Sermon for July 25, 2021, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 6:45-52 (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 12—Series B)

“Entrust Your Days”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

June 20, 2021

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson for the day recorded in Mark 6:

45And immediately [Jesus] made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. 46And after He had taken leave of them, He went away into the mountain to pray. 47And when it had become evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. 48And behold, they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, He came to them, walking on the sea, and wanted to pass by them. 49Now when they saw Him walking on the sea, they thought that He was a ghost, and they cried out, 50for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Be courageous. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51And He climbed into the boat with them and the wind ceased and they were utterly amazed, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but were hardened in their hearts.

          They didn’t get it—the crowd, I mean. They wanted to take Jesus by force and make Him their king. And not just any old king, they wanted Him to be their “bread-king” so that they wouldn’t have to work for food any longer. Jesus told the crowd the next day, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26 ESV). They didn’t understand that in the miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus was showing them His identity as true God. They didn’t understand that Jesus is Yahweh come to bring the new exodus to His people. Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:31–33 ESV). That’s Jesus, true God and true Man, the Christ.

          They didn’t get it—the disciples, I mean. The disciples failed to understand who Jesus is with the stilling of the storm on the Sea of Galilee and with the feeding of the 5000. They didn’t understand that Jesus is Yahweh come to bring the new exodus to His people. If they didn’t get this point about Jesus then, it would not be apparent to them now who Jesus is, even when He walks upon the water.

          Rather than entrusting themselves to Him who is true God and true Man, the disciples cried out in fear, “It’s a ghost!” They are not so much different from us. When our first thoughts ought to be directed to our God and Lord, they are instead so often turned toward fear and helplessness. The disciples: “That can’t be Jesus. We’re in the boat. He’s back on land!” You and me: “Jesus can’t be here for me now in this situation. I’m in the storm. He’s in the safety of heaven.”

          How impossible it seems that Jesus could be with us in all the changes and chances of this earthly life. Five-year old Timmy was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup, but he didn’t want to go in alone. “It’s dark in there and I’m scared.” She asked again, and he persisted. Finally, she said, “It’s OK—Jesus will be in there with you.” Timmy walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said: “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?”

          How often is that our response? “Jesus, if you are there . . .” By that time, we’ve already run through many scenarios, trying our best to work out our fears and troubles and problems. As a last resort, rather than the first, we turn to the Lord, “If You are there.” In Matthew’s Gospel account of Jesus’ walking on the water, it is Peter who voices this. Perceiving their fear, Jesus called to the disciples in the boat, “Be courageous! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Matthew tells us that Peter called out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matt. 14:28 ESV). Of course, Jesus told Peter to come, and he did. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me” (Matt. 14:30 ESV). Amid the wind and waves, Peter doubted (even when Jesus was right there). Peter couldn’t muster the trust that Jesus, true God and true Man, was really, truly present for him and for his salvation in the fullest sense. We have the same doubts and fears, even though Jesus is right here.

          We cannot see the Lord Jesus. We can’t touch His hand and pull Him into our boat of life. But Jesus is nevertheless present with us. He is, after all, Emmanuel. He is God who is with us always, even to the end of the age! He is the God-Man who has proven His faithfulness to you and me with His perfect life, death, and resurrection. If you were not of the greatest value to the Lord Jesus, He would not have given Himself up into the pains of death and hell to rescue you from Satan, sin, and everlasting death in order that you might live with Him forever in the joys of eternity!

Jesus is the new and greater Moses who has brought about the new exodus for you. Jesus death and rising again has rescued you from the land of sin’s slavery. He saved you from bondage to your sinful nature and from your captivity to Satan and the power of death. He has brought you through the Sea of the water of Baptism into the promised land of forgiveness and eternal life where He feeds you with a manna better than the Israelites ate. He feeds you with His true Body and Blood with the bread and wine. These gifts bestow upon you forgiveness, life, salvation, and the strengthening of your faith so that you can entrust yourselves to the Lord Christ and depend on Him in true faith to be there for you, with you, for your blessing and benefit.

          As Jesus assured the disciples with His Word and His Presence, so He does for you. He assures you that you are His baptized son or daughter. You are children of the heavenly Father. Baptism delivered Christ to you, clothed you with Christ, and has brought Christ to dwell in you as His temple, a temple of the Holy Spirit. As Christ has come to you through water and the Word by the power of the Spirit, He delivers to you forgiveness. He rescues you from death and devil. He gives you eternal life. 

By means of Word and Sacrament, the Savior’s promise holds true—“I am with you always.” He is present by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel Word, in Baptism, and in His Holy Supper. Christ Himself comes to you through these Means in the midst of your fears and worries, your concerns and illnesses. He is present in the Word and Sacraments for you, with you, and for your forgiveness and strengthened faith, for your blessing and for the hope of glory that shall never fade away. Your life is forever preserved by the presence of Jesus. Whatever may come, you can confidently entrust yourself, your days, and your burdens to the Lord Jesus. He will never leave you. He will not forsake you, ever!

Take heart, have hope, my spirit,
    And do not be dismayed;
God helps in ev’ry trial
    And makes you unafraid.
Await His time with patience
    Through darkest hours of night
Until the sun you hoped for
    Delights your eager sight. (LSB 754:3)    Amen.

Sermon for June 27, 2021, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 5:21-43 (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 8—Series B)

“Salvation Has Come in Jesus”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

June 27, 2021

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

Our text is the Gospel for the day from Mark 5:

21And after Jesus again crossed over in the boat to the other side a great crowd gathered together about Him, and He was beside the sea. 22And one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, came and, when he saw Him, he fell at His feet 23and pleaded with Him a lot, saying, “My little daughter is dying. [I ask] that you come and lay your hands on her in order that she might be healed/saved and live.” 24And he went with her. And a great crowd began to follow Him and began to press against Him. 25And a woman who had a flow of blood twelve years 26and had suffered much at the hand of many physicians and had spent all that she had and without being helped at all, but rather had gotten worse, 27when she heard about Jesus, having come in the crowd from behind, touched his outer garment, 28for she was saying, “If I should touch even His clothing, I will be healed/saved.” 29And immediately her flow of blood dried up and she knew in her body that she was healed from her affliction. 30And immediately, Jesus, when He recognized in Himself that power had gone out from Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothing?” 31And his disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing against you and you say, “Who touched me?” 32And He kept looking around to see the woman who had done this. 33And the woman, becoming afraid and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed/saved you. Go into peace and be healthy from your affliction.” 35While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the ruler of the synagogue saying, “Your daughter has died. Why do you still bother the teacher?” 36But Jesus, upon overhearing the word as it was spoken, say to the ruler of the synagogue, “Stop being afraid. Only believe.” 37And He did not allow anyone to follow along with Him except Peter and James and John, the brother of James. 38And they came into the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and He observed an uproar and [people who were] weeping and crying a lot, 39and upon entering He said to them, “Why are you making an uproar and weeping? The child has not died but is sleeping.” 40And they began to laugh Him to scorn. But He, upon throwing them all out, took the father of the child and the mother and those who were with him and He went into where the child was. 41And upon grasping the hand of the child, He said to her, “Talitha koum,” which is interpreted, “Little girl, to you I say,  ‘Arise.'” 42And immediately the little girl arose and began to walk around, for she was twelve years old. And they were greatly amazed immediately. 43And He gave them a lot of express orders that no one should know this, and He said that something should be given her to eat.

          Dr. Martin Luther was professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. He was a lecturer in the Old Testament. In his classes on Genesis 3, the Great Reformer taught, “let us not minimize this evil which human nature has contracted as a result of the sin of our first parents; rather let us emphasize it. Then we shall both regret deeply this state of ours and have a profound longing for Christ, our Physician, who was sent by the Father to heal those evils which Satan brought upon us through sin, and to restore us to the eternal glory which we had lost.”[1] In today’s Gospel text, we see the request of faith that Jesus do this very thing—heal those evils which the devil brought upon us through sin and restore to us eternal glory.

          Three times we encounter the word sw,|zw (sōzō) which means “to save.” There is more going on with this word than simply “to be made well.” When sw,|zw is used in the way in which St. Mark uses it here, means salvation in a wider sense than simple bodily healing. This saving health includes the rescue from sin and from the forces of evil, salvation from all that is opposed to the gracious reign and rule of God.

          In Mark 5, the ultimate need is to be saved from death. Jairus’ little daughter was literally “having her end.” She, at the age of 12, was dying. About the time this girl was born, an unnamed woman began to have a bleeding problem. She paid the doctors all that she had, but to no avail. Instead of getting better, she was getting worse. Likely there were medical complications from this worsening flow of blood—anemia? physical weakness? dizziness? Was her physical death getting closer because of this bleeding? I think it’s likely. But she also endured death in a different way. Her bleeding caused her to be ceremonially unclean, unfit for worship, unfit to be a part of the community of Israel. She would have been ostracized, cut off from the community, to suffer and ultimately to die alone.

          And what is it that both Jairus and this woman seek from Jesus? Salvation. Jairus pleaded with Jesus, “I ask that you come and lay your hands on her in order that she might be saved and live.” The woman with the flow of blood was saying, “If I should touch even His clothing, I will be saved.” Both longed for Jesus to bring salvation from the evils that had fallen upon them as a consequence of sin.

          Do we not seek the same salvation? What evils have been brought upon us by sin? What choices have we made contrary to the Word of God that have led to us harming ourselves and causing hurt to others? How has our sin affected our relationships with our spouses and children, our relationships with our siblings? What failures to love our neighbors have hurt and harmed them in their body because of our lack of love and mercy? Also consider the effects and consequences of living in a world that is corrupted, a fallen creation, bodies subject to disease and pain, the changes and chances of life over which we have no control.

          It would be foolish of us to ask, “What do I need to be saved from?” Just look around. Think about yourself, your life, your physical and spiritual, mental and emotional condition. Have you no need for the healing salvation of Jesus Christ? How foolish it would be to think so. And how equally foolish it is not to look to Jesus with trust in the heart to grant us salvation-healing from sin and its consequences. “Why do you still bother the teacher?” they asked when they came to tell Jairus of his daughter’s death. Bother the teacher? Yes, bother Him in faith always. Jesus alone can be trusted to accomplish salvation for us in body and soul.

          The woman with the flow of blood trusted with faith in Him. She didn’t need or want a big show, just a touch of His clothes was enough to bring her saving health. And she trusted that. And Jesus confirmed that trust, “Daughter, your faith has brought you into a condition of healing and salvation now. Go into peace and be healthy from your affliction.” Could Jairus’ similarly trust? Of course! And Jesus confirmed that trust, “Little girl, to you I say, ‘Arise.’” And immediately she arose and walked around!

“Stop being afraid. Only believe!” the Savior said, because the reign and rule of God had come to this woman, to this father, daughter, and mother!—salvation and health in the fullest sense of life and restoration in body and soul. Jesus undid the work of sin and death. He brought life and health. As the hymnwriter penned, “If you are sick, if death is near, This truth your troubled heart can cheer: Christ Jesus saves your soul from death; That is the firmest ground of faith” (LSB 571:5).

          And it is faith alone in Jesus Christ alone that saves. Saving faith in Christ is the key to entering and being under God’s gracious reign and rule. Romans 1:17, “For in [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Full salvation to everlasting life is what Jesus and His gracious actions are all about. Saving health from sin, death, and the devil is what Jesus purchased and won for you on the cross. Before His last breath, Jesus cried out “It stands finished now and forever.” Jesus’ saving work is done. Forgiveness of all sins is a reality. Saving health from sin is yours gift by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). This faith, given to you in Holy Baptism, has made you heirs of salvation and given the gift of everlasting life in resurrected body and soul at Christ’s return on the Last Day. Truly, “Salvation unto us has come By God’s free grace and favor . . . Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer” (LSB 555:1).

          Christ is our Redeemer and our Great Physician of soul and body. By His cross and resurrection, with the forgiveness of sins won for us by His blood, Jesus has healed us from those evils which Satan brought upon us through sin. By grace through faith and trust in His saving work, we have been restored to the eternal glory which we had lost in the Fall into sin. Salvation—saving health—from sin and death is ours. It is full and complete in Jesus, a salvation that brings us into peace—peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. So we look forward to this peace lived in His eternal presence in a new creation where we will live with Him forevermore under His reign and rule without fear. Amen.

     [1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 143–144.

Sermon for June 6, 2021, Second Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 3:22-27 (Second Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 5—Series B)

“The Stronger Man is Your Savior”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

June 6, 2021

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 3:

22And the scribes who had come down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul” and “By the prince of demons He casts out the demons.” 23And He called them to Him and said to them in parables, “How is Satan able to cast out Satan? 24And if a kingdom should be divided against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand. 25And if a house should be divided against itself, that house is not able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen against himself and has divided, he is not able to stand but has an end. 27But no one is able to enter the strong man’s house and to plunder his goods unless first he should bind the strong man, and then he shall plunder his house.”

          Satan is indeed “the strong man.” Contrary to the scribe’s faulty logic, the devil’s house and kingdom was not divided. He had a reign and rule, and Jesus’ words to scribes indicate this. Jesus speaks of the devil in John 12 as “the ruler of this world” (12:31). The apostle Paul echoes this in the letter to the Ephesians, referring to Satan as “the prince of the power of the air” (2:2). The great Reformer Martin Luther picked up on this biblical language in his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” calling the devil, “this world’s prince.”

          The devil is the prince, the ruler, the strong man of this fallen, corrupted world. But he is not a god. He is not equal to the one, Triune God in any way, shape, or form. Is the devil powerful? Yes, but he is not all-powerful like God. Is the devil present in this world? Yes, but he is not omni-present, present everywhere, like God. Does Satan possess knowledge? Yes, but he is not all-knowing like the Triune God. But the devil has duped humanity into believing that there are two, equal, but opposing forces—God and Satan himself. That is simply not true. Satan is not a god. He is not a deity, but a creation of the one, true God who chose to rebel against the Creator and to destroy the Lord’s very creation.

          Sound familiar? “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen. 3:1–7 ESV).

          Jesus rightly identified Satan in John 8, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 ESV). He lied to Adam and Eve. He brought sin into the world by tempting our first parents, who willingly yielded to the temptation. And in Adam and Eve’s sin, the entire human race also fell into sin. Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12 ESV).

          So welcome to the devil’s kingdom! Isn’t it glorious? Isn’t it wondrous? It’s a reign where you are bound to doing whatever is contrary to the Word and will of God. You are spiritual slaves to Satan, sin, and death. The devil drives you further and further away from the truth that is found only in the Word of God. The devil tempts and blinds you to truth. He doesn’t want you to know what is the Word and will of God. He doesn’t want you to trust in God. He does not want you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. “You don’t need a Savior,” Satan sneers. “You are a good person just the way you are. You determine what’s right for you. You decide what is moral and ethical. You don’t need any Ten Commandments to guide you. Do what feels good to you. Be who you want to be and not what that demanding God desires you to be. You are free from Him. You can be like God for yourself.”

          The devil has a kingdom, a reign and rule. But it is based on lies and deceptions. Satan is a liar and there is no truth in him. The devil’s reign is a rule of slavery where you are bound lock, stock, and barrel to him—chained to sin and doomed to die eternally in hell. To be sure, Satan would love you to believe these words to be false. He wants you to hear these words as God lying to you simply so God can control you and use you. The devil seeks to paint the Lord as the enemy and His Word as evil. And Satan will work to tell you that if you believe this God and His Word in the Bible to be absolutely true that you are completely naïve, foolish, or just plain stupid. You’re not up with the times, still living the dark ages.

          But it is Satan who is naïve and foolish. He thinks he’s a god. He thinks he’s in charge. After all, the devil is “the strong man.” But has he forgotten the stronger man?

          Satan, that ancient serpent, was cursed by the Lord God after humanity’s fall into sin. We heard again the first Gospel in the Bible from Genesis 3:15 as God said to the devil, “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.” In other words, “Satan, your time is short. The days of your reign and rule are numbered. Your kingdom will fall. The Stronger Man will come in the fullness of time, and you will be tied up and the One stronger than you will plunder your lair. He will come and take people away from you and transfer them into His reign and rule. He will purchase for them complete forgiveness of sins and rescue them from eternal death and hell. No longer will you be able to utter an accusing word against them, for they will be clothed with the garments of the Stronger Man’s own holiness and righteousness. They will be declared “not guilty” of sin and will be given life everlasting because of the saving life and death of the Stronger Man.”

          The Stronger Man is Jesus Christ, true God, who became fully man, in order to plunder Satan’s kingdom and to redeem you from sin, death, and the devil’s power. Jesus, the God-Man, was not casting out demons by the power of Satan. No! He was breaking into the devil’s house and taking back what rightfully belonged to God, the Creator—people and the whole of creation.

The evidence of Satan’s defeat was Jesus’ casting out demons and unclean spirits. This was a forceful attack against the reign of the devil in this world. And it is Jesus, the Son of God made flesh who alone has the power, the ability, and the authority to neutralize the devil’s activity, to restrain him, and to release those enslaved to sin and death. But Jesus’ battle with Satan would be decided in a way that might seem less like victory and more like total defeat. He bore all sins on the cross and gave up His own life into the power of death.

To set people free from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, Christ Jesus bore our sins in His own body on the cross as if they belonged to Him (1 Peter 2:24). God the Father condemned Jesus to death for your sin and for mine. On the cross, Jesus suffered the punishment of death and hell in our place. When He cried, “It is finished,” your sin was gone. His blood released you from condemnation and death. You are redeemed, bought back to God, from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil (Rom 3:24-25). Colossians 1:13 and 14, “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Jesus, the Stronger Man—true God and Man—has bound Satan, the strong man. “And you, . . . God made alive together with [Jesus], having forgiven us all our trespasses,by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Christ]” (Col. 2:13–15 ESV). The seventh trumpet angel in Revelation revealed the loud voices in heaven proclaiming, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15 ESV).

And this is the final victory that we are looking forward to. As we well know, Satan and his forces have not yet been done away with completely. But he and they are being bound; they are being neutralized. The Gospel of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed to all nations. The Holy Spirit is creating saving faith in the hearts of people, delivering to them through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ the forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation that Jesus won for all through His sacrificial death and resurrection. This means that God’s people are no longer under the power of the devil. Any accusation that Satan may level against God’s people in Christ is of no account. You are covered in the blood and righteousness of Christ, the Stronger Man. You belong to Him by grace through faith. Your sins stand forgiven. Of what can the devil accuse you? Of nothing! “This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him” (LSB 656:3). Amen.

Sermon for May 23, 2021, The Day of Pentecost

Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The Day of Pentecost—Series B)


Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

May 23, 2021

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

Our text for this morning is the Old Testament Reading recorded in Ezekiel 37:

1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. 11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

          Bones. Everywhere. Bones! Human bones all over the surface of the valley. A sea of scattered, disjointed bones! Very dry. Bones! Lacking any sign of life.

          “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off!” In Babylon, exiles from the land of Israel. Jerusalem destroyed. The temple in ruins. Commercial activity ended, for neither buyer nor seller is around. The Kingdom of Judah gone. The people taken captive to a foreign land. “Our bones are dried up,” cried out the house of Israel. Despair, downheartedness, listlessness. Death. A sea of scattered, disjointed bones! Very dry. Bones! Lacking any sign of life.

          “As I live, declares the Lord Yahweh, . . .Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:3–4) The person who sins merits the just punishment of death. The person who lives contrary to the Word of God in desire, will, and action suffers what she or he has earned by that sin—death. Sin only brings death because sin separates a person from God. Without God, there is no life.

          The nation of Israel was God’s covenant people. He chose them out of His pure grace to be His so that through the Promise made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all their descendants, the Messiah/Savior would come to redeem Israel and all nations from their sins, thereby rescuing them from death. But Israel would not be faithful to the Lord. The people and their leaders sought after false gods, idols. They worshiped Baal. They abandoned their covenant Lord and sought their own way. In Ezekiel 20, God said, “Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel and say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: . . . Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and go whoring after their detestable things?When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day.” They failed to love Yahweh their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. They also neglected their neighbors and did not love one another. They lied and stole and cheated one another. They abused the poor. They failed to observe the Sabbath and the hearing of God’s Word.

          Bones. Everywhere. Bones! A sea of scattered, disjointed bones! Very dry. Bones! Lacking any sign of life. “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off!” As individuals, the people of Israel were dead. As a nation, the people of Israel were also dead in their sins. Israel’s hope for survival as a nation and a people appeared dead and buried. Prospects of national revival were as unlikely as a vast array of skeletons, dried and dismembered, coming to life again.

          We ought to see ourselves in this visionary picture that Ezekiel saw. Like Israel we were dead in trespasses and sins. We, with our corrupted human nature, lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind without any thought toward the will and Word of God. We were by nature people under God’s wrath, spiritually dead under the Law’s condemnation. We have sinned. We did what was evil in the sight of God. We failed to always do the right thing, the moral thing. We were selfish, not caring about God or other people created by Him. “The soul who sins shall die.” “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). That’s what you and I, like Israel, had earned for ourselves. God’s wrath and displeasure, temporal and eternal death.

You and I were like bones! A sea of scattered, disjointed bones! Very dry. Bones! Lacking any sign of life. And out of His grace, out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us, God chose to revive us, to bring us to life again.

“Thus says the Lord Yahweh to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am Yahweh.” All of this would be done in order that Israel might come to understand the mystery and power of Yahweh. The ultimate concern for the people of Israel was not biological life, but spiritual, that they know the Lord. So God, according to His gracious promise, would recreate a nation dead in sin and trespass, a nation exiled because they had abandoned God and His covenant. God would not abandon His people in order that they might know Him by faith as a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13). The revelation of God’s power to raise the spiritually (and physically) dead sends beams of light into the future beyond Israel’s rescue from death in the Babylonian graveyard. A revived Israel is but the earthly clay that the Lord would use to call into being a Spirit-filled people of all nations, once dead in trespasses, but made alive in Christ Jesus.

With the language of new creation, God gives the Spirit. “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh; I have spoken, and I will do it!” The redeeming act of God would bring with it the revelation of His true self—I am Yahweh. I am God alone who saves you from sin and death. I impart new, spiritual life into you by the Holy Spirit. He is the “Lord and Giver of Life.” And the life the Spirit gives is the life purchased and won for Israel and all people by Jesus Christ.

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’’Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37–39 ESV). But on the Day of Pentecost in the year AD 30, Jesus had been glorified. He had been crucified as the Lamb of God, offering the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the people. He shed His holy, precious blood to atone for our sins, and not for ours only, but the for the sins of the world. Jesus died the death we should have suffered so that He might freely give to us His life. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, tells us, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28 ESV).

God the Father and God the Son, our Risen and Ascended Lord Christ, poured out on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit upon the chosen disciples. He has given us the same Spirit through the Gospel Word and the blessed Sacraments of Christ. And so God has kept His promise to send the Spirit, to put His Spirit in us, to create in us new hearts, removing the hearts of stone and giving us hearts of flesh, causing us to live according to His commandments as we are the sanctified people of God (Ezk 36:26-27). God the Holy Spirit has made us holy by applying the blood of Christ to each of us personally in the Gospel, in Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life.

In Psalm 118, which Luther calls his “own beloved psalm,” the holy writer rejoices in the saving work of the Lord. “’The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!’ I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death” (Psa. 118:15–18 ESV). I wonder if the people of Israel sang this psalm, remembering how God brought their dry bones to life, restoring them as His people to their land so that they might know Him alone as God and Lord and Savior especially when He sent His Son to bring all sinners from spiritual death to new life by grace through faith in Him.

As Christians, we know all the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in our Lord Jesus, so we can be confident that as we have entered our “promised land” by being part of the body of Christ, the Church, we also have the guarantee by His death and resurrection of entering the new heavens and earth after the resurrection. The Holy Spirit’s gift of spiritual life to people once dead in sin results in the gift of bodily life to literally dead people in the resurrection at the Last Day. As we remember from the Small Catechism, “In this Christian Church [the Holy Spirit] daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”

Bones. Everywhere. Bones! A sea of scattered, disjointed bones! Very dry. Bones! Lacking any sign of life. Not anymore! We are filled with the promised Holy Spirit. We have new life in Christ through faith given by the Spirit’s work through Word and Sacrament. We are alive in Christ, an exceedingly great army, looking forward to the day of resurrection and becoming the Church Triumphant in glory with our God and Savior—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermon for May 16, 2021, Ascension of Our Lord (Observed)

Luke 24:44-53 (The Ascension of Our Lord—Observed)

“Proclamation in Jesus’ Name”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

May 16, 2021

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

Our text for this morning is the Gospel Reading from Luke 24:

44And [Jesus] said to them, “This is my word which I spoke to you while I was with you, that it was necessary to fulfill all the things written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms concerning me.” 45Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46And He said to them, “Thus it stands written for the Christ to suffer and to be raised from the dead on the third day 47and repentance for the forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in His name into all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold, I myself am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But as for you, you remain in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” 50And He led them out as far as Bethany and raised His hands and blessed them. 51And it happened that while He was blessing them, He departed from them and was taken up into heaven. 52And these, after worshiping Him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53And they were always in the temple praising God.

          Forty days after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, bodily ascended into heaven. The Church celebrated Ascension Day this past Thursday and so we are observing this Festival today. At the end of his second volume, the Book of Acts, St. Luke presents us with an account of Jesus’ Ascension even as he does at the end of his first volume, his Gospel. On the basis of Luke’s Gospel, we take time to consider this morning Jesus’ Ascension into heaven and what that means for His Church—for you, the baptized people of God in Christ.

          In England around the 720s A.D., a theologian and priest named Bede the Venerable preached, “‘It was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,’ [Jesus] said, ‘and for you to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name among all nations.’ This was certainly a necessary sequence. First, Christ had to shed his blood for the redemption of the world. Then, through his resurrection and ascension, he opened to human beings the gate of the heavenly kingdom. Last, he sent those who would preach to all nations throughout the world the word of life and [to] administer the sacraments of faith” (Homilies on the Gospels 11.9).

          This “necessary sequence,” as Bede called it, includes Christ’s Ascension. The Lord Jesus, who had been appearing at various times and places to His disciples all throughout these forty days, met with them one final time before being taken up into heaven. As He had done for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, now He did for them all, opening their minds to understand the things concerning Himself written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms—the entire Old Testament as we call it. It stands written, Jesus said, that the Christ would suffer. And He did. He was nailed to a cross where He shed His blood to make atonement of the sins of the whole world. He suffered hell and death in humanity’s place, purchasing with His holy, precious blood the forgiveness of sins.

          And on the third day, just forty days before, Jesus rose again from death. His resurrection is the comforting testimony that He is indeed the Son of God—He “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4 ESV). God the Father has accepted Christ’s sacrifice for the reconciliation of the world—“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10 ESV). And all who believe in Christ will rise to eternal life—“Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19 ESV).

          But the Scriptures reveal something else. It is not only written for the Christ to suffer and to be raised, but it is also written that repentance for the forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in Jesus’ name to all the nations. The Gospel is meant to be told! “You are witness of these things.” That’s you too, for you are Jesus’ disciples.

          What a great and awesome responsibility God’s gives us as people who have been Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! We get to proclaim and to announce that Jesus Christ has died for the sins of the world. He is risen and has defeated sin, Satan, and death. There is abundant forgiveness of sins for all who repent and long for the mercy of God in Christ.

So why do you hesitate? Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners from eternal death and hell. Oh, I see. You’re not really comfortable sharing God’s Law with others. You don’t like the idea of holding the mirror of God’s Law up to your own face so that you see clearly that you are not what God would have you be by nature and you certainly don’t want to take on that task before others. But the Law shows you your sins and your total need for a Savior from sin and the punishment of eternal death. The Law drives you to despair and sorrow over your sins of thought, desire, word, and action. The Law compels you to cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner,” for Jesus Christ is then your only hope of salvation. And so with faith you trust in the promise of God. You believe, by grace through faith, that the Christ has suffered the punishment of death and hell for your sins in your place. You trust that Jesus has died to win your forgiveness from all your sins and that He applies that forgiveness to you through His Gospel Word that you hear proclaimed, through the water and Word in Holy Baptism, and in the eating and drinking of Christ’s true Body and Blood with the bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar. Won’t you share that message of Law and Gospel with other people?

If you, the Church, do not, nobody else will. In fact, the Lord Christ has only empowered His Church to be proclaimers of repentance and the forgiveness of sins by sending His people the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “And behold, I myself am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But as for you, you remain in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” If Jesus didn’t ascend into heaven, He could not have sent the promised power from on high, God the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in the Upper Room, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7–8 ESV). So Jesus returned to heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. And He has kept His promise so that His disciples might be His witnesses.

On the Day of Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday, God the Father and God the Son poured out the Holy Spirit in power on the chosen disciples, and they proclaimed the Scriptures—the Law and the Gospel. They preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Read the Book of Acts, Luke’s second volume. The preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ began in Jerusalem and then moved into Judea and Samaria and then to the ends of the earth—to all nations! As Peter told Cornelius in Acts 10, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,  but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. . . . And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:34–43 ESV).

You, O people of God, are equipped with the gift of the Holy Spirit. He has been poured out upon you in Baptism. He is working through the proclamation of God’s Word to deliver to you the forgiveness of sins and the power to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in Jesus’ name to others. “The promise of the Gospel is universal, that is, it belongs to all people. . . . It is Christ’s command that this promise of the Gospel also should be offered to everyone in common to whom repentance is preached” (Luke 24:47).[1] You are witnesses of these things. You are messengers of this Gospel, empowered by the Spirit to speak the truth of Christ and to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in His name.

This Gospel was first shared with you. Maybe you were brought to the font by your Christian parents to receive faith, forgiveness, and salvation through Baptism. Maybe you heard the Gospel proclaimed in the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit created saving faith in your heart through that hearing. Through the Word you received forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting. Like you, other people need to hear that message. Christ has kept His promise. You have the power of the Spirit to share the Gospel—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins!

In the Chapel of the Holy Apostles under Luther Tower on the campus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, there is an altar with these words inscribed on it: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14–15 ESV). Quite appropriate for a seminary that prepares pastors and deaconesses who are sent with the message of the Gospel into the congregations of our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. But those words from Romans 10 are not just for church workers. They are questions that every man, woman, and child with faith in Christ must answer by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.

How then will they call on [Jesus] in whom they have not believed? They won’t.

And how are they to believe in Jesus of whom they have never heard? They won’t.

And how are they to hear without someone preaching? They can’t.

And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

Jesus sends you in the power of the Holy Spirit with the message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is the gift that Jesus won for the world with His death and resurrection. It is your gift by grace through faith. Your sins are forgiven. You have eternal life. And you are witnesses of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus Christ. With great joy through the Spirit, worship your God and Savior. Receive His gifts from this altar, font, and pulpit. And then go and proclaim His Good News. Amen.

     [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 606.