Category Archives: Easter

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.

Advertisements

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.

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

Revised from 2009.

“Leave us not without consolation but send us the Spirit of Truth.” These words from the Collect ring in our ears as we bask in the glow of the Ascension of our Lord while waiting for the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It seems strange that we would celebrate our Lord’s departure from our midst as a festival day. Going away parties among us are festive but with a note of sadness. Chances are we may never see that person again this side of heaven.

We will see the Lord Jesus again this side of heaven. Until He comes we see Him in a different way. We see Him in His Holy Word and His Holy Sacraments, delivering forgiveness and salvation. If not for the Helper helping us to see Jesus in Word and Sacraments, we would be left without consolation. We would be alone in a world full of discontent and strife.

Even though the Helper testifies of Jesus, we think we are alone. Christ’s Ascension makes us feel forsaken. If God loves us as much as He says He does, we would ascend with Jesus and live with Him in heaven right now rather than marching through the muck of life.

Jesus tells His disciples just how tough their march will be. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. It is as if the Twelve will no longer exist. They will be accused of preaching another god. They will be hounded every step of their ministry. The Acts of the Apostles follows Saint Paul on his missionary journeys. Everywhere Paul and his companions went; there was a crowd that followed Paul that stirred up the people to despise the preaching of the Gospel. It would be as if a group of dedicated people follows a certain pastor everywhere he goes so they can refute everything he says. The more they shout him down, the more they believe they are worshiping God even to the point of his death! No wonder Paul’s epistles are full of encouragement to the churches and individuals he writes. When they thought they were the only ones suffering, Paul reminds them that Christians over the known world suffer in the same way.

When Christians suffer, they never suffer alone. Countless Christians the world over suffer much worse than we suffer. Consider the noble army of martyrs who gave their lives willingly rather than confess a false god or deny the one true God. Some martyrs died singing hymns. Others went to their death with joy. When we think of giving our life for the Gospel, we would probably cringe even though martyrs before us thought nothing of dying.

The word “martyr” means “witness”. A martyr’s death means a witness to the living God Who remembers them when they come into His kingdom. We don’t think of dying as witnessing but it is. Think of a person who suffered a prolonged illness that left them helpless. Their suffering is united with Christ’s suffering. A Christian who suffers, especially when that suffering is at the hands of enemies of Christ, serves as a witness of the death of Jesus Christ. That Christian knows Whom they believe and know exactly where they will spend eternity. Though it looks as if the evil foe has triumphed, God always gets the last laugh.

When the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. We forget Jesus’ words of suffering and punishment. Our heavenly Father doesn’t forget that Jesus suffered and died the death we deserve. God’s Word remains forever, even in death and especially in the resurrection. The best illustration of Christ’s everlasting presence among us is Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut of the Ascension. We see the disciples on the mountain looking up with amazement. All we see of Jesus is His feet and His footprints. Those footprints aren’t a shadow of what was once ours. Those footprints are a living testimony of Jesus’ Words that end Matthew’s Gospel: lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Christ’s Ascension leaves us with a promise and with comfort. The promise is Jesus’ abiding presence among us with His Word. The Spirit of Truth points us back to His Word proclaimed in sermon and song. The Spirit of Truth points us to Christ’s mandate in Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and Holy Absolution. The Spirit of Truth is present in these Holy Things, bringing to our remembrance Jesus’ Words of forgiveness and life. Yet we do more than remember Jesus. We receive the benefits of Jesus’ death on our behalf.

If we remember what Jesus did as if we remember a birthday or anniversary, there wouldn’t be much comfort in an act of the mind. Instead of thinking about an event, Jesus gives His Church the Ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, as through means, to deliver the Gifts of God to the people of God. These gifts deliver the comfort that no matter what happens to us here and now, there is a sure and certain hope of eternal life yet to come.

While we wait for that glorious day of our ascension, we heed the words of Saint Peter: above all things have fervent love for another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” As Christ first covered our sins with His blood, so we cover each other’s sins in love for them as we love and are loved by God. Jesus does not leave us without consolation. We do not leave each other without consolation. We comfort one another with the hope that is put in us through Word and water. Though life delivers many hard blows, we build the hope of our ascension on Christ’s ascension. Jesus goes before us to prepare a place for us to live with Him. While He prepares that place, He abides with us where the Spirit of Truth points us to find Him.

Tagged ,

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

Prayer is not an occasion when we instruct God about our needs. Prayer is God’s reminder to us of our needs and of the blessings He lavishly gives. Once you know the shift from prayer being our work toward God to God’s work toward us, you can see why Jesus ties prayer and joy together.

When Holy Scripture exhorts you to rejoice, it’s not a command. It’s a reminder of who you are in Jesus. You are redeemed. You are a new creation. You’re baptized. You’re bodied and blooded, washed and sanctified, grafted into the vine of righteousness that is Jesus Christ. All He is and all He wins is for you. Living in Christ is joy.

Now you see why prayer and joy run together. You might as well include faith in Christ. These three strands form a bold cord. Boldness can be a negative, but for a Christian boldness, especially in prayer, is a positive thing. When you were young living with Mom and Dad, you were bold to ask for the most outrageous things. If your parents were like my parents, the answer was usually “no” or “when you have your own job and make your own money, you can buy whatever you want.” As you grow up, you find that’s true. You also find that your money won’t buy whatever you want.

So you learn not to be so bold in asking for the things you want or need. The first place where boldness and confidence drops is speaking to our Father in heaven. You get lazy. Your conscience makes all kinds of accusations about not being worthy enough to speak to God about your affairs. You doubt. You’re certain God isn’t listening because He’s not sudden enough to answer you. Joy in praying falls away. You learned in the Small Catechism that we pray to the Father “with all boldness and confidence”, but that becomes too hard as you grow in years.

What gives a Christian joy in prayer? God invites us to pray. Why bother praying if our Father in heaven did not command us to pray. His command is not a burden. His command is practically begging us to stay connected to Him. People pay lots of money to talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about what bothers them. Both are helpful in their own ways. Consider that you have a Father Who is all ears. He can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the good and bad things in your life. King David sings in Psalm 27, You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

How could you, by nature a sinner, lying in dust and ashes, dare to enter praying before His Majesty without His command? You could do this because His Majesty invites you to pray. It’s as if He says to Jesus: “Tell my children: you shall pray to the Father; this is His gracious and good will, and He looks at your prayer with favor.” This is why the author of the epistle to the Hebrews says, Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

You don’t approach the throne of grace with confidence using your name to bark out what you want. You’ll not get a fair hearing talking to our heavenly Father that way. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds not only in your ears, but also before the Father. He loves to hear you ask with boldness and confidence in His Son’s name. Jesus makes you pure from all sins. You are perfectly righteous before God, without spot or blemish. You are holy. Holy people ask the Holy One for what they desire. Relying on Christ’s perfect merit given to you pleases God. These prayers smell like fragrant incense. These prayers are asked with great boldness.

Yet uncertainty remains because of the sinful nature. Does God really hear my prayer? Do I have a clear sign from Him that my prayer is heard? Doubt destroys all confident courage and all boldness. There’s plenty of doubt to go around, especially without some sort of divine stoplight that could show me whether or not my prayer is heard. Imagine it if it’s possible. Red for “Don’t ask right now, God is too busy.” Yellow for “Be careful, God’s in a dicey mood today.” Green for “Ask away, He’s all ears, and He’s quite generous right now.”

The divine stoplight is always green because of Jesus. You have certain promises for prayer. Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Jesus adds a double oath to the beginning of His words. He never lies. He gives you double certainty that His Father will hear you and that Jesus Himself will intercede for you by saying, until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

The divine stoplight of prayer is a nifty idea, but there’s no clear word from Scripture that such a thing exists. Always asking and never taking, always leaving with an empty heart and empty hands robs you of all joy in prayer. Perhaps that’s how it seems to you every time you lay your requests before the Father, even with great boldness and confidence. Beloved, there is an eye in heaven that sees you. There is an ear that hears your cry. There is a heart that beats for you. God gives you more than prayer and understanding. Your joy is full in Jesus Christ. You live in His resurrection joy and hope.

The doxology, or conclusion, to the Lord’s Prayer says it all: For Thine is the kingdom and the power and glory forever and ever. Amen. Martin Luther teaches us concerning these words, “This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means ‘yes, yes, it shall be so.'” You have joy. You have prayer. They go together because you have a Father Who is all ears and a Savior Who prays for you and with you. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Tagged ,

Fifth Sunday of Easter – John 16:5-15

[The Spirit of truth] will take what is mine and declare it to you. Christ is glorified when what belongs to Him are declared to be yours because of Jesus. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation are what belongs to Him. These are yours because Jesus says so. The Holy Spirit, the Helper, Comforter, Advocate, Ombudsman, Spirit of truth, call Him what you will, is the One Who delivers the goods directly from Christ to you.

If Jesus does not go away in His ascension to the Father, then none of these things are yours. What is more, the preaching of sin, righteousness and judgment is meaningless. All preaching is meaningless because Jesus will have broken His promise if He does not ascend to fulfill all things. A broken promise by God’s only-begotten Son does you no good. That is why Jesus says it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.

The Helper comes to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. The one who has ears to hear will hear this conviction in a different way than the one who has no ears to hear. For one set of ears, this conviction comes as sweetness and light. For another set of ears, this conviction is foolishness, perhaps even a lie.

No one likes to be convicted concerning sin. Consider that some Christian congregations do not talk about sin. Bad life choices, yes. Sin? That’s a fighting word. Sin is a condition. No one likes to hear about a condition than condemns you to eternal death. Jesus says the Helper will convict the world concerning sin because they do not believe in Me. The conviction concerning sin is a proper conviction. The evidence is certain. Unbelief condemns. Our Lord tells His disciples in the last chapter of Mark, whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Your sin’s root cause is unbelief. When the Helper directs you to the preaching of the Law, you hear exactly what happens to those who do not place their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior of sinners. You are condemned. You receive what you deserve: not only temporal, but also eternal punishment.

The Law is unrelenting…until Christ. Remember the words of the confession of sin a little while ago: “I am heartily sorry for [my sins], and I sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.” The good and wise Law of God is silenced in Jesus Christ. He alone keeps the Law for your sake. His blood and righteousness alone are your precious treasure. The boundless mercy of our heavenly Father is gracious and mercy to sinners like you because of Jesus Christ. Your conviction of sin is Christ’s conviction of sin. He becomes the transgressor. You receive the benefits of His suffering and death for your transgressions.

The Helper convicts the world concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer. Jesus’ words here sound backwards. Righteousness is yours because Jesus ascends to His Father and you no longer see Him. Shouldn’t Jesus stick around to make sure everything is on the up and up in His Church? There must be another way for the Helper to keep me connected to Christ than His descent on Pentecost after Christ’s ascension. Besides, I do the right thing and keep a clean nose. I treat others like I want to be treated. I’m a righteous person.

How quickly you forget the prophet Isaiah’s words: We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. You wouldn’t want to hold a polluted garment before the face of Almighty God and offer Him your righteousness! There is only One Who is righteous: Jesus Christ. His suffering, death, and resurrection are completed with His ascension to His Father. There He sits at the place of authority as our great High Priest, interceding for us before our Father. There He sits, hearing your prayers, preparing a place for you with Him. Your righteousness is complete, holy, perfect, and all-sufficient in Christ.

The Helper also convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Satan is the ruler of this world. He is judged a liar and a fool. Satan knows Jesus will stomp his head. Satan knows Jesus is the Son of God Who comes to undo what Adam did in the Garden. Satan knows his time is short. That is why he works hard to destroy your confidence in Christ. Satan wants you to believe there is no way Jesus dies for someone like you, especially when you continue in your pet sins. He wants to plant the seed of doubt in your mind like he did to Adam. You are not like God, yet you should be like God. So why not forget about God and go your own way. You will be free.

Your so-called freedom outside of Christ is actually slavery. You are a slave to sin. You hear today’s epistle from James and cringe. Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness. You strive to do this every day, but you fail. All you seem to know and do is filthiness and rampant wickedness. Then comes the second half of that verse: receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. The implanted word is Jesus Christ. He alone is able to save your soul. The Helper keeps you clinging to Christ in the preaching of the Word in sermon, baptism, absolution, and Supper. The implanted word is watered and fed. It puts down roots and grows into maturity as long as your branch stays connected to the True Vine of Christ.

The Helper proclaims the conviction of the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. See yourself in the Helper’s proclamation. Your sin is paid in full by Christ shedding His blood for you. Christ’s righteousness covers you in the garment of incorruption. You are judged worthy of eternal life because of Jesus. The Helper does not help Himself. The Helper does not help you save yourself. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, glorifies Christ when He takes what is His and declares it to you. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Tagged ,

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

The joy of this world is actually sad stuff. We sing in the hymn, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me”: “What is all this life possesses? But a hand Full of sand That the heart distresses. Noble gifts that pall me never Christ, our Lord, Will accord To His saints forever.” Daily life proves it. You can’t stop death and final judgment. Even the best moments of this life quickly flee and reality sets in. You can’t take all the happy times with you to the grave.

Things are different for Christians. Jesus tells His disciples and us today, that your sorrow shall be turned to joy. He later adds four consoling statements that encourage us to look beyond now to what is to come for all who trust in Christ as their Savior: I will see you again. Your hearts shall rejoice. No one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask Me nothing.

These statements from our Lord set the tone for today and the four following Sundays through Pentecost. Jesus is preparing His disciples for His ascension to His Father and the forthcoming descent of the Holy Spirit. Consider how miserable things would be for the disciples if Jesus remained with them. There would be no crucifixion, no resurrection, no ascension, and no promise of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. They will soon have enough sorrow because the Savior will be taken from them and they will not see Him. It seems as if the forces of hell will win. Every promise Jesus makes about His passion will not come true.

So it is for us today. It seems as if Jesus has left us alone to fight the powers of hell without His comfort. Not only has He seemingly abandoned us in spiritual crosses, but also those temporal crosses seem to multiply…and God doesn’t say anything as we suffer. Jesus calls that time when He will not be seen a little while, but it feels like a long while, perhaps several lifetimes rolled into one moment.

Jesus reminds us again today: Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice...you have sorrow now. Like the disciples, we too are weak. We are weak in knowledge and in faith. We’ve been well trained in the promises of God, yet when the going gets tough all that knowledge doesn’t pay our taxes or heal our infirmities or bring broken families together again. The last thing we do when there’s trouble is pray. Prayer is our bailout, our backstop when other helpers fail and comforts flee. Our sin makes us distress. Our fellow Christians disappoint us when, instead of mutual encouragement, they instead pile on our misery with their own miserable words and actions. Perhaps you have done the same when the shoe is on the other foot.

The prophet Isaiah captures how it is with us. One minute we say, the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. The next breath we say, the Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. The world always seems to win. You try to do the right thing, but suffer for it. Yet here comes Jesus in the midst of bleak circumstances with the cry, your sorrow shall be turned to joy.

Our Lord’s words are true. We don’t want to believe it, but He hasn’t skimped once. The hard part is trying to figure out how long the little while lasts. Merrily go our enemies and children of the world, hopping and skipping through life with no cares. We walk around like Atlas, carrying every burden on our back. How long is this little while going to last? The answer is: a little while.

A little while, then we will be free of our frail trust in God’s promises. A little while, then weakness of body and spirit will be shrugged off us like water on a duck’s back. A little while, then all your particular temptations will be gone. Christ promises: I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of Me.

You will ask nothing of Jesus because everything will be yours. Everything is yours now, though not in its fullness. Forgiveness is yours. Eternal life is yours. Salvation is yours. Jesus earned it for you. Temptations, doubt, frail faith, weak faith, and all sorts of worries remain because sin remains. Jesus will see you again, and in that day you’ll ask nothing. You’ll know all that troubles you will be taken away. Death is swallowed up in victory. Satan and his companions will be cast into the burning lake of fire. The dead in Christ will rise.

Your sorrow will turn into joy. I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. The first words of today’s Introit say it all: Shout for joy. Shout for joy to the Lord because His Word never fails. What you suffer now in your body, mind, and soul, will soon be gone. You won’t remember them. You won’t care. You are in Christ. You will be perfect in the New Creation. The old has passed. The new has come. You’ll have nothing to ask Jesus for, because all things are yours.

Shout for joy. Jesus goes to His Father to prepare a place for you. He sends the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to keep you close to Him in His gifts. Your enemy lies vanquished. Your Savior has won the victory and gives you all the spoils. The hand full of sand soon will be brushed aside. In its place you receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. That day is only a little while away. Until then, shout for joy, for He sent redemption to His people. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Tagged ,