Author: pastormjc

Sermon for January 29, 2023, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

“Preaching Foolishness”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

January 29, 2023

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

Our text is the Epistle reading recorded in 1 Corinthians 1:

18For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. 19For it stands written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the intelligent I will thwart.” 20Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ who stands crucified, a cause of offense for the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than people and the weakness of God is stronger than people. 26Consider, then, your calling, brothers, that not many were wise according to the flesh, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world so that He might shame the strong, 28and God chose the insignificant things of the world and the things that are despised, things that are not, so that He might make nothing that things that are, 29so that all flesh would not boast before God. 30And from Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for you, both righteousness and holiness and redemption, 31so that just as it stands written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

          I think that it is safe to say that, in our world and in our culture, no one really likes foolish and weak things. Nobody wants a cell phone or a tablet or a wi-fi network that is a technical weakling. We want fast and efficient—lots of memory, lots of power, lots of speed. But just check out some news stories and social media. These are filled with people doing foolish things that cause many of us with a shred of common sense to shake our heads in disbelief. Of course, there is a bit of subjectivity with foolishness. What’s foolish to one person isn’t always rated on the same level of foolishness by another. But be that as it may, there are many things that we could all agree upon as just plain foolish—sticking your head in an alligator’s mouth, posting pictures of yourself while you are driving, and a myriad of other things that would be inappropriate even to mention.

          Yet, human wisdom is still where it is all at for our world. Think about what the combined forces of human reason and intellect can accomplish. People can make super computers that are so small we carry them around in our pockets. The medical arts can bring healing to sick and hurt bodies. Meteorologists can predict, with some degree of accuracy, the path of storms. Engineers construct safer vehicles and buildings. And it all makes good sense. Humanity has an understanding of how things in the world and our bodies are supposed to work. It’s all very rational and logical. And that’s a good thing. Human reason is a gift from God to be used to serve the Lord and our fellow humanity.

But with all of our collective wisdom and knowledge and understanding, there is something that people have not been able to get rid of or put an end to. That is death. The best that the medical arts can do is prolong human life, but it cannot save it. All people will die. The best built cars and buildings are only so safe, but not 100% safe. The wisdom of the world cannot stop death from happening.

It was God who decided from before the creation of the world to defeat death. God chose to save His fallen, sinful human creatures from eternal death and hell. But He did not go about it in a way that makes sense to human logic and reason. God, in His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, chose that His One-of-a-Kind Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, should become flesh and dwell among the very humanity that is subject to death because we have sinned by what we have done and what we have left undone. Now what god have you ever read or heard about that wants to become human and pay for the wrongs that people do and think and say? The world cries out, “That’s foolishness! That’s crazy! What kind of a god would do such a thing as that? Gods punish and pour out fire and lightning from heaven against bad people. Save them? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Imagine God the Father posting this on His social media page: “I’m sending my Son to be born in human flesh in order to save the people of the world from death. He will be born of a Jewish virgin named Mary in the days of Caesar Augustus in the village of Bethlehem. He will be named Jesus because He will save His people. When He is 33 years old, He will be betrayed by one of His own followers into the hands of His enemies. They will hold a trial against Him and find Him guilty of being “the King of the Jews.” He will be crucified on a Roman cross, nailed there to suffer, to bleed, and to die in place of all humanity. Jesus will be the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world that will forever rescue people from sin and its punishment of death.” 

People would probably read that message from God and their heads would shake back and forth. “Utter foolishness! It’s totally irrational that God the Son would die to rescue His human creatures from the punishment of death and hell! God can’t die! Who ever heard of such an absurd thing? And if He could, why do it for His enemies?” That’s precisely the point! God, in sending His Son Jesus to suffer and to die on a cross in the place of sinners, did a shocking and amazing thing just as He promised He would do in the pages of Isaiah the prophet: “Therefore I will again do an amazing thing for these people–an absolutely extraordinary deed. Wise men will have nothing to say, the sages will have no explanations.” (Isaiah 29:14 NET) 

At the cross, the wisdom and power of God were made known. God did the absolutely extraordinary deed of winning forgiveness of sins and defeating death through the very death of Jesus and His Easter Day resurrection from the dead. What human wisdom, intellect, and reason could never, ever accomplish—the salvation of people from sin and the power of death—God did through His Son, true God and true Man, Jesus Christ. And He did it, wonder of wonders, through a substitutionary death on a cross. Christ Jesus is the power and the wisdom of God who took our sins upon Himself and suffered the full wrath and anger of God and the punishment of death in our place. Thus, we are saved from our sins through Jesus’ blood-bought forgiveness. Where there is forgiveness, there is also eternal life and salvation, and no death!

What do you mean no death? People die all the time. Christians die all the time! We just laid a brother in Christ to rest last week. Yes, until the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus returns on the last day, physical death will affect us all. While it is true that Christians are saved from their sins, physical death still remains in our future. But that physical death has lost its power. That death does not condemn us to hell and eternal separation from God. Our death, because of the work of Jesus for us, is the gate to life in heaven with Christ until the day of the resurrection when death forever is defeated when our bodies are raised, and we enter into the new creation. Jesus promises in John 5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24 ESV).

Through our Baptism into Christ, by grace through faith, we who believe in Jesus have already come into possession of eternal life. Death no longer has power over us. When our body dies, we fall asleep in Christ—our souls at once with Him in Paradise, our bodies laid to rest in the grave to await our bodily resurrection on the Last Day. St. Paul, later in 1 Corinthians, would write these words for us by the power of the Holy Spirit, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54–57 ESV).

It was the weak thing and the foolish thing in the eyes of the world that God did at the cross with the death of His Son that won forgiveness and eternal life for all who would believe in Him. The saving work of Jesus accomplished what centuries of human wisdom and reason could not. That’s why the message of the cross on which Jesus suffered and died, shedding His blood for humanity, though foolish to some, is in reality the power of God for salvation. And through the gift of faith in this Gospel message, we believe and trust that this “foolish thing” of God saves us from eternal death and hell. It is the work of Christ in His death on the cross and in His resurrection that forgives, rescues, and saves us. And while it isn’t humanly logical or perhaps even reasonable, faith clings to it as true wisdom, true life, the gift of God for the people of God.

Built on the water, Venice, Italy, has canals instead of streets and gondolas in place of cars. Each year tourists come to wonder at the beauty of that place and to visit ancient buildings that speak of stability and firmness in spite of being built over water and sand. The secret to their enduring quality? They were built long before the days of poured concrete pilings, which make it possible to erect skyscrapers and span rivers today. The early Venetians discovered a wood that grew harder and more enduring with time. They laid down great numbers of these to establish their city. A wooden cross whose shaft was sunk on Calvary’s hill is the foundation upon which our victory over death is built. It was the wisdom and power of God that planted that cross so that Jesus could die on it as the Savior of all people from sin and death. That cross has lost none of its enduring qualities with the passage of time. It is still the symbol of the only hope of salvation for humanity because on a cross of wood so many years ago, God the Son, Jesus died for you and me. Such a foolish thing to the world. But to us who are being saved it is the very power of God. Amen.

Sermon for January 22, 2023

Isaiah 9:1-4 (Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

“The Light That Grants Us Peace”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 22, 2023

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

Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Isaiah 9:

1For there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. As in the former time He treated with contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time He makes glorious the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those dwelling in a land of gloom, a light has shone upon them. 3You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy. They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as when they rejoice in their dividing the spoil. 4For the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of the one oppressing him, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Here is a letter written to you from an individual who lived in the village of Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee:

          Shalom! Peace be with you. I can say that with much more confidence now than I ever could before. I now know peace better than ever before because I now know the Light of God.

          Living in the region of Galilee has always been a challenge for God’s people. The allotment of land given to the Tribes of Asher, Manasseh, Zebulun, and Naphtali have bordered what we called “Gentile territory.” These were lands of the non-Israelite people. And so, God’s people there especially lived under the threat of invasion as well as an influx of religious thoughts that ran contrary to God’s Law as He gave it to us through His servant Moses. The Gentiles worshiped false gods, idols. And the nations who adored these idols tempted God’s people to forsake Him and worship them.

          The author of the Book of Judges tells us the sad pattern for God’s people. From chapter 2, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals.And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger.They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress” (Judg. 2:11–15 ESV).

          That distress is what came upon the region of Galilee, gloom among the tribes of Manasseh, Zebulun, and Naphtali. Judges 6 tells us, “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them.They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey.For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD” (Judg. 6:1–6 ESV).

          Can you imagine living in caves? Can you imagine your food and lands being ravaged so fiercely that you had to dwell in mountain dens like a wild animal? And yet that was the Lord’s just punishment against the people who had broken His First Commandment and offered their fear, love, and trust to false gods, forsaking the one, true God. Galilee’s gloom and darkness at the hands of the Midianites was a reflection of their deeper gloom and darkness before God whom they had abandoned.

          But God wouldn’t abandon His covenant people. Out of His mercy and grace, God heard the prayers of His sinful people as they turned to Him in fear over their enemies. The Lord raised up His servant Gideon. And with only 300 men, with the blowing of trumpets and the smashing of jars with torches inside, God defeated the Midianites by turning the Midianites against one another! It was a rout! And the men of Israel came out of the territory of Naphtali and from Manasseh, and they pursued the invaders. God had saved His people, even though they had sinned against Him and turned their backs on Him. A God of steadfast love and underserved kindness is He!

          But the land and people brought into the light of the Lord would return to the darkness of unfaithfulness and idolatry time and time again. God’s prophet Isaiah wrote the word of God you heard this morning after Galilee and all the tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel had succumbed to the Assyrian invaders. Zebulun and Naphtali were first devastated and depopulated by the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser III. You can read in 2 Kings 15, “In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured . . . Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria” (2 Kings 15:29 ESV).

          This was again God’s judgment against the sins of His covenant people. They worshiped false gods. The people of Israel were corrupt in the marketplace, in politics, in their worship. Despite the word of God from prophet after prophet, the people wouldn’t repent of their sins. They would not turn in faith to the Lord. The northern tribes of Israel, the land of Galilee, would be attacked and conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. God had warned them of the darkness and gloom to come because of their sinful rejection of Him. But they would not return to the Lord in repentance and faith. Once deported by the victors, the survivors of Israel would never return. They would become the famous 10 lost tribes of Israel.

          The story doesn’t get any better, I’m afraid. The Southern Kingdom of Judah would fall in 587 B.C. to the Babylonians. Thankfully, under Cyrus the Persian, the Babylonian exiles would be allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild her walls and temple. But things were never the same in Galilee. The Assyrians resettled their population among the remaining Israelites. They would intermarry and become what you know as the Samaritans, which the Jews termed “half-breeds,” half Jewish, half Gentile, not worthy of God in their eyes. And so, the years passed by. After the Babylonians came the Persians, after the Persians came the Greeks, and after the Greeks we now have the Romans.

          Israel’s brought upon her as a nation the darkness of punishment. Isn’t that what our sin, our individual unfaithfulness to the Lord, also brings upon us?—the darkness and gloom of guilt and shame; the deep darkness of death of hell. This whole world is shrouded in death, evil, and ignorance because of sin. This darkness is painted with the tints of evil and opposition to God and His revealed Word. People aren’t even interested in God’s free gift of salvation through His Anointed One, the Messiah-Savior! And just look at the evil in your own heart. I know, I don’t like looking there myself, but when we hear God’s Word of Law that tells us how we should be and act and think, we fall miserably short. I don’t want my sins exposed, but God’s Word and Spirit convict me. I see the darkness and gloom of my sin.

          But then you and I hear Isaiah’s words. For there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. As in the former time He treated with contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time He makes glorious the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those dwelling in a land of gloom, a light has shone upon them.” Light is the only thing that can penetrate and dispel darkness, for darkness is the absence of light. In the place of calamity and gloom, God promised that His people would see the light of peace and blessing.

          That Light is not a beam or an illumination from a lamp, but a person. Jesus of Nazareth came and lived here in Capernaum. He proclaimed, “Repent, for the reign and rule of heaven is near and is now here!” This Jesus had been teaching in our synagogues and proclaiming the Good News of God’s reign and rule. He proved that Good News by His actions of healing every disease and every affliction among the people. He even cast out demons and healed paralytics (Matt. 4:23-24).

          Jesus is the Light that brings life and immortality to light, dispelling the effects of sin and the deep darkness of our idolatry. This Light appeared to bring the reign and rule of God among us and to us. We have seen a great light. Jesus, the true Light, shines. As on the day of Midian, God has acted for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. God has defeated the powers of sin and Satan. He has brought a crushing blow to death. Our greatest enemies lie in defeat because Jesus the Light of the world gave up His life into death on a Roman cross. The great Light, God’s Son, was enveloped by the darkness of our evil and sin, as He suffered on that cross. Jesus went into the darkness. As the Lamb of God bearing the sins of the world, He became the “darkness of the world” for us so that we might be the “light of the world” in Him by God’s steadfast love, mercy, and grace.

Jesus, the preacher and healer from Galilee, God’s own Son in human flesh and blood, is the Messiah—Savior. He offered Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of His people Israel and for the sins of the nations. Isaiah promised this. He said that God would “multiply the nation.” In chapter 60, the prophet wrote, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Is. 60:1–3 ESV). In Jesus, God has done just that by incorporating the nations into His Israel, the whole people of God who have faith in Jesus Christ, who are washed in His blood, and baptized into His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting.

And that is you. You are the people of God in Christ Jesus. “You were washed, you were [made holy], you were [declared righteous] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11 ESV). Salvation from the darkness and gloom of sin and death have come to you by God’s free grace and favor through our Lord, Jesus Christ. And it is that salvation in the forgiveness of sins that grants us true peace, real shalom. In Jesus, God has given “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace”—the peace of sins forgiven, the peace of victory over death because of the gift of eternal life in the resurrection (Luke 1:79 ESV).

I pray that the Good News of Jesus, the true Light, would always cause you to rejoice in your Savior as you walk by faith and not by sight. Shalom in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Sermon for January 15, 2023, Second Sunday after the Epiphany

John 1:29-42a (Second Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

“Behold the Lamb—Make Known the Lamb”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 15, 2023

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 1:

29The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 30This is He of whom I said ‘a man is coming after me who was before me, because He was first of me.’ 31And I didn’t know Him, but so that He might be made known to Israel, on account of this I came baptizing with water.” 32And John bore witness saying, “I saw the Spirit coming down as a dove out of heaven and remain on Him. 33And I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water, He said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit come down and remain upon Him, He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and I bear witness that He is the Son of God.” 35The next day again, John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and when he saw Jesus walking, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” 37And when the two disciples heard him speaking, they followed Jesus. 38And Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to Him, “Rabbi,” which says being translated, ‘teacher,’ “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” Then they came and saw where He was staying and remained with Him that day. It was about the tenth hour. 40Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard from John and who followed Him. 41He first found his brother, Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah, which is translated, ‘Christ.’ 42He brought him to Jesus.

          Epiphany and its season is one of the oldest in the Church Year dating back to the second century A.D. when it was observed as both a commemoration of Jesus’ birth and His baptism. The word epiphany emphasizes Jesus’ manifestation, His being made known, as true God and true Man. We find the root of the word epiphany in our text in verse 31 as John the Baptist confessed, “And I didn’t know Him, but so that He might be made known to Israel, on account of this I came baptizing with water.” And what we see happening in this text is Jesus being made known as true God and true Man to John, to John’s disciples, and to us so that we might continue to make Jesus known in our day.

          John’s ministry was to make God’s Son in human flesh known to Israel. That is the reason he came baptizing with water, to reveal Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who is God’s own Son made flesh. There is, then, that perplexing phrase, “And I didn’t know Him.” What did John mean by that? Jesus was John’s cousin. There is every reason to think that John had known Jesus personally since childhood. John probably had his own personal convictions about Jesus. Clearly, John was not clueless as to his work as the forerunner of the promised Messiah. John’s father, Zechariah, sang about John was he was born, that John will be “called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76–77 ESV). John himself told the priests and Levites who had come to the Jordan River from Jerusalem, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said. . . . I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:23–27 ESV). Since absolute certainty about the person and work of the Messiah comes from the Word of God, in order to make Him known to Israel, the certainty about who and what the Messiah was had to be given by God to John. John “was granted the experience to see and to know who Jesus really was, and through the Baptist this knowledge and certainty was to be communicated ‘to Israel.’”[1]

          And so it was that Jesus, true God and true Man, the Messiah, was made known to John with the certainty of God’s Word at our Lord’s baptism, which we observed last Sunday. From today’s Gospel, “And John bore witness saying, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down as a dove out of heaven and remain on Him. And I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water, He said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit come down and remain upon Him, He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and I bear witness that He is the Son of God.’”

          Following our Lord’s baptism, John points to Jesus with familiar words to us, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He points to Jesus, full of the Spirit, who is the Son of God made flesh, who will lift up and carry away all sins. The day following, again John points to Jesus as He was walking along, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” John made Jesus known especially to his disciples, one of whom was Andrew. They heard John’s proclamation about Jesus as the Messiah, anointed with the Holy Spirit, the Son of God, indeed, the Lamb of God who has come into the world to save sinners. Then, Andrew and another disciple of John followed Jesus and spent the day with Him. Andrew next made known what He had heard from John and Jesus. He told his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah!” And Andrew brought Peter to Jesus.

          The Season after the Epiphany, Jesus’ manifestation as the Messiah, His being made known as true God and true Man, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That making known continues today. God made known Jesus with certainty to John. John made known Jesus with certainty to the crowd and to his own disciples. Andrew made Jesus known to his brother Simon Peter. Who has made Jesus known to you? To whom do you make Jesus known as true God and true Man, the Savior of the world?

          God’s chosen course for making the Savior known to the world is the very pattern we have seen in today’s Gospel. God reveals in His Word who Jesus is and what He has done for the world in His perfect life, death, and resurrection. In the holy Scriptures, we behold the Lamb of God. We see His ministry among the people, serving them in love, bringing them to repentance so that they might receive the reign and rule of God that Jesus brings breaking into the world of sin and Satan. Jesus throws out the demons, overthrowing Satan’s reign. He heals the sick, the lame, the blind; He calms the sea, multiplies bread and fish, and feeds a multitude as He overcomes the effects and consequences of sin in the world.

          In the Word of God, we behold the innocent Lamb, the Holy One of God, led to the slaughter of the cross so that He might bear in His sinless body the sins and fallenness of the world. “So they took Jesus,and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:16–18 ESV). Like a sacrificial lamb, without spot or blemish, Jesus gave up His life into death, shedding His holy, precious blood, redeeming everyone from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

          Behold, the Lamb of God! Look at Jesus who is nailed to a cross. He suffers the pain and agony of crucifixion, but also much more and much worse. On the cross, Jesus bears the sins of the world. He takes them upon Himself as if they were His own. On the cross, the sinless Son of God becomes the greatest sinner of all history. This Sin-Bearer is so repugnant to God the Father that the Father turns His back on His One-of-a-kind Son as He is covered in our hatred, our vulgar language, our lust, our greed, our unkindness—all of our sins. The Father removes Himself from Jesus so that He endures hell itself as He bleeds and suffers a God-forsaken death. Behold, the Lamb of God!—His blood poured out on the cross in death to cleanse you from all your sins. His glorious resurrection from the dead in which He left the bloody grave clothes behind in the tomb. Satan is crushed. Sin is forever forgiven. Death has been defeated.

          Forgiveness of sins and life everlasting are now gifted to you and to all people by God the Holy Spirit using the Means of Grace. The Word of the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, deliver to us what Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection won for us. The Good News of “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16 ESV). Through the Gospel Word, the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in a person so that he or she trusts in Jesus’ as their Lord and Savior. That saving faith receives from the Gospel the fruits of Jesus’ saving work—forgiveness and eternal life. As the apostle writes in Romans 10, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 ESV).

          The Word and the Sacraments of Christ are God’s means of transmitting salvation to us and to all people. It is the Word and the Sacraments that allow us to behold Jesus, the Lamb of God, with the eyes of saving faith, receiving from Him forgiveness of sins and life everlasting in words, water, bread and wine.

And you and I, empowered by the Gospel through the Means of Grace, are called to make Jesus known to others We, like John the Baptist, are the human agents who bring the Good News of Jesus to other people. John witnessed to Jesus and made Him known to the people. He pointed out the Messiah who would take away their sins, saving them from death and hell. John made Jesus known to his disciples and, Andrew, in turn, told Simon Peter. To whom will you make Jesus, the Lamb of God, known?

By the power of the Holy Spirit, as you and I make us of the Means of Grace, we fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord as disciples are made my baptizing and teaching the Word of Christ. We ourselves who behold the Lamb of God in Word and Sign will make Jesus known as the Savior. Through the Gospel, in baptismal waters, in the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood with the bread and wine, behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! And prayerfully ask, “To whom can I make known Jesus this week?” Amen.

     [1] R.C.H. Lenski, John (Hendrickson, 1998), 131.

Sermon for January 8, 2023, The Baptism of Our Lord

Isaiah 42:1-9 (The Baptism of Our Lord—Series A)

“The Servant of Yahweh”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 8, 2023

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

Our text is the Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah 42:

1Behold, my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One in whom I delight. I am placing my Spirit upon Him. He will bring forth the verdict for the nations. 2He will not cry out and He will not raise His voice, and He will not make His voice heard in the street. 3A bruised reed He will not break; a dim wick He will not snuff out. He will faithfully bring forth the verdict. 4He will not grow dim and He will not be crushed until He establishes the verdict on the earth, and the coastlands will wait for His instruction. 5Thus says the God, Yahweh, the Creator of the heavens and the One stretching them out, the One hammering out the earth and what comes forth from it, the One giving breath to the people upon it, and spirit to the ones walking on it: 6 “I am Yahweh, I am calling you in righteousness, and I will seize your hand and I will guard you, and I will appoint you to be a covenant for the people, to be a light for the nations. 7By opening the eyes of the blind, by bringing out the prisoner from the dungeon, from the house of confinement the ones who are living in darkness. 8I am Yahweh; that is my name, and I will not give my glory to another nor my praise to idols. 9The former things—behold—have happened, and new things I am declaring. Before they spring forth, I am making them known to you.”

          If you were here for Christmas Eve, you heard about the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest.” But before we dug into that text together, I highlighted other songs in the Bible: the songs in the first two chapters of Luke, the Book of Psalms, and the four Servant Songs in the Book of Isaiah. This morning’s Old Testament text is the First Servant Song. In these songs, Isaiah envisioned one Servant in particular who would set people free and bring about salvation for the world. This Servant would not just redeem Israel but would also bring Yahweh’s salvation to the ends of the earth, setting us all free from sin, death, and Satan. He would lead a new exodus into the new creation, the home of His people forever.

          God had chosen Israel as His servant to share His Word and salvation with the nations. Israel was to announce the Lord’s verdict against idolatry and deliver His Word—His torah, His instruction—among the nations. Yahweh chose Israel with the intention that the covenant people would be in mission to the world as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). At Mt. Sinai, the nation of Israel was commissioned to be the Lord’s “go between,” mediating between God and the nations. Israel was to be a model of what the Lord desires for all people. Israel was chosen to be God’s light to world, not because its people were more important or upright than the rest of the nations. They were not chosen because they were more numerous, mighty, or powerful. Israel was chosen to be the Lord’s servant because of His gracious love. Deuteronomy 7:7-8: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7–8 ESV).

          Now we are set up for Isaiah’s message. At the end of chapter 41, just before the First Servant Song, the Lord holds council in heaven. He puts the nations and their false gods, idols, on trial and finds them wanting: “Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. . . . Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind” (Is. 41:24, 29 ESV). Now it was God’s servant Israel who was to announce this verdict against idolatry and share the Lord’s teaching among the nations. Since false gods do not save, the servant Israel was to bring truth and light to the nations in the Word of the only true God who alone saves. But the nation of Israel was defeated, weary, rebellious, and idolatrous themselves! The people are described as blind prisoners groping about in a dark dungeon. They are self-imprisoned in bondage to other gods and have turned away from faith and trust in the only true God, Yahweh Himself.

          The Lord’s servant Israel had failed in their God-given mission. A new Servant was needed, One who can take the first servant’s place and accomplish what he couldn’t. Israel was not capable of fulfilling its role. But God would remain faithful to His promises, both to Israel and to the world. And so God the Father says, “Behold, my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One in whom I delight. I am placing my Spirit upon Him. He will bring forth the verdict for the nations.”

          By Adam’s disobedience, all people were made sinners. The fruit of this original sin are the evil deeds that are forbidden in the Ten Commandments. These include unbelief, false faith, idolatry, and being without the fear of God. Israel’s malady is also ours. It is the sin-problem that we have all inherited as human beings. It is no wonder, then, that the First Commandment is “You shall have no other gods.” In the Large Catechism we learn that to have a God means trusting and believing Him with all our heart. “Confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.”[1]

          Since Israel put its trust in idols and false gods, the nation was no longer able to bring God’s instruction of Law and Promises to the fallen peoples of the world. God appointed His One-of-a-Kind Son to be the Servant who would fulfill what Israel was unable to do. This Servant would bring Yahweh’s verdict against false worship and idolatry. He would bring it forth in truth and establish it upon the earth. The Lord’s Servant would be a light for Israel to bring them back to Yahweh. He would also be a light for the nations. He would be the Lord’s agent to bring all peoples out of their self-imposed incarceration in bondage to other gods. He would set them free from the prison house of sin and death.

          “Behold, my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One in whom I delight. I am placing my Spirit upon Him. He will bring forth the verdict for the nations.” At Jesus’ baptism, we see the fulfillment of God’s promise to place the Spirit upon His Servant. From today’s Gospel reading, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:16–17 ESV).

          God the Father delights in His Son, who took to Himself a true human body and soul, so that He might serve Israel and all humanity. Matthew tells us in chapter 12 of His Gospel that the incarnate Son of God is indeed the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise in this First Servant Song, “And many followed [Jesus], and he healed them all  and ordered them not to make him known.This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles’ (Matt. 12:15–18 ESV). Again, at Jesus’ transfiguration, God the Father identifies His Son, His Servant, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5 ESV).

          We are to listen to the Lord’s Servant, Jesus Christ, who took up His ministry of tenderness and love. As one commentator said it, “God’s answer to the oppressors of the world is not more oppression, nor is his answer to arrogance more arrogance; rather, in quietness, humility, and simplicity, he will take all of the evil into himself and return only grace. That is power.”[2] Our Lord had compassion for “bruised reeds” and “dim wicks.” He talked publicly with immoral women, socialized with sinners and tax collectors. He healed the lame, touched unclean lepers making them clean, and gave sight to the blind. He brought in the in-breaking of the reign and rule of God crashing into the world of idolatry and sin, to people in need of the freedom and the forgiveness that grants new, eternal life. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28 ESV).

          That is why the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 42 is also the Suffering Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53. To free all people from Satan’s bondage, from sin, death, and hell, Jesus, the Servant is abused, killed, and discarded, yet also raised from the dead. Through His sacrificial guilt offering, He gives the verdict of “not guilty” to sinners because He has suffered, died, and is risen again granting perfect forgiveness and rescue from death and the devil. From the Fourth Servant Song we hear these familiar Gospel words about our Servant-Savior, Jesus: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Is. 53:5–11 ESV).

          By grace through faith in Jesus, you have been declared right with God. He has made you righteous through the waters of Holy Baptism, cleansing you with His blood, gifting you with His own righteousness so that you are saved from sin and death forevermore.

          Through His Word and Sacraments today, Jesus serves you in love and mercy so that you hear His Law and receive His Gospel that enables you to turn from your idolatry and sin, and by His grace, embrace through faith the salvation of the one, true God in the forgiveness of sins. Through your baptismal incorporation into Christ and the hearing of the Lord’s Word, as the Holy Spirit sustains faith in Christ by the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the stranglehold of idolatry is broken. Your eyes have been opened to see Christ, the light of world. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8 ESV). He has raised you up out of the prison house of sin and death. He has redeemed you from the house of bondage. The Lord’s Servant—Jesus the Savior—has brought forth the Father’s verdict to you: “Go in peace. You are free.” Amen.

     [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 359.

     [2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 2, 211. Quoted in R. Reed Lessing, Concordia Commentary: Isaiah 40-55, (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 258.

Sermon for January 1, 2023, The Circumcision and Name of Jesus

Galatians 3:23-29 (The Circumcision and Name of Jesus)

“Free from the Guardian”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 1, 2023

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

The text today is the Epistle lesson from Galatians 3:

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

          It is the end of a year and the beginning of a new one. Happy 2023! Our thoughts may be on the past year and its joys, sorrows, accomplishments, and sins, or on the year ahead and our hopes for it. It doesn’t matter that this date is somewhat arbitrary for reckoning a new year, or that calendars have changed in human history. At least this day reminds us of the passing of time. Pagans come to this day, and sometimes lament and curse the year past for their unhappiness, and they hope to be happy in the year to come. Christians, however, should use this day to remember that their days and years are in God’s hands, to give thanks for His blessings in the past year, to repent of their past sins, and to pray for God’s future blessings. It is a good day for us Christians.

          Today’s Epistle has nothing to do with the New Year. It does, however, say something about today’s festival, the Circumcision and the Name of our Lord. On the eighth day after his birth, our Lord was given the name Jesus and was circumcised, in order to fulfill the Law of Moses, particularly the ceremony of circumcision. Is circumcision still an obligation for Christians? If so, are Christians obligated to obey the Law of Moses in all its aspects: the Ten Commandments, the dietary laws, circumcision, and the like?

          The false apostles in Galatia had a pretty strong argument. Jesus was circumcised, after all. And God commanded circumcision to Abraham and had it written down by Moses. Circumcision was the sacramental sign of God’s people. So if the non-Jewish people, the Gentiles, wanted to be saved, they would have to join God’s people, and that would mean they have to become Jewish and be circumcised. They would have to keep the Law of Moses. That’s how the false apostles’ argument ran. It’s an attractive argument, and even in our day, some Christians think the same thing. But it’s completely wrong. It makes salvation dependent on our performance of the Law of Moses, and takes away salvation as God’s free gift. So Paul argues against the false apostles, and Galatians is Paul’s masterpiece, in which he demotes the Law of Moses and proves that salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, not through works of the Law.

          “The Law of Moses” is what I’ve been saying. That’s the phrase. When Lutherans say “Law,” they usually mean the eternal will of God for our behavior, which functions as a curb, mirror, and guide, and which is written in the hearts of mankind. That is, we usually mean the moral law of God, which is also the natural law. But in the Bible, “Law,” often means the Law of Moses in the broad sense—the first five books of the Old Testament. “Law” in the broad sense is how the false apostles at Galatia were using the word: everything that God spoke to Moses, that’s the Law. It includes the eternal, moral law, the ceremonies of the tabernacle, and the civil ordinances of ancient Israel. And that brings us to Paul’s main point.

          The Law of Moses is not the way of salvation. Instead, it points you to the way of salvation. Paul’s main point was in Galatians 2:15-16, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

          In chapter 3, then, he proves what he said, both from Scripture and from the experience of the Galatians. But the false apostles had a strong argument: “The Law of Moses was given by God; therefore, you have to do it.” Yes, says St. Paul, God gave it, and it is holy and good, but only if you use it the right way. The Law of Moses was never meant to be a way of salvation. Instead, it points you to the way of salvation through faith in Him—His life, death, and resurrection. Second, the Law of Moses has the moral law, such as the Ten Commandments, which reveals our sins, and curses and damns all sinners. It shows our need for Christ the Savior. So indeed the Law points to Christ, both by prophesying and by condemning.

          This is shown by the example of a “guardian” or disciplinarian. In our Epistle, Paul gives this example of the right use of the Law. “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (vv 23-25). The Law of Moses was our guardian, or disciplinarian. The Greek word used is where wet get our word “pedagogue.” It doesn’t mean a teacher of children, though. A pedagogue was a slave in charge of disciplining the sons. He would lead them to school and make sure they behaved, and if they didn’t, he would punish them. A pedagogue, a guardian, a disciplinarian—that’s what the Law was. It’s good. It’s given by God. But it was never meant to be a way of salvation for sinners. God set forth the Law through Moses to do the opposite: not to save, but to discipline, reveal sins, rebuke, curse, and condemn. By doing so, all our excuses are removed, and all we can do is confess ourselves guilty before the holy God and pray for forgiveness. We cannot be saved by obeying the Law of Moses, because we cannot obey the Law of Moses perfectly.

          Thanks be to God, you are now free from the guardian. Faith has come, that is “the word of faith that we proclaim” (Rom. 10:8). This proclamation has gone out into all the world. The message of Christ’s person and saving work has come to you, and through it, the Holy Spirit has created faith in your heart. So you are now free from the guardian. You’re not a little kid anymore; you have grown up in Christ. You are no longer under a guardian.

          What does this mean? Two things. First, the ceremonial and civil laws of Israel are not applicable to Gentiles. They have served their purpose and are no longer in effect, now that faith has come. Second, even though the moral law, such as the Ten Commandments, is still God’s will for our behavior, as it always has been, its curse as haven removed through Christ. Christ obeyed the Law perfectly, loved God perfectly, and shed His blood as an innocent sacrifice—the first blood of which was His circumcision. Yes, today in Jesus’ circumcision, we see a prefiguring of His blood being poured out on the cross. So you are no longer under the Law, under its curse. Instead, with the Holy Spirit within you, you now walk in the Law of the Lord (1 Cor. 9:21), and in His Law, we are drawn and called to meditate day and night (Ps. 1:2).

          Through Christ, we are free of the ceremonies, civil ordinances, and condemnation of the Law of Moses, but we as Christians do not set aside God’s commands but walk in the Law of the Lord. Not under the Law, but in it, because you are in Christ, were baptized into Christ, and have put on Christ. You are free from the guardian, for faith has come.

          In this new year of the Lord, be comforted by the kindness of Him and give thanks to Him, who became your Brother in the womb of the Virgin Mary and fulfilled the Law for you, including circumcision, in order to establish your faith securely. To Him be glory forever. Amen.