Author: pastormjc

Sermon for May 22, 2022, Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 5:1-9 (Sixth Sunday of Easter—Series C)

“Jesus Puts Us in the Water”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 22, 2022

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 5:

1After these things there was a festival of the Jews and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem there is near the Sheep Gate a pool with five covered porches, which in Hebrews is called Bethesda. 3Among these porches a large number of invalids were in the habit of lying—of the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed. 5Now there was a certain man there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw this man laying there and learned that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to become whole?” 7The invalid answered Him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is troubled. While I am going, another goes down before me.” 8Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” 9And immediately the man become whole, and he took up his pallet and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.

          He waited and waited. This man who had been an invalid for 38 years waited with the others—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. They gathered at the pool under the covered porches, believing that the pool had healing powers. It was said that an angel would come and “trouble” the waters, stirring them up so that the first person to enter the moving waters would be healed of whatever disease they had. This man never made it in first. He had no person to put him into the pool when the water was disturbed. As a result, he was never able to make use of the supposed curative power of the water.

          Now Jesus was in Jerusalem for a festival. St. John doesn’t mention which festival it was specifically. It might have been the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, or the Feast of Tabernacles. Whichever it was, during festivals, the people of Israel remembered God’s works of redemption in the past and expressed Israel’s hope and prayer that God would continue to bless them with His presence and favor. So it is that God the Son had come in human flesh in the person of Jesus to bring His grace to His people. Approaching the man, an invalid of 38-years, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to become whole?”

          It’s a question asking much more than “Do you want to be well and healthy again in your body?” In the context, Jesus’ question inquires whether the man desires to be whole, pure, and without fault. It is this question that introduces Jesus into this story as the One who is the Creator, the Giver of Life. From John 1, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn. 1:3-4 ESV). Later in John 5, Jesus said to the Jews who were seeking all the more to kill Him, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (Jn. 5:21 ESV). To “be whole” is nothing other than to be “created anew.” This is what Jesus had said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again from above he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). In John’s Gospel, to be made whole is to be created anew, born again from above, to become a disciple of Jesus.

          Hence Jesus’ question to the man, “Do you want to become whole?” Do you want to be made alive again, created anew from above? The man thinks only of the water in the pool and of his failure to be put into the water when it was “troubled.” But Jesus was thinking new creation through the forgiveness of sins and the granting of new life to be lived as a follower of Jesus by faith. So Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” To hear those words is to hear Jesus say, “Become whole.” And the man “became whole, and he took up his pallet, and began to walk”! The effect of Jesus’ command is immediate. The Creator spoke, and it was so, just as He had at the very beginning when He commanded, “Let there be light!” And there was light.

          In John’s rich theological themes in his gospel we are presented by this text of the healing of the invalid with a story of new creation through the forgiveness of sins. The man got up to walk, and his walking demonstrated that he had become whole. When Jesus found this man later on in the temple, He said to him, “See, you have become whole. Sin no longer, that nothing worse may happen to you”—like eternal death and hell (John 5:14).

          But what does this have to do with us? Everything, actually. New Testament stories of Jesus’ healings are narratives about the reversal of that original human fall into sin. Jesus’ healings are connected with the forgiveness of sins as stories of new creation brought about by the removal of sin and its consequences and therefore by the restoration of people to “wholeness.”

Do you suffer from lack of “wholeness”? Are you subject to the effects of and consequences of sin in your body and soul? Are you found to be lacking in spiritual things—blind, dead, and an enemy of God according to your fallen nature? If you sin, you are not whole, pure, and without fault. How did we learn it from Luther’s Small Catechism? That I am “a lost and condemned creature” (Second Article). We have no way of healing or saving ourselves from this condition. There is no way that you or I can make ourselves whole, pure, and holy. We might say that we are like the man who cannot get into the pool. We have no strength in and of ourselves to change our standing before God. We cannot rely on the strength of others who are in the same sinful condition, who are just as lost and condemned as we are.

          Then comes Jesus, true God and true Man. He and He alone “puts us into the water” and makes us whole in body, soul, and spirit. And the water that Christ puts us into is the life-creating, sin-forgiving water of Holy Baptism. Like Jesus’ healing of the paralyzed man with the power of His Word, Baptism is also an event of new creation. By water and the Spirit, you and I are “born again from above” through the washing of water combined with God’s powerful Word for the forgiveness of sins. For Baptism is “the water included in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.”[1] Luther explains further in the Large Catechism, “Baptism is quite a different thing from all other water. This is not because of its natural quality but because something more noble is added here. God Himself stakes His honor, His power, and His might on it. Therefore, Baptism is not only natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water, and whatever other terms we can find to praise it. This is all because of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word, which no one can praise enough. For it has, and is able to do, all that God is and can do [Isaiah 55:10–11]. . . . We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.’ For that is the reason why these two things are done in Baptism: the body—which can grasp nothing but the water—is sprinkled and, in addition, the Word is spoken for the soul to grasp. Now, since both, the water and the Word, make one Baptism, therefore, body and soul must be saved and live forever [1 Corinthians 15:53]. The soul lives through the Word, which it believes, but the body lives because it is united with the soul and also holds on through Baptism as it is able to grasp it. We have, therefore, no greater jewel in body and soul. For by Baptism we are made holy and are saved [1 Corinthians 6:11]. No other kind of life, no work upon earth, can do this.”[2]

          By Baptism, you have been made whole. Your sins are forgiven. You are rescued from death and the devil. You are given eternal salvation. These are the gifts Christ Jesus purchased and won for you with His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. By means of water and His Word in Baptism, Jesus Christ delivered His gifts to each of you personally, making you pure, without fault—forgiven—healed of your sins unto life everlasting. Through Baptism, you have become new creations with the new life of faith in Jesus and the holy living that the Spirit produces as the fruits of faith in you. “Born again from above” in the lavish washing of Baptism, you have died to sin and now rise daily and walk as followers of Jesus. Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:1-4 ESV). So it is that Baptism “signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts. And also it shows that a new man should daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[3]

          By the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Baptism, you have been given new life. You are made whole, a new creation in Christ Jesus. The Early Church Father, Gregory of Nazianzus, who lived in the late 300s A.D., said it this way:

Yesterday you were flung upon a bed, exhausted and paralyzed, and you had no one when the water should be troubled to put you into the pool. Today you have Him Who is in one Person . . . God and Man. You were raised up from your bed, . . . you took up your bed, and publicly acknowledged the benefit. Do not again be thrown upon your bed by sinning, in the evil rest of a body paralyzed by its pleasures. But as you now are, so walk, mindful of the command. Behold you are made whole. . . .[4]


     [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 339.

     [2] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 424–425, 427.

     [3] Ibid., 340.

     [4] Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 40.33 (On Holy Baptism [NPNF2 7:372]), quoted in William C. Weinrich, John 1:1-7:1, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2015), 568.

Sermon for May 15, 2022, Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 13:31-35 (Fifth Sunday of Easter—Series C)

“Love One Another”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

May 15, 2022

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

Our text is the Gospel Reading recorded in John 13:

31Therefore, when [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in Him. 32If God has been glorified in Him, and God will glorify Him in Him, and immediately He will glorify Him. 33Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going you cannot come,’ now I say also to you. 34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I loved you in order that you also love one another. 35By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

          A new commandment. A mandatum novum for you Latin fans, from which the name, “Maundy Thursday” is taken. On this Fifth Sunday of Easter, our Gospel lesson takes us back into the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, the night in which Jesus was betrayed. And the betrayer has already made up his mind. Judas Iscariot has left the Passover table. He has gone out into the night in preparation for Jesus’ betrayal into the hands of the chief priests, scribes, and teachers of the law. The betrayal and arrest of Jesus in now mere hours away. It’s right on the doorstep. If Judas’ mind has been made up, then so has the Lord’s mind. He will accomplish the Father’s will and accept suffering and death for the salvation of the whole world from sin, death, and hell.

          But before His Passion, Jesus gives His disciples a new commandment: “Love one another just as I loved you in order that you also love one another.” The basis on which this commandment is set is Jesus’ own love for His disciples—as I loved you! So, we already know that the command to love one another doesn’t come from within ourselves. It’s not our idea, nor does it have its foundation on our ability or willingness to love one another. Because of our fallen, sinful human nature, our so-called “love” is turned inward to ourselves. I’m most happy to love me, myself, and I. But when it comes to loving another—my wife, my kids, my friends, my enemies—ha! No way! My selfishness puts me first, not God and not others. When Jesus was asked which commandment is the most important of all, He answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28–31 ESV).

          How then is it even possible for us to love one another? In and of ourselves, it is impossible. But not with God. The basis and foundation of our love toward others, indeed, the power and ability to love one another, flows from the love of Jesus Christ. St. John the Evangelist lays this before us in his first epistle, chapter 4: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11 NET). God loved us first so that the result of His love might be made known in the lives of His disciples.

          Where do we most clearly see the Father’s love? In Jesus. Again, from 1 John 4, “By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him” (1 John 4:9 NET). In order that we might carry out Jesus’ commandment to love one another just as He has loved us, Jesus first demonstrated that perfect love, that self-sacrificing love, a love that compelled Him to suffer death and hell for you on a cross.

          The standard of love which Jesus’ disciples, you and I, are to have for one another is the very love which our Lord has lavished on us. John 13 begins by telling us that Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end”—to the uttermost; completely. And that complete love was revealed as Judas left the meal and Jesus stayed the course. He would be with His disciples only a little while. And where He was going, they could not come. That is, the disciples couldn’t come to the cross and to grave. Only Jesus. Only the Son of Man, the Son of God, could suffer and die to pay for the sins of the world. Only Jesus, the Son of the Heavenly Father, could shed His holy, precious blood to atone for our sins while suffering the death of hell on the cross. In the suffering and death of Jesus, God the Father and God the Son are glorified.

          But how can this be? Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified and God has been glorified in Him.” No doubt, a part of the glory Jesus says His Father will give Him immediately includes events that are obviously not glorious—Jesus’ humiliation at the hands of the soldiers, His suffering in body and soul under the wrath of God the Father, His bloody death. But despite their appearance, these events glorify God because they are the means by which the Triune God accomplishes His brilliant plan to provide salvation from sin, death, and hell for all people. And that plan is the love of God in His Son Jesus Christ brought to fulfillment on a cross. God loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

          I’m becoming more and more convinced over the years that “love” really isn’t as much of an emotion or feeling that we might think it is. Love—biblical love—is an action that God our Father first embodied and enacted for us in the person of His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus. If you want to know what love is, I can show you. Love is God the Father acting in Christ to save you from sin, death, and hell. Love is receiving you as His dear child because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, even when you were at one time His enemy. Love is removing from you the guilt and consequence of eternal death and hell from you simply according to His grace and mercy in Jesus, without any merit or worthiness in you. Love is taking away the sting of death by promising resurrection to your body on the Last Day when, as we heard in the reading from Revelation 21, “[God] will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3–4 ESV).

          This is love. Only Jesus could die in your place to secure your forgiveness and everlasting life. Only Jesus could rise in your place, thereby assuring your resurrection on the Last Day. Because of Jesus’ glorification in His suffering, death, and resurrection, we have the amazing love of God revealed to us. Much more, we have the love of God in Christ active within us by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we await the Last Day and the triumphant return of our Lord and Savior, we love one another just as Jesus first loved us.

          Jesus’ love for you and me is the energizing power for our love toward one another. By the power of the Holy Spirit working by means of Baptism, you have been purified from all sins by Jesus’ blood. 1 Corinthians 6:11, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” You and I are now “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17). We now live as new people by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, people who love one another not in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18 ESV).

          The Christian life is a life of faith in Jesus as our only Lord and Savior, but it is a life lived in love. We’re alive to God in Christ by the Spirit and alive people live! And alive people in Christ live the life of love. This Christian life of faith and love is lived out in our daily callings or vocations: father, mother, son, daughter, worker, employer, and so on. Martin Luther, in his 1520 treatise, “The Freedom of the Christian,” wrote:

          “Behold, from faith thus flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing, and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praise or blame, of gain or loss. . . . He does not distinguish between friends and enemies or anticipate their thankfulness or unthankfulness, but he most freely and most willingly spends himself and all that he has, whether he wastes all on the thankless or whether he gains a reward. . . .

Therefore, if we recognize the great and precious things which are given us, . . . our hearts will be filled by the Holy Spirit with the love which makes us free, joyful, almighty workers and conquerors over all tribulations, servants of our neighbors, and yet lords of all. For those who do not recognize the gifts bestowed upon them through Christ, however, Christ has been born in vain; they go their way with their works and shall never come to taste or feel those things. Just as our neighbor is in need and lacks that in which we abound, so we were in need before God and lacked his mercy. Hence, as our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians. . . . Surely we are named after Christ, not because he is absent from us, but because he dwells in us, that is, because we believe in him and are Christs one to another and do to our neighbors as Christ does to us.”[1]

          “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I loved you in order that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Christ Jesus loved you with an everlasting love and gave Himself to the death of the cross to pay for your sins and rose again to assure you that you are forgiven and have eternal life in Body and Soul. By faith in Christ, you have HIS love. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you share HIS love. Amen.

     [1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 367–368.

Sermon for May 8, 2022, Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10:22-30 (Fourth Sunday of Easter—Series C)

“I’m Certain”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

May 8, 2022

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

Our text is the Gospel Lesson from John 10:

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

            The old proverb says that in this world only two things are for certain: death and taxes. We live in a terribly uncertain world. Change is uncertain. It’s not always predictable. Uncertainty is frightening and stressful, worrisome and disconcerting. Is there anything that we can be certain of that doesn’t involve death or taxes?

          Let’s start with the created world itself. Even with all our technology, we still cannot predict the weather with 100% accuracy. There’s always a bit of uncertainty with the forecast that can affect our plans for a picnic or a day at the beach, our plans for a golf outing or a ball game. We can’t predict drought and flood. They can come without warning and stay for unanticipated lengths of time. Who knows when the earth will tremble and quake? Who could guess that a tornado would rip through their town? The world is a very uncertain place.

          Yet there are more uncertainties that we face. The job you had for 20 years is suddenly gone. You are out of work with a family to take care of. When will you get another job? Will it pay enough so that you can pay the bills and put food on the table and clothes on your back? How long will a new job even last?

          A marriage breaks down and ends in divorce. What happens with the children? How will they deal with this devastating end to their parent’s marriage? What God has joined together man is separating. How will the couple handle this spiritually and emotionally?

          You get a diagnosis from your doctor and it is cancer. Will I beat it? Will the treatments be successful? What kind of quality of life can I expect? How do I tell my loved ones? What would happen if . . . ?

          This world is a very uncertain place. These are but a few examples of life’s uncertainties. I’m sure each of you can add to these from your own lives. Thinking about uncertainties is unsettling. We don’t like dealing with the unknown. We don’t like living with the uncertain. It makes us very nervous. Uncertainties make us frightened, stressed, worried, sleepless, and anxious. Those emotions can cause us various physical ailments as well as mental insecurities. We begin to doubt our friends and our relationships; we begin to doubt our self-worth and our abilities to “make it through.” Is there anything that we can be certain of and place our confidence and trust in?

          Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Jesus Christ our Good Shepherd died on the cross and rose again from the dead in order to make you and me and all people a part of His flock. The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, has created faith in our hearts to believe in Jesus Christ as our only Savior from sin and death. Through the waters of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit has made us children of the heavenly Father, sheep who through the Word of Christ hear the voice of our Shepherd Jesus saying, “I forgive you all your sins. You are mine. I give you eternal life and you will never perish. Death and hell have no power over you. No one will drag you away from My hands.” 

          Want proof that this is sure and certain? Look at the hands of your Good Shepherd. This is the Shepherd who laid down His life on behalf of His sheep—you and me. See the marks of the nails in His hands? They nailed Jesus to the cross to suffer death so that you would not perish but have eternal life through the forgiveness of your sins. See the nail scars in His hands? Jesus is risen from the dead and you also will rise again to enter with Him in body and soul into life everlasting in a new creation.

Listen to what the Psalmist writes about the certainty of being in the Lord’s hands: “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalms 95:3-7a). God’s hands, Christ’s hands, hold what He has made and He cares for His people. As a shepherd protects and provides for His flock, so Christ provides and protects us, His sheep, and brings us to eternal life.

We have His promise and guarantee. No one is able to snatch us out of God’s hand—not the devil, not the world, not our own sinful flesh; not life’s uncertainties, not our fears, not our troubles. St. Paul picks up this very theme in Romans 8, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Paul is sure. We are sure. There can be no uncertainty—Christ has died and sin has been paid for in full with His own sacrificial death. Forgiveness is won for us! There can be no uncertainty—Christ is risen and we too will rise again with Christ on the Last Day. Eternal life in body and soul is won for us! Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has made us the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hands who are securely in His holy hands of mercy and grace, blessed with complete forgiveness and eternal life just as our Lord Himself says.

Martin Luther wrote of such confidence and certainty, “But I know that I am baptized, that I hear God’s Word, and that I believe this article of faith, that is, believe in Jesus Christ. God has granted me grace to hear and to believe, and, thus equipped, I came to Him by the will of the Heavenly Father. This is sufficient for me. Why should I fear? And whom should I fear? For He says here: ‘Him who comes to Me I will not cast out.’ This I will accept, love, and cherish. Therefore I will surely remain secure with Him. For here I am dearly and unmistakably assured that I will not be rejected and cast out. And in another passage it is written that no one will snatch me out of His hand (John 10:28). Christ is determined to protect and defend me, so that no one will take me from Him, even though all the devils and the gates of hell (Matt. 16:18) were against me.”[1]

The world is uncertain, but Jesus Christ is certain. The world is uncertain, but our forgiveness is definite. The world is uncertain but eternal life is a sure thing. Today the Lord Jesus, your Good Shepherd, leads you by means of His Word and Sacrament from fear and uncertainty to focus on His redeeming love and care for you here and now. Today Jesus Christ removes the uncertainties of life from the worries of your heart and fills you with the assurance of His forgiveness and eternal life. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). His love and grace to you is sure and certain. By grace, through faith, Christ has given you eternal life and you will never perish. No one will snatch you out of His nail-scarred hands of love! And that’s for certain. Amen.

     [1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 23 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 60.

Sermon for May 1, 2022, Third Sunday of Easter

John 21:15-19 (Third Sunday of Easter—Series C)

“Restored to Follow and Confess”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

May 1, 2022

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

Our text from the Gospel Reading recorded in John 21:

15So when they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved that He said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you dressed yourself and walked where you wanted. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and will carry you where you do not want to go.” 19Now He said this showing by what kind of death he would glorify God. And He said to [Peter], “Follow Me.”

          Does Jesus have reason to question your love for Him?

          Around a charcoal fire, Peter, the Lord’s disciple, denied Jesus, denied his love for Jesus. From John 18, “So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in.The servant girl at the door said to Peter, You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. . . . So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed” (John 18:16–27 ESV).

          Before a charcoal fire, Peter said that it was not true that he was a follower of Jesus. Peter said that he had no real love for Jesus. Peter said that he didn’t know the man, that the person of Jesus was not his Lord and Master. And before a charcoal fire, the Crucified and Risen Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?”

          Three times—once for each denial—three times, “Do you love Me?” John records that the appearance of the Risen Christ on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, which is the Sea of Galilee, was the third time Jesus had appeared to the disciples after He rose from the dead (John 21:14). The third time Jesus appeared alive—as if to prove beyond doubt the reality of His resurrection. Peter is questioned three times—as if to obtain proof beyond doubt of the reality of Peter’s love for Christ, once denied, and now confessed, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.”

In a private walk along the beach with Jesus, Peter confessed his guilt. What gave him the faith to do that? While Peter was denying Jesus, Jesus was suffering for Peter. Jesus went to the cross to pay for Peter’s sins, including his denial. It was that forgiveness which was bestowed upon Peter and the others in the Upper Room when the Risen Lord appeared, saying, “Peace be with you.” This is the peace of sins forgiven, sins removed by the shedding of Jesus’ blood, peace forever sealed because Jesus is risen from the dead. On the shore of Galilee, Jesus restored Peter and recommissioned Peter as His disciple, His apostle, to feed and tend the sheep and lambs of Jesus the Good Shepherd. As once commentator put it, “Peter reaffirms his love for the Lord, and is rehabilitated and recommissioned. The commission is a pastoral one. Now to the evangelist’s hook [as a ‘fisher of men’] there is added the pastor’s crook [to feed and tend the flock of Christ]. Peter went ahead to fulfill his double commission ‘by hook and by crook.’” Peter the fisher of people with the Good News and Peter the under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd, tending and feeding the flock of the Savior with the Word of Christ.

Does Jesus, then, have reason to question your love for Him as He did for Simon Peter? He does. We, like Peter, have also denied our Lord and Master and stand in need of Christ’s forgiveness and restoration.

How do we as Christians sometimes deny our Lord? We might deny Christ—His person and saving work—by downplaying sin. Sin is every thought, word, desire, and action contrary to the Word of God as revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. Sin isn’t a regrettable lapse or an occasional stumble. We pretend that sin isn’t a real problem when we say things like, “What I did is no big deal!” “It didn’t really hurt anybody.” “It’s just this once. Besides, no one will ever know.” In truth, sin stages a rebellion against God’s rule. Sin storms the heavens. Sin lays claim to God’s throne. Sin defies God’s authority. And sin leads to death!

Sin, then, is serious business because God says it is serious business. God doesn’t overlook sin. God doesn’t say, “Hey, no big deal.” That’s not how it works! God is holy, righteous, sovereign, and perfect. God can’t overlook sin. God must punish sin. And God the Father punished OUR sin through the saving work of His One-of-a-Kind Son in His sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection. Each time you and I downplay our sin and think it isn’t significant, we are saying to God, “The gift of your Son on the cross wasn’t really necessary. I don’t really need a Savior because sin isn’t really a problem in my life.” That is a denial of the person and work of Jesus.

The Address in the Rite of Confirmation highlights another way that we deny our Lord Jesus Christ. The pastor says to those to be Confirmed in their baptismal faith, “You have been baptized and catechized in the Christian faith according to our Lord’s bidding. Jesus said, ‘Whoever confesses Me before men, I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.’” In our failure to confess Jesus Christ with our lips and with our actions, we deny that we belong to the Lord as His disciples. Paul writes in Romans 10:10, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Confession of the person and work of Jesus is the evidence of faith in the heart. When a person has faith in Christ, he or she cannot help but speak of the Savior—about His death on the cross as the full payment for the sins of the world, about His resurrection from the dead that means eternal life and resurrection for all who believe.

To deny Jesus—by downplaying sin and the need for a Savior, by not speaking the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done in love for the life of the world—betrays a lack of faith or a fear of people and not fear of God. And this eats away faith. Unless checked by repentance and renewed faith, this fear of what others may do and say can ultimately destroy saving faith. Jesus warns us, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33 ESV).

But Peter denied Christ! Yes, and in His love and mercy, Jesus forgave and restored and renewed Peter for the work of serving in His Kingdom. And the good news is that our Lord Jesus does the very same for us sinner-saints who also deny the Lord in our lives.

For us and for our salvation from sin and the punishment of death, Jesus was given over to the death of the cross. He shed His blood to pay for our sins of fearing people rather than showing fear, love, and trust in God alone. Christ died for every time we downplay sin and do not recognize our need for a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. The Lord Jesus also died for every denial of Him in our lives as we do not always give the good confession of Jesus, the Son of God, our Lord, in the presence of others. Because Jesus died for you and rose for you, you can be absolutely sure of His never-ending grace, love, and mercy for you in the forgiveness of sins and in the restoration to be His disciple each and every time you fail.

Jesus always restores us once again after we fail Him time and time and time again. The Absolution we hear every Sunday morning really works again and again and again. “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Supper we receive reinstates us over and over again. “Take, eat; this is My Body. Take, drink; this is My Blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.” Jesus welcomes us again today through His Word and by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit to follow Him and tend His sheep as we confess Him as Savior and Lord with our words and deeds, giving the Gospel News of Jesus to others throughout the week.

Our Risen Lord Christ calls broken disciples to come to Him again and again and be filled with His Word and Sacrament so that they might go out into the world to bring His Word to others. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we confess our sins. We have lived as if God did not matter and as if we mattered most. We have not let His love have its way with us, and so our love for others has failed. We have denied Christ. And the Lord Jesus has had mercy and forgives on us. He restores and sends us back out into the world to serve Him and our neighbors in love according to our vocations and callings in this life. In the confidence of our Baptismal faith, we can say with the hymnwriter:

Today Your mercy calls us
    To wash away our sin.
However great our trespass,
    Whatever we have been,
However long from mercy
    Our hearts have turned away,
Your precious blood can wash us
    And make us clean today.

Today our Father calls us;
    His Holy Spirit waits;
His blessèd angels gather
    Around the heav’nly gates.
No question will be asked us
    How often we have come;
Although we oft have wandered,
    It is our Father’s home.

Text: Public domain (LSB 915)


Sermon for April 24, 2022, Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 5:27-32 (Second Sunday of Easter—Series C)

“Witnesses of Jesus Christ”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 24, 2022

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

Our text from the First Reading recorded in Acts 5:

27And after they brought them, they stood them before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We strictly commanded you not to teach in this name, and behold, you are filling Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring the blood of this man upon us.” 29Peter and the apostles answered and said, “It is necessary to obey God rather than people. 30God our Father raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted Him to His right hand as Ruler and Savior to give repentance to Israel and the forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses of these things and the Holy Spirit whom God gave to those who obey Him.”

          The apostles were at it again. Had they not learned anything from their time in jail? They had been charged not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). But they continued to do so and were arrested in the temple courts. They were put into the public prison, but the next morning, having been released from jail by an angel of the Lord, they were back in the temple at daybreak, teaching again in the name of Jesus! “Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people” (Acts 5:26 ESV).

          Standing before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, the apostles were censured again, “We strictly commanded you not to teach in this name, and behold, you are filling Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring the blood of this man upon us.” The Twelve apostles (remember that by this time Matthias had been added to their number as the replacement for Judas Iscariot, because, as the sainted Dr. Norman Nagel often said, “The Lord must have His Twelve”)—these Twelve had been ordered not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. They were clearly disobeying the religious leaders. What the apostles were doing in preaching and teaching Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins was then a criminal activity. But what would have been truly criminal is that if these witnesses did not testify and proclaim what Jesus had accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection, namely salvation from sin and death. Such negligence on the part of the Twelve would certainly be disobeying God in the most wicked way. When the Sanhedrin tried to silence the apostles and stop the teaching in the name of Jesus, the apostles would not, could not, allow themselves to do so. Keeping silent would imply putting the authority of people in the place of the authority of God. So Peter, speaking on behalf of the apostles, states clearly, “It is necessary to obey God rather than people.”

          Now see what Peter does here. He doesn’t go on about the wrongness of the Council’s charge and order. He doesn’t turn this into some religious-political argument about their rights to teach and preach in the temple. Peter, along with the apostles, who must obey God, whose messenger had told them the very night before, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to all the people the all the words of this Life,” spoke to the high priest and the whole Sanhedrin the words of this Life. He taught them in the name of Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! He bore witness to the work of Jesus in bringing salvation—“repentance to Israel and the forgiveness of sins.”

          That’s a pretty bold, gutsy move! “Don’t teach in the name of Jesus!” Taught in the name of Jesus and got arrested. Got let out of jail by an angel and went and taught again in the name of Jesus. Got brought before the rulers and charged again not to teach in the name of Jesus. “It is necessary to obey God rather than people.” Proceeds to teach in the name of Jesus. Right in front of the high priest and the whole ruling council.

          Why? Peter and the rest were in front of a hostile audience. These were not folks willing to listen. These were the leaders who could arrest them and throw them back in prison, or worse. Why teach NOW in the name of Jesus? Because “we are witnesses of these things and the Holy Spirit whom God gave to those who believe.”

          As Peter and John told this very same council in Acts 4:20, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Witnesses witness; they give testimony of the things they have seen and heard. The apostles had seen the risen Jesus, in fact they very same Jesus whom the Jewish Sanhedrin had condemned to death, handed over the Pontius Pilate, and had hanged on a tree—crucified on a cross. The apostles were witnesses to the fact that not only did the Sanhedrin bring about the death of Jesus, a death that was shameful in the eyes of Romans (crucifixion), but they inflicted upon Jesus the death of those who are accursed by God (hanging on a tree), as it is written in Deuteronomy 21, “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree,his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God” (Deut. 21:22–23 ESV). Paul picks up this theme in Galatians 3, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal. 3:13 ESV).

          Peter and the apostles had to testify that God did these things with regard to Jesus—God our Father raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. The Holy Spirit made them witnesses of all these things—His death and resurrection—and the Holy Spirit also bears witness. “God exalted [Jesus] to His right hand as Ruler and Savior to give repentance to Israel and the forgiveness of sins.”

          In other words, Peter was saying, “O high priest and leaders of the people. God used your actions so that this Jesus would be crucified, giving His life up into death, so that He might die for your sins, making atonement for you with God. God raised Him from the dead so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins might be proclaimed to all people, beginning with you here and now.” And this is exactly what the Risen Lord Christ explained to His disciples on the very first Easter evening. We read in Luke 24, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.You are witnesses of these things.And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high’” (Luke 24:44–49 ESV).

          The power from on high, the Holy Spirit, is the gift of God in the hearts of all who by faith in Jesus obey God and serve as witnesses of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit wrought in Peter and the apostles a living testimony to Jesus and what God the Father has made Jesus to be by virtue of His death and resurrection—Ruler and Savior! Jesus Christ is Lord—Lord over sin. Lord over death. Lord over Satan. He lives and reigns to all eternity! This is most certainly true! And you are witnesses of these things also.

          The Holy Spirit has been given to you as a gift in and through your Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. Through Baptism and the hearing of the Gospel Word, the Spirit comes to you and brings faith in Christ to you, along with the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” The Jesus who died on the tree of the cross and rose again from the grave purchased and won your forgiveness with the shedding of His blood. It is the Holy Spirit who delivers this forgiveness to you personally in Baptism, Word, and Lord’s Supper.

          In this way, you are witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ whom God the Father has exalted to His right hand as Ruler and Savior. He has also given to you by the power of His Holy Spirit repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As you receive forgiveness in the name of Jesus, the Spirit creates within your heart a desire to share that Good News message and to share the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name to others. You and I cannot help but speak about what we have seen and heard in the Scriptures and have received by faith ourselves in the Gospel and the Sacraments. Amen.