Faith that defies gravity

Sermon for the week of Epiphany 4

Romans 4:16-25  +  Matthew 14:22-33

Another storm on the Sea of Galilee, another miracle—two of them, actually—and, once again, the appearance of fear, doubt, and panic. The main point is similar to the main point in the Gospel from this past Sunday. But there is a little twist in this account that’s well worth considering.

It had been a very long day, including the feeding of the 5,000. When night fell, Jesus sent His disciples across the sea, while He stayed behind by Himself for a while to pray.

They spent the whole night rowing, but the boat was “tossed by the waves because the wind was contrary.” It was the fourth watch, almost morning, but they hadn’t gotten very far. Then, in the moonlight, they looked back over the waters and saw what they thought must have been a ghost, because it was walking on top of the water, and people just don’t do that kind of thing. It was Jesus. He called out to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter wanted to make sure he wasn’t just hearing things or seeing things. Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” “Come,” Jesus said. So Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. It’s one thing for the All-powerful Son of God to defy gravity, but it’s another thing when a simple human being does it. And notice where the power was. Peter didn’t just get it in his head that he could walk on water, too. He didn’t just believe he could do it. He very wisely waited for Jesus’ command, for Jesus’ word telling him he could come out and walk on the water. Once he had it, he had something to put his faith in.

That’s an important lesson about faith. Real faith is always based on a specific command or promise of God. If God hasn’t said it, you have no right to believe it. But if God has said it, you can bet your life on it, even if it defies all logic, even if it defies the laws of gravity.

So Peter was doing well for a while. His faith was focused on Jesus’ power and Jesus’ word to him, empowering him to walk on the water. But when Peter saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid and began to sink.  Peter focused on the wind, and faith took backseat to his logic. “How can I possibly stay on my feet? How am I able to walk on water, anyway? Hey, what I’m doing is impossible. That wind! Those waves! I can’t do this; I can’t walk on water. Oh, man. Now I’m sinking. It’s getting worse. See, I knew it, I can’t walk on water! I’m going to drown!”

Peter took his eyes off Jesus. He looked away, with his heart, focusing on the problem, on the crisis of wind and waves, allowing his heart to be pried off of Jesus’ word. That’s the definition of doubt: to stop trusting in what Jesus says, and to start thinking that maybe Jesus won’t do what He said He would do. That’s a formula for disaster.

As we learned on Sunday, the real danger in any danger is not the danger itself. It’s that the danger will scare us away from trusting in Jesus’ word and promise.

Crises are bound to come into every believer’s life. There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle a crisis. Peter showed us here – the wrong way: Take your eyes off Jesus. Look at the problem, focus on the problem, see the wind and the waves as bigger than Jesus, more powerful than Jesus, more real than Jesus’ word. Isn’t that just what we tend to do in a crisis? Forget everything else! Deal with the problem! Obsess over the problem! Try to figure it out, find a solution! Dwell on the problem! When I figure it out, when the wind dies down, then, then I’ll listen to God’s Word again. What foolishness! Just the opposite of what the real solution is!

Peter’s panic didn’t completely drive him to despair. He didn’t sit there, sinking down into the water, thinking, “Oh, I let Jesus down. He’ll never help me now. I’m just going to sink down and drown, I guess.” No. What did he do? Even then, as he sank deeper and deeper into the dark waters, with all of his doubt still intact, Peter looked back to Jesus to save him. “Lord, save me!” he cried out. He doubted Jesus’ word and was suffering for it, but Peter didn’t lose sight of Jesus as his Savior.

And Jesus did save him, in more ways than one. Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him. He didn’t let Peter drown. He didn’t make him splash around in the water for a while, gasping for air until he had learned his lesson. Immediately, he saved his sinking saint.

And then he refocused Peter’s faith. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”  “Don’t you know by now, Peter, that if I say something, it will always be the truth? That if I promise something, it will always come to pass? Don’t you know that My Word is more reliable than your own senses and more powerful than anything in all creation? Why did you doubt?”

Peter didn’t answer, but we know what the answer is, because we, too, are sinful human beings, easily fooled into believing that our problems are more real than Jesus. Like Peter, we’re sinful, weak human beings who know how easy it is to let the noise of problems and crises drown out the Word of God. What specific promise of Jesus gets obscured in your heart at times when the wind howls and the waves crash? That He really is working all things together for your good? That He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear? That He will provide for all your bodily needs? That He will be there on the other side of death to receive you into His heavenly kingdom?

Jesus had all of His disciples, and you and me, in mind on that night out on the water of Galilee. As soon as He and Peter climbed into the boat, the wind died down. That wind had been there for a reason: to teach us how easily our faith can lose its focus on Jesus and start to sink, so that we know what to do when we do start to sink, and so that, just maybe, we won’t allow the wind to distract us in the future.

When the walls are closing in around you…When it gets harder and harder to breathe…When you’re sinking into despair or depression or a pit of hopelessness…When you’re surrounded by evil…When, on your deathbed, the devil tries one last time to accuse your conscience… You remember this miracle of the sinking saint! You remember to focus on Jesus and His Word which pries your faith off of the wind and the waves and refocuses it on Him! And if you have doubted and have already begun the sinking process, don’t wallow in self-pity or let the guilt of your doubt pull you down into the dark waters. Even as you’re sinking, you do as Peter did and look up to Jesus! “Lord, save me!” Remember the body and blood of your Savior, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins and given to you in His Sacrament to give you miraculous power over sin, and fear and doubt. Amen.

Source: Sermons

The real danger of any danger



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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Romans 13:8-10  +  Matthew 8:23-27

The Holy Spirit puts special emphasis on the story you heard today in the Gospel, when Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record this event. It was important. It was another great Epiphany of the Lord Jesus: Jesus has authority over the wind and the waves.

Does that strike you? I wonder. We’ve known Jesus through the Holy Scriptures for so long, we’ve come to expect it of Him, that He can speak a word to the roaring winds, and they listen. That He can talk to the waves of the sea, and they immediately obey. That’s awesome power—power His disciples had seen before, but still not quite on this scale. They had seen six jars of water changed into wine. They had seen people with illnesses made whole. They had seen demons forced to obey the authority of the Son of God (as we heard this morning in the Sunday School lesson). They had seen another kind of miracle at sea, the first miraculous catch of fish. Amazing, all of it. But there is something special about being able to stare up at the raging sky and tell it to shush, something about staring at the raw forces of nature and being able to tell them to behave. Not with magic or with a spell. But by the divine power that brought the earth into existence with a word, that set the sun and the moon and the planets in their places in the solar system, and that brought out the stars by name throughout all the galaxies of the universe. That’s power.

That’s who Jesus is. So, does it make any sense to be afraid of a storm, knowing that Jesus is the ruler of the wind and the waves, and knowing that Jesus is the one who initiated this voyage across the sea, as all three Gospels record? It was Jesus who got into the boat. It was Jesus who said, “Let’s cross over to the other side” of the lake.

Ah, but the disciples didn’t know yet, at the beginning of the voyage, that Jesus could actually calm the wind and the sea! Maybe not. But they should have. They had seen all those other miracles. They had heard all His preaching. He had already promised to give them everlasting life, and to make them His apostles to go out into the world and “catch men.” They had already confessed Him (privately) to be the Christ. They had left their livelihoods behind in order to follow Him. They had already put their faith in Him and were resting their eternal souls on Him as the Savior sent from God. Does it make any sense to think that a storm out at sea might just be able to undo all that Jesus had promised and all that He had already done? Could a storm stand in His way? Or could He simply allow them to perish at sea, after promising to make them workers in His kingdom?

No, their fear makes no sense. Fear never makes sense for the Christian.

Oh, it makes perfect sense for the non-Christian. If you don’t know who the true God is, if you’re living in rebellion against your Creator, if you’ve recreated a god in your own image who has no basis in reality, if you’re still wallowing in the filth of your sins, unclean, unclaimed, unwashed in the baptismal blood of Christ…then you must be afraid of literally everything. And if you’re not, you should be. Because our God is a consuming fire, as the writer to the Hebrews says. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

But the one who has heard and believed the Gospel that God loved the world so that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life, the one who has received Christ’s baptism, who confesses Him as Lord, who knows Him to be the great King who rules over the vast galaxies of the universe and also over the tiniest atoms that make up our bodies—why should a Christian ever panic? Why should we ever be afraid? If God is for us, as St. Paul writes, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, he says, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

But our Gospel today shows us the flaw that still plagues God’s children, the senseless fear of little children who normally trust their parents, but who, in a moment of crisis, in a moment of danger, suddenly stop trusting them. I would guess that all parents have seen it. We’ve seen it. In a moment of crisis, even Christians are sorely tempted to revert back to our default, spiritual fetal position, if you will—in which we believe that there is no God who can help, no God who can save. I’m on my own. I’m all by myself. Either I figure it all out myself, or all hope is lost. If God is there, He must not care. Or He must be sleeping.

And that’s just where we find Jesus during the storm at sea, while His disciples were panicking and terrified. He was asleep in the back of the boat.

How could He sleep through all that? Well, for one thing, He was actually tired! He had spent the day there by the sea, healing the people, teaching the people. It was exhausting. But more importantly, His own perfect trust in His Father’s providence allowed Him to sleep, because while He, the Son of God, had become a man and now needed sleep in this state of humiliation, God the Father is always awake. As the Psalm says, I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. Or again, I will lie down in peace, and sleep. For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. And again, The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Jesus was not only the divine Author, but also the perfect human pray-er of those Psalms. He shows us what perfect faith, perfect trust looks like.

And then the Holy Spirit shows us what imperfect faith looks like in the disciples. “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” It seems like they said it as a last resort, after all their efforts against the storm had failed to keep the boat safe. It should have been their first resort, and not with the fear of, “We are perishing!” But with the trust of the Psalmist, As for me, I will call upon God, and the LORD shall save me.

That wasn’t the faith the disciples demonstrated. But Jesus got up, spoke one word to the wind and another to the waves. And all was still. And for as important and as impressive as it was for the disciples to learn the almighty power of Jesus, the more important lesson was about to follow as Jesus spoke to them: “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”

Why are you fearful? You shouldn’t be. But sometimes you are and all the time the devil wants to take advantage of the danger to drive you away from faith. You see, the real danger of any danger is not the danger itself. The real danger is that the danger will scare you out of trusting in the Lord Christ to help.

As today’s Gospel shows us, nothing is out of Christ’s control. Even now He rules over all things, though the time has not yet come for Him to make all things right. There are still lots of perils and dangers in this world, but there is no good reason for the Christian to fear. Christ has made you His friends and companions. He’ll help you face the danger. He’ll help you bear up under the burden. He may remove it entirely. Or, if not—because He has never promised in His Word to spare you from all grief in this sin-filled world—He’ll give you the wisdom and the courage and the strength you need in the hour of trial. He’ll forgive you your sins. He’ll be your loving God and Father, your truest Friend and Companion.

Remember what Jesus did that day on the Sea of Galilee with those fearful disciples of little faith. He saved them. He patiently taught them and slowly built up their faith, so that, eventually, they learned not to be so afraid.

Now, maybe next time you’re in danger, you won’t be quite as afraid. Now, maybe next time, you’ll remember not to panic, not to forget about God, not to turn to Him as a last resort, but to go to Him first, not in fear and terror, but in childlike trust. Amen.

Source: Sermons

Luther Sermon for Epiphany 4

Luther’s Sermon for the FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY.
Text: Matthew 8:23-27 (KJV)

I. OF FAITH AND UNBELIEF.

1. This Gospel, as a narrative, gives us an example of faith and unbelief, in order that we may learn how mighty the power of faith is, and that it of necessity has to do with great and terrible things and that it accomplishes nothing but wonders; and that on the other hand unbelief is so fainthearted, shamefaced and trembling with fear that it can do nothing whatever. An illustration of this we see in this experience of the disciples, which shows the real state of their hearts. First, as they in company with Christ entered the ship, all was calm and they experienced nothing unusual, and had any one asked them then if they believed, they would have answered, Yes. But they were not conscious of how their hearts trusted in the calm sea and the signs for fair weather, and that thus their faith was founded upon what their natural eyes saw. But when the tempest comes and the waves fill the boat, their faith vanishes; because the calm and peace in which they trusted took wings and flew away, therefore they fly with the calm and peace, and nothing is left but unbelief.

2. But what is this unbelief able to do? It sees nothing but what it experiences. It does not experience life, salvation and safety; but instead the waves coming into the boat and the sea threatening them with death and every danger. And because they experience these things and give heed to them and turn not their fear from them, trembling and despair can not be suppressed. Yea, the more they see and experience it the harder death and despair torment them and every moment threatens to devour them. But unbelief cannot avoid such experiences and cannot think otherwise even for a second. For it has nothing besides to which it can hold and comfort itself, and therefore it has no peace or rest for a single minute. And thus will it also be in perdition, where there will be nothing but despair, trembling and fear, and that without end.

3. But had they had faith, it would have driven the wind and the waves of the sea out of their minds, and pictured before their eyes in place of the wind and tempest the power and grace of God, promised in his Word; and it would have relied upon that Word, as though anchored to an immovable rock and would not float on the water, and as though the sun shined brightly and all was calm and no storm was raging. For it is the great characteristic and power of faith to see what is not visible, and not to see what is visible, yea, that which at the time drives and oppresses us; just as unbelief can see only what is visible and can not in the least cleave to what is invisible.

4. Therefore God bestows faith to the end that it should deal not with ordinary things, but with things no human being can master as death, sin, the world and Satan. For the whole world united is unable to stand before death, but flees from and is terrified by it, and is also conquered by it; but faith stands firm, opposes death that devours everything, and triumphs over it and even swallows the unsatiable devourer of life. In like manner no one can control or subdue the flesh, but it reigns everywhere in the world, and what it wills must be done, so that the whole world thereby is carnal; but faith lays hold of the flesh and subdues and bridles it, so that it must become a servant. And in like manner no one can endure the rage, persecution, and blasphemy, infamy, hatred and envy of the world; every one retreats and falls back exhausted before it, it gets the upper hand over all and triumphs; and if they are without faith it mocks them besides and treads all under its feet, and takes pleasure and delight in doing so.

5. Further, who could conquer Satan with his innumerable, subtle suggestions and temptations, by which he hinders the truth and God’s Word, faith and hope, and starts so many false doctrines, sects, seductions, heresies, doubts, superstitions and innumerable abominations? The whole world compared with him is like a spark of fire compared with a fountain of water. All must be here subject to him; as we also see, hear and understand. But it is faith that keeps him busy, and it not only stands before him invulnerable, but also reveals his roguery and puts him to shame, so that his deception fails and he faints and falls; as now takes place with his indulgences and his papacy. Just so no one can allay and quiet the least sin, but it bites and devours the conscience, so that nothing avails even if the whole world were to comfort and support such a person, he must be cast down into perdition. Here faith is a hero, it appeases all sins, even if they were as many as the whole world had committed.

6. Is there now not something almighty and inexpressible about faith that it can withstand all our powerful enemies and gain the victory, so that St. John says in his first Epistle 1 John 5:4: “This is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith?” Not that this is done in peace and by quietly resting; for it is a battle that is carried on not with out wounds and shedding of blood. Yea, the heart so severely experiences in this battle sin and death, the flesh, Satan and the world, that it has no other thought than that it is lost, that sin and death have triumphed, and that Satan holds the field of battle. The power of faith however experiences but little of that. This is set forth in our narrative, when the waves not only dashed into the boat, but even covered it, so that it was about to go under and sink, and Christ was lying asleep. Just then there was no hope of life, death had the upper hand and had triumphed; life was lying prostrate and was lost.

7. As it went here, so it goes and must go in all other temptations of sin, Satan, etc. We must experience how sin has taken captive the conscience and nothing but wrath and perdition wish to reign, and how we must be eternally lost. Satan must start so many things by his error and false teaching that it appears God’s Word must fall to the ground and the world must glory in falsehood. Likewise the world must rage and persecute to such an extent that it appears no one can stand or be saved, or even confess his faith; but Cain will rule alone and will not rest until his brother is dead, so that he may never be in his way. But we must not judge and act according to appearance and our experience, but according to our faith.

8. Therefore this Gospel is a comforting example and doctrine, how we should conduct ourselves, so that we may not despair in the agony of sin, in the peril of death, and in the tumult of the world; but be assured that we are not lost, although the waves at once overwhelm our little boat; that we will not perish, although we experience in our evil conscience sin, wrath, and the lack of grace; that we will not die, although the whole world hates and persecutes us, although it opens its jaws as wide as the rosy dawn of the morning. These are all waves that fall over your little bark, cause to despair, and force you to cry out: “Save, Lord; we perish”. Thus you have here the first part of this Gospel, faith, how it should thrive and succeed, and besides, how incapable and fainthearted unbelief is.

II. OF LOVE.

9. The second part of our text, treating of love, shows forth Christ in that he rises, breaks his sleep for their sake, takes to heart their need as though it were his own, and ministers to them help out of free love without any merit on their part. He neither receives nor seeks any reward for his help, but permits them to enjoy and use his power and resources. For as we have often heard it is characteristic of Christian love to do all freely and gratuitously, to the praise and honor of God, that a Christian lives upon the earth for the sake of such love, just as Christ lived solely for the purpose of doing good; as he himself says: “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” Matthew 20:28.

III. THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THIS NARRATIVE.

10. Christ pictured to us in this narrative the Christian life, especially the office of the ministry. The ship signifies Christendom; the sea, the world; the wind, Satan; his disciples are the preachers and pious Christians; Christ is the truth, the Gospel, and faith.

11. Now, before Christ entered the ship with his disciples the sea and the wind were calm; but when Christ with his disciples entered, then the storm began, as he himself says, Matthew 10:34: “Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace but a sword.” So, if Christ had left the world in peace and never punished its works, then it would indeed have been quiet. But since he preaches that the wise are fools, the saints are sinners and the rich are lost, they become wild and raging; just as at present some critics think it would be fine if we merely preached the Gospel and allowed the office of the ministry to continue in its old way. This they would indeed tolerate; but that all their doings should be rebuked and avail nothing, that they call preaching discontent and revolution, and is not Christian teaching.

12. But what does this Gospel say? There was a violent tempest on the lake when Christ and his disciples were in the ship. The sea and the wind allowed the other ships to sail in calm weather; but this ship had to suffer distress because of Christ being in it. The world can indeed tolerate all kinds of preaching except the preaching of Christ. Hence whenever he comes and wherever he is, there he preaches that he only is right and reproves all others; as he says in Matthew 12:30: “He that is not with me is against me”, and again, John 16:8: “The spirit will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment;” he says that he will not only preach, but that he will convict the whole world and what is in the world. But it is this convicting that causes such tempests and dangers to this ship. Should he preach that he would allow the world to go unpunished and to continue in its old ways, he would have kept quiet before and never have entered the world; for if the world is good and is not to be convicted then there would never have been any need of him coming into the world.

13. Now it is the consolation of Christians, and especially of preachers, to be sure and ponder well that when they present and preach Christ, that they must suffer persecution, and nothing can prevent it; and that it is a very good sign of the preaching being truly Christian, when they are thus persecuted, especially by the great, the saintly, the learned and the wise.

And on the other hand that their preaching is not right, when it is praised and honored, as Christ says in Luke 6:22-26: “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you; for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake; in the same manner did their fathers to the prophets.” Behold our preachers, how their teachings are esteemed; the wealth, honor and power of the world have them fully under their control, and still they wish to be Christian teachers, and whosoever praises and preaches their ideas, lives in honor and luxury.

14. Hence, people have here an example where they are to seek their comfort and help, not in the world; they are not to guard the wisdom and power of men, but Christ himself and him alone; they are to cleave to him and depend on him in every need with all faithfulness and confidence as the disciples, do in our text. For had they not believed that he would help them, they would not have awakened him and called upon him. True their faith was weak and was mingled with much unbelief, so that they did not perfectly and freely surrender themselves to Christ and risk their life with him, nor did they believe he could rescue them in the midst of the sea and save them from death. Thus it is ordained that the Word of God has no master nor judge, no protector or patron can be given it besides God himself. It is his Word. Therefore, as he left it go forth without any merit or counsel of men, so will he himself without any human help and strength administer and defend it. And whoever seeks protection and comfort in these things among men, will both fall and fail, and be forsaken by both God and man.

15. That Jesus slept indicates the condition of their hearts, namely, that they had a weak, sleepy faith, but especially that at the time of persecution Christ withdraws and acts as though he were asleep, and gives neither strength nor power, neither peace nor rest, but lets us worry and labor in our weakness, and permits us to experience that we are nothing at all and that all depends upon his grace and power, as Paul confesses in Corinthians 1:9, that he had to suffer great affliction, so as to learn to trust not in himself but in God, who raised the dead. Such a sleeping on the part of God David often experienced and refers to it in many places, as when he says in Psalm 44:23: “Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? Arise, cast us not off forever.”

16. The summary of this Gospel is this, it gives us two comforting, defying proverbs, that when persecution for the sake of God’s Word arises, we may say: I indeed thought Christ was in the ship, therefore the sea and wind rage, and the waves dash over us and threaten to sink us; but let them rage, it is ordained that the wind and sea obey his will. The persecutions will not continue longer than is his pleasure; and although they overwhelm us, yet they must be subject to him; he is Lord over all, therefore nothing will harm us. May he only give us his help that we may not despair in unbelief. Amen.

17. That the people marveled and praised the Lord that the wind and sea were subject to him, signifies that the Gospel, God’s Word, spreads farther through persecution, it thus becomes stronger and faith increases; and this is also a paradoxical characteristic of the Gospel compared with all worldly things which decrease through every misfortune and opposition, and increase through prosperity and peace. Christ’s kingdom grows through tribulations and declines in times of peace, ease and luxury, as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My power is made perfect in weakness, etc.” To this end help us God! Amen.

Source: Sermons

Salvation by faith in Christ, salvation by faith for all



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Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Romans 12:16-21  +  Matthew 8:1-13

Our Gospel is a simple lesson—a beautiful lesson! — about the power, the goodwill and the kindness of Jesus, and about the faith that relies on His power, His goodwill, His kindness, and especially, on His Word.

At the same time, it’s a lesson about healing, a lesson about salvation, taught through the leper who was cleansed and through the centurion whose servant was healed. Very simply, salvation is by faith in Jesus. Salvation by faith is for all.

First, we’re confronted with the leper in the Gospel, the man who was infected with that terrible, ugly skin disease that forced him to live in pain and in isolation. Now, God uses outward, physical things to teach us about inner, spiritual things. (We see that here and we’ll see it again when we come to the Roman centurion.) Leprosy portrays on the outside what is true for all men by nature on the inside. We are all born with ugly, rotting, diseased souls. The sores that this man wore on the outside are symbolic of the sores we all bear on the inside. Not the kind of sores that come from injuries—that come from other people hurting us. No, these sores come from our own spiritual disease, from hearts that are turned inward as we look out for ourselves, chasing after whatever we can get for ourselves, clinging to whatever we can keep for ourselves, getting angry about any injury that we see others committing against ourselves, turning our own reason into divine truth, turning ourselves into our own gods.

Leprosy was an object lesson in sin, especially original sin. The leper’s leprosy called out to him 24/7/365, you are unclean. Your imperfections are not just skin deep. You are diseased from within. You are not worthy to enter God’s presence or to dwell with God’s people. And what his leprosy called out to him, it also called out to everyone who encountered him: what I am on the outside, you are, too, on the inside.

But the kindness and goodness of Jesus, and the signs and wonders He had done in Israel, even the great Sermon on the Mount that He had just finished preaching, also called out to that leper, and to everyone in Israel, “There is One who can help! There is One who can heal, both inside and out. There is One whose Word can make you clean! His name is Jesus of Nazareth.”

That Gospel, that good report about Jesus, worked faith in the leper’s heart, faith so solid, so steady, that he knew without a doubt that Jesus could heal him, could make him clean. And faith so simple and childlike that he could phrase his request so humbly, “If you are willing, You can make me clean.” He yielded himself entirely to the goodwill of Jesus. And he rested all his hope on the Word of Jesus, waiting expectantly on that Word of healing. And, of course, he wasn’t disappointed. “I am willing. Be cleansed.”

This is why Jesus had come, to show the goodwill of God in His own Person, to teach men that they are lost, but that He had been sent to find them, to save them. During those brief years of His life on earth, really, just the brief three years of His ministry, He gave men a taste of His goodness, a sign of His goodwill, and He refused no one, because the whole point was to show mankind that faith in Jesus is what heals. Faith in Jesus is what saves. Physical healing pointed to all the healing—both physical and spiritual—that Jesus does now and will do at the resurrection of the dead.

Tell no one, Jesus told the leper. But go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them. Why tell no one? Because, while the testimony of the leper would be good, the testimony of Moses would be even better. It was the Law of Moses that condemned the leper as unclean, that forced him to live in isolation. But now the Law of Moses could no longer condemn him as unclean. Because the Law of Moses has been satisfied. The leper has been cleansed of his leprosy; the sinner has been cleansed of his sins by faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to preach that the Law of Moses was bad, or that it had no right to condemn, but that, since He Himself has fulfilled the Law, He has the right to forgive sins, to cleanse and to justify the ungodly by faith in His blood. The unclean are no longer unclean when they believe in Jesus. Salvation is by faith in Jesus.

The kindness and the goodwill of Jesus and the Word of His promise of salvation by faith have brought you here, to the Holy Christian Church. You who have been baptized in the name of Jesus have received cleansing. Baptism hasn’t removed the disease of original sin, but it has removed sin’s power to condemn you who believe in Jesus. And one day, when Jesus comes again, you will have that uncleanness removed from your flesh, too, as the leper did. First the spiritual healing, now, through the forgiveness of sins, then the complete healing, both spiritual and physical.

Now you, God’s baptized children, may ask Him for help, too, like the leper did. Certain things God has already told you He is willing to do, like hear your prayers, like forgive you your sins, like give you the fruits of the Spirit. In other things, He hasn’t told you what He is willing to do. What then? Don’t try to bargain with God. “If You do this for me, then I’ll…” Instead, entrust all to His goodness, to His power, to His good and gracious will. And pray that humble prayer of the leper, “If You are willing, You can…” And then really and truly leave it to His goodness and to His wisdom whether or not to grant your request. “If You are willing, You can… But if not, so be it. Thy will be done.”

Now, the leper was a son of Israel, and he demonstrated faith in Jesus and was saved by that faith. Next, we come to the Gentile, the Roman centurion. Outwardly, he was not a son of Israel, a son of Abraham. He hadn’t grown up in the church, didn’t have lifelong access to the Word of God. And there’s a lesson in that, too.

Even that outward separation between Jew and Gentile was God’s way of teaching an important spiritual truth: There is a difference, a separation between God’s people and the rest of the world, between the righteous and the wicked, between those who live on the inside of God’s kingdom and those who live on the outside of it, between the saved and the unsaved.

So, who gets to be included in God’s people among the saved? See what happens in our Gospel!

During his period of service in the Roman army, serving in Israel, the Roman centurion had heard the Gospel, the good report about Jesus. And it gave him such confidence in the power and greatness of Jesus that he already knew for a fact that whatever Jesus spoke carried with it the full power and authority of God. He knew that Jesus could grant any request, with no trouble at all. And he knew that, even though he wasn’t worthy to have Jesus come under his roof, he could approach Jesus for help without fear. Speak a word, and my servant will be healed.

Jesus marveled at the centurion’s faith. Most of “God’s people” Israel hadn’t believed in Jesus at all. Some in Israel had shown faith in Jesus, like the leper. But no one had shown such complete trust in Jesus’ Word and authority as this Roman centurion had, even though he was not part of “God’s people” by birth. As Jesus said, Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!

And then what lesson does Jesus go on to teach? I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Here Jesus opens wide the kingdom of God to the Roman centurion, to the Ethiopian eunuch, even to us Americans—to all who will believe in Him as the Son of God, to all who will trust in Him for healing and salvation. And He describes the blessedness of being in His kingdom as “sitting down” (at the banquet table) with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, where everyone is equal, everyone is happy, everyone is blessed. At the same time, He excludes from His kingdom all who will not believe, including those who were physically born to Israel, and He describes the sorrow and the raging anger of all those who will be forever cast out into the darkness.

In short, salvation is by faith in Christ. Salvation by faith is for all. You were right to come to Jesus for the cleansing of Holy Baptism. You’re right to keep coming to Him for help, for mercy, for forgiveness, and for strength. Trust in Him. Trust in His Word.

And as long as you continue to live in this fallen world, with all its ugliness and wickedness—which we witnessed again on display in the protests on Friday at the inauguration, yesterday in those disgusting women’s demonstrations promoting the murder of infants, and the ugliness that is continually on display on social media—remember that, as those who have been saved by faith in Christ and included in God’s people, you have a responsibility to the people of this world who are not God’s people, because God would have them saved by faith, too. His Word is powerful to convert sinners from their unbelief. But as we preach the Word of Christ, let us also be careful to live according to the Word of Christ. Take the Apostle’s words in today’s Epistle to heart: Repay no one evil for evil…If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. May God give you wisdom and strength to put those words into practice. Amen.

Source: Sermons

Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace


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Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Romans 12:6-16  +  John 2:1-11

You want to know who Jesus is? Every word of the Old Testament Scriptures tells you that, from Genesis to Malachi. Every phrase, every story, every account of God’s goodness, God’s power, God’s wrath, God’s favor, God’s punishment, God’s forgiveness, every law given to Israel, every sacrifice, every prophecy about the coming Christ—it all reveals who Jesus is.

But now that He has come in the flesh, now that He has been baptized and tempted and heralded by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, now that He has just met and called His first little band of disciples—five in all—how will He introduce Himself to them? How will He set the tone for His ministry?

He’ll attend a wedding with His disciples, and with His mother, and there He will reveal many things about who He is and what we should of Him.

The Son of God goes to a wedding. And a wedding reception. He “rejoices with those who rejoice,” as Paul wrote to the Romans. The time will come for Jesus to go to the synagogue, to preach on the mountain, to weep with those who weep, and to give His life on the cross. But there is also time to honor God’s institution of marriage between a man and a woman, to do this act of love for the bride and groom whom He knew personally and who had invited Him to their wedding, and to participate in the celebration of God’s earthly gifts. Jesus is no Stoic Messiah, no somber, stone-hearted saint. He does not despise the earthly, material blessings that God has given. He celebrates them.

The celebration was about to take a sad turn, though, as they ran out of wine too early. Not a major crisis by any means. But wine was simply a part of feasting, of celebrating among the Israelites. It was a symbol of joy and happiness and of God’s abundance providence for His people. It was a good gift. And like all good gifts, it could certainly be abused, as it still is today, but it didn’t have to be abused. It could be rightly used for joyful celebration.

What would the bridegroom do, if it became known that he was too poor or too cheap to provide enough wine for his guests? Mary thought she had an answer. She suspected that Jesus might wish to do something about it, so she informed Him of the shortage. She had good reason to expect that He might do something about it, since He had walked away from her home in Nazareth only a couple of months earlier to officially begin His God-given service. Here He was, with His first five disciples. Maybe this was His hour to shine.

It wasn’t. Not really. Jesus replied, Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come. John’s Gospel mentions Jesus’ “hour” several times. Every time, it was, “My hour has not yet come,” not yet come, not yet come, right up until Holy Week, when, finally, Jesus announced to His disciples, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” But when Jesus said, “glorified,” He meant glorified in His sacrificial death on the cross. That was the “hour” that Jesus’ whole life was leading up to.

It hadn’t come yet, here at the beginning of His ministry. But a little hour had come: the time for beginning to reveal His divine majesty and glory, very quietly, very discreetly, to a very small group of people, including His disciples. Mary, again, suspected that Jesus would do something, so she told the servants, Whatever He says to you, do it.

He told the servants to fill six large pots with water—roughly 150 gallons worth. Then He told them to draw some and take it to the master of the feast, so that he could test it and either give it his seal of approval to be served to the guests, or spit it out in disgust. You know what happened. The water had been miraculously changed into wine, and not just mediocre wine, but, “the good stuff,” as the master of the feast declared it.

What does that reveal about Jesus? If you set aside your experience with SyFy, with Harry Potter and other stories of magic, and just stop and think about the miracle of taking regular H2O and turning it into a product of grapes that have grown on a vine, been harvested, squeezed, and properly fermented, without any of that having ever happened, without any hocus-pocus or incantations or magic wands, just with the power of a thought, of a word—that’s who Jesus is, the Creator of water and earth and grapes and the fermentation process itself. Truly Jesus manifested His glory with this miracle, as St. John writes.

How different this miracle was from the changing of water into a red substance back at the time of Moses. God granted Moses the power to change water into blood as the first plague against the Egyptians. That power was mimicked by the dark forces of the devil as he enabled the magicians in Egypt to do the same thing. Water into blood. Something good into something harmful, something horrible, something disgusting and deadly.

See the contrast in Jesus’ first miracle! He hasn’t come to threaten or to coerce or to punish. He hasn’t come to bring condemnation on the world. He has come to save it. He has come to help, not to harm. He takes something good and turns it into something far better, something joyful, something pleasant and good. St. Paul exhorted the Romans in the Epistle: Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them. He who gives, let him give with liberality, with generosity. That’s Jesus.

Just a few verses before our Gospel begins, St. John already gave us the summary statement of who Jesus is: And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Grace—God’s abundant generosity, His undeserved love that overflows toward sinners, who deserve only His wrath and punishment. Jesus has come, not to overlook sin or to excuse sin, but to suffer for it, to make up for it, to call sinners to repentance. And not so that we can go around with a frown on our face all day long or beating our chest in sorrow all the time. We should sorrow, we should mourn over our sins, but the goal is not to mourn. The goal to rejoice in God’s forgiveness, earned and handed out freely by Jesus. That’s what He reveals by the miracle at Cana’s wedding feast as the pattern and purpose of His ministry. Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. Amen.

Source: Sermons

Luther Sermon for Epiphany 2

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY.

Sermon by Martin Luther

TEXT: John 2:1-11 (KJV)

1. Enough has been written heretofore on marriage; hence we leave that subject for the present, and treat the following three topics in this Gospel text: first, the consolation this history affords married people by virtue of their marriage; secondly, the faith and love revealed in this Gospel lesson; thirdly, the spiritual significance of this marriage.

I. THE CONSOLATION OF MARRIED PEOPLE AND THE GLORY OF THE MARRIED STATE.

2. In the first place, it is indeed a high honor paid to married life for Christ himself to attend this marriage, together with his mother and his disciples.

Moreover, his mother is present as the one arranging the wedding, the parties married being apparently her poor relatives or neighbors, and she being compelled to act as the bride’s mother; so of course, it was nothing more than a wedding, and in no way a display. For Christ lived up to his doctrine, not going to the rich, but to the poor; or, if he does go to the great and rich, he is sure to rebuke and reprove, coming away with disfavor, earning small thanks at their hands, with no thought of honoring them by a miracle as he does here.

3. Now the second honor is his giving good wine for the poor marriage by means of a great miracle, making himself the bride’s chief cup-bearer; it may be too that he had no money or jewel to give as a wedding present. He never did such honor to the life or doings of the Pharisees; for by this miracle he confirms marriage as the work and institution of God, no matter how common or how lowly it appears in the eyes of men, God none the less acknowledges his own work and loves it. Even our Caiaphases themselves have often declared and preached that marriage was the only state instituted by God. Who then instituted the others? Certainly not God, but the devil by means of men; yet they shun, reject and revile this state, and deem themselves so holy that they not only themselves avoid marriage — though they need it and ought to marry — but from excess of holiness they will not even attend a marriage, being much holier than Christ himself who as an unholy sinner attends a wedding.

4. Since then marriage has the foundation and consolation, that it is instituted by God and that God loves it, and that Christ himself so honors and comforts it, everybody ought to prize and esteem it, and the heart ought to be glad, that it is surely the state God loves and cheerfully endure every burden in it, even though the burdens be ten times heavier than they are. For this is the reason there is so much care and unpleasantness in marriage to the outward man, because everything that is God’s Word and work, if it is to be blessed at all, must be distasteful, bitter and burdensome to the outward man.

On this account marriage is a state that cultivates and exercises faith in God and love to our neighbor by means of manifold cares, labors, unpleasantnesses, crosses and all kinds of adversities, that are to follow everything that is God’s Word and work. All this the chaste whoremongers, saintly effeminates and Sodomites nicely escape, serving God outside of God’s ordinance by doings of their own.

5. For this is what Christ also indicates by his readiness to supply any want arising in marriage, bestowing wine where it is needed, and making it of water; as though he would say: Must you drink water, that is, suffer affliction outwardly, and is this distasteful? Very well, I will sweeten it for you and change the water into wine, so that your affliction will be your joy and delight. I will not do this by taking the water away or having it poured out; it shall remain, yea, I will have it poured in and the vessels filled up to the brim. For I will not deprive Christian marriage of its cares and trials, but rather add to it. The thing shall be wondrous, so that none, except they themselves who experience it, shall understand it. It shall be on this wise: 6. God’s Word shall do it, by which all things are made, preserved and transformed; that Word which turns your water into wine, and distasteful marriage into delight. That God has instituted marriage ( Genesis 2:32) the heathen and unbelievers do not know, therefore their water remains water and never becomes wine; for they feel not God’s pleasure and delight in married life, which if they did feel they would experience such delight in my pleasure as not to feel the half of their affliction, feeling it outwardly only, but inwardly not at all. And this would be the way to turn water into wine, mixing my pleasure with your displeasure and placing the one against the other, so that my pleasure would drown your displeasure, and turn it into pleasure; but this pleasure of mine nothing will reveal and give to you except my Word, Genesis 1:31: “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

7. Here too Christ indicates that he is not displeased with a marriage feast, nor with the things belonging to a wedding such as adornments, cheerfulness, eating and drinking, according to the usage and custom of the country; which appear to be superfluous and needless expense and a worldly matter; only so far as these things are used in moderation and in keeping with a marriage. For the bride and groom must be adorned; so also the guests must eat and drink to be cheerful. And such dining and doing may all be done in good conscience; for the Scriptures occasionally report the like, even the Gospel lessons mentioning bridal adornment, the wedding garment, guests and feastings at weddings. Thus Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24:53 presents ornaments of gold and silver to Rebecca, the bride of Isaac, and to her brothers; so that in these things no one need pay attention to the sour-visaged hypocrites and self-constituted saints who are pleased with nothing but what they themselves do and teach, and will not suffer a maid to wear a wreath or to adorn herself at all.

8. God is not concerned about such external things, if only faith and love reign; provided, as already stated, it be in moderation and in accord with each person’s station. For this marriage, although it was poor and small, had three tables; which is indicated by the word Architriclinus, showing that the ruler of the feast had three tables to provide for; moreover, the groom did not himself attend to this office, but had servants; then too there was wine to drink; all of which, if poverty were to be urged, might have been dispensed with, as is frequently the case with us. So also the guests did not merely quench their thirst with the wine; for the ruler of the feast speaks of how the good wine ought first to be set on, then, when men have freely drunk, that which is worse.

All this Christ allows to pass, and we likewise should let it pass and not make it a matter of conscience. They were not of the devil, even if a few drank of the wine a little beyond what thirst required, and became merry; else you would have to blame Christ for being the cause by means of his presence, and his mother by asking for it; so that both Christ and his mother are sinners in this if the sour-visaged saints are to render judgment.

9. But the excess customary in our times is a different thing, where men do not eat and drink but gorge themselves with food and drink, revel and carouse, and act as though it were a sign of skill or strength to consume overmuch: where, moreover, the intention is not to be merry, but to be full and crazy. But these are swine, not men; to such Christ would not give wine, nor would he visit them. So also in the matter of dress, it is not the marriage that is kept in mind, but display and pomp; as though the most admirable were those most able to wear gold, silver and pearls, and to spoil much silk and broadcloth, which even asses might do and switches.

10. What then is moderation? Reason should teach that, and cite examples from other countries and cities where such pomp and excess are unknown.

But to give my opinion, I would say a farmer is well adorned if for his wedding he have clothes twice as fine as he daily wears at his work; a burgher likewise; and a nobleman, if he have garments twice as costly as a townsman; a count, twice as costly as a nobleman; a duke, twice as costly as a count, and so in due order. In like manner food and drink and the entertainment of guests should be governed by their social position, and the purpose of the table should be pleasure not debauchery.

11. Now is it a sin to play and dance at a wedding, inasmuch as some declare great sin is caused by dancing? Whether the Jews had dances I do not know; but since it is the custom of the country, like inviting guests, decorating, eating and drinking and being merry, I see no reason to condemn it, save its excess when it goes beyond decency and moderation.

That sin should be committed is not the fault of dancing alone; since at a table or in church that may happen; even as it is not the fault of eating that some while so engaged should turn themselves into swine. Where things are decently conducted I will not interfere with the marriage rites and customs, and dance and never mind. Faith and love cannot be driven away either by dancing or by sitting still, as long as you keep to decency and moderation. Young children certainly dance without sin; do the same also, and be a child, then dancing will not harm you. Otherwise were dancing a sin in itself, children should not be allowed to dance. This is sufficient concerning marriage.

II. THE DOCTRINE AND EXAMPLE OF LOVE AND OF FAITH.

12. In the second place, to return to. our Gospel lesson, we here see the example of love in Christ and his mother. The mother renders service and takes the part of house-keeper: Christ honors the occasion by his personal presence, by a miracle and a gift. And all this is for the benefit of the groom, the bride and the guests, as is the nature of love and its works.

Thus Christ lures all hearts to himself, to rely on him as ever ready to help, even in temporal things, and never willing to forsake any; so that all who believe in him shall not suffer want, be it in spiritual or temporal things; rather must water become wine, and every creature turned into the thing his believer needs. He who believes must have sufficient, and no one can prevent it.

13. But the example of faith is still more wonderful in this Gospel. Christ waits to the very last moment when the want is felt by all present, and there is no counsel or help left. This shows the way of divine grace; it is not imparted to one who still has enough, and has not yet felt his need. For grace does not feed the full and satiated, but the hungry, as we have often said. Whoever still deems himself wise, strong and pious, and finds something good in himself, and is not yet a poor, miserable, sick sinner and fool, the same cannot come to Christ the Lord, nor receive his grace.

14. But whenever the need is felt, he does not at once hasten and bestow what is needed and desired, but delays and tests our faith and trust, even as he does here; yea, what is still more severe, he acts as though he would not help at all, but speaks with harshness and austerity. This you observe in the case of his mother. She feels the need and tells him of it, desiring his help and counsel in a humble and polite request. For she does not say: My dear son, furnish us wine; but: “They have no wine.” Thus she merely touches his kindness, of which she is fully assured. As though she would say: He is so good and gracious, there is no need of my asking, I will only tell him what is lacking, and he will of his own accord do more than one could ask.

This is the way of faith, it pictures God’s goodness to itself in this manner, never doubting but that it is really so; therefore it makes bold to bring its petition and to present its need.

15. But see, how unkindly he turns away the humble request of his mother who addresses him with such great confidence. Now observe the nature of faith. What has it to rely on? Absolutely nothing, all is darkness. It feels its need and sees help nowhere; in addition, God turns against it like a stranger and does not recognize it, so that absolutely nothing is left. It is the same way with our conscience when we feel our sin and the lack of righteousness; or in the agony of death when we feel the lack of life; or in the dread of hell when eternal salvation seems to have left us. Then indeed there is humble longing and knocking, prayer and search, in order to be rid of sin, death and dread. And then he acts as if he had only begun to show us our sins, as if death were to continue, and hell never to cease. Just as he here treats his mother, by his refusal making the need greater and more distressing than it was before she came to him with her request; for now it seems everything is lost, since the one support on which she relied in her need is also gone.

16. This is where faith stands in the heat of battle. Now observe how his mother acts and here becomes our teacher. However harsh his words sound, however unkind he appears, she does not in her heart interpret this as anger, or as the opposite of kindness, but adheres firmly to the conviction that he is kind, refusing to give up this opinion because of the thrust she received, and unwilling to dishonor him in her heart by thinking him to be otherwise than kind and gracious-as they do who are without faith, who fall back at the first shock and think of God merely according to what they feel, like the horse and the mule, Psalm 32:9. For if Christ’s mother had allowed those harsh words to frighten her she would have gone away silently and displeased; but in ordering the servants to do what he might tell them she proves that she has overcome the rebuff and still expects of him nothing but kindness.

17. What do you think of the hellish blow, when a man in his distress, especially in the highest distress of conscience, receives the rebuff, that he feels God declaring to him: “What have I to do with thee?” Quid mihi et tibi? He must needs faint and despair, unless he knows and understands the nature of such acts of God, and is experienced in faith. For he will act just as he feels, and will not think of God in a different way and mean the words. Feeling nothing but wrath and hearing nothing but indignation, he will consider God only as his enemy and angry judge. But just as he thinks God to be so will he find him. Thus he will expect nothing good from him.

That is to renounce God with all his goodness. The result is that he flees and hates him, and will not have God to be God; and every other blasphemy that is the fruit of unbelief.

18. Hence the highest thought in this Gospel lesson, and it must ever be kept in mind, is, that we honor God as being good and gracious, even if he acts and speaks otherwise, and all our understanding and feeling be otherwise., For in this way feeling is killed, and the old man perishes, so that nothing but faith in God’s goodness remains, and no feeling. For here you see how his mother retains a free faith and holds it forth as an example to us. She is certain that he will be gracious, although she does not feel it.

She is certain also that she feels otherwise than she believes. Therefore she freely leaves and commends all to his goodness, and fixes for him neither time nor place, neither manner nor measure, neither person nor name. He is to act when it pleases him. If not in the midst of the feast, then at the end of it, or after the feast. My defeat I will swallow, his scorning me, letting me stand in disgrace before all the guests, speaking so unkindly to me, causing us all to blush for shame. He acts tart, but he is sweet I know. Let us proceed in the same way, then we are true Christians.

19. Here note how severely he deals with his own mother, teaching us thereby not only the example of faith mentioned above, but confirming that in things pertaining to God and his service we are to know neither father nor mother, as Moses writes in Deuteronomy 33:9: “He who says of his father and of his mother, I know them not, observes thy Word, Israel.” For although there is no higher authority on earth than that of father and mother, still this ends when God’s Word and work begin. For in divine things neither father nor mother, still less, a bishop or any other person, only God’s Word is to teach and guide. And if father and mother were to order, teach, or even beg you to do anything for God, and in his service that he has not clearly ordered and commanded, you are to reply: Quid mihi et tibi? What have I and you to do with each other? In this same way Chris there refuses absolutely to do God’s work when his own mother wants it.

20. For father and mother are in duty bound, yea, God made them father and mother for this very purpose, not to teach and lead their children to God according to their own notions and devotion, but according to God’s command; as St. Paul declares in Ephesians 6:4: “Ye fathers; provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord;” i.e. teach them God’s command and Word, as you were taught, and not notions of your own.

Thus in this Gospel lesson you see the mother of Christ directing the servants away from herself unto Christ, telling them not: Whatsoever I say unto you, do it; but: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” To this Word alone you must direct everyone, if you would direct aright; so that this word of Mary (whatsoever he saith, do it) is, and ought to be, a daily saying in Christendom, destroying all doctrines of men and everything not really Christ’s Word. And we ought firmly to believe that what is imposed upon us over and above God’s Word is not, as they boast and lie, the commandment of the church. For Mary says: Whatsoever he saith that, that, that do, and that alone; for in it there will be enough to do.

21. Here also you see, how faith does not fail, God does not permit that, but gives more abundantly and gloriously than we ask. For here not merely wine is given, but excellent and good wine, and a great quantity of it. By this he again entices and allures us to believe confidently in him, though he delay. For he is truthful and cannot deny himself; he is good and gracious, that he must of himself confess and in addition prove it, unless we hinder him and refuse him time and place and the means to do so. At last he cannot forsake his work, as little as he can forsake himself — if only we can hold out until his hour comes.

III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS MARRIAGE.

22. In the third place, we must briefly touch upon the spiritual significance of the text. This marriage and every marriage signifies Christ, the true bridegroom, and Christendom, the bride; as the Gospel lesson of Matthew 22:1-14 sufficiently shows.

23. This marriage took place in Cana of Galilee; that is, Christendom began in the days of Christ among the Jewish people, and continues still among all who are like the Jews. The Jewish nation is called Cana, which signifies, zeal, because it diligently practiced the Law and zealously clung to the works of the Law, so that even the Gospel lessons always call the Jews zealots, and especially St. Paul in Romans 9 and Romans 10. It is natural too that wherever Law and good works are, there zeal will be and contention, one claiming to be better than the other, first of all, however, opposing faith which cares naught for works and boasts only of God’s grace. Now wherever Christ is there such zealots will always be, and his marriage must be at Zeal City, for you always find by the side of the Gospel and faith work-righteous people and Jewish zealots who quarrel with faith.

24. Galilee signifies border or the edge of the country, where you pass from one country into another. This signifies the same people in Zeal City who dwell between the Law and the Gospel, and ought to emigrate and pass from works to faith, from the Law into the Christian liberty; as some also have done, and now still do. But the greater part remain in their works and dwell on the border, achieving neither good works nor faith, shielding themselves behind the shine and glitter of works.

25. Christ’s being bidden to the marriage signifies that he was promised long ago in the Law and the prophets and is earnestly expected and invoked to turn water into wine, fulfill the Law and establish faith, and make true GalileansOF US.

26. His disciples are bidden with him; for he is expected to be a great King, hence to need apostles and disciples in order to have his Word freely and fully preached everywhere. Likewise, his mother is the Christian church, taken from the Jews, who herself most of all belongs to the marriage, for Christ was really promised to the Jewish nation.

27. The six waterpots of stone, for the purification of the Jews, are the books of the Old Testament which by law and commandment made the Jewish people only outwardly pious and pure; for which reason the Evangelist says, they were set there after the Jews’ manner of purifying, as if to say: This signifies the purification by works without faith, which never purifies the heart, but only makes it more impure; which is a Jewish, not a Christian or spiritual purification.

28. There being six waterpots signifies the labor and toil which they who deal in works undergo in such purification; for the heart finds no rest in them, since the Sabbath, the seventh day, is wanting, in which we rest from our works and let God work in us. For there are six work-days, in which God created heaven and earth, and commanded us to labor. The seventh day is the day of rest, in which we are not to toil in the works of the Law, but to let God work in us by faith, while we remain quiet and enjoy a holiday from the labors of the Law.

29. The water in the pots is the contents and substance of the Law by which conscience is governed, and is graven in letters as in the waterpots of stone.

30. And they are of stone, as were the tables of Moses, signifying the stiffnecked people of the Jews. For as their heart is set against the Law, so the Law appears outwardly to be against them. It seems hard and difficult to them, and therefore it is hard and difficult; the reason in that their heart is hard and averse to the Law; we all find, feel and discover by experience that we are hard and averse to what is good, and soft and prone to what is evil. This the wicked do not feel, but those who long to be pious and labor exceedingly with their works. This is the significance of the two or three firkins apiece.

31. To turn water into wine is to render the interpretation of the Law delightful. This is done as follows: Before the Gospel arrives everyone understands the Law as demanding our works, that we must fulfill it with works of our own. This interpretation begets either hardened, presumptuous dissemblers and hypocrites, harder than any pot of stone, or timid, restless consciences. There remains nothing but water in the pot, fear and dread of God’s Judgment. This is the water-interpretation, not intended for drinking, neither filling any with delight; on the contrary, there is nothing to it but washing and purification, and yet no true inner cleansing. But the Gospel explains the Law, showing that it requires more than we can render, and that it demands a person different from ourselves to fulfill it; that is, it demands Christ and brings us unto him, so that first of all by his grace we are made in true faith a different people like unto Christ, and that then we do truly good works. Thus the right interpretation and significance of the law is to lead us to the knowledge of our helplessness, to drive us from ourselves to another, namely to Christ, to seek grace and help of him.

32. Therefore, when Christ wanted to make wine he had them pour in still more water, up to the very brim. For the Gospel comes and renders the interpretation of the Law perfectly clear (as already stated), showing that what belongs to us is nothing but sin; wherefore by the law we cannot escape sinning. When now the two or three firkins hear this, namely the good hearts who have labored according to the law in good works, and are already timid at heart and troubled in conscience, this interpretation adds greatly to their fear and terror; and the water now threatens to rise above the lid and brim. Before this, while they felt disinclined and averse to what is good, they still imagined they might yet succeed by their good works; now they hear that they are altogether unfit and helpless:, and that it is impossible to gain their end by good works. That overfills the pot with water, it cannot hold more. This is to interpret the Law in the highest manner, leaving nothing but despair.

33. Then comes the consoling Gospel and turns the water into wine. For when the heart hears that Christ fulfills the law for us and takes our sin upon himself, it no longer cares that impossible things are demanded by the Law, that we must despair of rendering them, and must give up our good works. Yea, it is an excellent thing, and delectable, that the Law is so deep and high, so holy and righteous and good, and demands things so great; and it is loved and lauded for making so many and such great demands.

This is because the heart now has in Christ all that the Law demands, and it would be sorry indeed if it demanded less. Behold, thus the Law is delightful now and easy which before was disagreeable, difficult and impossible; for it lives in the heart by the Spirit. Water no longer is in the pots, it has turned to wine, it is passed to the guest, it is consumed, and has made the heart glad.

34. And these servants are all preachers of the New Testament like the apostles and their successors.

35. The drawing and passing to the guests is, to take this interpretation from the Scriptures, and to preach it to all the world, which is bidden to Christ’s marriage.

36. And these servants knew (the Evangelist tells us) whence the wine was, how it had been water. For the apostles and their successors alone understand how the law becomes delightful and pleasant through Christ, and how the Gospel by faith does not fulfill the Law by works, every thing being unchanged from what it formerly was in good works.

37. But the ruler of the feast does indeed taste that the wine is good, yet he knows not whence it is. This ruler of the feast is the old priesthood among the Jews who knew of naught but works, of whom Nicodemus was one, John 3:9; he indeed feels how fine this cause of Christ would be, but knows not how it can be, and why it is so, clinging still to works. For they who teach works cannot understand and apprehend the Gospel and the actions of faith.

38. He calleth the bridegroom and reproacheth him for setting on the good wine last, whereas every man setteth on last that which is worse. To this very day it is the surprise of the Jews that the preaching of the Gospel should have been delayed so long, coming first of all now to the Gentiles, while they are said to have been drinking the worse wine for so long a time, bearing so long the burden and heat of the day under the Law; as is set forth in another Gospel lesson. Matthew 20:12.

39. Observe, God and men proceed in contrary ways. Men set on first that which is best, afterward that which is worse. God first gives the cross and affliction, then honor and blessedness. This is because men seek to preserve the old man; on which account they instruct us to keep the Law by works, and offer promises great and sweet. But the out-come is stale, the result has a vile taste; for the longer it goes on the worse is the condition of conscience, although, being intoxicated with great promises, it does not feel its wretchedness; yet at last when the wine is digested, and the false promises gone, the wretchedness appears. But God first of all terrifies the conscience, sets on miserable wine, in fact nothing but water; then, however, he consoles us with the promises of the Gospel which endure forever.

Source: Sermons

Everything a boy should be


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Sermon for the First Sunday after Epiphany

Romans 12:1-5  +  Luke 2:41-52

There aren’t many accounts in the Bible of the early life of Jesus. Between the time of the holy family’s flight to Egypt, when Jesus was still just a baby, until the day of Jesus’ Baptism at age 30, we are told of exactly one event in the life of Christ—today’s Gospel about the 12-yr-old Jesus and the scare He gave to Mary and Joseph when He stayed behind in Jerusalem. We’d like to know more about Jesus’ childhood, of course, what He did, what He was up to, but the words of the Gospel really tell us all we need to know, as a summary of the whole childhood and adolescence of Jesus. Even as a boy, Jesus loved God His Father will all His heart, soul, mind and strength. He honored His earthly father and mother and was obedient to them. He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. What else should a young man be up to? Jesus was everything a boy should be.

Let’s turn to the Gospel again and review this story. Luke tells us that it was the custom of Jesus’ parents to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. That was required of every Jewish male as part of the observance of the Law of Moses. The fact that Mary normally went along, too, shows us that this was no mere outward observance, going because they had to go. They gladly went up to the House of the Lord. They gladly celebrated the Passover feast given to them by God as both a remembrance of His past redemption of Israel and as a shadow of the great Redemption that their Son—the very Lamb of God—would one day bring about.

Whether or not Jesus went along with them before His twelfth birthday, we don’t know for sure. But it was (and still is) Jewish custom that at age thirteen a Jewish boy became responsible to perform all the ceremonies required by the Law, and that at age twelve, he started “practicing,” as it were, so that he was ready at age thirteen.

They travel from Nazareth to Jerusalem. They spend the days of the feast in the holy city. And then Mary and Joseph, together with all the company of relatives and neighbors from Nazareth, start heading back. But the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; How could they not? I suppose because they just didn’t expect it. Jesus was always with them, always following, always obedient. He was wise—very wise for His age, not absent-minded, not one to go off and do His own thing.

They had already traveled a day’s journey. It took them another day to get back to Jerusalem. It wasn’t until the third day that they found Him in the Temple, where it says that He was sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

We should be amazed, too, just as amazed as Mary and Joseph were. We should be amazed at the deep love and zeal that this twelve-year-old demonstrated for the Word and the works of His Father. We should be amazed that a twelve-year-old boy should be so in love with the Temple and with the Holy Scriptures that He doesn’t want to leave, that He wants to stay there, not to play around or sight-see, but to discuss the Word of God with the teachers of the Law.

Truly this is the ideal child. And there wasn’t a hint of defiance in Him or of superiority over His parents, even though He was far superior to them. He had no concern for His life, His works, His business, His pleasure, His future, His entertainment. Just the innocent love for His Father in heaven. Jesus is the perfect Child of God, who perfectly fulfills the words of the Psalmist: Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. And again, LORD, I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells. And again, Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.

Jesus, even at the age of 12, was fulfilling His task of being the perfect human being, the One whom you don’t have to command or coerce to go to church, to read His Bible, to be a student of Scripture. He is a willing student of Scripture, excited to learn God’s Word, eager to discuss it. And He does it all on His own, because He is absolutely devoted to His God. His will is perfectly connected to His Father’s will. As Jesus would later say to the Jews: Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.

After astounding the teachers with His understanding and after amazing His parents with His behavior, it says that He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

There He is, the boy who loves God with His whole heart and who honors His earthly parents gladly and willingly. In all His actions, in all His attitudes, in all His behaviors, Jesus increased in favor with God and men. This was a Child, a Boy, a young Man, who never complained, who never grumbled, who was not self-centered, not a brooding teenager, but kind, thoughtful, considerate of others, and perfectly obedient. Of course He grew in favor with God and men. He was everything a boy should be.

Jesus’ perfect childhood, His sincere love for God, His obedience to His parents, His love for His neighbor—this is how it was meant to be, for all of us. This is how it would have been in the world, if Adam and Eve hadn’t fallen into sin. Instead, you children, you teenagers, and you who once were children and teenagers—you know that you have not loved God like that, that you have not been aching to stay at church and keep listening and studying Scripture, while your parents are already out the door. Sometimes it’s the exact opposite, isn’t it? And you know that you have not so willingly and gladly obeyed your parents, or lived your life for the benefit of your neighbor. Jesus’ childhood serves as a warning for young people and adults alike: the life  Jesus led is the life that God requires of all the sons of men. It’s not OK for you, even in your youth, to despise the Word of God, to get bored with it, to fail to pay attention to it, to wish you were somewhere else on Sunday morning. Nor is it OK for you to dishonor your parents, or to grumble against them, out loud or just in your heart. Nor is it OK for you to become so self-absorbed that you sit around doing nothing all day instead of serving your neighbor and growing in wisdom.

At the same time, Jesus didn’t lead a perfect childhood in order to condemn you for not doing it. He did it happily, so that you might be brought to repentance and faith in Him as your Substitute. He did it so that you might be able to call God your Father, not because you have loved Him with your whole heart, but because Jesus did, and you are bound to Him by Baptism. He was everything a boy should be, so that you could inherit from Him as a gift everything that a perfect son of a perfect Father deserves, even the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

With the forgiveness of sins comes a new heart, a new purpose, to be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, to walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. With the mercy of God in view, you are to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God, as you heard in the Epistle.

So young people, and you who once were young, see your Savior working on your behalf in today’s Gospel. Repent and believe in Him, and see how your Father was working through Jesus as your Substitute, to bring you into His house. But also, learn from Jesus. Learn what it looks like to love God and His Word so completely, to be a willing student of the Scriptures. Learn what it looks like to be respectful of your parents at all times and obedient to those whom God has placed in authority over you. Learn what it looks like to devote your childhood, and your adulthood, and every breath of your life to God and to your neighbor. By faith in Christ Jesus, God now sees you as already being everything a child of God should be. Make it your goal to live that way, too, and you, too, will continue to increase in wisdom, and in favor with God and men. Amen.

 

Source: Sermons

The radiant appearance of the King of Jews and Gentiles

Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord

Isaiah 60:1-6  +  Matthew 2:1-12

Christmas is over, as of today, but Epiphany has at least as much joy for us Christians. It’s the season of light, of brightness, of the shining light of Christ, who is “a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel,” as old Simeon once sang about baby Jesus. Epiphany is a Greek word that means “radiant appearing.” God’s Son was finally born into the world. And following His birth, there were many appearances, many revelations of His glory. Today, on January 6th, in the ancient Church, three such revelations were traditionally celebrated: The revelation of Jesus to the wise men as the King of Jews and Gentiles. But also the revelation of Christ as the Son of God and our Savior at His Baptism. And the revelation of Christ’s divine power and goodness at the wedding at Cana, which we’ll hear about in a couple of weeks.

For now, our Gospel turns our attention to the visit of the wise men. There was literally a light that shined on Israel at the birth of Christ—a miraculous light, a “star” that was no ordinary star, but, as Isaiah prophesied, The glory of the Lord is risen upon you…The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. It led the wise men to the land of Judah. But it wasn’t really the star that led them.

There was another light that led the wise men to the Light in Israel. As the Psalm says, Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. These wise men from the East had clearly been exposed to the Holy Scriptures of the Hebrews, probably from the time of the Babylonian captivity. These wise men had learned about the LORD God of Israel and had found some of the prophecies of the Old Testament about the coming Savior-King who would be born from King David’s line and rule, not only over the Jews, but over all the nations, all the Gentiles. God used His Word to enlighten them, to bring them to understand and believe the prophecies about this divine King.

The light of the star only took them as far as Jerusalem, where they had to inquire, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. Now the light of the prophet Micah had to guide them, as Herod had the priests and scribes search the Scriptures for the answer: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel. See how God always drives His people back to His Word, so that we ground our faith, not in outward signs that are so often misinterpreted, but in His sure, unfailing Word.

So the Word of God shined the light on Bethlehem. But not everyone cared to see it. The king and the priests of Jerusalem, and most of the city with them, were not happy to hear about the birth of the King of the Jews. They were “troubled,” it says. They were upset. Others were obviously apathetic; they didn’t follow the wise men to Bethlehem to worship the newborn King.

So, as we heard on Christmas morning, the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it. Or as Jesus would later say, He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. The world, in its darkness, in its idolatry, in its sin and love for sin, doesn’t love the idea of the true God sending His Son into the world. And that’s tragic, because the true God, while His Laws are demanding and His wrath is severe—the true God has given His own Son to suffer the punishment for our sins, to obey His own Law in our place, and to give us eternal life as a gift. The Son of Man came, not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Salvation is by faith in Him, faith that the Holy Spirit Himself creates through the light of His Word.

The Holy Spirit was resisted by most of Israel; He can be resisted. But He worked faith in the hearts of the non-Jewish wise men. They journeyed to Bethlehem, and then, led by the Word of God, they were again blessed with the light of the star to point them to the exact place where the Child was.

They found the humble Baby with His humble mother in a humble house—not a palace, not a mansion. He had no attendants, no servants, no other worshipers. Their eyes told them that this must not be the place, that He must not be the One. But Scripture told them otherwise, and they believed the Scriptures over their own eyes. They knelt before the Baby. That’s what you do in the presence of royalty, or in the presence of divinity, or in this case, both.

The gifts they gave, too, demonstrate their beliefs about this Child: gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Gold is what you give a king. Gold was the best, most expensive gift this Child could receive from the hands of men. But it wasn’t the best gift He could give to the sons of men. He would redeem us, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are the gifts He brings. A Father in heaven to call your own. The promise of His help and guidance to make it through this life into the next. Those are the gifts that Jesus gives.

Frankincense was used to make perfume—the perfume of kings. It was required in some of the offerings the Israelites brought to the Temple, and it was used in the incense that was burned in the inner sanctuary, the incense that symbolized the prayers of God’s people rising up as a sweet-smelling aroma to God. Another fitting gift! Because Jesus was a King. He is also the one who adds Himself—His holiness—to the offerings of God’s people, to the good works that we do as believers, making them holy and acceptable in God’s sight. And He is also the One who makes our prayers acceptable to God, the One Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.

Myrrh was also used to make perfume, and together with frankincense, it was the perfume that King Solomon, the son of David, wore for the day of His wedding, which all, in the Song of Solomon, was an allegory of the great Son of David, Jesus, and His beloved Bride, the Christian Church, made up of Jews and Gentiles—of all who believe in Him.

But there’s still more to myrrh. It was also a main ingredient in the recipe for the sacred anointing oil in the Old Testament, the oil with which prophets, priests, kings, and even the very furnishings of the Temple were to be anointed. It was used as a pain-killer and was offered to Jesus, mixed with wine, before His crucifixion, although at that time He refused it as a gift. Finally, it was one of the precious spices that Nicodemus offered as a gift to King Jesus—for the burial of His body on Good Friday. Again, such a fitting gift for the King of Jews and Gentiles, who was anointed at His Baptism as the true Prophet, Priest, King, and Savior, who, by His death and by our baptism, which unites us to His death, has saved us from sin, death and the devil.

So celebrate this Epiphany—all these epiphanies of the Lord Jesus, with great joy. For as important as His birth was, it would have meant nothing if God had kept His Son a secret from the world and hidden Him away. Instead, little by little, Christ was revealed as the promised Savior. Even now the Holy Spirit is revealing Him to you, another Epiphany, the radiant appearance of the King of Jews and Gentiles, right here in our midst, here in the Word, and here in the blessed Sacrament. Come, let us follow that light, that we, too, may worship Him all our days! Amen.

Source: Sermons

The Christian celebration of Christ’s circumcision



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Sermon for the Feast of the Circumcision and the Name of Jesus

Galatians 3:23-29  +  Luke 2:21

Happy 8th day of Christmas! The world moved on from Christmas already as of last Tuesday. But we haven’t moved on, have we? On the 8th day of Christmas, we celebrate what happened on the 8th day of Christ’s birth: His circumcision, and His naming ceremony. Why on earth has the Christian Church made this a part of the Christmas season? Why on earth make a big deal about the removal of a piece of skin from a little boy? Because that little boy was our Lord Jesus. He was the One who endured this momentarily painful procedure on the 8th day of His birth. And He endured it, because God had made it a big deal under the Old Testament. Without this event in the life of Jesus, He would never have been able to institute the New Testament in His blood. He would never have been our Savior from sin. So, if you would understand who Jesus is and why He came, and what the benefit is for us in being His Christians, then you have to understand this Biblical practice that was so important to God’s Church for 2,000 years before the birth of Christ, and that still has a spiritual significance for us, 2,000 years later.

As you certainly remember, circumcision was not a practice that the Jews just decided on their own one day to institute. God instituted it. God commanded Abraham, back in Genesis 17, I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your seed after you. Also I give to you and your seed after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your seed after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

If you want God to be God for you, if you want to inherit the promises made to Abraham and to his seed, if you want to be a part of the people of God at all, then you—if you’re a male 8 days old or older—must be circumcised; that’s the way it was from the time of Abraham till the time of Christ. It was the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham.

It seems like a foolish sign, doesn’t it? Human reason sneers at such a practice. What does this removal of a bit of skin have to do with a person’s spiritual state, with a person’s relationship with God, with a person’s eternal future? Well, God likes to spit in the face of our fallen human reason. It deserves it. He chooses things that human reason can’t grasp. He attaches His best promises to things that seem the humblest and the smallest and forces us to live by faith and not by sight, so that only those people benefit from God’s promises who trust in His Word, not in their own reason or strength.

Our Lutheran Confessions (printed on the back of your service folder) identify well the purpose of circumcision: (a) that Abraham might have a written sign in his body—a permanent mark on his body to remind him of the covenant God had made with him, to remind him that he was to fear and love God as one who had been made an heir of eternal life; (b) so that, admonished by this, he might exercise faith—so that he would keep trusting in God’s Word and in God’s promises all his life; and (c) that by this work he might also confess his faith before others and, by his testimony, invite others to believe. Obviously circumcision was a private kind of mark; no one would see it. But Abraham would tell other people of the covenant God had made with him, of the promises God had given to all those who were connected to Abraham, and he could use himself as an example of one who had been marked, according to God’s Word, for eternal life as a participant in God’s covenant, inviting others, including his own descendants to believe in this God and to join Abraham in this covenant of grace.

Abraham circumcised Isaac, the son whom God promised, on the 8th day of his birth, and so it continued among Abraham’s descendants until the practice was codified in the Law of Moses some 400 years later. It physically marked a man (and his family!) as belonging to the people of Israel, and it signified that the whole life of the circumcised should be lived under the Law.

By the time of Jesus, the Jews had begun to abuse the sign of circumcision. They had turned it into a meritorious good work—something that they did that made them worthy to be God’s people, worthy to inherit eternal life. They put their faith in their physical descent from Abraham and from their obedience to the Law that God had given to Abraham and to Moses. They boasted that, just as Abraham was justified by his good works, beginning with circumcision, they, too, would be justified by their good works.

It was the especially the Apostle Paul who demolished their false faith in Romans 4, where Paul points out that, according to the book of Genesis, Abraham was justified long before he was ever circumcised. He was justified, not by any work of his own, but by faith alone. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness…He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.

But none of that faith would matter, unless the sign of circumcision had been fulfilled and then set aside by Abraham’s true Seed and Heir.

So along came the baby, born of Mary, exactly one week after he was born, still without a name, because Hebrew boys weren’t given their name until after they were circumcised. And Mary and Joseph fulfilled for their Son what the Law required. Since He was the long-promised Seed of Abraham, this was the day that the whole Old Testament had been foreshadowing, the day when the Son of Abraham would be brought under the Covenant, under the Testament, under the Law that God had given to Abraham and to Moses, with all of its promised blessings for obedience, and with all of its promised curses for disobedience. This was the day that the Son of God entered into the Old Testament, to fulfill it and, later, to replace it with a New and better Testament: the New Testament in His blood—blood that was first shed on this day of His circumcision, a token of the blood that would be spilled about 33 years later on the cross.

What does all of this mean for us? It means that the baby Jesus, on the day of His circumcision, embarked on a lifelong journey of obedience to the Law, not as an example to us, but as a Substitute for us. As Paul wrote to the Galatians in chapter 4, When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

And how do we receive that adoption? You heard it this morning in the Epistle: For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

As those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, believing in Him as your Savior from sin, you now inherit everything that Christ inherits, both as the Son of God and as the Son of Man, and that is…everything. But first and foremost, it’s the ability to call God your Father. He is not only the God and Creator of the universe. He is God for you. He claims you as His own son—as members of the one body of Christ. That’s why it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, Jew or Greek (or any other race), slave or free, rich or poor, because, in God’s sight you all wear Christ Jesus as a garment; you are all clean, holy, perfect heirs of heaven through faith in Him.

Now circumcision has been set aside as the entrance into God’s family and as the mark of His adoption. It has been set aside and replaced with Holy Baptism. Listen to how the Apostle Paul makes the connection between circumcision and Baptism as he writes to Gentile Christians in Colossians 2: In Christ you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Circumcision used to be all-important for people to receive God’s forgiveness. It was all-important for Christ, in order for Him to be our Savior. But now, circumcision no longer counts for anything. Now, if you would have God for your God, if you would be counted among His children, then you must believe and be baptized in Christ Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Abraham. And if you have already been baptized, then you must keep using your baptism, as a sign and seal of the forgiveness of sins that is yours through faith in Christ, and as a constant reminder that, as a member of the New Testament in the blood of Christ, you are to live, not as pagans, not as atheists, not as idolaters who will perish in the judgment, but as baptized children of God who will live eternally with Him, and with your fellow baptized. As Paul wrote to the Galatians in chapter 5, Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters…For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

That is the calling of the Christian: to be baptized, and then to live as baptized members of Christ, in love—in self-sacrifice, in self-denial, in devotion to God’s Word and in service to our neighbor, not in order to earn our salvation, but because we have been made members of Christ Jesus. Jesus. Savior. The name that was given to our Lord on the 8th day of His birth. Jesus. The name assigned to that child from eternity and proclaimed by the angel Gabriel to Joseph. Jesus. The name that is above every name, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Happy 8th day of Christmas! Amen.

Source: Sermons

Rejoice in the Father’s greatest gift


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Sermon for Christmas Day

Hebrews 1:1-12  +  John 1:1-14

Dear Christian friends: You know what Christmas is about, or else you wouldn’t be here this morning. Christmas is not really about family, although it’s a great blessing to spend it with family, when and if you can. Christmas is not about decorations or traditions or food, although those things are nice, like icing on the cake or the cookies. Christmas is not about presents or gifts, except to the extent that giving and receiving gifts allows us to show one another just a tiny bit of the love that the Father has shown to us, because, of course, Christmas is about the Father’s greatest gift of love, which the Apostle John carefully unwraps for us, more and more, every year in the Gospel. Once again this year, we gather together around the Christmas tree in God’s house, to let the Holy Spirit hand out the Father’s greatest gift to you and for you, the gift of His eternal Son, born in human flesh.

The angels revealed much about the Father’s gift on the night of His birth: He is a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. John reveals even more. He is “the Word,” made flesh. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. God had so much to reveal to mankind about Himself. The creation itself reveals a plenty. But still not the most important things, like, who God is, what He demands, what He promises, and on what basis. The Old Testament prophets revealed much of that as God’s Spirit inspired them to write down in words the truth of God. But there is just no substitute for direct communication, for meeting someone in person. And yet, after the fall into sin, direct communication with God as He exists in His majesty was simply not possible for sinful human beings; a terrible rift had been opened between the holy God and sinful man. So, God designed, in eternity, a way to speak to us directly, to show us His heart, what He is like, what He commands, and what He gives. God the Father gave His only-begotten Son, begotten of the Father before all worlds—to share our humanity, to be born into our world. So badly God wanted to teach us about Himself that He joined Himself forever to our race. So badly God wanted to redeem sinners and to make them His children that He gave His Son to become our Brother, our sacrifice, the innocent for the guilty. That is the Word of God.

That Word of God, as St. John describes, was the very One, the very Word whom the Father used to create all things. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. When the Father said in the beginning, “Let there be light,” it was the Word of God, who later became flesh, who brought the light into existence, and everything else that the Father spoke. The Baby lying in the manger was not so helpless, nor was the Man who would one day hang on the cross. He was the Maker of the manger and of the cross, the Maker of His mother Mary, the Maker of the humble circumstances of His birth, even the Maker of His own human flesh. Even as He lay sleeping in Mary’s lap, the Word-made-flesh was upholding all things by the word of His power.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. As Jesus would later say, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. And how do we sinners, destined for death, have that life? The Life had to take on human flesh, so that the Life could die a human death. But when the Life took up His life again, He became the source of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to all who believe in Him as the Life-giver.

And how do we believe in Him who is the Life and the Light of men? That we cannot do on our own, by our own power, by our own reason or strength. As John wrote, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. We’re all born in that darkness. We’re all born spiritually blind, unable to see the Light of Christ, unable to comprehend His light, unable to receive Him. If we are to believe in Him, He has to work faith in us.

How does He do that? You know. He does that through preaching. Faith comes by hearing, by preaching. When the Word of Christ is preached, when the Gospel of the Word-made-flesh is proclaimed, there is Jesus enlightening blind eyes by His Holy Spirit.

The apostle talks about that. He mentions the very first preacher sent from God to point to the Light: John the Baptist. There was power in John’s testimony, power to enlighten blind eyes, to turn sinners to repentance and faith, power “that all through him might believe.” That was always God’s intent, that all men might hear the Word and believe in the Word.

The true Light which gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

Not all men did believe through John’s preaching. The world didn’t know the Father’s greatest gift. It didn’t recognize the Father’s greatest gift. It didn’t want the Father’s greatest gift. Why? Because it appeared too small, too weak, too humble.

To some, the humility of Jesus was offensive. From His lowly birth in Bethlehem to the suffering He endured on the cross, it all seemed like foolishness to most people—it wasn’t the gift they expected from God, not the gift they wanted, not the glorious kind of salvation they were seeking.

And yet, to others, the humility of the One born of Mary, the humble way in which He led His whole life, from His lowly birth to His humble suffering and dying on the cross, and the humble means by which He works faith—the Gospel, Baptism, Holy Communion—makes Him accessible to lowly people, like you and me. It shows God’s love for everyone. It allows the worst sinner and the lowliest man or woman or child to see that God came for him, too, that God suffered for him, too, that God is eager for him, too, to repent and believe in Christ Jesus, to receive the Father’s greatest gift.

Now most people still didn’t receive Him when He dwelt among men, and most people still don’t receive Him as He dwells among us in Word and Sacrament. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. This is what Christmas is all about. This is why you’re here this morning. Because, not by your bloodline, not by your own will, not by the will of your earthly father, but by God’s grace, working through Word and Sacrament, you have been reborn as children of God. You have been brought to see the Light of Christ, to trust in Him for the forgiveness of sins. You know that Jesus is real, that His birth of the virgin Mary was real, that His divinity is real, and that He is really present here and now, to give Himself to you in this Word that you’re hearing, to give His own body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. The Word no longer dwells among us in the same way that He did during His 33 years on earth, nor do we behold His glory in quite the same way. But His grace and His truth remain unchanged. The fact of His birth, the fact of His life, the fact of His death and resurrection can never be erased. And if you are willing to receive Him where He still offers Himself, in Word and Sacrament, then the Father’s greatest gift of love is poured out into your lap, and God is still with you and God is still for you. Let us rejoice in our Father’s gift, and give Him thanks with our lips, with our lives, and with our love—for Him, and for one another. Amen.

Source: Sermons