Seventh Sunday after Easter – John 15:26-16:4

Christ’s kingdom is a cross kingdom. Saints Paul and Barnabas were stoned in Lystra for preaching the Gospel in Acts chapter fourteen. In the face of bearing witness to Jesus Christ, Paul encourages the Christians there and elsewhere by saying through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 116: I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted.”

Christians throughout the ages have dealt with persecution by continuing to remain steadfast to Jesus Christ, ready to suffer even death rather than deny Him before men. In the wake of recent societal changes, however, it seems some Christians are ready to take their ball and go home, so to speak. There have been calls to retrench into local Christian communities in order to take care of each other and forsake the world.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, however, does not call us to sound a retreat, circle the wagons, and hide in our homes and church buildings. We shouldn’t become scared or angry that the world thinks it does God a service by barely tolerating Christians among them. Christ has previously said this would happen. Christ has also provided for rich consolation when it does happen.

Jesus tells the apostles before His ascension that you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. There’s more to the word “witness” than merely opening your mouth and telling the Good News about Jesus. “Witness” also means to be ready to shed blood, if necessary, for the sake of confessing Christ. Confessing Jesus as Lord is more than making some sort of testimony about what you believe. You confess whenever you read a Bible story to a child. You’re passing down the ancient confession of the Christian faith by relating the family stories; God’s family’s stories.

The Holy Spirit is with that confessed word you speak, whether to a child or to an adult. Jesus calls Him Comforter and Spirit of truth in today’s Holy Gospel. The Holy Spirit is first called a Comforter because He brings consolation against the evil spirit who rules in the world. You know there’s an evil spirit in the world because of the way people react when Jesus Christ is confessed. Some people tend to recoil in anger. Perhaps they are confused. Perhaps they have had a bad experience among Christians. Perhaps they simply despise any notion of God. No matter what the reason, as Jesus says, they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.

Jesus also calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth. The Spirit opposes all lies and false arguments. Jesus gives the Spirit Who makes you sure and convinced of the truth. Granted, though, that very few are argued into Christ’s kingdom. Apologetics, the practice of defending the Christian faith using Scripture to make logical, sound arguments for the Christian faith, has its place. Nevertheless, it is the preached Word of God, the Word of God confessed with the lips, used by the Holy Spirit, that changes the hearts of mankind. The truth in the preached Word sets them free.

Jesus says to His apostles, you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. Of the eleven with Him at that time, ten of them will die a martyr’s death; a death of witness to Jesus Christ.

Bearing witness to Jesus is more than opening your mouth and talking about what you believe. Bearing witness to Jesus also means to suffer. This suffering doesn’t necessarily have to take place on the gridiron, as St. Lawrence the Deacon died, or on an upside down cross, as St. Peter reportedly died. Suffering for Christ’s sake also happens on one’s deathbed, or even in a prolonged sickness. The sick person bears witness that Jesus will bring them comfort in affliction. The truth proclaimed to them that Christ has died, risen, and will come again, is borne in their bodies as they suffer pain.

It’s hard for us to see it when we’re right there next to one who suffers, or are even the one suffering. “What have I done to deserve this?” often comes to our mind. Your witness in suffering is united with the suffering of Jesus Christ. As He bore your griefs and carried your sorrows, so you carry His wounds within you, for you are baptized into His death and resurrection. Whether you die or whether you live, you belong to the Lord. You are a witness in life and in death, in health or in sickness. Where the world sees a pitiable sight, you see a lamb of the Good Shepherd who waits for healing, either temporal healing or ultimate healing in death.

The Holy Spirit also strengthens churches, especially when they suffer. Wherever the Lord sets up a church, the devil sets up a chapel next door, so to speak. You have seen it play out in this congregation, or in another congregation, through the years. You see and hear the divisiveness among God’s people. The wounds remain fresh even as the years go by.

In the midst of the chaos of Satan destroying a congregation, there stands the Comforter of priceless worth, ready to draw God’s people back to the preached Word, back to their baptism, back to the Lord’s Supper, back to forgiveness and salvation. No one congregation on earth is perfect. No one pastor on earth is perfect. The Church is full of 100% sinners and 100% saints. All the more do we cling to the Word of Christ confessed from lectern and pulpit. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us in Christ’s church, keeping us connected to the Savior.

Then there’s our life among our neighbors. Satan seems to set up a playground in the home. He seemingly moves mothers, fathers, and children like chess pieces. He sets everyone against each other. He makes everyone look like fools. Most of all, he sets up every obstacle to keep them from hearing the witness of Jesus Christ in the Divine Service. Before long, everyone at home is at war, and the Lord God is an unwelcome presence there. It can happen even in the homes of widows and widowers, even unmarried people. Why does God want me here? I’m worthless. It’s all a mess, and it’s all my fault.

The Holy Spirit must take up the sword of truth, the Word of God, and bear witness with that Word. He might say, “Whoa! Why are you up to talking like that? Can’t you think of anything but sin, death, and damnation? Take your eyes off this frightening sight. Don’t you know the man named Jesus Christ, of Whom it is written: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again, and ascended into heaven?

“Why do you think this happened? Was it not that you might have consolation against death and sin? Stop being frightened and so despondent; you have no reason! If Christ were not with you and upholding you, and had not done these things for you, then you would have reason enough to be frightened. But He says, ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ For that reason He suffered death for you, and for your consolation and safeguarding He is seated now at the right hand of His heavenly Father.”

There’s your comfort. There’s your witness. The Spirit witnesses Jesus Christ in the preaching of His Word and in His sacramental gifts. Jesus does not leave you as an orphan. He comes to you today in this place, in these gifts, and your heart rejoices. Do not be afraid. Do not sound a retreat. You are His witness. He will comfort you and speak His truth. You live, even in death, for Jesus’ sake. That is your confession, and it is good because Jesus is good.

You Have No Reason To Be Frightened and So Despondent

Over against the factious spirits and false preachers, this fact stands sure: When the Holy Spirit comforts, he does so in no other way than to witness of Jesus and picture him in the human heart. In contrast, the evil spirit, by emphasizing sin and death, frightens the conscience. This the Holy Spirit must combat through his witness as he speaks through the Word to our hearts: Hold on, man, what are you up to anyway? Can’t you think of anything but sin, death, and damnation? Take your eyes off this gruesome, frightening sight and look here; don’t you know the man named Jesus Christ, of whom it is written: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again, and ascended into heaven? Who do you think this happened? Was it not that you might have consolation against death and sin? then stop being frightened and so despondent; you have no reason! If Christ were not with you and upholding you, and had not done these things for you, then you would have reason enough to be frightened. But he is with you, around you, and he says, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” For that reason he suffered death for you, and for your consolation and safeguarding he is seated now at the right hand of his heavenly Father.

Martin Luther, House Postil for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (John 15:26-16:4)

OF ME

Christ says very definitely, The Holy Spirit will witness of me, of me and not of someone else. Beyond this witness of the Holy Spirit about Christ there is no sure and abiding comfort. That is why one should write the words “of me” with capital letters and diligently remember them. For of this we may be certain, that the Holy Spirit promotes no other doctrine, preaches neither Moses nor other laws whereby to comfort the conscience. If the conscience is to be comforted, it can only be by the preaching of Christ’s death and resurrection – this alone comforts. In contrast, all other preaching of law, good works, holy living, whether commanded by God or men, is incapable of comforting a person in times of need and death; instead it leaves him uncertain and in despair, frightened and tormented. If we consider God without Christ, we find no comfort but only righteous wrath and displeasure. But whoever preaches Christ proclaims and brings true comfort, so that it will be impossible for hearts not to be joyous and of good cheer.

Martin Luther, House Postil for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (John 15:26-16:4)

The Absolute Thunderbolts Against Free Choice

Notice how simple the words are: “Through the law comes knowledge of sin”; yet they alone are powerful enough to confound and overthrow free choice. For if it is true that when left to itself it does not know what sin and evil are—as he says both here and in Romans 7:7: “I should not have known that covetousness is sin if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet,’ ”—how can it ever know what righteousness and goodness are? And if it does not know what righteousness is, how can it strive toward it? If we are unaware of the sin in which we were born, in which we live, move, and have our being, or rather, which lives, moves, and reigns in us, how should we be aware of the righteousness that reigns outside of us in heaven? These statements make complete and utter nonsense of that wretched thing, free choice.

This being so, Paul speaks with full confidence and authority when he declares: “But now the righteousness of God is manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it; the righteousness of God, I say, through faith in Jesus Christ for all and upon all who believe in him. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood,” etc. [Romans 3:21–25]. Paul’s words here are absolute thunderbolts against free choice.

Martin Luther, “On the Bondage of the Will” (LW 33:262-263)

Sixth Sunday of Easter – John 16:23b-30

“Come, my soul, with every care,/Jesus loves to answer prayer;/He Himself has bid thee pray,/Therefore will not turn away.” Prayer is a blessed privilege of all children of God. Isaac prayed before Rebekah married him. Hannah prayed for a son, and nine months later along came Samuel. Daniel prayed three times a day. Paul and Silas, bound in jail, prayed and sang hymns.

These days, however, Christians often lack confidence for prayer. Even though our blessed Lord will not turn away from your prayer, you are timid. You throw up all sorts of objections. There are temptations that lure you away from prayer. Yet Jesus bids us to pray in today’s Gospel. He even takes it a step further: Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. The joy is in the asking, not to mention the receiving.

There is joy in praying because God has commanded us to pray. “Joy” and “command” usually don’t go together. Who has joy in any command? Yet there is joy in prayer because Jesus promises that our prayers are heard. There can be no joy in prayer because of unworthiness. God is King. We are beggars. God is Lord of heaven and earth. We are dust and ashes, returning to dust and ashes when we die. It is better to hole up in a cave rather than seeking His face and pouring out the heart to Him.

Jesus says, Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Not only are you allowed to pray, you are also commanded to pray. Again, it’s hard to understand that joy and command go together. It shouldn’t be that hard. A child has something he or she wants to tell you. You tell them to tell you. That’s a command. Please tell me what it is you want to say. You have joy in commanding. The child has joy in telling you, even if what the child says isn’t joyful. At least the child was able to speak without fear of being silenced. The child suppresses unworthiness and pounces upon the opportunity.

If Jesus commanding us one time to pray isn’t enough, consider some other places in Scripture where prayer is commanded. Psalm 50: call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Psalm 27: you have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” The Sermon on the Mount: Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Saint Paul tells Saint Timothy: I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. Again and again in His Word God asks us to pray. That gives us courage to pray.

Consider also the sinners, yet saints, who joyfully prayed. David was caught in adultery among other things, but with what joy he prayed. Since his first prayer in Damascus Saint Paul made his prayer with joy, as he tells the Philippian Christians. Command and joy do go together, for in God’s command we find the joy in asking as well as in the hearing.

As important as the command of God is to joyous prayer, there are other reasons to pray with great joy. By nature you are under God’s wrath. Solomon says in Proverbs, If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. Yet Christ has reconciled us to God as He departs to His Father. The Father loves those who love Jesus. If the Father is well pleased with His Son, then He is also well pleased with you. You pray with confidence that the Father gives you a fair hearing for Jesus’ sake.

All the more does this give you gladness for prayer. Satan says your sins ought to frighten you to silence. Jesus takes away your sin and gives you His righteousness. You stand before the Father without spot or blemish. Ask away. Don’t be bashful. Pour out your heart to your Father in heaven. His ears are gracious to the voice of supplication.

Consider Abraham’s request that Sodom not be destroyed as God promised. He enters into a knock-down, drag-out negotiation for Sodom. What if there are fifty righteous people there? Will you destroy it? God says, No, I won’t destroy it. How about forty? No. Thirty? No. Twenty? Still no. Okay, how about ten? For the sake of ten I will not destroy it. We might get testy in a negotiation, especially when someone gets as picky as Abraham. Never once does God get angry at Abraham. He loves to hear Abraham ask, especially when it comes to sparing lives.

Consider also the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Unlike Abraham’s reverse auction, the thief has one simple petition: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. It sounds to our ears like an easy way out of a difficult situation, especially when you are dying. Jesus takes seriously his request. The asking brought the thief joy, for His Savior lay next to him. The answer brought even more joy: Today, you will be with me in paradise. The thief is remembered. There is joy all the way around, for Christ has died and the thief in Christ’s peace-making death.

Despite the command of God to pray, in spite of our blessed sonship with god, we would soon quit praying if we weren’t heard. The Lord will hear. The Lord will answer. He says, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

So you ask. Nothing happens. You ask again. Nothing happens. You keep asking, just like Jesus tells you in His Word. Nothing happens. So you quit praying because He wouldn’t hear you. Jesus hears you. He answers you, too. The answer you expect and the answer He gives aren’t necessarily the same thing. Yet the answer you get is the answer you desire.

How can this be? You asked for one thing and got another thing that God says is better for you. Consider what lies at the heart of your asking. A little boy asks his mother for a knife. The boy is not afraid to ask for something that mom knows is going to hurt him and perhaps someone else. So the boy doesn’t get the knife. What the boy gets instead is what he actually wanted: something to play. The intent of his heart is to play. The knife would be the instrument of play. So mom makes sure he doesn’t get the instrument, but he does get the joy of playing. Perhaps mom is nice enough to buy him something better than a knife.

Put anything else there besides a knife. You have joy in asking. Jesus has joy in hearing and answering. The answer you get may make you pout for a moment. Yet the answer you get is your heart’s desire. You pray for healing on behalf of someone. The person is healed…by death. You’re angry about the death. You’ll soon be glad that suffering is over. You’ll also soon see that death is swallowed up in Christ’s victory over death and sin. No matter what you ask, He will give it to you. You might not get exactly what you asked, but you will receive something that will gladden your heart.

Our Lord commands prayer. He is gracious to you in Christ in both the hearing and the answering. You pray in faith that what you pray will be heard. Nothing is too big or too heavy. He is not too small or too meager that He can’t hear you or give you what you desire. Come, dear Christian. Come before the Father’s throne of grace with confidence because of Jesus. Ask for all your earthly and spiritual needs. The Father is all ears and full of grace. There’s joy in both the asking and in the receiving. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Fifth Sunday of Easter – John 16:5-15

The office and work of Jesus Christ continues on earth even today. Although our Lord is not corporeally present, our heavenly Father has sent His Spirit, Whom Jesus promised before His departure to the Father. The Holy Spirit, working in the preached Word, in water, in bread, and in wine, delivers forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

Pastors today, though not apostles in the way of Peter and company, proclaim the apostolic doctrine handed down from generation to generation. The message of the witnesses of the resurrected Christ continues until our Lord physically returns to complete our salvation in raising the dead, glorifying the bodies of the faithful, and inaugurating the new creation.

The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ before both enemies and friends of the Gospel. The Spirit, working in the preached Word, chastises the world for not believing in Christ. All who hear the preached Word sense there’s something behind it, even if they don’t receive the proclaimed Word as the Good News. Unbelievers might comment about rhetoric or even how the words used were well crafted. But they won’t hear it as the everlasting Gospel given especially for them. The Lord wants to give them a good conscience in His Gospel. Yet they won’t receive it. The world has a bad conscience in her unbelief.

Think of it. The proclaimed Word says God has devised an eternal righteousness through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. This righteousness is outside themselves, yet it is specifically for those who hear it. Hearken to it, treasure it, receive the Spirit’s Word and you have what it says. Outside of Christ there is no salvation. With Christ there is hope for eternity. The prince of this world has lost all rights and all power. Eternity is yours in Christ.

There are those who politely, or impolitely, say, “No, thank you. It may be for you, but it’s not for me.” The Gospel is for you. It’s yours before you believe it. The Gospel becomes yours when you hearken to it. Yet the Spirit uses that same Word to convict the world of unbelief. The world rejects Christ and His righteousness. The world falls under the same judgment as her prince. The conviction of the world concerning sin brings you comfort because the Spirit has poured the Gospel into your ears in preaching. He has bathed the reconciling Word of Christ over your head in baptism. He feeds the reconciling Word into your mouth in the Lord’s Supper. The world is judged, and so are you. The world is judged guilty, and you are free for Christ’s sake.

The Holy Spirit also glorifies Christ in the hearts of His faithful. After Christ rose from the dead, He opened the minds of His disciples to the Gospel. He does the same with you when you hear His Word read and proclaimed in His house. He also opens His Word when you read the Scriptures in your home. The world sees this and wonders why you would go through the trouble of going to church. After all, you can believe in Christ and not go to church. You can maintain a personal relationship with Him and not need to sit in an uncomfortable pew next to people you only see once a week for an hour.

Saint Paul wonders how shall they hear without a preacher. Christ sets up His Church as a place to receive, up close and personal, the forgiveness of sins. Opening your Bible at home is one way you receive the Good News. Hearing your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake is the apostolic custom of the Christian Church. The apostolic way is to gather at least once a week to hear the Scriptures read and explained, to pray for all needs and conditions of men, and to receive the Lord’s Supper. These things are done in community, one body coming together to be glorified in the Gifts Christ gives you. He speaks it. He puts it in your mind and heart, using men set apart for this work. Victory over sin and death is yours in Christ.

Jesus Christ is glorified when His Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Your sin is forgiven. You are righteous for Christ’s sake. You have been judged worthy of everlasting life. Psalm 98 says, Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things. His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for him. The new song is Jesus Christ. He changes your tune from a death dirge to a song of joy.

Fourth Sunday of Easter – John 16:16-23a

Sorrow for a Christian is not everlasting. It is a frequent visitor, but it doesn’t always stay forever. King David fasted and prayed for his son’s life, the son Bathsheba gave birth to in their affair rebuked by Nathan. When the child died seven days after his birth, David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house.

His servants didn’t understand why David could resume life so soon after losing a child. David responded, While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, “Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.

David’s last sentence says it all. Though there is sorrow in losing a son, David rejoices that he shall go to him someday. As he sings in Psalm 30, [The Lord’s] anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

For the disciples on the night when Jesus was betrayed, the night of which King David sings is coming. Jesus will soon leave them to complete the work of reconciliation in His death and resurrection. He also will ascend to His Father’s right hand of power, grace, and glory. Yet He promises the coming of the Holy Spirit not long after His ascension. They will sorrow, but their sorrow is turned to joy, and Jesus tells them no one will take your joy from you.

Sorrow is an easy place to hang your hat. The devil persistently attacks you, bringing what seems like an endless string of temptations into your life. It’s easy to see the absence of God wherever you look. One look at obituaries online or in the newspaper show a constant procession of death around us. When a death happens in your family or among your circle of friends, especially when that death is sudden or unexpected, you have sorrow. Even if a death occurs after a long slog of suffering, there is a release of pent-up sorrow that is tangled up inside our body and soul.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Jesus sees you again today in the preaching of His Word that proclaims an end to death and the hope of everlasting life for you for His sake. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory? Yes, it was necessary. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Sorrow hits closer to home when you realize how you stand before God outside of the promise of the Savior. If the heavenly Father left the work of your redemption in your hands, you would have long ruined it all. Your redemption is a fool’s errand. You can’t save yourself because you are not blameless. Consider also that it was your sin that sent Jesus to the cross. As we sang on Good Friday, “Mine, mine was the transgression/But Thine the bitter pain”.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. God the Father puts your sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God. Jesus takes your sin. Jesus gives you His righteousness. It’s a sweet swap that saves you.

Sorrow hits even closer to home when the world ridicules you for clinging to what looks to them like ancestral religion or, worse yet, a legacy of ludicrous belief in a seemingly absent God Who is always out to get you. When His love and mercy has its way with you, the moment is fleeting and an exception to the rule. Worse yet, it’s a backstop to the standard that seems to be you trying hard to do the right thing to please a deity who is always angry at you. The world wonders why would you want to partake of something so bad that is supposed to make you feel so good.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. Jesus meets you here today with the joy of the resurrection. You have new life. You are a new creation. He puts His Word in your ear, changes your heart of stone to a heart of flesh, works repentance, fashions a living trust in Him, and sustains you with baptismal water, with His Body and Blood under bread and wine, and in the preached Word that creates and sustains hope in this life and in the life of the world to come.

The devil wants you to wallow in sorrow. Yet the devil’s cries are choked by the hand of God Who sends His Son into the flesh to crush Satan’s head and call the devil what he actually is: a liar. Your sorrow is turned into joy by Jesus Christ, Who is joy in the flesh, for He goes to the Father and sends His Holy Spirit to point you where true joy is found: in His house, in His gifts of forgiveness and life. Come and see what God has done: He is awesome in His deeds toward the children of man.

Second Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31

“Pessy”. That’s the nickname my mom calls my dad when he gets in one of his moods. Everyone is out to get him. Everything bad is happening. Nothing right will ever happen. My mom, having been married to him 65 years, knows to aggravate my dad by saying one word: “Pessy”.

“Pessy” is short for “pessimistic”, an adjective worthy of Thomas. When the disciples were on their way to Bethany, it was Thomas who said let us also go, that we may die with him. Thomas saw that Jesus was walking into the hands of His accusers. He couldn’t help but think they would die with Jesus when He went to see Lazarus’s body.

Perhaps it’s better for us to be pessimistic rather than optimistic. Pessimism saves us from become another Pollyanna. So when the disciples tell Thomas, We have seen the Lord, it’s easy to put up a front and think the other ten men are fools. You are the wise one because you’ve been trained not to be so gullible, especially when it comes to the death of Jesus. The smart answer is I will never believe.

Thomas leaves himself an out, though. Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe. What sounds like the ultimate pessimistic comment is actually an opportunity. One week after the ten disciples saw Jesus alive in that locked room, Thomas is with them. Thomas isn’t ready to give up hope. But he’s also ready to be let down. That’s a fair and balanced way to live.

Jesus gives Thomas a fair and balanced presentation. Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. There’s no scolding. Jesus doesn’t kick him out of the inner circle. He brings the truth to his face. Thomas doesn’t need to touch the scars. All it takes it what he sees and what he hears. His response says it all: My Lord and my God! Thomas saw and touched a man and confessed God Whom he did not see or touch.

Jesus pulls Thomas through. God connected Himself to Thomas in Jesus. We call that connection “faith”. Faith doesn’t need to fool itself. Faith isn’t about what you can see. Faith doesn’t need to protect itself against disappointment by building a wall of pessimism just in case hope is dashed.

Pessimistic wisdom gives way in faith to a new realism that replaces both always expecting the worst (pessimism) and always expecting the best (optimism). Pessimism and optimism is about me. Both are centered in my expectations. Faith connects with God, not with me. God in Christ Jesus guarantees the expectation of victory. Saint John’s Gospel calls the expectation of victory “life”. Life is the real thing because it is connected with God, replacing the disconnect with God that is death.

Life and victory is ours because we are connected with and share in the life and victory of Christ. No longer are they centered on the teetering uncertainty of ourselves and factual evidence. Success in life is no longer judged according to what is seen and touched. Whether rich or poor, whether happy or sad, whether melancholy or at peace with the world, in Christ everything is all right with no qualifications.

The trick, though, is having “you” taken out of the center and having God in Christ at the center. If our eternal welfare depending on what you see and feel, we are already doomed. It is sad to say there are Christians who can’t bring themselves to believe everything is not about them. They will pay Jesus lip service, yet their faith is misplaced. Jesus is the second parachute just in case the first one, our own thoughts and deeds, doesn’t work.

Those Christians look like you and me. Unless I have some sort of experience where Jesus personally comes to me, unless He is right before my face telling me what I need to hear, unless He does everything that I expect Him to do, I will not believe. Unless I have control over God’s grace in Jesus Christ, unless I get to put words in Christ’s mouth, I will not believe. Unless God decides to forgive my sins in a different way than through the Church, I will not believe.

There we go again, putting ourselves in the “I” of the storm, so to speak. When God has His way with you, when He uses His Law to show your sin and let you see how unpleasant things are with you in the driver’s seat, and when, having brought you to repentance, He declares your sins forgiven for Jesus’ sake, at last will you say with Thomas, My Lord and my God.

A life dependent on what is seen and touched is breakable. A life connected with God in Christ cannot be broken. Not even sin, pain, and death can break this life, for such a life goes through these things with Christ. Only in Him is there a victorious way through it all. That’s what Good Friday and Easter means to a Christian. The mess of life has a way out. That way is Christ for you. Christ’s death for you. Christ’s resurrection for you. Christ’s wounds for you. Christ’s proclamation of peace for you. Christ’s baptism for you. Christ’s true Body and true Blood for you.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. He’s talking about you. Live on what you see and touch and you will be broken. Live at bedrock level, live connected with Christ, and you will never be broken. There will be days when you feel as if everything is broken and on fire. In Christ, even those days will have an end in Him, for He says I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Four Features of the Sermon As Absolution

If we consider the unconditional word of absolution as the basic word, model and matrix of an evangelical sermon, then there are four decisive features that make this sermon stand out. These features have to do with grammar and pragmatics. 1. The sermon is not a discourse in the third person about something but an address in the second person, where an “I” addresses a “you.” 2. The verb is formulated in the present tense or in the present perfect (Note: The relation between the present and present perfect corresponds to the correlation between what was “won” and what is “distributed”). 3. The performative verb used in the present or present perfect is semantically and pragmatically that of “promise” – a valid promise with immediate effect; it creates community. 4. The “I” of the preacher who speaks legitimates itself, implicitly or explicitly, as authorized to make this promise – like the prophet with the message formula, “thus says the Lord:…” The preacher is an authorized representative who stands in the place of his Lord and is authorized and empowered to speak on his behalf. The divine service is begun and continued in the name of the triune God. Baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper are celebrated in this name. The sermon is delivered in this name. And the preacher hears and takes to heart the trinitarian blessing promised by the words that many pastors use to greet the congregation before the sermon: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).

Oswald Bayer, “Preaching the Word”, from Justification Is For Preaching, pages 202-203

Palm Sunday – Matthew 21:1-9

What Jesus do you see enter into Jerusalem? What Jesus do you see suffering and dying? He is the King of the Jews; the placard on the cross says so. What kind of King endures crucifixion without coming down from the cross? What kind of King does not speak when He is falsely accused of blasphemy? What kind of King lets Himself go through this whole spectacle?

The Savior King, that’s Who. Jesus was not recognized by many among the crowds as Whom He really was. Yet He shows Himself today as the true spiritual King, the Savior. Today we see the King revealed for Whom He actually is: the promised Savior.

Our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem does not have much worldly splendor. A colt, the foal of a donkey, is not a regal steed. The amazing thing about the animal is that everything took place as it was meant to be. Two disciples go looking for the animals and find them just as Jesus said. What’s even more amazing is the person who lets the donkey and the colt go with them. All it took was four words: The Lord needs them.

Though there is little worldly splendor, Jesus’ divine glory is revealed. He is all-knowing, hence why He sends two disciples looking for particular animals from a particular person. Jesus knows our every need even before we ask Him. This is the Savior we need. He knows exactly what He must do and what He must suffer. So He suffers as the Scriptures foretold for you.

See yourself in all these prophecies in Matthew’s Gospel. Behold, your king is coming to you. You. Not merely a group of people in a particular time at a particular place. You. He comes to you. He comes to take your sin, bleed for it, and give you His innocence and righteousness in return. All this is yours in the shedding of blood for you.

No weapons are drawn in order to bring people to hearken to this Savior King. A weapon is drawn in the Garden of Gethsemane, striking the high priest’s servant’s ear. Jesus heals that ear and tells Peter to sheath the sword. The kingdom is not won by violence. How unlike any other king! When kings go to war they must form an army, for bloodless battles rarely happen. Yet this battle is not won with swords and clubs. This battle uses spiritual weapons for performing the work of redemption. This Savior defeats sin, Satan, and death for us in the shedding of His blood.

This sacrifice is promised all over Scripture. The Word spoken by the prophets tell how this spiritual battle is won. The familiar words of Isaiah chapter 53 concerning the suffering servant proclaim he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Kings can be tyrants. Think of the kings of Israel and Judah who ruled not with grace but with an iron fist. Occasionally there was a king who did right in the eyes of the Lord, returning the people to the Lord and to true worship of Him. Many kings, however, were tyrants. King Ahab once called the prophet Elijah the troubler of Israel. Other kings encouraged worship of false idols.

The Savior King, Jesus Christ, rules in grace. He is looking for the conquest of man’s heart, not in man’s land or possessions. The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. The people see what the disciples do for their Savior. Their actions draw others to cry out Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

The word Hosanna means “Save us now.” The Savior King enters Jerusalem to draw the hearts of mankind to Himself. See what sort of King you have! He is willing to die for ungodly people like you and me. He is willing to be forsaken by His Father. He is willing to be denied by one of His disciples while the other disciples flee Him except for John.

The Savior King comes to save from death and sin, not from the Roman Empire. The tyranny He defeats is that of Satan, not of the Emperor. The weapon He uses is spiritual. The devil is trapped into thinking He has won. The truth of the matter is that the One dead and buried is the victor, stomping the head of the serpent while having His own heel bruised. It is enough. It is finished. Your debt is paid in full. There remains the joyous resurrection yet to come following our Savior’s triumphant descent into hell to proclaim victory.

The Jesus you see today is the Jesus you see every time you read or hear the Scriptures. He’s the same Jesus you have heard about in Sunday School, sermons, confirmation instruction, and hymns. The King of the Jews, Jesus Christ, is the Savior King, the omniscient servant Who draws all hearts to Him to see how they are saved from everlasting condemnation. The King has come. The King has died. The King shall rise. Long live the Savior King! Long shall you live, even all eternity, for Christ dies and lives for you.