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Acts 11:1-18 (Fifth Sunday of Easter—Series C)
“The Gift God Has Given Us
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 19, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text today is recorded in Acts 11:
Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Have you ever thought about some of the revolutionary ideas that have changed the world? For example, the cotton gin revolutionized the harvesting of and production of cotton. The railroad meant that we could move people and goods faster and cheaper over long distances. The electric light means that we don’t have to go to bed when the sun goes down. Then there is the telephone, once so simple which has now evolved into this minicomputer that you carry in your pocket or purse so that we are connected around the globe to people and events in mere seconds. This morning I want to take you back to one seemingly revolutionary idea that changed the world—Gentiles receive repentance unto life!
The New Testament word for “Gentiles is e;qnoj (ethnos). It means “nation” or “ethnicity.” It’s the specific word which the New Testament writers used for the Hebrew word, yAG ((goy) “nation.” Either you were part of the ~[‘ (‘am), God’s “people” of Israel, or you were part of the “goyim,” the other nations. Goyim were not part of the Lord’s covenant people Israel. The covenant of circumcision was not given to the goyim, but rather to the people of Israel. The Law, the Ten Commandments, was not given to the goyim, but rather to the people of Israel. None of the holiness codes of the Old Testament that made Israel stand apart from the other nations as God’s holy people—the laws governing what foods should or should not be eaten, the laws governing ritual cleansing and sacrifice—none of them were given to the goyim.
God’s people of Israel were truly set apart from the nations. Reading from Exodus 19, “The Lord called to [Moses] out of the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel’” (Exodus 19:3-6).
Perhaps you can understand the panic and angst caused by Peter in going to the house of the Roman Cornelius. Not only did Peter enter the house of a goy, Peter also ate with him and his family foods that the nations eat, but not the people of Israel! The Jewish believers in Jesus at this point in time were especially zealous for the Law and they insisted that there should be no interaction between the circumcised (the people of Israel) and the uncircumcised (the Gentiles). And Peter would have agreed. He felt that way too. When the Lord gave Peter the vision of the sheet let down from heaven with all kinds of ceremonially common or unclean, non-kosher food and the Lord told him, “Arise Peter, kill and eat,” Peter told the Lord “no.” That was no small thing! For never had a particle of such food come into his mouth and Peter wasn’t about to start now, even at the Lord’s command! But after three times of telling the Lord “no” and after three times in which the Lord told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common,” Peter was summoned into the home of goyim, the Gentile house of Cornelius.
And did Peter go? Yes, he did. Why? The Holy Spirit told him to go with these Gentiles, making no distinction. The whole thing about the sheet and the non-kosher food was an object lesson for Peter. It really wasn’t about the food, it was about who the food represented—the goyim, the nations, the Gentiles. If God did not want Peter and the early Jewish believers in Jesus making a distinction about food, how much more did God not want them to be making distinctions between peoples for whom the Lord Christ had suffered and died!
This was a revolutionary idea to Peter and the others in the early church. This was a whole new concept for them. If God made no distinction between believing Gentiles and believing Jews, how could Peter or anyone else maintain a barrier which plainly God ignored? To do so would oppose God! So in Cornelius’ house, Gentiles, without becoming Jewish converts first, received the Word of Christ, and having received it, were admitted into the Christian Church! What else could be said? God had acted and had clearly shown His will. God had bestowed His blessing on Gentiles too, giving them through the Holy Spirit a change of mind and heart and the assurance of eternal life.
In all this, Peter was only God’s agent. God Himself was the author of everything. God’s great purpose in bringing Peter into this Gentiles’ house was a matter of saving this household of goyim. And that was God’s plan from the very beginning.
What seemed so revolutionary to Peter and the early Jewish believers was really not so new after all. God had always intended that the Savior He would send through the people of Israel would be the Savior not just for Jews but for the nations, for the Gentiles, the goyim. The very first time God made His covenant with Abraham the Lord promised, “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3b). The prophet Isaiah announced, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations [goyim!] shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa 60:1-3). Through God’s promised Savior and Redeemer, all people—Jew and Gentile—are brought out of the darkness of their sins and into the light of God’s salvation.
At the right time, God sent forth His Son, Jesus Christ. The true Light came into the world of darkness and sin. He ate and drank with the bottom of Jewish society, with the tax collectors and sinners. He touched and healed the lepers. He ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well and the people of her village (those who were not exactly Jew or Gentile!) Jesus healed the Roman Centurion’s servant, even though the Centurion was considered a “Gentile-sinner.”
Jesus is an equal opportunity Savior! Our Lord gave Himself into death on a cross for the sins of the whole world—for the sins of Jews and for the sins of Gentiles—because God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim. 2:4). “There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:26). The blood of Jesus cleanses all people from their sins, no matter who they are or what they have done. And all means “all,” “everyone.” The Word declares in Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). St. Paul writes again by the power of the Holy Spirit in Romans 1, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.”
How significant, then, is our text today for our lives in Jesus Christ? Here in Acts 11 we get a good glimpse of what Jesus’ mission was that He gave to His disciples, to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. We come to understand the Apostle Paul’s ministry as missionary to the Gentiles, whom God also wants to hear the Gospel message of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. But there is also comfort for us in our text. Hearing this Word of God, we know that Christ is for us—goyim, Gentiles though we be! We too are saved by Jesus Christ. We are forgiven all our sins and we are made children of our heavenly Father. He doesn’t look at us as Jew or Gentile, or even male and female, but as His beloved, His redeemed. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Peter 2:9).
And this should form how we look at and approach other people. God shows no partiality, no favoritism (Acts 10:34). All people are loved by Him, sinners though they be. The Lord loves all people, even with their baggage of trespasses and boatload of guilt. He offers them all equally through the Gospel message the free gifts of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus purchased and won for everyone on the cross. And to offer those wondrous gifts through Gospel words the Lord chooses people like Peter and Paul, you and me.
Christ bids us not to show partiality and favoritism. He wants us to be like the farmer in His parable of the sower and the seed, indiscriminately tossing the Gospel to all who will listen (and even to those who won’t!) We know the seed of the Word will fall on all types of soil, some of which enable it to take root and grow and others where it will wither and die. But with whom we share the Gospel is not for our picking and choosing. It’s a message that we are to tell everyone we can because we don’t know when and where God the Holy Spirit will give that message the growth of saving faith in a person’s heart. God sets up the opportunities just like He set up the appointment between Peter and Cornelius, so that Cornelius’ whole household could hear the Gospel and receive the gift of saving faith in Jesus.
In love and mercy, God chose to share the Good News of His Son our Savior Jesus Christ with us goyim, us Gentiles, through the Gospel Word. He chose to save us, and all people, from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation through the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Now He gives you and me opportunities to share the very same Good News of salvation in Jesus with the nations, the people with whom we meet in our work and in our play—to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light! He sets up these divine appointments so that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, individuals and even households might be saved by faith in Jesus as their Savior. And no, this is not really a revolutionary idea. It has been God’s plan from the very beginning that all people should be saved. Yet, when people receive the gift of faith in Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life through the Gospel, it is always revolutionary! Amen.
John 10:22-30 (Fourth Sunday of Easter—Series C)
“What a Relationship!”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 12, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson from John 10:
22Then came the Festival of Rededication in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. 24Then the Jews surrounded him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works which I do in my Father’s name, these testify concerning me. 26But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me, 28and I give them eternal life, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29The Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.
Relationships. The world, our society, are built on them. How many relationships are you part of in your life? Husband and wife; parent and child; sibling and sibling; friend and friend; employer and employee; pastor and people; God and His human creatures.
From the very beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, relationships formed the foundation of the interactions between God and His creation as well as between the members of His creation. The crown of creation—human beings—were given dominion over the fish, the birds, the livestock, over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (Gen. 1:26). God established the relationship between the man and the woman in marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Created in the image of God, the man and the woman were in a perfect relationship with Him. They shared in His righteousness and holiness. They knew God perfectly as He wished to be known.
But all this comes undone in Genesis 3. Satan, the ancient serpent, deceives Adam and Eve. They disobey God’s commandment not to eat of the fruit of the tree that is in midst of the garden. The relationship between God and people is shattered. The relationship between the man and the woman is broken. The relationship between all of creation is corrupted. Sin has entered into God’s “very good” creation. As a result, all of our relationships are now imperfect. Our relationships are found to be lacking.
Our relationships with our spouses, children, friends, and coworkers reflect this brokenness. Our sinful natures rear their ugliness in the words we speak and in the actions that follow our selfish desires, our greed, our lust for passion and pleasure in the things of this world. It seems that behind all our relationships is a need and desire to be better than the other person, more important, more satisfied in what the relationship offers. We even desire to be more important than God and His commandments! But isn’t that the nature of our fallen selves—turned inward toward the self, it’s all about me . . . me . . .me?
Step into John 10 now with me. There are two relationships described here. The first relationship is that of Jesus to God the Father. John’s Gospel seeks to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” In chapter 20, the answer is fully given, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:30-31 ESV). The Word of God in Scripture reveals to us that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit in every way. The Nicene Creed confesses it this way, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
This eternal Son of God humbled Himself in order to take to His divine nature a true human body and soul. Jesus Christ is true God and He is also true man, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus is fully God and fully human, one Lord, one Christ. And the Jewish antagonists in John’s Gospel surround Jesus and ask Him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” Understand that as something along the lines of, “Jesus, the suspense is killing us! If you are the Christ, the promised Messiah-Savior, tell us plainly!” In other words, “Jesus, what is your relationship to God?” And Jesus points them to His words, to His preaching that the reign and rule of God has drawn near. But they didn’t believe His words. So, Jesus points them to His works that give confirmation to His words: “The works which I do in my Father’s name, these testify concerning me.”
Jesus is the divine Son of the Father in human flesh. The works that Jesus the Son does are the works of the Father, done in the Father’s name, with the Father’s authority, and for His glory. In fact, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus’ relationship to the Father is one of perfect unity. Jesus is true God. The Father is true God. (And although not mentioned in this text, the Holy Spirit is true God.) The Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped, as we confess in the Athanasian Creed. And Jesus’ point is not lost on the Pharisees who immediately pick up stones to stone Him to death because Jesus “has made Himself God” (John 10:33).
The second relationship in our text is that between the Lord and His human creatures. But sin destroyed that relationship! People are not in perfect unity with God because of sin. Nevertheless, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, is able to restore the relationship between God and His wayward sheep.
Throughout the Scriptures, we sinners are compared to lost sheep. The words of Isaiah 53 are familiar to many of us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (53:6a). The final verse of Psalm 119 gives us the psalmist’s confession, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.” And then he prays to God, “Seek your servant” (119:176). And that is what God the Son has done. He came to seek and to save lost sheep, lost sinners, and to restore them to the fold of the heavenly Father through the gift of complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
How ironic that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was led like a lamb to the slaughter, for us! On the cross, the Lamb of God was pierced for our transgressions. He shed His blood to cover over our sins and failures to love God and to love one another. Jesus died to purchase the forgiveness of all the sins that we have committed in our relationships and for our sins of omitting the good things we should have done in our relationships, in both our relationship to God and to others. By His sacrificial death and His triumphant resurrection, Christ has restored our relationship to our heavenly Father. By grace through faith, He gives us eternal life.
Our relationship to God is now changed. God is no longer our enemy because our sins no longer accuse us before Him. We no longer need to hide from Him and His wrath. We are forgiven and we receive that forgiveness through the hearing of His voice, the hearing of His Gospel—in the Absolution, in the Scriptures, from the pulpit as your pastor proclaims the Good News of Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection for us, in Holy Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper! We hear Jesus’ voice, and it empowers us by the Spirit to follow Him. Follow Him where? Here in this life, and, best of all, into eternal life—a life that cannot be taken away from us. Twice we are told by Jesus that we cannot be snatched out of God’s hands—not from the Father’s and not from the Son’s because we are kept in faith by the Word and the Means of Grace through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.
This fabulous new relationship we have with the Lord is His gracious gift to us. As we follow Jesus by faith into eternal life, the Spirit empowers us in living new and different lives in our relationships with others. Not only has our relationship with our heavenly Father been restored through the forgiveness of sins and the new life of faith, we are given the ability to love others in the various relationships we have on this side of heaven. We are empowered by the Gospel, by the voice of the Good Shepherd, as we, through the Spirit, “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). This means that we are able in Christ to give to those with whom we have relationships our love, respect, and our care. The “other person” becomes more important than us as we seek to love them in Jesus’ name. As St. Paul continues in Philippians 2, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5 ESV).
Relationships. The world, our society, are built on them. As Christians, we rejoice and give thanks to the one, Triune God that He has restored us to a right relationship with Him through the Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. By His cross and resurrection, you have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. You are unsnatchable because you are held secure in the nail-marked hands of the Risen Lord. Go then in peace empowered by the Spirit through His Word and Sacrament to follow Christ in love, which includes the power and the desire to love those in your earthly relationships more than you love yourselves. For by this the world will know that you hear the voice of Jesus and follow Him, if you have love for one another (John 13:35). Amen.
John 21:15-19 (Third Sunday of Easter—Series C)
“Forgiven to Follow”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 5, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson from John 21:
15Therefore, when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Shepherd my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved that He said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to Him, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Truly, truly I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and walk where you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch forth your hand, and another will dress you and will bring you where you do not want to go.” 19Now this He said signifying by what kind of death he will glorify God. And after He said this, He said to Him, “Follow me.”
In his mind and heart, he was ready to go with Jesus to prison and to death (Luke 22:33). He was fully prepared to lay down his life for Jesus (John 13:37). But under the stress and fear of the situation, Peter’s desires were turned into denials. From Luke 22:
Then they seized [Jesus] and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.
When we talk about “contrition” or sorrow over sin, this is what we mean. It is a sorrow that is deep and painful to the conscience. It is the recognition through the Word of God’s Law that we are not as God would have us be. The Law hammers us so hard that it hurts. Indeed, the Law breaks us into pieces; it crushes us to death under its weight. That’s what Peter was feeling on that first Maundy Thursday. Yes, his spirit was indeed willing to go to death for Jesus, but his flesh, like ours, was weak. He caved under the pressure, under the threat of his own possible arrest and death. Peter denied knowing or even being associated with Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.
Peter had boldly, by the power of the Holy Spirit, confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God (Matt. 16:16). But that confession of faith and trust crumpled like a piece a paper in his hand. Maybe Peter remembered Jesus’ words recorded by St. Matthew, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33 NASB). Peter denied Jesus before people! Would Jesus now deny Peter before the heavenly Father and so exclude Him from salvation and eternal life because of Peter’s sin? Thinking about this would have brought the sheer terrors of the Law down upon Peter’s heart and conscience! Peter had denied the Christ and the Christ can now deny him before the Father!
Have you, like Peter, denied Jesus Christ? Likely not in the same way. You probably haven’t stood before someone and said, “I don’t know Jesus.” But what have your words and actions confessed about your faith and trust in Jesus? Have you acted in public as if you are not a Christian? Have you behaved in a way that someone would ask themselves, “Is she really a Christian?” “Does he speak in the way Christians really talk?” Many times you and I deny Christ by denying before others the new life of faith that we are to live and display before the world who doesn’t know Christ. It is a tragedy when Christians live as though they are not, when Christians speak and act just like the rest of the world that they are no longer to be conformed to. If called upon to give a witness to the hope that is in you, do you shy away from telling people about the work of Jesus Christ? Are we always faithful in confessing in our life and conversation that Jesus is Lord and God?
No, we are not. As the penitent says in the service of Individual Confession and Absolution, “I, a poor sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins. I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help. My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin.” Are not our sins a denial of Jesus and the new life He has gifted to us? Are not our sins a “walking away” from the life of faith and a failing to confess our trust in Jesus as Lord and, instead, a placing of our trust again in our personal idols?
Jesus says to you also, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33 NASB). Peter denied Jesus before people! So have you! Would Jesus now deny you before the heavenly Father and so exclude you from salvation and eternal life because of your sin? Thinking about this surely brings the sheer terrors of the Law down upon your heart and conscience. You have denied Christ and Christ can now deny you before the Father!
But Jesus didn’t deny Peter and cast him aside, did He? Jesus doesn’t deny that you are His beloved nor does He cast you aside. In love and grace, Jesus absolved Peter. He restored Peter. Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to confess his love for Jesus three times—a stunning reversal of Peter’s earlier threefold denial of Jesus. Jesus personally renewed Peter in his call to follow Him and tend His sheep, His lambs. And thanks be to God, your Lord does the same for you in dealing with your sins and failings to be faithful to Him.
Jesus restores you after you fail Him time and time and time again with your denials and sinful rebellions. The blessings of Jesus’ cross and resurrection are given to you personally just as Peter received the gifts of Christ personally from the Savior. The Absolution you receive every Sunday morning really works time after time. It is not my Word of forgiveness but God’s Word that truly forgives you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Supper you eat and drink with faith in the words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” grants you forgiveness, life, and salvation. You are blessed with the assurance that you are not rejected by Jesus nor will you be denied by Him because you are His beloved who have a seat at His banqueting table. Here at the altar, this blessed Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood strengthens you in repentance and faith. It empowers your holy living so that you are more faithful in confessing Christ by word and action in the world.
In the power of Christ’s forgiveness and the new life of faith, the Savior welcomes you again today to follow Him and tend His sheep as His disciples. You are forgiven. You are restored to the Father’s good pleasure. The crushing weight of the Law has been borne by Jesus at the cross for you. His death and resurrection have set you free from its condemnation. So even though, like Peter, you at times have been embarrassed, slow, or afraid to admit before others that you are disciples of Jesus, the Lord is not embarrassed with you whom He calls disciples by Baptism and faith. By means of the Word and Sacraments, the risen Lord calls broken disciples to come to Him again and again and to be filled with His Word of forgiveness and new life so that you might follow Him. And following Him, you go out into the world to bring His Word of absolution to others just as Peter and the other disciples and followers of Jesus have done throughout the centuries.
In your mind and heart, you also like Peter have been ready to go with Jesus and face the costs of being His disciples. But under the stress and fear of the situation, your Christian desires have been turned into denials. Know then that, by means of the loving grace of God in His Son Jesus Christ, you are forgiven in order to follow Jesus now in faith and holy living unto life everlasting. Amen.
John 20:19-31 (Second Sunday of Easter—Series C)
“My Lord and God”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 28, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson from John 20:
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The modern world is a well-fertilized garden for those who doubt and distrust. Here in the United States, ever-advancing technologies and a staggering rate of change lead to loose footing. The media throws a blanket of cynicism over the attitudes of the nation. We have been trained to be skeptical of politicians. We do well to become alarmed that we are raising an entire generation whose main characteristics are pessimism, disinterest, and a critical eye towards the lifestyles and beliefs of those who have gone before.
Listen to how some researchers have described the typical belief system of many Americans, especially those born between 1961 and 1981: “In her despiritualized life, she strips billowy questions down to their real-world fundamentals. Having come of age without war but with an obsessive fear of nuclear holocaust, she sees apocalypse for what it is—just death. She sees herself as post-ideological, in some ways even post-religious. She’s hesitant to impose her beliefs (on everything from school prayer to abortion) on others. Her . . . God is straightforward, prone to action. What God sells, He services; when He bills, He collects—then it’s over.”
The person described sounds pretty skeptical to me. It’s almost hard to imagine a generation of people filled with doubts about the things of God and the ways of God and the Word of God. So many of you grew up and lived most of your life in what we might call the “Christian world.” In that world, going to church was the norm, not the exception. In that world, Christians were seen as the majority and if you wanted to “fit in,” you were part of a Christ-confessing congregation, whether or not you were “really into it.”
Those days are long over. This is not the world my children and yours are growing up in. We live in a world of skepticism and doubt, a world that is post-Christian, even non-Christian. The Church is no longer the “in” group. Today people go around claiming to be spiritual, but not religious. I’m not even sure you can actually do that! They claim that they pay attention to spiritual things while throwing away religious teaching or doctrine. They end up creating a version of God that looks more like God was created in their image rather than God being the Creator who made mankind in His image, which was lost in the Fall into sin.
Oh, and speaking of sin . . . well, with the exception of the Church, and maybe even with the exception of Roman Catholics and Confessional Lutherans, there’s not a whole lot of talk about sin. In a 2002 Barna research survey, they found, “In yet another break from biblical teaching, three-quarters of adults (74%) agree that, ‘when people are born they are neither good nor evil—they make a choice between the two as they mature.’ In other words, the concept of original sin is rejected by most Americans in favor of a rational choice approach to human nature. At least seven out of ten members of every demographic segment examined accepts the notion of choice over that of original sin. Unexpectedly, the survey data revealed that a slight majority of evangelical [Christians] (52%) also buy this notion.” The Rev. Michael Horton, professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, finds sad truth in an old newspaper headline he once saw, “To hell with sin when being good is enough.” He says, “That’s the drift of American preaching today in a lot of churches. People know what sin is; they just don’t believe in it anymore. We mix up happiness and holiness, and God is no longer the reference point.” In other words, if you can solve your problems or sins yourself, what difference does it make that Christ was crucified?
I suppose that is the real heart of the matter for those who are skeptical. What difference does it make for people that Jesus Christ was crucified and raised again on the third day? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but I wonder if Thomas might have been thinking along these lines, as well as the other disciples. The two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus certainly were when they said to the yet unrecognized Risen Lord, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-20).
They were all skeptical. Was Jesus the One? Was He Lord and God, the Messiah-Savior? They had hoped so. But He was crucified, died, and was buried. Some women had gone to the tomb early in the morning on that first day of the week but didn’t find His body. They said they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. Is it at all possible? Can we dismiss the skepticism about Jesus from our minds?
Absolutely. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”
Here is proof for all who doubt. Here is evidence for all who are skeptical. Here is verification that the same Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified and died and is now alive. The marks of the nails in His hands and the mark of the spear in His side are confirmation! This Jesus is not a ghost. He is not a manifestation of their grief. He is truly living, and the disciples are able to touch and to see. Luke’s account of the Easter evening appearance of the Risen Christ tells us, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet” (Luke 24:36-40).
Therefore, we cannot and should not be too harsh on “doubting Thomas.” He, like all the rest, was skeptical of what the death of Jesus was really all about. He, like the other apostles, doubted the resurrection testimony of the women who had gone to the tomb. He was unsure about the words of the others who told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” But one week after Easter, Thomas was given his assurance just as it had been given to all the rest. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
There before Thomas was the living proof—the Living Christ—still marked with the nails and spear, to verify and to assure all who doubt that He and He alone went to the cross to win forgiveness for the very real sins of all people.
Sin is so significant a problem for the world God so loved that He sent His One-of-a-Kind Son to be the once-for-all sacrifice to pay for those sins. If sin was no big deal, then no sacrifice for sin would have been necessary. No punishment for sin would have been needed. But sin is that big of a deal, so much a big deal that Jesus had to die on the cross and take on Himself the punishment for our sin. Jesus suffered our condemnation and died our death. Then, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead, guaranteeing that God the Father accepted the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross as full payment for our sins. The Father completely accepted the punishment for sins which Jesus endured by His suffering and death so that you and I now have forgiveness and eternal life instead of condemnation and eternal death. Of this there can be no doubt—see His hands and His side!
In the Gospel Word and in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, we do see Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again for our justification. We see Jesus with the eyes of faith gifted to us by the Holy Spirit who enables us to say of Jesus Christ, along with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” In the Word and in the Sacraments, the Risen Christ comes to us with His complete forgiveness and everlasting life, the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection delivered to each one of us personally! That’s why we come together in this place. We come here to meet Jesus because He Himself comes here in the Word and in the Sacraments. He comes to be with you, the sinners for whom He died and rose, making you into the saints you are by grace through faith in your Lord Jesus. Jesus comes and shows Himself to you in the water of Baptism, in the words of forgiveness spoken by the pastor in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ. Jesus comes and shows Himself to you in the words of Scripture read and preached, and He comes in, with, and under the bread and wine with His true Body and Blood for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.
Today, we live in a skeptical world that operates by the saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” We live in a world of doubt and unbelief, a post-Christian world that struggles with the revealed message of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. Yet, through that revealed Gospel, Jesus continues to come to people in His Word and Sacrament so that they may see Him and believe by grace through faith that He is Lord and God. Jesus continues to come through His Means of Grace so that many will receive the blessings of His death and resurrection. Through Jesus’ Word, “these things that are written,” you have been given saving faith in Jesus and believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you have life in His name because He is risen indeed. Amen.
 Peter E. Mueller, In Walks Jesus: A Bible Study for Adults (St. Louis: Concordia, 1997), 18-19.
 Albert Mohler, March 25, 2008, accessed April 23, 2019, https://albertmohler.com/2008/03/25/has-the-notion-of-sin-disappeared.
Luke 24:1-2 (The Resurrection of Our Lord—Series C)
“Real Life in the Risen Christ”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 21, 2019
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
The sermon text for the Resurrection of Our Lord is the Easter Gospel recorded in Luke 24:
1On the first day of the week, early in the morning, [the women] came to the tomb carrying the spices which they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3And after they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And while they were at a loss concerning this, behold, two men in dazzling clothing were standing with them. 5After they became frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, [the men] said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6He is not here but has risen. Remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee 7saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’” 8And they remembered His words. 9And after they returned from the tomb, they announced these things to the eleven and all the rest. 10Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them. They were telling these things to the apostles. 11But these things appeared to them like nonsense and they did not believe them. 12But Peter rose and ran to the tomb, and stooping to look in, he saw only the linen cloths, and he went away by himself wondering at what had happened.
The women’s expectation was pressing that morning. They expected to apply the spices and ointments which they had prepared to the dead body of Jesus, thus completing His burial which was hastily done on Friday due to the impending Sabbath. “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56b). But bright and early on the first day of the week, their expectation was turned upside-down. They did not find the body of the Lord Jesus in the tomb where it was supposed to be!
There is a stark irony to the angels’ first words to the women who were completely at a loss over the situation, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” To put it another way, “Why are you looking for the Living One in the place meant for the deceased?” Well, when it is said it like that, you must admit that it does seem a little silly. The tombs, the cemeteries, they are places of rest for the bodies of the dead. One doesn’t go there looking for the living. The women go to the tomb expecting a dead Jesus for whom they will lovingly complete the burial customs. But the irony of the situation is that Jesus is no longer dead. Therefore, there is no reason to seek Him there. “He is not here but has risen!”
As it turns out, the women were looking for life in the wrong place. They were looking for life in the midst of death. But isn’t that where we tend to look for life also? People look for life in all kinds of places that can’t really sustain it. People believe, “It’s really living to have everything I want. It’s truly living when things go my way. I’m alive and happy when I’m in charge and everything falls into place the way I want it to.” People find life in their possessions—car, cell phone, money, clothes, jewelry. People often call it “real living” when they are able to go on the most extravagant of vacations around the globe. Or people feel so alive because they are the most popular among their friends and coworkers.
Tragically, people are looking for the living among the dying and dead. Possessions and money, popularity and prestige, even having everything you want and being “large and in charge” doesn’t last. Jobs are lost and the bills ramp up. Popularity won’t buy you food or clothes or shelter. And when things do not go your way and you don’t get what you want—what then? If that’s what your life and being “alive” are based on and it’s suddenly gone, what hope do you have?
When the things that make you feel like you are living and alive are stripped from you, you
have nothing. Take away all the pleasures you have sought in possessions and feelings and desires, there is nothing left. No life, no real living. Where is the real life offered by things that are here today and gone tomorrow? Where is the real living in amassing possessions and things, money and power? Where’s the real living in sexual promiscuity, drunkenness, drugs, and the fleeting pleasures of this world? There is none! There’s no life to be found, no real living. There is nothing of substance and meaning. So why are you seeking life among the dead and dying things of this world? Why do you seek real life in the things that cannot possibly offer it?
That’s the very nature of sin. Our sinful selves love to seek for real, true life, first, in ourselves as we hold ourselves up as more important than anyone else . . . me, me, me . . . ourselves as gods of our own making. Our sinful selves seek real, true life, second, in the created things of this world, in the things that make us seem powerful, popular, or fulfilled emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. As these take first place in our lives, they, too, become our gods. But they are dead gods, lifeless gods, gods who cannot impart life but who only encourage us further down the road to everlasting death. “The wages of sin is death.” In our sinfulness, we look for real life only in the places that lead us into death.
Even as we seek life in all the wrong places, God our Father has sent His One-of-a-Kind Son to purchase and win our freedom from sin and death so that He might gift us sinners—free of charge—real, true, and abundant life. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus tells us that He has come so that we may “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The life that Jesus gives is a more than just mere survival or safety; it’s more than just worldly pleasures or even being physically alive. It’s life as it was meant to be lived, without sin, without death—eternal life with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
It was Jesus’ death on the cross that freed us from our sins and from death. His blood poured out for us on the cross purchased and won our rescue from all sins, from death, and from the devil’s power to ensnare and enslave us. Jesus’ death redeemed us from our seeking after all other gods, including ourselves as gods and lords of our lives. In Holy Baptism, Jesus gifted to us the benefits and blessings of His death which includes the new life of faith and His own resurrection life. Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4 ESV).
That new life is the life of faith trusting that Jesus Christ is Lord. It is new life with sins forgiven, death defeated, and Satan conquered. It is real and abundant life, eternal life, now, because Jesus is risen from the dead. His resurrection guarantees that His sacrifice on Good Friday was completed. It IS finished! God’s wrath is turn away from us. We no longer stand condemned to death because of our sins. We are forgiven. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also eternal life and salvation. By grace through faith in Jesus, we have the guarantee that, on the Last Day, our bodies will rise again from the dead. Jesus will then “transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:21 ESV).
The life given us in Baptism is truly real life and abundant life, new life, and resurrection life. Now, this gift of life given in and through faith in Jesus is also a life that changes us and makes us new creations. This real, abundant life in Jesus enables us not to be “conformed to this world,” a world that seeks real life in the things that die and fade away, but to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12)
And so what does the new life given us in Christ look like here and now? People who do not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think; people who let love be genuine; people who abhor what is evil, hold fast to what is good, and love one another with brotherly affection. We are really alive and living when you and I outdo one another in showing honor, when we are not slothful in zeal but fervent in spirit as we serve the Lord. Real life and abundant living means that you and I rejoice in hope, are patient in tribulation, and constant in prayer. For we are the people of God who are able to contribute to the needs of the saints as we seek to show hospitality. Real living in Christ is a life in which we rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, and live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12).
The real, abundant, and eternal life that you live as believers in Jesus is God’s gift to you. That gift of life was purchased with the death of Jesus on the cross and confirmed by His glorious resurrection that we celebrate today. By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, do not look for true life in the wrong places of this fallen world. Do not search for real living in the things that fade and pass away, in the things that offer no life and no hope. For in your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, you already have new life, real life, abundant life. You have eternal life through the forgiveness of your sins. Find in Christ your life and your salvation. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Sermon is from the Lenten Series, “Behold the Man,” edited for use at Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer
Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Hebrews 4:14–16; 5:7–9; John 18–19 (Good Friday—Behold the Man!)
“A God Who Bleeds, A God Who Dies”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 19, 2019
Why has God become man? Why does God have flesh? Why does God have a heart that beats, lungs that breathe, a brain with synapses that fire? For this: to die. His heart beats so that it can stop beating. His lungs draw in breaths and exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide so that they can fill with fluid and stop taking in breath. His brain conducts an electrochemical symphony so that it can stop abruptly before the final act. His eyes see so that they can be blind. His ears hear so they can be deaf. His hands work so they can be pinned to a wooden cross. His blood courses through His veins so it can flow in rivulets down the post of a torture device and leave a crimson stain in the dirt at a place named “The Skull.”
God is man so that He can die. For you. This is His purpose. This is why the eternal Second Person of the triune God has taken human flesh. This is the reason. Behold the man on the cross, bleeding, gasping, suffering, and dying.
Behold the man! Behold His hands, which the night before were washing His disciples’ feet. Now they are pinned with nails to the rough crossbeam of this instrument of torture and execution. Behold the hands that scooped Adam out of the dirt but are now stained with blood and dirt. Behold the fingers with which He touched lepers, stuck into the ears of a deaf man, and picked up bread to declare it to be His body. Now they jerk uncontrollably every time He has to pull Himself up on the nails through His wrists to take a breath. But this is why God has hands.
Behold the man! Behold His skin that has been shredded with the Roman flagrum, with lacerating bone shards and bruising steel balls woven into the leather thongs to inflict the most damage to the skin and the greatest suffering on the one being beaten. Behold the skin of His back, which is now a bloody pulp that He must now scrape up and down on the cross as He struggles to breathe. But this is why God has skin. Behold the knees skinned and bruised from falling under the weight of the cross He was for a time forced to carry out to this Place of the Skull. But this is why God has legs.
Behold the man! Behold His feet, nailed to the cross, bearing His weight as He dies. Behold the feet that walked from town to town as He taught His disciples, healed the sick, and preached the good news of man’s release from captivity to sin and death. Behold the feet that Mary anointed with a pound of expensive ointment, washed with her tears, and wiped with her hair. Behold the feet that are now bound in place. Behold the feet that must endure stabbing pain as they push up on the nail pinning them in place. Behold His heel, which in this act of dying is crushing the head of the serpent, destroying the kingdom of Satan, answering for mankind’s sinful rebellion. But this is why God has feet.
Behold the man! Behold His head, with the streams of blood flowing from each place one of the thorns on this mock crown has pressed through His skin. Behold the head that should rightly be crowned with majesty and glory surpassing every earthly king’s crown. Behold the head over which has been hung the sign listing the charge that brought this death sentence: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Behold the head that, like His forefather David’s, would have been anointed to make Him King. But this is why God has a head.
Behold the man! Behold His face, which has fresh swelling and bruising from the blows dealt first by the High Priest’s officer and later by the soldiers, jeering at Him to “Prophesy! Who is it that struck You?” Behold His eyes, which in the beginning looked at all He had made, seeing that it was “very good.” Behold the eyes that looked with mercy and compassion on the crowds, on His disciples, on the sick. Behold His lips, which spoke words of absolution but are now dry and cracked from a deeper thirst than you will ever know. Behold the cheeks that were kissed by His mother. Behold how His face contorts in agony. But this is why God has a face.
Behold the man! Behold His lungs as they slowly fill with fluid. Behold the lungs that breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils. Behold the lungs that in this hanging posture cannot exhale without the man pulling His whole body up on the nails to open His airway. Behold the lungs that expel one final breath as He cries, “It is finished,” gives up His spirit, and dies. But this is why God has lungs.
Behold the man! Behold His bones, which remain unbroken throughout this tortuous ordeal. Behold the reason every sacrifice, every Passover lamb, every bull for the whole burnt offering, every scapegoat, every ram, every turtledove had to be healthy and intact, with no broken bones or disfigurement, a perfect specimen of its kind. Behold the soldiers, who, with their clubs, shatter the legs of each of the thieves crucified with Jesus but refrain from doing the same to Jesus. But this is why God has bones.
Behold the man! Behold His side, into which the soldier thrust his spear, causing a river of blood and water to pour forth, confirming that He is truly and completely dead. His heart has stopped. His synapses no longer fire. Behold the deep sleep of death that has come upon this man on the sixth day of the week. Behold the material from the side of the crucified man that God will fashion into His Bride, the Church, and give her to Him when He wakes. Behold the side of the man, which disbelieving Thomas will be invited to put his hand into. But this is why God has a side.
Behold the man! Behold His blood, which pours from His lifeless body, staining the wooden beams of the cross, spilling onto the dirt, reddening the soil, watering His creation. Behold the blood that He first shed when He was an eight-day-old boy, undergoing the sign by which all Jewish boys were made Israelites. Behold the blood for which the crowd thirsted and ironically asked for exactly what they needed, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25). Behold the blood that was foreshadowed on every Day of Atonement when the blood of the sacrifice was splattered on the mercy seat, on the altar, and on the people. Behold the blood He gave to His disciples in the cup the night before, telling them its function: shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Behold the blood that proves that this God was also truly and fully man, a Brother in blood to us sinners. This is the blood by which this eternal High Priest enters once for all into the Most Holy Place, giving sinful people access to a holy God. But this is why God has blood.
This is no accident. Nor is it a tragedy. Jesus Himself had said, “No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). This is why God is man in the person of Jesus Christ: not to teach you how to be good, not to show you the right way to live, not to set a perfect example, not to impart His wise teaching. God is man so that He can die for men. Jesus has a life so that He can lay it down in exchange for yours. Behold the God-Man, Jesus Christ, your Savior! Amen.
Sermon from the Series “Behold the Man,” edited for use at Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer.
John 13:1–17, 31b–35 (Holy Thursday—Behold the Man!)
“A God Who Loves”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 18, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
You probably know the song “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” Every power is at the Lord’s disposal. Every authority under heaven and earth is His. He has created everything. And He holds everything in His eternal hands. And then we read in John 13 that “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”
Jesus holds the whole world in His hands. And what does He do with those hands? He removes the clothes with which He, the eternal God, is garbed. He lays them aside, wraps a towel around His waist, takes up a bowl of water, and uses His divine hands to remove the sandals from the scummy, dirty, travel-worn feet of His disciples. He holds those feet in His holy hands and washes those feet. He’s got the whole world in His hands. And He knows that the Father has given all things into His hands. Yet, He takes into His hands the dirty feet of the men who have walked with Him day after day.
God has hands. This is not metaphorical language in this case. In the person of Jesus, God joined to human flesh, God has hands. And feet. And eyes, ears, fingers, lungs, nostrils, teeth, and legs. And with these, He humbly takes up the feet of sinful men into His hands.
You can understand Peter’s protest, “You shall never wash my feet!” His God should not wash his feet. This is unbecoming of a proper God. Gods should be far removed from their creations, distant from the creatures they created, especially if their creatures have rebelled and set themselves against the goodness and graciousness of the god. Gods should not become men, should not unite themselves alongside sinful humans, should not have human flesh—and hands—and should certainly not use those hands to take up and wash the grime away from between the toes of the sweaty, sandal-shod feet of those men who claim to follow such an incarnate God. “You shall never wash my feet!” You would also protest, given the opportunity.
But then Jesus’ words, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me,” frustrate Peter’s pious pretensions. He relents, but Peter must have known deep down that this was all wrong. Washing feet is not what the Christ should do. It’s certainly not what a god should do. This is a servant’s task. If God descends to take human flesh and then stoops to the lowest position, the servant’s foot-washing place, the whole human hierarchy is turned upside down.
And, as if that weren’t enough, Jesus then asks the Twelve, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Then the Savior speaks, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Good grief! As if Christianity weren’t hard enough to buy in to. Now, “Do as I have done to you.” And “as I have done” is taking the lowest, most servile position of the foot-washing servant. Love one another like that?
This is painful. You’ll live with the command to love others to a point. “Love one another any way you wish” is the creed of American popular religion. But, “Love as I have loved you”? With a foot-washing, self-deprecating kind of love? No thanks.
You know what it means to love others as you wish to be loved. But to love as Jesus loves you? To love selflessly and sacrificially? That’s a tall order. But Jesus gives this new commandment, this mandatum novum—the reason we call today “Maundy Thursday”—on the night when He is betrayed, given into the hands of sinful men. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you.” Simple. Do this, Jesus bids. Love like this. Like I do. Love those who can never deserve it, those who hate you, who reject you, who are inclined toward your destruction. Wash their feet. Assume the posture of a servant. Or worse, absolve their sins. Give them forgiveness for sins, forgiveness they could never deserve. Love like that. Okay? “By this all people will know that you are My disciples,” if you have love for one another like this.
The new commandment He gives you: love like this. Love incarnationally. Love as flesh among flesh. Love as sinners among sinners. Love those who cannot and will not ever deserve your love. Love to forgive those who are completely unforgiveable. Love with your hands. Love in order to remove the filth, the guilt, the shame of your brothers and sisters. Love in order to get the dirt of your fellow humanity onto your own hands so that the person might be clean. Love because your love will never be repaid. Love sacrificially. Love and never expect anything in return. Love as I have loved you, Jesus commands.
Okay, who does that? No one. And yet, “As I have loved you,” is pretty absolute. Jesus loves perfectly and didn’t wait for your love toward others in order to show His love for you. He loves. If foot washing were the extent of Jesus’ love, that would be difficult enough to emulate. But He doesn’t have hands just to take up His disciples’ grimy feet. He doesn’t have fingers merely as instruments to scrub between their toes. He has the whole world in His hands. And He intends those hands to be nailed to the cross. This is His love.
Behold the man who loves those who are completely unlovable. Behold the man who loves those who, in just a few minutes, will abandon Him, and will flee to save their own lives. Behold the man who loves the unlovable, the rebellious, the sinful; the man who loves those who could never deserve it. Behold the man who is God and who, in order to love His creatures perfectly and completely, has become fully human. Behold the man who loves the world completely and perfectly in His death on the cross.
If you want to love like this, like Jesus did, like He commands His disciples to love, you will never get there relying on your own deficient, selfish love. If you want to love like this, you’ve got to be loved like this. “As I have loved you” is here, on the altar. The fruits of Jesus’ sacrificial love are in His Holy Supper for you to eat and to drink. Behold the man who gave Himself in the perfect act of love. Behold the man who on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This is My body, given for you.” Behold the man who poured His blood into the loveless mouths of His disciples to forgive their sins, “This cup is the new testament in My blood, shed for you.” Behold Jesus, true God and true man, veiled in bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for life and salvation.
This feast of love fulfills Jesus’ command to love one another. Here, as you are fed and nourished with the body and blood of the only One ever to love like this, you are strengthened, as the liturgy says, “in fervent love toward one another.” Disciples who feed together on the same loving Lord are united together in love. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In order to love like Jesus, behold the man. On His altar, behold Him. On the paten, behold the man. In the chalice, behold the man. In the Supper, behold the man who loves you enough to forgive you freely, fully, week after week. Amen.