The Baptism of Our Lord – Matthew 3:13-17

For thirty years Jesus, Son of Mary and Joseph, was obedient to His earthly parents. His life was an amazing journey so far. His birth foretold by prophets, announced by angels, and witnessed by shepherds. His presentation in the temple attested by Simeon and Anna that Jesus was indeed Messiah, the consolation of Israel. He spent some of His life in Egypt, waiting for Herod to die after the king had all male children under the age of two slaughtered in order to do away with this so-called great pretender to the throne. Instead of making His home in Bethlehem or even Jerusalem, His parents head to Nazareth. There He learns the carpentry trade and helps His earthly father in his shop.

Everything changes for our Lord and for us one day when Jesus presents Himself to John the Baptist at the Jordan River. No longer is He the carpenter’s Son Whose hands are familiar with the plane and the lathe. Here is the Christ, the Son of God, uniting Himself with sinners like John, like you, and like me. He Who has no sin is baptized with water for repentance. He Who need not confess a sin, by virtue of His going to the Jordan and being baptized, confesses, as it were, for every sin of every sinner.

In all of these things, Jesus Christ was, and is, holy and pure. That’s what mystifies John. John tells Jesus, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? All the holy acts in our Lord’s life up to this point were unnecessary. Jesus didn’t need to be circumcised. Yet He sheds blood on His eighth day apart from the womb and receives the name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Jesus didn’t need to be presented in the temple in order to be bought back for the price of birds. Nevertheless, there He is, presented to the Lord and redeemed in order that He may redeem us from sin and death in His shedding of blood upon the cross.

So why go through the motions of being baptized? Why not take up the mantle of John and start baptizing people right then and there? If Jesus simply stays put and continues the ministry of John, then Jesus is not able to equate Himself with sinners. He will not fulfill all righteousness. That’s what Jesus tells John. Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. That’s all it took. John consented.

Jesus is more than happy to step into our place of unrighteousness to fulfill all righteousness for us. When Jesus says, Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness, He is ready to begin the work of our redemption from Satan and from eternal death. We are witnessing, as it were, Jesus’ inauguration into the office of Savior. The office was already His for many centuries before this moment. Even at His birth the Son of Mary and Joseph was also the Savior. Now, though, His work on our behalf begins in earnest.

You might think it would be better for Jesus to have a lavish ceremony with pomp, circumstance, ruffles, flourishes, and a big parade, capped off by a dinner and dance. These events befit a leader, even a Savior. Jesus has none of that stuff. He has an encounter with a prophet who balks at the notion of baptizing Him. Nevertheless, because this event fulfills all righteousness, John lets it happen. Then comes the pomp, although not the inaugural pomp we’re used to seeing once every four years.

A voice from heaven and a dove descending from heaven follows our Lord’s baptism. The voice says, This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased. Our Father in heaven is happy with Jesus. This event doesn’t humiliate His Father. He is well pleased to see His Son begin the journey to Golgotha, to the tomb, and out of the tomb to His ascension into heaven. This is a happy occasion! Jesus is our Brother. What He goes through on our behalf makes us receivers of what He wins for us. We have forgiveness in Jesus. We have life in Jesus.

You might think then that baptism should be replaced with much pomp and flourish. After all, if we believe that Jesus has been baptized in order to begin the work of our salvation, it would be better to celebrate Jesus’ baptism than our own baptism. Martin Luther drives at that notion in today’s Chief Hymn when he writes: “All that the mortal eye beholds/Is water as we pour it.” No big deal. Just water. There’s not much to celebrate in pouring water over someone’s head. It would be better to celebrate our Lord’s baptism than ours.

Luther continues: “Before the eye of faith unfolds/The power of Jesus’ merit. For here it sees the crimson flood/To all our ills bring healing;/The wonders of His precious blood/The love of God revealing,/Assuring His own pardon.” If you’re going to make a big deal of our Jesus’ baptism, then make a big deal out of your own baptism, or anyone else’s baptism, even if they don’t make a big deal out of baptism.

Jesus makes a big deal out of baptism. Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Peter makes a big deal out of baptism. Baptism now saves you. Where the Gospel is preached, faith is kindled and fostered. Then comes baptism. That includes little children and infants, too, because Jesus has what they need. Baptism is good for all ages, especially children. The crimson flood, as Luther calls it, flows over them, forgiving sins and clothing them in Christ’s righteousness.

Today we rejoice that Jesus didn’t shirk His vocation as Savior of sinners. The voice from heaven and the dove on His shoulder confirm our joy. Jesus is the Father’s beloved Son. You are His beloved child. He is well pleased with Jesus. He is also well pleased with you, for you are God’s own child…a child of Paradise.

Advertisements

The Epiphany of Our Lord – Matthew 2:1-12

            The Magi these days are as much a part of the Christmas story as Mary, Joseph, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Some might get fussy about including them in a Nativity set sooner than Epiphany. Nevertheless, they have their place at the crèche. Jesus is King of both the Jews and the Gentiles. The Word of the coming Messiah was heard in Eastern lands when the remnant of God’s people in the southern kingdom was taken into exile in Babylon.

            The appearance of the Christ Child to the Magi shows us that God wants to welcome Gentiles into His kingdom and save them. The Magi are the first-fruits of the pagan world. Many Jews would turn their back to the promises of Messiah. We already hear it in today’s Gospel. Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him when the Magi asked him, Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.

            Imagine it! Countless promises are made to an entire nation of people. Mighty works are done to save them and protect them from their enemies. Yet over time, many of them forget those promises or interpret them in another way than the intended sense. Instead of remembering God’s mighty acts for them, they choose to remember ceremonial washings and other customs that had their place but ultimately serve to prepare the Jews for the coming of Messiah. Some believed. Many doubted.

            So God leads Magi from eastern lands to Jerusalem to hear His own priests tell the Magi where the Christ Child will be born: But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Again, imagine it! God’s own chief priests and scribes do their homework and quote the prophet Micah about the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem…but they don’t, or won’t, believe it.

            The irony of the matter is that these Gentile sages are drawn, as it were, to the church in Jerusalem to hear the Lord’s Word from His own priests. That’s the way it is still today. You can give someone a Bible and highlight certain passages for them to read. You can relate to them how wonderful it is to be a baptized child of God. You can describe the beauty of the Church’s liturgy until you are blue in the face. You can even tell someone how good of a preacher your pastor is. Those things have their place. But how shall they hear the Good News of forgiveness and life if they are not actually in the church building hearing the Good News?

            We often get it backwards when it comes to the Good News of Jesus Christ. We think we have to make some sort of external preparation before this Word impacts us. Even worse, we often think a spoken word from a sinful man like a pastor has no impact in the first place. We disdain baptism or, at best, think it is some magic hedge of protection. We disdain the Lord’s Supper, thinking we aren’t so sick that there’s no need to take the medicine.

            Usually the blame goes toward other Christians. We think the Church would be the best thing on earth if it weren’t for all those sinners who sit there every weekend. But isn’t the Church entirely comprised of sinners? Sure, there are a lot of double-minded, double-tongued, double-crossing people who attend a Church service. A lot of them look exactly like you. That’s why the Church is here: to lead you, like the Magi, back to the Word to hear your salvation is in Jesus Christ, not in yourself or in the faith of others.

            The Word works when and where the Lord God pleases. Today we see that Word work on the Magi as they make the short trip to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child. Before they leave Jerusalem, King Herod tells them to bring me word, that I too may come and worship him. The Magi later learn that is part of a plan to foil Messiah. Before they head home another way, they pay a visit to the Word made flesh: Jesus Christ. Going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

            This pattern continues in the Church still today. Every weekend, maybe a little more often depending upon the season and the circumstances, the Lord calls us to His house to pay Him a little visit. He doesn’t demand anything. He gives you life. He gives you joy, the same joy the Magi had when they saw the miracle star shine over the house where the Savior was. There, with their own eyes, the Magi saw their salvation that they heard from Micah and perhaps many other prophets along the way.

            Here, with our own eyes, we behold the altar, the font, and the pulpit. Here, with our own ears and mouths, we behold our salvation put into us in word, water, bread, and wine. Here, we see there still is room for others to behold their salvation, whether in Momence, the USA, or anywhere else in the world. This is why God still sends preachers to preach Christ to heathen lands. God wants to lead Gentiles like you and me to Jesus through such preaching of His Word.

            Like the Magi, we open our treasures of earthly resources not merely to support the preaching of the Good News among us, but also among others whom we do not know. One way to do so is to support the ministry of the Gospel in our district and in our synod. It does all of us good prayerfully to consider how we as a congregation could again the support the work of our district and our synod, whether in Northern Illinois or in a far-away land. Even if our earthly resources are limited, the incense of our prayer rises with the myrrh of a repentant faith in Jesus Christ that His Word of forgiveness is proclaimed the world over.

            Today the Lord opens the hearts of Gentiles by His Word that they go to Bethlehem to behold their King. In spite of the obstacles the devil and even our flesh puts in the way, the Lord still draws us to adore Him and receive every good gift from Him. God promises His Word will not return to Him in vain. And to think it all began with Magi from a far-off land asking a simple question: Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? He is here, as He promised, ready to forgive, and ready to give you life.

Christmas Day – John 1:1-14

It has been a difficult year for some of us. Nearly half a dozen of our members have died since last Christmas. Others have lost spouses or other family members. Many among us have friends right now who are physically hurting in some way. Some have had family members with significant life changes. In some ways, this Christmas may be more of a blue Christmas than a white Christmas…and not in an Elvis Presley sort of way. The joy of Christmas seems to have been sucked out of any festivities due to so many sad circumstances. Maybe you feel like speeding through this time of year in order to skip all the merriment and get on with life.

Let’s strip away all the tinsel and all the gifts given and received. Let’s get to the heart of the matter: God’s only-begotten Son has become man. He is our Brother. He Who was present at the creation of the heavens and the earth now lays in a manger. He has an earthly mother and father. The true light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world.

Now that this cosmic event has occurred, you may feel like it’s time to get on with the business of salvation. Can we zip past all the Christmas pageantry and get to the point of God taking on flesh, please? Let’s truck on over to Calvary and see Jesus on the cross, then take the bypass over to the empty tomb, and finally take the express lanes to Bethany, where Jesus ascends to His Father in heaven. Isn’t that where the real celebration takes place anyway?

What’s wrong with what we see with the eyes of faith today? I suppose we’re always in a hurry to get past Christmas because we’ve been bombarded with it since about November 1st, if not even July 5th, when Hobby Lobby starts putting out the Christmas schwag. By the time December 25th appears on our calendar, Lite 93.9 FM in Chicago has played Christmas music for nearly two months. We’ve had the big holiday concerts at Momence schools, at Olivet, and at Valpo. Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, and Kelly Clarkson have invaded our cars day after day for some time now.

That’s not to say it’s wrong to celebrate Christmas early and often. There are people among us who wish it could be Christmas every day…literally Every. Day. For what reason do they wish to celebrate this day every day? I won’t guess, but I wonder if it has anything to do what the chain of truths I gave you a bit ago about Jesus becoming our Brother and so forth?

That’s why it’s good to hit the pause button today and take a moment to ponder the prologue to John’s Gospel. Look at the bulletin cover for a moment. You see today’s Gospel in what’s called a “Wordle”. The words used the most are the largest. God. Word. Light. Grace. World. Man. Witness. Let’s make a sentence with those words. God the Word, the Light of Grace, is the Witness of God to man and to the world. What does God want to witness to man in the world? The Light of Grace. God the Father favors the world with His eternal love and mercy.

There it is! Jesus becomes our brother to show us His Father’s eternal love and mercy. Jesus doesn’t enter the world to set an example that we should follow in order to gain eternal life. It’s not as if Jesus says and does everything to show us how we can save ourselves. If that were so, we would have a blue Christmas indeed. We would need to start building our own cross in order to crucify ourselves, hoping that our blood shed and our life given up would appease the Father’s wrath over our sin. What good would that do? Nothing.

The fullness of time has come. Jesus comes to make us heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This happens by Jesus taking on flesh and dwelling among us. Behold the glory of God wrapped in flesh, blood, sinew, and bones! Jesus alone is full of grace and truth. This grace and truth is not hung before our eyes like a carrot on a stick for us to chase. This grace and truth is bestowed upon us in believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Tabernacle of God become man. No longer is there a need for a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night for God’s glory to be manifest. God’s glory is Jesus Christ, Son of God, Mary’s Son and Mary’s Lord.

Even if all your family has died or has abandoned the Christian faith, you have a Brother in Jesus Christ. He is happy to call you His brother. He is happy to leave His Father’s side and rest in Mary’s womb for a while, only to be born according to the flesh. Yes, we can look beyond the manger and see the cross and tomb in the distance, but let’s not be so hasty to get to those places quite yet. Let’s hang out here in Bethlehem for a little while with shepherds and, not long from now, with the Magi.

Soon Jesus will shed His blood for the first time in His circumcision and take the name “Jesus”, for He will save His people from their sins. In the word “people” is your name, my name, and the names of all who have ever lived, are living, or will live. If only everyone would take the time to ponder this truth! So many will speed past it, hoping that it isn’t true, or thinking that it is true for others, but not for me. So many will speed past it because it doesn’t seem as significant as Good Friday and/or Easter. Today, however, we slow down to see this thing that has happened in Bethlehem. God becomes man. The eternal Word dwells among us. He looks just like us, except without sin.

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things! That new song we sing today is named Jesus. He makes a blue Christmas white again in His righteousness that He places on us in our Baptism. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Even Momence, Illinois.

Merry Christmas!

Fourth Sunday in Advent – John 1:19-28

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed

I am the Christ.

Unthinkable! Maybe not. Remember John’s life up to this moment. There are many things of which John the Baptist could have been proud of.

An angel had proclaimed his birth. Everyone in the region talked about the angel appearing to Zechariah in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. His dad remained silent until John was born then, like rushing rapids, a torrent of words flowed from Zechariah’s mouth: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.

John occupied a high office. He is the last of the prophets. He has great gifts. He was popular among the people. Even the great and powerful among the Jews went out to the wilderness to hear his preaching. Perhaps some of them were baptized. They gave him the dignity deserving of Messiah, Elijah, or one of the prophets.

John steadfastly rejected all of it. He gave the answer he was supposed to give: I am not the Christ…. I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” What if, though. What if he didn’t reject their suggestions and played along with them. His preaching of repentance would be for nothing. His baptism would be for nothing. He would rob all of Messiah’s glory. He would be a liar.

It comes as no surprise that some Jews were ready to crown John as Messiah while casting aspersions on Messiah Himself, Jesus Christ. Jesus comes in low estate. His parents aren’t on the society pages of any Jerusalem newspaper, let alone any Nazareth newspaper. There’s no special place for the Son of God to be born. He must take his place in a lowly feeding trough amid the animals and visiting shepherds. Once Jesus begins preaching, others wonder Who He is and from where He comes. Even Nathanael, one of His disciples, asked Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Something good has come from Nazareth. He comes to set the prisoners free from the power of Satan. He comes as our brother to dwell among us as the perfect offering, the spotless substitute offered up for the sin of the world. The way of Jesus, the way of salvation, must be straight. So John is the one who prepares the way for Jesus. He’s the one who runs before the Christ, pointing his finger at the Savior of the nations and showing us in Whom we find life.

John runs before the Christ preaching the Law so that his hearers might come to the knowledge of their sin. He also baptizes so that they could see that the time of the appearance of the Messiah is now. John’s baptism recalls the words of the prophet Ezekiel: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. His baptism also recalls the words of the prophet Zechariah: On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.

Above all the preaching of the Law and the baptizing, John preaches the Christ. John’s office is not to save God’s people from their sins. It is a tantalizing proposition. It makes sense from our perspective. All the stars seem to line up in John’s favor, not Jesus’ favor. After all, a boy born in a stable from a family whose only bragging point is that His father Joseph is from the house of David isn’t much to brag about. But that’s the point.

We don’t look to the obvious choice for our salvation. We look for the One we do not know, the one Who comes after john, the strap of Whose sandal John is not worthy to untie. If you put all your marbles in John’s basket, you’ll be disappointed. John’s shedding of blood does nothing for you. John’s blood is a witness of the Christ, not the salvific blood necessary for atonement. John’s witness is Jesus Christ, not John’s own witness.

The witness of John the Baptist continues in the Church today. Faithful preachers of the New Testament are sent to congregations like this one who do not seek their own glory. It is tempting for a pastor to cut his own path in ministry. Every opportunity presents itself for a power grab or a glory grab. They are called to be servants, shepherds of the Good Shepherd. As Paul points out in last Sunday’s Epistle: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Preachers of the New Testament also preach the Law so hearers recognize their sin and see they are lost with all their deeds. The Law is not the final word. Like John, they point their finger to the Son of God Who wraps Himself in flesh, blood, sinew, and bone. They preach Christ crucified and resurrected for sinners, especially for the sinner who proclaims the Savior to sinners.

Unless you stand in this pulpit and see it, you probably don’t know it is here. There’s a plaque right here that says, Sir, we wish to see Jesus. I’ve seen it in more than one pulpit in this part of the country. That’s a reminder to me, and to every pastor who stands here, what he is given to do. He is not given to say, “I’m your man. There is no salvation outside of me.” He is given to say with Saint Paul: I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. He is given to say with John the Baptist: Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. Thanks be to God John the Baptist or yours truly isn’t the Christ. That’s a “no” all of us don’t mind hearing. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Why So Much Church?

A little something I wrote for Wittenberg Academy that I’d like to share with you.

I often tell my workout partner (a Roman Catholic priest in the Order of St. Viator) that our workout is not a sprint, but a marathon. Father Jason moves through every element of our workout at what seems to be the speed of a world class sprinter running a 100 meter dash. I tend to move at a stately pace, trying to conserve energy to finish strong.

The seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seem like a marathon. There are midweek Advent services to attend. Some of our congregations have Divine Service every day of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Other congregations at least honor the birth of Jesus Christ according to the flesh on December 24th and December 25th. Then there’s the Circumcision of our Lord on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Epiphany falls on a Sunday this church year so we get a reprieve from another Divine Service during the week. By the time January 7th appears on our calendar, we think we’ve probably had enough of church!

Don’t fall into the trap of breaking the Third Commandment by thinking you’ve had enough of church. Take a moment to consider why we attend so many church services from the beginning of Advent through Epiphany. Let’s not sprint through this marathon; let’s take a leisurely stroll through this time of year and consider why we have so many services to attend.

Advent prepares us to welcome our Savior according to the flesh. The preaching of John the Baptist rings in our ears: REPENT! Be turned away from the works of darkness and be turned toward the Light of the coming Christ Child. The prophecies of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Malachi point to Messiah’s appearance to redeem His people. By faith in Messiah we Gentiles are included in those prophecies.

During the Christmas season we can’t help but sing our joy that Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God, has become our Brother. He takes on flesh to live the perfect life we ought live but cannot live due to sin. He takes on flesh to suffer the punishment we deserve for our sin. He takes on flesh to rise from the dead triumphant over death and Satan. Don’t rush through the Twelve Days of Christmas. Savor each day like dinner at a three-star Michelin restaurant. Take the time to celebrate the Feast Days of Saint Stephen, the Holy Innocents, and Saint John. Christ begins to keep the Law for us as He is circumcised and named Jesus, “The Lord saves”. Add your first name to the end of that sentence, for Jesus saves especially you.

Before you know it, we finish strong on January 6th as we celebrate our Lord’s Epiphany to the Magi. The Boy Jesus welcomes visitors from afar led by a star to His home. As Jesus lives for the Jews, He also lives for Gentiles like you and me; grafted into the Vine of Righteousness.

Like a marathon runner, we pace ourselves to enjoy every moment of these holy seasons. Now is not the time to rush through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Slow down. Bask in our Savior’s work of salvation for you. Let Him feed you in His Word and Sacrament. Pay close attention to the readings. These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that you may have life in His name. Jesus gives you a front row seat for all the action.

Second Sunday in Advent – Luke 21:25-36

The Lord is at hand. This is the herald’s cry particularly in Advent. We heard this cry in last Sunday’s Holy Gospel. Last week we heard how the Lord came near to His people in order to redeem them. The first visible Advent of Christ cheers us even today as we sing in the Benedictus: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.

Today the herald’s cry says the same thing but takes a different tone. They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.… When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. This second visible Advent is a very different nearness of the Lord. The Lord is at hand for judgment.

The word “judgment” brings terror in itself. We think of a courtroom where someone’s guilt or innocence hangs in the balance. Someone could go free or someone could go to jail. If a courtroom judgment brings terror, how much more terror does Christ’s return for judgment bring? Even those of us who believe in Jesus Christ cringe at the thought of Christ’s judgment. In Christ there is no terror of judgment. There is only the bright hope of everlasting life free of sin and death. For those outside of Christ, there is great terror even if they don’t feel it right now.

Jesus describes Judgment Day in today’s Gospel: There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. We already see these signs today. Strange phenomena in the heavens happen with increasing regularity. Earthquakes rumble. Tsunamis crash against ocean shorelines. World events all the more seem to border on chaos. Hearts grow terrified with anxiety and fear, not knowing what to expect.

Even believers in Christ will be overwhelmed. Everything that mankind has built and trusted in will be destroyed. The home where you live: gone. The properties you own: gone. Your livelihood: gone. Earthly protection from fire, water, and other disasters: gone. At the end of this chaos, though, is Christ. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

Those words bring certain comfort. The Lord has come to deliver us from the evil one, just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. How do we know there is comfort in Christ’s second Advent? Jesus tells us so: When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Redemption. There’s the comfort we have long expected from Jesus. But wait, there’s more. When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. But isn’t the kingdom of God already near? Yes, God’s kingdom abides among us in His power, His grace, and His glory. Yet the fullness of His Kingdom, a fully visible Kingdom promised by Jesus, has not yet come. It is now, but not yet. That not yet will soon be changed to “visible and present” soon enough.

How soon? There’s the question above all questions. Jesus has a parable for that question. Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Unless you are the type of person who loves winter, most of us are looking forward to spring, to warmer weather, and to trees and flowers budding and blooming. So it is with the second coming of Christ. When you see strange signs in the heavens and on the earth, then know that Jesus is coming soon.

But how soon? Soon enough. That’s why Jesus encourages you and me to watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. It would be a pity if you were so preoccupied with life that you don’t take the time to watch trees and flowers bud and bloom. So also with Judgment Day. Keep your head up. Keep your eyes open. Stay close to Jesus in His Word. Feed on His Body and Blood frequently in the Lord’s Supper. Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

Stay awake. Don’t let yourself get caught up with those who think this old world will ramble on into infinity. There is an end to everything. The world as we know it will end. Existence as we know it will change. Either there is an existence in the burning lake of fire where torture and terror never end and are never quenched, or there is an existence in the presence of God with His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit where we have joy in their presence forevermore. This is not a cleverly devised myth. This is the truth of Holy Scripture. Heaven and earth will pass away, Jesus says, but my words will not pass away.

Jesus is no liar. What He says to you today in this Holy Gospel will come to pass. It’s frightening to think about the end of all things. But when Scripture speaks about the Last Things, it is for our encouragement, not for our terror. Think back a few weeks ago when we heard Saint Paul’s words in First Thessalonians chapter four about the dead in Christ being raised from the dead on Judgment Day. He ended it by saying, encourage one another with these words. Jesus talks about Judgment Day because it is good for you to know how the end will happen in order that you are prepared for it. In Christ, covered in His blood and righteousness, living in His joy and freedom won for you at the cross and the empty tomb, you are worthy to see these things without fear or terror. The Lord is near for judgment. Don’t be afraid because your redemption is drawing near.

First Sunday in Advent – Matthew 21:1-9

The Gospel according to Saint Matthew is written for an audience familiar with Jewish customs and traditions. His audience also was familiar with the Old Testament, especially with the prophets. Matthew quotes the prophet Zechariah in today’s Gospel to show that Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was prophesied long ago. Zechariah says, behold, your king is coming to you. Jesus’ coming isn’t confined to one particular place at one particular time. Jesus, our glorious King, still comes to us today.

Jesus does not seem to be such a splendid King at His entrance into Jerusalem. He marches into the city, but not as great ones of the earth march into a city. Jesus doesn’t arrive on a warhorse at the head of a mighty army with guns a-blazing. No trumpets sound His presence. The potentates of Jerusalem do not greet Him with a laurel and a key to the city.

Jesus enters Jerusalem humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. He is surrounded by His despised disciples and the poorest among the people who cry out Hosanna to Him. They scatter clothes and palm branches along the way to the annoyance of favored citizens of Jerusalem.

Though Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem is humble, He remains a great and glorious King; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, God Himself. In the midst of His humiliation He reveals His divine glory as He tells His disciples, go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them,” and he will send them at once. Here we see our Savior’s omniscience, His attribute of knowing all things, and our Savior’s omnipotence, His attribute of being all-powerful, on display mere days before His death and resurrection.

Still today He is such a glorious King. He remains even more so today since He, according to His human nature, has entered into His glory through His suffering and sits at the right hand of His Father. When we hear this Holy Gospel text again at the procession on Palm Sunday, we’ll also hear Saint Paul says in Philippians chapter two: God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus did not come to chastise Jerusalem for her many sins. He came in kindness and friendliness. He came because He loves sinners. He Who is righteous and having salvation came to help the poor city of Jerusalem.

As Jesus physically came to Jerusalem then, He spiritually comes to us today. He still is righteous and having salvation, but His entrance among us is quiet and full of gentleness. Jesus comes not with the Law in order to chastise and condemn us for our sins as we deserve. Sadly, Christians think that our Savior should come among us with the Law. After all, society seems to be crumbling before our eyes. I’ve been your pastor for nearly twelve years. Since my arrival here our country has gone through a tremendous cultural shift. Same-sex marriage is legal everywhere. Marijuana legalization is gaining ground across our country, for better or for worse. Churches continue to empty as the Good News of Jesus Christ is replaced by exhortation to higher virtue and better morality.

Jesus comes in and with the Word of the Gospel and the Holy Sacraments to bring us and give us grace, forgiveness, righteousness, and salvation. If we only believed what great authority the Gospel has among us! When Christ’s love and forgiveness is preached, hearts of stone are turned to hearts of flesh. When Christ’s love and forgiveness is preached, hearers can’t help but busy themselves in all sorts of good things to do for their neighbor.

This past Wednesday night a number of people from our congregation, along with a family or two from outside our congregation, packed almost 500 snack packs for Fortitude Community Outreach. These snack packs will go in the hands of homeless people in Kankakee, Bradley, and Bourbonnais. All it took was 40 minutes and the task was completed. A number of you donated gloves and hooded sweatshirts, too. I didn’t have to stand here and scold you to make sure others could see that the Gospel has taken in your life. There was an opportunity and you took that opportunity to show the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Snack packs and cold weather protection for the homeless is only two of many ways God’s love is shown to our neighbor. Consider also the mother changing her child’s diaper or the father reading stories to his children. Maybe you’ve picked up someone’s mail or a newspaper while they are away. You are giving evidence that Christ has humbly entered your life just as He humbly entered Jerusalem to give His life for your sake.

Today Jesus comes again in the preaching of His Word, not to mention His Holy Supper of which we will partake in a little while. He makes His entrance among us in the Word spoken and the Word under bread and wine. Through these holy things we receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Though this particular season is called Advent, meaning “coming, we might say His Advent among us has no end. Jesus is always coming, either then into Jerusalem, now in Word and Sacraments, or soon again in His physical presence. No matter how Jesus comes, He remains our glorious King Who still comes to us today.

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity – 2 Peter 3:3-14

By God’s grace we’ve made it through another church year. It wasn’t any of our cunning that got us to this point. The Word of the Lord that bears all things, including you and me, brought us to this time and place. When the Lord speaks a word, the light of life must burn even when all external signs show otherwise. When the Lord speaks a word, mankind sinks into death’s dust in spite of the fact that we live. The Word of the Lord means life, but it also means death. All evil things, and even good things, must have its end. The world waxes and wanes by God’s Word.

Moses reminds us in Deuteronomy, man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes, by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. God’s Word is the pillar upon which the universe rests, everything visible and invisible. As long as the Lord doesn’t take away His pillars, does not call back His sustaining Word, then the world remains.

That’s what scoffers don’t believe about our trust in God and in His Word. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation. It is hidden to these blind scoffers that the same divine Word that opened up the heavens and the earth to flood the world in Noah’s time had previously brought dry land forth from the seas of water.

You might think that all the mockery our Lord and His beloved children have heaped upon them by the world would hasten Christ’s return. Yet Jesus has not returned. That might make scoffers even bolder to scoff. There is no delay on our Savior’s part. He is patient. Who knows, maybe one scoffer may be brought to repentance by the Word of our gracious God?

There comes a time, however, when the measure of human wickedness on one hand and the number of the elect on the other hand will be full. Then the Lord will withdraw the Word of preservation. Another Word will go forth from His mouth: a Word of destruction and annihilation. The universe will be dissolved with fire. Everything we see will melt away with great noise. When Jesus appears in His glory there will be fire instead of water that will be unleashed upon the world. The world will be burned just as you burn a bunch of twigs and branches in a brush fire.

This fact sounds frightening to our ears, but it will happen. The Word of the Lord says so. In fact, Saint Peter puts a little color to these words by saying the day of the Lord will come like a thief. A few weeks ago my parents got to experience something like the end of the world as a burglar entered their apartment. My mother saw someone across the room going through her chest of drawers. My father had his wallet stolen. The robbers attempted to get into his fire safe to see what they could find. A neighbor had a necklace valued at $30,000 stolen from her apartment. All the residents at the assisted living facility were shocked at this event. My parents haven’t emotionally recovered from it.

If you’ve suffered a break-in, you know how they feel. Your personal, private space has been violated. A burglary often happens when you least expect it, perhaps even when you think you are totally secure. As it is with a thief, so it will be with the Lord. Many who are not watching for Jesus’ imminent return will be surprised. They may even feel as if their personal, private space called Planet Earth has been violated by someone Whom they think does not exist or is not their God. No one can complain that they are unprepared for such a day. The Lord has often and long enough predicted it.

What sort of people ought you to be as you wait for our Savior’s coming? Saint Peter’s answer is simple. Be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace. You are at peace in Jesus Christ. He has made you without spot or blemish in His perfect righteousness that covers you with His blood. No longer are your clothes scarlet in sin. They are white as snow in His holiness and innocence. You have no fear of hell fire that consumes, yet does not consume. The Lord’s all-powerful Word of Creation that brought this heaven and earth into being will make a new heaven and a new earth that will last forever. There will be no worm of destruction. Only righteousness dwells there; the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ that is yours in your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.

Saint Peter says you are waiting for these things to happen. It sounds morbid to wait for the end of the world. But we wait for the end, steadfast in Christ, because we believe there is something far better coming soon. According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Your imagination cannot fathom a future that is without sin, without death, and in the presence our heavenly Father, His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit for eternity.

You can try, but you won’t quite get the fullness of this joy. So we wait, yes, with impatience, yet full of patience that Jesus isn’t slack concerning His promises. He’ll be back before you know it. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We are ending one Church Year and about to begin another. The thought of Judgment Day is before us. Jesus Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. Those who cling to Christ will live with Him for eternity. Those who choose their own way will receive an eternity of torment in the burning lake of fire that is hell. A terrible thought! However, Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for you to miss hell. You have a sure and certain hope for eternity. That’s the comfort Saint Paul delivers when he writes to the church in Thessalonica: we do not want you to be uninformed about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

This epistle reading is perhaps familiar to your ears. You hear it at every Christian burial where I preside, whether here in church or at a funeral home. It begs to be heard at a funeral because there is so much confusion concerning what happens after you die and on Judgment Day. It is good that young children hear these words with adults because our young ones tend to be more inquisitive than those of us with riper years.

Earlier this year I presided at a funeral in Lowell, Indiana. My friend Pastor Kendall was out of town and I was on call for him. I went to the wake at the funeral home. There, in front of the open casket, stood a young boy around five years old who was looking at his “Grandpa Whitey”. He wanted to know when Grandpa Whitey was coming back from his current position.

You know that this subject is a hard one to explain to young children. We adults tend to explain things in a way that children can understand. Sometimes we explain matters of our Christian faith in a way that is easy for children to grasp, but is actually not what Scripture says. Take death for instance. Maybe we’ve told a child that the dead person is now an angel who will look over him or her as they grow in years. The Bible says no such thing. It is a pious thing to say but it doesn’t grasp the more comforting words of Saint Paul in First Thessalonians chapter four.

Let’s go back to this young man at the funeral home. I took the child aside and knelt down to his level. I told him that Grandpa Whitey’s body was here, but his soul was with Jesus. There’s going to be a day coming soon, perhaps very soon, when Jesus will come back to earth. You’ll know when He’s coming because trumpets will blow and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. You’ll see the angels, too. When Jesus returns He will raise all the dead around the world. The dead people who are now alive who trusted in Jesus as their hope for eternal life will receive a new body and a new soul. We who are alive will have our bodies and souls changed then, too. Then all of us who are with Jesus will be taken with Him forever. Never will He leave us. Never will we leave Him. You will see Grandpa Whitey again in a new way. You will know Grandpa Whitey in a new way. Everything will be new and you won’t mind it one bit. You’re with Jesus.

There. That wasn’t hard, was it?

The young boy smiled after I told him what Saint Paul has to say about Judgment Day. He was at peace that Grandpa Whitey’s soul was with Jesus and his body was going to rest for a while in order to be raised and changed. One day we’ll see all our dead loved ones who built their hope on the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Firstborn from the dead Who has trampled down death forever and bestowed life and immortality on all His beloved children. Sometimes you have to get down to a child’s level and see it from their view. Actually that’s the best way to look at God’s Word. Jesus says to His disciples in Matthew chapter 18: Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. So you turn today and take a look at Judgment Day from a different view. Don’t stop there. Take a look at everything about your life in Jesus from that view, too.

Listen to Jesus’ words of concentrated Gospel in the Words of Institution. This is my body. This is my blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Walk past that font on your way out the doors today. Even though you may not have been baptized at that font, its presence puts you in mind of your baptism. You are God’s precious child. All His promises were put on you right there in Word and water. What Paul says today about Judgment Day is for your encouragement. He says encourage one another with these words. Don’t let them get buried under sentimentality or practicality. Keep these words close. Take courage from them so that on your deathbed you can face death square in the eye without blinking. You belong to Jesus. His death and resurrection has spoken for you. His blood and righteousness are your glorious dress. Death has no claim on you forever.

One day soon everything will be new and you won’t mind it one bit. Just like Grandpa Whitey, just like whomever you’d like to name from your family or from your friends who fell asleep in the confidence of Christ, you’re with Jesus.

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 9:18-26

A ruler asks Jesus to come and heal his dead daughter. Jesus could have said the same thing to the ruler that He said to the official’s son in John chapter four about seeing signs and wonders before believing. Jesus doesn’t gripe about the request. He doesn’t chastise the man. He doesn’t tell him it’s too late. Jesus rose and followed him.

What a stunning development! Why does Jesus go with him? Shouldn’t this ruler, of all people, know Who Jesus is and what He comes to do? Shouldn’t he merely ask Messiah to heal his daughter and Jesus will speak the word to make it so? Jesus goes with him. Jesus goes without a word of complaint.

Perhaps the reason why Jesus goes with the ruler is to carry this man along with Him. You may be familiar with the Christian devotional writing called “Footprints”. The writer has a dream about walking along a beach with Jesus. All of a sudden there was a moment where two sets of footprints became one set of footprints. The writer wonders if that is when Jesus left the person alone. Not so says our Savior. “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you; never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

A little editorial work on “Footprints” would make the image line up with how Jesus walks with you and me. There can never really be two sets of footprints in the sand. This means you are able to walk with Jesus and never need His help. Our life in Christ is a life of being carried around by a loving Shepherd Who cares for us like a little ewe lamb. Whether our trust in Him is as small as a mustard seed or as large as Denali in Alaska, Jesus carries you from womb to tomb. Jesus today carries this man with Him even though the two of them, and many others in tow, walk together to the corpse of a dead girl. Even though the man asks Jesus to come with him, the man did ask for Jesus to lay Your hand on her and she will live.

While Jesus carries the ruler back to the ruler’s house, something strange happens. When a unique event happens in the middle of another story line in the Gospels, you can bet the farm the strange and unique occurrence isn’t a random event.

The woman with a flow of blood touches Jesus at the perfect moment. Why is it a perfect moment? Because Jesus is carrying a ruler with Him whose trust in Christ as Savior and Helper is not as strong as her trust in Christ. Before the ruler sees his daughter alive again, he sees Jesus turn around and look at a woman who touches the hem of His garment. Saint Mark writes that Jesus felt power leave His body when the woman touched Him. Jesus knew something was happening. He never saw it coming…or did He?

Another pastor I know once told me, “Ministry happens in the interruptions.” It sure does. Jesus ministers to the woman’s illness without saying a word. She, while also being carried by the Savior, receives what she wishes without even asking. All it took was a touch. Not only is she healed, but Jesus blesses her by saying, Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well. At that moment she was made well.

So now Jesus has one more person to carry to the bedside of the little girl. When He gets there, the mourners laugh at Him because He said the girl is not dead but sleeping. Who is laughing now that the girl is alive? Because the girl cannot reach out to touch Jesus, He extends His hand to her. She takes it. Now she is carried along with Him, just like everyone else who looks to Jesus as their Help in every time of need.

That’s a comforting image, isn’t it? You are being carried along by Christ. You could try to go it alone but you’ll never get to the end of the journey by yourself. You could ask Jesus to drop you for a while but those butt prints in the sand, so to speak, will show you that it’s much better to be carried. The load isn’t burdensome for Christ. After all, He bore the sins of the world upon His body as He laid on the cross. He didn’t need your help. He had to do it alone. He also carried your sin into the tomb and left it there. Jesus has spoken for your sin. It has no power over you because of Christ’s blood.

Jesus again carries us with Him into His house, where He cares for your death by applying His life. You will die, unless Jesus returns soon. Here is where you receive palliative care for your death. There’s no need to touch the hem of His garment or to ask Him to lay His hand on you. Jesus comes to you in His preached Word and in His true Body and true Blood. Though death may surround you even in the midst of life, Jesus carries you through from death to life. You are not too heavy. His burden is light. He will see to it that your slumber is turned into everlasting life.

Advertisements