Sermon for January 24, 2021, Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 (Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Series B)

“The Great Mercy of God”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

January 24, 2021

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

Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Jonah 3:

1And the word of Yahweh came to Jonah a second time saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and call out to her the proclamation which I am speaking to you.” 3And Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of Yahweh. Now Nineveh was a great city [belonging] to God, a walk of three days. 4And Jonah began to enter the city a walk of one day. And he called out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5And the men of Nineveh believed in God and they called for a fast and they put on sackcloths, from the greatest of them to the least of them. . . . 10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way and God changed His verdict about the evil that He threatened to do to them, and He did not do it.

          It took a couple tries to get him to be where God needed him. It took a storm at sea, being thrown overboard, three days in the belly of a big fish, and finally being vomited back up on the shore, but Jonah went. Jonah got up off the beach, covered in seaweed and fish-innards, and went to Nineveh, the great city. He proclaimed to the people of Nineveh what Yahweh told him to preach—five words in Hebrew—“Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overturned.”

          God’s message to the people of Nineveh was a warning. He was a witness to their evil (1:2). Later on, the prophet Nahum would charge Nineveh with plotting against the Lord, wanton cruelty, prostitution, materialism, and arrogance. Were these some of the sins that had come up before the Lord and against which His wrath would fall in judgment? Nevertheless, God gave the people forty days before Nineveh would be “overturned.” This is a word full of meaning. Nineveh and her people will be “overturned” either to further unbelief leading to destruction or the people would be “overturned” to repentance and new life. In other words, change is coming—either change from life to destruction or from destruction to new life.

           Change is what repentance really is. It is a change in heart, mind, and will. It is a turning from sin and evil to God with faith and trust in Him for the forgiveness of sins. In Article Twelve of our Augsburg Confession we read that “repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven. It comforts the conscience and delivers it from terror” (AC XII 3-5).

          Did you catch those important words about repentance? It is born of the Gospel, brought to life by the Gospel. What is the Gospel? That God chooses to show mercy to sinners by granting them the forgiveness of sins even though they have not deserved nor earned that forgiveness. The Gospel is the good news that God acts for people who by nature are dead in their sins and cannot save themselves (Eph. 2:1). The people of Nineveh had a one-way ticket to destruction. They were squarely under the judgment and wrath of God because of their sins. The thunderbolt of God’s Law, like a hammer, struck down upon them, “Yet forty days!” The people deserved nothing but God’s punishment for their sins. You and I are no different in this respect. The Ninevites clearly understood the sentence rendered against them from God. Do we? Either they would be overthrown by God’s judgment or they would be overthrown because God would bring about a change—repentance—and through faith the people would respond to the work of God the Spirit in their hearts and produce fruits in keeping with repentance.

          The Word of God is what brings about this change. The Word is a Means of Grace, a Means that God the Holy Spirit uses to change hearts and bring about repentance and faith in a person. “God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed. In the Word He has the Holy Spirit bring this treasure home and make it our own” (Large Catechism).[1] The treasure is the mercy of God—the Gospel, the Absolution, the forgiveness of sins. It is a gift of the Lord’s mercy to those who most assuredly do not deserve it. The Ninevites didn’t deserve mercy. They deserved punishment and destruction (which Jonah really hoped the Lord would give them a good dose of). But through the preaching of the Word of God (done by Jonah) the Lord changed their hearts and minds. The Spirit brought about repentance and faith. “And the men of Nineveh believed in God.” The change in Nineveh started as soon as the words left Jonah’s mouth! Luther taught his students: “Thus the prophet Jonah speaks a mere word (this is what he had been sent for), commanding nothing at all about works. But since the people of Nineveh believed the Word of God, of their own free will and with their faith as the leader and originator they did these works by which they gave external proof of their internal faith. In plain words, faith alone justifies a person, . . . The works therefore did not make the faith, but the faith performed the works. . . . They believed God’s Word, and by turning away from their wickedness they proved their internal faith by their external works. On account of their faith, which was the fountain and source of the works, God looked favorably on the works of these saints” (italics mine).[2]

          Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” To have mercy on sinners is God’s choice. To change hearts and minds like ours from a state of rebellion and rejection of God to one of repentance, faith, and trust in God is solely the work of the Lord. And this merciful work that God performed on the Ninevites is the same work that He performs on us and all people according to His mercy. And the basis for and the climactic expression of God’s mercy is Jesus Christ.

          God is gracious to sinners and has mercy on fallen humanity only because of the saving work of Jesus in His perfect life, death, and resurrection. Did wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes win God’s favor for the people of Nineveh? No. Did the fasting of people and beast in Nineveh cause God to change His mind and forgive them? No. God chose to have mercy and forgive the people of Nineveh because He would send His One-of-a-Kind Son into the world and His Son would purchase their forgiveness with His blood. God the Holy Spirit worked repentance and faith in the people of Nineveh because Jesus would live a perfect life in their place and because Jesus would suffer God’s wrath and judgment meant for them while He died on a cross.

          This saving grace by which God is moved to forgive sin and to give salvation to fallen people is His compassionate inclination, mediated through Christ’s atonement, revealed in the Gospel, and witnessed to the world in order that it might be believed by all people. God’s Word delivers what it promises—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation from death and hell because Jesus has died and paid the price for all sins and is risen from the dead. There is full forgiveness in Christ alone who brings the mercy of God to people by grace through faith by means of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.

          And so it was that Jesus, who began His public ministry following His baptism in the Jordan River, proclaimed the Gospel of God and said, “The due time stands fulfilled and the reign and rule of God has drawn near and is now here. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” This is the most basic statement concerning the Christian faith: repentance and trust in the Gospel about the incarnate Son of God who stands in the place of all sinners. Jesus stood in your place in order to fulfill the Law for you and to win salvation for you by taking your sins and making them His own, by enduring God’s wrath and punishment for those sins on the cross. Jesus shed His blood to atone for your sins. He died for your sins, and by rising again, has won complete victory over sin, death, and hell for you.

          God’s mercy and grace shown to Nineveh was truly a foretaste of the grace and mercy to come in all its fullness when Jesus took on flesh and lived, died, and rose again in your place. The people of Nineveh were saved by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone—God’s undeserved mercy shown to sinners whom the Spirit brought to saving faith by the power of the Word. You are saved by that very same grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone—God’s undeserved mercy shown to you whom the Spirit has brought to saving faith by the power of the Word. Amen.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 403.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 19: Minor Prophets II: Jonah and Habakkuk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 19 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 23, 25.

Sermon for January 17, 2021, Second Sunday after the Epiphany

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (Second Sunday after the Epiphany—Series B)

“Known to Know”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

January 17, 2021

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

Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in 1 Samuel 3:

1And the boy Samuel was ministering to Yahweh in the presence of Eli. And the word of Yahweh was rare in those days. There was no frequent vision. 2And it came to pass in those days when Eli was lying down in his place and his eyesight had begun to be dim and he was not able to see, 3and the lamp of God had not yet gone out, that Samuel was lying down in the temple of Yahweh where the ark of God was. 4And Yahweh called to Samuel. And he said, “Here I am.” 5And he ran to Eli and said to him, “Here I am, for you called to me.” And he said, “I didn’t call. Return and lie down.” And he went and lay down. 6And once more Yahweh again called Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called to me.” And he said, “I did not call, my son. Return and lie down. 7Now Samuel did not yet know Yahweh and the word of Yahweh had not yet been revealed to him. 8And once more Yahweh called Samuel a third time and he arose and went to Eli. And he said, “Here I am, for you called to me.” And Eli perceived that Yahweh was calling to the boy. 9And Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down and when he calls to you, you shall say, “Speak, O Yahweh, for your servant is listening.” And Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10And Yahweh came and stood and he called as at the other times, “Samuel, Samuel.” And Samuel said, “Speak for your servant is listening.”

          God is all-knowing. One of His divine attributes (qualities or characteristics) is that He is omniscient. God knows everything. God knows you inside and out. He knows you personally. As God said to Jeremiah, the same holds true for each one of you, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer. 1:5 ESV). David wrote these words in Psalm 139, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me!You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. . . . For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psa. 139:1–16 ESV).

          God is your Creator. He knows you. He knows all about you, every detail. Of course, that means the Lord knows the things that we don’t want Him to know. He knows the thoughts and the desires of our hearts and minds, those things of which we are ashamed to tell others because of their shamefulness. Yes, God knows us intimately, and that means He knows our sins—the thoughts, words, desires, and deeds that fill us with guilt and shame. The Lord said to Israel through His prophet Amos, “For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins” (Amos 5:12 ESV). In the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor that begin the Book of Revelation the Lord Christ tells each congregation, “I know you. I know your works. I know your situations. I know your love and faith and service.” But the Lord Christ also says to the churches, “I know you. And I have this against you.” God knows us. God knows His people. He knows our sins and our failures to always live as His people.

          Perhaps it is this fact that makes the call narratives in the Bible all the more surprising. God knows those whom He calls into His service. He knows all about them, including their sins. He knows that they do not know Him. And yet, God calls. God appoints them for ministry and discipleship. Some examples:

          Moses: “Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.And the angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.’ When Yahweh saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’Then he said, ‘Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Ex. 3:1–6).

          Samuel in our Old Testament text today: Now Samuel did not yet know Yahweh and the word of Yahweh had not yet been revealed to him. And once more Yahweh called Samuel a third time and he arose and went to Eli. And he said, “Here I am, for you called to me.” And Eli perceived that Yahweh was calling to the boy. And Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down and when he calls to you, you shall say, “Speak, O Yahweh, for your servant is listening.” And Samuel went and lay down in his place. And Yahweh came and stood and he called as at the other times, “Samuel, Samuel.” And Samuel said, “Speak for your servant is listening.”

          Nathanael in our Gospel Reading: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ (John 1:47–48 ESV)

          Saul: “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do’” (Acts 9:3–6 ESV).

          Each of these did not yet know God. But He knew them. He knew them and He called them to His service despite the fact that they were all by nature sinful and unclean, as are we. The Good News is that God does know us and chooses to call us to be His children in spite of our sins. The Good News is that God knows us in our sinful condition and entered into our humanity to rescue us from our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17 ESV).

          God has made Himself known to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. In Christ, we come to know God by faith. We know Him as the God who alone is just and holy, the God who is gracious and merciful, the God who became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ in order to seek and to save the lost. Look how wondrously this was foreshadowed in Yahweh coming to Samuel. Verse 10, “Yahweh came and stood.” This is the language of incarnation! This is the language of God who knows people and comes to be with them in order to call them to faith and service. In the words of the hymnwriter, “The everlasting Son Incarnate deigns to be, Himself a servant’s form puts on To set His servants free” (LSB 331:2).

          That freedom is yours through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God made flesh. He is the very God who came to Moses in the burning bush, to Samuel in the tabernacle, to Nathanael in Galilee, and to Saul on the Damascus road. He is the Christ, the Good Shepherd, who knows His sheep and calls them all by name. He is the Good Shepherd because He gave up His life on behalf of His sheep. Jesus died on a cross to cover your sins with His blood. He died for all the shameful thoughts, desires, words, and deeds you ever have or ever will think, say, or do. Jesus came and stood in your place and endured death and hell on the cross to save you from your sins so that He might give you the free gift of eternal life.

          By means of water and the Word in Holy Baptism, God called you by name. He washed you in His name, the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In that saving flood, the Lord adopted you into His family with all the rights and privileges of being a child of the heavenly Father. In Baptism, the Lord called you to saving faith in Jesus Christ, your Savior and Lord. He also called you to serve Him with faith and good works as a disciple of your Lord Jesus. Through the hearing of the Word of God, God the Holy Spirit continues to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify you in this faith and holy living. Through the Gospel in Word and Supper, the Lord delivers to you forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. He strengthens your faith and empowers you for service in His Church and in the world.

The God who knew you from before the foundation of the world loved you so much that He gave you His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus, to be your Savior. He who knows all your sins chose to save you from them and the punishment of death by giving His Son to be your substitute in His life and in His death on a cross. Risen from the dead, the Lord Jesus continues to call you through His Word by the power of the Spirit and to deliver to you His blood-bought forgiveness and life. Through the Word, God continues to reveal Himself to you as your Father, your Savior, and your Comforter who will never leave or forsake you. There is no condemnation, no guilt and no shame remain. Your sins are forgiven. God knows you as His beloved son or daughter. Amen.

Sermon for January 10, 2021, The Baptism of Our Lord

Mark 1:9-11 (The Baptism of Our Lord—Series B)

“Into Christ”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

January 10, 2021

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

Our text is from the Gospel recorded in Mark 1:

9And it happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordon by John. 10And immediately, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting open and the Spirit as a dove descending into him. 11And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

          On the 1950s television show Dragnet, Sgt. Joe Friday, played by Jack Webb, didn’t get to be a sergeant by beating around the bush. He wanted to get right to the heart of the matter, hence his famous catchphrase: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Except maybe his reputation precedes him because apparently, he never said those exact words! The closest he came was “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” Be that as it may, “just the facts” is really what we get from the Evangelist Mark here in chapter 1. Mark’s account of Jesus’ Baptism is short and right to the point. (The way you hope this sermon will be!)

          Where: In the Jordan River

          Who:  Jesus

          What: Baptized by John

Case closed.

          Well, not quite. We do get the wondrous revealing of God the Son, the One anointed by God the Spirit as the Messiah, with whom God the Father is well-pleased. Here the entire Godhead of the one, true God in three divine persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is revealed to be at work bringing the reign and rule of heaven to Israel and the nations in the person and work of Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee. This Jesus is no mere man. He is the divine Son of God who became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The voice of the Father Himself testifies about Him here at the Jordan River, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well-pleased.” And the Father demonstrates that pleasure by fulfilling His BC Scriptures that we read in Isaiah 42, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Is. 42:1 ESV). At Jesus’ return to Nazareth, Luke records that “[Jesus] went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16–21 ESV). And as Peter taught Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, “Beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed:how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:37–38 ESV).

          At Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, the incarnate Son of God takes upon Himself the role of the Servant of the Lord promised by Isaiah. This is confirmed by the descent of the Spirit into Him. Yes, that’s right, “into” Jesus. The Holy Spirit didn’t just descend onto Jesus, but Mark uses the word “into” Jesus. We can say that Jesus is “possessed” by the Holy Spirit in Mark’s Gospel as He takes on the role of the Servant of the Lord, as He takes on the  role of the people of God, and as Jesus assumes the role of humanity itself before God. Jesus, at His baptism, identifies Himself with the children of Israel and us. He became one with us in our standing before God. He identified with humanity’s sinful condition. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus, by undergoing John’s baptism, “confesses” as it were, our sinful condition as if it were His own. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 ESV).

          Could we not say, then, that in His baptism, Jesus was “baptized” into our sin? Jesus was baptized to step into our shoes, or rather, our shackles. Jesus didn’t wait until His crucifixion to take on the sin of the world. Already in this baptismal bath, He was taking it on. Our idolatry, hypocrisy, hate, lust—you name the sin—that make up the sewer inside each of us is cast into the water and soaked up by our Lord. Jesus was baptized for us. All our transgressions cascaded to Him. He was “baptized” into our sin that we, in turn, might be baptized into His goodness, His holiness, His purity. In exchange for our sewer, Jesus gives us the fountain of everlasting life through the forgiveness of our sins.

Jesus identified with sinners so that He might be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In order to be the Messiah who removes the curse of sin from Israel and all humanity, Jesus had to take that sin upon Himself as if it were His own. The Spirit who came down upon and into Jesus then led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Spirit who came down upon and into Jesus ultimately brought Him, not to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, but to a Roman cross outside of Jerusalem. There, Jesus, laden with the sin of the world suffered God’s the Father’s punishment of death and hell so that all people would be set free from the bondage of sin and death. Isaiah 53 tells us again about the Servant of the Lord: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.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. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.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?” (Is. 53:4–8 ESV).

          Baptized and anointed by the Spirit to be the substitute before God . . . for you. Stricken, smitten, and afflicted . . . for you. Bearing the sins of the world, every thought, desire, word, and action contrary to God’s Word to the death of the cross . . . for you. As the hymnwriter penned it, “Now rise, faint hearts, be resolute; This man is Christ, our substitute! He was baptized in Jordan’s stream, Proclaimed Redeemer, Lord supreme” (LSB 405:6).

Because of Christ’s saving life, death, and resurrection, you have died to sin in God’s sight. When Christ died on the cross and rose again for you, you died to sin and everlasting death. When you were baptized intoChrist in your Baptism, you died to sin and were raised up individually, personally. Your Baptism plugs you into Christ, into His perfect life lived for you, into His death died for you, and into His resurrection life for you. In Baptism, you also received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit now dwells “in” you. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God” (1 Cor. 6:19 ESV), Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6. You are “possessed” by the Holy Spirit. You are in Christ. Christ is in you by the means of the Spirit (1 Cor. 1:30), His Word and Sacraments.

The Holy Spirit now dwells in you as a gift from the Father and the Son. You are new creations in your Baptism where God worked the forgiveness of sins, rescued you from death and the devil, and gifted you eternal life. In Baptism, you have been adopted as children of God and are made one with Christ and incorporated intoHis body, where we continue to receive all that our Lord has promised to His holy people.

These are truly “the facts.” They are the truth of God’s revealed Word to us. “Baptism is God’s work, and what He does is sure and certain. Nothing is more certain in all the universe than the name that God has placed on us in Baptism—the name by which God reveals Himself to us. Baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we have God’s own pledge and promise in Baptism that He has forgiven our sins and delivered us from death, hell, and the devil. In times of doubt, temptation, or failure—especially in the face of death—we can boldly say, “I am baptized into Christ” (bold, mine).[1]

Case closed! Amen.

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), 296.

Sermon for January 3, 2021, Second Sunday after Christmas

Luke 2:52 (Second Sunday after Christmas—Series B)

“Growing in Wisdom”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 3, 2021

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson, Luke 2:52:

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

             Here we are, three days into a new year. How are the resolutions coming? Have you made any yet? Started them yet? At this time in a new year people make all kinds of resolutions to make changes or to do things differently or better in the year beginning—lose weight, exercise more, eat right, listen to your parents more, keep your room clean. Statistically, most resolutions people make crash and burn before too long and don’t last much past Valentine’s Day. But I’d like us all to consider, not a resolution, but a recommitment. Can you and I, for the year of our Lord 2021, recommit to growing in the wisdom of God’s Word?

          Our Gospel text from the Word of God reveals Jesus to us at the age of 12. The reading begins with Luke’s summary of what took place from when Jesus was 40 days old until He was 12: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). The verse we are considering this morning tell us that at the age of 12, “Jesus continued to increase in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Jesus was growing. Would we expect anything else? Between 40 days old and 12 years old, Jesus grew up physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. He grew in stature; He matured with His increasing age. Again, exactly what we expect. We are told in Judges 13 that Samson grew, and the Lord blessed him. Samuel also grew in stature and in favor with Yahweh and with people. It’s what children do. They grow up. How can it even be that my baby girl is going to be 11 in nine days? It is amazing that Jesus, fully God, now made flesh and dwelling among us, must grow and progress like the humanity He has joined.

But we also see Jesus who, as an infant was filled with wisdom, now at age 12 continuing to progress and advance in wisdom. What is that wisdom in which Jesus progressed? We get a big hint from Luke: “[Mary and Joseph] found [Jesus] in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Jesus was listening, asking and answering questions, and speaking with the teachers about God’s Word, especially as that Word was revealed in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.

Torah, which is usually translated as “law,” really means instruction. Torah is God instructing His people through His revealed Word of both Commands and Promises, Law and Gospel. Now Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” How is it that people came to know the Holy One so that they might fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Through the revealed Word of God—the Torah, the Psalms, the Prophets. It is this Word of God that Jesus increased in as He grew in wisdom. And as Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, the Servant of Yahweh, “The Spirit of the Yahweh shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh” (Isaiah 11:2). And so Jesus as true man increased in wisdom as the Holy Spirit filled Him with wisdom and understanding from God’s Word.

Seeing the example of our Lord, can you and I, for the year of our Lord 2021, recommit to growing in the wisdom of God’s Word? I have to admit, that’s a tough question. It’s quite easy, like so many of the resolutions and commitments we make, to sit in a safe place and in a safe situation and say, “Sure, I can do that.” What safer place and situation can there be than sitting in God’s House with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and say before God and one another, “Yes, I will recommit to growing in the wisdom of God’s Word this year”? But what happens to that commitment and that desire when we walk out of the door of this safe place? Who is going to hold us accountable to our promise? Who is going to follow up on our commitment and see if we are following through?

On the surface, it seems like such a sensible and easy thing for a Christian to commit to, growing in the wisdom of God’s Word. Isn’t that what we desire to do as faithful Christians? Isn’t that what we committed to in our Confirmation vows? “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” To which we responded, “I do, by the grace of God.” Hearing the Word faithfully and living according to it requires growth in the wisdom of God’s Word. So if we are not hearing and reading the Word faithfully, we are not increasing in its wisdom. If we are not hearing and reading the Word faithfully, we cannot expect to live according to it. And isn’t that often where we find ourselves?

We set out as children of God with the intentions to spend time every day with God’s Word. Our desire is to grow in the wisdom of the Word which is provided to us in the sacred text by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, we all too often succumb to the temptation to spend our time on other things. Rather than guarding and protecting our time in the Word, we “fit it in” when we can. Or, we let the cares and concerns of life filter into the times we have set aside, and so our time with the Word and our growth in the wisdom of that Word shrinks and shrinks. “Oh, I’ll have time before bed.” “Oh, I’ll fit it in later.” “I’ll catch up tomorrow.” But your head hits the pillow, later never comes, and tomorrow is filled up.

Does this mean it is impossible for us to really recommit to growing in the wisdom of God’s Word? Not at all! But it does mean that we need help—divine help, divine assistance which is already ours!

Jesus’ grew and developed perfectly as humanity’s substitute before our heavenly Father. He accomplished in His life what you and I cannot because of our sins. He grew in perfect wisdom and knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. Because He did, He not only knew God’s commands perfectly, but also accomplished them perfectly. He kept God’s commandments 100%, on our behalf. Where we fail to always hear and live according to God’s Word, Jesus didn’t. Where we fail to love God and to love our neighbor, Jesus didn’t. And that’s good news for us because Jesus’ perfection is credited by God to us. Because we are baptized into Christ, we are covered with the perfection of Christ. And because we are covered in the perfection of Christ, we are not condemned. We are not punished for our sins because Jesus was punished in our place. Jesus, the perfect wisdom of God Himself, was crucified and bore all our sins in His body on the tree of the cross so that we might have the perfect forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1Cor. 1:30). This is, in fact, the very wisdom of God’s Word. It is the message of salvation that is proclaimed in both the Old and the New Testaments—Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God! (1 Cor. 1:24).

You and I have been made holy by the power of the Holy Spirit through the very wisdom of God in His Word. It is the Holy Spirit who has brought Christ to us in His Word. He has delivered the forgiveness and salvation won by Jesus to us through the Word. The Spirit has called, gathered, enlightened, and made us holy by this Gospel Word, distributing to us the gifts of Christ’s cross and resurrection. Now He empowers you and me to recommit to growing in the wisdom of God’s Word. God the Holy Spirit, working through His Word and Sacrament, enables us to be more faithful in our reading and in our hearing of this precious Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus. The Spirit helps us to make time with the Word a greater priority in our lives. He empowers us with His gifts and encourages us to take just a few minutes a day handling the Word of God—reading a Psalm or a Bible verse that is special to us.

The good news about our recommitment to growing in the wisdom of God’s Word is that we have God Himself helping us, enabling us, and encouraging us the whole time! In fact, it is God Himself through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit who gives us the growth of wisdom and faith. For the wisdom of God through His Word is the gift of God to us through His Spirit. In Christ, we have received “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh” so that we can recommit to and grow daily in the wisdom of God’s Word. Amen.