Author: pastormjc

Sermon for April 23, 2023, Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:13-35 (Third Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Recognizing Jesus”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 23, 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 Reading recorded in Luke 24:

13And behold, two of them, on the same day, were traveling to a village seven miles away from Jerusalem named Emmaus, 14and they continued to talk to one another about all the things that had happened. 15And it happened that while they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself drew near and traveled with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. 17And He said to them, “What were you discussing with one another as you walked along?” And they stood still, looking gloomy. 18And one named Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting in Jerusalem and you do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a man, a prophet powerful in word and deed before God and all the people, 20and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the judgment of death, and they crucified Him. 21But we had hoped that He was the One who was about to redeem Israel; but along with all of this, today is the third day since these things happened. 22But also some of our women astounded us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23and when they did not find his body, they came saying that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And some of those with us went away to the tomb and they found it so, just as the women had said, but Him they did not see.” 25And He Himself said to them, “O foolish ones and slow in your heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. 26Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. 28And they drew near to the village where they were traveling, but He acted as if He were traveling farther. 29And they strongly urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, because it is toward evening and the day is already far spent.” And He entered to stay with them. 30And it happened while He was reclining at table with them, when He took the bread, He blessed it, and breaking it, He gave it to them, 31and their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He disappeared from their sight. 32And they said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us on the road, as He opened to us the Scriptures?” 33And they rose and returned to Jerusalem that very hour and they found the eleven gathered together and those with them, 34saying, “The Lord has risen indeed and He has appeared to Simon.” 35And they began to tell what had happened on the road and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

          Alfred the Great was the ninth-century king who saved England from conquest by the Danish. At one point during his wars with the Danes, Alfred was forced to seek refuge in the hut of a poor Saxon family. Not recognizing her visitor, the woman of the house said she had to leave and asked Alfred to watch some cakes she was baking. But the king had other things on his mind and did not notice that the cakes were burning. Upon her return, the lady unknowingly gave her sovereign a hearty scolding! 

          In our Gospel lesson today, we have another case of someone not being recognized, and that someone was Jesus! It was Easter evening and Luke takes us to meet two of Jesus’ followers on the road. It’s probable that these disciples of Jesus were part of the seventy that Jesus had sent out earlier in His ministry. Naturally, the conversation between these two was about what had happened to their Lord and Master during His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and now the mystery of that day’s morning when the women didn’t find Jesus’ body in the tomb. We can almost imagine their chatter about the seemingly wild tale of angels saying Jesus was alive. That, compounded with the deep grief they were experiencing over the death of Jesus, must have left these two disciples quite dazed and very confused. Perhaps they were trying to sort everything out during their walk to Emmaus, about seven miles, a couple hours’ walk, from Jerusalem. Could they ever make sense of what had happened to the One that they hoped would redeem Israel?

          Then something unique happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus drew near and traveled with them. But Luke tells us that “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” These two disciples were blocked or restrained by supernatural, divine power from recognizing Jesus. This is very different from the other resurrection appearances of Jesus. In the Easter Gospel this year we heard that, as the women departed from the empty tomb, “Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him” (Matt. 28:9 ESV). Later, on the first Easter evening, Jesus came and stood among the disciples and said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them His hands and His side. “And the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-21). Even Thomas was given the opportunity a week later to see the Lord Jesus and the nail marks in His hands and to put his hand into the pierced side of the resurrected Lord. But this Easter evening appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the Emmaus Road was different. The Lord kept them from recognizing Him.

          Certainly, this begs the question: “Why?” Why did Jesus follow a different pattern here than in His other resurrection appearances where He clearly wanted His disciples and apostles to recognize Him? I wonder if perhaps it was for the sake of those who would not see Jesus with physical eyes, but only with the eyes of faith and trust.

Last Sunday we heard in the Gospel Reading the promise of Jesus to St. Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” After Jesus’ Ascension, forty days after Easter, people would not have the opportunity to see the resurrected Jesus with the naked eye. They would not be able to see the marks of the nails in His hands or put their hands into His pierced side. They would not be able to see Him and fall at His feet in holy worship. They would not eat breakfast with Him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. What trustworthy way was there to assure people after Jesus’ Ascension that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah-Savior, promised by God and now fulfilled in His life, death, and resurrection? What was there that could announce to people forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross and His triumphant resurrection from the grave? One thing and one thing only—the Scriptures!

Jesus confronted the doubt and confusion of these two disciples, not with a revelation of His risen person, but with a revealing of what God had promised and how Jesus Himself had brought it to completion. Jesus asked, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:26-27).

What a Bible study that must have been! Led by the very Son of God who gave those words of Scripture by the Holy Spirit to the Biblical writers! Imagine starting in the Book of Genesis, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV) and having Jesus explain how He is the Seed of the woman who was born of a virgin, just as Isaiah said He would be, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Jesus would have spoken to them about the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2 ESV).”

Imagine hearing Jesus talking about Himself as the Suffering Servant from the Book of Isaiah, having fulfilled just fulfilled these things: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. . . .  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—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?” (Isaiah 53:1-12).

Jesus might have reminded them also of the words of Jonah 1:17 as a foreshadowing of His resurrection, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Also, Psalm 16, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:8-11).

There are just so many passages that we could look at and see how Jesus Christ is the complete fulfillment of the Old Testament Word of God, especially in His suffering, death, and resurrection on the third day. And that’s what Jesus revealed to the disciples on the road so that they might recognize Jesus as the Messiah-Savior, not because they saw Him risen from the dead, but because the Word of God promised and guarantees that Jesus is risen from the dead.

And then came dinner that evening, maybe at an Emmaus inn. “And it happened while He was reclining at table with them, when He took the bread, He blessed it, and breaking it, He gave it to them, and their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He disappeared from their sight.” Having seen the Crucified and Risen Jesus through the eyes of faith as the Scripture revealed Him to them, in the breaking of bread Jesus allowed them to physically recognize Him. And then He vanished from their sight! No doubt these men had dined with Jesus previously. They may have been at the feeding of the 5000 or the feeding of the 4000. But here, for the very first time, they truly recognized Jesus as the Messiah-Savior for whom it was necessary to suffer, die, and rise again. And not because they saw Him alive, but because He had first revealed Himself to them in the Scriptures and then became known to them in the breaking of the bread.

This is also how we recognize Jesus. The Holy Spirit, as He did with these disciples, opens the Scriptures to us to see by faith that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the Christ, our Lord, and our Savior. He is the Crucified and Risen One! It was indeed necessary that He suffer and die on the cross in full payment for our sins. It was necessary that He suffer our death and hell so that we might have everlasting life because of His shed blood that cleanses us from all our sins. Jesus had to rise again on the third day, guaranteeing that His sacrifice was successful and that you and I will rise again with our bodies on the Last Day.

We recognize Jesus through His Word of truth and life, His Word of peace and forgiveness. We recognize Jesus in the pages of Genesis through Revelation as He reveals Himself to us through the working of the Holy Spirit. And in a very, very special way, we know Jesus in the breaking of bread in a way the Emmaus disciples did not. For Jesus comes to us personally with His Body and Blood, once crucified and shed, in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He comes with His now risen Body and Blood giving forgiveness and abundant life to us, just as the Scripture says, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” 

We do not need to see Jesus with our physical eyes to believe that He is the One sent to redeem Israel and the world from sin, death, and the devil’s power. He opens to us the Scriptures through the Holy Spirit who enables us to see in those sacred pages Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, our Savior. Jesus alone is the One who died and the One who rose again winning forgiveness and life with our Triune God forever and ever. Recognize Him with joy in the Scriptures and, with a repentant heart filled with faith, come this day and know Him again in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup. He fills you with His Spirit so that your hearts burn within you as He reveals Himself to you in His holy Word and blessed Sacrament. Amen.

Sermon for April 16, 2023, Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-20 (Second Sunday of Easter—Series A)

“Seeing Jesus”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 16, 2023

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in John 20:

19Therefore, being evening of that day, the first day of the week, and the doors locked where the disciples were because of the fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace to you.” 20When He said this, He showed them the hands and the side. Therefore, the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

The sacrifice was complete. His blood had been shed; death and hell were suffered as He hung on the cross. Jesus won the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for the whole world. “It is finished.” Salvation is secured; victory over sin, death, and the devil is complete. As undeniable proof that Jesus is the Son of God, that His doctrine is truth, and that God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the reconciliation of the world, our Lord rose from the dead. And that’s where we meet up with our Risen Lord in our text.

It is Easter evening, the evening of that first day of the week. It’s the very same day that the women had gone to the tomb when the sun had risen and found the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus “not here.” It was the very same day that Jesus showed Himself to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Now the wild stories were flying about. The women had seen visions of angels who told them that Jesus was alive. Mary claimed to have touched Him and held Him in worship. But Peter and John hadn’t seen Him. None of the other disciples had either, until that evening when the disciples were hiding in fear behind locked doors to avoid arrest and execution at the hands of the Jews who had crucified Jesus.

Despite the doors being locked, the crucified and risen Jesus came and greeted His followers, “Peace to you.” He showed them His hands with the nail wounds visible. Jesus showed them His side, the wound of the Roman piercing still visible. This was indeed Jesus who was crucified—alive and glorified—not a spirit, not a ghost, not a vision. This was the right Jesus. He came and gave the disciples what His wounds merited for them and for the world—peace, peace with God because of the forgiveness of sins, a peace which passes all understanding. Proof of this peace between God and people is in the marks of the nails in His hands, the wound in His side, and the fact that He was alive and showing Himself resurrected to them. And so, the disciples responded to this greeting of peace from their crucified and living Lord and Savior with joy! They were glad when they saw the Lord. That’s how faith receives Jesus.

Faith is glad and rejoices to receive the Crucified and Risen Lord and the gift of peace—welfare and health between sinners and God—which He brings in the forgiveness of sins. Because of our sinful condition, humanity’s relationship to God had been severed and destroyed. People, by nature, are hostile to God. We are not content to follow the Word and the commandments of God, even though they bring us blessing. Romans 5 reminds us that at one time we were God’s enemies. Enemies are not at peace in their relationship; they are at odds with one another. This was our relationship with God. We were separated from Him in our sinfulness and at odds with Him, even hostile to Him. All of our impure thoughts condemned us. Each one of our words and actions that are contrary to God’s Word condemned us as sinners who are to be punished with death and separated from God forever. How could we have peace with God in this lost and sinful condition? We were without hope of reconciliation, without hope of salvation and eternal life.

But God is ever faithful to us, despite our sinful condition, despite our being His enemies. “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God the Son became fully human so that He might take your place and mine as enemy of God so that He might win for us complete forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation with God. At Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, His angels announced that with the birth of God-made-flesh, there is now “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14 ESV). Jesus had come to make peace between God and sinners with His perfect life lived in our place and with His perfect suffering, death, and resurrection.

On the cross, Jesus allowed Himself to become God’s greatest enemy of all time as He bore the sins of the whole world in His own body. On the cross, Jesus was the sinners of sinners for us, and He faced the full separation from God when He was completely forsaken, totally cut off from the Father, enduring hell in our place so that we would no longer be separated from our heavenly Father because of our sins. We read in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus suffered and died, shedding His blood to cover your sin and mine and to bring about true peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins.

The Crucified and Risen Christ’s declaration, “Peace to you,” is His pronouncement that through the cross, the work of winning peace with God is done. It is, as Paul says, a peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7 ESV). In Christ, God has mended our most serious breach between us and Him. That peace which exists between God and us does not depend on our perception or reflection of it. It is real and objective because Christ, our Prince of Peace, has made it real through His suffering on the cross. When we don’t feel it, we rejoice that we are still, through Christ, at peace with God. When we do feel it, we rejoice in it as a gift from God. The joy that the Crucified and Risen Christ brings to us is the joy of sins forgiven and life forever with God. The gladness Jesus brings to our bodies and souls is the fact that we are reconciled to God, and we have peace with Him.

So we, like the disciples, are overjoyed when we see the Lord who announces to us, “Peace to you!” But where is it that the Lord Jesus comes to us and says to us, “Peace to you”? True, He doesn’t come to us behind locked doors and show us His hands and His side, but He does come to us in His real presence in the Means of Grace.

Jesus comes to us in the peace and joy of sins forgiven in the Word of His Gospel. The very Word of God who was made flesh, who suffered and died to win our peace with God, who is risen from the dead, comes to us in the Good News that announces, “Your sins are forgiven. You have peace with God.” As we receive the Gospel of Absolution, we rejoice to see the living Lord who speaks those words to us through words on a page and through the human voice of His called pastor as we receive his words as from God Himself.

Thus, we see Jesus who comes to us in Gospel Words. But He also comes to us with Gospel Words combined with water in Holy Baptism. In this Sacrament we see Christ, through the Holy Spirit, wash away our sins, declaring us to be at peace with God and reconciled to Him as God’s own children. In Baptism, you and I as children of God are united with Christ in His own death and resurrection. Romans 6, “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. 6:3-4 ESV).

The Crucified and Risen Christ comes to us in His Gospel Word, in water and Word in Baptism, and finally in Word and sign with His very Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper. By the power of His Word, Jesus Christ gives His Body and Blood in, with, and under the blessed bread and wine. As the hymn writer says, “Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face; Here would I touch and handle things unseen; Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace, And all my weariness upon Thee lean” (LSB 631:1). At peace with God, we approach the Lord’s Table to see Jesus as we eat and drink His Body and Blood with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. In this blessed meal we receive from Jesus life and salvation. He gives us victory over sin and hell and strength for a new life in Him.

Again this day, the Crucified and Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, comes to you in Word and Sacrament and declares, “Peace to you.” Through His cross and resurrection He won the forgiveness of your sins and reconciled you to God through His blood. You are at peace with God. You are His beloved sons and daughters to whom Jesus your Lord and Savior brings the refreshment of peace, forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation. As you continue to see Jesus in His Means of Grace, rejoice and be glad. Look forward with great joy to these special moments when your Lord and Savior comes to you with His blessings and love. Amen.

Sermon for April 9, 2023, The Resurrection of Our Lord

Matthew 28:1-10 (The Resurrection of Our Lord—Series A)

“The Risen Jesus is the Crucified Jesus”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 9, 2023

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

Our text this morning is the Easter Gospel recorded in Matthew 28:

1Now after the Sabbath, at the dawning of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2And behold, a large earthquake happened, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and approached and rolled away the stone and began to sit upon it. 3(Now his appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white like snow. 4And because the fear of him, the guards were shaken and became like dead men.) 5But the angel answered and said to the women, “You—stop being afraid, for I know that you are seeking Jesus, who was and is crucified. 6He is not here, for He was raised just as He said. Come, see the place where He used to lie. 7And go quickly and say to His disciples, ‘He was raised from the dead, and behold, He will go ahead of you into Galilee; there you will see Him.’ Behold, I have said this to you.” 8And they departed quickly from the tomb, and with fear and great joy, they ran to announce this to His disciples. 9And behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings!” And after approaching, they grabbed His feet and worshiped Him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Stop being afraid. Get going, announce to my brothers that they should depart into Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

This is the confession of the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church on the morning of this Easter day, the first day of the week, just as it is every Sunday when the people of God in Christ come together around His Word and Sacrament as they remember that it was on a Sunday when the Lord Jesus Christ rose from death. The apostle Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper” implies that the early Christians had already begun to honor the day of the Lord’s resurrection as the new holy day that replaced the Old Testament Sabbath.

          And so it is today, that God has invited us through His Word and Spirit to come together on the first day of the week and to hear His Word of Law and Gospel, to receive the forgiveness of sins through that Gospel Word, and to eat and drink the true Body and Blood of Christ received under the forms of bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. God speaks through His Word; He gives His gifts through Word and Sacrament, and we, the people of God in Christ respond with our songs and prayers and thanksgivings. That’s the rhythm of the Divine Service; our Lord speaks and we listen. “His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.”[1]

          None of God’s gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation from sin, death, and hell would be given to us if Jesus were not the risen Lord and Savior. If God the Father had not acquitted His Son who became sin for us on the cross (2 Cor 5:21), He would have remained under the punishment and condemnation of death for the sins He had taken upon Himself. But Jesus Christ was vindicated, acquitted, cleared of all charges that He had assumed when He took our sins and guilt upon Himself in His once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. The message of the first day of the week is that Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

          But Easter Day and the Resurrection of our Lord is never disconnected from Good Friday and His sacrificial death on the tree of the cross for the sins of the world. Because of our fallen, sinful nature and because we have sinned against God’s Word in thought, desire, speaking, and doing, we—like all people—stood condemned under God’s just and right decree of punishment, which is death and hell. The Lord Himself said through the prophet Ezekiel, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20 ESV). This is no different than the very familiar words of St. Paul in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Had not God warned Adam and Eve of this from the beginning? “And [Yahweh] God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen. 2:16–17 ESV). And it was not the fruit of the tree that would bring death. It was the disobedience to God’s commandment—the sin—that would bring about the consequence and the punishment of death.

          While the perfect justice and holiness of God demands the death of sinners, His grace and mercy desires that they be saved from their sins and from eternal death. Again from Ezekiel, “As I live, declares the Lord [Yahweh], I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11 ESV). And St. Paul in his second letter to Timothy writes by the power of the Holy Spirit that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4 ESV).

          And so God loved the world this way, that He sent His One-of-a-Kind Son to take upon human flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit and be born of the Virgin Mary in order that He might suffer and die in the place of sinners and rise again on the third day. The death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world and the resurrection of Jesus Christ in triumph over the power of sin and death cannot be disconnected. The Risen Jesus is the Crucified Jesus.

          In Matthew’s Easter account, we have the two Marys going “to see the tomb.” We know from Mark and Luke that they were bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body since it was so hastily laid in the tomb on Friday before the high Sabbath of Passover was observed. And as on Friday when there was an earthquake when Jesus died, now on Sunday morning, at the dawning of the first day of the week, there was a “large earthquake” caused by the Lord’s angel who came down from heaven, approached Jesus’ tomb, rolled away the stone, and sat on it. This was to show the women that Jesus had already risen from the dead and left the sealed tomb. No large stone could stand in the way of the risen and glorified Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ, who had already exited the grave!

          But it’s not the two earthquakes that connect Good Friday and Easter, although the shaking certainly helps us link those two days. I want us to pay close attention to what the Lord’s angel, His messenger, actually said to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary: “You—stop being afraid, for I know that you are seeking Jesus, who was and is crucified. He is not here, for He was raised just as He said. Come, see the place where He used to lie.” Did you catch it? Do you see the connection between Easter and Good Friday? The angel tells the woman that Jesus not only was crucified, the action that happened on Good Friday when He was nailed to the cross, but that Jesus is even now the One who is crucified. Jesus is the One who died on the cross and He is the One who is risen from the dead. Jesus is the Crucified and the Risen One. Jesus is true God and true Man who was nailed to the cross, whose side was pierced and from which blood and water flowed. Jesus is the God-Man who gave up His life into death having paid for all sins with His own holy, precious blood. And so Jesus remains even to this Easter Day in 2023 the Crucified One as well as the Risen One.

          When Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked upper room later on the first Easter day, what was it that Jesus showed them? His hands and His side! The hands and feet of Jesus still bore the marks of the nails, the side of Jesus the scar of the piercing. In fact, the apostle John would see Jesus pictorially represented as a lamb, indeed, as John the Baptist had first pointed out Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Listen to how the apostle described the vision in Revelation 5, “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6 ESV). The Lamb is truly alive and standing there. But the Lamb also bears the marks of the cross. The Lamb, Jesus, had indeed been slain and now lives and reigns to all eternity. The Risen Jesus is the Crucified Jesus. As I heard it said once, you know you’ve got the correct Jesus, the right Jesus, when you see the marks of the nails in His hands and feet. For Jesus is the One who died for you, who has paid for your sins and sinfulness in full, and who purchased with His bloody death your forgiveness and eternal life. And this Jesus lives. Make no mistake. His grave is empty. He is risen, indeed! But He lives and reigns as the Crucified Savior who receives our worship and thanks and praise because He gives to us the forgiveness of all our sins and everlasting life that includes our own bodily resurrection at the Last Day.

          I want you to notice one other thing from our Gospel reading this morning that struck me. When Jesus meets the women, what do they do? “They grabbed His feet and worshiped Him.” Jesus, God’s Son, Immanuel, God in the flesh, who is the Crucified Lord and the Risen Savior is worshiped. He’s really, truly alive because they can grab His feet! He has the same body as before He died. And I am certain, that as they took hold of Jesus’ feet in that act of worship, they saw the marks of the nails. And they knew that they had before them the right Jesus, true God and true Man, who died and who is risen.

          Therefore, let it be known to everyone that in this place, it is the Crucified and Risen Jesus whom we worship and adore in spirit and truth. Let it be known that it is the Crucified and Risen Jesus who grants us forgiveness of sins through His Word of Absolution. Let it be known that it is the Crucified and Risen Jesus who feeds us here with His crucified and risen Body and Blood with the bread and wine in His Holy Supper which gives to us the great gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. And finally, let it be known that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. For the Crucified Jesus is the Risen Jesus! Alleluia! Amen.

     [1] Norman Nagel, Lutheran Worship, “Introduction” (St. Louis: Concordia, 1982), 6.

Sermon for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion, April 2, 2023

Isaiah 50:4-9a (Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion—Series A)

“The Follow Through”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 2, 2023

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

The text for this morning is the Old Testament Reading from Isaiah 50.

4The Lord Yahweh gave to me the tongue of those being taught, to know how to help the weary with a word. He awakens morning by morning; he awakens my ear to hear as those being taught. 5The Lord Yahweh opened my ear and I myself was not rebellious; I did not turn back. 6My back I gave to those who are striking, and my cheeks to those who are pulling out my beard. My face I did not hide from disgrace and spit. 7And the Lord Yahweh will help me; therefore, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I will set my face like flint and I know that I will not be ashamed. 8Near is my Vindicator! Who will contend with me? Let us stand together. Who is my adversary? Let him draw near to me. 9Behold, the Lord Yahweh will help me. Who is he who will declare me guilty?

          Palm Sunday, also called the Sunday of the Passion, begins this Holy Week leading up to the “queen of seasons, bright,” the day of the Resurrection of Our Lord. As we prepare to hear the precious Word of God about His Son’s Passion, death, and resurrection for the sins of the world and the salvation of people, let us consider today the words of the Third Servant Song in the Book of Isaiah. This Song is about the promised Messiah, the Savior, the Servant of the Lord. It’s about Jesus and how He alone is the perfect Servant who followed through on the Father’s plan of salvation for all humanity.

          Now it just so happens that at the end of last week, Major League Baseball began its 2023 regular season. You know I’ll be cheering on the Baltimore Orioles like always. In baseball, it is very important that the player “follow through.” When you are at bat, you don’t want to stop your swing when the bat makes contact with the ball. You want to keep swinging, follow through, and have the ball leave the bat with that beautiful “crack!” When you throw the baseball as a fielder or especially as a pitcher, follow through on your throw. If you’d like much better pointers on the follow through, see one of our ballplayers like Dylan.

          As we look at the Third Servant Song here in Isaiah 50, we note the follow through of the Lord’s Servant. Obedience characterizes His whole mission in order to accomplish the goal of blessing and helping the suffering and the afflicted by bringing them salvation from sin, Satan, and death. “The Lord Yahweh gave to me the tongue of those being taught, to know how to help the weary with a word.” Jesus, the Servant of Yahweh, always listens to God the Father. Unlike the people of Israel who refused to listen to God as He spoke through the mouths of His prophets, Jesus the Servant listened and obeyed. Unlike you and I who often close our ears the hearing of God’s Word because His commandments do not suit our pleasures and desires, Jesus never stopped hearing the Word of the Father and always perfectly obeyed the Father’s commandments.

That’s why Jesus is the perfect Servant and the perfect Substitute for us and all of fallen humanity. Jesus perfectly followed through on the Father’s good and gracious will, keeping all of the Law faultlessly on behalf of us all. Jesus’ perfect life was lived for you. His holiness and righteousness are then credited to you as your own holiness and righteousness. Perhaps think of it like this: Jesus was chosen by God the Father to take the test of God’s Law for you. It’s not a test that you could have passed. Fail at any one commandment and they all come tumbling down in condemnation against you. Think of King David, who lusted after Bathsheba. He coveted his neighbor’s wife. He committed adultery with her. Then he had her husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed. Then he took the man’s wife for himself. David could not pass the test of God’s Law. Neither can you nor I nor anyone else—only Jesus, the perfect Son of God and Son of Man, fully human and fully divine. He followed through in His earthly life, keeping the whole of God’s Law completely, passing the test with a 100%, but the score goes into your gradebook, into mine, and into King David’s. Jesus’ perfection in fulfilling the Law becomes yours. What a blessed word to those of us wearied by sin! What a help that word of promise is to you and me, assuring us that the Law cannot condemn us anymore because Jesus followed through on all of it in our place, and God the Father credits us as having been perfect through the perfect life of Jesus, His Servant.

Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, also knew that keeping God’s Law as our Substitute was only a part of the plan to save all people from sin, death, and hell. God’s holiness demands the punishment of sinners. And because all people became sinners through the fall of Adam and Eve, we must all be punished. And as we heard last Sunday, the punishment for sin is temporal and eternal death. Would Jesus follow through in this for sinners? Would Jesus surrender to God’s plan, leading to death and hell, for people who reject God by nature and daily sin much? The Third Servant Song tells us the answer: “The Lord Yahweh opened my ear and I myself was not rebellious; I did not turn back. My back I gave to those who are striking, and my cheeks to those who are pulling out my beard. My face I did not hide from disgrace and spit.”

Through Isaiah, the Lord promised that His perfect Servant would not turn back from accomplishing salvation from sin and death for all people. First, the Servant’s back is beaten. Then His beard is pulled out. This was to show contempt and disrespect to the person. The pulling out of the beard was one of the most heinous and degrading of insults. What’s more, the Servant of the Lord would be spit upon. Even then, He would not hide His face from the disgrace. He would not turn back from the path of winning salvation for the world, including His tormentors.

Look then at the Servant of Yahweh, Jesus, true God and true Man, as we see Him in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 27: “Then [Pilate] released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,  and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him” (Matt. 27:26–31 ESV).

Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), who is surpassed only by Martin Luther in the number of hymns that are found in Lutheran hymnals, beautifully captures for us Isaiah 50 and the follow through of Jesus in His perfect life and death for you. From hymn 438, A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth:

A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
    The guilt of sinners bearing
And, laden with the sins of earth,
    None else the burden sharing;
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
    That spotless life to offer,
He bears the stripes, the wounds, the lies,
The mockery, and yet replies,
    “All this I gladly suffer.”

This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great friend,
    The Lamb of God, our Savior,
Whom God the Father chose to send
    To gain for us His favor.
“Go forth, My Son,” the Father said,
“And free My children from their dread
    Of guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Your passion they will share
    The fruit of Your salvation.”

 “Yes, Father, yes, most willingly
    I’ll bear what You command Me.
My will conforms to Your decree,
    I’ll do what You have asked Me.”
O wondrous Love, what have You done!
The Father offers up His Son,
    Desiring our salvation.
O Love, how strong You are to save!
You lay the One into the grave
    Who built the earth’s foundation.[1]

Jesus followed through, even unto death, for you and your salvation He purchased your forgiveness and eternal life as He was condemned in your place and suffered and died on the cross for you. But the story of salvation cannot end here! Sins forgiven and eternal life are won by Jesus’ death and by His vindication. The Servant of Yahweh declares, “Near is my Vindicator! Who will contend with me? Let us stand together. Who is my adversary? Let him draw near to me. Behold, the Lord Yahweh will help me. Who is he who will declare me guilty?” Jesus the Servant knew that He would be raised from the dead on the third day. On Easter, the Father vindicated Jesus. He was fully acquitted of all our sins and so, by grace, we baptized believers are acquitted too. Satan, our accuser, has been defeated. We overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus the Servant, who lived a perfect life in our place, who suffered death and hell in our place on the cross, and who rose again so that we also might rise again and live with Him and the Father and the Spirit eternally.

Jesus, the Servant of Yahweh, has followed through on the plan of salvation. He has done everything the Father asked of Him. As a result, you are credited with His own righteousness. You are washed clean from your sins by His blood shed on the cross for you. You have been given eternal life by grace through faith in this Servant, your Savior, Jesus Christ. And so, as Gerhardt concludes his hymn, we have much to look forward to because of Jesus’ follow through:

      Lord, when Your glory I shall see
    And taste Your kingdom’s pleasure,
Your blood my royal robe shall be,
    My joy beyond all measure!
When I appear before Your throne,
Your righteousness shall be my crown;
    With these I need not hide me.
And there, in garments richly wrought,
As Your own bride shall we be brought
    To stand in joy beside You.[2]


     [1] Text: Stanzas 1-3 © 1941 Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110000752

[2] Ibid., Stanza 4

Sermon for March 26, 2023, Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 11:28-44 (Fifth Sunday in Lent—Series A)

“Confident in the Face of Death”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

March 26, 2023

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

Our text is from today’s Gospel Reading recorded in John 11:

28And after she had said this, she went away and called her sister Mary, saying privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling you.” 29And as she heard, she rose quickly and went to Him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still in the place where Martha had met Him. 31Therefore, the Jews who were with her in the house and who were consoling her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb in order to weep there. 32Now Mary, as she came where Jesus was, when she saw Him, she fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33Then Jesus, as He saw her weeping and the Jews who had come together with her weeping, was deeply troubled in spirit and He agitated Himself 34and He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him,” 37And some of them said, “He who opened the eyes of the blind, was He not able to bring it about that this man also might not have died?” 38Then Jesus again, deeply troubled in Himself, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man said to Him, “Lord, now he stinks, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41Then they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42And I knew that you always hear me, but on account of the crowd standing around I said this, in order that they might believe that you sent me.” 43And after He had said these things, He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44And the dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with strips of cloth and his face wrapped in a face cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and release him to go.”

          Death is a reality. It is a reality that makes us uncomfortable. We don’t like to talk about death and dying. We don’t want to think about planning in advance for our own funerals or for those of our loved ones because it is disconcerting. So death is a reality that we often choose to ignore. But death cannot be ignored. Sooner or later, we will all face the death of a family member or friend. And if Jesus does not return before, then we will face our own physical deaths.

          Now we must rid ourselves of the popular notion that death is simply a natural part of life. There is nothing “natural” about death. Death is the punishment for sin. Paul says it so plainly in Romans 6, “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23 ESV). Even in the days of Martin Luther, there were people who pictured death as something natural. On October 20, 1532, the great Reformer preached, “The heart and wisdom of no man have hit upon the idea that death is the penalty for sin, but all men have thought and held that it is our natural lot, just as a dog or a pig or any other animal dies or as the sun rises and sets, grass grows and withers, and all things are perishable by nature and pass away as they have come. But Scripture teaches us that our death does not come about in a natural way, but that it is a fruit of, the punishment for, the sin of our father Adam, who so flagrantly violated the exalted Majesty that he and all his descendants who are born on earth must be the prey of death forever; and no one on earth can escape or prevent this calamity.”[1]

          With this proper understanding of death, we can then recognize Jesus’ anger and indignation at death itself as He approached the tomb of Lazarus. John 11:33-38, “Then Jesus, as He saw her weeping and the Jews who had come together with her weeping, was deeply troubled in spirit and He agitated Himself and He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him.’ And some of them said, ‘He who opened the eyes of the blind, was He not able to bring it about that this man also might not have died?’ Then Jesus again, deeply troubled in Himself, came to the tomb.” Jesus is not displaying mere grief at the death of Lazarus. To be “deeply troubled” describes our Lord’s feelings in terms of a very strong expression of inner turmoil and distress which is associated with anger and great displeasure. Jesus, the Creator of life, is confronted with the reality of death as a power and a final enemy. When Mary and the Jews are weeping in their grief, Jesus recognizes the effect of death. And there is nothing natural about it. It is an “alien power which brings to [nothing] the life of man, [breaks] human relationships, and elicits the pangs of sorrow, grief, and despair. . . . Jesus now confronts death in the death of Lazarus.”[2]

          It is sin and the death that sin brings that causes such indignation and outrage in Jesus. He shed tears as His heart went out to those who mourn. Death and the grave bring loss and the pain of separation, indicative of the pain of separation from God Himself that sin brings to all people under the tyranny of death. Troubled in spirit and agitated in Himself at this enemy death, Jesus at once asked, “Where have you laid him?” Jesus’ outrage against death that has plunged His friends into such grief will be turned against this death itself by forcing it to give up its prey. By the power of His almighty Word of life, Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out!” And death is undone! Physical life has returned to the four-day dead body of Lazarus of Bethany. He comes forth from the tomb, wrapped in the linen burial cloths. Then Jesus commands once more, “Unbind him and release him to go”—to go and live with Mary and Martha again!

          Dear Christians, it is not only the death of Lazarus that Jesus has undone. He has undone your death also. For it is Jesus who died not only physical death, but also the spiritual death of hell for you, in your place, as your once-for-all sacrifice for sin. On the cross, Jesus suffered the pains of physical death and hellish separation from the heavenly Father that you and I and all people should have experienced. He endured eternal death for you and me in the God-forsaken blackness of Good Friday so that you and I would have eternal life. From Matthew 27, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt. 27:45–46 ESV). Carolyn Brinkley writes in her devotional book Bearing the Cross, “Seeing the King of creation hanging naked on a tree, the sun refuses to shine. All of creation is in chaotic horror. The black of night descends. The prince of darkness reigns. The Savior bears the curse of our sin. He pays the price of our abandoning God that began in the Garden of Eden and continues in our lives today. He bears the wrath of God that we deserve. . . . Rather than killing the sinner, He places our sin and guilt on His Son. The almighty God turns His back on His sinless, obedient Son and offers Him as the perfect sacrifice meant to redeem all of mankind. On the cross Jesus suffers the punishment of hell for us. He is forsaken by His Father so we will never be forsaken.”[3] Not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Savior.

          By His cross and resurrection, Jesus has won for us the forgiveness of our sins. And where sin stands forgiven, there is eternal life and salvation and NO DEATH. We have been redeemed from sin, death, and the power of the devil by the blood of Jesus shed for us. And because Jesus is the Risen Lord, our resurrection and eternal life are guaranteed. What was it that Jesus promised Martha? “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”  (John 11:25–26 ESV). The apostle Paul, writing by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit to the Corinthian Christians, picks up this very theme in chapter 15, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:20–26 ESV).

          Death is now mortally wounded by the gift of eternal life given to you through Baptism. You have the forgiveness of sins. You have eternal life. It’s yours right now by grace through faith. Your physical death is not your end or your destruction. For you who believe, death is but the gate to life for your soul in the paradise of God to await the final victory. The Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up His life into death and the grave, who stared death in the face in victory on Easter morning as the Risen Savior, will come again in glory and put the last enemy to death. The death blow to death itself will come when our Lord Jesus raises the bodies of the dead on the Last Day and gives everlasting life in resurrected body and soul to those who believed in Him who is Resurrection and Life. Jesus promises, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19 ESV).

          Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, has vanquished the power of death. Because of the gift of faith in Christ, you who have received the forgiveness of sins also have the gift of eternal life. Death has no power over you (Rev. 20:6). Christ Jesus has taken away the sting of death and the power of death with His Resurrection. Jesus’ victory is your victory. This is our confidence in the face of death. Jesus lives. The victory over sin and death is won.

Now in Christ, death cannot slay me,
    Though it might,
    Day and night,
Trouble and dismay me.
Christ has made my death a portal
    From the strife
    Of this life
To His joy immortal![4]

     [1] Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959), 363.

     [2] William C. Weinrich, John 7:2-12:50, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2022), 621.

     [3] Carolyn S. Brinkley, Bearing the Cross: Devotions on Albrecht Dürer’s Small Passion (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012), 112.

     [4] Lutheran Service Book 765:5. Text: © 2004 Stephen P. Starke, admin. Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License no. 110000752