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.

Sermon for February 3, 2019, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Luke 4:31-44 (Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany—Series C)

“For This Purpose”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 3, 2019

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 4:

31And [Jesus] went down into Capernaum, a town of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbath. 32And they were amazed at his teaching because his word had authority. 33And there was a man in the synagogue who had the spirit of an unclean demon and he called out with a loud voice, 34“Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? We know who you are, the Holy One of God!” 35And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Muzzle it and come out of him!” And after the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36And they were all amazed and began to discuss with one another, saying, “What is this word, because with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out?” 37And the report about him went out into every place in the neighboring region. 38After he arose from the synagogue, he went into Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they entreated him on her behalf [to help her]. 39And he stood over her and rebuked the fever and it left her. Immediately she rose and began to serve them. 40And when the sun had set, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him. And he laid his hands on each one of them and healed them. 41And demons also came out of many crying out and saying, “You are the Son of God.” But he rebuked them and did not allow them to speak because they knew him to be the Christ. 42Now when it had become day, he departed and went away into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him and they came to him and tried to keep him from leaving them43but he said to them, “It is necessary for me to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, for that is what I was sent to do.” 44And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

          Last Sunday, we heard in the Gospel reading that Jesus had come to His hometown of Nazareth. There He proclaimed the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 because He, the Christ, had come to bring release to those captive to sin, death, and the devil. Jesus, true God, had become Incarnate in order to free His people from oppression, enslavement, and imprisonment to sin, sickness, death, and Satan. He would also win this release and rescue for the Gentiles, and that got Him thrown out of town because the Jews did not want a Messiah who would extend the gifts of God to the nations.

          What’s at the heart of the mission and ministry of Jesus is that all people need what the Incarnate Son of God has come to bring—rescue and release from sin, sickness, Satan’s oppression, and the power of death. The whole of creation, in fact, needs this rescue and release from its bondage to corruption and decay brought about by humanity’s sin. The Word of God tells us in Romans 8, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21 ESV). Because of Adam’s sin, all of God’s good creation came under His judgment. Nothing in all of creation has, since that time, been able to fulfill its God-given purpose. All of creation, including us human creatures, is trapped in an endless cycle of deterioration that leads to death.

          We can see this cycle played out during the ministry of Jesus. What is it that He encounters during His ministry in Galilee? Demon possession, sickness, sin, and death. In the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus confronts the spirit of an unclean demon. He meets the feverishly-ill mother-in-law of Simon Peter. Then, “all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him. . . . And demons also. . . .” In Luke 5, Jesus encounters a leper and a paralytic and, later in chapter 6, a man with a withered hand. In chapter 7, we see Jesus confronting the sickness of a centurion’s servant and the death of a widow’s only son.

          We also see this cycle of sin, sickness, and Satan’s oppression leading to death in our own day. The devil and his evil angels are constantly working against us to lead us into temptation and sin. He works through false religions and spiritualities, twisting and distorting the Word of God in the Bible, in order to lead God’s human creatures further away from their one true God and Lord. As a result of the devil’s temptations and because of the weakness of our corrupted, sin-filled human natures, we daily sin much in thoughts, desires, words, and actions. Our own original sin, inherited from Adam through our own parents, inclines us only toward ourselves and away from God and His Word of authority and power. We desire, according to our sinful natures, to be gods for ourselves, and that leads us into sin, rebellion against our true God and Lord.

          You and I and all of God’s human creatures also encounter the bondage and corruption to decay faced by the whole creation. Our bodies are subject to sicknesses and diseases—physical, mental, and emotional. Seemingly healthy people die without warning. A loved one is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Perhaps you are faced with an anxiety disorder or clinical depression. And then there are just the basic needs of food and shelter and clothing that many in our community, state, nation, and world lack. These are all examples of creation’s bondage in its fallenness. The effects and consequences of sin leading to death are everywhere.

          In spite of this, a new era of salvation from sin, sickness, Satan, and death has broken into this fallen creation. The Holy One of God has come in human flesh to rebuke that which holds people and creation in bondage.

          The demons, the evil angels, correctly identified Jesus. “We know who you are, the Holy One of God!” They cried out, “You are the Son of God!” They have this prior knowledge of God the Son, against whom they rebelled and instead followed Satan. There is no question in their minds that Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Messiah, the Son of God made flesh who indeed had come to destroy them! And Jesus rebukes the demons. He censures them to prevent their speaking a confession of Him and to bring their possession of one of God’s people to an end. Where the devil and his evil angels seemed to have had free reign, Jesus puts it to an end by Jesus. The demons were rebuked and cast out.

          Similarly, Jesus rebukes and ends the sicknesses of the people. He rebuked the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law and it left her. He laid His hands on any who were sick with various diseases and healed them. Jesus sets free those who are in bondage by rebuking and ending that which binds them.

          Jesus, the Holy One of God, the Messiah, had come to undo that which held creation in bondage and captivity since the Fall of Eve and Adam into sin. The culmination of this release would come in the rebuke of sin and death itself with Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. The Good News is that Jesus’ teaching and miracles demonstrate that the new era of salvation has broken in. Jesus’ healings and all the exorcisms He performed point to the ultimate release from Satan’s bondage and captivity to sin. For with His death and resurrection, Jesus would perform the ultimate in healing and the exorcism of the world.

          Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, lived among us under the bondage of our sin. On the cross, Jesus endured hell and death itself so that you and I and all of God’s human creatures, indeed, the whole of creation, might be set free from the power of Satan, sin, and death. We read in John 8, “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’” (Jn. 8:34-36 ESV). Jesus, the Son of God, has delivered you from the jaws of hell and has brought you again into the Father’s grace and favor. He’s brought you from Satan to God, from death to life, and from sin to righteousness (Large Catechism II.31). To bring you this freedom from the bondage of sin and its effects, Jesus “became man [John 1:14], was conceived and born without sin [Hebrews 4:15], from the Holy Spirit and from the virgin Mary [Luke 1:35], so that He might overcome sin. . . . He suffered, died, and was buried so that He might make satisfaction for [you] and pay what [you] owe [1 Corinthians 15:3–4], not with silver or gold, but with His own precious blood [1 Peter 1:18–19]. And He did all this in order to become [your] Lord. . .  After that He rose again from the dead, swallowed up and devoured death [1 Corinthians 15:54], and finally ascended into heaven and assumed the government at the Father’s right hand [1 Peter 3:22]. He did these things so that the devil and all powers must be subject to Him and lie at His feet [Hebrews 10:12–13] until finally, at the Last Day, He will completely divide and separate [you] from the wicked world, the devil, death, [and] sin, . . . [Matthew 25:31–46; 13:24–30, 47–50].”[1]

          The authority and power of Jesus’ word, fulfilled in His perfect life, death, and resurrection, has accomplished salvation, freedom, and release from the oppression of sin, death, and the power of the devil for you and for all people. It was for this purpose that the Holy One of God became flesh and dwelt among us so that you and I might be set free from this bondage through the forgiveness of sin to have life forever with the Lord. It is the very Word of Christ that continues to be preached today that announces this very salvation to you. You are released from your sins with the Words of Absolution, which are the words of Jesus spoken to you by His called and ordained servant. You are released from your sins as you hear the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as your hear it read and preached. Through this Gospel Word, your Baptismal faith is strengthened so that you might be victorious over the consequences and effects of sin in this life, knowing that what awaits you in glory is life forever with God in perfect peace. Jesus offers this comfort until the completion of all things when we will enjoy together the fullness of the release that the Lord gives. He says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33 ESV).

          Indeed, He has overcome the world, the devil, sin, and death itself. Jesus’ Word bestows on you the forgiveness of sins and the eternal life which His life, death, and resurrection won for you and for all people. In the certainness of faith, we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies,” (Rom.8:23) looking forward to the day of our Lord Jesus Christ when we will enjoy forever the complete freedom from all that would oppress us. Amen.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 402.

Sermon for Christmas Day, December 25, 2018

Luke 2:8-17 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Day)

“Bethlehem’s Lamb”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

December 25, 2018

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

Our text is from the Christmas Gospel recorded in Luke 2:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.

The region surrounding Bethlehem was ideal for raising sheep. Not only was there good grazing land, but the hillsides contained numerous caves which could be used by shepherds for shelter. Furthermore, there was an excellent market in nearby Jerusalem for these sheep. Many of Bethlehem’s sheep were likely raised for sacrifice at the Temple. During the special festival days in Israel’s religious calendar, thousands of Jews would come to their holy city from all over the Roman Empire to offer sacrifices. Rather than transport their sacrificial lambs from distant homes, they would buy them in Jerusalem. By law, the sheep slated for sacrifice had to be without blemish or defect.  Thus the shepherds in the region of Bethlehem kept close watch over their special sheep. 

           Imagine with me the joy of a Bethlehem shepherd at the birth of a perfect male lamb. We know how adorable baby sheep are. This one is perfect in every way. The soft bleating pleases our ears. The shepherd rejoices to add this lamb to his flock. It will receive his love and care and protection. He will lead it to green pastures and let it drink by still waters. He will laugh as it romps and plays with the other lambs. All the while, he knows that the day is coming when this little lamb will be sacrificed at the Temple for the sins of the people. This lamb, without spot or blemish, when it is a year old, will be a Passover Lamb.

          What might it have been like to be a shepherd, raising lambs for sacrifice to God?  While shepherding was considered a menial task, would it not have been an honor to serve God and God’s people by caring for the sheep that would one day be offered as a sacrifice of atonement to cleanse the sins of the people? Under God’s first covenant, this sacrifice was completely necessary to cover over the breach between God and His people caused by sin. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22 ESV). Yet, there must have been a sense of sadness to know that you were raising lambs whose purpose in life was to die on behalf of people, shedding its blood so that they might receive forgiveness from God. 

          On a crowded night in the village of Bethlehem, the City of David, 2000 years ago, THE Lamb of God was born. No, this Lamb was not to be found out with the flocks and the shepherds. This Lamb was found, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger because there was no room for Him in the inn. This Lamb was the firstborn son of Mary, a virgin from Nazareth, who had conceived the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. This Lamb’s name was Jesus, true God who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). His purpose in life was ultimately to die on behalf of all people, to suffer the punishment for their sins, and to win forgiveness and eternal life for the world by the shedding His blood. 

          What must it have been like for Mary and Joseph when the Bethlehem shepherds arrived and shared their message with them? “The angel of the Lord appeared to us and told us good news of great joy that is for people everywhere. We have come to see the Savior, Christ the Lord! And here He is, lying in a manger, just as the angel told us!” Luke tells us that Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 

          What thoughts would have gone through Joseph and Mary’s minds as, on the eighth day, they named their child Jesus, the name given to them by God through the angel? “He will save His people from their sins.”  As they raised Jesus, the one John the Baptist would call the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” did they consider the words of Isaiah 53? “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. . . . he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.”

          What would it have been like for Mary and Joseph to raise Jesus, the Savior of the world, who would give up His life as a sacrificial lamb for them and for all people? Did they feel the honor of serving God and God’s people by caring for the Son-of-God-Incarnate who would one day be offered on the altar of the cross for the sins of the people? Would they have experienced some of the feelings that the Bethlehem shepherds did as they watched a newborn lamb take its first steps, as the little lamb romped and played, as the lamb grew up, all the while looking to the lamb’s purpose, knowing what was to take place and that it was to die for sinful people? 

          The message of Christmas is that God loves you and me dearly, sinful people though we are.  We are flawed, lacking the perfection that God demands. We are flawed in our relationship with God which is broken by our sinfulness. Satan has turned us against God. He has planted selfishness, envy, self-righteousness, pride, lust, and arrogance in us. So many people, including you and me at times, trudge off, sad and lonely, trying to keep cheerful by numbing our minds with meaningless things because we think we can solve our own problems and cover up our sins and failures to do good. 

          But He sent forth Jesus to be the once-for-all sacrificial Lamb for your sins and mine. Jesus Christ was born for us. As God’s perfect Lamb, Jesus took on Himself all our imperfections, all our blemishes, and all our flaws. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter for us. As Jesus hung on the cross and bore the sins of the world, yours and mine included, God turned His face from His only Son. He turned in horror from His beloved one. He abandoned His Son on the cross because He was bearing the unholiness of all people. 

In this way, Jesus suffered the full punishment of hell for your sins and died in your place on the cross because God loves you dearly. “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed,” Paul says (1Cor. 5:7). The Child of Mary once laid in a wooden manger suffered death on the wood of the cross, shedding His blood to make you clean from all sin and unrighteousness. “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). By the blood of Jesus, you are forgiven. You are set free from sin, death, and Satan’s power. Covered in Christ’s blood and righteousness, there is nothing about you that God doesn’t like, nothing that is less than perfect in His eyes. Christ has been your Lamb, your substitute, taking your imperfections on Himself, and through faith, giving you His perfection and His holiness that makes you true children of God.

What joy filled the hearts of the shepherds that first Christmas as they heard the Good News and saw God’s promised Savior, the Lamb of God, lying in a manger! What joy filled the hearts of Mary and Joseph at this wondrous, miraculous birth! What joy the birth of Jesus gives to you and me! Celebrate, then, with the joy of the angels—“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!” Celebrate with the joy of the angelic hosts and the Church in heaven—“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). And celebrate with your brothers and sisters in Christ, with your families and friends, for to you is born a Savior, the true Lamb of God, who is Christ the Lord!  Amen