Sermons

Archives - March 2018

Hindsight

March 30, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

 

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God, our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake yourself from the dust and arise; be seated, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” …

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—so shall he sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet … it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

Hindsight is 20/20. That’s what we say. We compare Isaiah’s prophecy here with the events we just heard in John’s Gospel. There is no doubt in our minds WHO it is that Isaiah is talking about here. We don’t wonder who this suffering servant of YHWH is; we KNOW.

Isaiah says of the suffering servant, his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind. John speaks of One Who is flogged, Whom soldiers strike with their fists, and Who has a thorny crown pressed onto His head until the blood flows. His bloodied purple robe, His open wounds, His bruised and swollen body no doubt made it difficult to ascertain if He was really human or not.

Isaiah writes how the servant of YHWH is oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. John writes of One Who, at a moment when He could have spoken and given the answer that would have freed Him, didn’t say a word. Even after the prefect’s prompting, all He would say is, You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin. He doesn’t even try to talk the prefect out of giving the sinful crowd what they want: His life. Instead, He silently … and obediently … submits.

According to Isaiah, the servant of YHWH would be pierced for our transgressions. John describes One who was pierced through with nails to secure Him to the beams of a cross, and how He would, after death, be pierced with a spear to ensure that He was truly dead. There are numerous other examples – too many to address here and now. But when you follow the evidence, it’s plain to see just Who this suffering servant of YHWH is. His Name is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph and Mary.

But here’s the thing: the Roman Empire crucified countless people – criminals, enemy soldiers, innocent people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. So many… suffered a death similar to this. Why was THIS crucifixion, THIS innocent Man, any different from the countless others? Why is His death any different? Isaiah provides the answer.

[H]e 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. This Jesus, Whom John the Baptist declared to be the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world, is dying for a specific purpose. OUR transgressions … OUR iniquities … OUR sins … and those of every human being who has ever lived or ever will live is taken up by the Lamb of God. Only God could bear the full brunt of that summation of sin, and THAT is the true agony, the hell that Jesus had to endure. GOD … was made to bear sin – more than that, to become sin – that sin would die with Him.

Yes, as His lifeblood drains, as His breath becomes more ragged and sparse, as the cross does exactly what it was designed to do – extinguish human life – our sin … dies with Him. John wrote, When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. He gave up His spirit, and the great salvific work was accomplished. God died, that we, His creatures … would live. Sin … is now atoned for. The blood-price demanded, the life-sacrifice necessary for even the slightest of slights … the impossibly high cost that we could never hope to pay, even if we had eternity to do so … is paid. Your sins … my sins … the sins of all people from all time … are covered.

THIS is why it is “Good Friday.” It is a somber day, when we recall how YHWH’s suffering servant did, in fact, suffer TREMENDOUSLY … for you … and for me. It is a day of darkness, as the Son of God gives up His spirit. It is a tragic day, as the One Who’s very Name means “salvation” is crushed and put to grief to secure salvation for us. It is a day … sad beyond words, as the love of our Creator is put on full display, when the Father wouldn’t spare His only-begotten Son to bear OUR sins … into the grave.

On this solemn day, Jesus does what we could never even hope to do: He justifies. He removes the curse first placed on all Mankind when Adam and Eve sinned. That’s gone. It’s paid for. Because of His sacrifice, many ARE accounted righteous, precisely because He has borne their iniquities. We were sold into sin for nothing. Now … we are redeemed without money, but rather with the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death, with the sacrifice of that precious, holy Body and Blood.

In the deafening silence, as the curtain is torn asunder, as the earth quakes and the rocks split, as creation is undone with Body of the lifeless God … we wait … for the coming dawn … for the first-fruit of the promise…

+ Amen. +

Tags: Isaiah 52-53

Love Gives and Serves

March 29, 2018
By Rev. David French

 

The word Maundy, from Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means command or commandment. This word has historically been applied to the words Christ spoke on the night before His death, “A new commandment I give you, love one another; as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John also gives us a definition of love in his first Epistle where he writes, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

But the God who is love is also eternal which means His love is eternal. And love by definition is patient and kind and it protects, that is, love gives and serves. It was this eternal love that moved God to create and give the world to our first parents, Adam and Eve. In Psalm 136 we read, “[He] who by his understanding made the heavens …. Who spread out the earth upon the waters …. Who gives food to every creature. His love endures forever. “

This is the God of heaven and earth serving His creation. And this love that endures forever is Christ, the very embodiment of that love.  And so, Christ is literally God’s love in the flesh. Remember, God intended us to be like him when He created us in His image. My friends, this Maundy Thursday commandment is really God calling us back to our original condition, back to what He created us to be.

But, the truth is, what Christ commands from us He will have to perform for us and in us, because we are by nature the opposite of what He intended us to be. By nature, we love only ourselves. By nature, we’re like the black holes in space where the magnetic force is so strong that even light can’t escape. As Luther said, “We are curved in on ourselves, and, try as hard as we will, we cannot be otherwise. It is impossible for us to get outside ourselves to look upward toward God and outward toward our neighbor to love and serve him. We sin against the First Commandment. We want to be God. We grasp at equality with God just like Adam and Eve did.”

Clearly, we have all inherited their sin, which means we’re no different than they were. The same selfish, self-indulgent spirit all too often can be seen in our lives. We behave as if we’re the center of the universe and everyone else should love and serve us. We thanklessly accept all sorts of earthly privileges and honor and continue to demand more. We use people; we try to manipulate and control them for our own benefit. All of this and much more is true of every man, woman, and child born into this sin-cursed world. A holy and just God would have every reason to separate Himself from us forever. Truly, death and condemnation are what we deserve. You see, for sinners like us to change, we would have to die and be born again, become a new person with a new mind and a new spirit.

That a pure and holy God would want to be born and live among such self-seeking, self-serving sinners staggers the imagination. Yet, He who is love, loves us even more. He loved sinners of all times and places enough to send His only begotten son, not just to live, but also to die in our place so that we, by grace through faith, might be born again, become a new creation born of water and the spirit into a new life of love and service.

That’s why Christ came down from heaven … to serve and to give His life for us all.  What man covets, Christ laid aside, taking God’s cup of wrath into Himself that He might offer us a cup that is overflowing with goodness and mercy.

In Luke 17 Jesus says, “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink …’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

For selfish sinners who want to be loved and honored, those are tough words to swallow. They highlight the very thing about God’s kingdom that natural man can neither understand nor accept. In one way, it is the “offense of the cross” because it forces the question: “Who can possibly be like that?” The answer to that is found in our text where we read, “… After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” A little later Jesus will say to His disciples, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.”

So, according to Jesus, a full and rich life is found not in being served, but in serving and giving to others. That’s how God is by nature.  That’s how He created us to be and why He and only He can change our hearts to care about living the life of service we’re called to, the life we will live when we are finally at home with Him.

Out text began, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” A short time later Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” The hour’s approaching when Jesus will do just that. The defining event in the history of mankind is less than twenty-four hours away. And it will test the faith of all who see it.

To prepare His disciples for this Passover miracle our Lord does something so mysterious that it requires a miracle just to believe it. Matthew’s account goes like this: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” This is the God of love, giving and serving us His very body and blood. You see, what Christ is doing in the Upper Room is preparing His disciples for the unimaginable act of love that He is about to show; and they, at that time, simply won’t understand as He allows sinners to nail Him to a cross and so give(s) His life (as) a ransom for many.

As your faith holds to this truth, we have God’s promise that not even death can remove from you the love that payed for your sin. Does that mean life will be smooth sailing until we reach those pearly gates? No.  In fact, Jesus still reminds us: “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart! I have overcome the world.” May the blessed gift of Himself that He offers to us again this night keep you strong as we hold to the truth that in Him … so have you.  

In His Name, Amen.

The Grain Must Die

March 25, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

 

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for meditation this Palm Sunday weekend is from our Gospel text, especially where Jesus says, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

On Palm Sunday, we often hear how Jesus enters into Jerusalem, humble and riding on a donkey, yet being hailed as a conquering hero, triumphant and worthy of praise. We often hear how the people cry out, Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! as they lay their cloaks and palm branches before the King’s procession. What we usually see on Palm Sunday is how Jesus’s triumphal entry is the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy, with the people essentially proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah, and certainly welcoming Him in a befitting way. It is a high point of Jesus’s ministry, to be sure! That’s what we normally hear … and since that’s not quite what we’ve seen in our lessons today, it’s understandable if you’re perplexed, if you think that our readings seem less Palm Sunday-esque and more like something you’d find later in Holy Week. However, from the way John describes it, this is, in fact, what happens on that original Palm Sunday.

By the time of our text, Jesus has entered Jerusalem with the acclaim of crowds, lauding Him after hearing of the miracle He performed by raising Lazarus from the dead. They literally cannot stop talking about it! It’s causing so much uproar, in fact, that even Greek-speaking Gentiles are amazed and desiring to see Him. They inquire of Philip, to see if it would be possible for these goyim to see the Rabbi. Instead of taking the time to indulge the request of these Greeks, Jesus doesn’t even dignify their desire when Philip and Andrew finally come around to talk with Him about it. To be frank, Jesus has more pressing issues that He needs to discuss with these two disciples: what lies before Him over the next few days.

The hour has come, Jesus says, for the Son of Man to be glorified. Undoubtedly from the perspective of Philip and Andrew, that time had already come! After those years of ministry, of teaching and healing, Jesus had finally arrived! The crowds of Jerusalem had CHEERED as they welcomed Him in! It was no accident that they had strewn their cloaks and palm branches in Jesus’s path. It was no coincidence that they cried, with the words of the psalmist, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! This was a joyous celebration, though the disciples at this point didn’t quite understand why! So what did Jesus mean when He said, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified?

It makes no sense from the perspective of the disciples, but Jesus knows of what He speaks. What lies before Him is, according to human standards, the impossibly difficult way in which He will save this world. Jesus continues to speak: [U]nless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. On the heels of celebration – indeed, immediately after talking about the Son of Man being glorified, Jesus begins talking about death. Caught off-guard, the disciples are likely bewildered that Jesus is even talking about this, in light of the jovial atmosphere permeating Zion’s walls. Party-to-dirge in a few seconds, this is quite the turn!

But Jesus knows. He knows how, even as He was being hailed as the one coming in the Lord’s Name, the Pharisees’ hearts were being frustrated, moving ever closer to the infamous plot for His life. He knows that the true glory for which He was incarnated is at hand. He knows how the crowds – which this day indeed praised Him as the One coming in God’s Name – would only days later call for His death, shouting out to Pilate, Crucify Him! The very people who welcomed Him as a King this day would demand that He die like a criminal, with arguably the most excruciating method of execution ever conceived by man. He can see that, in spite of the brightness and joy of this day, ominous clouds are on the horizon, and they’re fast approaching.

Knowing all of this as He does, the incredible thing is that Jesus stays. He sticks around. When it would have been easy to lay low, to skip town and wait for things to cool off before continuing with His ministry, He stays. The reason He stays is simply beyond His hearers at this point. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. Yes, this incredible holy, righteous grain of wheat must die. He must go into the ground, buried by the very earth He created. But through His death will come the deposition of the rulers of this world – namely, sin, death, and the devil. Through His death, the sins of Man will be killed – indeed, without His death, as Paul says in letter to the Ephesians, we would still be dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air… Without that righteous, holy, beautiful kernel of wheat falling into the earth and dying, we would have no hope whatsoever! There would be no fruit borne other than sin and death! Our eyes would have remained blind, our hearts would have remained hardened, and we would still be in the arrogance and ignorance of our transgressions, rightly meriting a fate worse than death!

That’s where we would be, but that’s not where we are. Jesus was, in fact, lifted up, and now draws all people to Himself. That kernel of wheat did, in fact, die, and was buried; what’s more, that blessed kernel DID bear fruit! He bore the fruit of forgiveness of sins!  The fruit of justification before God, in spite of our sin! The fruit of the resurrection from the dead, with Jesus as the firstfruit! The fruit of Word and Sacrament, which will always exist and will always deliver to God’s people those same fruits of forgiveness and life everlasting for the sake of Jesus! This is how the Son of Man is glorified – by giving Himself as the sacrifice, once for all, that sin may finally and at long last be fully and forever atoned for! And we are the inheritors of this incredible fruit, as His Church, as His people!

As we anticipate with Jesus the costly salvation and tragic beauty found up on Golgotha, we remember this is the reason why Jesus came in the first place. He IS the King. He IS, rightly, welcomed into Jerusalem as the hero about to conquer sin and the devil in His great salvific work. More than this, we eagerly anticipate His return. We anticipate the return of our King in a great and wondrous appearing that will shame the majesty and grandeur of that first Palm Sunday, when He comes to finally defeat death, the last enemy, and bear in the bountiful harvest cultivated in the death of that first holy Grain.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Death to Resurrection: The Wilderness to the Promised Land

March 21, 2018
By Rev. David French

 

It’s one thing to travel across the wilderness to arrive at a destination, and quite another to wander around aimlessly in the wilderness for forty years. The Israelites did both. As they left Egypt and made their way to Mount Sinai, the plan was to go from there over to the Promised Land of Canaan. And they did head out that way, but when they sent twelve men to spy out the land to see what their new homeland looked like and what it would take to occupy it, things took a dramatic turn.

When the spies returned, they spoke highly of the land, but ten of them were also terrified of the people who were living there. Yes, Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey, but the inhabitants were giants and war-like. The ten spies spoke with fear, and their fear spread throughout the entire community of Israel. God’s people were afraid. And in their fear, they refused to go forward.

It was because of this act of disobedience, the people’s lack of trust in the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt, that the Israelites became wanderers in the wilderness for the next forty years. None who were twenty years old and older would ever live in the land of Canaan with the exceptions of Caleb and Joshua and their households, the two spies who proclaimed their trust in the Lord to give His people the land. All of the rest would die in the wilderness; only their children would enter Canaan.

Again, it’s one thing to travel across the wilderness to arrive at a destination and quite another to wander around the wilderness for forty years. The wilderness between Egypt and Canaan was a land of suffering and death, a place where they were sentenced to suffer because of their sin, a land that would claim their lives one by one until all had perished. To make this reality even worse, they had seen with their own eyes the Promised Land on the near horizon.  They could see it and yet they turned their backs on this blessing and walked away.

Sin is what exiles us from God. Sin is what separates us from life. Sin is what sends us into the wilderness of suffering and death. Sin. There is no escaping it. Lord knows we have tried. When the Israelites tried to go into Canaan without God, all of their fears were realized and they were left to wander in the wilderness to face suffering and certain death.

We’re no different, it’s a personal and internal battle to be sure, but we do also attempt to conquer sin with our own strength, and just like the Israelites we also fail and find ourselves wandering with no direction or purpose. My friends, it’s sin that keeps us from entering the land that’s flowing with milk and honey.

The Promised Land, the place where the Lord provides, is a place where the Hebrews would live in houses they did not build and eat from vineyards and orchards they did not plant. The land of Canaan is a land flowing with milk and honey where there is want for nothing. It’s a land of plenty and perfection, God’s “Promised Land.” And remember, this land is not only where the Lord provides abundantly, but it’s also a place where the Lord will dwell with His people.

And that of course is the point and the truth behind this earthly promised land. This Promised Land of the Lord’s provision and presence for Israel points us to another promised land. Canaan reminds us of another place of plenty and perfection— a place we know as heaven.

Truly, there is no want in the heavenly courts. Truly, it is the place where the Lord dwells and where His people live in His presence in heavenly mansions which have been or are being prepared right now. But until they are all prepared … there is sin. There is the wilderness. Which leaves us with the question: How does one exit the land of suffering and death and enter into the land of joy and life?

As the Word of God reveals, the journey out of the wilderness and into the promised land begins by passing through the waters. For the people of Israel, the way was through the Jordan River, but it’s not a journey they travel alone. It’s not a journey they take to once again make themselves acceptable to God. It’s not a journey they plan out, work out, or carry out. This journey is brought about by God.

And when the feet of those carrying the ark touch the waters of the Jordan, the waters part and the path stands dry and wide as about 2 million people follow the Lord into the Promised Land. The Lord prepares the way, the Lord leads the way; the presence of the Lord goes before Joshua and the people … and just like that, the exile is over; they are home.

The biblical record of the return to the promised land is a lesson of Salvation. Our Lord and God, our Savior, Jesus Christ goes before us. Jesus goes down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John. The Sinless One from God needs no cleansing, but we do.  So, why is His baptism important?

By His baptism, we learn that Christ fulfilled all righteousness, that is in a way only God can work and we can never truly understand, our sins were taken up and placed upon this “Holy One of God.” And in an act of perfect obedience, Jesus takes our sins, not into the Promised Land, but back out into the wilderness. He goes through the waters out into the wilderness to meet with satan and begins undoing what Adam and Eve had done.

And because Christ carries our sins, well, just like that, we don’t! The wilderness of sin, the place of suffering and death, is no longer our dwelling place. The path has been cleared. The way to the promised land is open before us, but it still passes through the waters. Now, all waters have been sanctified and instituted by Christ as a blessed flood that when combined with the Word of God washes away sin and so grants forgiveness, life, and salvation.

God makes us His children – that is those who have been renewed and restored to His presence. We have passed through the wilderness and through the waters, into the promised land of everlasting life!

But remember our Lenten lesson. The journey from the wilderness of sin to heaven is not one we make alone, not one we plan out, not one we work out, and not one we carry out—it is the journey Christ first made to prepare the way.

He has gone through the waters to prepare them for our baptism into the kingdom, and He has now gone ahead of us to prepare a place that we have not built with our own hands and a great feast that we have not prepared. He has gone to the right hand of the Father to prepare a place for each of us, and one day He will come back to take us to be with Him that we also may be where He is.

In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Look at Me!

March 18, 2018
By Rev. David French

 

If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, you no doubt remember the legend of Narcissus.  He was supposedly the son of the river god.  A seer had told his mother that her son must never see his reflection if he was to mature into manhood, and so everything that reflected an image was removed from the home.  One day, however, Narcissus found a spring that formed a pool filled with crystal-clear water.  As he stooped down to take a drink from the pool, he saw his reflection on the surface of the pool.  He fell desperately in love with himself, and trying to embrace himself, he fell into the water and drowned.

Now we don’t hear much talk about the legend of Narcissus these days, but we do still use his name to describe those who are hopelessly self-centered and self-absorbed.  In fact, narcissism is now identified and catalogued as an official personality disorder by the American medical profession.  And we do, of course, still use it in a general sense to describe one of the notable maladies of our 21st century American culture.  Ours, I’m sure you know, is in many ways a narcissistic culture.  We live in an age of entitlement.  In fact, just about 10 years ago there was book written on the subject.  It was titled, The Narcissism Epidemic … Living in an Age of Entitlement.  Here are just a few of the examples the authors give to show how our culture has turned in on itself.

They write, “On a reality TV show, a girl planning her Sweet Sixteen party wants a major road blocked off so a marching band can precede her grand entrance on a red carpet.  (They add) … ordinary people hire fake paparazzi to follow them around to make them look famous.  High school students physically attack classmates and post YouTube videos of the beatings to get attention.”

None of us of course should be surprised by any of this … we are, after-all, living it.  And God did tell us through the apostle Paul, as He revealed: in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

Does that mean Jesus is coming soon?  Maybe; maybe not.  What we do know is that the problem of self-centeredness is nothing new to our culture or really to humanity.  Looking at today, I suppose we could argue how far the problem reaches, but, as Solomon wrote, there is “nothing new under the sun.”

So let’s consider the contrast that’s set before us in our Gospel lesson.  It’s a James and John versus Jesus situation: selfish ambition versus self-sacrifice; wanting to be a lord over others versus being Lord of all, and yet, desiring only to serve.  These are two completely different ways of looking at and living life; two opposite ways of thinking when it comes to how we deal with others.

James and John, by asking for the seats of honor in Jesus’s kingdom, reveal the core of our fallen nature … that is, selfishness.  But before we point the proverbial finger of pride, or, fail to see ourselves in James and John, it’s important to recognize that they aren’t in any way unique in their ambition.  In fact, we’re told the other disciples were “indignant” when they learned that James and John had asked for those seats of honor.  Why do you think that was?  Were the rest of the disciples angry with the two brothers because they should have never asked Jesus such a selfish question?  Or, were they angry because they were afraid that James and John may have “cut in line,” if you will?

Remember, Jesus’s way of thinking is always counter to our way of thinking.  We see success and fulfillment in life by the things we surround ourselves with and in the power we hold.  Jesus says we gain our lives, that is, we find significance, purpose, and meaning in our lives by giving them away.

We think greatness is seen by the number of people who serve us.  Jesus says greatness is seen in our service to others even as He came into the world not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom.

We try in many and various ways to learn to love ourselves, as if that’s a noble goal.  Jesus, however, sets us free to love others in a world that needs the compassion and care He offers to all through us, His hands and feet. 

James and John, who wanted the seats of honor when Jesus came in His glory, and all of us gathered here this morning for that matter, see Jesus’s anguish in regard to drinking the cup of suffering that lay before Him.

This One who was rich, yet for our sakes became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich. We struggle to truly understand the humility of His servant heart laid open for all to see in the suffering and shame of His passion.  The truth is, when God in His mercy finally brings us to see just how much we love ourselves more than Him, we will, like Peter, have no course but to beg God to have mercy on our miserable souls.  It’s in that state of internal turmoil that, by faith, we come to see that we really don’t deserve any seat in Christ’s kingdom, let alone the highest. It’s then that Jesus says, “Look at Me!”  See My body and My blood set before you at this altar!  Look at the fount!  There I gave you new life and made you an heir of My kingdom!  Look at Me!  On the cross I became what I was not to make you what you are not!  I took your sin and gave you My righteousness!  The Father turned His back on Me so that He need never turn His back on you!  Look at Me!

The mythical figure Narcissus saw his reflection, fell in love with himself, and then died in his own embrace.  Most Americans today have probably never heard or don’t remember the legend of Narcissus.  But still, we are all too familiar with the heart that is described by his name.

In was into just such a world that Christ came to serve, to bear our sins, and to suffer the punishment for our guilt!  And though we all at one time, as it were, hid our faces from Him; He still sought us and claimed us as His own in our baptisms and seated us in His kingdom.

It is into this world of ours, a world that we don’t really understand, a world that to this day seeks to pull us away from Christ, that Christ continues to serve you and all His children by setting us free from ourselves.  This is so that, by grace, we might point others to Him as we live and love them with the love He shows and life He gives to us.

In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Tree to Tree: The Tree of Life to the Cross

March 14, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

 

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

Man begins his journey in this world in a garden. Adam and Eve are established in the Garden of Eden, surrounded by various other God-created creatures and God-created vegetation. Among the many plants and trees, all perfectly and wonderfully made, are two special trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We are told that both trees were in the middle of the garden, perhaps side by side.

There at the foot of one tree, Adam and Eve worship as they show their love for God by being obedient to His command to not eat from it—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There at the foot of the other tree, they receive the gift of life immortal, life everlasting. Two important trees, as man and woman seek to live and walk in the presence of their Lord and their God.

And then … sin. The time comes that Adam and Eve disobey God, by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They cave to the whispers, when the ancient serpent, the evil one, entices them. “You will not surely die,” whispers Satan. “You can be like God.” And they listen. They eat; they disobey. The worm of sin burrows into their hearts. In truth, all of creation becomes infected with the parasite of sin, and this sin separates us from God, and leads us to death.

We are separated from God by this dividing wall of hostility; we are cast out from the beautiful garden. We are removed from the presence of the other tree, the tree of life. The cherubim and the flaming sword guard the path back to this tree, lest man eat from it and live forever. Man has been cast out – exiled from the garden, but also exiled from life itself. God knows that if man eats of this tree of life as a sinner that the life bestowed by its fruit will be a fate worse than death, because to live forever as sin continues to ravage you, both body and soul, is a curse too terrible to behold. Sin must first be dealt with—atoned for, washed away—before life everlasting is a blessing and joy.

But how does one first deal with sin? The fact that man is a sinner forbids him from being part of the solution. Sin-filled man is the problem, and he is unable to do anything that would solve the problem. Man is stumbling blindly, bumbling helplessly through this journey of life. He cannot, even by accident, address the problem of sin. So, life eludes him; a restored relationship with God is an impossibility. A return to what God intended for man from the beginning is beyond man’s reach.

Beyond man’s reach, but not beyond the reach of God! Just as man was overcome by a tree, so also must the Son of Man by a tree overcome. The issue, the problem, the devastating disaster of sin requires another tree. Jesus, God’s Son, comes into our flesh and blood that He might crush the ancient serpent and pay the price demanded by sin. Christ Jesus comes into our flesh because of the kind of price demanded: blood. Only blood can pay the price and wash away sin. Only the blood of the Lamb—the Lamb who has no blemish or spot, who is a perfect sacrifice, a holy and precious offering—only the blood of the Lamb is required . . . and a tree.

The Son of Man must be lifted up upon a tree just as the bronze serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. The tree of the cross—an instrument of torture, suffering, and death—is the tree upon which Jesus is lifted up. On the cross, Jesus suffers and dies. On the cross, His holy and precious blood is shed. On the cross, Jesus lays down His life that our lives might be restored. A perfect sacrifice brings salvation and restoration to the crown of God’s creation. God so loved the world.

Thus, Jesus turns an instrument of death into a tree of life. His death brings us life, life eternal. Our exile from the presence of God has been ended. Our exile from the tree of life is over. Christ Jesus has taken the sins of all the world to the tree and been lifted up for all to see, and from there, He draws all men to Himself. The cross reunites us with our God as the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation are bestowed. No longer do we wander aimlessly, blindly in search of a solution to sin. Now, we gather at the foot of the cross, we gather at the new tree of life and gaze upon the One who became sin for us that we might be saved.

Tree to tree. The tree of life to the tree of the cross—another life-giving tree. A journey from life to death and back to life. We have been restored to life and reunited with our God. Now, each day, as we continue our journey through this life as the children of God, we focus our eyes upon that which the apostle John describes in the Book of Revelation: “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

This is the life that has been restored to us: life everlasting, life in the world to come, the new heavens and the new earth. It is life in the presence of the Lamb, life that is ours in Christ Jesus. A return from exile, a return to our God by way of a tree.

+ In Jesus’s name. + Amen.

Appearances to the Contrary

March 11, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

 

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is an amalgamation of our Old Testament and Gospel texts, but we’ll focus more heavily on John’s Gospel account, especially where he writes, [A]s 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.. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends.

If you don’t know the backstory of this more obscure pericope from the book of Numbers, the nation of Israel had been wandering the wilderness for years. They’re sick of the quail and manna – it sustains them, yes, but there’s no variety. They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. They are, in Moses’s own words, impatient. Never minding the inherent contradiction in their complaint – Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food – these people are speaking against God and Moses.

Such insolence, such ingratitude, such arrogance – here, the people have a theophany, a visible manifestation of YHWH, the Creator in their midst as the pillar of cloud and fire … and the people are groaning, complaining about how much better life would be without their God and their leader! Talk about biting the hand that feeds! So God shows them what life would be like without Him, by sending fiery serpents into their midst. These snakes start biting the people, and they start dying. Recognizing their transgression (and, undoubtedly, regretting it), the people cry out to Moses to intercede on their behalf before YHWH, to remove the serpents from among them. Moses does so, but instead of removing the snakes, God orders Moses to give the people the remedy: make a fiery serpent, a serpent of bronze, and set it on a pole.

This is the remedy – no miraculous removal of the serpents as the people wanted, no anti-venom to counteract the poison, no simple removal of the poison from the people’s bloodstreams. No, these things – which certainly would have been easy enough for YHWH to have accomplished by His mere Word – are not the means by which He would save His people from the just discipline He had bestowed upon them. A metal snake … up on a pole, and the promise that all who look upon it will live. THAT is how people would be saved. I can imagine, as I’m sure you can as well, the incredulity the people likely felt at this proposed remedy, as they lay dying, with deadly poisons pumping through their veins. “What do you mean, ‘That’s all I’ve got to do?! How in the world is this supposed to counteract the poisons?! It makes no sense! How can a metal snake on a pole do that?! How can these things be?!”

Well, that’s the thing. Normally, a bronze snake would be just that – a bronze snake. But God used the form of the very thing that was killing His people, elevated in their midst so that all could see, and worked through those means to restore His people to life. Yup, all one had to do was look upon that elevated fiery serpent and they would be cured. They would be saved. Incredulous? You bet. But it did what God said it would do. Though it makes no logical sense, YHWH’s promise held true, and all who gazed upon that God-approved image … who believed the YHWH’s promise spoken by Moses … survived the lethal consequence of their rebellion.

Fast forward about one-and-a-half millennia, and we find echoes of that story in our Gospel lesson. Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who nevertheless recognized Jesus as something extraordinary. Prior to our reading,  you hear him telling Jesus as much, saying things like He’s a great teacher sent from God, and that He wouldn’t be able to do such miracles and things were God not with Him. Jesus responds to this flattery with a similarly incredulous claim: unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. A logically ridiculous notion, Nicodemus asks how someone can be born again – unpleasant as the thought is, if taken literally! But no, Jesus clarifies, He’s not talking about physically being born again; instead He says, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Here, Nicodemus actually asks the question likely raised by the ancient Israelites centuries prior with regard to God’s slithering cure: How can these things be?

Now we come to our text, which acts as the crux between these two incredible life-giving prescriptions. Jesus brings up this very text from Exodus in His conversation with Nicodemus. 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. “This is Me,” Jesus is saying, “Moses is talking about Me.” Moses formed a snake to be the remedy for the poison of snakes. That snake was put on a pole, suspended between heaven and earth for all to see, and all that looked upon it, those who believed in the promise YHWH had given, would be cured of the deadly toxins flowing in their blood. In order to remove the scourge of sin and death, the Son of Man must become sin … and die. He must also be lifted up, suspended between heaven and earth, not on a pole, but on the simple yet cruel torture machine known as a cross. All who look upon Him … those who listen to and believe His Word, may have eternal life.

Though Jesus, at this point in John’s Gospel, is still a long way from turning His face toward Jerusalem and the cross – make no mistake, He knows what’s coming. He knows the way by which He will make everlasting life available for all people. He knows the travail, temptation, trial, torture, tribulation, and termination that awaits Him. And yet, the Lamb of God goes uncomplaining forth. He presses onward, toward the atonement He will make through His broken Body and shed Blood.

Why would He do this? Why would the Son of Man offer Himself as a bloodied, holy sacrifice on behalf all of the complaining whining sinners who, by their base nature, hate Him? The answer is found in those illustrious words which we all have, undoubtedly, heard at least once in our lives, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God is doing it because He loves the whole world. He’s doing it because, in spite of our wretched, miserable, sinful and spiteful lives, He loves us. So much so, in fact, that He held nothing back, wagering His only-begotten Son to see this mission accomplished. He doesn’t want to destroy anyone. He didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn it, but rather to save it through His work.

This is a faith thing, my friends. This is what true belief looks like. Unreasonable, illogical, or unfair as it may seem, looking upon the bronze snake did, in fact, heal those Israelites of the snake venom. Being born again of simple water and a proclaimed Word of God does, in fact, justify you before Almighty God. You might think, “Well, I don’t feel like I’m saved. I don’t feel like I’m worthy of eternal life. I’m still a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner; it doesn’t look like my sins are removed from me as far as the east is from the west!” Well, that’s the point. They’re removed from you, from outside of you, because God is doing it to you. The bronze snake didn’t seem like it would heal you, but it did. Jesus has healed you … has made atonement for you … has forgiven you, even though it doesn’t feel like it. All appearances to the contrary, you are fully justified before God, and you can trust in His promise to give you eternal life for the sake of Jesus and His sacrifice.

+ In His holy and precious Name. + Amen.

Tags: John 3:14-21

Out of Egypt: Through the Water

March 07, 2018
By Rev. David French

 

Slavery—bondage—servitude. Brutal taskmasters—heavy burdens—daily despair and hopelessness. This was the land of Egypt for the Israelites. Four hundred years earlier, Egypt was a place of refuge, a place of rescue. It was a place that promised food in the midst of famine, a land that gave the Hebrews a home at a time when things were becoming desperate. But that had all changed. A pharaoh had ascended to the throne who didn’t know or care about the great deeds and works of Joseph. To him, the Hebrew people were a source of cheap labor. Now they were enslaved to carry out the building projects of the pharaoh. Now slavery, bondage, and servitude, brutal taskmasters, and heavy burdens were their lot, and they literally groaned under this reality.

It didn’t matter that the Israelites had willingly journeyed to the land of Egypt and been blessed in this journey with overflowing grain and had been settled in the beautiful land of Goshen. What had once been a good and gracious land became a place of enslavement. What had once been a place a refuge became a place of pain and sorrow. What had once been a place of life became a place of death, a land of exile where their baby boys were thrown into the Nile River.

The people were in need of a leader. They were in need of a savior. They needed a leader to rise from their midst, a leader who would gather them together. One who would remind them of who they were and who their God was … and who they were in relationship to this God. They needed one who would bring them out of this terrible land of slavery and death. They needed someone who could and who would stand up to Pharaoh. The person God sent was Moses.

We could spend time talking about Moses and his abilities, or lack of them. We could talk of his training, his education, or his reluctance. We could consider his temper or his lack of desire to carry out the task. We could speak at great length about all these things; but God prepared Moses for the task and then sent him to rescue His people. One stubborn pharaoh and ten plagues later, Moses and the Israelites finally leave town after four hundred years. Moses and the Israelites are headed back to the land that was promised by God to His people since the days of Abraham.

There are, however, two obstacles between them and their freedom. Two obstacles stand in the way of their return from exile: a large army and a big body of water. Two obstacles with the Israelites right in the middle. Pharaoh and his army are coming up fast from behind and the Red Sea looms large ahead. They are stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place,” but God has a plan, a way, a means by which He will save His people.

The Lord tells Moses to raise his staff over the waters of the Red Sea, and miraculously the waters part and the people of Israel pass through the waters on dry ground. As the people pass through the waters, they begin their return from exile and are rescued from the land of slavery and death. And then, to tie up all the loose ends and to deliver a message, the waters collapse on the advancing Egyptian army. Pharaoh and his army are destroyed in the waters. That evil is washed away. In the words of Moses, God says to His people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

You see, there is life and death in those waters. The same waters that destroy evil pharaoh and his army save the people of God. The Egyptians are drowned and the Israelites walk away saved. The waters that killed also preserved life. And this will not be the last time the Lord uses water to both destroy the enemy and give life to His people. This will not be the last time the Lord uses water to bring His people back from exile.

A land of bondage, a land of slavery to sin and death—slaves of Satan, enemies of God. The enemies—sin, death, and satan—still seek to enslave God’s people. Indeed, these enemies have their successes as we groan under the burden of death. People need, we need to escape the grip of death, but we cannot. And so, we need a Savior, a Deliverer to rise from our midst. A Savior who will gather us up and bring us out of this land of exile. We need a Savior who will reunite and restore us to God. We need One who will stand up to satan and his demonic power. God’s solution was to send His only begotten Son, Jesus.

We could spend a lot of time speaking about Jesus and His abilities. We could speak of His power, of His lineage, of His sacrifice, of His love and mercy, but it’s enough to say that, in Jesus, God became flesh to dwell among us and with His blood rescued us from our land of exile. Remember Jesus went down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John—not to be washed clean of sin.  If that were the case, we would still be eternally condemned. No, Jesus went into the waters of the Jordan as the Lamb of God and came out as our sin-bearer who took upon Himself the sin of the world, a role confirmed by His anointing with the Holy Spirit and the voice of His Father declaring He was pleased with His Son.

You see, as we pray in Luther’s Baptismal Prayer: … Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.

We are brought to the baptismal font, whereby the water and the Word the old Adam within us is drowned as all sin is washed away. In those waters we are born again, a new creation, a forgiven child of God born through those sacramental waters into the promised land of eternal life in our Father’s land. Returned from exile, returned from a land of slavery to sin and death, through the waters into the arms of our loving and merciful God.

In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Only Two Options

March 04, 2018
By Rev. David French

 

In reading this morning’s Gospel lesson, we're left with an uncomfortable fact - Jesus got angry; angry enough to cause a public uproar in the temple. It’s often taught that Jesus’s anger was different than ours, that when He grabbed that whip and chased everyone out of the temple, He wasn’t sinning. Jesus was rightly showing a righteous anger at sinful people doing sinful things. 

And while that’s true, it’s also where our thinking usually goes off the tracks.  And that because it’s here that our sinful ears filter this information through our sinful hearts and minds, which, in turn, opens the door to excusing our anger as righteous and God-pleasing while the anger of others is usually sinful.  They give into temptation and get angry over … whatever, and fuss until they get their way or leave the church.  But we’re different … or are we?  To be sure, we’ll confess that there have been times when we have sinned in our anger.  But, as often as not we consider our anger, over whatever, as righteous and even necessary.  Why? … because it’s ours.

That’s been my struggle this past week.  No matter what I say about sinful anger versus righteous anger, we are sinners and will always in our heart of hearts believe that our anger is righteous, when the truth is it’s not. Our anger is a result of focusing on our desire to be in control, and not on God and His means of grace.  Now you may be thinking that’s not always true, and you’re right.  There are times when our anger starts out justified, but that’s a very slippery slope.  You and I both know that even when our anger is justified, our sinful nature still has a way of turning it into sinful slander, gossip, and hatred.  That’s how our sinful nature works.  It’s always about us. 

The thing is, this text isn’t about our anger … righteous or not.  This text is about God’s righteous anger over sin, all sin.  That’s why we consider this text during Lent.  Yes, Jesus got angry…but it was over the right things: the desecrating and profaning of God and of His House and the forgiveness offered there. And you know what? … our Lord and God still gets angry over the profaning and taking for granted His means of grace and mercy and forgiveness offered from His House. 

And that’s what makes us uncomfortable with these words.  We often ignore the fact that God gets angry with sin because God is love and anger doesn’t fit into our picture of what love is.  It never ceases to amaze me how often Jesus is portrayed as always smiling and playing with children under a rainbow.  This is the Jesus we want to talk about and share with others.  No offense.  No pain.  No cross.  Just happiness.

Now … the God of the Old Testament … well, He was an angry God.  He used smoke and fire, floods, and mountain-shaking earthquakes.  The Old Testament God punished sin with things like famine, plagues, slavery, war, death, and destruction.  But that’s the God of the Old Testament.  That’s all in the past.  That God has been replaced with Jesus and Jesus, we tell ourselves, is only about love and forgiveness.

But have you looked around the world we live in?  We’re still surrounded by pain and suffering, heartache and fighting; we still see the death and disease.  We can’t hide from it.  We can’t separate ourselves from it.  We can’t deny it.  It’s not only all around us; it’s in us, in every fiber of our being.  The fact that we struggle, and hurt, and grieve, and get angry all bear witness to the sin within us.  It all bears witness to the truth that we still need the mercy, grace, and forgiveness God so patiently and lovingly offers to sinners every single day. I mean, how often do we take His gifts for granted?  How often do we arrogantly take God’s patience as His approval?

 And that’s the key to understanding God and anger.  God allows what we call bad things to happen to us in this life, and these bad things are proof that God is angry with sin.  He does not approve of or condone sin, no matter how much we justify or ignore it.  But that does not mean God is punishing us for a specific sin when bad things happen to us. Remember God doesn’t punish sin on this side of eternity.  That’s not to say that there aren’t consequences for our sin, but suffering consequences is different than suffering punishment. 

Just look at Moses.  Moses deliberately disobeyed God when God told him to command the rock to produce water for the cranky Israelites.  Moses was so fed up at that point with the Israelites that he disobeyed God and instead, in his anger, struck the rock with his staff.  This sinful, angry display by Moses angered God.  Moses confessed his sinful disobedience, and God lovingly forgave Moses, restoring him to full sonship and salvation.  Moses, however, still suffered the consequences of his action and was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

So God does indeed punish sin, but He saved it for and poured it out on His Son who lived and died in the place of each and every one of us. What angers God is that even though all sin has been paid for with the blood of His Son, still there are many who turn from, or worse, mock His gifts. Those who are full of self-confidence choose a different path; really an easy path; the no crosses involved path.  And while it’s not until a final unrepentant breath is exhaled, God, to be fair and just, will punish the sin of unbelief in all who have rejected His mercy. God desires the death of no man, but we can only know Him as Merciful Savior or Judge; there are only two options.

But remember, we’re also guilty of forsaking God’s gifts of mercy. We who know and rejoice that every single sin in our life has been paid for in full because of His love for us: Don’t we also continue to feed our sinful natures? Don’t we still hide the things we’re ashamed of? Do you really think you’re somehow in and of yourself different than the unrepentant? The only difference between us is that the seed of God’s word has taken root in our heats, so that by God’s working, we, by grace through faith, now trust His Word of forgiveness. But be honest and recognize that daily we take God’s gift of grace and misuse it just like we do all His gifts.

And yet the sun still rises and with it His mercy is still freely offered to all. That, dear children of God, is pure grace.  That is the unconditional love that is God.  That’s what we see in the temple today.  Jesus laid down the law because He loved those merchants and money changers and He wanted them to change. Notice how Jesus makes their sin known and how He felt, but there is no punishment for them … why? Well that’s because Jesus came to bear their sin and take their punishment as well.

 You see, the motivation for Jesus’s angry outburst was His love for them.  He disciplined them because He cared for them, and He gave them their sign when He pointed them to His death and resurrection, which is the only thing that can bring repentance from sin-filled hearts.  My friends, Christ our Merciful Savior’s anger still has purpose, a life giving and life-saving purpose, a purpose born of love for all who are born of sin.

In His Name, Amen.

Tags: John 2:13-22
Search by Keyword(s):
(separate multiples with a comma)

Recent Posts

11/10/19 - By Rev. David French
11/3/19 - By Rev. Peter Heckert
10/27/19 - By Rev. Peter Heckert
10/20/19 - By Rev. David French
10/13/19 - By Rev. David French
10/6/19 - By Rev. Peter Heckert
9/29/19 - By Rev. David French
9/22/19 - By Rev. Peter Heckert
9/15/19 - By Rev. David French
9/8/19 - By Rev. Peter Heckert

Archives

Tag Cloud