Luke 24:44-53 – Victory

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Luke 24:44-53

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.

52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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

And, today, let’s add to our alleluias.

Alleluia! Christ is ascended!
He is ascended indeed! Alleluia!

This past Thursday marked forty days after Easter and one of the most important days for the Christian Church – the Ascension of Christ. The Ascension means that Jesus – the One who has redeemed you, shed His blood and died for you, and who is risen for you – this Jesus now sits on the throne and rules the entire universe. The Ascension proves that Jesus has won the victory over sin, death, and the devil.

In the Ascension, Jesus stopped being in only one place at a time. Remember in the Gospels how Jesus would appear even after He was raised? He appeared to Mary Madeline near the tomb. He appeared to the disciples minus Thomas in the upper room Easter evening, and again to all the disciples together a week later. Jesus appeared while disciples were fishing at the Sea of Galilee. And in 1 Corinthians 15, we read that Jesus appeared to 500 witnesses all at one time. In each of those appearances, Jesus was there in that one particular place.

Now, because of the Ascension, Jesus is everywhere all the time in all the world even though we don’t see Him. Remember, that Jesus said, “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).

As the Introit –  Psalm 110:1, the third most quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament – said about the Ascension, Jesus our Lord is seated at God’s right hand with His enemies as His footstool. And maybe, you’re objecting because the verse reads, “The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Don’t forget what our Epistle text (Eph. 1:15-23) also said. Christ was raised from the dead and seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places above all rule, authority, dominion, and above every name that is named not only in this age but in the one to come and, “[God] put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”

In His human flesh, Jesus, your Savior ascended to God. Now, His nail-scarred but resurrected feet press down upon every enemy of God and every enemy of yours. The Ascension is something to celebrate because the sin-forgiving, death-destroying body of Jesus now covers every corner of the earth. Jesus is with you always protecting you from all harm and giving you every blessing.

But the devil does not want you to rejoice and delight in this, and so Satan attacks you, believer.

The devil attacks all the things that Jesus has done, but he attacks unbelievers and believers in different ways. With unbelievers, the devil attacks Christ’s birth – Christmas. He assaults Christ’s death and resurrection – Good Friday and Easter. The devil does not want people to believe that God became man, that Jesus died, and that He rose again because to believe those things is to be saved.

But once you are a Christian, the devil does not stop his attacks. But with believers, the devil does not come straight at Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. Instead, the devil chips away at the joy and hope that you have because of Jesus’ Ascension.

From time to time there are videos online of people watching an iceberg break apart. You hear creaking and cracking. Smaller chunks of ice, the size of a car, fall into the ocean. Every now and then, bigger chunks the size of a house fall off. But then, suddenly, half of the iceberg, maybe the size of the new Vikings’ stadium, slips away into the water.

The Ascension of Jesus is like all those smaller chunks that the devil tries to chip away from us so that our whole faith is ripped away from us.

So the devil tries to deceive us into thinking that Jesus has up and abandoned us. Satan tries to turn up the volume on all the evil and wickedness going on in the world to drown out Jesus’ statement that He has all authority in heaven and on earth, that Christ is far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion.

So, Satan points us to the terrorist attacks. He shows us how ISIS blows up a concert in Manchester England, killing twenty-two people, and a couple days later, they shoot up a bus of Christians in Egypt killing twenty-nine of our brothers and sisters in Christ (ten ofThe Good Shepherd those were children). The devil tries to focus our attention on the mess of our national politics and economy. The devil points us to how small and insignificant the church appears to be in this world and how many are leaving the church and abandoning the faith.

And the devil puts all the chaos, all the wickedness, all the pain and suffering before us and shouts as loud as he can, “Did Jesus really say that He has all authority in heaven and on earth? If Christ’s enemies are His footstool, how can I do all these horrible things? You must be some fool to believe what Jesus says!”

And too often, we listen. We do not believe that Jesus even now rules and reigns to all eternity. We are robbed of our joy, the world sees us running around worried and panicked, and the devil laughs.

Repent.

The Ascension doesn’t promise us that you will always see Jesus crushing His enemies with our eyes. But the Ascension does promise that His victory is real. The Ascension means that no matter what you see with your eyes, what God says is stronger and more real than what you see.

Look at the end of this text and see how Jesus ascended. “Lifting up His hands He blessed [the disciples], and while He blessed them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.”

Jesus’ hands were lifted up in blessing, and Scripture never says that Jesus’ hands are lowered. Jesus doesn’t stop blessing you. Your God, your Savior, Jesus is at God’s right hand blessing you in His ascended victory, now and forever.

Alleluia! Christ is risen and ascended!
He is risen and ascended indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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

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1 Peter 3:13-22 – A Flood of Righteousness

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1 Peter 3:13-22

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

18 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, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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

Writing a sermon on this text is no easy task. Believe me. I know, I’ve tried.

Peter begins today by telling us Christians to be zealous for what is good. And Peter doesn’t hide the fact that even when we do good, when we do the right thing, we will suffer, we will be reviled and slandered. And yet in the midst of our suffering, we should always be ready to give an answer, a gentle and respectful answer, for the hope that is in us. Peter reminds us that if we suffer for righteousness’ sake, we are blessed.

Peter points out that even Jesus suffered for doing good. Christ, the righteous One, suffered for sins He didn’t commit. Instead, Jesus suffered for your sins and for my sins. The Righteous One suffered for all us unrighteous ones that He might bring us to God. He was crucified. Killed. Put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

Finally, Peter talks about Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison. He tells us about Noah, the ark, and the deliverance that God granted through water. Peter connects Noah and the ark and the Flood to Baptism clearly saying, “Baptism now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” And Peter concludes saying that Jesus has now gone into heaven, is at the right hand of God, and angels, authorities, and powers are subjected to Him.

It is a hard text. Doing good. Suffering. Jesus’ death and resurrection. Noah. Water. Baptism. The Ascension. There is a lot here. And how is it all tied together?

Like Peter tells us to, let’s consider Noah and the flood. Usually, when we think of the Flood we think mostly of God’s judgment upon sin, and it is certainly right to do that. Noah lived in an evil time. The world was so full of sin and wickedness that God regretted that He had created mankind at all. So, God determined to blot out man from the face of the earth.

But the Flood is also about God’s deliverance and salvation because “Noah found favor (lit. grace) in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8).

Though God determined to condemn the world through the Flood, God also determined to save Noah and his family. To save Noah, God told Noah to build an ark, to bring his family and the animals in, and to be delivered from the coming judgment.

For 120 years, Noah suffered as he built the ark. Can you imagine? Day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade people saying, “There’s crazy Noah building a big ol’ box. Hey, Noah, what did you say you are building that for?”

“God told me to.”

He was ridiculed by everyone else, but he persisted in doing good through his suffering. And Noah’s persistence was his preaching to those who did not listen to God’s voice. In fact, in 2 Peter (2:5), Noah is called a “herald (lit. preacher) of righteousness.” Once the ark was completed, God shut Noah and his family into the ark (Gen. 7:16).

The Flood came, and the waters drowned and doomed everything outside the ark.

Peter says that this is what God has done for you in your Baptism. God has drowned and destroyed all the sin and evil that surrounded you, condemning it in a watery death. And God has put you safely into the ark of His Church.

Remember, the flood waters condemned and drowned, but the Flood also delivered. it was those same waters that lifted the ark and everyone inside to safety.

Believer, everything that Christ has done for you – His perfect, sinless life; His death; His resurrection – it is all delivered to you in your Baptism. In your Baptism, God has united you with Christ’s death and resurrection (Ro. 6:3-11). In your Baptism, God has clothed you with Christ (Gal. 3:27).

So, when you suffer for doing good, have no fear. In your Baptism, in that flood of righteousness, God has delivered you from all sin and evil and delivered to you all that Christ has done for 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.

John 14:1-14 – The Times They Are A-Changin’

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John 14:1-14

1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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

Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me.”

If your goal in life is to make a lot of money or have lots of power over others, the easiest way to do it is to stir up fear and manufacture a crisis. The first step in creating fear and crisis is to point out how things are changing and convince everyone that change is bad. Once people convinced this change is scary and terrible, you can keep dipping your hand in their wallet and controlling their behavior.

For years, we were constantly warned about global warming. The earth was getting hotter. We were told, “We are putting too much CO2 in the atmosphere. The sea levels are rising. We have to get rid of the smog over our cities.”

So, the politicians came saying, “Elect me, and I’ll save you. I’ll make sure greedy corporations don’t keep spewing poison into the atmosphere. I’ll keep your water clean. I’ll make sure your kids breathe safe air.”

And scientists and businesses followed the politicians. “Give us funding so we can do studies.” “Make people buy our lightbulb that looks like spaghetti because it uses less energy.”

It’s gotten so absurd, there are cities spending countless hours and money debating and doing studies about grocery bags. At first, they didn’t want us using paper bags because we were cutting down all the forests, so we started to use plastic. But all those plastic bags are filling up landfills and killing fish and birds. Now, we are supposed to bring reusable bags whenever we go to the store. And those bags need to get washed so we don’t die of salmonella, but washing them uses more energy. And we’re back to square one.

All sorts of nonsense was done in the name of saving the earth and handing a cleaner planet to our children. Never mind the fact that, for nearly twenty years, the global temperature has been staying stable.

So, to keep getting elected and to keep getting funding and to keep making money the scientists, politicians, and businesses no longer talk about “global warming.” No. Now, it’s “global climate change.” Hot summer? “Global climate change.” Cold, snowy winter? “Global climate change.” Rainy? “Global climate change.” Drought? “Global climate change.” And, whenever possible, make sure you call it “catastrophic global climate change.”

None of this is to say that we should be pigs and pollute the planet. Everyone wants clean air and water. And for goodness sakes, this is a sermon – not a stump speech on the politics of weather and mankind’s effect on the climate.

So what’s the point? The point is that people will use change to create fear so they can control you and take your money. It’s almost a mathematical formula: Change X Fear = Money and Power. And the bigger the change, the bigger the fear, the more money and power.

Climate change is an easy target to pick on because in all the fear and fuss about the weather, no scientist, politician, or business will tell you what temperature it’s supposed to be. They don’t tell you what the temperature is supposed to be because if we ever achieve it, there is no more change, nor more fear. And that means they lose their power to take your money and control how you live.

But this same thing happens even in the church. Change is turned into fear in order gain control. The church is aging and shrinking, so we need to do something to draw in young people. The church needs to get more with the times. Giving is down, and the church is struggling to survive. So buy this book, come to this seminar, employ these methods, or your church will die.

But none of those things work precisely because none of it is the means that God has given the Church to do ministry. God has given to His Church His Word and the Sacraments. That’s it. Through these, and through them alone, God creates faith. But that doesn’t sell. So the books, seminars, and methods don’t suggest the Word and Sacraments. And every few years, there are be new books, new seminars, new methods.

We need to repent. We need to repent of our worry when we think we need to save the world. We need to repent of acting as though God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament are no longer the answer. We need to repent of our fear. We need to repent and listen to Jesus.

Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe. Believe in God, believe also in Me.” So, what are you worried about? What is troubling you?

Whatever it is you fear, whatever it is that worries and troubles you, the answer is faith in Christ. In this sinful world, things change. The answer is Jesus and what He has done for you.

Troubled by politics? Jesus has died and risen for you. Believe.

Troubled by the weather? It doesn’t matter if there is or isn’t catastrophic global climate change, and it doesn’t matter if we are causing it or not. Jesus has died and risen for you. Believe.

Troubled by our relationship with Russia or North Korea saying they will wipe our country off the face of the planet? Jesus has died and risen for you. Believe.

Troubled by the decline in the church? Jesus has died and risen for you. Believe.

In Christ, God has given you promises that He will not go back on – not now, not ever. Believe.

Believe because Jesus has rescued you. Jesus has ransomed you. Jesus has gone to the cross and prepared a place for you with Him forever. Jesus has put His name upon you in your Baptism and claimed you as His own. Jesus has given you His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Jesus has absolved you of all your sins.

If you stray, Jesus will seek you out. If you fall, Jesus will pick you up. If you are faithless, He remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). Believe.

The simple fact of life in this fallen, broken world is that things change. In this sinful world, the times are always changing. Bob Dylan once said, “There is nothing so stable as change.” He was wrong.

With all the change and decay in this world, there is one thing that always is forever stable and enduring: Jesus has died and risen for you; Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; Jesus is the chief cornerstone of forgiveness, life, and mercy; and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame – not now, not ever.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe in Jesus.

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.

John 10:1-16 – The Shepherd

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John 10:1-16

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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

What is the mark of a Christian? Today, Jesus boils it down to one simple thing, “My sheep listen to My voice.” What makes you a Christian? You listen to Jesus.

There is a lot of talk in the Scriptures about God’s people being sheep, and a lot could be said about how dumb and helpless sheep can be. But the main thing about sheep in this text is one of the good characteristics of sheep – their hearing. Sheep don’t have exceptional hearing like dogs, but they do have very discerning ears.

The way sheep were cared for in Jesus’ day helps us understand this text.

Each town would have a big pen where all the shepherds would bring their flocks at night so they could go home and get some rest. A gatekeeper would be there through the night to make sure no one stole away the sheep. In the morning, the shepherds would go and call out to their sheep. Each flock would gather together and follow their shepherd and go about their sheepish day.

So, picture this scene playing out day after day. Thousands of sheep from many different flocks are in one huge pen, and dozens of shepherds are all calling out to their flocks at once. And in the midst of all the baaing and calling, the sheep, with their discerning ears, would pick out the voice of their shepherd, go toward it, and follow him.

This is how it is with you, Christian. This world is full of voices shouting at you. All sorts of things are trying to get your attention, attempting to get you to follow their voice instead of the voice of your Shepherd, trying to draw you away from your Shepherd.

The voice of one thief calls out to you, “It sure is nice of God to give you green pastures of His Word, but there is so many other things you could eat that would taste even better. I can show you fields of wealth and pleasure. You can feast there and be filled with all they have to offer. Just follow me, and I’ll show you. Those green pastures will always be there.”

The voice of another thief beckons you, “It sure is nice of God to lead you by the still waters of His love, mercy, and forgiveness. But you don’t need that all the time. You are a good sheep. Sure, you aren’t perfect, but no sheep is. And don’t you get bored of being by those still waters? I can show you things much more exciting. I can take you to oceans with big waves of pride. I can take you to rushing rivers of power and influence. Follow me, and we can have an adventure. You can always return to the still waters of God’s love and mercy if you want to.”

The voice of another thief whispers sweetly to you, “It sure is nice of God to lead you in paths of righteousness, but those paths of righteousness can be very hard. I can lead you on paths that are easier. I can lead you on the paths of tolerance and acceptance. So many other sheep walk on them, and you know what they say: there’s safety in numbers. All these paths lead to the same place in the end.”

The promises are enticing and possibilities are alluring. So you follow the voices of those thieves. For a while, the food of those other fields tastes good. For a while, the other waters are more exciting. For a while, the paths are much easier.

But soon you find that you are in the desert. Alone. Hungry. Scared. The thief has lured you away, and you are lost. Without your Shepherd. The wolf comes and snatches you because you have listened to the voices of thieves.

Repent.

Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” And by listening to the voices of thieves, you are damned.

So, hear again the voice of your Shepherd. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

Jesus, your Good Shepherd, has come. Jesus took all the thief’s stealing, killing, destroying. For you, Jesus was robbed of the glory that was rightly His. For you, Jesus was killed. For you, Jesus was destroyed so that you would not be – not now, not ever.

Today, don’t listen to the voices of the thieves. Hear Jesus, your Shepherd, calling out to you, little flock. Do you hear Him? He is calling now. “Take. Eat. This is My Body given unto death for you. Take. Drink. This is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.”

Hear His voice. Follow Him. He sets a table before you. And listening to His voice, His goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life, and you dwell in His house forever.

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.