Monthly Archives: April 2017

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.

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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.

The Sermon As Promise and Gift

If the sermon proper has its matrix in the gift-giving word of the Lord’s Supper, and if its purpose is nothing more than to unfold and highlight that word, then we can avoid three mistakes: the way of theorization, moralization and psychologization. In other words, the proclaimed word is not primarily statement, appeal, or expression. This cannot be emphasized too strongly. For the word and faith are closely connected: as the word, so faith. If the proclaimed word is statement and demonstration, then faith is insight and knowledge. If however the word is appeal, then faith is actually its enactment in the deed, its realization in the form of a theory or an idea. Again, if the proclaimed word is expression, then faith is a fundamental part or experience of human life as such. Only if the word is promise and gift, is faith really faith.

Oswald Bayer, “Preaching the Word”, from Justification is For Preaching, pages 201-202