Sunday, April 04, 2021

Sermon for 4/4/21: Resurrection of Our Lord (Hymns of Lent)


CLICK HERE for the audio file.

CLICK HERE to view the blurry video file.


Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands
I Corinthians 15:51-57 

 

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands
For our offenses given…

Jesus was dead. He was wrapped in burial cloths. He was sealed in the tomb, and the religious leaders of the Jews had set a guard to prevent any funny business on the part of the followers of this carpenter Rabbi from Nazareth. Throughout the season of Lent, we heard how Jesus went to the cross as the Savior sent from the Father—sent to suffer and die as the Sacrifice, the Scapegoat who would suffer in the place of sinners. The deed was done. Pilate sentenced Jesus to death, and our Lord went willingly. So yes, Jesus was dead and buried. His tomb was sealed. The guard was in place. It seemed as though the story was over.

No son of man could conquer death,
Such ruin sin had wrought us.
No innocence was found on earth,
And therefore death had brought us
Into bondage from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
And held us as its captive.

Many sinners had died; that is the lot of sinners. And Jesus, though He was not a sinner, “was made sin for us,” so He had to die, too.

           But Jesus didn’t go to the cross and death as one claiming to be a victim of circumstances beyond His control. He didn’t go kicking and screaming, proclaiming His innocence to anyone who would listen. Pilate already knew the truth; he knew Jesus was innocent, and yet he convicted Jesus anyway. The religious leaders who screamed for His crucifixion already knew the truth; they knew Jesus was innocent, but that only increased their rage. And, of course, Jesus knew He was innocent. That was the whole point. An innocent Man had to die, one Man to die without spot or blemish as the perfect Offering to pay the price for all of creation. With perfect understanding, Jesus knew what would happen to Him; with perfect love, He went willingly.

 

Christ Jesus, God's own Son, came down,
His people to deliver;
Destroying sin, He took the crown
From death's pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow'r, no more it reigns;
An empty form alone remains;
Its sting is lost forever.
Alleluia!

 

The prophet Isaiah, by the power of the Spirit, foresaw what would happen. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all  faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.” Centuries before the main event, God revealed His playbook. He told the devil exactly how the battle would be won, and Satan soutght to outsmart God…by doing exactly what God wanted: the devil worked to bring about the death of the Son of God.

 

It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
Its sting is lost forever.
Alleluia!

 

Here our true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—
So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o'er,
And Satan cannot harm us.
Alleluia!

 

And, just as the Father planned, just as Satan wanted, Jesus died. What a “strange and dreadful” battle, indeed! Our Lord did not vanquish death though an act of almighty power, but by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Now Death is swallowed up in victory. Death passes over us, powerless. Satan groans in agony, the cross impaling him. And the graves of the faithful will lie empty forever.

 

So let us keep the festival…

 

Then let us feast this Easter Day
On Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other!
Alleluia!

 

In response to this great victory, how, as Luther urges us, do we “keep the festival?” There is only one way: celebrate Easter in repentance and faith. When our Lord rose up from tomb, He left the sin of the world buried in that desolate cave. Through the washing you received in the waters of Baptism, that’s where your sin belongs. So confess your sin. Turn away from it; leave it dead and buried in our Savior’s tomb; it no longer belongs to you. Look in faith to the crucified and risen Christ, because His last will and testament is yours. Keep the festival by feasting on His body and blood, trusting that you receive the blood-bought forgiveness of sins in this New Testament Passover feast; trusting that He joins Himself to you; trusting that, because He lives, you shall live. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the (†) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen. 

Friday, April 02, 2021

Sermon for 4/2/21: Good Friday (Hymns of Lent)


CLICK HERE to hear the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the sermon video. Sorry about the blurriness.

Upon the Cross Extended
Isaiah 52:13-53:12

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

How should we contemplate the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ on His cross? What a question. Every year we make this Lenten journey to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every year we stand there at its foot with Mary and the other women, with John, and with the Centurion and his soldiers.

Upon the cross extended
See, world, your Lord suspended,
Your Savior yields His breath.
The Prince of Life from heaven
Himself hath freely given
To shame and blows and bitter death.

We’ve arrived. The cross stands before us, and our Lord is there. Look up.Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Nails pierce His hands and feet. His head is crowned with thorns. Upon His outstretched arms He bears all the sins of all mankind. And He dies, the weight of our sins causing Him great anguish and agony. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

 

Come, see these things and ponder,
Your soul will fill with wonder
As blood streams from each pore.

As strange as it might sound to us, with a crucifix on the altar and another as a processional cross, there are Christians who say the crucifix has no place in our sanctuaries. After all, not only is Jesus no longer on the cross; He’s not even dead anymore. And in any case, they say, it is not appropriate to view an image of our Lord hanging on an ancient torture device. The cross is an offense, a scandal in the eyes of the worldly, and certainly we don’t want to offend the world—especially since it is our sin that brought Him to the cross, and certainly we don’t want anyone to be made to feel guilty. More than that, we don’t want to feel guilty ourselves.

Who is it, Lord, that bruised You?
Who has so sore abused You
And caused You all Your woe?
We all must make confession
Of sin and dire transgression
While You no ways of evil know.

 

I caused Your grief and sighing
By evils multiplying
As countless as the sands.
I caused the woes unnumbered
With which You soul is cumbered,
Your sorrows raised by wicked hands.

Sinners that we are, we cannot hide in a crowd, as if we can minimize our own guilt because everyone played their part. We are all, each of us, individually responsible for our sin; we cannot hide or minimize our role in the death of our Lord.

What do you see when you look at the cross? What do you see when you consider the death of Jesus? What do these things represent to you? When Paul Gerhardt wrote this hymn, it was near the end of thirty years of war. The people knew pain and suffering and ugliness of death. They knew the hardships of the plague. Why would their pastor write such a hymn? Hadn’t they seen enough death? As for us, we’ve had a year and more of COVID, and that hasn’t put a stop to cancer or dementia or the flu or car accidents or any of the other suffering we’ve had to deal with throughout our lives. Why would your pastor want you to think about death and the cross in the midst of all this?

But the death of Jesus is different from the death we see in our own lives. Whether it’s in Gerhardt’s day or our own, the people of God are sorely tried—not only by the searing weight of conscience, but also by the grief of warfare and disaster, plague and persecution. As we consider these things, the cross becomes a sign, proof of a God who loves us unconditionally; proof of a God who does not stay in heaven, observing from a distance, who chooses instead to join in the suffering of His people, defeat it, and bring them out of it.

Your cords of love, my Savior,
Bind me to You forever,
I am no longer mine.
To You I gladly tender
All that my life can render
And all I have to You resign.

             

        As we look at our Lord’s cross and death, it will change not only how we look at our own death, but how we look at every day of our life, as well. Knowing that Christ has taken away the most fearful part of death—the prospect of eternal death—we can face death with confidence. And we can share that confidence with as many people as possible. Some people spend their entire lives worrying about how death might come. They fret over what might happen after that. But we know what is coming. We know that Jesus has changed what death means. We know that death is now the gate to eternal life. What an amazing gift this is: a gift of life from death. In thanksgiving we worship our Savior and say:

 

Your cross I place before me;
Its saving pow'r restore me,
Sustain me in the test.
It will, when life is ending,
Be guiding and attending
My way to Your eternal rest.

 

In the name of the Father and of the (†) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Thursday, April 01, 2021

Sermon for 4/1/21: Maundy Thursday (Hymns of Lent)

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

The death of Jesus Christ, our Lord,
We celebrate with one accord;
It is our comfort in distress,
Our heart’s sweet joy and happiness.

 

When you’re considering the prospect of your death, you think about the people in your life—the people you really care about—and you think about how you can provide for them with what you’ve acquired over the course of your lifetime. It’s called a last will and testament. Knowing that His death was near, knowing that He would rise from the dead and ascend into heaven, Jesus provided for His disciples and for the Church with His testament. As the Words of Institution appear in our Catechism: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament, in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’” This was the reason He came as the Word made flesh: to give His people the forgiveness of their sins at the cost of His own life. Indeed,

He blotted out with His own blood
The judgment that against us stood;
For us He full atonement made,
And all our debt He fully paid.

That this forever true shall be,
He gives a solemn guarantee:
In this His holy Supper here
We taste His love so sweet, so near.

Jesus tells His Church to “do this.” This gift He gives to the Church includes His desire that His redeemed children receive this gift. “Do this…” Take and eat my body. Take and drink my blood. He wants you to partake of His Supper. He wants you to receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation He gives you in this holy meal. But we sinners always seem to give a higher priority to our own notions about what we need and how things work, rather than focusing on what the Lord promises to give. In the Lutheran Church, our public confession of what we receive in the Holy Supper cannot be faulted, for we confess exactly what Jesus says concerning the Supper He instituted. Perhaps our biggest concern, then, the false notion we cling to most, is that the Supper might somehow become less special if we receive it too often.

His Word proclaims and we believe
That in this Supper we receive
His very body, as He said,
His very blood for sinners shed.

 

We dare not ask how this can be,
But simply hold the mystery
And trust this word where life begins:

“Given and shed for all your sins.”

Paul does not begin with his own opinion. He does not, like so many churches today, consider it a matter of indifference what one believes regarding the Lord’s Supper. Instead Paul begins with what He had received from the Lord. He says: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” He takes Jesus at His Word, and he calls upon you to do the same. Eat our Lord’s body; drink His blood; receive this gift of life. Receive it. Long for it. Cry out for it when it’s not made available to you.

Paul wrote, As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” Do you believe what Jesus says? Jesus says, “This is my body;” do you believe it? Jesus says, “This is my blood;” do you believe it? Jesus says this is given for you;” do you believe it? He tells you, “This do in remembrance of me;” do you take Him seriously? Or do you think your opinion is more important? Our hymn tells us:

But blest is each believing guest
Who in these promises finds rest;
For Jesus shall in love remain
With all who here His grace obtain. 

 

In the Sacrament we are given Christ’s body and blood. The very body that was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary to bear our sins and suffer our death is given into our mouths. The blood He shed to redeem us now flows into our lips. The Lord’s body and blood proclaim to you the forgiveness of all your sins. As you eat and drink at the Lord’s Table, you confess Jesus Christ to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” We may bring no contradiction of Him and His words to His altar. That is why Paul warns the Corinthians that those who partake of the Supper in an unworthy manner are guilty not of bread and wine, but of Christ’s body and blood.

We give attention to faith—not because our faith establishes the presence of Christ in the Sacrament, but because it is only in faith that we may partake of the Savior’s body and blood in a way which is salutary and beneficial. Therefore, Paul says, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” There is only one way to worthily eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper, and that is with faith in the words of Him who is the Host and Donor. The Catechism says it well: “He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.’And so, as we prepare to receive this Holy Sacrament, we pray:

 

Help us sincerely to believe
That we may worthily receive
Your Supper and in You find rest.
Amen! They who believe are blest.

 

In the name of the Father and of the (†) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Sermon for 3/29/21: Monday of Holy Week


I preached today for the noon service at St. John Lutheran Church in Chester, Illinois. Every year, the women of their congregation sponsor daily services for the community during Holy Week, and the pastors of St. John invite area LCMS clergy to participate. Other than last year, when the services were cancelled, it has been my pleasure to preach at one of these serves ever year since 2016. It's nice to get out; it reminds me of my days as a pulpit rider in Louisiana, except that I don't have to go back to my job as the manager of a secular community center. Anyway, here's what I delivered today.

CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

“We Wish to See Jesus”

John 12:1-23

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” These Greek men could have had desired nothing greater. But for some unspoken reason, Phillip didn’t take these men directly to Jesus. He speaks to Andrew, and then they went together to speak to Jesus. But our Lord’s reply might shed some light on the subject. He answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” No doubt there were some who heard these words who said, “Well, it’s about time. Now we’ll see something really spectacular.” No doubt there were a few among the disciples who were enticed by the palms and the hosannas of the crowds. Now Jesus will reveal His true royal nature. Now Jesus will drive out the Romans and establish His kingdom on earth.

As we know, our Lord Jesus Christ would be glorified—but not in a way anyone other than the Trinity would expect. He would be exalted, lifted up on the cross, bearing the sins of the world. Jesus repeatedly said, “My Hour has not yet come.” But now, after this glorious parade, Jesus finally states, “The hour has come,” and the hour refers to His death. How can death be glorious?

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” But the crucified Jesus isn’t the Jesus we really want to see, is it? Like Peter at the Transfiguration, we want to see the shiny Jesus, the powerful Jesus, the miraculous Jesus. Like the crowds who came because He raised Lazarus from the dead, we want to see the Jesus who makes our lives better; the Jesus who heals our diseases; the Jesus who leads us against those who oppose the Word of God—against abortion factories like Planned Parenthood; against the government and its seeming hatred of the Christian faith; against those who call themselves Christians but who oppose what Jesus teaches. We want the Jesus who takes us to the mountaintop with mighty choruses of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” ringing out as we march to victory.

But that is not the real Jesus. Jesus consistently and clearly preached His suffering, death, and resurrection as His glory. He clearly proclaimed this as our salvation. Even so, His disciples, the crowds who sang His praise, the Greeks, the Pharisees—everyone was confused. They were unable to understand that the greatest expression of the glory of God lies in Christ on the cross, where He suffered all in order to forgive the sins of the world.

Jesus wants you to share in this glory. But in order to share in this glory, you must die. Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Jesus used the word life in two ways: life as we know it here, and eternal life with Him. Those who love the life of this world will lose their eternal life. Those who die to the life of this world already have eternal life. That is what Holy Baptism is about. Remember these words from St. Paul to the Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Few understood the reason Jesus came to Jerusalem that day. We have no excuse for such confusion. The Bible plainly states that Jesus came to Jerusalem because He had an appointment with a cross.

This coming Thursday and Friday, the Church will gather to “see Jesus”—to focus on the gifts Jesus gave us with His Passion. We will focus on the Sacrament in which Jesus gives His body and blood to us for the forgiveness of sins. We will focus on His death on the cross in which Jesus earned forgiveness for all our sins—a death we die with Him in the waters of Holy Baptism. This is the life of the baptized believer: continually dying to sin and rising again to new life in Christ. This is the way it is for the believer until our Lord takes him out of this valley of sorrows to Himself. Then we shall wait for the final Day: the Day when our bodies will rise to immortality and we shall live forever. There will be no need for death because there will be no sin. While we live on this earth, we look forward to that day when there is no death, but only eternal life—when we shall truly “see Jesus” forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sermon for 3/28/21: Palmarum--Sunday of the Passion


CLICK HERE for the audio recording.

CLICK HERE to view the sermon video.

 

The Death of Death

Matthew 27:11-54

 

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

Death was losing its grip on humanity. Jesus hadn’t even risen yet Himself, but St. Matthew tells us that the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. That raises all sorts of questions. Why did they wait in their tombs Friday and Saturday to enter Jerusalem on Sunday? Did Jesus tell them to leave their tombs only when He exited His own grave? And how long did they live after this miraculous event? We might speculate about the answers to these questions and others; Scripture leaves them unanswered. But we can say this for certain: the resurrection of these saints reveals that Christ had conquered death, and His resurrection would result in the resurrection of all the saints.

Christ foreshadowed His own resurrection by raising three other individuals before His death. He raised the daughter of Jairus. He raised the young man from Nain. And, just before He came to Jerusalem, He raised Lazarus. By these resurrections, Jesus not only showed that He had power over life and death, but also that He had come to destroy the power of death. In the same way, these raised saints in Matthew 27 showed that Death was losing its grip. Death was trying to hold all mankind in its icy grasp. Up until Christ came, Death was doing well in keeping us all under its power. But then Death tried to hold one more Man, the One from Nazareth. Death seemed to win. The Man breathed His last on the cross. All was good, so far as Death was concerned.

But the Son of God was too much for Death to contain. The Lord of life could not be seized by Death’s cold hand. Instead, Death was mortally wounded. Christ had become the death of Death. Like a juggler who tried to control one ball too many, Death began to lose some of the people it had held. Bodies started rising. Saints began walking out of tombs. Death was losing its grip.

Even now, with one foot in its own grave, Death tries to hold on. Even now, it appears that Death rules the day, and we cower in fear of its cold hands. Our loved ones still suffer; Cancer, Alzheimer’s and dementia, influenza, Covid, depression, anxiety, murder—people keep suffering and dying, which is business as usual as far as Death is concerned. But that is only the appearance. Death cannot hold on for much longer. A day is coming soon when Death will be thrown into the lake of fire. Life will rule supreme and Death will be gone forever. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

This is because the Son of God died on Calvary. This is because He let His enemies crucify Him. He fulfilled all Scripture. They divided up His clothes and cast lots for them. He was mocked, even by the robbers crucified next to Him. So that you could live forever, He endured the darkness when the Father forsook Him. He yielded up His spirit, so that your spirit will be forever joined to your body in unending life at the Resurrection.

That is what the resurrected saints on Good Friday teach us most of all. Christ has earned Resurrection for all His saints at the Cross. He has even paid the price for us, the faltering, stammering saints of this late century. We shall be raised, because by His death, our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered Death. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Sermon for 3/24/21: Midweek Lent 5 (Hymns of Lent series)

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 Around 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem would receive the comfort and salvation promised to Adam and Eve at the fall into sin: “Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.” The fight had been going on for far longer—thousands of years, according to the genealogies found in Genesis and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Even as Adam and Eve were in mourning because they had given in to temptation, the Father promised a Seed to crush the satanic serpent. The Garden was lost to them, as was the Tree of Life. Life would be full of hardship, toil, and pain. But the fight had already begun—in fact, the staging for this battle had begun even before the foundation of the world: the Father, with His divine foreknowledge of man’s fall into sin, preparing His only-begotten Son to win forgiveness and life for His creation. In thanksgiving for this forgiveness and life, creation sings the praises of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

 

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle;
Sing the ending of the fray.
Now above the cross, the trophy,
Sound the loud triumphant lay:
Tell how Christ, the world's redeemer,
As a victim won the day.

 

Tell how, when at length the fullness
Of the appointed time was come,
He, the Word, was born of woman,
Left for us His Father's home,
Blazed the path of true obedience,
Shone as light amidst the gloom.

 

The time had come. Here, in the midst of Lent, we get a little Christmas. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” And as God in flesh, yes, He “blazed a path of true obedience,” perfectly obeying His own Law as only God could, applying that perfect obedience to man as only a Man could.

 

He went forth from Nazareth,
Destined, dedicated, willing,
Did His work, and met His death;
Like a lamb He humbly yielded
On the cross His dying breath.

 

We see the smaller battles in the overall war between God and Satan: how the devil tempted our Lord three times in the wilderness after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, only for Jesus to perfectly pass the test; how the devil tempted Jesus to set aside the cup of suffering as our Lord approached His cross, only for Jesus to submit Himself to the will of the Father in staying the course, drinking that cup to the bitter end; and then the ultimate showdown: how the devil thought he would win the war with the death of Jesus on the cross, only for Jesus to emerge from the tomb with the true victory on the third day.

 

Faithful cross, true sign of triumph,
Be for all the noblest tree;
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit your equal be;
Symbol of the world's redemption,
For the weight that hung on thee!

 

Everything after that has been Satan waging rearguard battles as he retreats, because he knows Jesus has already won; he’s just choking out his last little rebellion as we await the Last Day.

We take this victory for granted, don’t we? We sing the song of this victory on Sunday morning, and then we go into the world and live as if Satan won the war. We see the forgiveness which Jesus won for us at the price of His own blood and death, and we treat it like it gives us a license to sin. Old Adam luxuriates in his sin and vices. He likes the cesspool in which he wallows, all too happy with his stench, all too willing to be covered with the filth of corruption. After all, my baptism will wash me clean every time, right? We take the grace all too cheaply, as if the blood of Christ is a small price to pay for our sin.

But that blood of Christ, applied to us in the waters of baptism, shed into our mouths in the Holy Supper, does wash away our sin. Over and over again, our Lord brings us back to our baptism through the words of Holy Absolution, spoken by our pastor as by Jesus Himself. The grace which the Old Adam treats so carelessly is a powerful cleanser. A stanza missing from the Lutheran Service Book version of our hymn tells us:

 

There the nails and spears He suffers,
Vinegar, and gall, and reed;
From His sacred body pierc├Ęd
Blood and water both proceed;
Precious flood, which all creation
From the stain of sin hath freed.

 

This reminds us of Luther’s Flood Prayer in the Rite of Holy Baptism: “through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” There is no wallow, no filth, no corruption that Baptism cannot wash away, by the power of the blood of Christ which was shed on the cross for us and for our salvation.

           How else can we respond to this grace than to sing? Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,” our hymn tells us. “Sound the loud triumphant lay.” For, as another beloved hymn tells us:

 

And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.

 

We’re still fighting here, still struggling against Satan and his demon minions, still struggling against our Old Adam. But the victory has already been won in our Lord Jesus Christ. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh cannot defeat our Jesus; and through the power of His cross, His blood, and His resurrection, these enemies cannot defeat you. In the name of the Father and of the (†) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sermon for 3/21/21: Fifth Sunday in Lent

Accusers and Faith
John 8:42-59 
 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 A man who is tone deaf cannot fully experience the thrill of music. A man who is color blind cannot fully appreciate a painting or even the beauty of nature itself. A man without taste buds cannot appreciate the nuances of flavor in food. It is the same with spiritual things; there must be a gift that enables us to respond to God and what He says and does for us. That gift is the Holy Spirit.

Holy Scripture has a wonderful way of describing for us the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit serves two great functions. He reveals the truth of God, especially Jesus Christ and the Gospel. And then He makes us able to recognize and grab hold of the truth when we hear it and see it. You remember how Luther described this work of the Spirit: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith...” All of this clearly means that, without the Holy Spirit, no man can recognize God’s truth when he hears or sees it. And it also means that, if a man shuts the door of his heart against the Spirit of God, then, even when the truth is fully displayed, he is quite unable to see it and recognize it, to grab hold of it and make it his own. These are not matters of the intellect. It is not a question as to whether or not one is smart enough to get it. Some of the most brilliant people ever to live have denied the truth of God, yet a little child can grasp it. It is not a matter of intellect; it is a matter of faith—and faith is a gift we receive from the Spirit.

That brings us to the Gospel appointed for today. The Jews believed they were religious people, but because they insisted on clinging to their own ideas of what faith is, instead of what God had told them again and again, they had drifted so far from God that they had become godless. And it stung them to be told that they were strangers to God. They lashed out at Jesus. They accused Jesus of being a Samaritan: an enemy of Israel and of God. They accused Him of being a law-breaker and a heretic. They branded the Son of God as a heretic! But is there any doubt that it would happen to Him again if He were to return in flesh and confront the churches of this world with their foolish worldliness, with their love for their own ideas and for their clamoring after the praise of men? Of course our Lord answers that He was no heretic, nor was He a servant of the devil—another of the accusations hurled at Him. His only aim was to honor the Father in heaven, while the conduct of His adversaries was a continual dishonoring of God. He says, in effect: “It is not I who have a devil; it is you.”

We prayed with the psalmist, “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation...” All the power of this world and all of its ill-gotten evidence seems arrayed against Jesus. But Jesus was not looking for honor in this world. He knew He would be insulted and rejected and dishonored and crucified. The work of redemption required that Jesus be abused and mistreated. To save men, He must take upon Himself all the evil that men are capable of working. Yes, even those who accused Him were included, even as we who have denied or doubted Him were a part of the burden He bore to the cross. But Isaiah tells us in a remarkable prophecy of the crucifixion: “When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied. By His knowledge My Righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.” That was our Lord’s vindication. He would see that all He had suffered would be worthwhile. He would be the cause of salvation, and the Father in heaven would be pleased in His Son.

But this is also our vindication, for we cannot help but remember that Jesus told His disciples to expect to be treated as He had been treated. Just as Jesus was considered an enemy to His world—and even to the people who claim to believe—so we will face enmity in this world, and maybe even in the Church. Even as they could find nothing evil to pin on Jesus in accusation, so our presence and our life of faith serves as an ongoing indictment against the unbelief of this world, a solemn reminder of what and Who is being rejected. But for us, it is worth whatever it may cost! Whatever we may be called on to suffer in His name, it cannot begin to compare to the glory that shall be revealed to us. For what awaits us is eternal life: life beyond the pain of earthly existence, life that forgets what was before and looks only to that future of permanent glory.

As Holy Week and the culmination of this Lenten season approaches, God grant that we lift up our eyes to see Jesus, the author of our salvation. God grant that we willing bear our crosses—the accusations of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh—as we gaze upon the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. God grant us His Holy Spirit, that we may fully see and rejoice in our Lord’s suffering and death, and the life that we will live because of it, forever and forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

           The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Sermon for 3/17/21: Midweek Lent 4 (Hymns of Lent series)

 

 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Glory be to Jesus,
Who in bitter pains
Poured for me the lifeblood
From His sacred veins!

 

In speaking about sacrifices made upon the altar, the Lord said to Moses, The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” For this reason, the Jews were not to eat any blood. Blood has always been an important matter for the people of God, even from the first murder in human history. When Cain kills his brother Abel out of jealousy, the Lord tells Cain, The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.” Blood is never silent, because blood is a living thing, and living things speak to the One who made them. With perhaps some poetic license our hymn writer tells us:

 

Abel’s blood for vengeance
Pleaded to the skies…

 

Now, Scripture doesn’t actually tell us what the blood of Abel said to God. We don’t know if Abel’s blood wanted vengeance, or if it just told God it was there. Even so, we know God heard it, and we know God punished Cain harshly for shedding his brother’s blood.

           The descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who were gathered to celebrate the Feast of the Passover knew the power of blood. The Passover they were in Jerusalem to celebrate was a celebration of the blood of the Passover lamb. The lamb’s blood marked their homes as the homes of the children of Israel; seeing that blood, the angel of death would spare the firstborn sons of Israel. They knew the power of blood, and they wanted to see it spill from the One who was sent to be their King. They wanted to spill the blood of the true Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. They should have paused before crying out, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Because blood has power; The life of the flesh is in the blood…”

           But God hears prayers and answers them. The people wanted the blood of Jesus to spill on them, and God made sure the people got what they wanted. Fortunately, He doesn’t always answer them the way we mean them to be answered. The hymn writers tells us:

 

           ...The blood of Jesus

           For our pardon cries.

 

The blood of Jesus echoed His words from the cross: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” The blood of Jesus cries out to the Father for our deliverance, because that’s what Jesus came to do: He came to die for us, bearing our sins upon the cross. Then He rose from the dead to win new life for us. And then He ascended into heaven, where He intercedes for us before the Father. For “you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” The blood of Jesus is powerful. The blood of Jesus is your life.

 

Grace and life eternal
In that blood I find;
Blest be His compassion,
Infinitely kind!

 

Blest through endless ages
Be the precious stream…

 

And now that the blood of Christ is upon you, that blood also speaks to you. Jesus says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Only by the holiness of Christ that pours down upon us from his cross can we ever do what God demands. Only through the blood of Christ upon us can we be sober regarding the things of this world and the things of God. Only through the blood of Christ upon us do we obey God and mortify our dying flesh. Only through the blood of Christ upon us can we rest our hope in His grace. Only through the blood of Christ upon us do we dare fear, love, or trust Him.

Through the death of Christ upon the cross, we die to ourselves and live by the holiness of Christ. As His baptized, blood-bought people, His blood continues to be powerful for us, feeding us with forgiveness and life as we receive that blood into our mouths in the Holy Supper. And so we give thanks to God for the holiness and the life He has given us, which we bear in the blood-marked crosses upon our foreheads and upon our hearts—now during Lent and throughout our earthly days.

Lift we, then, our voices,
Swell the mighty flood;
Louder still and louder
Praise the precious blood!

 

In the name of the Father and of the (†) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.