The Mirror – Sermon on James 1:22-27 for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

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James 1:22–27 

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Today, we’re going to start by going back to the basics. On Wednesday, our confirmation students had their last lesson for the year which was a review of the two main teachings of the Bible – Law and Gospel. As your pastor, Law and Gospel is what you have called me to do. I’m constantly evaluating if a passage is teaching Law, Gospel, or both. In my conversations with you, I try to determine where and when to apply Law or Gospel. While I’m writing sermons, I try to find the right balance of Law and Gospel. But it’s been a while since we’ve gone back and specifically defined what Law and Gospel are. So, it’s time to do it again, and I apologize if this seems elementary to you.

Basically, the Law is what God requires of you. The Law tells you that if you do not do what it demands or if you do what it forbids, you deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment. The Gospel, on the other hand, tells you what God has done for you. Specifically, the Gospel tells you that God has removed His anger, wrath, and punishment from you because of what Christ has done by His death and resurrection. Properly distinguishing Law and Gospel is what makes a theologian, and as a Christian there is enough for you to consider there for your entire life.

But let’s go a little further. The first Lutherans give a nice summary about how the Law actually has three “uses.” In other words, the Law is a tool that does three things. These “uses” are pictured 1) as a curb, 2) as a mirror, and 3) as a guide.

The Law is used as a curb to keep both Christians and non-Christians from committing sin. Think of when you are driving and take a corner too sharply. Your tire hits the curb which bounces you back onto the road. It’s good that the curb does that, but you don’t want to hit the curb too often because it’s bad for your tires. The Law is like that too. When you do wrong and get punished, it hurts and isn’t pleasant, but it gets you back on the path. This is why Christians support appropriate punishment when laws are broken. A thief can repent of his sins and be forgiven before God, but that doesn’t mean he should escape jail time or not have to restore what has been stolen. Those punishments help preserve order in society. So, that’s the first use of the Law – a curb. And it’s important to remember that this first use of the Law is for both believers and unbelievers.

I’m going to wait for a moment on the second “use” of the Law and skip to the third “use” of the Law is as a guide. This “use” of the Law is only for Christians. Christians are fully forgiven for the sake of Christ. We are free from the accusations of the Law (Ro. 3:196:14). But that doesn’t mean that we throw out the Law. No, Christians still need the Law to guide us as to how we live in love toward God and our neighbor. The Law guides us in our love and shows us how to love.

So, back to the second “use” of the Law. The second “use” of the Law is as a crystal-clear mirror which exposes our sin and drives us to Jesus who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). The Law is used as a mirror for sinners which means that it is for both Christians and non-Christians. Those who are not Christians need to have their sin exposed by the perfect reflection of the Law so that they repent and believe in Christ. And Christians need this too. As long as we live in this fallen, broken world, Christians will still be sinners. We are forgiven and righteous before God, but our old, sinful nature still clings to us. So, we need the mirror of the Law to expose that sin and run back to Christ. And the end of Romans 7[:14-25] makes that very clear.

So, with all of that in mind, we can now turn our attention to our text here from James. This text, at first glance, sounds like all Law – all Law and no Gospel. We are, according to this text, to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. If we only hear the Word and do not do it, we deceive ourselves, and our religion is worthless. This should convict us because it is Law. Too often we fall into the trap of wrongly thinking that our sins don’t really matter before God, that His forgiveness means that He gives us a wink and a nod when we sin. This text should blast that idea out of your head. That is not the case. Repent. If that is your attitude toward sin, you are a hearer and not a doer. You are deceiving yourself, and your religion is worthless.

But, at the same time, this text isn’t only Law. Notice how these verses from James start. “Be doers of the Word… if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer.” Notice James’ vocabulary. It would have been one thing if James had said, “Be doers of the Law and not hearers only… if anyone is a hearer of the Law and not a doer….” If that is what the text said, we should abandon the Lutheran understanding of salvation and call Lutheran doctrine heresy. But James doesn’t say that. He doesn’t use the word ‘law’; he uses the word ‘word.’ The Holy Spirit inspired James to call us Christians to be doers of the Word which includes both Law andGospel. Notice how James continues:

“If anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his face in a mirror. He looks at himself and goes away and forgets what he was like.” Notice how James, again inspired by the Holy Spirit, now uses a synonym for the Word to conclude his analogy about the mirror. “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” There, James equates “the Word” with the “perfect law, the law of liberty.” The two are synonymous.

And, to top it off, the Greek word that gets translated as ‘perfect’ there is very important. The root is τελος which means ‘end, completion, or goal.’ The root can be used as several different parts of speech. Possibly, the most famous use of this root is just before Christ dies on the cross and cries out, “Τετέλεσται” or “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). And just so you know: in the ESV’s translation of the New Testament, of the 34 times the word ‘perfect’ shows up, 31 of them have τελος as the root.

So, when James talks here about the perfect law, the τελος law, the law of liberty – which again is the Scriptures, the Word, both Law and Gospel – James is talking not just about the Law and what God demands of you. James is also talking about the Gospel which is what Christ has done for you.

It would be legitimate to translate the phrase there in v. 25 “the perfect law” as “the completed law.” Jesus perfectly kept the Law for you, in your place. Christ said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” in other words the Scriptures, “I have not come to abolish them but fulfill them” (Mt. 5:17). This τελος law of liberty declares that Christ’s perfect obedience is credited to your account through faith (Ro. 4:2-5). This law of liberty invites you to look into the mirror of the Scriptures and see yourself as God sees you – both as a sinner and also as righteous and blameless before Him through faith in Christ.

In other words, it isn’t just the Law that serves as a mirror exposing your sin. The Gospel is a mirror too. See in that mirror of the Gospel what Christ has made you. He says in that law of liberty that He has removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). He has redeemed you. He has justified you. He has made you holy. You are a Christian. You are God’s perfect and blameless child. God declares that you are righteous. Don’t just hear that. Live it!

Christian, your religion, isn’t worthless. It is of infinite, eternal worth. Do the Word, the perfected, completed law of liberty, which is a mirror that reflects the fact that you are a child of God, at peace with God, and righteous before God – all for the sake of Christ. See that reflection of yourself in the mirror of God’s Word.

Today is Mothers’ Day, and we rejoice in the gift that mothers are for us. Everyone here has a mother, and it is good and right in the sight of God to honor your mother. Call her. Thank her for what she has done for you. And, if necessary, forgive her for any of her failures.

And, you Christian moms, see yourself as God sees you. You care for those that God has given to you. You feed, clothe, protect, defend, encourage, and comfort the children God has given you. And whenever you do that, you are being the very hands and feet of God on this earth. Do you always do it perfectly and with a willing and happy heart? Probably not. But you are still serving your children and home. And when you recognize how you fall short, repent, and know that because of Christ’s forgiveness you stand before God pure and undefiled. You are a forgiven, redeemed, righteous Christian woman, you are that excellent wife in Proverbs 31[:10-31] by God’s declaration (Mt. 25:34-40).

Dear saints, continue to live as doers of the Word and not hearers only. Live in repentance. Live in the faith and perfection that God has given you for the sake of Christ. Look into the perfect, completed law, and God will keep you unstained from the world.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Well of Salvation – Sermon on Isaiah 12:1-6 for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

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Isaiah:12-1-6

1 You will say in that day: 

     “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, 
      for though you were angry with me, 

     your anger turned away, 
that you might comfort me. 

2   “Behold, God is my salvation; 
I will trust, and will not be afraid; 

     for the Lord God is my strength and my song, 
and he has become my salvation.” 

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day: 

     “Give thanks to the Lord, 
call upon his name, 

     make known his deeds among the peoples, 
proclaim that his name is exalted. 

5   “Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; 
let this be made known in all the earth. 

6   Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, 
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Have you ever been watching a movie for an hour and a half and then right at the climax, when there is only twenty minutes left, someone walks into the room starts asking questions? They want to know everything about the characters and what is happening so they can watch the end with you. When that happens to me, my inclination is to grab the remote, turn up the volume, and pretend I don’t hear the intruder. Hopefully, you’re more polite than I am and pause the movie to give as full of an explanation as possible so that person will understand the characters, plot, and inside jokes that usually come at the end of a movie.

This text, which is a stunning song, is one of the climactic parts of the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 12 is absolutely magnificent, but jumping straight into it like we have today is like coming in for the climax of a movie. Without the context, you miss the beauty and wonder. Well, don’t worry. Today, I’m a preacher, so I won’t just ignore the questions that this text begs. Let’s all get caught up.

The two questions that stare us in the face when we come to this beautiful chapter are first, when is “that day”? And second, who is the “you” that will sing this song in “that day”?

To get at the ‘when’ of that day, we have to go back to Isaiah 11 which begins with a famous prophecy of Jesus’ birth. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” And as you get to v. 6 of Isaiah 11, the focus shifts to looking beyond Christ’s birth to His return on the Last Day. There, Isaiah talks about how “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,” etc. And as you work your way down to v. 10, Isaiah speaks about how Christ will, “stand as a signal for the peoples – of Him shall the nations inquire, and His resting place shall be glorious.”

So, when we get to our passage here in ch. 12, what day is Isaiah referring to when he says this beautiful song will be sung? Is it when Christ is born in Bethlehem, or is it when He returns on the Last Day? I think the best and safest answer is, “Yes. It’s both.” Which also means that the answer to the second question about the identity of the “you” who sings this song is you, believer.

Dear saint, you live in the day when God’s anger turned away from you and to Christ. God comforts you because Jesus went to the cross to suffer God’s wrath against your sin in your place. On the cross, Christ, the eternal Son of God, became your salvation. Today, you trust in Him and are not afraid. Jesus is your strength and your song, and He has become your salvation.

And to see how this is for you now, we have to do a little leg work. And, please, bear with me; this will feel more like Bible study than a sermon for just a bit. And it would be helpful for you to turn to ch. 7 of John’s Gospel. There in Jn. 7, Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths. That feast was when God’s people commemorated their time of exodus in the wilderness and lived in tents. If you want to learn more about what God commanded for that feast, see Lev. 23[:33-36, 39-43] and Dt. 16[:13-17].

Each day of the celebration of that week-long feast, the priest would go to the Pool of Silom in Jerusalem and draw some water and carry it back to the Temple in a parade filled with trumpets. The crowds would follow the priest who was carrying that jar of water and sing v. 3 of our text, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” When they reached the Temple, that water was poured around the Altar as a thank offering for God’s provision for the people during the Exodus.

So then, look at Jn. 7:37-38. It was on the last day of that feast that Jesus cries out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” So, in the context of the people singing for a whole week about joyfully drawing water from the wells of salvation, Jesus says, “If you’re thirsty for salvation, come to Me and drink.”

Now, the way the ESV reads there, the one who drinks from Christ will have living waters flowing from his heart. But I want you to notice something. If you are looking at one of our pew Bibles, there is a little footnote #3 which provides an alternate translation (which, I think, fits better with the context).

The alternate translation reads, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, and let him who believes in Me drink. As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Translated that way, it makes Jesus Himself the source of the rivers of living water. In other words, Jesus is saying, “Believer, drink from Me because out of My heart flow the rivers of the living water of salvation.” And understanding Christ’s words that way makes more sense since Christ is inviting those who are thirsty for salvation to come to Him and be satisfied.

Also, think back to what John tells us happened after Christ died on the cross. The soldiers came to Jesus, saw that He was already dead, and pierced His side with a spear. And what came out? Water and blood flowed from Christ (Jn. 19:31-37). In other words, when we understand Jesus as the source of the rivers of living water, it is the very wounds of Christ that are the wells of salvation for you, believer. From the wounds of Jesus, salvation has poured and flows into this world. God be praised!

That is why we Christians sing. We give thanks to the Lord, we call upon His name, and we make His deeds known among the peoples.

All of this brings me back to you, Israelle. Israelle, today, God has joined your voice to the great choir of His children. Today, God poured the wells of His salvation over you. Though you were born in sin, Jesus’ heart has flowed with rivers of living water to save you (see also Jn. 4:1014).

Israelle, in your Baptism today, you have begun to drink from the wells of salvation which are the wounds of Christ. Because of God’s promises given to you in your Baptism, His anger has turned away from you, and He has comforted you (Is. 12:1). Continue to drink from Christ. And continue to sing His praises because He will never leave you or forsake you.

Israelle, Jesus will always be in your midst to deliver and save you (Is. 12:6). He will bless you with every good and perfect gift from above (Jas. 1:17). His right hand and holy arm have worked salvation for you (Ps. 98:1). Israelle, God has given you the Holy Spirit to guide you into all the truth throughout your life (Jn. 16:13). So, continually put away all filthiness and wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word of God, which is able to save your soul (Ja. 21).

And all you Christians, come today to this altar to drink again from the wells of salvation as Christ gives you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. Nourished by this pure gift, give Him thanks. Go back out into the world making His deeds known among the people you encounter.

Sing His praises. He has done gloriously. Shout, and sing for joy, you inhabitant of Zion. The Holy One of Israel is great in your midst today and forever. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Unseen, but Not Away – Sermon on John 16:16-22 for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

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John 16:16-22

16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 

19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

We’re still in Easter season. We’re still celebrating the resurrection. But this text takes us back to the night Jesus was betrayed. And these words from Jesus in our Gospel text are important for us Resurrection folk to remember – especially in times of suffering. To get at this, we are going to weave back and forth through this text because Jesus weaves back and forth talking about suffering and joy.

Christ tells His disciples that in “a little while” they are going to endure suffering, but that suffering will only last a second “little while.” Then, they will have joy that no one will be able to take from them. So, recognize that Jesus tells the disciples about two distinct “little whiles.”

The first “a little while” refers to the short amount of time that takes place between the time Jesus speaks these words to the time when they will no longer see Jesus. For most of them, they no longer see Jesus once He is arrested. For Peter and John, it’s a little after that. After this first “little while,” comes the second “little while” when the disciples won’t see Jesus anymore because He is dead, buried, and sealed behind the stone in the tomb. And during this second “little while” they have sorrow, weep, and lament.

Now, we need to recognize just how profound and unique the disciples’ suffering was. While Jesus was away from them between Good Friday and Easter, their suffering was quite unique. A major reason the disciples’ sorrow was so pointed and painful is not only did they lose Jesus, their leader and friend, even more importantly, they lost hope that salvation was even a possibility.

Remember the two disciples that Jesus meets on the road to Emmaus Easter afternoon (see Lk. 24:13-35)? Jesus meets them and asks them what they are talking about, but they don’t recognize Him. They’re surprised this stranger hasn’t heard about everything going on in Jerusalem. So, ironically, they tell Jesus about Jesus. How He was mighty in deeds and words before God and all the people, but the chief priests and rulers delivered Him up to be crucified. Then, they say something very important, and what they say reveals how painfully sorrowful they are. They say, “We had hoped,” (and the grammar suggests that their hope is now gone), “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” In other words, their hope was that Jesus would save them, but they don’t hope for salvation anymore because, in their minds, He is dead and is in the tomb for good. They thought that Jesus’ death was the end of salvation rather than the thing which accomplished their salvation. So, do you see the sorrow they were enduring?

Now, back to our text here from John, Jesus tells the disciples, “You will weep and lament and be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.”

Jesus compares this sorrow the disciples experienced to a woman in labor. There is no denying the pain and anguish of a woman in labor. And, you mothers, Jesus knows the pain you have in labor because He is the one who said that a woman’s pain in childbirth would be greatly increased after the Fall (Gen. 3:16). But Jesus compares the suffering of the disciples to a woman in labor because of what comes after that suffering. After a mother has delivered the baby – and remember this is according to Jesus – she no longer remembers the anguish because that pain is replaced and swallowed up by joy. Joy that a child has been born into the world.

Jesus doesn’t say that a mother’s memory is erased, and she totally forgets the pain she just experienced. Jesus doesn’t say that she doesn’t have any pain while she recovers – that is not what Jesus says. Instead, her anguish is swallowed up and replaced by the joy that she now has a child to love and cherish.

Jesus compares the disciples’ suffering to the suffering of a mother in labor because of what comes at the end of that suffering. In other words, the sorrow and complete loss of hope that the disciples had while Jesus was in the tomb was painful and real. But that sorrow was swallowed up in joy when they see Jesus after the Resurrection. And the sorrow and lamenting and weeping they had during those days wasn’t worth comparing to the joy that the Resurrection brings them.

This is the main thing Jesus is teaching us in this text. Sorrow and suffering is temporary for you, Christian. 

What Jesus says in these verses applies first to the disciples and the sorrow they had between Good Friday and Easter. But these words of our Lord are also written for us Christians whenever we have sorrow. That little while of sorrow that the disciples experienced mirrors the sorrow that we experience. Our sorrows are a microcosm of theirs. 

The major difference between the disciples’ sorrow and our sorrow is that they endured their sorrow without any hope. That is not our experience. Even though we have real, painful sorrow in this world, we have sorrow with hope that the sorrow will end and turn to joy just as theirs did.

Notice very specifically what Jesus tells the disciples. First, the period of time of sorrow will be only “a little while.” Now, I don’t want in any way to minimize the suffering of the disciples while Jesus was in the tomb. In fact, I don’t think we can compare any suffering we have to what they went through. But we also know that their sorrow, as profound as it was, only lasted a couple days. Jesus was buried just before sunset on Friday and was seen by the disciples Easter evening.

The same is true for us. Jesus has been unseen for a long time. Since His ascension, Christians have endured all kinds of suffering, persecution, pain, and distress. But the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Ro. 8:18).

Again, note specifically that Jesus says their sorrow is that they won’t see Jesus because He is, “going to the Father.” He doesn’t tell them that He is going away; He just tells them that they won’t see Him because He is going to the Father. The same is true for us now.

Jesus has now ascended to the Father and is where the God the Father is. In other words, He’s everywhere. Remember what Jesus says at the end of Matthew’s gospel (Mt. 28:18-20), “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me…. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” So, yes, He is unseen, but He hasn’t left us. Jesus isn’t gone from us. In fact, Jesus is nearer to us than we can possibly know. 

So, let’s try to bring this all together. There is no denying that Christians suffer in this life, but we can be comforted even in the midst of suffering because of what Jesus says in this text.

First of all, when you suffer, you don’t have to put on a brave face and say things like, “I know other people have it worse than I do.” No. No matter how great or small, call suffering what it is – suffering. In the midst of sorrow, pain, and anguish, we can call all of that what it is – it is suffering and not something that God ever intended you to experience.

And yet, God promises that He will use that suffering for your good because God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Ro. 8:28). 1 Cor. 10:13says that we do not suffer any “temptation that is not common to man. But God is faithful and will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” So, even though our suffering is unpleasant at the time, it is through that suffering that God chastens us, keeps on track, draws us to Himself, and teaches us to be dependent on Him.

Christian, God sent Jesus to die and rise again for you, and He counts every hair on your head. God cares about the details. He knows your sorrow and suffering, and He is paying attention to it. And Christ is with you even in that suffering. Jesus promises that He is with you with all authority to the end of the age. He will bring you through it. And when He returns, that suffering will be eternally replaced with joy.

So, in the midst of your suffering, know that those around you are suffering too. Don’t think that some people are suffering more or less than you. We don’t know what kind of suffering others are going through, but we do know that they are suffering what is common to man (1 Cor. 10:13).

So, have some sympathy for others. Life is hard on everyone. Maybe that person is being a jerk because his mother just died or she is fighting with her husband or their parents are neglecting them. A little sympathy for others and a willingness to make excuses for someone else’s bad behavior can go a long way toward a more peaceful and loving world.

Ultimately, dear saints, whenever you suffer, know that Jesus is with you. He is crucified and risen for you. Though you do not see Him, He is with you in every trial and tribulation. He will bring you through it. You are God’s children now. He has not abandoned you. And when He appears you shall be like Him. Your suffering will end and be replaced with joy that no one will be able to take from you.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Made to Lie Down – Sermon on Ezekiel 34:11-16 for the Third Sunday of Easter

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Ezekiel 34:11-16

11 For thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Today, we could add:

Alleluia! Christ is our Shepherd!

He is our Shepherd indeed! Alleluia!

Repeatedly, Scripture gives us the picture of God being our Shepherd and us being His sheep. It came up in all three readings today – epistle (1 Pet. 2:21-25), Gospel (Jn. 10:11-16), and this Old Testament lesson, but it comes up all over the place. I’ve seen it suggested that this shepherd-sheep metaphor is the most common way Scripture describes our relationship to God. I couldn’t verify that, but it certainly is common throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Now, sheep are probably the most desperate, vulnerable, weak, prone to wander, and defenseless creatures in all of creation. So, this imagery isn’t meant to be flattering, but that’s ok. We’re Christians and don’t need to be flattered. It isn’t meant be a complement, but it is meant to be comforting. 

My fellow sheep, we have all lived down to the reputation of sheep. And, God be praised, Jesus has no expectation of us beyond being His sheep. He has no expectation that you figure out how to provide for yourself, to take care of yourself, or even to defend yourself. Sheep don’t run fast or kick hard. Sheep don’t have sharp teeth to bite back or a stinky musk to spray at their attackers. Nothing. Sheep have one defense, and that is their shepherd. God does not expect us to be anything more than a sheep, and, God be praised, He desires nothing more than to be our Shepherd.

Deep down, we all know that we are helpless and unable to do anything for ourselves, and that is probably why the sheep-shepherd imagery is so often used for comfort in times of trouble. It’s probably why Psalm 23 is so often used at funerals. Sometimes, when families are picking out texts for a funeral, they’ll ask me, “Would Psalm 23 be a good text to use? It seems so common at funerals.” Yes, of course it is a good text. Some things, no matter how often you hear them, don’t get old. Hearing your spouse or children say, “I love you,” doesn’t get old. Neither should the comforting picture of God, and specifically Jesus, being our shepherd because the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

We love to hear the many ways that Psalm 23 describes how God provides for us as our Shepherd. He provides so that we have no want, leads us beside still waters, restores our souls, leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, and defends us from all evil even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And you probably noticed that I skipped over one phrase in there. But you are smart people, and if you noticed the title of the sermon at the bottom of your Scripture insert, you realize that phrase is what I am going to focus on today. Psalm 23:2 says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” And, just so you know, that phrase, “makes me lie down,” wasn’t a fluke we heard it again in this text from Ezekiel where God says, “I Myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep, and I Myself will make them lie down.”

Sure, we understand that we are sheep. We need to be protected from dangerous wolves, lions, and bears. But does God really need to make us lie down? Aren’t we capable of doing that? Can’t we just let gravity take over and lie down? Why does God need to make us lie down?

Apparently, to lie down and rest, is even beyond the capability of a sheep of God to do. Sometimes it might be because we are bored being a sheep. Sometimes it is because we are foolishly curious. Sometimes it is because we get afraid and run from the danger, but in running from that danger, we leave the protection of our Shepherd.

In fact, our inability to lie down might be the greatest danger that we face. Peter says in our epistle lesson, “You were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Here, Peter depicts our main problem is us going astray and leaving our Shepherd. God making us lie down is the solution. Our biggest danger is walking away from the flock and from the care of our Shepherd. So, Christ, our Good Shepherd, makes us lie down. And this is remarkable when you think about it.

The world tells us to fear all sorts of things. When you watch the news, it’s all about fear. One of the heads of a major news network this past week was caught saying that his network intentionally put the most dire, bleak news in front of their viewers in an effort to get higher ratings. He actually used the phrase, “If it bleeds it leads.” In other words, the more violent, fearful a news story is, it’s more likely to be put in front of you. The guy even talked about how he caught himself hoping that the COVID death toll ticker they kept on the screen for their viewers, he hoped that it would go higher so the station would get better ratings. Thankfully, he admitted feeling bad about it. Pray for him. Hopefully, the Holy Spirit will continue to use his conscience to bring him to repentance and faith in Christ.

But this is what the world does; the world preaches fear. Fear the virus. Fear global warming; oh, wait, it’s ‘climate change’ now, right? Fear terrorists. Fear Iran, China, North Korea, Russia. Fear riots. Fear the other political party. Fear fascists. Fear anti-fascists. Fear gun violence. Fear the government taking away your Second Amendment rights. Fear immigrants. Fear the national debt and deficit spending. Fear. Fear. Fear. They all do it – CNN, Fox, it doesn’t matter. Because the world does not have the protection Jesus, the Good Shepherd, they mock and ridicule Christians if they don’t join them in their fear.

My dear, fellow sheep, yes, we need to be vigilant and aware of what is going on around us. All of those things are predators like wolves, bears, and lions that threaten the flock, but those are not things to be afraid of. Not when we have Jesus as our Good Shepherd. Instead, those are the things we should bring to our God in prayer.

And I do want to be clear; this isn’t at all to say that you should do nothing when it comes to any of those things. Do what you can. Work, write, vote, engage, and be the change that this world needs. But as you do all of that, remember none of those things are worthy of your fear – not if your Good Shepherd is risen from the dead and is watching over you. And He is.

Instead, dear sheep, recognize that leaving the promises of the Gospel is the greatest danger we face. It is when we leave the Gospel promises and the care of our Good Shepherd that we fall into sin and are incredibly vulnerable to becoming lunch to all sorts of things in this broken, fallen world. If a sheep was smart, the thing that sheep would do is stay close to its shepherd. But since we aren’t that bright, our Shepherd makes us lie down. 

And when we have been scattered, when we have wandered into the valleys and caves of the wolves, when the days of clouds and thick darkness leave us cowering in fear, God searches for us sheep and seeks us out. He brings us into His church and feeds us with the good pasture of His Word. Because that is what God does. He seeks the lost. He brings back the strayed. He binds up the injured. He strengthens the weak.

This is exactly what Christ has done. Jesus has sought you out. He Himself bore your sins in His body on the tree, that you might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. Your Good Shepherd laid down His life for you. He laid in the tomb, and now He is risen and lives forever to be your Good Shepherd.

Come now to His altar where He prepares a table for you even as you continue to live in a fallen world. Today, He brings you close to Himself. He makes you lie down so He can feed you, defend you, protect you, heal you, and deliver you. He has won the victory. So, come. Be made to lie down.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

A Strange Congregation – Sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14 for the Second Sunday of Easter

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. 

11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Ezekiel had an odd call to preach to a strange congregation. God brought Ezekiel out by the Spirit into the middle of a valley. It was full of bones, lots of bones. And these bones were dry – very dry. This congregation, maybe we could call it Dry Bones Lutheran, they weren’t loving their neighbor. They weren’t shining the love of Christ to the world. They weren’t improving day by day. They were just lying there, dead and dry.

Then God asks Ezekiel the question: “Son of man, can these bones live?” What kind of question is that? When God asks something like that, what answer can you give? Ezekiel goes the safe route, “O Lord God, You know.” That’s as secure of a reply as you can give.

Well, God gives Ezekiel a call to preach to this strange congregation. “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’” It’s an odd call. How many times did Jesus say after His sermons, “He who has ears, let him hear”? But here, God calls Ezekiel to preach to a congregation of bare bones that don’t even have ears.

“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

The sermon is preached. And God’s little sermon appears to be working. There is a rattling. The toe bone connected to foot bone to ankle bone to shin bone to knee bone to leg bone to hip bone to back bone to rib bone to shoulder bone to neck bone to head bone. Now hear the Word of the Lord!

But wait a second. Bones are connected, sinews hold together, muscles have grown, and skin covers. But there is still no breath, no spirit, no life. Wasn’t the sermon supposed to be done? Well, not yet. God has more for Ezekiel to preach. “Prophesy to the breath.”

Now, pause here for just a second. In Hebrew, the word for ‘wind’ and ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ is all the same word. Ten times in this text, that word comes up. Seven times, it is translated as ‘breath.’ In v. 9, it’s translated as ‘wind.’ But back in v. 1 and again in v. 14, it is translated as ‘Spirit’ referring to the Holy Spirit. But, again, it’s all the same word. And I think, I could be wrong, but I think there is a sense here that God is calling Ezekiel to preach a sermon to the Holy Spirit. “Prophesy, son of man, and say to the Spirit, ‘Come from the four winds and breathe on these slain that they may live.’” In other words, it could be something like, “Holy Spirit, come from the four winds and spirit (as a verb) on these slain, that they may live.”

Ezekiel preaches, and after this second sermon is preached, what do you know? God’s Word works. The Spirit comes into these lifeless bodies that just a couple moments before had been bones, dry bones. Now, they live, and they are an exceedingly great army.

Finally, God tells Ezekiel exactly what was going on. The army is the entirety of God’s people. They were complaining that their bones are dried up and they are cut off. But God promises that He will open their graves and raise them up causing life to come into them. He will bring them into their own land. He will put His Spirit into them, they will live, and they will know that God is the Lord. He promises to do this. He is faithful, and He will do it (1 Thes. 5:24).

Now, this lesson from Ezekiel is fulfilled in our Gospel lesson (Jn. 20:19-31). That first Easter evening, the disciples are all huddled together. They aren’t in a valley, but in the upper room. Sure, they aren’t dry, dead bones, but they are as good as dead because of their fear.

We know they were already afraid of suffering the same fate that Jesus suffered because Jesus said that if they persecuted Him they would be persecuted as well (Jn. 15:20). They know that Pilate had Jesus’ tomb sealed because the religious leaders were worried that the disicples would steal Christ’s body and claim that He had risen (Mt. 27:62-66Jn. 20:19). But even worse, they have heard that Jesus is alive. That might have been their biggest cause of fear because they had all abandoned Jesus when He was betrayed. They weren’t with Him during His trial and crucifixion. They don’t know what a resurrected Jesus means for them. Maybe He’s mad and is coming after them for their failure. You don’t want a Guy who can walk out of the grave as your enemy.

But then, Jesus enters the room even though the doors were locked. And what does He do for this little congregation dead in fear? He shows them His hands and side as He preaches, “Peace be with you.” That little band of dry, dead disciples come together to see Christ’s wounds and become glad. But at this point, they’re still like those bones, muscles, sinews, and skin that come together in Ezekiel. But they still have no life, no spirit.

So, Jesus has more to preach to them. And the second sermon starts the same as the first, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” Jesus breathes on them. Christ spirits them. He gives them the Holy Spirit, just like in Ezekiel’s second sermon. But we have to pause a moment first. When Jesus says He is sending the disciples just like God the Father had sent Him, what does He mean? What are they to do?

Because God sent Jesus to do a lot of things. God sent Jesus to earth to be both God and Man. God sent Jesus to live a perfect life of obedience. God sent Jesus to preach and teach. God sent Jesus to do miracles. And most importantly, God sent Jesus to be the once-for-all sacrifice for sins. God sent Christ to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). God sent Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin (2 Cor. 5:21). God sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sin and rise again for our justification (Ro. 4:25). God sent Jesus to do all of that, but Jesus isn’t saying that He is sending the disciples to do any of those things. 

That’s why Jesus gets very specific after He tells the disciples that He is sending them just as the Father had sent Him. These disciples are sent, just as Jesus had been sent, to do something very specific. Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any it is withheld.”

God had sent Jesus to proclaim God’s mercy and forgiveness, and that is what Jesus is saying that He is sending the disciples to do. Jesus sends them out with the Holy Spirit to forgive sins. And this call is given, in the first place to these apostles (‘apostle’ is the term Jesus uses when He says, “I am sending you,” it’s lit.“I’m ‘apostle-ing’ you.”). And this call is extended to pastors who carry on the apostolic ministry. But this call even extends to all Christians who have been given the Holy Spirit and confess the name of Jesus.

So, what does this all mean? When we consider this Old Testament lesson and its fulfillment in our Gospel reading, what do we learn?

First off, as a pastor, that text from Ezekiel has always been comforting to me. It shows that God’s Word will always accomplish what God sends it to do. No matter how dead a congregation seems to be, God will work through His Word to bring about more than you or I could ever imagine. And just to be clear: I haven’t ever thought you are just a valley of dry bones. You were served well and faithfully by those who came before me. But even if you were nothing more than a bunch of dry bones, God’s Word working through the power of the Holy Spirit is effective to breathe life into you.

But let’s go even beyond that. Know that God has caused you to live. God has come and proclaimed the peace of Christ’s forgiveness to you. When Jesus preaches twice to the disciples, “Peace be with you,” I think the peace that we should think of is the peace of Christ’s forgiveness because that is the peace that Christ gives to all of us dry-bones sinners. Christ has given you the Holy Spirit. And Christ has also called you to be forgivers and proclaimers of that same peace in this world.

So, when people come to you and tell you about their problems, when they complain because they feel the weight of their sin, give them Christ’s peace. Proclaim that same peace to them. It doesn’t matter if they are worried about their kids, their health, their finances, their marriage, the state of the country, whatever it is, you can proclaim, “Peace be with you.” And point them to the cross. Point them to what Jesus has done to forgive them of their sins. You can do this because Jesus has called you to do so.

You see, Jesus Himself is part of the army that God has raised up. Christ became a member of those bones that seemed defeated. He went to the grave defeated. But, of course, He was raised alive, victorious over the death. And Christ has gone before you proclaiming peace to this fallen world full of sin. So, follow after Him proclaiming that same peace and forgiveness in His name.

Then watch as God raises dead, dry bones. Watch as God puts His Spirit within those who were dead in sin and know that He is the Lord. He has spoken and He will do it.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Looking in the Wrong Place – Sermon on Mark 16:1-8 for the Resurrection of Our Lord

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Mark 16:1-8

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus is out. Risen from the grave. The One who was crucified; who was stricken, smitten, and afflicted (Is. 53:4); who had all the sins of the world laid upon Him (Is. 53:6); who suffered God’s wrath for all of those sins; He is risen. The resurrection proves that God has accepted the death of Jesus in your place. The price for your sins has been paid. You do not need to be held accountable for any of your sins when Christ returns on the Last Day. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Guess what? That means your sin, whatever sin it is, your sin is included. He bore your sins to the cross, to death, and to the grave. Now, that grave is empty.

It’s the greatest story ever because it’s true. The Resurrection is no “fake news.” It wasn’t fabricated by men who were out to get rich. The preachers of this Good News were persecuted, exiled, and even killed for preaching it. The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most provable events in history. There are hundreds of books and days’ worth of podcasts that I could point you to. Just ask me after the service. I just want to make sure you know this. The historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection is out there for anyone to learn, and it is undeniable.

Most of you are here today because you do believe that Jesus rose from the dead. But if, for some reason, you are here today and deny Christ’s resurrection from the grave, it is only for one of two reasons. Either you aren’t familiar with the evidence, or you do know the evidence, but you ignore it and continue denying it because you want to continue in some sinful habit or lifestyle. And you know that because Jesus is risen, you will have make a change and begin to take Jesus very seriously. But you don’t want to do that.

If that’s the case, I beg and plead with you. The pleasures of this life will never give you the peace and joy that the forgiveness of Jesus will give you. And, deep down, you already know that those sins don’t satisfy. Christ has died for whatever sins you are holding on to and forgives you for those sins. So, repent. Consider the evidence and believe because if you won’t believe, I have to be honest with you, if you won’t believe, you will have Jesus, the Son of God who defeated death, you will have Him against you. And you are without excuse.

Ok. To the Resurrection. And I’m going to add some details from the other three Gospels. If you want the references, I can print this sermon off for you after the service. Just ask me. Early that first Easter morning the women arrive at the tomb to finish the burial and embalming customs because there wasn’t time to finish it all on Friday. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had begun the work of embalming Jesus’ body back on Friday (Jn. 19:38-42). Now, these women are back to finish their work for the dead. They didn’t know the One who died had finished off death. And when they arrive at the tomb, the Gospel of Luke tells us that they find two angels (Lk. 24:4).

According to Matthew’s Gospel, the first angel was outside of the tomb and was sitting on the stone that had sealed Jesus’ grave (Mt. 28:2). That first angel tells them, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay” (Mt. 28:5-6).

So, the women go into the tomb and find the second angel which is what we have recorded here in Mark. The second angel tells them nearly the same thing. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” I need to make a quick comment here. The grammar of that statement is so important. The angel doesn’t say that the crucifixion is just some event that happened to Jesus in the past. Instead, the angel says that Jesus is the one who is and remains the Crucified One. But, even though He was crucified, death didn’t stop Him.

So, allow me to give a loosey-goosey translation/interpretation of what the angel says there in v. 6. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One. But crucifixion can’t keep Him down. He bounced right out of His death. See the place where they laid Him.” And the women look at the place where they had seen the crucified, dead Jesus laid. And what do they see? According to John’s Gospel, they say saw the cloths that had covered Jesus lying there neatly folded (Jn. 20:6b-7). In other words, Jesus made His bed before He left to tomb. Kids, note that. If you want to be like Jesus, make your bed and tidy up after yourself! 

I want to tie all of this back to the first words of Scripture you heard this morning in our call to worship from Lk. 24:5 where the angel asks the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” One more grammar point. The angel asks, “Why do you seek the Living One (singular) among the dead ones (plural)?” In other words, the women were looking in the wrong place.

They were looking for the Crucified One in the place of dead ones. But Jesus, the Crucified One, is God. And when God dies, He doesn’t stay dead! Jesus had told them this would happen. No less than three times (Mk. 8:319:30-3210:32-34), Jesus told His disciples that He would die and rise again. These women had come to the tomb with their spices to finish embalming a dead guy who wasn’t there anymore. They were looking in the wrong place.

I want to bring this idea, this concept to today. If the past year of virus and pandemic has taught us anything, I hope it has taught us this: Don’t look for health, hope, security, or safety in anything in this fallen world. The dangers of sin and death that surround us are more than we realize. And if you are looking for hope and life in anything but the crucified and resurrected Jesus, you’re looking in the wrong place.

Hope and life are only found in Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One. Because of what Christ has done, nothing can harm you. The resurrection is what helps us understand Psalm 91 which says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence…. You need not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow the flies by day…. [When you make the] Lord your dwelling place – the Most High your refuge, no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all of your ways…. When you call to [God], [He] will answer [you]. [He] will be with [you] in trouble; and will rescue and honor [you]. With long life [God] will satisfy [you] and show [you] [His] salvation.” 

Dear people loved by God, everything in this life will fail you. Politicians, scientists, experts, and doctors are all good gifts from God, and we do thank God for them. But they cannot give you the life and peace and security that Jesus gives.

So, when you feel the guilt and weight of your sin, don’t go looking for deliverance from your works and efforts. Look to the cross where Jesus died for those sins.

And when you are afraid, unsure, or uncertain about the present or the future, look to the empty tomb and nowhere else. Christ is risen. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death’s victory and sting is gone forever (1 Cor. 15:54-57).

Christ is risen. Your Redeemer lives. And at the last He will stand upon the earth. You will see Him for yourself. And through faith in Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One, you will live forever with Him.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Easter Angel – Sermon on Matthew 28:1-7 for the Easter Vigil

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Matthew 28:1-7

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The angel caused the earthquake that Easter morning. Our translation says, “there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven” (Mt. 28:2), but it should probably be, “becausean angel of the Lord descended.” The earth shook because the angel caused it to. And it isn’t the quake that moves the stone. The angel rolls it away after the quake then sits on it.

This angel is quite the character. We don’t know his name, but he certainly is a rabble rouser. He has the appearance of lightening and clothing white as snow.

This flashy, showy angel doesn’t sit on the stone because he is tired. Angels don’t get fatigued like we do. He sits there to mock the stone and the tomb that it had sealed. You could almost say that he’s dancing on the grave. But with a different meaning than we usually give to that phrase. He’s dancing on the grave of death.

It would have taken several strong, well-bodied people to roll that stone away. You’ll hear in tomorrow’s Gospel reading from Mark (16:3) that the women were concerned about who was going to move it for them when their plan is to return to the tomb and finish preserving Jesus’ body. Their plans had to change. But for this angel, that stone was puny and totally insignificant. The angel just tosses it aside. It wasn’t capable of keeping Jesus in the grave, and the angel sits on it to show how inconsequential the attempts were to keep Jesus dead.

The guards are terrified by all of this and rightly so. They trembled just like the ground. Their armor, swords, and training were nothing in the presence of this angel. They became like dead men. As they lay there on the ground, they were probably glad that this electrified angel hadn’t sat on them.

But then, Matthew mentions the women. They arrive to this dominant display of angelic power, and the angel tells them, “Do not be afraid,” even though there is no mention of them being fearful. The women had been scared previously. Scared to tears after the death of Jesus. But the time for weeping is over. Psalm 126:5 says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy.” For these women, and for all believers in Christ, the harvest has come.

Our time of sowing tears is finished. Jesus lives. It is time to gather in the crop of resurrection joy. Because Jesus is risen, our mouths are filled with laughter and our hearts with cheer. The angel sits on that stupid, weak, trivial stone because nothing can stop the victory parade of life.

Jesus had gone weak as a newborn lamb to the cross, but there He stripped the devil of all his strength. The trickster serpent has been tricked. On Good Friday, Satan was tempted just like Eve was in the Garden. The devil saw the forbidden fruit that hung on the tree of Calvary. He took it and ate. But now his belly bursts, and he is the one who has to hide.

He is done, finished, defeated. The devil has no accusations left. He threw all his accusations at Christ, and Jesus has answered for all of them. So now, when Satan tries to accuse you, all you have to do is point him to Christ, and his mouth is silenced. He has no allegations left for you because Jesus has died to take them all away, and Christ is risen to show they are nothing.

Did Satan think that a rock and some guards could keep Jesus dead? Maybe, but this resurrection angel, and all the angels, laugh at the thought. It would be easier to fit the oceans in a styrofoam cup or to ride a unicycle to Pluto than to keep God in the grave.

God wouldn’t let what is His be stolen. He takes it back. He takes back Adam and Eve. He delivers Noah and his family. He frees the whole people of Israel from slavery. He restores to Himself Ezekiel and that valley of dead, dry – very dry – bones. He restores the fortunes of Zion and exalts over them with loud singing. He pulls His people safely from the burning fiery furnace and walks with us in every trouble.

God does all of this because Christ has bought and paid for you on the cross. The devil has no claim – none whatsoever. Satan got what he thought he wanted. He took a bite out of God. The devil bruised His heel by putting Him to death. But Jesus has crushed his head. Jesus died, but He lives.

Every day of our lives now, let’s join this rambunctious angel in mocking sin, death, and the devil. Daily don the robes of righteousness that Christ has given you in your Baptism (Gal. 3:27). Daily let the God-given light of salvation shine through you (Mt. 5:14-16).

The grave is open. It couldn’t hold Jesus. It won’t hold your loved ones who have departed with the sign of faith. And It won’t hold you either.

We don’t know this rambunctious resurrection angel’s name. But one day, God be praised, we will. Amen.[1]

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


[1] This sermon was adapted from Rev. David Petersen of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft. Wayne, ID.

I Thirst – Sermon on John 19:28 for Good Friday

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In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In Hosea 11:1, God says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.” But it didn’t take long for that beloved child to start whining. Even though God had displayed His might and power to protect and deliver His people through the plagues He sent upon Egypt, three days after crossing the Red Sea the people came to the bitter waters of Marah (Ex. 15:22-26). They grumbled against Moses saying, “I thirst! What are we going to drink?”

Well, God acted for His son, Israel. God showed Moses a log and told him to toss it into those bitter waters. Moses did, the bitter water became sweet, and the thirst of Israel, God’s son, was quenched.

About one month later, God’s son, Israel, again said, “I thirst.” They had come to a place where there was no water. This time the whining was worse. The son grumbled again saying to Moses, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” But God, their loving Father, still provided. He told Moses to take his staff and strike a rock. And from that rock came water for God’s son, and his thirst was quenched again.

Tonight, Jesus, on the verge of death, cries out, “I thirst.” Jesus is God’s true, beloved, faithful, obedient Son. Jesus is the true Israel. Christ had never whined or complained no matter how hard or bitter things got for Him. He was everything that the nation of Israel wasn’t. Yet, when Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, cries out to His Father, “I thirst,” God doesn’t move a muscle. God doesn’t jump to action.

You remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31). As he is there in torment, the rich man begs for a drop of water from Lazarus’ finger. Like that rich man, Jesus gets nothing to drink. Not even one drop.

When Jesus cries, “I thirst,” it is because He is truly parched. Jesus is true God and also true Man. He actually was thirsty. But even more than needing water for His dehydrated mouth, Jesus’ thirst is to do His Father’s will (Jn. 4:34). Christ thirsted for your salvation so that you can be God’s child. Only Jesus can truly say, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2a). Jesus thirsted in your place.

We thirst for things that are momentary and trivial. We thirst for the attention and approval of others. We thirst for our own glory, our own wealth, our own safety, our own selfish desires. But no matter how much we drink from the cup of our sins, our thirst is never satisfied there. That is why Jesus went to the cross. He went there because of your sin. He went to the cross to atone for your sinful thirsts.

That is why, it pleased God to do nothing for Jesus as He thirsted on the cross. It was God’s will for Jesus to drink from the bitter cup of wrath so that you could drink the sweet, living waters that Jesus gives which well up to eternal life (Jn. 4:14).

There was no water from the rock for Jesus because He was the Rock. According to 1 Cor. 10:4, Christ was the Rock that was struck in the wilderness for God’s people to drink. It happened in the wilderness for Israel, God’s son, and it still happens for you today, believer. Jesus was struck with a spear and out of that dead Rock hanging on the cross came the water and blood which give eternal life.

Jesus thirsted. He died. He rose again. And He is ascended and is now seated at God’s right hand. But Christ still thirsts. Even today He thirsts, and His thirst is for your salvation. He thirsts for you to be forgiven and receive His righteousness. Jesus’ thirst is to eternally satisfy your thirst.

So, Jesus, your Savior, invites you, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (Jn. 7:37-38).

May we drink from Him, our crucified and risen Lord and Savior. Amen.The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

A Mandate & a Meal – Sermon on John 13:1-15, 34-35 for Maundy Thursday

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John 13:1-15, 34-35

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Tonight is the night when Jesus was betrayed into the hands of evil men, but the plan had already been put into motion. The money had been counted and put in Judas’ pocket on Tuesday of Holy Week. That day, Satan entered into Judas Iscariot through a love of money (Lk. 22:3-6), and he agreed with the chief priests and officers to hand Christ over to them.

This is probably why we do not have any record of what Jesus did on Wednesday of Holy Week. Jesus probably didn’t do much that day. After Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He would enter the city and preach and teach publicly in the Temple. The Gospels record that these public appearances and teaching happened Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. But there is no record of anything happening on Wednesday.

It is very possible that Jesus didn’t even enter into Jerusalem on Wednesday because He knew the plot. If He had entered into Jerusalem on Wednesday, He would be arrested. It is also probably why He didn’t appear to have a plan on where He and His disciples would celebrate the Passover. Jesus isn’t just a guy who doesn’t like to make plans. His plan was to keep the plan secret. The whole thing is carefully and deliberately orchestrated so that Judas can’t betray Jesus until He is ready.

It isn’t until sometime on Thursday that Jesus sends only two disciples, Peter and John, to find a certain man carrying a water jar, follow him into the house he enters, and tell the master of the house that Jesus would like to eat the Passover there (Lk. 22:7-13). So, until they get to that upper room, only Jesus, Peter, and John know where they will be that Thursday night. Again, Jesus orchestrates all of this so that Judas can’t betray Him secretly. Judas only betrays Jesus when Christ dismisses him to do it.

And Jesus times His betrayal so that He can give His Church a new commandment or ‘mandate’ (which is why tonight is called ‘Maundy Thursday’) and a meal.

The very same night Jesus was betrayed, our Lord washed His disciples’ feet. This foot washing isn’t a Sacrament. There is no word or promise of forgiveness attached to washing feet. This washing was, in a sense, a parable acted out. By serving His disciples in this way, Jesus is showing how He wants them and us to serve and love one another.

Foot washing was a common thing in those days. Anyone who was going to be a guest at a banquet would have their feet washed even if they had just bathed. The walk from one house to another would make a person’s feet dirty and dusty enough to need another washing. But the task of foot washing was always reserved for the lowest servants. A disciple would do many different chores for the rabbi he was following, but foot washing was never one of them. But here, in a beautiful reversal, Jesus, the Rabbi, the Teacher sent from God, and in fact God Himself in the flesh, humbles Himself to do the lowest of tasks for His disciples.

At this point in the supper, all twelve disciples were still there. Judas had not yet left to betray Jesus. So, yes, our Lord washed the feet of Judas and served His betrayer in this way. This foot washing was an act of vulnerability and intimacy. In this washing, Jesus takes their faith and, in return, gives them His righteousness and cleansing.

Judas does not benefit from this, but Jesus still does it for him. Judas rejected the righteousness of Jesus in place of the thirty pieces of silver. Later, Judas will reject forgiveness too. After the crucifixion, Judas seeks atonement in remorse and self-judgment, but he didn’t find it there.

With this foot washing of all the disciples including Judas, Jesus gives us an example that teaches us a very important lesson, and that lesson is this: Love isn’t always easy or clean. Love can often be one-sided and unanswered. Just because you love someone and do selfless acts for them does not mean they will love you in return. And know that you aren’t greater than Jesus. If His love was rejected and repaid with betrayal, yours will be too.

Yet, still Jesus would have you, His disciples, His Christians, love your enemies as you have been loved by Him. Bear one another’s burdens. Forgive and serve one another. That is this new commandment, this new mandate, that Jesus gives. Which, again, is why today is called Maundy Thursday.

But because you do and will fail in this mandate that Jesus gives, Maundy Thursday is more than that. It is the night that Jesus mandates and gives you a meal. Tonight is the night in which Jesus was betrayed, and Judas isn’t the only culprit. Even the disciples who do love Jesus fail Him, but He does not fail them. That is why Jesus gives the disciples more than a mandate. He also leaves them the enduring, continual gift and meal of His living Body and Blood.

We have considered Baptism the past several weeks in our Lenten services, and Baptism is who we are as Christians. In Baptism, we are given God’s name (Mt. 28:19), we are begotten as His children (Jn. 3:3-8), and we are clothed in Christ (Gal 3:27). Baptism defines who we are.

And the Lord’s Supper is what we do because it is what Jesus has given us to do. We are to eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus (1 Cor. 11:23-25) and whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, according to Scripture, we proclaim His death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26). In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus promises that we receive the forgiveness of sins. Is there anything more Christian than receiving Christ’s forgiveness?

When Jesus calls us to eat and drink in remembrance of Him, He doesn’t mean, “Do this while you think fondly about Me and what I did for you a long time ago.” Instead, this remembrance is about faith. Faith recalls and clings to what Jesus did and still does with this bread and cup. According to what Jesus says, this bread is His Body which was broken upon the cross for you, and this cup is His Blood which was shed for you. In faith, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper believing that all of this pertains to us and to our salvation.

Jesus’ death happened nearly 2,000 years ago on a cross outside Jerusalem, but the fruits of that redeeming death are given both before and after. Jesus gives His disciples His Body and Blood even before He makes the sacrifice. And He continues to give the same gifts in every congregation where two or three are gathered. His gift is not bound by time or place.

Both of these things go together – the mandate and the meal, the washing of feet and the Lord’s Supper. They are faith and love in action. With the sacrifice of His body and blood, Jesus loved them. And when He washed their feet, Christ showed them how to love each other as they place their trust in Him.

So, dear saints, follow Christ’s example and do as He has done to and for you (Jn. 13:15). Your Savior became your servant.

And know that when you come to this altar, to this table, you are, in fact, serving the world. The world benefits from you coming here to receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus. This Sacrament drives back the forces of darkness because in this meal, Jesus’ death in the place of sinners is proclaimed (1 Cor. 11:26). Here, Jesus comes to you as a Man, alive and out of the grave. He puts His Body and Blood into you to crucify you to the world and the world to you (Gal. 6:14). As you receive this meal and do this in remembrance of Him, you celebrate His victory over sin, death, and the devil. And those around you will benefit from this. As you are fed and strengthened in your faith, you will go back into the world knowing that God has forgiven you for the sake of Christ.

And, then, when you fail to be the servant Jesus calls you to be, when you fail to love as you have been loved, run back to Jesus. He is always ready to give you another washing and another serving.

Dear saint, you are declared by Jesus to be clean. Your Lord and Savior is here to be your Servant and clean you again. Come and receive what He gives you for your cleaning, for your comfort, for your strengthening. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Passion Miracles – Sermon on Matthew 26:1-27:66 for Palm Sunday

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Matthew 26:1-27:66

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The seven sayings of Jesus on the cross are the most important words spoken in all history. We have considered them in the past, and we will hear them again on Friday. But Jesus isn’t the only member of the Trinity speaking during the crucifixion. God the Father speaks too, but not audibly. Instead, the Father speaks through the miracles that take place while Jesus is on the cross, and we are going to give our attention to those today.

The first miracle is the darkness. In the Gospel of Mark, we are told that Jesus was crucified, nailed to the cross, at the third hour (Mk. 15:25), which would be about 9 AM. Then, the Gospels tell us that there was darkness from sixth hour until the ninth hour. In other words, that darkness lasted from noon until 3 PM when Jesus died.

Now, Matthew says this darkness was over “all the land” (Mt. 27:45). The interesting thing there is that the word ‘land’ can mean portions of a country. But most of the time, the word there means the entire earth. Matthew uses it in both senses throughout his Gospel. It could be that this darkness was localized to the region surrounding Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified, but it could have been much more than just that – even the entire earth.

This darkness was not a solar eclipse. Jesus was crucified at the time of the Passover which means there would have been a full moon, and a solar eclipse can only happen at a new moon. Plus an eclipse only lasts minutes, not hours. We also know that this darkness wasn’t the result a bunch of thick, dark clouds gathering. A Greek historian named Phlegon of Tralles, who was born shortly after Jesus’ death, records what he calls an eclipse. He wrote that it became night at noon so that the stars even appeared in the heavens. Now, Phlegon wasn’t a Christian. He might not have even been aware of the Gospels recording this same event. But the dating of his account matches up precisely with the timing of the crucifixion. Today, secular scholars have tried to come up with an explanation for this darkness Phlegon mentions, but they can’t. No astronomical or meteorological explanation can be made, but the historical accounts aren’t denied either.

This darkness happened because of God. God has the authority to turn off the sun if He wants to. Over and over in Scriptures, darkness is a sign connected with God’s judgment and anger over sin. Remember the ninth plague of darkness over the land of Egypt (Ex. 10:21-22). For three hours during the crucifixion, this darkness covered the land.

So, what was going on here; what was God the Father saying with this darkness? Well, Jesus had taken upon Himself the sins of all humanity, and God’s judgment was laid upon Christ (Is. 53:6). Think of all the sins you just heard about: treachery of Judas, the cowardice of Pilate, the blasphemy of the chief priests, the malice of the crowds. All those heinous sins were all placed upon Jesus.

But it was more than that too. The murder committed by Cain, the hard-heartedness of Pharaoh, the continual unbelief of the Israelites, the pagan practices of the inhabitants of Canaan, the adultery of David, every bit of sin in the world up to that point was all placed on Jesus. All the sins that have happened since: the sins of Nero, Hitler, Stalin, bin Ladin, and every other wicked, evil person were laid upon Jesus. Your sins were there too: your anger, lust, pride, gossip, lies, and covetousness. And all the sins that are still to happen in the future. All of it was there in that moment on Christ as He hung on the cross.

All of those sins angered God. He noticed them and was angry because of them. But know this. God only let the darkness of judgment fall when those sins were laid upon Christ and were no longer yours. So, between noon and three on that Good Friday, Jesus took all of those sins. Christ Himself bore your sins in His body on the cross, and by His wounds you are healed (1 Pet. 2:24). That’s why Jesus says from the cross, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). His redemption for every sin of every person who has ever lived and will ever live was paid in full. Jesus suffered the punishment of God for it all.

The second miracle was the tearing of the curtain in the Temple. The curtain was thick and heavy, so it was no coincidence that it tore from top to bottom. For hundreds of years, that curtain stood as a barrier between God and all of humanity. Only the priest could go behind that curtain into God’s presence on the Day of Atonement. Remember that both the Tabernacle and the Temple served as copies of heaven (Heb. 8:59:23; Ex. 25:9). So, for generations, that curtain preached a sermon to God’s people that said, “Heaven is off limits to you.” But when the high priest would go in behind the curtain on the Day of Atonement, that yearly event preached another sermon. A very different sermon. That sermon preached that access to heaven would come, but only through a substitute.

So, when that Temple curtain tore from top to bottom, what was God saying? God was saying that you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13). God is pleased with you now. He loves you, and heaven is open to you because of Jesus’ death.

The third miracle was the earthquake. The same historian I mentioned earlier, Phlegon, he wrote about this earthquake too. And he wrote about it in Nicaea which is almost 700 miles away from Jerusalem. It’s hard to say for certain what this earthquake means – especially because there is another earthquake Easter morning (Mt. 28:2). But remember how the Pharisees wanted Jesus to rebuke the people who were crying out, “Hosanna,” as He rode into Jerusalem? Jesus answers them, “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk. 19:36-40) It could be related to that. It could be a sign that God had redeemed all creation by the death of Jesus (Ro. 8:21-23). We can’t say for sure why the earthquake happened. But creation noticed and responded to both the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Finally, the fourth miracle is that many of the saints were raised. We heard how Matthew mentions that these risen saints walked around after Jesus’ resurrection and appeared to many (Mt. 27:52-53). What this shows us is that death is no longer the enemy it was before the death of Jesus. God can raise the dead in an instant. Jesus has paid the price. Disease, death, violence, virus, plague, and pandemic are no longer your enemy. They are all defeated by Christ. 

Dear saints, these miracles prove that you have nothing to fear. Christ has paid the price for your sins. God is on your side. He is risen, and so will you. Your King has come with righteousness and salvation (Zech. 9:9). He has spoken peace to you (Zech. 9:10). Return, you prisoners of hope; return to God, your stronghold (Zech. 9:12).

Christ has humbled Himself for you to death – even death on a cross (Php. 2:8). At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.

So, yes, “Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest!” Ride on Jesus. Ride on and save us. Welcome to Holy Week. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.