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

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The congregation read the quotes from all the characters (with the exception of Jesus) in the Passion narrative this year.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

That Gospel reading is a lot to take in – all the injustice, betrayal, brutality, and morbidity. But the whole reason Jesus rode on into Jerusalem was to endure all of this for you. Even though we might wish to turn away from it, we can’t. We must hear, see, look, and ponder because in this reading we see who we truly are.

We are the chief priests who want to get rid of God secretly and stealthily. We are the disciples who think it is possible to give too much to God. We are Judas wanting to gain something earthly from our relationship with Jesus – even though it ends up being less than thirty pieces of silver. We are Peter bragging about our commitment to Jesus, but when the heat gets turned up, we deny. We are the disciples who cannot stay awake while we watch and pray with Jesus.

We are Caiaphas who demands a sign from Jesus and refuses to take Christ at His Word. And when Jesus says something we don’t like, we pass judgment on Him. We are the chief priests who tell those who are crushed under the weight of their sins to go away and figure it out on their own instead of pointing them to God’s mercy. We are Pilate who is given every chance to do the right thing but fails. We are the soldiers who insult and strike Jesus, but we don’t do it with a reed. We do it with our continual sins. And we are the crowds to pass by Jesus and mock Him.

Repent. Repent but do not despair because you are also the centurion who rightly confesses, “Truly this is the Son of God!” (Mt. 27:54). You are the crowds who cry out, “Hosanna,” which means, “Save us now.” You are also the crowds who cry out, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Mt. 27:25). The crowds who shouted those words in our text thought God didn’t see or didn’t care if they put His only begotten Son to death. But, dear saint, you know better. You know that Jesus’ blood is what cleanses you from your sin.

You are Barabbas, a notorious sinner who gets off scot free. You are the thief on the cross who will be with Jesus in paradise. You are Peter who gets restored. You are Simon of Cyrene who lives a life of carrying Jesus’ cross enduring the weight and suffering, but doing it willingly and joyfully because you know that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Php. 1:21). And, God be praised, you will be those who rise from your grave when Christ returns.

Yes, dear saints, this text is some of the most difficult Scripture to read, but at the same time it is the most beautiful because in it you see Jesus’ love for you. Scripture says, for the joy – think of that, for the joy! – that was set before Him, He endured the cross despising its shame, and now, He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).

Christ’s joy and delight is to redeem and save you by dying on the cross. So, ride on, King Jesus. Ride on and save us. Hosanna in the highest! Amen.

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

The Church: Gathered & Sanctified – Sermon on the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed for Midweek Lent 5

The Scripture readings used for tonight’s service were Psalm 50; Acts 2:22-47; and John 17:17-26.

Listen here.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

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 through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith; in like manner as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in this Christian Church, He daily forgives abundantly all my sins and the sins of all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead and will grant everlasting life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Holy Spirit works to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth. One of the greatest records of the Holy Spirit doing exactly this is what you just heard from our Epistle lesson Acts 2[:22-47] which occurred on the day of Pentecost.

But to see the whole picture we have to go back to fifty days prior to Pentecost when Jesus was crucified. Remember the first recorded words of Jesus when He was nailed to the cross? “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). But after Jesus says this, the silence is deafening. No one is there to proclaim God’s forgiveness. No voice from heaven announces, “Yes, I forgive them.” Instead, Luke just continues to record how the soldiers cast lots to divide Jesus’ clothing and how the crowd mocks, scoffs, and jeers at Jesus. If we only had Luke’s Gospel, we wouldn’t know the answer to Jesus’ prayer, “Father forgive them.” But, thanks be to God, we know how God answered Christ’s prayer because the Gospel of Luke has a sequel – the book of Acts.

In that Epistle lesson, Luke records how Peter preaches to the people on the day of Pentecost. In that sermon, Peter points his finger to those gathered around him and rightly says that they were the very ones who delivered Jesus into the hands of evil men to be crucified. They delivered the Lord of Life unto death. But God raised Jesus from the dead. When they heard this, the Holy Spirit led them to cry out, “What shall we do?” And Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

That very day, the Holy Spirit worked through the Word of God, and 3,000 people repented, were baptized, and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. They were baptized, and they were forgiven. Just fifty days after Jesus’ death, some of the very people who placed Him on the cross are given salvation. As Peter says, they were saved from that crooked generation (Act. 2:40), but what were they saved to?

This is an extremely important thing to recognize. To be saved means that you are taken fromsomething and transferred to something else. You get saved from a sinking ship, to a floating ship (or to land). You get saved from quicksand to solid ground. You get saved from a burning house to a place that isn’t on fire.

A lot of Christians today think they are saved from this crooked generation of the world to a solitary life with just themselves and Jesus. But Jesus was crucified, dead, buried, and is risen to create His holy Christian Church. The Holy Spirit doesn’t save us so that we can be with Jesus alone.

Some Christians think they are saved from their old, sinful way of life to a less sinful life. A lot of churches cater to this idea and offer different series of self-help sermons: “Five Tips to be a Better Parent,” “Seven Steps to Improve Your Marriage,” “Four Habits of Being a Good Employee,” etc. Of course, there are many passages of Scripture that give us good, godly instruction on each of those things. God cares about how you raise your children, treat your spouse, and work at your job. But those are not the only passages of Scripture, and that is not the main focus of Scripture. The Holy Spirit has much more for you than being a better person.

To be a Christian is to be saved from this crooked generation, but Luke, in that passage from Acts, tells us what those first Christians were saved to. They were saved to be the Church led by the Holy Spirit. And what is it the Holy Spirit leads them to?

The text tells us exactly what they are led to. “And they [the first believers] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Act. 2:42).

Let’s take each of those in order:

First, the Holy Spirit led them to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching. The only place these first Christians could get the apostles’ teaching was by going directly to the apostles themselves. They would need to be where Peter, James, John, Matthew, or Thomas etc. was to get that teaching. The first Christians would gather around the apostles to hear them preach and teach Jesus crucified, died, risen, and ascended for the forgiveness of their sins. And as time went on, believers could read and hear the apostles’ teaching in the letters that have been accepted as Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture.

Today, you can go to all sorts of churches that do have God’s Word, but they don’t actually teach what the Scriptures teach. Instead, many churches try to explain away what God’s Word says. Some are blatantly and obviously departing from the Scriptural teaching that a sinful, immoral life is fine with God. Some are less obvious and teach things that are nothing more than what you could get from a life coach or motivational speaker. Christian, the Holy Spirit leads you to devote yourself to the apostles’ teaching. And if any preacher or I ever start to explain away what the Scriptures clearly teach, run away from me as though I were a foaming-at-the-mouth, rabid wolf.

Second, the Holy Spirit led the first believers to be devoted to the fellowship. Christians desire to be together. They desire to share common things. These things included one faith, one Lord, one Baptism, one God and Father, one Spirit (Eph. 4:4-6). But it also included their stuff. They were very generous in showing mercy and giving to the needy. They were a people who, led by the Holy Spirit, bared one another’s burdens. And, dear saints, that is something we desperately need today.

Third, the Holy Spirit led the first believers to devote themselves to the breaking of bread. They celebrated the Lord’s Supper as Jesus instituted it. Jesus gave the gift of Holy Communion for His Church to gather around and receive the blessing of His life-giving Body and His forgiving Blood.

A quick note on this during this time of pandemic and quarantine: From God’s hand, we have been given a chance to repent. Maybe, we have gotten lazy and thought that the holy things of God were normal. Maybe we assumed we would always have access to them. Let’s repent of that and remember how precious and gracious God is in giving them to us. But, please, also remember that even though we cannot receive it together as a congregation, I am happy and delighted to serve you as your pastor with the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood here or at your home. Just let me know. And pray that the day when we can receive the Sacrament together once again may come soon!

Fourth, and finally, the Holy Spirit led the first believers to devote themselves to the prayers. They interceded to God on behalf of others. They prayed with thanksgiving for the gifts that God had given them. They prayed in worship to the God who is merciful and gracious. These prayers characterized their life together.

Dear saints, Jesus forgave the very ones who crucified Him. By the working of the Holy Spirit through the preaching and teaching of the apostles, God called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified them just as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies you. The Holy Spirit calls you out of yourself and your own self-interests to be the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). By the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through you, let your light sine so that others may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16).

To close out this series on the Creed, dear saints, know that you have been created by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. The holy, blessed Trinity loves you and has made you His own. Rejoice in His eternal lovingkindness toward you. Amen.

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

Greater & More Perfect – Sermon on Hebrews 9:11-15 for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

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Hebrews 9:11–15

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

In the name of Jesus, our great High Priest. Amen.

In the name of Jesus, our great High Priest. Amen.

Jesus has shed His blood for you. He offered Himself without blemish to the Father to purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Because Christ has shed His blood for you, you have been called to be God’s children and receive the promised eternal inheritance. God be praised!

Imagine for a moment that you made plans to take your family to Great Wolf Lodge in Bloomington. (In case you don’t know, that’s a hotel with a huge indoor water park similar to what we have at the CanAd Inn and Splashers, but many, many times bigger.) You show your kids the pictures of the water park and all the waterslides and splash pads, and your kids are raring to go. But then, when you arrive, instead of wanting to go to the water park, your kids say they would rather splash around in the bathtub of your hotel room. You plead and urge them to put on their swimsuits, try the waterslides, the lazy river, and all the different attractions. But your kids insist they would rather sit in the tub with their rubber duck.

Well, there was a similar thing going on when this text was written.

The letter of Hebrews was basically a sermon written to a largely Jewish congregation. The way that the book is written, it seems as though some of these Jewish believers were beginning to wonder if they had made a mistake by becoming Christians. It appears as though they were wondering if they should return to their old, Jewish religion with the high priest, the Temple, the altar overlaid with gold, the festivals, the sacrifices, and the blood of goats and bulls. They were wondering if they had left the true worship of God for a much humbler, simpler religion of Christianity.

The whole book of Hebrews, but especially these verses and the surrounding context, serves as a resounding, “No! Don’t do it!” Throughout the book of Hebrews, these Christians are pointed to the fact that what they had in Jesus, and what we have today is better, greater, and more perfect.

Hebrews 9_24 Great High Priest Holy PlacesIn fact, if you go back to Hebrews 8[:5], we are told that all the instructions that Moses received about the services, sacrifices, and festivals even the Tabernacle itself all served as copies and shadows of the heavenly things. A few verses after our text here (Heb. 9:23), we are told that the earthly copies of the heavenly things were given by God, but they needed to be purified with all those rites and rituals that God gave to Moses and Aaron.

So, here’s the picture this text is painting for us. The purpose of all the Old Testament ritual and ceremony – the daily sacrifices, the buildings, the furniture, the washings – all of it served, for a time, as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. The earthly tabernacle was given to God’s people as a picture of what is going on in heaven. God’s people could see the details going on before them, but they were to know that it was just a shadow of the reality of what is going on in heaven before God.

And now, because of Jesus, the shadow of the Tabernacle and Temple is no longer needed. Still today, we Christians, we people of God, have the reality. I hope and pray that this results in two things for you.

First, I hope that when you read those passages from Exodus and Leviticus, when you read about the construction of the Tabernacle with the vessels and different colors of fine twined linen, when you read about the priests and their vestments and their activities, when you read about the feasts and the sacrifices, I hope that you now read them with a little more interest because, again, they are copies and shadows of the heavenly reality.

But second, and more importantly, I hope you see that all of it points you to what Jesus, your Savior and Great High Priest, has done and accomplished once for all and once for you! Because now the reality in heaven has been perfected by the blood of Jesus, your Savior.

In the Tabernacle, the altar of incense served as a copy. The people were to look at the smoke of the incense rising into heaven and know that the prayers they made on earth were also rising up to God. In the Tabernacle, the bread of the presence served as an earthly shadow reminding the people that God was present with them. In the Tabernacle, the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies served as an earthly copy and shadow that preached to the people 364 days each year that access to the holy God was closed. And on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies, that curtain preached that access to God was possible when the blood of atonement was sprinkled there.

Hebrews 9-14 - Christ Offered HimselfAnd now that Jesus, our Savior and Great High Priest, has come, all the shadows and copies are done away with. Now, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we know that our prayers are acceptable and rise up to God. Now, when we don’t know how to pray as we ought, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Ro. 8:26). Now that Jesus has come, we don’t need the bread of the presence because the Holy Spirit has taken up residence and dwells in your heart (1 Cor. 6:19). Now that Christ has come and shed His blood and brought His blood into the heavenly Holy of Holies, your conscience has been cleansed and purified to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14).

This book of Hebrews is telling the people who are tempted to go back to the earthly copy of the heavenly reality to forget shadow and look at Jesus, who is the real thing! To go back to the Tabernacle and priests and sacrifices would be like choosing to play in the hotel bathtub instead of spending the afternoon at the water park. Brady and Leah, I know you’re watching, you wouldn’t do that, would you? Of course not! It would be foolish! It would be like driving to visit the Grand Canyon, but instead of looking around at the beautiful scenery and take it all in, you look at a couple pictures of the Grand Canyon. Sure, the pictures may be wonderful and beautiful, but you’re there at the real thing! Experience it! Take it in!

So, dear saints, I have two closing thoughts.

First, as we gather together at church (and even as we gather together virtually), we have the fulfillment. We have the purification and holiness that God delivers through Christ. Yes, it is best when we can gather together and receive the blessings of God’s purifying Word and Sacrament in person together, but we can still receive it now in this way. This is also why we use the liturgy (the order of our service). All of it is taken from Scripture to deliver to you the promises that Christ has won and given. And I am so excited for the time when we can again receive those things in this house of God together.

And second, know that everything Christ has done as your High Priest is to deliver to you His redemption from your sins. Because of Jesus, you have a pure conscience.

So, pay attention. Look at me because I want to ask you something right now:

What is troubling your conscience? Is it something you have done in the past? Is it some new sin? Is it your fears? Is it your worry about the future? Is it some sin against God or against your neighbor? What is troubling your conscience right now?

Whatever it is, know that Jesus has carried that sin that is bothering your conscience to the cross. He suffered. He bled. He died for that sin. And He has risen again to present His atoning blood in the courtroom of heaven as the unassailable, unquestionable evidence of your innocence. And in that courtroom of heaven, the verdict has been spoken. You have been declared by God, the righteous Judge in heaven, to be not guilty because of Jesus.

So, what has been spoken by God in heaven, I speak to you now on earth. You have, right now, an eternal redemption. Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for (Is. 6:7) by Jesus. Christ has removed your sin from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Because of Christ, your Greater and more Perfect High Priest, you have the entire forgiveness of all your sins. Amen.

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

Sanctified by the Holy Spirit – Sermon on the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed for Midweek Lent 4

Sermon for the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed for Midweek Lent 4. The Scripture readings used during tonight’s service were Psalm 51; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; and John 14:15-21. Another important text is John 16:8-11.

Listen here.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

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 through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith; in like manner as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in this Christian Church, He daily forgives abundantly all my sins and the sins of all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead and will grant everlasting life to me and to all who believe in Christ.  This is most certainly true.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In this series, we have seen first, how the Father creates and sustains us; second, how the Son redeems us through His humiliation and exaltation; and now tonight, we will begin to consider the Holy Spirit and how He sanctifies us.

Sometimes, Lutherans are accused of not talking about the Holy Spirit enough. People today think the Holy Spirit is at work when they get a particular feeling or emotion because of things going on around them. Scripture is very clear that feelings are not a good gauge to determine whether or not the Holy Spirit is at work.

Now, maybe it is a fair assessment to say Lutherans don’t talk about the Holy Spirit very often. But it should be noted that the Holy Spirit is very content not being talked about. In fact, Jesus says that the work of the Holy Spirit is to point us to Him as our Savior. In John 15:26, Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes, “He will bear witness about Me.” In other words, whenever you hear about Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins, you can know without a doubt that the Holy Spirit at work in you creating faith.

We learn most about the Holy Spirit in John 14-16, some of that you have already heard. In that section Jesus repeatedly calls the Holy Spirit the ‘Helper.’ The word Jesus uses means ‘advocate, intercessor, or mediator.’ In John 16:8-11, Jesus tells us how the Holy Spirit helps, advocates, intercedes, and mediates for us.

Open scene with video and verses.

Listen to those verses, “When [the Helper, the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” As we begin to consider the work of the Holy Spirit, we should think about each of these.

Flip verses slide

First, Jesus says the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin “because the world does not believe in Me” (Jn. 16:9). Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin because they are so horrible.

We think that the opposite of sin is good works, and without the Holy Spirit, we wrongly think that our sin is something we can manage on our own. We imagine we can hide the stains of our sin by being kind to those around us. We think we can distract God from our lust, anger, pride, and selfishness with a few good works here and there.

But the opposite of sin is not good works. Romans 14[:23] says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” The opposite of sin is faith in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

So, as the Holy Spirit convicts us concerning sin, He shows us the depths of our sin, but He also points us to Jesus who has taken all our sin and punishment. The Holy Spirit shows us that we are fools if we think our sin can be taken away by anything other than the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin showing us that we need Jesus to be our Savior. But when the Holy Spirit has convicted us of our sin, He isn’t done. There is still more Spirit convicting to do.

Flip verses slide.

Second, Jesus says the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness “because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (Jn. 16:10).

The Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to convict you concerning righteousness. In other words, because Jesus has died, you are righteous. You are completely freed from those sins which should separate you from God for eternity.

Satan, the accuser, comes along and tries to tell you that God doesn’t love you. He lies saying that Jesus’ death and resurrection isn’t enough. He comes along and tries to tell you that you aren’t really a Christian and have been fooling yourself. Or if you call yourself a Christian you aren’t a ‘true Christian’ or a ‘committed Christian’ or an ‘on-fire Christian.’ But the devil’s whispers to you are all hogwash.

Listen to what the Spirit says to you in the Scriptures: The Holy Spirit says Jesus became sin for you so that, through faith in Christ, you have become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). You have been made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (1 Pet. 1:16). The Holy Spirit promises that there is no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus (Ro. 8:1). The Holy Spirit shows you that the righteousness you need has been totally and completely provided for you by Jesus who went to His Father saying, “It is finished.”

And the Holy Spirit still isn’t done.

Flip verses slide.

Jesus says the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment, but notice He convicts concerning judgment not because you are judged, rather “because the ruler of this world is judged” (Jn. 16:11).

Christian, when you suffer, when bad things happen to you, you might think that God is judging you. But the Holy Spirit comes and says to you that you are not the target of God’s judgment. Satan is, and he always has been.

When God confronted Adam and Eve in the Garden, the first judgment He gave was to the devil. God promised that He would send Jesus to crush the serpent’s head. Jesus has come and done just that.

The Holy Spirit’s work is to bring all this out into the open. Because of what Christ has done for you, you are not God’s enemy. God demonstrates His love for you that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you (Ro. 5:8). And even when you were God’s enemy, here’s how He treated you – He reconciled you to Himself by the death of Jesus (Ro. 5:10).

Go to regular video.

All of this is the Holy Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit convicts you concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit takes all the work of Jesus and declares it to you (Jn. 16:13-15). He is your Helper, your Comforter, your Advocate. Through Spirit’s working, He opens the Scriptures to you creating, sustaining, and strengthening your faith while He guides you into all the truth.

So, dear saints, believe. Believe that your sin is paid in full by Christ’s shed blood. Believe that Christ’s righteousness covers you. And believe that you are judged worthy of eternal life because of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is at work right now through God’s Word so that you can discern and understand the mind of the Lord. As you listen to the Spirit speaking and guiding you through the Word of God, you know what is on God’s mind – your redemption and sanctification. Through all of this, you are given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). You are not left as an orphan. The Holy Spirit is with you and working within you to sanctify you and all Christians as God’s own child (Jn. 14:16-17). Amen.

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

Distributed – Sermon on John 6:1-15 for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

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John 6:1–15

1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

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

The details of this text are so vivid and wonderful. Jesus and His disciples sit down near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The Passover was near, so we know that it is a spring day and there was “much grass in the place” (v. 10). Everyone had been enjoying nice, sunny weather during this beautiful time of the year. We know that because Mark’s Gospel tells us that the grass was green (Mk. 6:39). As Jesus looks up, He sees a large crowd – five thousand men plus women and children – coming toward Him. And Jesus has this little conversation with Philip and Andrew while the crowd gathers around them.

“Philip, where are we going to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” But Philip balks at the suggestion. “Seven months’ worth of wages won’t buy enough for them to get even a little.” Andrew joins the conversation, “This kid has five loaves of barley bread and two fish, but big deal.”

So, Jesus has the people sit down, and the boy gives Jesus his little lunch. Jesus takes the loaves, gives thanks for them, and blesses them. Christ does the same with the fish. The other Gospels tell us that Jesus has the disciples distribute the food to the crowd (Mt. 14:19; Mk. 6:41; Lk. 9:16). John tells us that each person in the crowd is served, and everyone has as much bread and fish as they could eat. But neither John nor the other three Gospels, give us the details of exactly how this distribution took place. Where did the food come from? Of course, it came from Jesus. Of course, it was a miracle. But what did the miracle look like?

While Jesus was blessing the food, did the loaves and fish grow and expand and become a huge mountain of food, because that is what it would take to feed this massive crowd? Did the loaves keep multiplying so the people could see where there had been one loaf, but now there are two? Did the fish keep plopping down from the sky into the disciples’ hands as they walked through the crowd? The Scriptures don’t say.

Personally, I like to think – as some have suggested – that the disciples each go out with a basket that has some of the bread and fish inside (since we know they had twelve baskets). They walk around to the people and each person reaches in to take some of the food. And while it appears to each individual that they are depleting the amount of food in the basket, when the next person reaches in, there is still enough. And more than enough. Maybe each person was a little cautious at first and takes just a little bit, but then the disciples say, “If anyone wants more, let me know. I’ve still got some.” And they go around again.

It could be that each person took some food from the disciples, and as they take a bite every now and then, they look down and there is still more.

Maybe you have been to a camp or something where a large number of people are going to eat, and you see a sign that says, “Take all you want. Eat all you take.” Well, Jesus and the disciples didn’t have a sign like that. Because every last person in that crowd – again five thousand men plus women and children, so this is likely ten to twenty thousand people or more – everyone eats their fill. And, as the last man unbuckles his belt and as the stuffed women and children lick their fingers, Jesus sends the disciples out again. And they gather up the leftovers and fill those twelve baskets full of food.

This is a miracle, but this is also how God always works even today. Every day, you deplete things, which is something that you are probably more aware of today. You write a check or swipe your card, and you can look at your bank account and see that there is less. Think of your fridge, freezer, cupboards, and pantry. You prepare some food and eat it, and there is less then there was before.

We can see how we are consuming and depleting things, and it is easy to focus on that and worry. But what we can’t always see is how things are delivered and distributed to us.

Yes, we have jobs. We work and toil. Our paycheck is deposited, or the social security check, our tax return comes. And we notice that. But I hear people tell me of times when the logic of what they have and what is available to them simply doesn’t add up or make any sense. I have experienced this too.

In seminary, the fourth year of our learning was to do a pastoral internship, and my placement was in Salinas, CA. The congregation provided us with a place to live along with a monthly stipend that was generous, but it was the seminary’s intent that we interns would have just enough to get by. We were out in California when gas prices were extremely high (it was almost $5/gallon for a long time). During that time, we were still paying my student loans, and we had our second child. My car was broken into. All sorts of things happened that were crazy expensive. But when it was time to move back to Minnesota, my loan was completely paid off. I had purchased a new laptop to use for work. We had been blessed to be able to travel to beautiful places like Yosemite. I was able to go to a couple baseball games in Oakland and San Francisco. And just before we left California, we looked at our bank account, and had more, significantly more, in our account than when we moved there.

Yes, we had been given gifts from the members out there, and we accounted for that. But the math didn’t work. And I know how to use a calculator! There was no reason or explanation for how greatly we had been blessed except – the Lord had provided. God provided more than we could make sense or logic of.

Here’s the point: God does let us see how we use His resources and deplete them. But He doesn’talways let us see how He gives and distributes them.

Now, a lot could be said here about how you give to the church. And if things were different in our country and world right now, I would take the opportunity of this text to do so. But I don’t want to put any unneeded pressure on you. Even though this is being video-recorded, I am not some TV preacher asking for seed money for a Learjet or something ridiculous like that. But know that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), and He will not let you go hungry or lose your house because you give money to support the work of His church.

Instead today, I’d like to encourage you. You might find it easy to act like Philip or Andrew did in this text. Philip is looking to money as the solution to the problem of feeding the crowd, and he concludes that they don’t have enough. And even if they did have enough, there’s no store that would be able to supply food for a crowd this size. And Andrew mockingly looks to how little they have out there in the wilderness.

The problem with both of them is not that they didn’t know Jesus or that they didn’t trust Him. They have left everything to follow Jesus and be His disciples. Their real problem is that they are sinners, just like you and me. Their problem is that they acted the same way that we often act even though we know the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. And because they are sinners, they, just like us, give in to the temptation to focus on various idols instead of focusing on the gracious giving of God.

And even still, Jesus provides for them. He provides what they could not buy, bake, grow, earn, or deserve. He provides them this meal and enough to last for days afterward. But most importantly, Jesus lavishly pours out on His sinful disciples His mercy and grace. We see it here as He doesn’t scold them for their sin. It will happen again. In fact, after this Jesus will feed another crowd – four thousand that time (Mk. 8:1-10). And right after that the disciples are with Jesus in a boat, and they realize they only have one loaf of bread, and they will worry again (Mk. 8:14-21). And still loving Jesus goes to the cross to shed His blood for them and for you.

Dear saints, Jesus still provides for you. May we be wise with the temporal, First Article gifts He freely gives. And may we be confident with the eternal gifts of His mercy and grace which cannot be taken away no matter what may come. Amen.

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

Exalted for Your Redemption – Sermon on the 2nd Article of the Apostles’ Creed for Midweek Lent 3

The Scripture readings used for tonight’s service were Psalm 8; Hebrews 2:5-18; and Luke 24:44-53.

Listen here.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit; born of the virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven; and is seated on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from where He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

What does this mean?

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord; Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, bought me and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with silver and gold, but with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death; in order that I might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness; even as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Last week we considered the 2nd Article of the Apostle’s Creed and Jesus’ humiliation. Tonight, we continue to consider this article, but in the light of Jesus’ exaltation. Jesus, who is God and Man, is now seated at God’s right hand where He rules, governs, and directs all things in creation. This is great news, and we’ll finish by dwelling on that.

But first it is good to recognize where we confess Jesus’ humiliation and where we confess Jesus’ exaltation in the Creed. Jesus’ humiliation includes His conception by the Holy Spirit; His birth of the virgin Mary; His suffering under Pontius Pilate; His crucifixion, death, and burial. Two things should be mentioned at this point:

First, and this will be important later, the fact that the eternal Son of God took on human flesh – the term for that is the ‘incarnation’ – is not part of Jesus’ humiliation. The way or manner in which Jesus took on flesh shows His humility, but the incarnation itself is not part of Jesus’ humiliation. We have to confess that because Jesus is still truly Man. When Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, He didn’t lay aside or set down His body. No, He ascended physically into heaven. Jesus still has and will forever have His body. So, again, the fact that the Son of God took on flesh is not part of Jesus’ humiliation because He keeps His body in His exaltation. Tuck that into the back of your mind because, again, it will be important later.

The second thing to mention here is Jesus’ descent into hell. It might seem foreign to us, but Jesus’ descent into hell is the first step of His exaltation when we confess the Creed. We are so used to being told about the horrors of hell that we probably think that going there must be terrible, and that is absolutely true for us. However, when Jesus descended into hell, He did so for an important reason.

The only Scripture text that teaches that Jesus descended into hell is 1 Pet. 3:18-19 which says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” Notice that this text teaches that Jesus is made alive in the spirit, in which, He goes and proclaims to the spirits in the prison of hell. As Jesus wins the victory over death by rising again, He descends into hell and proclaims His victory over the devil and the souls of those who refused to believe. Think of it as a victory lap when Christ preaches even to the devil and those who persisted in unbelief that by the shedding of His blood He has won the victory over sin and death.

So, with all of that in mind, when we confess the Creed, Christ’s exaltation begins with His descent into hell then continues with His resurrection from the dead on the third day; His ascension into heaven; and His continued sitting at God’s right hand to this day. Jesus’ exaltation will culminate when He returns in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.

So, what toes all of this mean for you now?

Well, in our Gospel lesson (Lk. 24:44-53), we got to hear Luke’s shorter account of Jesus’ ascension. Luke gives a longer view of the ascension with a few other details in Acts 1[:6-11]. But I want you to notice two particular details from the end of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus leads the disciples out to Bethany. Ascension 2He lifts up His hands and blesses them. And while He is blessing them, He is carried up into heaven. The last time Jesus was seen on earth, He is lifting up His hands in blessing. And Jesus continues to lift up His nail-pierced hands in blessing over you, dear saints.

The other detail to consider briefly is that the disciples worshiped Him. Imagine you walked around a corner and saw these disciples. Some of them are standing with their arms raised in praise and gazing into heaven. Some are kneeling with their faces to the ground praising Him. Maybe they are singing one of the Psalms. To someone who didn’t know what had just happened, seeing all this would look pretty ridiculous.

But it isn’t. Jesus was gone. He had ascended to God’s right hand. But the disciples knew that Jesus was not gone in a way that means that He is now absent from them. So, they return to Jerusalem with joy – with great joy. And they were continually in the Temple blessing God. And we join them.

Because Jesus has physically ascended into heaven and is exalted, we have an eternal High Priest who is crowned with glory and honor. As our Epistle text (Heb. 2:5-18) says, He has been made like us, and still is like us, in every respect, so that He is a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God. He is the one who carried our griefs and sorrows (Is. 53:4). He knows the struggles you faced today, and He endured the trials you will face tomorrow. Because He suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help you who are being tempted.

Dear saints, Jesus is exalted. Christ is risen, and He is ascended into heaven, but He is not gone. He is still with you. In fact, He has promised to always be with you. Jesus promises, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am among them” (Mt. 18:20). Jesus promises, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:18, 20). We see Him with the eyes of faith. We see Him even though our eyes do not behold Him. We see Him because He has promised to be with us in His Word and Sacrament. We see Him in our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we see Him in our neighbor who needs our help because as we do good to the least of our brothers, we do also unto Jesus.

We see Jesus, and we watch for Him. We watch for Him because this same Jesus promises that He will return to dwell with you for all eternity. As God’s people we say, “Amen. Amen. It will be so. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” Amen.

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

No Empty Houses – Sermon on Luke 11:14-28 for the Third Sunday of Lent

Listen here.

Luke 11:14-28

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In 2014, it had been about two years of me waking up feeling more tired than when I had gone to bed. At my loving wife’s urging, I went to the doctor to request a referral for a sleep study. I remember the doctor saying, “Well, you’re not old, and you’re not overweight. I don’t think you have apnea, but I’ll refer you for the sleep study.” A couple weeks later, I went down to Altru Specialty Center to spend the night. When I checked in, the nurse who would be monitoring me met me and said, “You’re not old, and you’re not overweight. I doubt you have apnea.” But she dutifully brought me to a room and proceeded to put all the little sensors on my body, head, and beard. A couple hours later, I went to sleep. Less than an hour after that, she woke me up and said, “Put this on.” It was a cushion that covered my nose and blasted air into my nostrils. I hated it. It took me about an hour to figure out how to breathe with it and another hour to fall asleep once again. I only slept for four more hours, but it was the best sleep I had had in years.

The next morning, she unhooked the wires from my head and body. The nurse said I could expect to hear from the doctor in a few days. When I went to that appointment, this new doctor said to me, “Well, you’re not old and you’re not overweight, but you definitely have sleep apnea. We will write things up and get everything to your insurance so you can have a CPAP machine.”

Finally, two weeks after that appointment, I was told I could go to Yorhom and get the machine. The technician who instructed me on its usage said, “You’re not old and you’re not overweight, but this should help you feel better.”

CPAP MaskThe CPAP means that a hose dictates how I can move when I turn at night. It means that, when I lie on my side, I have to adjust how the mask fits on my face and doesn’t get moved off my nose by my pillow. It means that I can’t fall asleep having a conversation with my wife. There are mornings that I wake up and have to unwrap the hose from around my neck. But in the six years since I started using that machine, there have only been just over a handful of nights that I have slept without that mask blasting air into my nostrils. I still don’t always like to use it. I wish there were some sort of medicine or a shot I could take, but such a thing doesn’t exist. Sometimes, I wish I could use the machine one night a month or one night a week and be fine, but it doesn’t work that way. I know that if I don’t use that mask and machine each night, I won’t rest or be able to function like I should.

Sorry for the long story, but there is a point and it is connected to the text. Here’s how:

Imagine how frustrated Jesus gets with us when we think that we can simply get a dose of His grace and mercy and then move on with our lives until we recognize or feel the need to take another dose. Imagine how frustrated Jesus gets with us when we think all we need is an occasional shot of the Holy Spirit when He desires that we have the daily and eternal presence of the Holy Spirit in our heart.

You see, your problem is not that you sin every now and then. Your problem is that the devil has essentially taken up residence in your heart. That’s what Jesus means when He says, “When an unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it seeks but finds no rest it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’” The devil has led you into sin and possesses you. That problem can, obviously, be solved. Jesus, the one who is stronger than the strong man devil, expels Satan. And Jesus doesn’t leave you simply as an empty vessel because the house of your heart won’t stay empty. Instead, the Holy Spirit comes and resides within you, and this means that you need to continually receive the Holy Spirit because He can be pushed out. You can neglect God’s good gifts, and the Holy Spirit can be resisted so that He leaves.

Assailed by DemonsWhen this happens, your last state is worse than your first because as Jesus says, the demons come, it finds the house (you) swept and put in order. Then that evil spirit brings seven other spirits more evil than itself.

Throughout your lives, you find yourself in the position of thinking that it would be enough if God would just drive out the devil. And praise God that He does. However, that isn’t the end of the matter. Don’t forget that your house won’t stay empty. If you turn away from the Word that fills you with the Holy Spirit, the devil is going to come back worse then he was before. Don’t think that because you believe today that you will tomorrow.

Read. Study. Meditate on the Scriptures. Make the Bible more important to you today than it was yesterday. Don’t think that you can bring your kids to Sunday School and Confirmation and think they’ll be ok. Don’t be lulled into thinking that is enough Jesus for them.

The greatest threat to you and your children isn’t from terrorism, war, or a virus. The thousands of kids who grow up thinking that they were raised to be Christian because they were taken to church a few times a year. Those same people then go and read five out-of-context verses from some atheist blog thinking they know everything about what Christians believe. They are the very ones who are going to be the most likely to draw your children away from the faith.

But also be comforted because that is much less likely to happen if you train your children now to be in the Scriptures. To be in the very place that the Holy Spirit continues to work in their hearts and lives. That very Word of God is where God fills the house of your heart and theirs with the Holy Spirit and with treasures that cannot be spoiled.

You need to hear this today. There is a lot of uncertainty in our world and country right now. And while there are no plans to stop holding regular services here, it is possible that option might be taken from us. The devil is working very hard to bring enough uncertainty and fear to our society – and to Christians especially – that they would be tempted to think being at church and within the fellowship of the Body of Christ is not essential.

All Saints gathered around the throneRight now, we Christians need one another. Those who do not have faith in Christ need us as well. They need us to comfort them with the very same that we have in Christ. They need to know there is something more than this life. They need to know that Christ is coming back. They need to know that the One who is returning is the very one who shed His holy and precious blood for them. That very blood of Christ is the medicine they need to be freed from the devil’s tyranny over the house of their heart. They need to know that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away their sin.

Dear saints, today know that the house of your heart won’t stay empty. Know that the stronger man is on your side. And know that He desires all to be saved, and this may be the time He uses to call them to repentance and faith. Amen.

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