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Sermon for May 20, 2018, The Day of Pentecost

John 16:4b-15 (The Day of Pentecost—Series B)

“For Our Advantage”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 20, 2018

 

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

Our text is from the Gospel Reading in John 16:

But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

 

          On this Day of Pentecost, our Gospel lesson from John 16 takes us back into the Upper Room on the night in which Jesus was betrayed. It is Holy Thursday. Jesus has risen from supper and washed the disciples’ feet, even against the protest of Peter. Jesus has instituted a new testament in His body and blood given in, with, and under bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Jesus’ betrayer has been identified in Judas Iscariot, “What you must do, do quickly.” The disciples have been given a new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” The Twelve have heard Jesus announce His “going away” and the promise to send them “another Helper, to be with [them] forever, even the Spirit of truth.” Jesus encourages His disciples to be fruitful branches of Him, the True Vine, remaining in His love even as they love one another. Finally, Jesus has told them that they will be hated by the world because the world has hated Him. But the Helper, who will come, will bear witness about Jesus and so will they.

          How do you deal with all of this happening in just a few short hours? Jesus is here, but He is going away. He’s going to be betrayed by one of His own disciples. Hatred is going to follow them into the world. And Jesus is going away. But He’s sending another Helper. Yet, Jesus is going away; things won’t be the same. It is no wonder, then, that sorrow filled the disciples’ hearts (16:6). It would ours as well. As one of the Twelve, you would have been with Jesus pretty much 24/7 for three and a half years. He is your Teacher, your mentor, your friend. He is the Christ, the Son of God, who calmed the sea and fed the multitudes, who healed the sick and even raised the dead. Clearly, any departure by Jesus is going to disrupt what has become your norm. But a “going away” that first involves a cross is unthinkable, even though Jesus has predicted His passion no less than three times.

          Yet, that very night, Jesus would be betrayed by Judas into the hands of the religious leaders. He would then be sentenced to death under the authority of Pontius Pilate. They would crucify Him. He would be dead and buried in less than 24 hours. But it is for your advantage that Jesus goes away to a cross. It’s to your benefit that Jesus, the Christ, suffer the pains of death and the hellish burden of the world’s sin in order to win for all people forgiveness of sins and life-everlasting. If Jesus doesn’t suffer and die on a cross, you’ll suffer eternal death in hell. There’s no way you could earn for yourself eternal life by keeping the Law and God’s Commandments perfectly, for that’s what it would take. There is no way you could ever appease the wrath of God because of your failures to live according to His Commandments.

          But Jesus, the Son of God made flesh, went away to a cross on Golgotha’s hill. He endured hell itself as He was forsaken by God the Father. He suffered the full punishment for your sins. He shed His holy, precious blood to win your atonement, to appease the wrath of God with the once-for-all sacrifice of Himself. And then Jesus’ body rested in the tomb. Crucified, died, and buried . . . for your advantage! For in Jesus’ sacrificial death exists your freedom from sin. He purchased your forgiveness with His death. Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, you are given a new life, a life covered in the blood of the Lamb, forgiven and redeemed from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Now you stand declared righteous before the throne of God’s mercy and grace. It is for your advantage that Jesus went away to the cross and the grave.

          It is also for your advantage that Jesus rose as Victor over death and the grave! Because Jesus is raised, you will also rise again at the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. You will rise to everlasting life in body and soul and will enjoy the perfect life of glory with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who will dwell with you as your God in a new heaven and a new earth. Even now you share in Jesus’ resurrection victory because you have been Baptized into His death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-5). Eternal life is your present possession because of the gift of saving faith in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation, these are your possessions today because Jesus went to the cross and rose from the grave for you.

          But there’s one more piece of Jesus’ “going away” that we must consider. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, if you will. Jesus died. Jesus rose. And Jesus ascended into heaven. It’s really one “salvation package.” You don’t get the one without the other. In Jesus’ Upper Room discourse in John chapters 13-16, Jesus has in mind the whole picture of going away to the cross, to the grave, and to the right hand of the Father in majesty from which He will come to judge the living and the dead. And what Jesus wants His followers to know before the events that would soon take place in Gethsemane, Calvary, and the garden tomb, is that these events would culminate in His physical departure from this world in His Ascension. Having completed the saving work for which He was sent by the Father, winning forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, Jesus would return into heaven to prepare a place for His faithful Christians. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn. 14:1-3 ESV). After Jesus’ Ascension, He would not be among His disciples the way He was for the three and half years of ministry. He would not be among the disciples the way He was during the forty days following His resurrection, appearing to them here and there. Jesus was preparing His followers for the day when He was taken up into heaven. And even that event, the Lord’s Ascension, is “for your advantage,” He told them. The Ascension of Jesus sets up the Day of Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit in power upon the chosen disciples.

          Despite Jesus’ physical absence from the earth after His Ascension, a person of the triune Godhead will still be present with His people, the Holy Spirit. There was to be no break in the continuity of God’s presence with His people on earth. “Jesus’ exit from earth is a sort of stage cue for the Holy Spirit’s entrance. It is a way of signaling to Him that Jesus’ part in the accomplishment of God the Father’s plan for saving the world is indeed finished (as Jesus said on the cross), a way of signaling to the Holy Spirit, ‘Now, You’re on. Do Your thing.’”[1]

And so the Spirit does His “thing.” He convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness. It is through God’s Word of Law that the Spirit shows us that we are sinners who cannot keep the Ten Commandments as we ought. He reveals to us our unrighteousness before God that truly merits His anger and just judgment against us in death. But through the Gospel Word of Christ, the Spirit shows us the righteousness of Jesus, who took our place under the Law and kept it on our behalf. Through the Gospel, we come to know that Jesus was righteous for us and, by grace through faith, gives us His own righteousness by means of Word and Sacrament to be credited as ours. We are accounted right with God for the sake of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The forgiveness of Jesus received by the power of the Spirit through the Gospel truly sets us free from sin by His cleansing blood.

So, the Spirit does His “thing.” He convicts the world of judgment. Our sin is to be punished with the judgment of God: the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). This word of Law drives us to the mercy of God found only in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the cross we find Christ judged guilty of sin, our sin, so that we might receive the verdict of “not guilty” by reason of Jesus’ perfect life and substitutionary death for us. Through the Gospel of Christ, we then receive forgiveness and the victory over death and the grave which He won for us. With this victory of Jesus as our own victory, the devil himself must be judged to be defeated. He’s through, done for, finished.

It is most certainly for our advantage the Christ Jesus goes to the cross and the grave. It is assuredly for our advantage the Savior rises again and ascends into heaven, pouring out upon us the Holy Spirit, as He promised, through the Word and Sacraments (AC V). Jesus’ perfect life lived for us, the cross, His blood, His death and rest in the tomb, His rising again, His ascension, the gift of the Holy Spirit—all this Jesus accomplished for your advantage, for your forgiveness, life and rescue from the power of sin, death, and the devil! Amen.

[1] Francis C. Rossow, Gospel Handles (St. Louis: Concordia, 2001), 324.

Sermon for May 13, 2018, Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:11b-19 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Series B)

“Father, Sanctify Us”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 7, 2018

 

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

Our text is the Gospel Reading from John 17:

[Jesus prayed,] 11Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given to me, so that they may be one just as we are one. 12When I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given to me, and I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the son of destruction so that the Scripture should be fulfilled. 13Now I am coming to you and these things I speak in the world so that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14I have given them your word and the world hated them because they are not of the world just as I am not of the world. 15I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world just as I am not of the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is the truth. 18Just as you sent me into the world so I sent them into the world. 19And on their behalf I sanctify myself so that they also might be sanctified in truth.

 

          Prayer is a gift of God to His people. Our Father in heaven bids us to pray to Him with thoughts and words. He promises to hear us on account of God the Son’s saving life, death, and resurrection. But an even greater comfort than our praying to our Father with trust in Jesus the Son is that Jesus Himself prays for us. The Scriptures tell us that He intercedes for us.

Intercession is a type of prayer. An intercession is a prayer offered by someone on behalf of another. In John 17, Jesus prays what is known as His “High Priestly Prayer.” He is praying on behalf of His disciples and, beginning in verse 20, He prays for all believers who will come to know Him as Savior and Lord through the witness of the apostles as they preach His Gospel to the nations. Naturally, that includes you and me. What great news to hear that Jesus prayed for you. He had you in mind when He offered these petitions on the very night in which Judas Iscariot betrayed Him into the hands of sinful men who took Him and crucified Him. On the cross, hanging between two thieves, Jesus prayed on behalf of those who crucified Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” After Jesus died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, as our Great High Priest, the Savior continues to pray for you and me, and for all of His Christians. The writer to the Hebrews penned, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25 ESV). “Jesus presents our needs to the Father, praying on our behalf that we may receive the gift of life to the full (John 10:10b).”[1]

Jesus, true God and true Man, who suffered and died on a cross to win your forgiveness and salvation, who is raised from the dead, who is seated at the right hand of God in majesty and glory, who will come again to judge the living and the dead, is praying—interceding—for you! Good news, indeed! But don’t we wish that Jesus would do more? What do I mean, do more? He’s already saved us from sin, death, and Satan. He’s purchased the forgiveness of our sins, given us saving faith that takes hold of Him as our Savior and receives all the gifts of faith. What more could we possibly ask for?

How about a break? How about a little less “testing”? I don’t think any of us would mind too much a nice, happy smooth patch of life, right? Jesus petitioned the Father, “Now I am coming to you and these things I speak in the world so that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Yes, that’s what you and I want, isn’t it? We want Jesus’ joy fulfilled in us. “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!” But just when you think Jesus’ prayer is going in the “right” direction, He takes a turn that, to us, seems to be for the worst. “I have given them your word and the world hated them because they are not of the world just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Hold on Jesus, I’m good with you getting me out of this world! I don’t need to endure the hatred from the world because I’m a Christian. I don’t have to go through the temptations of the flesh and the devil while battling with my sinful nature to stay faithful unto death. I’m good with a break. Take me out of this world for a bit. Plop me right in heaven with you for a while! I want your joy fulfilled in me in that wonderful place.

But, no. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world.” So you and I and our Christian brothers and sisters around the globe are in this world for the long haul. As disciples, Christ sends us into the world with His Good News message of forgiveness and eternal life by grace through faith in Him. We as disciples have a commission and a mission to accomplish in Jesus’ name and we can’t do that if we’re not in the world that needs to hear the Gospel. Ok, that’s fine. I get it. But what about the hatred? Why the suffering? Why the testing and the temptations? Can’t we just have an easy road? I mean, what about the joy Jesus wants us full of?

Yes, about that joy—it involves the cross. Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2 ESV). The joy comes after the suffering of the cross. God the Father sent His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus, into the world as true Man. He “sanctified” Himself, set Himself apart, in holiness in order to live the perfect life before God that we ought to live. He set Himself apart in holiness to suffer the curse of death on a cross in our place. Jesus set Himself apart in order to rest in the tomb until the third day when God raised Him from the dead, guaranteeing our forgiveness and salvation in by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Jesus was set apart to do the saving work for which the Father sent Him into the world. He did this saving work through the cross so that He might send us into the world sanctified—set apart—by the truth of the message of the cross. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk. 8:34 ESV). That’s our calling in Christ, to be like our Lord and Master, who took up the cross for us so that we might bear it after Him in the joy of being called to suffer for the name of Jesus as we deliver the message of the cross and resurrection of Christ to others.

But it is not as if Jesus sends His disciples out into the world alone. He’s not throwing us to the wolves in order to be devoured but to be successful in our mission of preaching the Word of Christ. Remember Jesus has prayed for you, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is the truth.”

Jesus has set us apart from the world by means of His Word. You and I are declared holy before God the Father on account of Christ who gives us His own holiness in the Gospel through word and Baptism. The Father keeps us from the evil one by His grace through the power of the Gospel even as He invites us to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” In this petition of the Lord’s Prayer we pray “that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven” (SC: Explanation to the Seventh Petition).[2]

As you and I go about the mission Christ has given us, taking up the cross and following Him so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, we are grounded in the Word of truth that promises us that our Father in heaven hears our prayer. We trust boldly in faith that He will help us endure the troubles that come upon us and keep us faithful unto death. And when our part in the mission is complete, we trust His Word of Promise that, in Christ, the Father will deliver us from this present evil age and take us to Himself in glory when we die.[3]

And all throughout our time of witness in this world, Jesus Himself continues to intercede for us to our heavenly Father. He continues to pray for you and me in times of trouble and in times of blessing. He advocates for us, imploring the Father to forgive our sins for the sake of His perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection. The Lord Jesus continues to bestow upon us His holiness through the power of God the Holy Spirit, sanctifying and keeping us in the one, true faith by means of the Word and Sacraments. By the grace and power of God the Holy Spirit, you and I are truly kept in the Father’s name that we received in Baptism. We are kept in saving faith in the Word of truth—the Word of the Gospel—that gives us faith in Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and life eternal. So as Jesus sends you into the world, set apart by grace through faith as a child of the heavenly Father, proclaim the Good News of Jesus to all people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

 

 

[1] Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009), note on Heb. 7:25, page 2114.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis, Concordia, 2017), 22.

[3] An Explanation of the Small Catechism (St. Louis, Concordia, 2017), 275.

Sermon for May 6, 2018, Sixth Sunday of Easter

1 John 5:1-8 (Sixth Sunday of Easter—Series B)

“Born of God to Love”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 6, 2018

 

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

Our text is the Epistle Reading from 1 John 5:

1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and whoever loves the one who has given birth also loves the one who is born of him. 2In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and carry out his commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome 4because everything which is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith. 5So who is the one who overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and with the blood, and the Spirit is the one who testifies because the Spirit is the truth, 7because those who testify are three: 8the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three testify to the same truth, but in different ways.

 

          To be born of God is to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. To be born of God is to love those who have also been born of God, fellow believers in Jesus Christ as God and Lord. That’s our joy as Christians.

          St. John begins the concluding portion of his first letter, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” It’s very simple and straightforward. To believe in Jesus, to trust that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is to be born of God. So, believing in Jesus with saving faith is the same as being “born of God.” John began his Gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12-13 ESV). God our heavenly Father has given us new birth from above so that we might believe in Jesus and so receive forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. The Savior told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jn. 3:5-6 ESV). The blessing of the newly baptized echoes this truth, “The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting. Amen.”

          Through the Gospel Word in and with the water in Holy Baptism, God creates saving faith in the heart of the baptized. That faith apprehends Jesus as Savior and Lord. That faith receives from the crucified and risen Christ forgiveness of all sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. “In repentance, namely, in terrors, this faith comforts and encourages hearts. It regenerates us and brings the Holy Spirit so that we may be able to fulfill God’s Law: to love God, truly fear God, truly be confident that God hears prayer, and obey God in all afflictions. . . . So faith freely receives forgiveness of sins. It sets Christ, the Mediator and Atoning Sacrifice, against God’s wrath. . . . This faith is the true knowledge of Christ and helps itself to the benefits of Christ. This faith regenerates hearts and comes before the fulfilling of the Law” (Ap. AC IV.45-46).[1]

          So to be born of God is to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior. To be born of God is also to love those who have likewise been born of God through saving faith in Jesus, namely, our fellow Christians. Did I just hear a big GULP! Oh, I understand. It’s one thing to have a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ, but it’s another thing to have a loving relationship with other people who are Christians. Interesting thing, the Bible doesn’t really have much to say about a “personal relationship” with Jesus. That’s because it’s never, ever just “between me and Jesus.” Faith is not purely personal or individual. What is the victory that overcomes the world, according to verse 4? Not my faith. Not your faith. But OUR faith. How did Jesus teach His disciples to pray? He didn’t say, “When you pray, say, ‘My Father in heaven.’” He said, “Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9).  

          The new birth of faith in Jesus unites us individuals with all those who have received the new birth of faith in Christ. Baptismal faith in Jesus the Christ the Son of God makes us members of the Holy Christian Church, the communion (the community) of saints! You and I by God’s grace through the Spirit by the Means of Grace are born again from above into the family of the heavenly Father. One commentator said it like this, “Christians are those who have been born anew/from above through the baptism of Christ . . . , ‘who continue the belief in the name of Jesus.’ They ‘are truly begotten by God and therefore are brothers that one must love if one is going to love God.’”[2]

          You and I have been born of God, given the new birth of faith through water and the Spirit, to trust in Christ alone as our Savior from sin and death. That means nothing else than that we also love those, who like us, have been gifted the new birth of saving faith in Jesus by the same Spirit, making us all members of God’s family in Jesus Christ. And isn’t that where Christian living gets a bit sticky sometimes?

          Let’s be honest. We are richly blessed by our heavenly Father as a congregation. We are a congregation made up of people with all kinds of different gifts and talents and personalities and attitudes. This is an incredibly wonderful congregation of saints and sinners. Yes, that old sinful nature that still clings to us even rears its ugly head among church members. Simultaneously saints, believers in Jesus forgiven of all sins through His cross and resurrection, and also sinners who hold on to the cross of Christ in repentance for our failure to love even those of the household of faith, our sisters and brothers in Christ.

          Ever had another member of the church not show you love in Jesus or you failed to show love to them? Has there been a time when you and a sister or brother in Christ had a disagreement about our life together that left a bad taste in your heart toward that person and they toward you? Did you ever say something to another member and later realized that you hurt them by what and how you said it? It happens, doesn’t it? We sin against our family in Christ, our brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus as Savior just as you and I do. And when we come to realize this, a warning should sound in our hearts and minds. Failing to love our fellow Christians is a failing to love God. How does John say it? “Whoever loves the one who has given birth [God the Father] also loves the one who is born of him [our fellow believers]. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and carry out his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”

          To love the Father’s children is to love the Father. To love the Father’s children is also to believe as one born of God that Jesus is the Christ. God’s commandments, His instruction for His children, invites you and me to receive, to cherish, and to abide in the communion of saints that our God is pleased to provide. And when we fail in our calling to love our sisters and brother in Christ, when we fail in this way to love God, the Spirit calls us back to the waters of Baptism in repentance. The Spirit calls us to confess our sins to God and to the person whom we have sinned against. In Christ, God bestows on you the forgiveness of sins through the mouth of the pastor in Holy Absolution, either corporately in worship or privately. In Christ, God also extends His forgiveness through the brother or sister in Christ to whom you confess your sin so that you might hear (or say to one who sinned against you): “As God in Christ has forgiven me, I also forgive you, my brother/sister in Jesus.”

          Through the grace and mercy of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are recreated and renewed in the forgiveness of sins for a life that loves one another in the household of God our Father. Paul also urges this life of love from his prison cell in Ephesians 4, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:1-6 ESV).

          To be born of God is to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. To be born of God is to love those who have also been born of God, fellow believers in Jesus Christ. Therefore, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, love one another in the household of faith because we are family, brothers and sisters in Christ, children of our Father in heaven. Amen.

 

 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 88.

[2] Bruce G. Schuchard, Concordia Commentary, 1-3 John, (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012), 522. He is quoting Raymond E. Brown The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible, 566.

Sermon for April 29, 2018 Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:26-40 (Fifth Sunday of Easter—Series B)

“On Our Way Rejoicing”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 29, 2018

 

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

Our text is the First Reading from Acts 8:

26Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go toward the south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27And he arose and went. And behold! a man, an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all of her treasure, who had come to worship in Jerusalem, 28was returning and was sitting in his chariot and he was reading out loud the prophet Isaiah. 29The Spirit said to Philip, “Go and join this chariot.” 30And Philip ran up to it and heard him reading aloud Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31And he said, “How can I unless someone guides me?” And he urged Philip to come up and sit with him. 32Now the passage of Scripture he was reading was this: “Like a sheep led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so he does not open his mouth. 33In his humiliation his judgment was taken away. Who can describe in full his posterity? For his life was taken away from the earth.” 34And the eunuch answered and said to Philip, “I ask you, concerning whom does the prophet say this? Concerning himself or concerning someone else?” 35And Philip opened his mouth and, beginning from this Scripture, proclaimed the good news to him, Jesus. 36As they were traveling along the road, they came upon some water and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38And he ordered the chariot to stop and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39Now when they had come up from the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more but went on his way rejoicing. 40And Philip was found in Azotus and, as he was passing through, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

 

          This past Tuesday at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and Wednesday at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, candidates for the Office of the Holy Ministry received their first calls. I still remember Call Day 2001, and hearing, “Michael John Coons. New England District. Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, Connecticut,” and shaking Pastor Rockemann’s hand as he gave me the envelope with my call documents. And here we are still together as pastor and people soon-to-be 17 years later.

Now I mention this because the next great event in the life of these pastoral candidates is their Ordination Day. During the Rite of Ordination, the candidate makes several promises in the presence of the congregation and before our Lord God. He is asked, “Do you believe and confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice?” The candidate responds, “Yes, I believe and confess the canonical Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” It’s by no accident that pastors make this promise, nor is it by accident that those who are received into membership in the Lutheran Church through Confirmation also make that same promise when asked, “Do you hold all the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God?” The person replies, “I do.”

We as Lutheran-Christians believe, teach, and confess that the Bible, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are really and truly God’s Word. The Bible does not merely contain portions that are God’s Word. The Bible IS God’s Word in its entirety, from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21. And God’s Word is a message for all people. It is a message for you. It is the message that gives Jesus.

Why is that important? Last Sunday Peter and John answered that question for the Jewish Ruling Council. There is no salvation in anyone else other than Jesus of Nazareth, true God and true Man, the Christ. There is no saving health in body and soul unto eternal life except that salvation given in and through Jesus.

Now let’s join the court official of Queen Candace of Ethiopia in his chariot on the road to Gaza. Here we have a man who is actually using his Bible. Rather, he had the specific scroll of the prophet Isaiah most likely written in Greek. He was sitting in his seat on the ancient equivalent of his private jet (without all the amenities and speed!) He is reading the Greek text out loud: “ou-toj ta.j a`marti,aj h`mw/n fe,rei kai. peri. h`mw/n ovduna/tai kai. h`mei/j evlogisa,meqa auvto.n ei=nai evn po,nw| kai. evn plhgh/| kai. evn kakw,sei.” He continues reading, “This one bears our sins and suffers pain for us, and we accounted him to be in trouble and calamity and ill-treatment. But he was wounded because of our acts of lawlessness and has been weakened because of our sins; upon him was the discipline of our peace; by his bruise we were healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; a man has strayed in his own way, and the Lord gave him over to our sins” (Isa. 53:4-6 Septuagint/Grk trans).

Perhaps he pauses at this point in the text to consider what he has just read. “Someone has taken my griefs and sorrows as his own. Someone was pierced with nails because of my transgressions and iniquities. I know God’s Ten Commandments. I’ve been to Jerusalem many times for the festivals and have worshiped Yahweh there. Each time it is clear that I do not live up to His demands for my life. I do not always follow His Law and do His commandments and show love and mercy to others. I pray that the sacrifices prescribed would take away my sins and grant me a good standing before God, but I am not a part of that covenant community. I’m not allowed to be. And yet, I’m like a sheep gone astray. I can’t seem to find a way to get to God. And yet Yahweh is laying my sins, and the sins of all people, on this one of whom Isaiah speaks. I don’t understand. Who would bear my sins and die for me? for all people?”

Enter on the scene by divine appointment Philip, one of the seven chosen in Acts 6 to serve the Greek widows. He runs up to the chariot, “Whatcha reading? Isaiah?”

“Why, hello there. Yes, yes it is the prophet, Isaiah.”

“Do you understand what you are reading?”

“No, I don’t. And how can I unless someone guides me? Come on up and sit with me.”

Philip did just that. By this time the Ethiopian official was up to Isaiah 53:7 and 8. “I ask you,” he said to Philip, “concerning whom does the prophet say this? Is he talking about himself as the Lord’s servant or is he talking about someone else?” So Philip started with this text and proclaimed to the Ethiopian the Good News. That Good News is Jesus!

“Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Son who took on human flesh. He is God’s Servant about whom Isaiah is writing,” Philip said.

The Ethiopian replied, “Then He is the One? The One who bears sins and iniquities and is pierced and crushed for them? He’s the One who is like a lamb led to slaughter?”

“Yes,” Philip replied. “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He was crucified under the authority of Pontius Pilate. He bled and died as the once-for-all sacrifice for everyone’s sins. Yours and mine, too. But after three days, God raised this Jesus from the dead. He’s alive. He showed His followers His hands and His pierced side. They touched Him and ate with Him and saw Him ascend into heaven with the promise that He will come again to raise all the dead so that those who believe in Him will rise to eternal life. Before He went into heaven, Jesus said, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Lk. 24:46-47 ESV).

Yes, I have filled in the dialog between the Ethiopian and Philip. St. Luke doesn’t record what was actually spoken. He simply leaves it at “Philip proclaimed the good news to him, Jesus.” You and I can imagine the words of the Good News. It’s the Gospel Word that is for all people, the Word that is for you, the Word that gives Jesus. It is the true Word of God that delivers to us the forgiveness of sins Jesus won for us on the cross. It is the Word that grants to us eternal life and salvation in body and soul. It is the Good News Word received along with the water in Holy Baptism that gives the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe the words and promises of God.

“Look, there is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” exclaimed the Ethiopian. Not a thing! The Ethiopian had heard the Good news, the Gospel. He had heard the proclamation of Jesus crucified, died, buried, and risen for the forgiveness of sins. Through the Word of Christ, this man beheld the Lamb of God by faith through the working of the Holy Spirit. He repented of his sin by the power of the Gospel Word and desired the baptism that Jesus had instituted after His resurrection from the dead—the very baptism that delivered Christ’s gifts to that Ethiopian and to you.

There is no other word or message that has this kind of life-saving, life-changing power. Sure, words can influence us for good or for bad. They can rouse a mob to violence or a people to revolution. But only the Word of God—the Good News, Jesus Christ—can save you and all people from sin, death, and hell. Only the Word of God in the Gospel can create a new person with faith in Jesus within you. Only Jesus through His preached and read Word can bestow on you forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Only His Word can raise you from death again to live before Him in His righteousness and purity with which He clothes you in Baptism.

Whatever happened to that Ethiopian Christian? We actually don’t know for sure. The early church father Irenaeus in the second century A.D. wrote of him, “Immediately requesting to be baptized, he said, ‘I believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God.’ This man was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed, that there was one God preached by the prophets, but that the Son of this [God] had already made [His] appearance in human nature. . .  and had been led as a sheep to the slaughter; and all the other statements which the prophets made regarding Him” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.xii.8). Luke in Acts 8 simply concludes the account this way, “He went on his way rejoicing.”

The Bible is God’s Word. It’s for all people to give them Jesus. God’s Word is for you in order to give you Jesus. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Rom. 1:16). God’s Word in the Gospel forgives your sins by the blood of Jesus Christ. The Gospel grants you new life and saving health in the Lamb of God who died and rose again for you. And what an advantage you have over the Ethiopian! You have all of God’s true, inspired, and inerrant Word in the Bible. He still had to wait for the Gospels to put on paper, for Paul’s letters to be composed. You have the whole of God’s revealed Word in your Bibles, on your computers and tablets and cell phones. Read it! Study it! Inwardly digest it! It’s God’s Word for you to give you Jesus and all the gifts your Savior won for you with His life, death, and resurrection.

And you know what? That Gospel will send you on your way rejoicing. You will give thanks and praise and celebrate the forgiveness of your sins, the removal of your guilt by Jesus’ blood. You will delight in the new life of faith and love in action that He has created in you, the new creation that you are in Jesus. And how can you not delight in the victory over death and the grave that you have been given through Jesus’ resurrection? Such Good News, Jesus! And that Gospel is for you! Hear it! Read it! And go on your way rejoicing! Amen.

 

Sermon for April 22, 2018, Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:1-12 (Fourth Sunday of Easter—Series B)

“Exclusively Jesus”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 22, 2018

 

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

Our text is the First Reading from Acts 4:

1While they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came upon [Peter and John], 2greatly annoyed on account of their teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead, and they seized them and put them in jail until the next day (for it was already evening). 4Now many of those who heard the Word believed and the number of the men came to about five thousand. 5On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6and Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and as many as were of the high-priestly family, 7and when they had stood [Peter and John] in their midst, they began to inquire: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said, “Rulers of the people and elders. 9If we are being examined today on the basis of a good deed done to a crippled man—by what means this man stands healed—10let it be known to you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands before you well. 11He is the stone who was rejected by you, the builders, who has become the head of the corner. 12And there is no salvation in anyone else for there is no other name under heaven that stands given among people by which we must be saved.”

 

          They had simply given a beggar what they had to give, and it had landed them in jail for the night. Peter and John had been going up to the temple for prayer at 3 in the afternoon. A man lame from birth was laid once again, as he was every day, at the temple gate called “the Beautiful Gate.” He asked for alms from those entering the temple, gifts to help him live because he was unable to work and to earn a living. The two Apostles were going in for the service of prayer and he asked them for alms.

Luke tells us what happened next. “And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:4-8 ESV).

Peter and John had simply given this man what they had to give, God’s own gift of mercy in the name of Jesus Christ. We could call it “salvation,” or perhaps “saving health,” either of which really covers both bodily and spiritual healing. That is what was given in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to a cripple.

Well, go figure, a cripple from birth who is no longer crippled drew a crowd who was astounded at this! Peter used the opportunity to give the Gospel message to the people. You heard it in the First Reading last Sunday: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.  And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:12-16 ESV).

And that’s what got Peter and John arrested with a free night in jail. The high-priestly family got really annoyed because these two were, first of all, teaching the people, but more importantly, they were teaching the people by proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. It’s important here to realize that the high-priestly family—Annas and Caiaphas—in fact, all the high priests from the reign of Herod to the outbreak of the war with Rome in A.D. 66, belonged to the party of the Sadducees. And if you’ve paid attention in Bible class, you know that one of the Bible teachings that the Sadducees denied is the resurrection of the body. That’s why they are sad, you see.

After their night in lock-up, Peter and John were stood in the midst of the Council and the question was put to them: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” In other words, There’s no reason that we can think of for people like you to have done such a thing in healing a lame man.” They were not rabbis, prophets, or even members of the religious elite. So how could people like Peter and John do such a thing as this—bring saving health to a cripple? The answer: exclusively Jesus.

You heard last Sunday from Pastor Rockemann about the Real Deal—the Real Jesus, the One who has the visible wounds of the nails in His hands, the Jesus who was crucified and is risen from the dead. This Jesus, this flesh and blood living Jesus, is the answer to the religious leaders’ question. “If we are being examined today on the basis of a good deed done to a crippled man—by what means this man stands healed—let it be known to you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands before you well. He is the stone who was rejected by you, the builders, who has become the head of the corner. And there is no salvation in anyone else for there is no other name under heaven that stands given among people by which we must be saved.” What was done through Peter and John for this lame man was done by Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Salvation/saving health was given to the lame man by the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of Jesus Christ. Peter and John were the “means of grace” that the Lord used to accomplish this good work. But the accomplishment of the work was done exclusively by Jesus!

Salvation, physical and spiritual, is exclusively in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only true God who took on human flesh for the purpose of bearing the world’s sin and suffering death and hell under the wrath of God the Father in order to earn forgiveness and eternal life for all people. No one else has done this for you! No one else could. St Paul writes in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8 ESV).

Jesus Christ of Nazareth bore the world’s sins on the cross so that saving health in body and soul would be yours by grace through faith in His Gospel alone. The redemption from sin, death, and Satan that Jesus won for you is both physical and spiritual. It is truly salvation—saving health—to your body and soul in the forgiveness of sins. You are forgiven as a whole person—soul and body. You have eternal life as a whole person—soul and body. Not even physical death can undo this because your soul and body will be reunited in the resurrection of the dead. He will raise you—the whole you—from death on the Last Day. Salvation in Jesus means the resurrection of the body.

The world, our culture, and society seek spiritual things. As humanity was created in the image of God, we’re hard-wired that way. Although the wiring is all messed up because of sin. So people seek spirituality in all kinds of places. They seek saving health in all sorts of different religions and religious ideas. They look for saving health and feel-good remedies in psychics and in eastern meditation rituals, in crystals and horoscopes. So many people take an eclectic approach to find what they need—taking a little philosophy here, a little Hinduism there, a tad of humanism blended with just a pinch of Islam. But they never find what they are looking for. They can’t seem to get a hold of that saving health that they so crave. If you’ve ever tried it, then you know. Maybe you’ve sampled of the blended mix that the world offers. It feels good for a time. Maybe it works for you for a while. But you end up unfulfilled, not satisfied, without real hope and real peace and true comfort. That’s because hope, peace, and comfort—salvation, saving health—are exclusively Jesus.

Theology professor Carl Braaten wrote in his 1992 book, No Other Gospel!, “If you can point to God where Jesus is not or to Jesus where God is not, you have a divided Christ and therefore a useless Savior” (27). Salvation is only in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, true God and true Man, who suffered, died, and rose again. In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Not in a good person; not in a special teacher; not in an ideal model of humanity—but exclusively in Jesus, the Son of God who became flesh and died on a cross for you! He’s the only One who suffered for your sins, the only One who faced death and hell in your place. And because He accomplished your forgiveness of sins, bestowing on your salvation, God raised Him from the dead in victory. Yes, the marks of the nails are still visible. That’s how you know you’ve got the real Jesus! That’s how you know there truly is salvation for you because Jesus, who was crucified for you, now lives and reigns to all eternity! Jesus has saved you in body and soul unto life everlasting in a new creation that will be yours in resurrected body and soul on the Last Day. We read in 1 Peter 1, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5 ESV).

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you will not find this saving health in any of the worlds “great religions.” You will not find it in alternative forms of spirituality. Salvation is exclusively Jesus Christ. David says in Psalm 37, “The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble” (Ps. 37:39 ESV). And in Psalm 68, “Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death” (Ps. 68:20 ESV). Jesus exclusively shed His blood for you on the cross and cleanses you from all your sins. Jesus exclusively saves you from death by His rising from the dead. And He will raise you from the dead on the Last Day and give to you and to His whole Church eternal life in the resurrection. “There is no salvation in anyone else for there is no other name under heaven that stands given among people by which we must be saved.” Knowing this Gospel of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and the forgiveness, life, and salvation He has given to you, will you give what you have to another—God’s own gift of mercy in the name of Jesus—so that someone else might receive salvation through the forgiveness of sins exclusively in Jesus? Amen.

Sermon for April 8, 2018, Second Sunday of Easter

1 John 1:1-2:2 (Second Sunday of Easter—Series B)

“Proclaiming His Message”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 8, 2018

 

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

Our text is from the Epistle reading recorded in 1 John 1 and 2:

     11That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have touched, concerning the Word of life—2and the life was made known, and we have seen and we bear witness and we announce to you the eternal life which was with the Father and has been made known to you—3which we have seen and heard, we announce also to you, so that you also might have fellowship with us. And indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write these things so that our joy may be complete. 5Now this is the message which we have heard from Him and report to you, that God is light and there is no darkness in Him at all. 6If we should say that we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7If we should walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8If we should say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we should confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous so that He should forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we should say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.

     21My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. 2And He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for [the sins] of the whole world.

 

          They were known as Gnostics, from the Greek word meaning “knowledge.” They claimed to have a special or secret knowledge of God. The Early Church Father Irenaeus tells us that these Gnostics held that a secret tradition, passed down by word of mouth, had more authority than the Scriptures. This special, secret knowledge had to be experienced personally. You couldn’t learn it from books, not even from the Bible.

One of the teachings of the Gnostics was that Jesus only appeared to be a flesh-and-blood human being who was born and was crucified. They claimed that Jesus was not the Christ who had come in human flesh, but an illusion created by His divine power. You see, Jesus was a man among men to be sure, but still merely a man. At His baptism, the Gnostics said, the “heavenly Christ” descended on Jesus in the form of a dove and enabled Him to reveal the unknown God and to perform miracles. At His Passion, the “heavenly Christ” again left Jesus, and only Jesus the man suffered and died.

That, people of God, is the lie which the apostle John dealt with in our Epistle. In 1:7, John writes that the “blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” Jesus is declared to be the Son of God, but not in divinity only. He has blood which can be shed—He’s fully human! Painstakingly John opens this letter, “That which was from the beginning”—Jesus is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God”—“which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have touched”—Jesus, “for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” Jesus is fully God and fully human. The divine Second Person of the Triune Godhead took on human flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The holy Christian Church confesses this Biblical truth in her Creeds, including the Athanasian Creed, “It is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” . . . “We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.”

Perhaps a little Catechism review of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed would be helpful. You can find it on page 322 in the front of the hymnal on the bottom right-hand corner. Luther explains, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” The Jesus that John and the apostles heard and saw and touched is the eternal Son of God who entered human history. He was born as a man with a body and soul in fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises. He is both Creator and creature, God and man, in one person. He had to become fully human (yet without sin) in order to fulfill humanity’s obligation to keep God’s Law. Jesus had to be fully human in order to be able to suffer and die, paying the penalty for humanity’s sin. But He also had to be true God so that His suffering, death, and resurrection could provide a sufficient ransom and atonement for the sins of the world by His death on the cross.

If Jesus were not true God and true Man in one Christ, the cross would have been pointless. Jesus could not have shed His perfect, sinless blood to cleanse us if He were not the sinless, perfect God-Man. As a result, there would be no forgiveness of sins. There would be no fellowship with God. There would be no hope because we would all be lost under the wrath and eternal condemnation of God’s justice and rightness against our sins and our sinful nature. We would all be punished with eternal death in hell.

Do you understand the danger of the lie? Apart from God’s gracious intervention in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, there is no hope. There is only the darkness of sin and the black night of eternal death. That’s what happens if the world’s useless philosophies like Gnosticism have their way. They rob Christ of His divinity or His humanity. They steal away the glory of the Son of God who took on human flesh to save us, lost and condemned creatures. They offer no message of comfort, hope, or joy.

Contrast this, dear friends, with God’s ultimate message to you and to all people in the concrete, visible, touchable, historical reality of His incarnate Son, Jesus. “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. . . . 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!’” (Jn. 20:19-20, 26-28 ESV).

          Jesus, true God and true Man, is the Living One. And this is the message that John and the apostles and the first Christians heard from Him whom they saw and touched both before and after His death and resurrection, “that God is light and there is no darkness in Him at all. If we should say that we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. If we should walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

          We do not wish to follow the lies or to live in the lies. We do not want to walk in the darkness of our sins, of death, of hell. God the Father has given us His One-of-a-Kind Son who took on our flesh and blood in order to suffer the punishment for our sins, to endure hell itself on the cross, and to shed His blood to cleanse us from all sins, rescuing us from death and hell. “It is only Jesus’ blood, only His offering of Himself on the cross, only the suffering and death of the Son, the Word of life in the flesh, that has power to save—power to cover, power to cleanse, power to blot out every iniquity.”[1] To walk in the light of the Crucified and Risen Christ is nothing else than to face the fact of our sins. To walk in the light of Jesus is to confess our sins and to receive the forgiveness of all our sins through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus who is both true God and true Man, “whose blood set us free to be people of God” (This is the Feast, st. 1, LSB page 155).

          Yes, the true, real, physical blood of Jesus Christ, true God and Man, was shed on the cross to cleanse you from all your sins. Your forgiveness is won. Eternal life is yours because you have fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. The lie takes away this reality from you. But the truth of the message of the Gospel proclaimed to you assures you that, because of the saving work of Jesus Christ, you have genuine fellowship, unity, and communion with the God who made you, who redeemed you, and who makes you holy by the gift of the Spirit poured out upon you in His Word and Sacraments. By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you have been made into the people of God, the communion of saints, His holy, Christian Church. You have been called out from the darkness of the lies of sin and death and have been brought into the light of life as God’s people and heirs of salvation, through Jesus Christ your Lord. Amen.

[1] Bruce G. Schuchard, Concordia Commentary: 1-3 John (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012), 134.

Sermon for April 1, 2018, The Resurrection of Our Lord

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (The Resurrection of Our Lord—Series B)

“Of First Importance”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

April 1, 2018

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

Our text is from the Epistle reading for the Resurrection of Our Lord, recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:

1Now I want you to know, brothers, the Gospel which I preached to you, which you also received, because of which you are standing, 2and through which you are also being saved. [I want you to know] in what terms I preached the Gospel to you, if you are holding fast to it—unless you believed in vain. 3For I passed on to you as of first importance that which I also received, that Christ died for taking away our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that He was buried, and that He has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. 7Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8And last of all, as though one untimely born, He appeared also to me.

 

          What is important to you? Think for a moment about what would be the top 5 most important aspects of your life. According to one Gallop poll I found, those surveyed ranked as extremely or very important the following: #5 your money; #4 your friends; #3 your work; #2 your health; and #1 your family. Notice what didn’t make the top 5? Your faith or religion. It was #6 with only 65% of responders saying it was extremely or very important. Even work beat out the Lord!

          A poll like this certainly says something about our culture. But what does it say about us Christians? In your top 5, where did you rank your Christian faith? I’m guessing that there’s a good chance it wasn’t number 1. Family is extremely important. Health, work, friends, and money are very important. But none of them are of “first importance.” That place should be held only by God.

          The First Commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. What does this mean? “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is really your god. “Many a person thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions. He trusts in them and boasts about them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. . . . So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he has great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor also has a god. But it is not the true and only God. This truth reappears when you notice how arrogant, secure, and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent they are when the possessions no longer exist or are withdrawn. Therefore, . . .  to “have a god” is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts” (Large Catechism).[1] In other words, what is of “first importance” in your life, God and His Gospel of grace and mercy in Jesus or something or someone else?

          According to the reports Paul had received about the Corinthian Christians, some of them had failed to grasp the implications of the Gospel for the Christian’s hope. Contemporary issues crowded out the Gospel of life and forgiveness in Jesus. The same happens to us today so that we often turn away from the one true God and His Word as a matter of first importance. We fail to hold on to what God has done for us and has given to us by His grace. The truths and application of the Gospel for us can become neglected as we stray from the true fear, love, and trust in the God who took on flesh in order to bear our sin of idolatry, and all our sins, who suffered hell and death because of our sins, and who purchased by His sacrifice forgiveness and eternal life for all people.

          So Paul writes to the Corinthian church, wanting to make known to them “in what terms” he had preached the Gospel to them. Pastorally, he was concerned, “Are you holding fast to that Gospel? Are you retaining that Gospel? Surely you didn’t receive it in vain, did you?” We must ask ourselves the same kinds of questions as we look at the things of “first importance.” We have also received the Gospel Word. Because of the power of that Gospel Word, we are standing in the Christian faith. The Gospel Word saves us from all sins, from death, and from the might of the devil because it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16). Are you and I holding fast to that Gospel? Is it and can it truly be of first importance to us who believe?

          By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, the answer is YES! Like Paul, as your pastor in Christ, I want you to know the Gospel that I preached to you, which you also received, because of which you are standing, and through which you are also being saved. Week after week, by the grace of God, I pass on to you as of first importance that which I also received. It is as true on Easter day as it is in the middle of February or the end of July. Christ died for the taking away of sins. He was buried. He has been raised. This Gospel, dear saints, is the matter of first importance for us as Christians despite of the claims of culture and self to the contrary.

          Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, died for the taking away our sins according to the Scriptures. Isaiah 53, which we heard on Good Friday, announced, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; . . . All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:4-12 ESV). Without the powerful death of Jesus on the cross as full payment, the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins, we would still be in our sins and under the wrath and condemnation of God the Father. But the fact of the matter is, as of first importance, Christ died for the taking away of our sins. Forgiveness has been won for you. “With his wounds we are healed.”

          Jesus’ burial also reminds us of the reality of His death for us. Jesus breathed His last. He experienced the separation of soul and body in death. We confess this Scriptural truth in the Creeds, “He was crucified, died, and was buried.” The very Son of God who became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth died on the cross for the taking away of our sins. His corpse was laid to rest in a rock-hewn tomb. And this Jesus has been raised in body and soul from the dead. So by His death, Jesus destroyed death. By His burial and rest in the tomb, Jesus has made holy the graves of His Christians. And by His resurrection, Jesus has brought life and immortality to light (LSB Agenda: Committal).

That’s why we are here this morning, celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That’s why we gather here each Sunday, the first day of the week, to remember and celebrate His rising again from death. It’s a matter of first importance. It ought not to be neglected in favor of other so-called “priorities” on a Sunday morning. For this is the place where we gather as Christians once a week to hear the Gospel Word of Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Together as the family of God in Christ, we gather around the Word to hear the eye-witness accounts of those who saw and touched the Risen Christ who “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3 ESV). This is the place where we also gather at the Lord’s Table to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. Here at the altar, the Risen Christ comes to us with His true Body and Blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. In the eating and drinking of this sacred meal with faith in the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” Christ delivers to us the forgiveness, life, and salvation that His sacrifice on the cross purchased and won for us.

The hearing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the receiving of His Body and Blood in the Supper are truly the matters of first importance for us as Christians. As we are compelled by the Word to rethink the things that are extremely or most important to us, it is our prayer and the fervent desire of our faith that our trust in the one, true God and in His Gospel be at the very top. That is, after all, God’s desire for each one of us in Christ. And it is a desire that God fulfills in us by the power of the Holy Spirit through the very Gospel He gives in Word and Sacrament.

By the gracious mercy of God in Christ who died, was buried, and is risen again “for us and for our salvation,” you and I are made the people of God in Christ Jesus. We have been baptized into His death and resurrection so that we become those who are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made known in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:10). The Gospel that we hear and receive in Word and Sacrament, which delivers to us forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting, is of first importance to us by the grace and mercy of God. Therefore, we will fear, love, and trust in God above all things, standing with faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ through which we are being saved. Amen.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 359.

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