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Sermon for February 23, 2020, The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Matthew 17:1-9 (The Transfiguration of Our Lord—Series A)

“Comfortable with Jesus”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 23, 2020

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

Our text is the Gospel recorded in Matthew 17:

1And after six days, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, his brother, and he led them up into a high mountain by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shown like the sun, and his garments were white like light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them conversing with him. 4And Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make here three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” 6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and they were extremely afraid. 7But Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Rise and stop being afraid.” 8And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one except him—Jesus only. 9And as they were coming down out of the mountain Jesus commanded them saying, “Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man shall be raised from the dead.”

 

People are generally comfortable with Jesus in His humanity. The man Jesus is rather non-threatening. However, when it comes to the divinity of Jesus, people aren’t so sure what to do with that. Jesus on the mountain was transfigured before Peter, James, and John. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ face shown like the sun. His garments were white like light. Here is the man Jesus displaying the brilliance of the glory of God! And Peter doesn’t know what to do with it, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make here three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (St. Mark tells us that “he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.”) And that fear only escalates when a bright cloud overshadows them and they hear the voice of God the Father speak, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” The disciples fall on their faces because they are extremely afraid.

Why is there such fear when people encounter God? Again, people are quite comfortable with the man Jesus, but Jesus is not simply a man. He is “God in man made manifest.” Jesus is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God” (Nicene Creed). Jesus is “God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age: perfect God and perfect man” (Athanasian Creed). So to encounter Jesus is to meet God in human flesh—true God and true Man, one Christ. And it is the presence of God that brings fear to those who are separated from Him because of their uncleanness and unholiness.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews simply states, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31 ESV). God alone—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—can put to death and bring to life. And being put to death because of our sins is why we fear God the most. There is now, since the Fall, a disconnect between humanity and its Creator. He is holy, without sin. Humanity is not. And “the Lord [our] God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24 ESV) so that “the wicked will not stand in the judgment” (Psa. 1:5 ESV).

Sinful, corrupt, unholy humanity cannot stand before the righteous, perfect God. God said to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘Yahweh.’ . . . But . . . you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:19–20 ESV). No mortal human can see the face of God and remain alive. He is the holy God and a consuming fire to humanity’s unholiness. As our vision is destroyed by looking directly at the sun, so our whole nature would be destroyed by the unveiled sight of the brilliance of the glory of God. His holiness would simply eat us up. We cannot bear it.

And so we are much more comfortable with Jesus in His humanity. It is much less

frightening than the glory of the holiness of God. And yet, in the person of Jesus there is exactly that—the holy, righteous God of heaven and earth. And Peter, James, and John got to see a glimpse of that glory and holiness in the transfigured Jesus. With shining face and gleaming white garments, speaking with Moses and Elijah, stood the Creator, God the Son, incarnate, covered in human flesh, living among His fallen creation. As we sang with such joy at Christmas, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel! Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King!’” (LSB 380:2).

This King born for us is the Savior. Jesus reveals His glory to the apostles on the mountain so that they might know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is true God. The Father Himself sets His imprimatur upon Jesus, just as He did at the baptism in the Jordan, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.” The disciples are to hold fast to what Jesus teaches. They are to trust in His Word. They are to believe that it is for their salvation from sin and death that Jesus has come to be delivered into the hands of men who will crucify Him. He will die and on the third day be raised again.

This Jesus, true God and true Man, is the Father’s appointed agent for our salvation. We heard this on the First Sunday after the Epiphany at the Jordan River, “This is my beloved Son.” On this last Sunday after the Epiphany, we hear it again, “This is my beloved Son.” Because of the separation caused by sin, “no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known (John 1:18). Jesus, the beloved Son Himself, makes known the Father’s heart to us. Yes, He is the holy God in whose presence sinners cannot stand. But He is also the gracious Savior who desires salvation from sin, Satan, and death for all people.

So from the revelatory unveiling of His glory as the One-of-a-Kind Son of the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus will descend into the valley of the shadow of death to be nailed to a cross on a mount called “Golgotha,” the place of the skull. In black cosmic darkness, bearing in His body the sins of the world—all the evil, all the hatred, all the lust, all the broken promises, all the greed, all the thoughts, words, and deeds of which you and I are ashamed—He will die. He died for you. He died to make you holy with His own blood, cleansing you from your sins and making you a new creation by grace through faith in Him alone.

Did you notice how Matthew concludes our reading today. It’s beautiful Gospel. “But Jesus came to them and touched them and said, ‘Rise and stop being afraid.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one except him—Jesus only.” Jesus only—by grace only through faith only—gives you forgiveness of sins and eternal life, not death and hell. His blood has bridged the separation between you and God. St Paul writes, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18–19 ESV). And in Romans 5:10 it is promised, “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).

There is now nothing to fear. Your sins, which separated you from God and which earned your death, have been paid for in full. You are forgiven. You are declared right with God and have been given the privilege and rights of being His children who see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In the Divine Service, as you gather here, you come into the Lord’s presence to listen to Christ’s Word (as the Father bids you to do—“Listen to Him”). In Holy Absolution, your sins are forgiven with the Word of Christ. As you come to the Table, you receive the true body of Christ in, with, and under the bread, and drink of the blood of the new covenant in and with the wine which strengthen your faith, grant you the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. This Gospel, given to you in Word and Sacrament, reveals to you the glory of God in the person of Jesus, true God and true Man, your Savior.

Because of the Good News of Jesus, you can be most comfortable with Jesus, not only in His humanity but also in His divinity. The Father loved you so much that He gave His One-of-a-Kind Son to be born in human flesh so that He might purchase your forgiveness with His own blood, making peace between you and God. That peace of sins forgiven in Jesus only assures you that you need not fear the presence of God. He is gracious and merciful toward you because of the merits of Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection, which are credited to you by faith. As you enter the holy season of Lent this Ash Wednesday, behold the glory of Christ in His death for you as we come to the Day of Resurrection with joy and peace. Amen.

Sermon for February 16, 2020, Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Matthew 5:21-37 (Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

“A Matter of the Heart”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 16, 2020

 

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

Our text is the Gospel recorded in Matthew 5:

21You have heard that it was said to the ancients, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to the judgment.” 22But I myself say to you that anyone who is being angry with his brother will be liable to the judgment, and whoever says to his brother, “Numskull,” will be liable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, “Fool,” will be liable to the hell-fire. 23Therefore, if you are bringing your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go, first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and resume offering your gift. 25Be well-disposed toward your opponent quickly, while you are with him on the way, lest that opponent hand you over to the judge and the judge to the assistant and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I say to you, you will surely not get out from there until you pay the last cent. 27You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28But I myself say to you that anyone who looks at a woman so as to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29And if your right eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away from you, for it better for you that one of your members perish and your whole body not be thrown into hell-fire. 30And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away from you. For it is better for you that one of your members perish and your whole body not depart into hell-fire. 31And it was said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” 32But I myself say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for a matter of adultery, makes her to have adultery committed [against her], and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33Again, you have heard that it was said to the ancients, “You shall not break your oath, but you shall pay to the Lord your oaths.” 34But I myself say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven, because it is God’s throne, 35nor by the earth, because it is the footstool of his feet, nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 36Neither should you swear by your own head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. 37But let your word be “yes, yes,” “no, no.” That which is more than this is from the evil one.

 

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not murder.” You reply, “I have never killed anyone.”

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” Your response, “I have never cheated on my spouse.”

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not break your oath.” Your reply, “Well, I have broken some promises.”

Hey, you know the saying, “Two out of three ain’t bad!” Even one out of three is a .333 batting average in the big leagues, and that’s considered outstanding—1 hit out of every three times at bat! So keeping one commandment or, imagine, two commandments out of three has to be quite impressive to the Lord! We have heard that it was said do not murder, do not commit adultery, and do not break your oaths. And we look at the letter of the Law and say that we’ve done quite well. However, Jesus tells us, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I myself say to you . . .” Wait, what? There’s more to it?

Yes, there is. Much more, says Jesus, so that no one can read this text from the Sermon on the Mount without saying, “Ouch! It hurts!” Jesus reveals to us that “doing the commandments” is not simply about avoiding the actual deed. It is a matter of the heart and the condition of the heart. Not only is murder sinful, but so is hatred. Not only is adultery wrong, but so is lust. Perjury and lying is sinful, but so is breaking promises. Mere external conformity to the commandments is not enough. Jesus opens our minds and hearts to see that God also demands internal purity and righteousness as well.

Last Sunday, we left off in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with the words, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall surely not enter into the reign of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were all about the outward performance—the deed itself. So if the commandment says Do Not Murder, they do not take someone’s life. But Jesus gets to the heart—literally—of His own commandments. It is more than the actual deed of murder or adultery or lying. It is also hating, lusting, breaking promises. It’s a matter of the heart.

Jesus would tell His disciples in Matthew 15, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matt. 15:19–20a ESV). The human heart, because of our inherited sinful nature, is crammed full of anger and hate, envy, hidden and evil schemes of murder, and lusts from which obscene language and vulgar gestures proceed. God’s word in Jeremiah summarizes for us: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9 ESV). From our hearts to our minds to our mouths come curses, hate-filled words, lustful desires, and broken promises that hurt and harm our neighbor physically and emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Jesus tells us that we must be more righteous than just an outward keeping of the Law. True righteousness must be in the heart. When the heart is pure, it will never produce selfish anger, insults, grudges, lust, divorce, and lies. So how well have we done with that?

Lousy!—because our hearts, by nature, are not pure! We can keep from killing or having affairs, but we can’t control all those little sins that pop out of the heart. The heart always slips—generates selfish thoughts, lets our tempers snap or harmful words slip out. And, hey, our eyes are open—temptation just jumps in! “Soon the heart follows the eyes, bringing on the desire and appetite that I ought to reserve for my wife alone. Flesh and blood is curious enough anyway. It soon has its fill and loses its taste for what it has, and it gapes at something else.”[1]

But surely, we can’t be responsible for all these thoughts and desires and angers and jealousies! They just seem to happen on their own. But Jesus says we are responsible—“And if your right eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away from you, for it better for you that one of your members perish and your whole body not be thrown into hell-fire. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away from you. For it is better for you that one of your members perish and your whole body not depart into hell-fire” (vv. 29–30)!

Now Jesus isn’t saying that we should literally blind or maim ourselves. He is saying, “Stop making excuses!” It’s not eyes or hands that make you sin. It’s the heart that causes sin. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Even the smallest sin proves our hearts aren’t pure, and Jesus demands a pure heart—not a mere outward keeping of the commandments, but a truly pure-hear-keeping of the commandments. Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. So to be righteous, the heart has to be repaired. And where can we get that?

Christ Himself gives us pure hearts. It is the blood of Christ poured out for us on the cross that purifies every heart. Consider your physical heart. It’s a most valuable organ—provided there’s blood in the body to pump. The blood of Christ flowing through the spiritual heart makes our heart righteous. This the blood of Christ shed on the cross in His death for us in our place that was applied to you and me in the purifying effects of Baptism. So Baptism is a washing that renews and purifies us before God. Instead of the blood of lambs or goats, it is the blood of Jesus that cleanses us (Heb. 9:13-14). This is the same blood we receive in, with, and under the wine in Holy Communion for the forgiveness of sins, new life, salvation, and the strengthening of our faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.

The blood of Christ gives us His own righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. It gives us a righteousness beyond the letter of the Law to the very “heart of the matter.” Sins—big outward ones and small ones in the heart—are all washed away. Jesus’ blood has truly paid for every murder and every harsh word, every affair and divorce and every look that was a little too long, every perjury, and every promise we broke. “The blood of Jesus . . . cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV). Though our hearts are corrupt, God declares them righteous because of the sacrificial death of Jesus. In a very real way, then,  Christ’s blood gets our spiritual hearts pumping. His blood makes us alive when we were dead in trespasses and sins. His blood gives us new life and eternal life as He sends the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts.

After his sins of lust and adultery, deceit and murder, David prayed in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10). David knew his sinfulness and the Spirit’s promise to change him. When we believe in Christ, a radical change does occur: the Holy Spirit creates a new heart, a new spirit in us. This new heart really is righteous and pure, even though it’s living alongside what remains of our old sinful one. But the Holy Spirit also lives in us so that our hearts are constantly communing with Him. God the Holy Spirit then enables our hearts to produce pure actions—the fruits of faith, good works, faith toward God and love toward neighbor.

Yes, our sinful nature continues to sin until the day of our death. But the new heart made righteous by the blood of Christ through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit does love our neighbor, honor our spouse, and treat others with honesty and integrity. You see, our righteousness before God is always a matter of the heart. And by Christ’s blood through the gift of His Spirit, Jesus has resolved that matter—in our hearts—with His forgiveness. 1 Corinthians 6:11, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” In Baptism, God has spoken to us by name, claiming us, cleansing us, and putting the saving mark of the cross on our head and on our heart. Now by the blood of Jesus we are able “to live under [Christ] in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity” (Small Catechism: Second Article). Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 21 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 87.

Sermon for February 9, 2020, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

1 Corinthians 2:1-16 (Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

“Spiritual but Not Religious”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 9, 2020

 

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

Our text is the Epistle recorded in 1 Corinthians, chapter 2:

1And when I came to you, brothers, I did not come with high sounding speech or wisdom when I declared to you the mystery of God. 2For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3But I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4and my word and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and power, 5so that your faith might not be in the wisdom of people but in the power of God. 6But we speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age nor of the rulers of this age who are being reduced to nothing. 7But we speak the wisdom of God in the form of a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God decided before the ages for our glory, 8which none of the rulers of this age recognized. For if they had recognized it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But just as it stands written: What things an eye has not seen and an ear has not heard and upon a human heart has not arisen, what things God has prepared for those who love him. 10But to us God has revealed these things through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things including the deep things of God. 11For what human being knows what is going on inside a person except the person’s spirit, which is in him? So also no one understands the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we did not receive the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is from God, so that we might know the things graciously given to us by God. 13We also speak about these things not in words taught by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 14But the unspiritual person does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him because they are spiritually discerned. 15But the spiritual person discerns everything, while he himself is discerned by no one. 16“For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

 

          “I’m spiritual but not religious.” You’ve probably heard that phrase before. Maybe someone has said it to you when you asked them about their faith and shared what you believe about Jesus Christ. According to a Barna Research report from 2017, about 11% of the population identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious” or “SBNR.” But what does being SBNR, spiritual but not religious, mean?

          Dr. Paul Thagard, a Canadian philosopher and cognitive scientist, posted an article on the website www.psychologytoday.com, “Spirituality for some people seems to mean merely that they believe in ethical values such as caring about other people. . . . Spirituality sometimes goes with a set of practices that may be reassuring and possibly healthy. . . . Sometimes spirituality fits with rejection of modern medicine, which despite its limitations is far more likely to cure people than weird ideas about quantum healing and ineffable mind-body interactions. . . . Perhaps the most common basis of modern spirituality is just a mystical sense that the universe is somehow meaningful and benign, as captured in the slogan that everything happens for a reason. . . .”[1] So-called “spiritual” people believe generally in some “higher power” or “something greater than us” without having what we would understand to be a clear creed or confession of faith.

          The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians Christians about spiritual things. He said that “We,” Paul himself, Apollos, and Simon Peter were about the task of “explaining spiritual things to spiritual people” (v. 13). These three men, over whom divisions popped up in the Corinthian church, were “servants through whom [the Corinthians] believed.” They were “God’s fellow workers.” And the Corinthians were “God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor 3:5, 9). Now what “spiritual things” did these men explain? Things quite absurd, actually—a crucified Messiah who rises from the dead and bestows His Spirit on people in order that the people might receive saving faith in this Messiah, the forgiveness of sins won by this Messiah, and everlasting life provided by grace through faith in this Crucified and Risen One.

          If the apostle Paul were standing here this morning, he would tell you that you are not going to receive this message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and the subsequent blessings such faith delivers by being “spiritual” or “religious” as those terms are understood today. To be spiritual according to the New Testament word of God is to “have the mind of Christ.” To “have the mind of Christ” is to receive the things of the Spirit of God which He reveals through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead for the forgiveness of sins.

          Let’s face facts. No human being comes into this world spiritual or religious. The natural state of every human person is completely unspiritual, dead in sin, and totally unable to do anything about it. Dr. Luther summarizes: “In worldly and outward affairs, which apply to the livelihood and maintenance of the body, a person is cunning, intelligent, and quite active. But in spiritual and divine things, which apply to the salvation of the soul, a person is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife [Genesis 19:26], indeed, like a log and a stone. He is like a lifeless statue, which uses neither eyes nor mouth, neither sense nor heart. For a person neither sees nor perceives God’s terrible and fierce wrath resulting from sin and death. He always continues in his security, even knowingly and willingly. In this way he falls into a thousand dangers, and finally into eternal death and damnation. No prayers, no supplications, no warnings, indeed, also no threats, no chiding, are of any help. Indeed, all teaching and preaching is lost on him. . . .” (FC:SD II 20)[2]

          It is as Paul writes by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, “The unspiritual person,” that is, the natural person in their lost and condemned condition, “does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him because they are spiritually discerned,” and the natural person is not able to discern and understand such things in their lost state. And truly it doesn’t get much more foolish in the eyes of human or worldly wisdom than a God who humiliates Himself by taking on the flesh and blood of His human creation and allows Himself the indignity of not only being fully human but undergoing death on a cross.

Take for example, perhaps an extreme case, the views of John Shelby Spong, a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church. From 1979 to 2000, he was the Bishop of Newark, New Jersey. He says, “The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history” (Twelve Theses, Call for a New Reformation).

          It is as Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23 ESV). And in our text, “we speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age nor of the rulers of this age who are being reduced to nothing.” Now, I want to go back to Dr. Luther’s summary. We left off with the good Doctor saying, “No prayers, no supplications, no warnings, . . . are of any help. Indeed, all teaching and preaching is lost on him.” But he continues by saying that it is only lost on the unspiritual person “until he is enlightened, converted, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. For only mankind, not stone or block, was created for renewal by the Holy Spirit. . . . This comes not from [human nature’s] own natural, active skill, ability, or capacity (for a person’s nature is stubbornly hostile against God). It comes only from pure grace, through the gracious effective working of the Holy Spirit.”[3]

          Paul tells us that “God has revealed these things”—the incarnation, person, work, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ—“to us through the Spirit.” It’s not the spirit of the lost and corrupted world that we have received but God the Holy Spirit. You and I have become true spiritual people because God the Holy Spirit has been given us in Holy Baptism.

In Baptism and through the hearing of the Good News of Christ, we received saving faith that trusts in Christ alone for full forgiveness, life, and salvation. We believe, teach, and confess that Jesus, true God and true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is our Lord. Jesus was indeed crucified, died, and was buried, having borne our sins in His body on the cross, suffering hell in our place, and dying our death so that forgiveness of sins and everlasting life would be given to us by the Spirit whom He has poured out on us richly (Titus 3:6).

You see, the Gospel of the crucified Messiah is true wisdom for those who are “spiritual.” You are now spiritual people because you have the Spirit, who has revealed to you what God has really accomplished in Christ for you. Because you do have the Holy Spirit who dwells in you, you also have the mind of Christ. How blessed are you that you have seen the cross for what it is—God’s wisdom and God’s power at work in you and for you because the Spirit delivered to you the forgiveness and everlasting life Christ Jesus purchased and won for you![4]

You know, I’ve been thinking about SBNR—spiritual but not religious. Maybe it’s time for Christians to claim that acronym for ourselves. We’re not “religious” in the sense of following a set of manmade rules and regulations. That’s the way “religious” is often understood today. No, we are followers, disciples, of God the Son, Jesus Christ. We’re also not “spiritual” in the way it’s understood today as just having a sense of “higher things.” What we are is formerly unspiritual, lost and condemned creatures, who have been redeemed and restored to God’s favor by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. We have been made truly spiritual because we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit by means of Baptism. You and I have received, not only the Spirit Himself, but also the things of the Spirit in Baptism, Word, and Lord’s Supper—faith, new life, forgiveness.

In light of the Gospel, the wisdom of God in Christ says that you and I, as Christians, are the truly spiritual people. You and I are people filled with the Holy Spirit; we’re God’s field, God’s building. In the power of the Spirit working through the Word and Sacraments, you and I live out our Christian faith in our daily callings by showing and doing the fruits of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23 ESV). Spiritual but not religious—that might just be us after all—through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Paul Thagard, “Spiritual but Not Religious: Does it make sense to reject religion while maintaining spirituality?,” Psychology Today, October 28, 2016, accessed February 4, 2020, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hot-thought/201610/spiritual-not-religious

 

[2] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 524.

[3] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 524.

[4] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse et al., Revised Edition., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 104.

Sermon for Feb. 2, 2020

Micah 6:1-8 (Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

“The Lawsuit”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

February 2, 2020

 

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

Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Micah, chapter 6:

1Here, now, what Yahweh is saying: “Arise, present the lawsuit before the mountains and let the hills hear your voice.” 2Hear, O mountains and the enduring foundations of the earth, the lawsuit of Yahweh, because Yahweh has a case against his people and against Israel he will argue. 3“O my people, what have I done to you and how have I wearied you? Answer me! 4For I caused you to go up from the land of Egypt and from the house of slaves I ransomed you and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 5O my people, remember now what Balak, king of Moab, advised, and what Balaam answered him, [remember] from Shittim to Gilgal, in order to know the righteous acts of Yahweh.” 6With what shall I come before Yahweh? Shall I bow myself to the God of heights? Shall I come before him with whole burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten-thousands of rivers of olive oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sins of my life? 8“He has declared to you, O man, what is good, and what is Yahweh seeking from you except to do justice and to love mercy and showing a humble walk with your God.”

Today we have before us Case #M6.1-8, Yahweh v. Israel.

The mountains and the hills, those enduring foundations of the earth, will hear this suit as those who have seen what Yahweh has done for His people throughout the course of the ages, and how Israel has rewarded God for it all. They will bear witness on behalf of Yahweh and against His people.

The charges are as follows, the words of Yahweh against His people:

“O my people, what have I done to you and how have I wearied you? Answer me! For I caused you to go up from the land of Egypt, and from the house of slaves I ransomed you, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what Balak, king of Moab, advised, and what Balaam answered him, [remember] from Shittim to Gilgal, in order to know the righteous acts of Yahweh.”

We hear now from the prosecution.

Thank you. What has God done to you, His chosen people, that you have become so tired of Him? You, O Israel, have fallen away from God. You have broken His covenant. How has God wearied you? You claim that God has wearied your patience by giving you demands that are too difficult, too severe. You imply that God has failed to keep His promises. So today He gives you opportunity to show Him where He has wearied you.

Has God done you harm? Has He not continually, despite your sins and rebellions against Him, been faithful to His promises? God brought you up from the land and Egypt and ransomed you from the house of slaves! This is the greatest manifestation of divine grace, to which you owe your rise into a nation in the land which God promised to give to you. What’s more, Yahweh gave you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam as leaders for you.

Let me remind you of another great display of His grace. God frustrated the plan formed by the Moabite king Balak to destroy you by using Balaam to curse you. Instead of letting curses come from Balaam’s mouth, each time Balaam spoke, God poured out blessings.

Think about the whole journey into the land of promise—the defeat of the Midianites who attempted to destroy you by seducing you to idolatry. There was the miraculous crossing of the Jordan where Yahweh parted the river for you to go through into the land. Then God allowed the generation that grew up in the desert to receive the covenant of circumcision, being received into Yahweh’s covenant promises, being reinstated in your relationship to God as His people. So what has God done to you that He wearied you?

The defense may speak on behalf of God’s people.

Israel cannot deny these gracious acts of God. Remembering them brings to mind the deep ingratitude with which they have repaid God by rebelling against Him. The people’s response is this: “With what shall I come before Yahweh? Shall I bow myself to the God of heights? Shall I come before him with whole burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten-thousands of rivers of olive oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sins of my life?”

Israel offers to bring sacrifices, the means appointed by God for maintaining fellowship with Him. The people of God offer burnt-offerings to Yahweh—calves, rams, olive oil. They are even willing to offer Him the sacrifice of their firstborn for their transgression and sins, realizing that an animal may not be a sufficient substitute for a human person.

The prosecution may respond.

The surrender which God desires is that of the spirit not of the flesh! Israel should have learned this, not only from the sacrifice of Isaac required by God, but also from the law concerning the consecration of the firstborn. This offer from Israel shows that the people have no true knowledge of the will of their God. They are still entangled in the delusions of unbelief, that the wrath of God can be paid for by human sacrifice!

Let me remind you of the moral demands of the law, which God has already laid out for you: “He has declared to you, O man, what is good, and what is Yahweh seeking from you except to do justice and to love mercy and showing a humble walk with your God.”

It is not outward sacrifices of any kind, but only the fulfillment of doing righteousness and exercising love. These embrace all of the commandments of the Second Table, numbers 4-10—love your neighbor as yourself. Instead you have been addicted to the opposite—injustice, oppression, and want of affection. Yet we dare not forget the First Table of the Law, commandments 1-3, that deal with your relationship to God. You are to walk humbly with your God, in fellowship with God, not in rebellion against Him.

“Thus says the Lord: What have I done to you, O my people, and wherein have I offended you? Answer me. For I have raised you out of the prison house of sin and death, and you have delivered up your Redeemer to be scourged. For I have redeemed you from the house of bondage, and you have nailed your Savior to the cross. O my people.”

“Thus says the Lord: What have I done to you, O my people, and wherein have I offended you? Answer me. For I have conquered all your foes, and you have given me over and delivered me to those who persecute me. For I have fed you with my Word and refreshed you with living water, and you have given me gall and vinegar to drink. O my people”

“Thus says the Lord: What have I done to you, O my people, and wherein have I offended you? Answer me. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? My people, is this how you thank your God? O my people.”[1]

Like God’s Old Testament people, we are guilty of unfaithfulness to God. We are guilty of sin and transgression and rebellion against God’s Word. And what is there that you and I could have done to make up for it? Sacrifices? What would be sufficient? How much would be enough to pay the tremendous debt we owe? Sacrifices would gain us nothing.

That’s why God did everything for you and for me, His people. When we were still sinners, God gave up His Son, the firstborn of the Virgin Mary, into death (Rom. 5:8). Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf rescued us from slavery to Satan, sin, and death. Jesus’ body given in death and His holy, precious blood poured out for us saved us from the power of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

Jesus saved us from our sins so that we can do that which the Lord requires of us. In the forgiveness of Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit which He accomplishes in us through the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ, you and I are able to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God and Lord. In fact, because God declares you and me forgiven by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, God also announces through the mouth of Jesus Himself that you and I are “blessed.” Because of what Jesus accomplished on our behalf, you and I receive the blessings Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes in the Gospel lesson. It is because we are forgiven in Christ that the reign of heaven is ours. It is because we are forgiven in Christ that we are comforted. Because you and I are forgiven in Christ, we are satisfied by His righteousness; we are recipients of His mercy in order to be merciful.

So what of the charges of God against His people then and now? They were paid in full at the cross when Jesus suffered and died to purchase our forgiveness. They were left dead and powerless in the tomb when Jesus rose again to give us resurrection and life.

So what of our lives now in Christ? In the power of the Gospel, we do justice. This means we harm no one. We give to each person what is their own. We strive to prevent damage and violence. We promote the welfare of others.

So what of our lives now in Christ? In the power of the Gospel we love kindness. We serve as blessings to others in the name of Jesus. By grace through faith alone, we walk humbly with our God as His redeemed and forgiven children. We are modest and reverent, always aware of our total dependence on the Lord for life and salvation.

 

We have a verdict:

 

NOT GUILTY.

FORGIVEN BY CHRIST JESUS.

SET FREE FROM SIN AND DEATH BY HIS BLOOD.

GIVEN A NEW LIFE IN WHICH TO WALK HUMBLY WITH GOD AS SONS AND

DAUGHTERS BY FAITH IN JESUS.

 

GO IN PEACE.

YOU ARE FREE. AMEN.

[1] “Reproaches” from Good Friday, Chief Service, Lutheran Service Book.

Sermon for January 26, 2020, Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Matthew 4:12-17 (Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

“Shining Light”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 26, 2020

 

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

Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 4:

12After [Jesus] heard that John had been handed over, he withdrew into Galilee. 13And after he left Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali 14so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah should be fulfilled, saying: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations, 16the people sitting in darkness saw a great light. And on those sitting in the region and the shadow of death, a light rose for them.” 17From then Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the reign of heaven stands near.”

 

          Have you ever played that game where someone says a word and you say the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that word? If you have, great! If not, here’s your big chance to play. I’m going to give you a word. I want you to shout out what comes to mind when you hear it. (This is a congregation-participation moment in the sermon, so don’t let me hear silence!) I want to hear from you what comes to mind when I say the word . . . “darkness” . . .

          Lots of different images and connotations come to mind when we think about “darkness.” Most of them are negative. Things like doubt, ignorance, uncertainty, and evil. Perhaps we’d rather not think about “things that go bump in the night” when it is dark. Darkness can be physically oppressive. It’s the natural haunt for a host of evil happenings. Darkness is associated with death, imprisonment, and ultimate evil that opposes God’s purposes of order and goodness in creation.

          St. Matthew quotes today from the Old Testament reading in Isaiah 9. Here Isaiah speaks of people “sitting in darkness” and “in the region and the shadow of death.” That doesn’t sound happy or pleasant. The prophet wrote by the power of the Holy Spirit, “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (Is. 9:1 ESV). Why did God bring these most northern tribes of Israel into contempt? Why did He bring punishment upon them? Because they had abandoned Him. They worshiped idols—Baal and Asherah—and offered sacrifices to these false gods. They broke the number one commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” In breaking the commandment, they broke faith with the covenant God had made with His people. Instead of the promised blessings, they would receive the prescribed punishments for transgressing against God and His faithfulness to them.

          Their unfaithfulness to God, the people’s idolatry, saw them live their lives in the darkness of sin. And sin comes with consequences and punishment—physical and everlasting death. Picture yourself as the justly convicted sinner that you are. The only righteous and perfect Judge has condemned you to death because you have failed to fear, love, and trust in Him above anyone and anything else. You’ve feared the things of this world. You have loved the things of creation more than Him. You trusted yourself instead of Him to make your life fulfilled. Now, you sit on death row. At any moment, you will be taken away for execution. You sit in darkness and in the shadow of a death that will last forever in hell, eternally separated from the God who made you and supported you and cared for you, even though you turned your back on Him.

          Down the black corridor you notice the tiniest speck of light. Steadily it increases as it nears you. Your moment has come. The door of your cell is opened. The guard speaks, “Any last words?” You shake your head. You are justly convicted of your sins. You have no words. The guard says to you, “Good. You are free to go.” You don’t understand. You stammer trying to make words in your utter shock and amazement. “You are free to go. This man has volunteered to die for you.” Behind the guard, the source of the light—a man who has been bloodied by beatings. His body is scarred by whips. On His head is a crown of thorns. Hunched over, He carries a cross.

          Silently, the execution party and their criminal pass on their way. The man is nailed to the cross. He bleeds. He struggles to breathe. And then . . . darkness . . . over the whole land. A cry, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46 ESV). Abandoned . . . forsaken . . . by God Himself . . . this man suffers death and hell in your place. He bears your sins in His own body on that tree of death. The punishment He endures is yours. He is your substitute. He dies your death and takes your place in agonizing hell on the cross so that you might never die. This man, this God in human flesh, Jesus Christ, entered into your darkness of sin and death to set you free. Your punishment became His. His innocence has become yours. He died your death so that you might live His everlasting life.

          “The people sitting in darkness saw a great light. And on those sitting in the region and the shadow of death, a light rose for them.” That Light—your Light—is Jesus. He is Lord over sin and death. He is Lord over the darkness! Psalm 27:1, “The LORD is my light and my salvation.” John 1:4, “In [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of people.” And 2 Timothy 1:10, “Christ Jesus, . . . abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Jesus Himself tells us, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV).

          What enlightening promises! Jesus is light incarnate, light personified. He came into this world darkened by death, evil, and ignorance. In the darkness of our world, into the darkness of lives, Jesus shines the light of His love, grace, and forgiveness. You no longer live in darkness and in the shadow of death. Christ revives you with the warmth of His light and brings you back to life, back to life forever with Him. Having seen the Light of Christ through His Gospel and Sacraments, you know that your end is not death and hell, but resurrection life in the place where “night will be no more. [You] will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be [your] light, and [you] will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5 ESV).

          But until that wondrous day, the darkness of sin and death lurks nearby. While you and I bask in the light, in the life, and in the goodness and wisdom of Jesus’ light, many do not. There remains so many others “sitting in darkness” and “in the region and the shadow of death.” But there’s good news! The Light shines in the darkness. Christ shines His Gospel light through you.

          Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John to be His disciples so that they might be fishers of people. Christ shined His light of mercy and grace through their proclamation of the Good News about Jesus, the Light of the world. In Matthew 5, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells His disciples, including you, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14–16 ESV). Jesus calls us who have received the light and life of His blood-bought forgiveness and salvation to share that very light and life with others. Martin Luther wrote, “What [Jesus] calls ‘good works’ here is the exercise, expression, and confession of the teaching about Christ and faith, and the suffering for its sake. He is talking about works by which we ‘shine’; but shining is the real job of believing or teaching, by which we also help others to believe.”[1]

          Jesus, our Light, empowers us by the Spirit to be His shining light in our community. We have received the gifts of the Gospel—forgiveness, life, and salvation—so that we might be able to share these gifts with those still in darkness. Jesus wants your witness, your light to shine, in both words and deeds. God grant that we do this with joy. Amen.

 

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 21 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 65–66.

Sermon for January 19, 2020, Second Sunday after the Epiphany

John 1:29-42a (Second Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

“Point to Jesus”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 19, 2020

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

Our text is the Gospel Lesson from John 1:

29The next day, [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 30This is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is superior to me because he was [always] before me.’ 31And I did not recognize him, but on account of him I came baptizing with water so that he might be manifest to Israel.” 32And John bore witness saying, “I have seen the Spirit coming down out of heaven as a dove and he remained on him. 33And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one upon whom you see the Spirit coming down and remain on him, this one is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and I have borne witness that this one is the Son of God.” 35The next day, John was again standing there along with two of his disciples 36and looking intently at Jesus walking by he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” 37Now his two disciples heard him saying this and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi”—which means Teacher—“where are you remaining?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was remaining, and they remained with him that day. It was about the tenth hour. 40Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who had heard John and had followed him. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”—which means Anointed. 42He brought him to Jesus.

 

          When young children see something new, different, or unusual, they will often, in their excitement, point at it. Depending on what has caught their attention, pointing might not be appropriate. As parents, then, we tell our children, “Please don’t point. It’s not polite.” Today, however, I’m going to encourage you to point as much as you can. As the daily opportunities arise, point to Jesus!

          Pointing to Jesus is what the forerunner of the Savior, John, does very well. In Christian art, John is often portrayed pointing. In some images he has an extra-large hand and pointer finger! It is John who points out and points to Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John himself was pointed to Jesus by God the Father who had told him, “The one upon whom you see the Spirit coming down and remain on him, this one is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, John saw exactly that, the Spirit coming down out of heaven as a dove and He remained on Jesus. John confessed, “I have seen, and I have borne witness that this one is the Son of God.”

          John, who was pointed to Jesus, then continued to point his disciples to Jesus. “Looking intently at Jesus walking by he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’” What was the result of this pointing to Jesus? John’s two disciples followed Jesus. They became Jesus’ followers. Then one of those two, Andrew, before he did anything else, went and found his brother, Simon. He pointed Simon to Jesus—“We have found the Messiah!” So Andrew brought Simon to Jesus.

          Just look at all the pointing going on! And it is all appropriate pointing because it’s all pointing to and pointing out Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, the Savior of all people: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

          That is what Jesus has taken on human flesh and blood to accomplish for all humanity. He came among us as true God and true Man, one Christ, in order to rescue all people from their sins and the punishment of eternal death and hell. The Bible tells us, “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23 ESV). And death is more than simply the physical death that we will all experience at the end of earthly life (unless the good Lord returns first!) Death is also eternal separation from God—forever. The full ramifications of that are pretty incomprehensible since we have never experienced a moment without the presence of God who is truly active in His creation as He preserves all people and rules over His creation with His almighty power. To experience the complete lack of God’s presence and help and mercy and grace and love—to endure hell, the place where God is not—is the proper payment for your sins and mine.

          To be saved from this horrible punishment, all people need to trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior from sin, death, and hell. Perhaps you read in the latest edition of the New England District News that our congregation is smack in between the number 1 and the number 7 most post-Christian cities in the entire country!—Hartford-New Haven (#7) and Springfield-Holyoke (#1). In round statistics, about 90% of people in the Springfield-Holyoke area surveyed had not read the Bible within the last week. Almost 50% had not prayed in the last week. A full 11% don’t believe in God, period. What does this tell us? Folks don’t seem to take understand that sin leads to eternal death and hell. Folks don’t know that Jesus is the only Savior from their sins and death.

          So, John pointed to Jesus. Andrew pointed to Jesus. Now it’s your turn. People in our community need to know who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for them as their Savior. They won’t know unless Christians like you point Him out and point to Him with your words and actions. The apostle Paul writes by the power of the Holy Spirit in Romans 10, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. . . . For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ 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? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Rom. 10:9–15 ESV).

          You, like John and Andrew, have “beautiful feet.” You know Jesus Christ by faith because you have been baptized into His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and rescue from death and the devil. You are the only ones equipped to point to Jesus with your words and actions and so declare to those in need of salvation, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus was the One who lived a perfect life so that all people might receive credit for His righteousness. Jesus was the One who suffered hell itself on the cross and died our death so that all humanity might receive complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life rather than eternal death. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8 ESV). It is a gift for all people because all people, whether they think so or not, need what Jesus Christ gives freely—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, new life, abundant life.

          For the past month, our Sunday morning Bible class has focused on tools to equip us as God’s people to be the ones who point to Jesus the Savior. As a Christian, you can be sure that you already know enough to tell people about Jesus. You simply tell others what you know, or rather, who you know—Jesus. Since it is God Himself who calls us to be His witnesses to point to Jesus the Savior, you can be certain that He’s going to give you the support and strength to do it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember also that it is not your task to create saving faith in Christ in another person’s heart. That’s the work of the Spirit through the Word. Your task is simply to show people Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

          What are some ways that you and I can point people to Jesus, the Son of God, their Savior? First and foremost, come alongside a friend, a coworker, a neighbor and invite them to “come and see.” Bring them here to the place where Jesus meets with His people as He comes among us through His Word and Sacrament. Invite them to come and see Jesus here in His Word, in the hymns and liturgy, in the people of God themselves who speak words of peace and greetings in love.

          Pray for that person who does not yet know Jesus by faith. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be given opportunity through the hearing of the Word by that individual so that they might be brought to faith and new life. Don’t be afraid not only to pray for but to pray with someone as they have need. There is no harm in asking, “Can I pray with you right now about your illness, your fear, your __?” That’s pointing to Jesus as you demonstrate your trust in Him who hears and answers the prayers of His Christians.    

          Listen to others. Hear their concerns, their fears, their needs. Share how Jesus has helped you in similar moments. Show them the comfort of the Word of God. Point them to Jesus in the Scriptures, in those passages that help and strengthen you. Share the Good News of what the Lamb of God has done for you. Be a model of the faith in your words and in what you say and do.

What the people of our community need is you, the people of God, pointing to Jesus while living life by looking to the Lamb with faith and trust and joy. This trusting gaze will show in your lives this coming week. People will notice. How many lives will be touched by those of us here today? How many eyes will see evidence of something in us that causes them to wonder? How many opportunities will we have these next seven days to say, “Look to Jesus, the Lamb of God! Come, and see Him”? God will use your heart’s gaze, your soul’s fixation on Jesus, to proclaim to the people in your lives, “Behold, Jesus loves you, forgives you, and gives you eternal life!” Amen.

Sermon for January 12, 2020, The Baptism of Our Lord

Matthew 3:13-17 (The Baptism of Our Lord—Series A)

“Fulfilled for You”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 12, 2020

 

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

Our text is the Gospel Lesson, recorded in Matthew 3:

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. 14But John tried to prevent him, saying, “I myself have need to be baptized by you, yet you yourself come to me?” 15Jesus answered and said to him, “Allow it at this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he did allow him. 16Now after he had been baptized, Jesus immediately went up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and coming upon him, 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

 

          Put yourself in John’s shoes, or more properly, put yourself in John’s sandals. He is the end-times prophet of God, proclaiming in the wilderness a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (Matt. 3:3 ESV). John has preached that the One mightier than he is coming, whose sandals he is not even worthy to carry. This “Mightier One” will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, bringing the final salvation and judgment of God into the world.

          Then, one day, the Mightier One appeared from Galilee at the Jordan River, the very spot where people have been confessing their sins and have been baptized by John in response to his proclamation, “Repent!” Jesus came to the same place, to the same person, and for the same purpose—“in order to be baptized” by John.

          So put yourself in John’s sandals. Here comes Jesus for a baptism that He does not have a need for. Jesus has come, in mind-boggling fashion, not as the One who in this moment baptizes with the Spirit and fire, but as the passive receiver of John’s own baptism for repentance, for conversion from unbelief to faith and for entrance into the people of God! John proclaimed that Jesus comes in power, bringing end-time salvation and judgment—a Jesus so superior to and mightier than John that the Baptizer isn’t worthy to perform the most menial service for this Jesus. But it is precisely this Jesus who comes to John, not displaying His power or His higher status, but in lowliness, to be baptized by John.[1]

How else is John supposed to react this? “I myself have need to be baptized by you, yet you yourself come to me?” John is completely taken back. He doesn’t know what to make of this. Jesus is true God come in human flesh as the One who saves all people from their sins. It is this Jesus who, after His baptism, John pointed to and exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). “How, then, can it be, that you, Jesus, come to me, John, for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins?” I have the need to be baptized by you, the sinless One, the Holy One of God!”

John well knows that he has a need. You and I, also, have the same need. And it is Jesus who fulfills that need for us all with His perfect life, death, and resurrection.

The Need. We are unable always to keep God’s commandments because we are unable always to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We are unable always to show love and mercy to our neighbors. “When we examine our hearts and consciences, we find nothing in us but sin and death, from which we are incapable of delivering ourselves” (LSB 290 “Confessional Address”). Consider:

In what or whom do you trust above all else? For financial security, physical safety, emotional support?

Are you diligent and sincere in your prayers, or have you been lazy, bored, or distracted?

 

Have you been angry, stubborn, or disrespectful toward those in authority over you?

 

Do you hold grudges or harbor anger and resentment?

 

Do you engage in any form of sexual immorality in thought, word, desire, or deed?

 

Are you faithful to the responsibilities of your vocation?

 

Do you speak the truth in love?

 

Have you done anything to break up a friendship?

 

          The need is there, staring at us, painfully so. There is nothing in our natures but sin and death. We stand rightfully condemned by God’s perfect judgment. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by the things we have done and by the things we have left undone. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We truly deserve His punishment of death and hell. “I myself have a need to be baptized by you, and yet, you yourself come to me?”

          Indeed. The eternal Son of God, without beginning and without end, became fully human, was incarnate as a man, in order to come among sinners. That’s the shocking, amazing, wondrous thing about our Triune God’s love and mercy toward us lost and condemned people. He loved us so much that His One-of-a-Kind Son was willing to take to Himself our human flesh and blood and so live among us as the One who will save all people from their sins, which is what the name “Jesus” means—Savior. So if the God-Man Jesus is to be the representative of all people, of all sinners, He must first be identified with them.

          Jesus, to fulfill all righteousness, to show that He takes our place, stands where sinners stand, undergoes the baptism that sinners undergo. The sinless Son of God receives the baptism meant for sinners because He is their sin-bearer. He Himself stands there in the Jordan and received baptism from John as He stands there in our place, people for whom He would not only keep God’s commandments, but also offer up Himself to death and hell, taking our place under the wrath and judgment of God.

          Jesus fulfilled our obligation to keep God’s commandments. Where we have failed to fear, love, and trust in God above all else, where you and I have not loved our neighbors, Jesus did so perfectly. As our substitute, Jesus’ perfect life was lived for us. In God’s eyes, we get the credit for Jesus’ perfect righteousness. He kept the Law for us so that God sees us, in Jesus, as having kept it completely and perfectly. We get the credit for what Christ has done as true God and true Man. Jesus stood where we stand, under God’s commandments, and accomplished for you and me what we never could. And joy of all joys, Christ’s righteousness is credited to us! God looks at you and me with delight and speaks of us as His sons and daughters in whom He is well pleased.

          But our Lord Jesus did more than keep God’s commandments for us as our substitute. He also paid the price for our failures to do so. Jesus willingly suffered and died on a cross to pay for our sins of not loving the Lord and not loving our neighbors. Jesus paid the full price for our lazy prayer life, for the grudges and anger we harbor, for the lust we pursue, for our lies and deceptions that hurt others and ourselves. Jesus died for our failures to show mercy to anyone to whom we are able.

          Jesus, the sinless Son of God, who received the baptism of John meant for sinners, bore our sins in His body on the cross. He who was perfect in our place, died and shed His blood to purchase our forgiveness. He stood in our place in the Jordan. He was nailed, suffered hell, bled, and died in our place on a cross. To fulfill all righteousness. For you.

          Because Jesus Christ stood in our place in His baptism, in His life, death, and resurrection, you have forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. From the cross and empty tomb of Jesus flows your baptism, which gives to you the salvation and the new life Jesus won for you. To you, Jesus gives the water and Word of Holy Baptism, delivering to you the forgiveness and salvation He purchased with His blood. He gifts to you the new life of faith and good works, which He creates within you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Christ, you are new creations because He fulfilled all righteousness for you. You are empowered by the Holy Spirit in the gift of baptism to overcome temptation and sin. You are able to love the Lord and love your neighbors in concrete ways, with specific words and actions done in mercy on their behalf. You can pray for others. You can visit them in their times of sickness, loneliness, and other needs. You can lend a helping hand or a kind word. You can tell others about Jesus the Savior.

Pastor Martin Luther, preaching in 1538 said, “For this reason, Baptism was given to the whole world, that whoever wishes to be saved might wash in the same bath in which Christ also stood. And there I get the innocence which He brought into His bath, and the world also obtains His innocence, life, and honor. . . . Is this not a great glory that he who is baptized receives these things?”[2] All righteousness has been fulfilled for you by your Savior, Jesus Christ, through His perfect life, death, and resurrection. In your baptism into Christ, you are counted as righteous. You have forgiveness and everlasting life. Your need has been met by Christ, the Righteous One. Thanks be to God! Amen.

[1] Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 1:1-11:1, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006), 178.

[2] Martin Luther, Martin Luther on Holy Baptism: Sermons to the People (1525-39), ed. Benjamin T.G. Mayes (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018), 91.

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