Category Archives: Sermon

First Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:19-31

Saint Paul writes in Galatians chapter two: When James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Christians excel at remembering the poor. Consider all the charitable organizations Christians have started. The first thing that might come to mind are hospitals. Christian hospitals remember the poor in providing health care without worrying about profit. Even our congregation remembers the poor with “Focus Out”, providing a ten dollar Berkot’s card for those seeking charity from us.

Our walk as Christians, however, doesn’t always match our talk. We like nice things. Our affluence sometimes harms our witness. We wish to help the poor, yet only from the comfort of our air-conditioned car with the window cracked about one inch to slip currency or coins through to the one in need. Even I don’t practice what I preach. If I helped every person I see in need, I couldn’t feed my family. We are jaded. We’ve seen too many professional beggars by the side of the road hustling cash, then walking a ways to their car to drive to another intersection.

There is another way to remember the poor besides giving them money or something tangible. Consider poor Lazarus and the rich man. Every day they saw each other at the rich man’s gate. The rich man was in a position to help Lazarus. Lazarus, though, was in a better position to help the rich man. The message Lazarus preaches in a sermon without a word is brought home by the stunning outcome of their deaths.

The first hint that Jesus has upset the apple cart is the rich man…in Hades, being in torment. It’s as if Jesus has led us down the garden path by telling us Lazarus is resting in Abraham’s bosom, then, out of the side of his mouth, mumbles something about the rich man in Hades. That’s not where we expect both men to be, especially if you’re a Jew and you’re listening to this parable. Even today we fall into the trap of thinking the poor go to hell and the rich go to heaven. Jesus loves a good success story and must turn away those who didn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and did something about their situation.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The same goes for reversing the situation. Just because you are poor doesn’t mean an automatic trip to Abraham’s bosom, while those greedy rich people fry in the burning lake of fire. There is something else to this parable; something rich that can’t be kept in a bank or dressed in purple linen.

Lazarus is really the rich man. The rich man is really poor. That’s where Jesus upsets the apple cart. What makes both men the opposite of what our eyes see? To answer that question another question is asked: What is counted before God as righteousness? The answer is in today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis chapter fifteen.

God makes a promise to Abraham about an heir to Abraham’s family. Abraham was afraid that, because he was childless, no one would carry on the promise of the Seed of the woman Who comes to stomp the head of the serpent. Not only will Abraham’s very own son be his heir, God the Father promises more. He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Not only will Abraham have an heir, he also will be rich in offspring. By faith we are children of Abraham, too. Why?

Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. That’s what matters in our heavenly Father’s eyes. Believe what He says about His promises, especially the promise of the Savior, Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, and He reckons it as righteousness. You can’t put a wad of cash before God’s face and ask if that’s enough. You can’t pile up all your good works, even your good intentions to do good works, and ask God if that’s your righteousness. Outside of God’s promise to you, your righteousness is, as Isaiah says, filthy rags. Cling to His promise and you have everything necessary for salvation.

Even clinging to His promise is not your own doing. Saint Paul writes in Ephesians chapter two: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. The riches you have because of Jesus Christ, the Great and Precious Promise of our heavenly Father, are everything. Forgiveness is yours. Life is yours. Salvation is yours. You are an heir of eternity by God’s grace through believing in Jesus Christ.

When you fail at being His workmanship, when you fail in helping the poor, you are forgiven for Christ’s sake. We walk in our good works each day, doing what is given us to do in our callings in life as God gives us light. Sure there’s more to be done. Sure there’s much you’ve left undone. Christ’s blood and righteousness covers every failing. The rich man sees that from Lazarus, but it is now too late. Lazarus lay at his gate every day as a testimony of where true riches are found: Jesus Christ. The rich man couldn’t see that testimony until he needed that cool drink from Lazarus. Too late. What about his father’s house? They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. What if they don’t repent? Not even Jesus rising from the dead will convince them.

Trust not in rich men to clout for you before God’s face. Your riches are in Christ Jesus. His Word with water washes away sin and brings you sonship with God. His Word with bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. His Word of reconciliation brings peace and joy with God and with your neighbor. Where you fail to be Christ’s workmanship, Christ’s blood bespeaks you righteous. The Lord is your riches. He alone has dealt bountifully with you.

Feast of the Holy Trinity – John 3:1-17

The cross. The right arrow. The heart. I saw Professor Richard E. Muller write that simple diagram on the chalkboard so many times in seminary. Guys loved his classes because he was great for visual thinkers. He had a diagram for everything. The diagram of the cross, the right arrow, and the heart was perhaps the closest he could come to showing how God works, but even then a diagram couldn’t explain everything. It was merely a start of an explanation of a mystery as deep as God Himself.

Consider the diagram for a moment. The question lying behind it is “How does God get the benefits of the death of Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, into your life?” Notice the diagram doesn’t ask how you get the cross or how you get Jesus into your life. Neither of these things are any benefit unless you are talking about what Jesus’ death is for you. You can explain it until you are blue in the face. Ultimately, though, it is a mystery that is not explained, but believed.

The Athanasian Creed does speak of thinking about the holy Trinity in one right way. It also speaks of believing the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That’s where everything in the diagram begins. You start at Jesus taking on flesh for your sake. It’s a promise almost as old as the foundation of the heavens and the earth. It’s the foundation of prophecy and proclamation in Scripture. It is so holy that Isaiah needed his lips cleansed with a searing-hot coal as he saw the vision of the mystery of God in order to preach it. It’s a mystery so bottomless that Saint Paul can only step back with us and marvel at its holiness and its beauty.

It’s a mystery that confounds Nicodemus, yet is perfectly clear to Jesus. Of course it is clear to Jesus, for He is the Father’s only-begotten Son. He is the mystery in skin. He comes not only to proclaim the favorable season of the Lord, but also to do that favorable season in the shedding of His blood and in His rising from the dead.

If you’re confused about the whole thing, you’re not alone. Join Nicodemus and the long line of people who scratch their heads when contemplating God’s work for you. You can only being to appreciate it when the Holy Spirit gets you to stand still and receive every good and perfect gift from above. That’s what Jesus tries to do with Nicodemus. Don’t use your noggin so much, Nicodemus. It’s a mystery revealed only through the sacred Word and the preaching of the sacred Word.

The only way to know what way the wind blows is to feel it on your body and hear it with your ears. If you’re hard of hearing, you’ll certainly feel it on your body. The Spirit’s work in the Word preached, heard, and read is the only way you’ll know what way the Spirit works on you. You hear the Word. The Word works not only repentance, but also faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. When you hear Jesus speak in His Word, you hear what the Father has to say about you. That’s what the Spirit makes sure you hear. The Holy Spirit keeps you close to Jesus, and in so doing, keeps you close to the Father in heaven.

How can these things be? There’s the question that has no explainable answer. Even Professor Muller’s chalkboard diagram can’t answer the question. The closest to a definitive answer is from Christ’s mouth with a twofold oath: Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen. Notice the use of first person plural by our Lord. We speak. We bear witness. What is spoken and borne witness is the mystery of salvation. No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

You were not there that dreadful Friday before the Passover when our Lord died for your sins. Yet by faith you believe that what Christ did that day, He did for you. You heard it spoken to you. You hear it spoken to you right now. A witness has been borne for your sake. The witness chiefly is Holy Scripture, for these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Yet how shall they hear without a preacher? The men who have stood in this pulpit through the years bear witness to Christ. As they speak, the Holy Spirit works in the words they speak to convict you of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Repentance is worked. Faith is created and renewed. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are fed the very Body and Blood of Christ. Your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. A line is drawn straight from Eden through the pilgrimage to the Promised Land, where a bronze snake is lifted up on a pole to save the Israelites as they gazed on that snake, to Calvary, where Christ is raised up for your sins, through the empty tomb, to this church building at this very moment.

The Triune God is at work for you today. They work to bring the benefits of Christ’s death into your ears, your heart, and your life. All these things happen through earthly stuff like words, water, bread, and wine. All these things bear witness that God loves the world by sending His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. How can these things be? King David answers in Psalm 34: Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Don’t be afraid. Listen to the Lord in His Word and hear your salvation in Christ, for He alone has done it for you.

Pentecost Day – John 14:23-31

I am grateful to Rev. Mark Buetow of McHenry, IL for his mnemonic device used in this sermon.

When men tried to make a name for themselves, they ended up scattered and speaking different languages. When Jesus ascends, He sends the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, through the preaching of Jesus’ name brings together people who don’t speak the same language. Those once scattered are now together again through the preaching of Jesus Christ.

That’s the blessing of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes with signs and wonders, with rushing wind and tongues of fire. These signs aren’t for their own sake. They focus your attention on the Word preached by preachers like Saint Peter. They preach the pouring out of the Spirit on the nations in order that they may hear and learn the name of Jesus. That’s what Peter preaches in the rest of Acts chapter two: Jesus, the Son of God, crucified for your sin, raised from the dead, and ascended on high. In His name is forgiveness of sins, poured on you in your Baptism. That’s the sermon that caused 3,000 souls to be brought into the church that day.

As it was then, so it is now. The Spirit brings Christ to you and brings you to Christ. How does He do it? Our Lord says how in today’s Gospel. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Pretty simple, eh? It’s hard for us to believe it, though. The Holy Spirit delivers Jesus. He does it in a way that you don’t get to dictate. The Spirit brings Jesus using Jesus’ words.

When you are brought to God’s house and are baptized with water and the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is at work. When you come to church and your pastor forgives your sins, preaches and teaches you God’s Word from Holy Scripture, that is the Spirit at work. When you receive Christ’s true Body and true Blood under bread and wine that are shown for us to be the Body and Blood of Christ, that is the Spirit at work.

A mnemonic device might help plant it home. You use mnemonic devices all the time. How do you know the colors of the rainbow? Roy G. Biv, that’s how. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Roy G. Biv. Here’s a mnemonic device to help you remember how the Holy Spirit works: The Holy Spirit brings God’s Holy people the holy B.A.G.S. I’m not talking about cornhole bags or grocery bags. These are holy B.A.G.S. They are Baptism, Absolution, Gospel preaching and teaching, and the Supper. Where the B.A.G.S. are, there the Spirit is working to forgive you and keep you close to Jesus’ words.

Now that you know where the Spirit is at work, it’s also important to know where the Spirit is not at work. Perhaps you have heard of Christians who believe the Spirit’s work is to manifest Himself through signs like speaking in tongues, so-called holy laughter, running, barking, and other experiences. Those things happened on Pentecost so that people would pay attention to the Apostles. The bigger deal, though, that day was the preaching of Jesus Christ by Saint Peter and the baptism of 3,000 people.

Not just “Pentecostal” Christians speak this way. Other Christians often get captivated by feelings and emotions, mistaking them for the work of the Holy Spirit. We may have heard Christians tell us that, when they came to our church or another church, they just didn’t “feel” anything happening there. Some might go as far as to say the Holy Spirit speaks to them about not only matters of faith, but also what clothes to wear, what car to buy, even what kind of flooring is appropriate for their home.

That’s not how Christians speak about the Spirit’s work. Jesus promises His Spirit comes nowhere else than in the B.A.G.S. If something is said to be the Spirit’s work, yet doesn’t come from the B.A.G.S, rest assured it is not the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to bring us and keep us close to Jesus. He uses the B.A.G.S. to do it. You have certainty there.

Another difference between the true Holy Spirit in the B.A.G.S. and false spirits who are around us is the peace that the Spirit brings. Jesus tells His disciples: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. The Spirit brings peace that transcends our feelings. Feelings can lie. The peace of God that surpasses everything that our mind can do, even feelings, keeps our hearts and mind in Christ, our Lord.

The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of Baptism that says in Whose family you belong. You are not an orphan. You belong to God’s family. The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of Absolution. No sin stands between you and your heavenly Father. The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of the Good News that Jesus is your Savior from sin, death, and hell. The peace the Spirit brings in under bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the B.A.G.S. giving you everything Jesus promises, especially the peace of forgiveness and life. You will not burn in hell. You are with Jesus, and Jesus is with you. He will raise you from the dead. In Him you are a new creation, waiting for the consummation of all things. The life of the world to come is yours because of Jesus, not because of speaking in tongues or interpreting tongues or holy laughter or any other so-called manifestation of a spirit. Your comfort is found in the B.A.G.S., for there is where the Holy Spirit gives you Jesus, and with Jesus, your salvation.

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.

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.

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.

Fifth Sunday in Lent – John 8:46-59

Jesus makes it plain in today’s Gospel that He is the promised Messiah on Whom all the faithful of the Old Testament have set their hope. He tells the Jews, Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. Before that, though, He tells them, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, “He is our God.” If that wasn’t enough for them to pick up stones to throw at Him, He takes on the divine name, before Abraham was, I am.

The last two words Jesus speaks are the tipping point. No longer can the Jews hide their hatred of Jesus. They pick up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. His hour has not yet come, but is fast approaching. The Jews can deal with Jesus as a pious teacher. When He takes on the divine name and says He is before Abraham, while also being the One in Whom Abraham believed and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, that’s too much. This cannot be the Messiah they were looking for.

Yet there He is. They have to deal with what He says. Their way of dealing with it is to make sure He is arrested, tried, found guilty of something He is innocent, and let the Roman authorities do the dirty work of ridding Judea of this meddlesome Messianic figure.

We also have to deal with what He says. Jesus says, Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? The Jews were not able to show Him the littlest sin he committed. They must recognize Jesus as perfectly holy, including what He teaches. They call Him a liar and say He doesn’t speak the things of God but the things of Satan. What do we do with the many pronouncements of innocence in His judgment? What about His resurrection? What about the Word of the Lord growing to the ends of the earth? If what the Jews say about Jesus in John chapter eight is true, then Satan is Lord and not Jesus Christ.

Now you see the foolishness inherent in the Jews’ slander of our Lord. They can’t prove anything. Neither can we when we find ourselves saying and believing the same things they said and believed then. Jesus is a liar when I don’t get everything I ask in prayer. Jesus has a demon when I discover He dies for all sinners, yet not all sinners are spared everlasting death and hell. I love what Jesus says in the Gospels, but I can’t get behind everything He says, especially the stuff about loving my enemies. “They” are my enemies for a reason. Maybe Jesus will look the other way just this once and let me have my way.

You want your way with Jesus? Your way is the way of death. Your way is the way of the Jews who accuse Jesus. He can’t be greater than Abraham. Abraham is our father. We have no king but Caesar. As for this Jesus, well, He says and does a lot of good things, but He’s not for me. His way is too narrow. He lays down too many rules and regulations. I can’t live like I want. I’m not what you’d call a holy person. I have my own problems. I have my own life to live. I can’t be bothered with a Middle Eastern man telling me what to do and what not to do.

Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light. Had you, and the Jews who accuse Him, read the Scriptures, you would have seen this to be true. Who will you believe, the Son of God Himself Who testifies about Himself and glorifies His Father in heaven? Or will you believe a group of scholars who are more interested in preserving their way of life?

The yoke and burden of Jesus Christ is to carry your sin to the cross and bury them in the tomb. Jesus comes to die for sins committed by both Jew and Gentile. Only a sinless sacrifice is able to atone for sin. This is what the author of the epistle to the Hebrews refers when he writes that Jesus, the Tabernacle with skin, entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…. He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Jesus comes to take care of the Father’s business. The Father’s business is to mediate a new covenant, a new promise that only He can make and keep. He makes it to Satan in Adam and Eve’s presence. He keeps it when His only-begotten Son is implanted by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the Word spoken to her. He keeps it when His chosen people, for whom Jesus came, did not know Him. His own people gave Jesus into the hands of the authorities to have them crucify their Savior. The cross becomes the holy place where Jesus enters, once for all, to make the ultimate sacrifice for sin. His blood is sufficient payment. He becomes what He was not, sin, in order that you become what you were not, righteous.

This is what Abraham saw and believed when he took his only son Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him just as God told him. He believed God would provide the sacrifice even though he was ready to slay his son. God provided that sacrifice for him: a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. The ram is a sufficient substitute. Jesus is Abraham’s, and our, sufficient substitute. You will never taste death, for Jesus Christ has kept His Father’s Word for you. He delivers you from your enemies. He rescues you from the man of violence. He declares you righteous by washing you in baptismal water and feeding you with His very Body and Blood. He alone cuts the cords of the wicked and sets you free.