Where Is Your Sting? – Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 for the Resurrection of Our Lord

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1 Corinthians 15:51-57

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Too often we think of death in wrong ways. We think that death is a state or a category or a condition. But v. 55 of that Epistle Lesson says that death is an enemy, a person who can be talked to and, most importantly, an enemy who can be questioned.

Imagine encountering death. When you or someone you love dies and you cross paths with death, you need to only ask death one simple question: “O death, where is your sting?”

Death might try to answer you with a pale, menacing, frightening voice, “My sting is your sin. I sting because you sin. If you didn’t have sin, I would have no sting. But I sting everyone because all have sinned. I am the wages and payment of sin (Ro. 6:23). And I will sting you because your sin is my sting.”

But you can simply respond, “I know all of that, death. I know that my sin has put me under your thumb. I know that the Bible says, ‘The wages of sin is death.’ So, what you say is true. But, death, I didn’t ask you, ‘What is your sting?’ I asked you, ‘Where is your sting?’ So, death, where is it, where is your sting?”

And death might smile and respond, “You simple Christian, have you forgotten how powerful my sting is? It is more powerful than the most poisonous snake or spider or jellyfish. My sting is the most powerful sting imaginable. My sting burns forever because the power of my sting is fueled by the Law. Yes, God’s eternal Law that abides forever, and you have broken that Law over and over.”

But you can look back at death and say, “I know my sin is no small sting. I know my sin is against the God who created me and loves me. I know the penalty of my sin is everlasting death, and I feel it in my conscience. I also know that the Law is not ever going to go away. I know that God’s Commandments are eternal. In fact, the Law was what made me scared of you. Because of the good and righteous Law, I know what you can do to me. I know that your sting is my sin, and I know that the power behind that sting is the Law. But, death, you still have not answered my question. Where is your sting?”

At this point, death is uncomfortable and a little fidgety, but he musters as much gusto as possible and says, “Well, you are face-to-face with me, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am, but the sting of death is not death. The sting of death is sin. So, I ask you again, ‘Death, where is your sting?’”

Finally, death hangs his head. “I have used it, and I have lost it. But I’ll get it back again.”

Jesus Coming out of the TombAnd you can smile in his face, “Yes, death, you used your sting, didn’t you? You should have used your sting on me. The sting would have stuck on me. But you didn’t. Instead, death, you used your sting on my Savior, my God, and my Lord. You used your sting on Jesus, didn’t you? You had Jesus pinned tightly on the cross, and you stuck Him with your stinger and buried it into Him. Death, you were a fool that day. You stung God Himself. You stung Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn. 11:25). But when you went to the tomb to find your stinger and get it back, Jesus wasn’t there. And guess what, death, Christ has taken my sin as He hung on the cross. And, death, you will not ever get your sting back. Never. That empty tomb means that your sting is lost forever. Death, I don’t fear you any longer.”

And having no other answer, death now turns around and walks away from you.

Dear saints, this is why we celebrate every Easter and every Sunday. Every Sunday, we celebrate what Christ has done in absorbing the sting of death so that death no longer has his sting.

And the day is coming when Christ will return. On that day, the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable. The day is coming when your perishable body will put on the imperishable and your mortal body will put on immortality.

Yes, death can and does buzz around now for a while. But death is like a bee that has used its stinger and soon dies.

Dear saints, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Yes, the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. So now, Christian, you need have no fear of death. Jesus has conquered the bitter tyrant of death. And He has connected you to that victory. You do not need to fear and watch out for death hiding behind a corner to pounce on you. Instead, Christian, you continue to look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Because Christ is risen, death is overthrown. Christ is risen and life reigns. Christ is risen, and dear saint, you are safely anchored in Christ who has given you the victory, now and 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.

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Jesus Hid – Sermon on John 8:42-59 for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

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John 8:42-59

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

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

If you want to play a game you are sure to win, play hide and seek with a small child. When it comes to hiding, kids are silly. “Why is that door half closed?” “There can’t be anything attached to that leg sticking out from behind the couch.” “I wonder what could be under that bulging, wriggling blanket?” Kid hides with eyes closedOr my favorite, the boy standing in the middle of the room with his eyes closed tight. (To my great shame, I learned closing your eyes doesn’t make you invisible when I was in fourth grade.) Silly kids.

But adults are even more silly when it comes to hiding. The first game of hide and seek was when Adam hid from God because he was afraid. His hiding spot? A few leaves and a couple of trees. Did he really think he could hide from the Creator? I guess he did. Silly Adam. And then there was Israel’s first king (1 Sam. 10:20-24). Saul was a whole head taller than anyone else in Israel. But when God chose him as king, Saul went and hid behind some luggage. Silly Saul.

And, let’s consider the hiding you do. Do you really think you can keep hiding your crummy work and half-hearted efforts from your boss? For how long? Silly thief. Do you think you can keep making up stories? Silly liar. When you say, “Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but you should be aware that so-and-so is…,” we know you’re a loudmouth. Silly gossiper. Do your eyes keep wandering for more glances at that woman? Silly adulterer. Your anger is plain as the nose on your face. Silly murderer (Mt. 5:22). And even if you can hide your transgression from others, you can’t hide it from God. Silly sinner.

Repent. You’re guilty. You’re guilty, and you can’t hide it. Or do you really think you can stand before God’s wrath against your sin and say, “Well, nobody’s perfect”? Silly, silly sinner.

Repent. You don’t have to hide. Jesus has freed you to speak the truth and confess your sins. Christ has provided all the cover you will ever need – no luggage, no fig leaves, no closed eyes. He has provided His holy Body and Blood. Don’t hide your sins. Hand them over to Jesus. Let Him have them and receive what He wants to hand over to you – His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. You can hand your sins over to Jesus because, today, Jesus hid for you.

Jesus threatened by stonesJesus stood in the middle of people who have been looking for a reason to kill Him for almost His entire ministry (Mk. 3:6). Today, Christ declares Himself to be no less than Almighty God. When He declares Himself to be the great I Am, Jesus announces that He is the One who is Lord over all things, and the One who always was, always is, and always will be, the One who spoke to Moses from the burning bush, the One who led their ancestors through the Red Sea on dry ground, the One whom Isaiah saw in the Temple.

They didn’t like that, so they picked up stones to throw at Him and kill Him. Silly sinners, thinking they could kill God. But Jesus hid. Jesus didn’t hide because He was scared of death. He didn’t hide because didn’t trust His heavenly Father’s protection. Jesus hides because He is fully in control. Jesus hides so that He could die at the right time and in the right way. Judged and condemned twice, once by the religious leaders and a second time by Pilate. Jesus sentenced and condemned to death bearing all your sins in His body (1 Pet. 2:24).

Jesus hides here because His hour had not yet come. Christ had more to accomplish for you. He still had to raise Lazarus from the dead. He still had to institute His holy Supper. He still had to be betrayed by a kiss, arrested, and denied by Peter. Jesus had to hide here because His death won’t be by stones. It can’t be by stones; it must be on a tree for all to see. Today, Jesus hides Himself in the thicket so that He will be there at the right time to die in the place of another (Gen. 22:13) – to die in your place.

There on the cross, He must die for you. And then, He must be hidden again. Hidden at dusk on Friday night and all of Holy Saturday in that tomb sealed with a stone. Hidden with Him is the wrath of God, the Law, and Hell. Cross and CommunionAll of that is hidden so that you do not have to face it. It is hidden so that you do not need to hide.

And now, Jesus hides Himself again but this time in Bread and Wine. Soon, He will come in glory when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is the crucified Lord who is risen and reigns. And know that you are joined to Him. You have died with Him and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, you also will appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:3-4). Amen.[1]

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

[1]This sermon was adapted from a sermon by Rev. Ralph Tausz on the same text (http://www.apostlesmelrosepark.org/index.php?page=Sermons&sid=235).

Caught – Sermon on Genesis 3:1-21 for the First Sunday in Lent

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Genesis 3:1-21

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LordGod among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, Updated Crushing the Serpent's Head Cross
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;

on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree

of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’

cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,

till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;

for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

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

And, in this way, sin entered the world. Now, instead of running from the devil, Adam and Eve run from God. To really get at this text we need to see how faith is attacked, lost, and restored.

Scripture is clear, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4), and, “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Ro. 14:23). Adam and the woman had faith in God before the Fall. The faith that they had was created by the promise of God. This is may be a little bit difficult for us to grasp, but, when God created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and commanded Adam and the woman to not eat of it, He was giving them a promise to believe. God didn’t put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden so Adam and the woman could choose God or reject God. God put that tree in the garden as a promise. Basically, that tree was God acknowledging that there was evil, and by commanding them to not eat of it was God saying, “There is evil, but I don’t want you to experience or even know what evil is. If you know evil, it’s not going to go well for you. In fact, you are going to die.”

Temptation in the Garden of EdenBut Satan comes along and puts a question into the mind of the woman. “Did God actually say?” This is the one attack of the devil. He always is trying to get us to doubt the Word and promise of God. “Did God actually say, you should not eat of any tree in the garden?” And notice that the woman adds to God’s promise. She says, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, neither shall you touch it, less you die.’” God had never said anything about not touching the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (at least, it isn’t recorded for us). Satan is attacking God’s Word, but Adam and the woman have not fallen yet. The serpent sees his opening and tells an outright lie, “You will not surely die! For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Now, remember that God had created Adam and the woman in His image – they were already like God, and God declared that they were good. But Satan put before the woman the possibility of becoming more like God and better than they had already been created. It was an outright lie. So, when the woman sees that the tree is good for food, a delight to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise, she is seeing something that is not true. The devil’s lie has already taken root. In this way Adam and the woman’s faith is attacked.

Now, that faith is lost. The woman looked at the tree and saw that it was to be desired to make one wise. That phrase, right there, is so important as you go about your daily life. To tempt us into sin, the devil gets us to think that God is somehow holding out on us, that He hasn’t given or won’t give us everything we need to live and be happy. It’s a downright, blatant, brazen, barefaced lie. The devil wants us to ignore God’s Word and think that God is holding out on us and limiting our fun by giving us commands. Whenever we fall into sin, it is because we don’t trust that God is good and will give us all good things at the right time. Don’t listen to the devil’s lies.

Unfortunately, the woman does. She takes the fruit, eats it, gives some to her husband who is with her, and he eats. The eyes of both are opened. They had become something more. Now, they knew evil, but it was not better. What had been good, their nakedness, was no longer good. They sew fig leaves together to make themselves loincloths. Their faith is lost.

But now, we will see how beautifully God restores faith. Adam and the woman hear the sound of God walking in the garden, but they hide. They figured that God was coming in order to punish them. But the God who had created the heavens and the earth, the God who had created all the birds of the air, all the fish of the sea, and all the animals of the land didn’t need to come and find them in order to punish them. If God was going to punish them, there is no need to drag this whole thing out. God is not showing up in this text now to punish Adam and the woman. He’s coming to restore what was lost. He is coming to restore faith.

Adam and Eve hide from God.jpgBut even as God does this, we will see the horrific consequences that sin and evil has brought into God’s good creation. God calls to Adam, “Where are you?” God still wants to have fellowship with Adam and the woman even though they have sinned, broken His commandment, and lost their faith. But rather than confessing and repenting of his sin, Adam dodges the opportunity saying, “I hid from You because I was naked and afraid.” So, God gives Adam a second chance to repent, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

But sin has so marred Adam that he dodges this second opportunity. He blames the woman, but ultimately, notice that he blames God, “The woman, whom You gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.“ God gives the woman a chance to repent and asks her, “What is this you have done?“ But the woman doesn’t do much better than Adam, she says “The serpent deceived me and I ate.”

The terrible, horrific consequences of sin are already evident. Adam and the woman pass blame, they don’t protect or care for each other, the whole thing is an absolute mess. They are caught and they don’t return to God in faith asking for His mercy.

Adam and the woman will hear God tell them about the mess they have brought to creation – pain in childbirth, pain in eating, and death. But first things first. God’s first response isn’t to lay into Adam and the woman. The first thing God does is deal with Satan. God doesn’t have a conversation with the devil like He did with Adam and the woman. There, in the Garden, God told Satan that He was coming for him. God would send the Seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head. And Adam and the woman believe this because, notice, at the end of this text, she is no longer called ‘woman.’ Adam 1 Corinthians 13 7 - Love Bears All Thingsgives her the name Eve. She wasn’t called this at any point before in Scripture. Adam gives her the name ‘Eve’ which means ‘life-giver.’ Here’s how we know faith is restored. Eve was already going to be the mother of everyone who would be born. But Adam, the father of faith, changes her name to Eve because she is the mother of all who would believe in the promised Seed who would crush the serpent’s head.

God promised that He would free Adam, the woman, you, and me from the clutches of sin and death. And, today, we have seen Jesus doing this very thing. Opposed to Adam and the woman, who had no lack – they weren’t hungry – Jesus defeats the devil’s temptations in the wilderness when He was starving after fasting for forty days. Jesus will leave the wilderness and cast out the demons. He will heal, restore, forgive, and resurrect those who sit under the curse. But most importantly, He will suffer God’s wrath against all sin – your sin, my sin, the sin of the whole world – on the cross. He does this because though you are caught in sin, your God is merciful and gracious. He wants you to be caught in His loving arms for all eternity, safe and secure from all evil.

Repent. Believe. Live. Amen.

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

Even Now – Sermon for Ash Wednesday

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The texts for this evening were Joel 2:12-19 and Matthew 6:16-21.

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

In our Old Testament lesson, God called to His people (v. 12-13), “Yet even now, return to me with all your heart with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.”

Let’s break this down. “Yet even now.” Those are such beautiful words of Gospel. “Even now.” After everything you have done and left undone. After failing again and again into the same sin over and over. After refusing again and again to do the good God put you there to do for your neighbor. After you have broken trust, broken relationships, broken the hearts of those you should mend, even now, return to the one, true, holy, God.

But repeatedly in Scripture, God’s holy presence is the last place that sinners want to be. Adam and Eve hid from God’s holy presence after they had sinned and realized their nakedness. Standing in God’s holy presence, Isaiah said, “Woe to me, for I am undone.” Jonah fled from God’s holy presence when God called him to preach to Nineveh. Peter asked the holy Son of God to depart from him because he was a sinful man.

Holiness and sin cannot coexist. Just as light destroys the darkness, the brightness of holiness destroys the darkness of sin. But if we think that our sin has forever separated us from God, we are defying the very words of God in this text, “Yet even now, return to Me,” says your Holy God. This returning is repentance.

Return and repent with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Return and repent because the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Repentance has us saying, “Amen,” to God twice. “Amen” simply means yes, truly, absolutely, correct, right. We say “Amen” when God’s Law tells us that we are guilty of sin, when the Scriptures tell us that we deserve God’s wrath and punishment for our sins now, in this moment, and for all eternity. But repentance doesn’t stop there either.

Repentance says, “Amen,” when God speaks His Gospel over us, when God says that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake. That the suffering and death of Jesus has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west.

The first “Amen” is not easy to say. We don’t like to admit our failures and sins. We don’t like to admit that the wages our sin has earned is the bitterness, sickness, and hardships we face in this life. Instead, we blame others for the burdens we bear.

But the second “Amen” isn’t really any easier than the first. The devil and the world scream at us that the sacrifice of Jesus isn’t really enough. Our own flesh even says, “Well, it can’t be so easy as simply believing in Jesus.” But dear saints, that is when we need to say, “Shut up,” to the devil, the world, and our own flesh.

Just as God means it when He speaks the Law to say that your sins harm you and your neighbor, and more importantly that your sins separate you from Him, God also means it when He says that for the sake of Jesus He has forgiven you and blotted out your sins.

Through this Lenten season, we are going to be considering the Ten Commandments, and this will give us ample reasons to weep, lament, mourn, and rend our hearts because of our sin. However, we will also see the great gifts God is giving to us in each Commandment as well. But most importantly, we will see how Jesus has delivered us and calls us, “Even now, return to Me. Return to Me for I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

Your God has no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. Instead He would have you repent. Say, “Amen,” to His Law and to His Gospel. Amen.

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

The Lamp & the Darkness – Sermon on 2 Peter 1:16-21 for the Sunday of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

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2 Peter 1:16-21

transfiguration-icon16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

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

Peter, James, and John saw Jesus do many amazing things. Just think back on the sermons from the last few weeks. They were there when Jesus (according to John), “manifested His glory” by turning water into wine (Jn. 2:11). They saw Jesus touch a leper, and, instead of the disease spreading from the man and infecting Jesus, the cleanness of Jesus spreads to the man and his leprosy was gone (Mt. 8:1-4). They heard Jesus speak a word to heal a centurion’s paralyzed servant (Mt. 8:5-13). They were in a boat that was being swamped by the winds and the waves, and Jesus tells that storm to knock it off resulting in a great calm (Mt. 8:23-27). Peter, James, and John would see Jesus feed the masses, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead.

But, when Peter looks back on everything that Jesus did, and when Peter wants to let people know the truth of the Christian faith, Peter points the people to whom he wrote this letter to the Transfiguration. There on the holy mountain, Peter says he saw the power, the coming, and the majesty of Jesus with his own eyes. The Transfiguration is the greatest manifestation of the deity of Jesus. It is where Jesus’ divine nature, which He always had, shines through His human nature showing that He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.

The truth that God Himself came down to die and rise again to save all mankind from sin is not some cleverly devised myth. It is rooted in historical fact. Peter was there. He saw with his own eyes. Peter’s own ears heard God the Father preach a very important but very brief sermon, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (Mt. 17:5).

So, we could summarize v. 16-18 here as Peter saying, “Listen up. Our preaching of God coming down to rescue us from sin and death is not some myth or fairy tale. We preach Jesus as the Savior of the world because we saw His glory and power and majesty. We preach Jesus because we heard the very voice of God from heaven when we were with Jesus on the holy mountain of Transfiguration.”

And the rest of this text, which is where we are going to focus most of our attention, is the meaning, the take-away, of why the Transfiguration is still important for us today. And the reason might surprise you.

Normally, we think of the Transfiguration as mainly showing us the glory of who Jesus is. The Transfiguration certainly does do that. But listen to Peter’s conclusion: Verse 19, “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention to as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

The Transfiguration of Jesus does show the glory of Jesus, but even more so, according to this text, the Transfiguration shows us the glory of the Bible. Peter says here that it is better for you to have the Scriptures than for you to have been there with Jesus, Peter, James, John, Moses, and Elijah. It is better for you because the Scriptures, every last verse, show you of God’s great love for you. The shining face and dazzling clothes of Jesus point us to the shining and dazzling lamp of the Scriptures that shine in a dark place.

So where is this dark place? We might think that the lamp of the Scriptures shines in the darkness of this world. The Bible certainly does talk about the world being full of darkness and sin. In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, John writes that in Jesus was life, and “the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:4-5). That passage of Scripture says that the light of Jesus defeats the darkness of this world. Or consider Psalm 119:105, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” There, the Scriptures give a picture of the light of God’s Word giving us direction in this dark world so that we don’t stumble or go the wrong way.

But Peter seems to be saying something different here. He says to pay careful attention to the Scriptures as “a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises” – now catch this – “the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Dark HeartYou see, it’s not just the world and things outside of you that are a dark place. Your heart also has a darkness that needs the light of God’s Word. Peter doesn’t use the normal word for ‘dark’ here. In fact, the word that gets translated here as ‘dark’ is the only time in all the Scriptures where this word gets used. When I looked Greek the word up, the first definition is ‘squalid’ which is a word I don’t think I’ve ever used in normal conversation. So, I looked up ‘squalid’ and it means this, ‘foul and repulsive from a lack of care; neglected and filthy.’

Here is the picture: Sinner, your heart and my heart is a filthy, murky, dark place. Peter says that we do well to pay attention to the Word of God shining in the filthy, dirty, neglected, dark place of our hearts.

Many celebrities and influential people have been saying for a long time, “Follow your heart.” It sounds nice. It sounds good. But it is totally unscriptural. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Or maybe you have seen the little cartoon, it floats around social media from time to time. The picture is of a small child standing before Jesus and offering Jesus a red heart that looks like a nice valentine saying, “It’s all I have.” And Jesus is reaching out to take it replying, “It’s all I ever wanted.” That isn’t the picture that the Scriptures give us. It would be better if that heart were the color of dung. And Jesus says, “I’ll take that filthy, desperately sick thing from you and give you a new heart” (Ez. 36:26).

But back to Peter’s picture of the Scriptures shining like a lamp in the squalid (there, now I’ve used it), dank, neglected, filthy darkness of our hearts. We need the clear lamp of the Bible to shine through the dark places of our heart.

We walk around in a dark, dirty, and ugly house. We have all sorts of temptations within ourselves to sin. Whether it is more money, a better relationship, an image of something pleasant to look at, a bigger house, or accolades from others, we are tempted to think that those things will bring us happiness. And we are willing to do whatever it takes, whatever sin is necessary, to grab on to those things. But, when we pay attention, the lamp of the Scriptures shines in the darkness of our heart, we see – we clearly see – that those things are filthy. We see that those things are not worth comparing to the greatness of the treasures of God’s promises.

So, pay attention here because I’m going to read a long passage of the Scriptures to shine some of their light in your heart. It comes just a few verses before our text today. 2 Peter 1:3–11 (turn there if it will help you follow along) “[Christ’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so Light shining in darknessnearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

This is what the Scriptures do for you, believer. They shine in your heart to give you faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.

Dear saints, don’t be blinded by neglecting your Bible. You have been cleansed from your former sins. Grow and abound in the godly qualities that are yours through your God and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Liberated – Sermon on John 8:31-36 Remembering the Reformation

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John 8:31-36

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

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

The parable of the prodigal son was just that – a parable. It was a story Jesus told to teach the people that He had come to save, restore, and free sinners from their slavery to sin, death, and the devil. It was a parable. But that parable tells a story about two – not just one, but two – who are lost. The younger one was obviously lost. But the older brother had wandered farther away from his father even though he never left home.

Remember the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32)? He didn’t do all the wrong things his younger brother did.He didn’t tell his father to drop dead. He didn’t demand his inheritance be given to him so he could move away and blow it all. He didn’t end up in the pig-pen. He didn’t have to come crawling home begging for daddy to make him a servant. No, the older brother hadn’t done anything wrong.

Instead, that older brother insists that he did all the right things. He was dutifully working in his father’s field when his despicable brother returned. And when his father came outside to compel him to come in to the party celebrating his brother’s restoration, he answered his father, “I’ve served,” notice that, “I’ve servedyou my whole life. I’ve never disobeyed your command. I’ve never wasted your money. But when this son of yours comes home, you go and kill the fattened calf for him.”

And the parable ends with the father pleading for his older son to come inside the house and join his party.

Now, bring this picture of the older brother stubbornly standing outside the party with his father pleading him to come in. Bring that picture to the text before us now. Jesus says, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.”

Jesus is speaking to people who believed in Him. Please note that, these people believed in Him. But when Jesus tells them that the truth will set them free, they aren’t interested in the freedom that Jesus offers because they figured they haven’t ever been slaves to anyone (which is ironic because they are basically slaves to Rome and Caesar). But they honestly thought they were already free.

Their belief in their freedom was a lie. And they had a more demanding master than Caesar. They were enslaved to their sin. They figured they had done all the right things, and they denied ever doing anything wrong.

So, when Jesus tells them, “The truth will set you free,”they balk at the idea. They honestly don’t think they needed the freedom that Jesus offers.

As the Gospel of John will continue to play out, the people following Jesus will dwindle. In just a handful of chapters, Jesus’ followers will be few enough that they will fit around a table in the upper room. And the people Jesus is speaking to here in our text, again people who had believed in Him, will be found crying, “Crucify Him.”

Jesus says, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Freedom, liberation comes from the truth. The truth must be learned. You must be discipled. And the only place that learning, that discipling, happens is in the Word. And not just any ‘word,’ but the Word of Jesus. If you want to be free, if you want to be liberated, you must learn the truth of Jesus’ Word.

Listen to what the Scriptures teach. Listen to what Jesus teaches in His Word. Jesus teaches in His Word that you cannot set yourself free from sin. Sin is stronger than you are. You cannot simply choose the good and avoid the evil. You do not have free will. It sounds nice, but it’s not true. Your flesh is totally and completely corrupted by sin.

How do you know this? Because that’s what God’s Word teaches, and God cannot lie. We heard in our epistle lesson (Ro. 3:19-28) that God’s Law finds all of us guilty so that every mouth is stopped, and we are all held accountable to God.

You are a sinner. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” ‘All’ means ‘all.’ ‘All’ includes you. You have sinned. You have fallen short of the glory of God. You practice sin. You are a slave.

Learn this. God demands that you obey His commands. But you demand your own way. God says, “Do this,” and you don’t. God says, “Don’t do that,” and there you are doing what was forbidden.

But here also is the truth of God’s Word. Here is the truth that sets you free, sinner.

God has sent His Son, Jesus. Jesus has redeemed you. His obedience, His righteousness, His perfection, His life, His shed blood, His death, His resurrection was and is all for you. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Yes, “all have sinned.” But for you who abide by faith in Christ Jesus, “there is no condemnation.” None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothin’. No condemnation.

It doesn’t matter what the world thinks. It doesn’t matter what other people think. It doesn’t even matter what you think. There is no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus.

Christian, you don’t ever get beyond this truth of God’s Word in this life. Learn it. Abide in it. Because in it is freedom. In the truth of Jesus’ Word that you are a sinner liberated by Jesus, there is freedom. In that truth, Jesus sets you free, and you are free indeed.

We celebrate it as a congregation today, but Wednesday will mark the 501stAnniversary of Martin Luther walking from his dwelling to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg Germany to nail his 95 Theses. The events that followed changed history.

But we would be wrong to look only at Luther as the one who caused the things that followed. Luther even said so. He described himself as a rotting bag of flesh who did nothing but preach and teach the Word of God. The Word of God did everything.

May we cling faithfully to that Word of God, and may it change us from slaves and captives to sin to liberated sons and daughters of our heavenly Father so that we may dwell with Jesus in God’s house forever. Amen.

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

Death & Beauty – Sermon on Luke 7:11-17 for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

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Luke 7:11-17

11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. The Resurrection of the Widow's Son at Nain12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

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

Funeral processions – you see them from time to time. A hearse drives down the road followed by a line of cars driving from a church or funeral home on their way to a cemetery. Car after car follows the dead body of the husband or wife, brother or sister, father or mother, child or friend. You see death, and out of respect you pause for the mourners. You yield the right-of-way and let death pass.

Contrast a funeral procession with a parade.

Parades are also long lines of people and vehicles. Parades are also given the right-of-way. Out of respect for the people in the parade you smile and wave no matter how silly the costume no matter how poorly the band is marching and playing, no matter how vehemently you disagree with the political candidate. It is a parade. Parades are happy.

Well, what happens when a parade – a line of celebration, happiness, and glee –  meets a funeral procession – a line of despair, mourning, and death? That is precisely what happens in our text today, and Luke gives beautiful details.

Jesus is at the height of His popularity; a great crowd follows Him – people who have been healed or were witnesses of Jesus giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the diseased, and good news to all. Jesus is bringing the reign of God to earth, and a parade follows Him.

But as this parade following Jesus reaches the gate of Nain (which means ‘Beautiful’), they meet something ugly – the funeral procession for a young man. Luke tells us that this young man was the only begotten son of his mother. Death has reared its ugly head to the town called ‘Beautiful.’

This mother is familiar with funeral processions. She had walked out of that same gate following the same path to the same cemetery to bury her husband. Even though the road was familiar, the procession has lost none of its bite or pain. In fact, this procession is more bitter, more final because, now, this widow is truly alone (1 Tim. 5:3-5).

You would think that, out of compassion for this widow, Jesus would respectfully turn His parade aside in quiet respect for the dead. You would think that happiness and joy would pause and defer to mourning and death. But you would be wrong. Jesus and His parade simply will not yield. And what Jesus does is so foreign to our thinking.

If you saw a hearse leading a line of cars to a cemetery, you would not swerve in front of the hearse blocking the road. You would not demand that the driver get out of the vehicle and throw the keys into the ditch. You would not go to the back of the hearse and pull out the casket. And you certainly wouldn’t open the casket revealing the body and start speaking to it. But that is what Jesus does.

There’s no question that Jesus has compassion on this woman, but it doesn’t pass for what we would call compassion. Jesus speaks only two words to this woman, “Weep not.”Imagine telling a parent who is mourning the death of a child, “Quit crying.” But as shocking as that is, Jesus goes even further – He stops the procession, touches the bier, and speaks to that dead flesh, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

The dead boy sits up and is given back to his mother. He is put back where he belonged.

Jesus does not yield to death. Instead, death yielded to Jesus. This account reminds us of another time when Jesus and death marched toward each other.

Then, the funeral procession began long before death stuck its blow. Jesus Carries His Own CrossThe funeral procession began at the sentencing as crowds shouted out, “Crucify, crucify Him.” In that funeral procession, Jesus carried His own bier, His own cross, until He could carry it no more. A great crowd of people followed Jesus mourning and lamenting for Him. But even in the midst of that funeral procession, Jesus’ words are the same, “Weep not”(Lk. 23:26-28).

At that confrontation between Jesus and death, Jesus’ own widowed mother mourned the loss of her Son. In that epic meeting between Jesus and death, by all appearances, death had won. The Man who had raised the dead was now dead. His corpse buried, and for three days it rested in the ground from which it was taken.

But, once again, death gave way to Jesus.

Funeral processions can get ugly. The weeping and mourning and wailing can make us uncomfortable. Even though death is in your future, you deny or ignore it. Be honest, you see everything around you rotting, decaying, and dying. You have grown so accustomed to sin and being around death that you don’t notice it very often.

This morning, you were part of a funeral procession. You are guilty of sin, so the stink of death hangs around you. You are part of your own, constant funeral procession. Young and old – man, woman, and child – you all dragged some dead thing here with you today.

Is it your relationship with your spouse that is slowly dying, and yet you stand idly by?

Is it the cadaver of disobedience to parents or others in authority over you? You only do what you need to get by, even though you know you could do more.

What dead thing have you brought with you?

Is it the dying remains of your finances that cause you to worry and doubt, or simply discontentment with what God has given you?

Is it the carcass of lust that flames within you?

Is it the rottenness of pride that is so focused inward that you do not see the needs of others? A pride that boasts in your own accomplishments and belittles others?

What dead thing have you brought here with you?

Maybe, it is not even your fault. Maybe, it is just the fear of what will happen in the future. Maybe, it Is the worry and concern you have for others. Maybe it is anger for how your neighbor has wronged you. Maybe, your dead thing is your own sick, crumbling body. What dead thing have you brought here with you?

You are in your own funeral procession. Yes, maybe it will be months, years, or decades before you are finally lowered into the ground, but from the time you were born you have been marching toward your grave. Just admit it.

Jesus approaches your funeral procession, and He does not stop; Jesus does not yield.  Jesus does not give way or defer to death; He doesn’t have time for it.

Cross and CommunionInstead, Jesus defeats death, each and every time He meets it.

Jesus is here today. Jesus meets you as you plod along in your personal funeral procession and gives you life. Jesus meets you at this altar, this beautiful gate, to give you His living Body and His life-giving Blood. Amen.

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

This sermon was reworked from 2014.