went up on the mountain with Peter, and James, and John and how He was changed before them. We are told how His clothing became whiter than any bleach could make them. The disciples were in awe at what they were seeing and rightly so, but they were still only given a mere taste of the true glory of the One who they were with on a daily basis. But for the majority of the time Jesus would have brought to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah in chapter fifty-three as he writes, "Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." So certainly His glory was veiled from our sight and He was not seen as much different from any other man.

But of course there is another veil that lies over people's hearts when it comes to salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Unbelief places a veil over people and they refuse to see what is right in front of them. The evidence is clear and compelling, yet as Paul says, "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ." Remember, Paul certainly knows what he is writing about. He knows from firsthand experience. The "god of this world" had blinded Paul's eyes from seeing the "light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ." Paul had a very personal experience on the road to Damascus when a light from heaven flashed around him and the risen Christ appeared to him and Paul had the veil ripped away so that he could see the truth of Jesus Christ crucified and risen again for the sins of the world.

This is truly incredible news! This is truly Good News! This is news that when we hear it gives us cause to rejoice and give praise and thanks to God our Father. We praise and thank Him for His great love for us in sending His own Son Jesus to and for us. We also give Him praise and thanks because you and I as well as all other believers do not have that veil over our eyes. We are not hampered by the veil of unbelief that Satan, whom Paul describes as the god of this world, tries to employ in his effort to mislead and deceive. Satan has many weapons he tries to us; such as our own reason, you know, dos something make sense to us? He also uses the pleasures and treasures of the world and he uses the lure of other religions that work on our sinful pride and emphasize what we can do instead of what Christ has done for us. But we know that all of these things are just the last gasp of an already defeated enemy. Christ has defeated death and the devil. He defeated him at the cross and the empty tomb. The weapons of the enemy are no match for the means that our Savior employs. To lift that veil away and bring people to saving faith.

Paul talks about his refusal to "practice cunning or to tamper with God's Word." Paul instead says that he will engage in an "open statement of the truth." In other words Paul will employ and he will rely on the honest and open proclamation of Jesus Christ and His atoning work for all people. As he said in 1 Corinthians 2:2, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." That is the word and the message that is to be proclaimed. That is the message through which the Helper, the Holy Spirit words to create and to preserve faith within the human heart. This is the word through which the veil will be removed from the eyes of the unbeliever so that they can see the truth of forgiveness and salvation in Christ Jesus and no one else.

This is the message that Peter proclaimed to the people on Pentecost; the message that cut into the people's hearts and caused them to cry out, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Then Peter answers them and says, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Indeed the Holy Spirit working through the Word, read or proclaimed, and the Sacraments to remove the veil and bring people out of the darkness of unbelief and into the saving light of Christ. Brothers and sisters in Christ we do indeed praise the One who breaks the darkness and that the veil has been removed from our eyes so that we have seen the light. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - February 8, 2015



"One God"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is from the epistle reading, particularly 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 which reads, "For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

St. Paul carries a heavy burden doesn't he? Paul writes in this text that he has "become all things to all people." That sounds impossible to our ears. How can someone possibly be all things to all people? In fact this might even sound as if Paul were bragging. We hear politicians talk in this way all the time. They try and convince the electorate that they are "of the people" and that they can identify with our wants and our desires. They want us to believe that they can emphasize and sympathize with our struggles and our hard times and that when we experience tough times, they are right there with us. Sometimes we will even bestow on someone the descriptive of "man of the people." Certainly, that can carry with it a number of meanings but it normally can be taken to mean that this person is one of us and we can trust them to work on our behalf and to do what is right for our benefit. Look at what Paul is saying here in Corinthians. Paul is saying that he has "become all things to all people." Who are the people that Paul has chosen to identify himself with? Well, it is a rather all-encompassing list. When Paul says "all people, he literally means "all people." In fact Paul lists four different categories: the Jews, those under the Law, those without the Law, and the weak. Paul is saying that he had become like the people in each one of these categories.

Paul was given a heart and a mission to preach the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and rose again for sinners. In fact Paul even tells us in the opening verses of today's epistle, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! But, who are these people? The Jews of course were God's chosen people. The people through whom the Law was given and through who the fulfillment of the promise was made. Those under the Law quite possibly could have included the Gentiles who were "God-fearers" and who loved God and the Jewish people and who followed the Law that God had given to His people. Then we have "those without the Law" and they would have been those Gentiles who had not received the written Law, but of course still had the "Law of God written upon their hearts. Then finally we have "the weak." Paul talked about this in last Sunday's epistle reading when he said that if it would cause his brother to stumble he would never eat meat again. Paul would not do anything that would influence a brother or sister in Christ to commit sin. So, how does Paul accomplish this very tall order? Is Paul talking out of both sides of his mouth? Is Paul putting on a fa├žade, a false front? Is Paul then even possibly being hypocritical? No, absolutely not, Paul is instead taking on the position of a servant. Paul makes it clear that what he is doing is not for personal fame, glory or gain but it is instead for the benefit of those to whom he is called to preach the Gospel. The reason that Paul gives to us in verses 22-23 of the text, "that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings." You see Paul's first and only concern was that people would be brought to saving faith in the crucified and risen Christ, receive forgiveness of their sins, and eternal life.

Of course Paul is not talking about being lawless and just going about and doing whatever you like. To Paul the moral law, the Ten Commandments still applied. He writes of this is his other letters, for example Paul gives these instructions in Ephesians 4:25-29, "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."

Paul's primary objective was that by the message he was given to proclaim and the mission he was tasked with as an apostle of Jesus Christ that people turn from their sins and live. When you think about it this has been God's message to His creatures from the beginning; to turn, to repent, and receive God's gift of grace through Christ. Paul is proclaiming this very simple, yet very important message and he is proclaiming it to all people, the Jew, the person under the Law, the one without the Law and the weak.

What Paul did bind himself too however could be called the law of love. He writes of this is chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, listen to just the first two verses, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." Paul has not come up with this on his own however, He has taken his shepherding style from the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Our Good Shepherd who took upon Himself the form of a servant. Jesus said in Luke 19:10 that, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did just that didn't He? He did it in such a way that He became one of us, a real man, and a real human being. In Philippians 2:5-8 we read, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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." Then we read in Hebrews 4:15-16, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

This is the One of whom Paul proclaims! This is the one of whom Paul tells us and it is because of Him that Paul had become "all things to all people." It was Paul's goal and mission that all people would come to know Jesus Christ who had also become like us; except, as the writer to the Hebrews says, was without sin. Jesus came and sought out the lost and shed His own blood as the sacrifice to redeem them. Jesus ate with tax collectors and other sinner. Jesus spoke and took water from a Samaritan woman. Jesus healed the daughter of a woman of Syro-Phoencia. But, He also went out and taught the people in their villages and in their synagogues. He healed their sick and drove out demons to show that the Messiah had come and in His person the Kingdom of God was at hand.

Paul made himself all things to all people so that he could win some to come to faith in the One who had come to be all in all to them, a Savior who had done all things for the salvation of all people. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany - February 1, 2015



"One God"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning comes from the epistle reading, particularly 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 which reads, "Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that 'an idol has no real existence,' and that 'there is no God but one.' For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth-as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

In many circumstances of our lives there is only room for one of something. In our government we have only one president at a time. Certainly of course, over the history of our nation, we have had many presidents but we only have one in office at a time.

The Roman Catholic Church only has one sitting Pope at a time. Yes, there have been periods of conflict where there have been multiple Popes; the conflict was resolved and there was in the end only one in office.

We marry according to God's Word and Law and we marry only one spouse. One man marries one woman; that is how the Lord God established marriage. Yes, although we have seen people go against this a marry multiple men or women according to God's definition of marriage, which is the only one that really matters after all, a man is meant to have only one wife and a woman only one husband.

There are other things where it is probably a good idea to have only one or maybe it is much more convenient to deal with only one of something at a time. Some things of which we have only one of are in fact a simple matter of choice. But then however there is something of which is in fact only One and there has only ever been One and there will for all time only be One. There is one and only one God. God Himself has made this perfectly clear to us. We see it in the First Commandment. The very first has God saying to us, "You shall have no other gods." In Luther's explanation to the First Commandment we read, "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." This certainly makes a lot of sense because after all whatever we fear and whatever we love and whatever we trust for all the good things in our lives we can say is our god. Just think about that for a minute. What do you rely on to make you happy? What do you rely on to supply your every need? Who or what do you thank when good things happen and who do you go to when times are tough for help and relief? Those things could just possibly be your god or gods.

But, we as Christian men and women believe, teach, and confess that there is in fact one and only one God. That is the Triune God. One God in three persons. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the God who testifies about Himself for us in His creation. He is the God who testifies about Himself for us in His revealed Word. His Word of Law and His Word of Gospel, or the Good News of forgiveness and life through Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the sins of the world.

From the very earliest of times that God has revealed Himself to mankind He has made it clear that He and He alone is God. From the beginnings of the nation of Israel the faithful Israelites had what we would call a creed. This creed was very simple and we can find it in Deuteronomy 6:4. It is known as "The Great Shema" shema for the Hebrew word "hear" and it goes like this, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." Then the words of verse five should be very familiar to us as well, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Observant Jews still recite this in their prayers twice a day, morning and evening. But we know that at times I their history Israel has seemingly forgotten this short creed and they followed after other gods. God would send His servants, the prophets to call His people back to repentance and faith in Him but they would ignore or worse persecute or kill the prophets who God sent to them. God continued to warn His people, for example through Isaiah He says in Isaiah 42:8, "I am the Lord; that is My name; My glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols."

In our epistle text St. Paul is writing to the Corinthians. They are worried about eating food that had been offered to an idol and then as been taken and sold in the market place. Paul gives them some assurances, among which is the fact that as Christians they know that an idol is really nothing and that it has "no real existence." Paul tells us in our text that, "For although there may be other so-called gods in heaven or on earth-as indeed there are many 'gods' and may 'lords'-yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom are all things and through whom we exist."

So, as Paul says, although there are many people and things that we sinful human beings lift up as gods and lords there is in fact only one God and one Lord. Paul continues as he reminds us that it is through this one God and one Lord that we and all of creation exist. As Christians we acknowledge this and we confess it in the creeds that we recite in our services today. The First Article of the Nicene Creed says exactly that, "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible." You could easily say that this is the New Testament Shema. Then to break into this even more we have the words of Acts 4:10-12, "Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

That sounds very simple and straightforward doesn't it? When you put it all together it is clear that there is only one God and one Lord and that there is also only one way to salvation and the forgiveness of our sins and that is the "Lord, Jesus Christ." Also when you put it all together it is clear that the one God that we serve loves us in such a remarkable way that even as sinful as we are He still provides for us every day in every possible way. But more importantly He has promised us a Savior and He has kept that promise by sending His one and only begotten Son who took our flesh upon Himself and went to the cross with our sins and the one and only necessary sacrifice necessary for all the sins in the history of the world to be atoned for.

There are, when you consider it, a number of ones here. We have one God. We have one Savior Jesus Christ. Christ was sacrificed just one time for the many and that one time was all that was necessary. Now because of this one sacrifice we who are many people who come from many nations and speak many different languages have been brought together as the Holy Christian Church and this Church of all times and places is he one body of Her Head, the One Lord Jesus Christ.

The world will try to convince you either that there are many roads that lead to God or that it doesn't matter what "god" you worship because all of these roads and "gods" lead to the same place. But, God has clearly revealed to us in His Word that there is only One God and only one way of salvation, the God man, Jesus Christ. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one way to salvation and life, Jesus Christ. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Third Sunday after Epiphany - January 25, 2015



"Believe in the Gospel"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text that engages us this morning comes from the Gospel reading, particularly verses fourteen and fifteen of Mark chapter one, "After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel'." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

St. Paul writes in Romans 10:14-15, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" Last Sunday we heard the account of the Lord calling Samuel; and how after the Lord calling to Samuel three times Eli tells Samuel to return to his place and when the Lord calls to him again to answer, "Speak, for Your servant hears." Now this morning in the Gospel reading we have Jesus Himself making proclamation to the people. Jesus is proclaiming the Kingdom of God and He is calling on them to "repent and believe in the Gospel."

Certainly, the mere hearing of something does not necessarily mean that we believe and take to heart what we have heard. There are things that we heard that sound so incredible to us, so outlandish, that we just find that we cannot believe them; even if it is in fact true. If we do not believe something that is true, such as a diagnosis of a cancer, and our need of treatment, and we chose not to believe this and to ignore it we will die of the disease. Maybe we see a sign that warns us of a bridge being down further up the road and if we chose to ignore this warning and continue on, we could end up off the road, suffering injury or even death. But in neither of these examples did it have to be that way. If we would have not only heard what was being told to us but if we had also listened we could have been spared serious injury or death.

How are we made children of God? How do we receive the forgiveness of our sins? How is eternal life granted to us? Well, again, Paul in Galatians 3:5-6 writes this, "Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith- just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"? We hear the gracious promises of God and we believe Him, we receive these promises of forgiveness and grace by faith, just as Abraham did, and because of that it is also counted to us, as it was with Abraham, as righteousness. Indeed, because we can hear the Gospel. We can hear the Word of Grace from God of the forgiveness of sins and resurrection to life from these bodies of sin and death but if we harden our hearts to them, if we reject them and do not receive them in faith and do not believe; then we would still be in our sins and we would die. Jesus says as much to the Jews in John 8:24, "I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." They would not believe in Jesus even though they heard the message that He had come to proclaim, which is the Kingdom of God, which was no among them by His very presence. They did not repent, and they did not believe in the Gospel; the Good News of Jesus, the Lamb of God who would be the ultimate sacrifice to the Father for the forgiveness of our sins, so that full and complete atonement would be made on our behalf.

Indeed, as Jesus said, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand." But yet, even so people continue to hear and not believe and they are still in their sins. They persist in all of the sins that people have been committing since there have been people. All of these sins keep us separated from the Father and outside of the Kingdom of God. We read in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." Paul easily and just as truthfully could have said, "And such were all of you". Because we were all guilty of these sins and this cancer of sin is all pervasive in us and without a cure it leads to our death; as Scripture teaches us that whoever is guilty of breaking even the tiniest bit of God's Law are guilty of all of it. But yet there are many who hear but who do not believe.

The Old Testament reading for this Sunday is a great pairing with our Gospel lesson. God has command Jonah to go and preach to the City of Nineveh. The message that God had given to Jonah for Nineveh was decidedly not good news. In fact it was very bad news. God has said that the evil of the city has "Come up before Me" and God gives Jonah the message that unless the people repented God would destroy the city. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. They were powerful and they were ruthless and they practiced everything that you could imagine that would be against God's Law. So, Jonah proclaims in Nineveh, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" The people of Nineveh heard God's message through Jonah and they did more than hear it, they believed it. They repented of their evil and humbled themselves before God. Then they did receive Good News, didn't they, we read, "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it." You see, the people of Nineveh heard and they also believed. Jesus, in His teaching the people references this account in Matthew as the scribes and Pharisees are testing Him and always asking for a sign. Jesus tells them they will receive no sign but the sign of Jonah and in Matthew 12:41 Jesus tells them, "The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here." The people of Nineveh heard and believed but yet with Jesus, the Son of God Himself standing in front of them His own chosen people would not believe even after hearing directly from Jesus.

In our text this morning we again see Jesus making the proclamation to the people and to all of us, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel." Earlier on at the beginning of Mark we are told about John the Baptist who came proclaiming a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; and he baptized the people with the water of the Jordan River. Now, we see Jesus, the one of whom John said he was not worthy to "stoop down and untie the strap of His sandals" was here proclaiming the Kingdom of God is now at hand. Jesus also calls on the people, and on all of us to "repent and believe in the Gospel." John also tells the people that he baptizes with water but the One who comes after will Baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Those of us who believe He has baptized with the Holy Spirit who created the faith to believe within us and who continues to come to us and be poured out upon us as we hear God's Word and receive the Holy Sacrament of Christ's body and blood. But those who do not believe, those who reject God's grace will be baptized with the eternal fires of punishment in the hell meant for the devil and his angels.

Our Savior's call to all people remains the same as it was that day that Mark records when Jesus said to repent and to believe the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God who bore our sins upon Himself and bore God's wrath and the punishment for those sins so that by God's Grace through faith in Christ we would receive forgiveness and life. Repent and believe in the Gospel. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Second Sunday after Epiphany - January 18, 2015



"Speak, For Your Servant Hears"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning comes from the Old Testament reading, particularly 1 Samuel 3:8-10 which reads, "And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant hears." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

How many times have we heard that it is important for us to listen? Isn't listening how we receive information? If we don't listen, if we don't gather information by hearing what others have to say we do ourselves a disservice and we do not show the required respect to those who are around us, who may know more about a given situation and may just have more expertise about an issue than we have. I believe that some of us may even have gone to classes that teach something that is called "effective listening". That actually sounds strand doesn't it? I mean isn't the act of listening something that we consider second nature? Sure that may be true, but do any of us actually do it? I mean even when we are in conversation with friends and family there are many times where we aren't truly listening to the other person, but we are instead already thinking of how we are going to respond to whatever they are still in the process of saying. But when we don't listen, when we just speak what's on our minds all of the time without listening, without hearing others, we can end up looking very foolish, we can even end up in a harmful situation. Scripture speaks of this in places. For example the wisest king that Israel had, Solomon, wrote this on the subject in Proverbs 13:1-3, "A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence. Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin." And, what may be even more telling is this passage from Proverbs 17:27-28, "Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent." You have to keep silent in order to effectively listen to the words of another; and for the most part when we are speaking we are not learning. Who is it more important to listen to than God?

In the Old Testament lesson for today verse one introduces us to young Samuel. It also reveals something else that is quite telling about those days, "Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. This was one of those periods in Israel's history where the people were not listening to the Lord. They had not been receiving the words of the Lord through His prophets with faith. So in consequence, the Word of the Lord was rare. The Lord warns of this by the prophet Amos when He proclaims in Amos 8:11-12, "Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord God, "when I will send a famine on the land-not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it." When the Lord was speaking the people were no listening. They were too busy going their own way, worshiping other gods, ignoring God's commands, lying, cheating, committing adultery, coveting and stealing from their neighbor, they were not observing the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy as God had commanded them to do. Does any of that sound familiar at all, well is should because you and I are guilty of all of those things and we too deserve to have the Word of the Lord become rare for us as well. We do not want to listen. We would much rather hear ourselves speak and give or own thoughts and opinions instead of hearing, listening to, and obeying the Word of the Lord our God. In our text this morning the young Samuel is serving with Eli and during the night he hears a call and he believes its Eli calling to him. After the third time Eli knows that the Lord is calling to Samuel. Eli then goes on to give Samuel a wonderful and important piece of instruction. Eli tells Samuel to go back and to lie down and when the Lord calls to him again to answer with the words, "Speak, for Your servant hears."

What wonderfully simple and critically important words. In our lives we would be wise to lie down and to listen when the Lord gives us His Word. To not ignore His message but to allow the Lord to speak to us and to give us His message. Today we speak for ourselves far too often on issues that God has already spoken about. God has spoken on marriage. God has spoken on life. God has spoken on the fact that He and He alone is God. But we do not listen, we do not heed His Words; and not hearing the Words of the Lord carry grave consequences for us. During Jesus' life and ministry we heard the Father speak on the Mount of Transfiguration, and He said of Jesus, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him." You might ask why, well beside the fact that the Father Himself has commanded us, there is even another reason. This reason came out after Jesus had spoken to the people. Jesus had said in John's Gospel that He is the Bread of Life and that everyone had to eat His flesh and drink His blood. He said that whoever did this had eternal life and that He would raise Him up at the Last Day.

We are also told in John that at this time many people who had been following Him, who had been hearing His Words turned away and refused to follow Him any longer. They said in John 6:60, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?' After these had left Him Jesus asked the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter then answered Him and said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." Those words that Elis spoke to Samuel are just as valid for us. We see it in the passages that I have just referenced and we see the reason for it as well. Where else are we to go? There is no one else that has the Words of eternal life and who speaks these gracious Words to us in His desire to make us His people.

In the Old Testament God spoke Words of life to His people through His prophets. Here is 1 Samuel He is calling young Samuel to serve Him and bring His Words of life to a disobedient and rebellious Israel. He also gives Samuel Words of judgment against the house of Eli. The Lord would continue to do this throughout Samuel's life. God would give Words of life and also of judgment to and upon His people through the prophet Samuel. Samuel took Eli's advice and when the Lord called to Him he answered with the words, "Speak, for Your servant hears."

Well, the Lord no longer speaks to us through prophets, but He continues to speak to us. The Lord has not created a famine of His Word. We praise and thank Him for this. In Hebrews 1:1-2 we read, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son." Through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word we continue to hear Him speak to us. We hear Him speak His gracious Words of forgiveness and life to us. He speaks Words of forgiveness to us for all of those times when we do not listen, when we do not hear him and when we have heard but instead have rebelled and gone our own way. He speaks the Words of eternal life to us and that He has earned for us through His sinless life and His suffering and death for us on that Good Friday so long ago. Then by grace through faith in Him He gives us the life that we share with Him, that He lives forever after He rose triumphantly from the grave that first Easter. We praise and thank God and ask Him to continue to speak to us through His Word, written an incarnate, and to create and strengthen our faith so that we can hear the voice of our Lord and Savior as Eli instructed Samuel and to hear the Words of Jesus that are eternal life for we sinners as Peter said to Jesus. Yes indeed, by the power of the Holy Spirit we too can answer God with Samuel, "Speak, for Your servant hears." Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Baptism of our Lord - January 11, 2015



"The Heavens Opened"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this morning is from the Gospel reading, Mark 1 verses 9-11, "In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Opening and closing. This is a very simple idea to understand isn't it? When something is closed your access to whatever is inside it is denied to you. This is true of whatever it is, whether it is a can or a jar, whether it is an automobile or a room or a building. Very recently I somehow managed to walk out of my house without any keys at all; and of course I had turned the knob that locked the door and so as soon as the door closed I was locked out. The door was closed and I was denied access to my own home and the very interesting detail about it all was the fact that it was no one's fault but my own. My very own actions had caused me to be locked out of my house and I could not get in on my own; I needed someone else to do the work of letting me in.

Being locked out of something is not a very good feeling, especially when it's your home. This is someplace where you have lived, where you are comfortable and with which you are familiar. It is a place where you feel safe and protected. Go back to Genesis, particularly Genesis 3:22-24, "Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever-" therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life." Yeah, there we have it, Adam and Eve are in a sense locked out of the house. They have been locked out and denied access to their home. This was the only home that they knew. They had lived with the literal presence of God their Creator. They were comfortable there. They were safe there. But now, God Himself has locked them out. We had just read about the fall into sin and of course as part of their punishment they had been removed and locked out of the Garden. But even more importantly they had also been denied access to heaven. Because of their sin heaven itself had now been closed to them and there was nothing that they could do to regain access on their own. In fact when you consider what had just occurred it had to be God Himself to take the action on our behalf to let us back in. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God and so do we. We hold so many other things as more important than God and we prove it by where we place our time, where we place Him on our schedule. Is He first, or is He someone you pay attention to when you are finished with everything else in your life? God demands, God deserves first place in our lives, but we are sinners and do not give our Lord first place. Because of these and all our other sins and disobedience heaven was now closed to us and God Himself needed to act so that it would be opened to mankind once again, and He was going to do just that.

It may sound strange to think that God wanted to prevent Adam and Eve from eating of the Tree of Life. But think about this, if they would have eaten from the Tree of Life they would have lived forever in their state of sinfulness. We could say that God's action of expelling man from the Garden and away from the Tree of Life was also an act of His great love.

Here in our text this morning as we remember and celebrate the Baptism of Jesus we see something astonishing happen. We are told that after He came up out of the water, "immediately" the heavens were opened. Dr. James Voelz in his Concordia Commentary on Mark reminds us of two things. First, he points us to Isaiah 64:1 where Isaiah writes, "Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down." Isaiah is writing and pleading for a people that are experiencing great troubles and are feeling hopeless and are thinking that God has abandoned them. Certainly, the people of Israel had first turned their backs on God and persisted in their idolatry and disobedience and deserved nothing but God's "present and eternal punishment" as we also claim for ourselves because of our great sin and disobedience. But they continued to plead for God to take action and to deliver them. He entreats Yahweh to split open the heavens themselves and come down to help His people.

Dr. Voelz also points out that in Mark we do in fact see God doing just that. We see this happen twice. It happens once here in our text at our Savior's Baptism as the heavens open and Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit for His mission and work of saving us from our sins. Then we see the heavens opened again at Jesus' death on the Cross as the curtain of the Temple is torn in two. This temple curtain was what separated in Holy place from the Holy of Holies and it showed in a very literal way the separation that existed between God and man; a separation we could do nothing to bridge. But now that great and separation that existed was bridged. It was bridged by Christ on the Cross. The separation that had once existed was now washed away by the blood of Jesus. What a joy to be witness to the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit here together working out God's plan of salvation that only He could accomplish. A plan of Salvation that He had promised even as He was executing His just and deserved punishment on our sin.

Because of our sins and disobedience, because of our desire to be our own little gods, heaven had been closed to us. We were locked out and needed God Himself to "rend the heavens and come down". God did just that in the person of Jesus our Savior. One of the many names that we hear Jesus called is Immanuel, God with us" at Jesus very conception you could say that the heavens had been opened and God Himself took on human flesh and blood so that He could and indeed would have that flesh ripped open and that blood spilt for us so that or sins would be washed away.

In our text the heavens are again opened at our Lord's Baptism; as He is baptized with John's Baptism of repentance as Israel or in fact the whole sinful world again reduced to the person of one man; the God-man, Jesus Christ. As I had indicated earlier we also saw the heavens opened at Christ's death and that veil of separation that had previously existed between God and sinful men was torn in two. The Tree of Life that Adam and Eve had been locked away from becomes incarnate in the person of Christ and we are blessed to have complete and open access to Him and the forgiveness of sins He has earned for us as we eat His body and drink His blood in the Supper that He instituted and gave to us.

A short time ago I locked myself out of my home and I needed someone else to come and open it for me. Lesley, my wife, came and once again gave me access to my home. As important as that was it was even more important that I and all of us who have been locked out of our heavenly home have again been granted access to it because of Jesus. You see the heavens were opened but it was not for the purpose of being just so that Jesus could come here. Remember what the angels told the disciples who watched Jesus ascend into heaven in Acts 1:10-11, "And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." So one day soon the heavens will again open and Christ our Savior and Lord will return. He will return and take those of us who believe in Him as Savior from sin and death with Him to our eternal life in heaven; heaven that has been opened for us because of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



The Second Sunday after Christmas - January 4, 2015



"Safe at Home"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text that engages us this morning in from the Gospel reading, particularly Luke 2:48-52, which reads, "And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Amen. So stands God's Word. Amen.

Anyone who is a parent and has ever experienced a lost child knows exactly what Mary and Joseph were going through. The sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, the nervous sweating and the feeling of helplessness that you have when you cannot find your child is something that no parent ever wants to feel. When a child is lost most parents will do anything they can, they will move heaven and earth, search everywhere and anywhere that they can in order to find their child and to bring them safely home once again.

We can also understand Mary's words that she spoke to Jesus when she and Joseph finally found Him at the temple. In fact I would say that Mary's words may seem to be a bit on the calm or mild side, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." Certainly, there have been many parents who have reacted much more strongly after having found their lost child; or at least having found the child whom they believed was lost. Because after all, haven't we all also seen a child who had been found who had never even realized that they had been lost. They just can't understand the panic that their parents had been going through because after all, as far as they were concerned they weren't lost at all, in fact, they were just fine. This could have been the case even if they had in reality been in grave danger.

The Gospel reading has us at the Passover feast. Mary, Joseph and Jesus had been in Jerusalem and are now making their way home. They journey for a day and discover Jesus is not with either Mary of Joseph. Remember, in those days the women and young children would start before the older boys and the men; and by the time the journey was over at the end of the day the older boys and the men would have caught the women and children. So, it was entirely possible that Mary thought Jesus would be with Joseph and that Joseph thought that He was with Mary. So the worrying did not start until after the first day.

But, we know that Mary and Joseph need not have worried. Jesus was exactly where He needed to be. Jesus was where He needed to be and He understood it perfectly well. Jesus responds to the distress of Mary and Joseph by asking them a question, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Jesus was in His Father's house. The Son of God incarnate, Immanuel, God with us, was safely at home in the house of His Father; the place where God had established His presence with His people. We are also going to see a shift in this. The place of God's presence would no longer be the temple, while Jesus was walking the earth He was the presence of God and now we have God present with us today in Word and Sacrament by the power of the Holy Spirit.

But, why is all of this so important, why does all of this even matter? Does it matter to us? Yes, it matters to us a great deal. In fact all of this to us is a matter of life or of death. I do not mean whether we will continue to breathe the air and have our hearts continue to beat. The life I am talking about is the life that comes after this one here on earth. At one time you and I and all people were in great distress. At one time you and I and all people were lost. We were lost except we just didn't know it. We were like the child who was separated from mom and dad and was blissfully unaware of the horrible danger that they were in.

You see we were in horrible danger. We were separated from God our heavenly Father; and what separated us was our sin. In fact in our sins we were blissfully ignorant. We were also happy. We had no idea that there was any problem at all. By our sins and disobedience to our heavenly Father we had separated ourselves from Him. What sins am I talking about? Maybe you believe that you haven't really done anything that is all that bad. Well Scripture tells us in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God." Well sure no one is perfect pastor, God surely must understand that right? God knows we aren't perfect and will cut us some slack won't He? Well, listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:48, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Luther tells us to look at ourselves in light of the Ten Commandments. Have we lied? Have we taken God's name in vain? Have we stolen? Have we gossiped, even if it's true? Have we be disobedient in any way to someone in authority over us? The more we look, the more we examine ourselves according to God's Law, if we are honest with ourselves, the worse we look. We were hopelessly lost, at least by human standards.

Jesus was not lost. Jesus had in fact been sent by the Father because we were lost. When Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple He told them that this was the place where He had to be. He had to be in His Father's house going about His Father's business. Already, even at the age of twelve He was astounding everyone. The Gospel reading tells us that the teachers at the temple were astonished by His understanding and the answers He gave to the questions they asked Him. We can only imagine what they said to Mary and Joseph about all of this because Scripture doesn't tell us. But they still did not understand what any of this was all about. What it was all about of course is all of us. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 19 in the account of Zacchaeus, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."

Isn't that an awesome thing about all of this? Here we are in the season of Christmas and we already have Jesus, even at twelve years of age" focusing on who He is and what He has come to do. He had to be in His Father's house. His Father's house is also the house of our Father. One day in the future this young Jesus would go to the cross with the sins of the world in His search for the lost. He would take those sins, your sins and my sins, the sins of your friends and neighbors, the sins of your co-workers and acquaintances, and the sins of those who are total strangers to us and He made complete payment for every one of them.

Yes, when Mary and Joseph found young Jesus that day in the temple He was safe at home in His Father's house. But He had not come to be safe. Jesus had come to be the one and only sacrifice for us. Jesus had come so that you and I could be found and be brought safely home. We have just finished a joyous celebration of Jesus' first Advent and we now await His second. He has gone but He will one day return and for those of us who are found in faith in Him and His work at the cross and empty tomb for all people. He has made us a promise and we hear it in John 14:2, "In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" He is preparing a place for us that He has earned for us and that we receive by the Father's grace. Praise and thanks be to God that for Jesus' sake one day we too will be safe at home. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding forever keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.