Sermons

Archives - April 2019

Poor Miserable Sinners

April 28, 2019
By Rev. David French

Well this is it, the week we year after year consider poor old Doubting Thomas. Talk about bad timing, Thomas misses church one time and He’s tagged with a nick name that will follow him until the Lord returns. But is it fair?

I mean Thomas wasn’t the only one who doubted, all the disciples doubted. In fact, in Luke’s account of the resurrection where we read about the reaction of the eleven when Jesus stood among we read: While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?

You see, when you consider the details Luke adds, if Thomas is Doubting Thomas, then Peter is Doubting Peter, James is Doubting James, and well you get the idea. The point is, all of Jesus’s disciples doubted, Thomas just happens to be the one who, as we might think of it, missed the meeting, and so was elected by man, not God, to bear the label.

Now I suppose I could make this all about the dangers of missing church, but that's not really fair either. Maybe Thomas or a member of his family was sick. Maybe he got tied up in the chaos with the earthquake just two days before and all. The Bible simply tells us Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared that first night.

In fact, when you look at it closer, we see today’s Gospel reading isn’t so much about Thomas as it is the incredible patience of Jesus. Jesus would have certainly been justified if He had rejected all of His so-called disciples. I mean, Matthew tells us that when Jesus was arrested … all the disciples deserted him and fled. Peter personally denies even knowing Jesus while He was on trial, and only John is found at the foot of the cross.

But Jesus shows patience and compassion with their confusion and weakness, and He shows them His hands and side. He allowed them to poke, prod, and examine His crucifixion wounds. Now, in His glorious state of exaltation, these wounds are the signs of His identity as the Savior of mankind.

I’m sure you remember that Jesus’s last words to us were: It is finished, and now the first words He speaks to us after the resurrection are: Peace be with you. Now, understand that these words are not just a simple greeting. These words come from the mouth of the One who said: Let there be light, and there was light. That’s because God’s Word is what’s known as a creative word; that is, it creates what it speaks. Since Jesus is not just a man, but is also true God, His word also actually creates or accomplishes what He speaks. When Jesus says: Peace be with you, He’s not talking about some undefinable subjective feeling, but an objective condition. Then He showed the wounds that proved sin has been removed and peace between God and man was now restored.

When Jesus said, Peace be with you, a second time, He was offering that peace through forgiveness to those who had deserted Him, and they were to share with others as we see Him say: As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you and ends with If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld. With these words Jesus is teaching them its function of and ordaining these doubting disciples into the office of the holy ministry. That is, He’s sending them out into the world in His place. 

Remember the word apostle literally means one who is sent. So, Jesus tells us that He was sent by or is the apostle from God the Father, and these doubting disciples are now being sent by or are the apostles of God the Son.

Think about it. What does it mean that these men who all doubted, who were all basically cowards, who in their own writings confess that they were weak, dull-witted men are His apostles? What that means is that all their authority, all their standing and reputation rests squarely on Jesus. The power they demonstrated then and the results of the words they wrote to this very day rests entirely on the work and promises of Jesus.

And that is good news for all Christians. Why? It means that the absolution that comes from the mouth of their pastor does not depend in any way on the personality or character of the pastor. The truth is, an honest pastor knows more than most how sinful he is. We know that we’re not worthy to utter those words of forgiveness. And yet, pastors can and do joyfully and confidently speak those words because it’s not we but Jesus who forgives. We understand that we are merely stewards of the gifts God offers to you, His children.

But, what about Thomas? He wasn’t there when all this happened. True, and so Jesus continued to do what Jesus came to do; that is, He shows His love and patience and returns the next week. And again, Jesus said, Peace be with you. Then he said to Thomas, Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe. We don’t know if Thomas put out his hand or not, the next words of Scripture are Thomas’s confession of Jesus as his Lord and God. What we do know is that with His words of invitation, Jesus gently brought Thomas back into His “Little Flock.”

My friends, there is great comfort offered to us in this lesson as well … because we also deserve God’s condemnation. We all have and daily continue to sin. According to God’s Word, we have all murdered with our hatred. We have all stolen with our desires. None of us love as we are loved. None of us loves God above all things. The truth is, we have no redeeming qualities within ourselves. We really are what we claim to be … poor miserable sinners.

As we are reminded again today, Jesus is mercifully patient with sinners like Thomas, and like you and me. We know that because He who is peace still comes to us just as He came to the disciples then, offering Himself as the fulfillment of the words: Peace be with you.

From that day when Jesus’s church on earth was just a fearful little group of disciples locked away in a room, He who is our peace has continued to come to those who gather in His name. Today our room is bigger, but still we gather to receive the gifts Jesus offers.

These gifts are offered through the water and word of our baptism, in with and under the bread and wine of His Supper, continually worked and re-worked in us by the Holy Spirit as God’s Word, both law and gospel, are read and proclaimed in all their fullness so that you who bear His name today might always know and by grace believe that in Christ Jesus you need not fear the accusations of sin, for it is by grace through faith in Christ that you, a poor miserable sinner, are forgiven.

In His Name, Amen.

A God Who Rises

April 21, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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

Behold the man who died and who now lives. His heart was stopped but again pulses with a new rhythm and vigor. His veins had spilled their crimson contents all over the Golgotha ground but now, they course with a fresh supply of warm, red, oxygenated blood. His lungs were deflated and flat after that loud cry with which He yielded up His Spirit but now they expand and fill with the perfumed, stale, air of the tomb. His eyes were closed in death but now open and squint to take in the sights. His hands had been nailed but now they spread all ten living fingers open before picking up the grave cloths and folding them. His feet had dragged lifelessly as His body was placed into the tomb, but now they reach to the ground and plant ten living toes into the cool dirt. His skin had cooled to the ambient temperature of the stone-and-dirt grave, but now radiates heat and warmth, though it still possesses five distinct wounds from nails and a spear. His brain had been still and dead, but now electrons dance and synapses and neurons sparkle. Behold, the man, Jesus, God and man, lives. He rises triumphantly from the dead and strolls out of the grave into His creation.

And Mary mistakes Him for the gardener. It’s an honest mistake, really. She was understandably confused. She showed up first, while it was still dark and the disciples were asleep. But she probably hadn’t slept for days. As soon as day began to break after the Sabbath had ended, she went to the tomb. When she saw that the stone had been taken away, dislocated from what she knew was its “permanent” resting place, she ran and told the disciples. She found Peter and John first, and the words came crashing out so quickly, it’s any wonder they understood her at all. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

They all went back to the tomb, Peter and John sprinting. John doesn’t bother to tell us whether Mary Magdalene ran or walked. But when the men wandered away bewildered, she was there. She stayed outside weeping, grieving at the double loss. First the One she called Lord was crucified. Now His body was missing. The angels are perplexed at her weeping. “Why?” Her distress is wrong, not part of her honest mistake. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Then she turned around and beheld the Risen Lord. He asked her the very same question as the angels: “Why are you weeping?” and added, “Whom are you seeking?”

Of course she supposed He was the gardener. This was an honest mistake. It’s not a mistake to confuse Jesus with a gardener. It’s a mistake to confuse Jesus with this gardener, the caretaker of the cemetery. He is no caretaker of cemeteries. In fact, He is quite the adversary to anyone who wants to keep cemeteries neat and orderly, who wants graves undisturbed, who wants peace and quiet maintained. There is a gardener, a caretaker for those things. But this man now standing before Mary is not he.

There are many caretakers for the cemetery of the world. Maintaining this cemetery is the peculiar pastime of the world. I don’t mean, of course, the tending to real cemeteries, or the peculiar business of operating a funeral home. Ironically, the funeral industry thrives from shielding you from the stinging reality of death. First, there’s the cutting, draining, embalming, stuffing, plugging, sewing, and otherwise disguising the cold reality of a dead body to make it look as close as possible to the picture you provide the undertaker. Then there’s the casket, the liner, and the vault, because who wants to deal with the reality of ground that sinks as bodies decompose? And then the euphemisms: “He has passed on.” “She’s in a better place.” “He’s watching over you.” “Heaven needed another lady in its bowling league.” Finally, the funeral in the church has been replaced with the “celebration of life” in the mortuary. That’s all exceedingly odd and out of touch with the reality that death is a rupturing of God’s perfect creation.

In fact, our culture promotes, even worships … death. The strong are encouraged to eliminate the weak. Mothers are persuaded that it is more convenient to kill their unborn children rather than shouldering the burden of being a parent. As soon as our elderly show some sign of slowing down, we want to scuttle them off to care facilities rather than take the time to grow old with them. And if our elderly are indeed too infirm to live at home, we do not take time out of our busy life to visit those who gave us life. Vengeance is yours. Suicide is noble. Divorce makes sense. Happiness at all costs. War is just. Kill or be killed. Efficiency is our idol. And nothing is more efficient than death.

There is nothing new under the sun. Who has not bought into this evil way of thinking? Repent; death does not become you. But the culture of death is not an American innovation, though we’ve made this idealized and idolized morbid production more efficient with every new technology we embrace. It is as old as creation, minus maybe seven or eight days. It was a culture of death that drove the first humans to rebel against the source of life, their Creator. In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die, dyingly die, forever be more inclined toward death than life, see death as the unavoidable end to your lives, kill and fight, destroy both the Creator and His creation. You will die.

And then what happened? They fled from the gardener. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hid, fearing for their lives. The God who had created them with His Word; who had scooped Adam out of the fresh, fertile adamah, or earth; who had planted a garden called Eden and put His humans in the garden to care for it and tend it; who still had the dirt of His creation under His fingernails, having indulged yesterday in the perfect Sabbath of His good creation, now strikes terror into the hearts of these be-your-own-gods rebels. And He should. He is life; they chose death. Adam became the first gardener of death, and the mere existence of the gardener of life made him afraid for his life.

Since then, the tension between Creator and men has been a clash of life versus death. But it didn’t stop the divine gardener from taking the occasional stroll in His creation, from tending His garden. So it should be no surprise to us when the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, the Creator takes an extended stroll in His creation, He exercised the skill and patience of a master gardener as He walked the rows. Behold the man who tends His garden, who, everywhere He went, pulled the weeds of blindness and paralysis, leprosy and death, unbelief and rebellion. Behold the man who sowed the seed of His Word, the news of the new, irresistible reign of life, swallowing up the regime of death. He promised life, but it would come through death—specifically, His death. The death of this man at the hands of the caretakers of the culture of death, the gardeners of a dying world.

And so when Mary Magdalene beheld the man who created the Garden of Eden, who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and who was dead and buried in a garden, she made the honest mistake of assuming that He was just another man, just another gardener in the gardens of death. But He is not. He is a gardener, but of a completely different sort.

So here we are, at the dawn of His resurrection, in the fresh rays of a new dawn, basking in the glow of life, overcoming the shadows of death, and undoing a culture of death through sacrament and song. Behold the man who rose from the dead to obliterate death’s stranglehold in His good creation.

Join with Mary Magdalene in her pious mistake. Suppose the crucified and risen Christ; the grain of wheat fallen dead into the grave, buried in infertile ground, and broken forth in the bloom of new life; the eternal sower; the gardener of Eden; the new man, to be the Gardener. He is the gardener of His new heavens and new earth, the caretaker of the culture of new, resurrection life.

Behold the man who gives life. Believe in His bodily resurrection and your own, already begun in the waters of Holy Baptism, but not completed until His return. Behold the man who answers the culture of death begun by the first man by immersing Himself into it and dying at its hands. Behold the man whose death has destroyed death. Behold the man—the only man—with the authority to take His own life back up again. Behold the man who emerged from the grave and was immediately confused for the gardener. Behold the man whose resurrection means your resurrection. Behold the man who today feeds you with the only body that rose from the dead in victory over death. Behold the man. And in Him, behold yourself, holy and whole, forgiven and free. In Him, behold the man or woman you are now and will be fully when He raises your very flesh from the grave.

+ Alleluia! Christ is risen! + Amen!

Tags: John 20:1-18

A God Who Bleeds; A God Who DIes

April 19, 2019
By Rev. David French

Behold the man on the cross! Here we see the pure love of God in action. The cross is why the eternal Second Person of the Trinity has taken on human flesh. This is where the debt for sin, yours and mine and all who are born of flesh, is paid in full. Behold the man on the cross, bleeding, gasping, suffering, and dying for you.

See His hands that the night before were washing His disciples’ feet. Now they are pinned with nails to the rough crossbeam of this instrument of torture and death. See how the hands that formed Adam out of the dirt of the earth are now clinched and stained with His blood mixed with dirt. See the fingers He used to heal lepers, that He stuck into the ears of a deaf man, that took bread and wine and declared it to be His very body and blood. Now they twitch and jerk uncontrollably each time He strains to pull Himself up as He gasps for each next breath. But this is why God has hands.

See His skin that has been shredded by Roman whips made with lacerating bone chips and bruising metal balls woven into the leather thongs to inflict the most damage to the skin and muscle and so the greatest pain on the one being beaten. See the skin of His back, which is now a bloody canvas of gaping wounds. But this is why God has skin.

See His knees and elbows skinned and bruised from falling under the weight of the sin and the cross He would pay for it on as He was driven and dragged toward Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where He would be crucified. But this is why God has legs.

See His feet, nailed to the cross. These are the feet that walked from town to town as He taught His disciples, healed the sick, fed the hungry and preached the good news of man’s release from captivity to sin and death. These are the feet that Mary anointed with expensive oil, washed with her tears, and wiped with her hair. See His feet raw and bloody causing unimaginable pain as His weight continually pushes them against the nail pinning them in place. But also notice His heel, that with every flinch of pain is grinding and crushing the head of the serpent, destroying the kingdom of satan to set sinners free.

See His head, with the rivulets of blood flowing from each place one of the thorns on this mock crown has pressed through His skin. See the head that should be crowned with majesty and glory surpassing every earthly king’s crown. See the head over which has been hung the sign listing the charge that brought this death sentence: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. See the head that in death has finally found a place to rest. But this is why God has a head.

See His face, which is bruised and bloodied from the blows first thrown by the High Priest’s officer and later by the soldiers as they mocked Him and called on Him to “Prophesy!” See His eyes, which in the beginning saw all He had made, and called it “very good.” See the eyes that looked with mercy and compassion on the soldiers and crowd, on His disciples, on all of mankind now swollen closed. See His lips which spoke words of absolution but are now dry and cracked from a deeper thirst than you or I will ever know. See how His face contorts in agony and looks anything but human. But this is why God has a face.

See His lungs as they slowly fill with fluid, the lungs that in this hanging posture cannot inhale without the man experiencing the pain that comes with pulling and pushing His body to open His airway. These are the lungs that breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils and so into all mankind. See the lungs that expel one final breath as He cries, “It is finished,” as He gives up His spirit and dies. But this is why God has lungs.

See His bones, which remain unbroken. See how the soldiers with their clubs shatter the legs of each of the thieves crucified with Jesus but did not do the same to Jesus. This is what every Passover lamb, every bull for the whole burnt offering, every scapegoat, every ram, every turtledove ever sacrificed was pointing to, the sacrifice offered by God once for all, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the One of who it was said not a bone would be broken. But this is why God has bones.

See His side into which the soldier thrust his spear, causing a flow of blood and water to pour out from Him, confirming that He is truly and completely dead, that His heart has stopped beating. See the Christ hanging lifeless in the sleep of death. See how the blood and water that flowed from the side of the crucified God-man will be used by His Father in heaven to form His Church, the Bride prepared for His Son on the day of His resurrection. But this is why God has a side.

See His blood, which pours from His lifeless body, staining the wooden beams of the cross, spilling onto the dirt, reddening the soil, watering His creation. See the blood that He first shed when He was an eight-day-old boy, undergoing the sign by which all Jewish boys were made Israelites. See the blood for which the crowd thirsted and so ironically asked for exactly what they needed, let: “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25).

See the blood that set you free blood that was foreshadowed on every Day of Atonement when the blood of the sacrifice was splattered on the mercy seat, on the altar, and on the people for their forgiveness. See the blood He gave to His disciples in the cup of blessings the night before, telling them it is shed for the forgiveness of sins. This is the blood by which our eternal High Priest entered once for all into the Most Holy Place, giving sinful men access to our holy God and Creator. This is why God has blood.

You see, truly today is no accident. Nor is it a tragedy. Jesus Himself had said, “No one takes it [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18).

Dear children of God, what we contemplate this evening is ugly and messy and it is why God became man: not to teach us how to be good, not to show us the right way to live, not to be an example for you to follow and not to impart His divine wisdom. God became a man so that He could be our substitute in death. The sinless life He lived is now by grace through faith offered to you as a gift that you might confidently stand before the Throne of our God knowing your judgement has already been pronounced. Behold the love of God who calls you His own.

In His Name, Amen.

A God Who Loves

April 18, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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

Children know the song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” Every power is at God’s disposal. Every authority under heaven and earth is His. He has created everything. And He holds everything in His eternal hands. And now, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

Jesus holds the whole world in His hands. And what will He do with those hands? He will remove the clothes with which He, the eternal God, is garbed. He will lay them aside, take up a bowl of water, and use His divine hands to remove the sandals from the scummy, dirty, travel-worn feet of His disciples. And hold those feet in His holy hands. And wash those feet. He’s got the whole world in His hands. And He knows that the Father has given all things into His hands. So He takes into His hands the dirty feet of the men who have walked with Him day after day.

God has hands. This is not metaphorical language. In the person of Jesus, God joined to human flesh, God has hands. And feet. And eyes, ears, fingers, lungs, nostrils, teeth, legs, fingernails, and cuticles. And with these, He descends to take up the feet of sinful men into His hands.

You can understand Peter’s protest. His God should not wash his feet. This is unbecoming of a proper God. Gods should be far removed from their creations, distant from the creatures they created, especially if their creatures have rebelled and set themselves against the goodness and graciousness of the god. Gods should not become men, should not unite themselves with sinful humans, should not have human flesh—and hands—and should certainly not use those hands to take up and wash the grime away from between the toes of the sweaty, sandal-shod feet of those men who purport to follow such an incarnate God. You shall never wash my feet! So you would also protest, given the opportunity.

But then Jesus’s words, If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me. These words frustrate Peter’s pious pretensions. He relents, but he must have known viscerally that this was all wrong. Washing feet is not what the Christ should do, not what a god should do. This is slave labor, a servant’s task. If God descends to take human flesh and then stoops to the lowest position, the foot-washing place, the whole economy of human hierarchy is turned upside down.

As if that weren’t enough, Jesus then asks, Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Good grief. As if Christianity weren’t hard enough to buy in to. Now, Do as I have done to you. And as I have done is taking the lowest, most servile position of the foot-washing servant. Love one another like that?

That’s painful! We’ll happily abide with the command to love one another, but to a certain point. “Love one another any way you wish” is the creed of American popular religion. But, Love as I have loved you? With a foot-washing, self-deprecating kind of love? “No thanks,” we say.

You know what it means to love others as you wish to be loved, but to love as Jesus loves you? To love selflessly and sacrificially? That’s a tall order. But Jesus gives this new commandment, this mandatum novum—the reason we call today “Maundy Thursday”—on the night when He is betrayed, given into the hands of sinful men. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you. Simple. Do this, Jesus bids. Love like this. Like I do. Love those who can never deserve it, those who hate you, who reject you, who are inclined toward your destruction, those who actively pursue it. Wash their feet. Assume the posture of a servant. Or worse, absolve their sins. Give them forgiveness for sins; forgiveness they could never deserve. Love like that. Okay? By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another like this.

This new commandment He gives you: love like this. Love incarnationally. Love as flesh among flesh. Love as sinners among sinners. Love those who cannot and will not ever deserve your love. Love to forgive those who are completely unforgiveable. Love with your hands. Love in order to remove the filth, the guilt, the shame of your brothers and sisters. Love in order to get the dirt of your fellow man onto your own hands so that he might be clean. Love because your love will never be repaid. Love sacrificially. Love and never expect anything in return. Love as I have loved you, Jesus commands.

Okay, then. Who does that? No one. And yet, As I have loved you, is pretty absolute. Jesus loves perfectly and doesn’t wait for your love toward others to show His love for you. He loves. If foot washing were the extent of Jesus’s love, that would be difficult enough to emulate. But He doesn’t have hands just to take up His disciples’ grimy feet. He doesn’t have fingers merely as instruments to scrub between their toes. He has the whole world in His hands. And He intends those hands to be nailed to the cross. This is His love.

Behold the man who loves those who are completely unlovable. Behold the man who loves those who, in just mere moments, will abandon Him, will flee to save their own cowardly lives. Behold the man who loves the unlovable, the rebellious, the sinful. Behold the man who loves those who could never deserve it. Behold the man who is God and who, in order to love His creatures perfectly and completely, has become man. Behold the man who loves the world completely and perfectly in His death on the cross.

If you want to love like this, like Jesus did, like He commands His disciples to love, you will never get there relying on your own deficient, selfish love. If you want to love like this, you’ve got to be loved like this. “As I have loved you” is here, on the altar. The fruits of Jesus’s sacrificial love are in His Holy Supper for you to eat and to drink. Behold the man who gave Himself in the perfect act of love. Behold the man who on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples as His own body. Behold the man who poured His blood into the loveless mouths of His disciples to forgive their sins. Behold the man, veiled in bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for life and salvation.

This feast of love fulfills Jesus’s command to love one another. Here, as you are fed and nourished with the body and blood of the only One ever to love like this, you are strengthened, as the liturgy says, “in fervent love toward one another.” Disciples who feed together on the same loving Lord are united together in love. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In order to love like Jesus, behold the man. On His altar, behold the man. On the paten, behold the man. In the chalice, behold the man. In the Supper, behold the man who loves you enough to forgive you freely, fully, week after week.

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

The Lamb of God

April 14, 2019
By Rev. David French

Perspective matters. The way you see things all depends on where you’re at … that is physically, or emotionally, or financially, or spiritually. Perspective matters, which means it’s certainly possible for two people to see the same thing differently and both be “right.”

In our lesson there are two groups that make up this great crowd: the group that came for the Passover who were at Jerusalem, and the group that was with Jesus when He raised Lazarus from the dead and followed Him to Jerusalem. John gives us his perspective, which as you would expect, is a little different from Luke’s; and that difference, it turns out, is also very instructive.

Luke tells us that the crowd along that road leading into Jerusalem was shouting their loud hosannas and waving palm branches and covering the street with their cloaks … because of the mighty works they had seen; that is, the feedings and healings they had witnessed. But after those miracles, people often looked at Jesus as an amazing earthly king, one who could keep them fed and heathy with just a word. But Luke, with those final words, does seem to cast a bit of a selfish shadow over this entire Palm Sunday crowd.

John, however, makes a distinction between the two groups that make up that crowd by saying that those who had either witnessed or heard about the great miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, as opposed to the ones who saw the feeding and healings, were raising loud hosannas and waving the palm branches. 

Certainly, they were also rejoicing because they had seen or heard about the many other things Jesus had done, but this rejoicing is different than the rejoicing we hear about in Luke. This is, if you will, “good” rejoicing because this is rejoicing over the great reversal with Lazarus going from death to life. This rejoicing is recognizing that God’s Promise of redemption, renewal, and resurrection was, at that moment, being fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. So, we have good rejoicing and selfish rejoicing. But does this difference in perspective change anything?

Actually, no. It didn’t matter if they were rejoicing for the right reasons or selfish and self-serving reasons. No one on that day, except Jesus, saw the cross coming at the end of that week. Not a single person saw that parade as the long-prophesied procession leading to Calvary where the Messiah would pay for the sins of all humanity; a debt so great that it could only be paid by the shedding of blood and the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the One without blemish.

It didn’t matter if you were crying “hosanna” for the right reasons or not. Everyone in that crowd would see their hopes hanging on a cross in just six days. They all would see the arrest, the abuse, the mockery, the shame, the crucifixion as a sign that Jesus was just another pretender. Not one of those rejoicing saw God’s Word and promise being fulfilled amidst all the darkness and blood and mockery. None saw the serpent’s head being crushed. None heard Jesus, before bowing His head and commending His spirit into His Father’s loving hands, declare victoriously, “It is finished.”  

Even the very faithful ones that we get a glimpse of are dumbfounded when Jesus took an unexpected turn towards Golgotha. Just think of the faithful women, who were undoubtedly part of that Palm Sunday procession, who were also hurrying out to the tomb three days later, not to be the first ones to greet their resurrected Lord and Savior, but to anoint a corpse. Or the apostles, guys who just spent three years as part of Jesus’s inner-circle. They’re back hiding behind locked doors. Mark tells us that later that evening, Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.

And we are no different. There are times that we look around at all the goodness and abundance in our lives, and we give thanks to God for all the wrong reasons, wanting to believe that all this goodness comes with God’s love for us. There are also those times when we are forced to see life from a different perspective, from the perspective of suffering and shame and heartache and loss. At those times we remember the many things that would give cause for God to be angry with us.

But does an abundance of health, wealth, and earthly “stuff” mean that God loves you and is pleased with you? Of course not, and yet how often do we fall into the trap of confusing God’s patience with us as His approval? Do you think pain or sickness or poverty or any other cross we must bear is God’s anger? If that’s the case, then hospitals, orphanages, and homeless shelters are filled with people that God is angry with. Again, you know the right answer. But still, all too often the fruits we bear tell a different story.

You see, admit it or not, we’re all guilty of having doubts. We don’t always trust what God says because we don’t always see the results we want or expect or feel entitled to see. We’re all guilty of looking to Jesus for the wrong things, and that happens anytime we look to Him for more than salvation. At times, we’re all guilty of looking to the world for our wisdom and guidance rather than looking to Christ.

We may not think it that way, but that’s how it is. If things are good, God must be pleased with us. If things aren’t going so well, then we need to change to get right with Jesus. Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, you’re either not listening or you’re in denial. And I can say that with absolute certainty because every single one of us was born of the flesh of Old Adam, and this kind of works-righteousness and self-assurance is our Old Adam’s default setting. It’s what comes naturally and feels normal to everyone who is born of sinful flesh.

The good news is, your perspective doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you agree with me or not. It doesn’t matter if things couldn’t be better or things couldn’t possibly get any worse. God loves you just as you are. The proof is not found in your bank accounts or your clean bill of health. The proof is not found in an absence of pain or sorrow or despair. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The proof is found in the lowest, most God-forsaken place of all time—the cross of Jesus Christ.

Here is God’s full wrath and punishment against all sin. Here is what Jesus was processing towards on that first Palm Sunday. Jesus was processing to the cross. Jesus’s whole mission and purpose was to live a sinless life in our place and then offer Himself as the payment for our sins. That is why Jesus was conceived and born. That’s why He set aside His glory. It was all so He could be punished for all sin, the debt of which He paid in full with His Holy and precious blood for you. 

You see, God’s Word and Sacrament are your reason to rejoice. They are God’s answer to the prayerful cry of “hosanna” which means “save us now.” Here is where your victorious Lord and Savior continues to come to you triumphantly yet veiled under the simple elements of Word, water, bread, and wine. He comes to you again this very day to bring you His free and unmerited gifts of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace.

From God’s perspective, a perspective only recognized on this side of eternity through faith, the Divine service is where heaven and earth meet; where His gifts are offered; where angels, archangels, all the company of heaven gather around His Heavenly Throne at the same time that we do, joining their voices with ours in praise and adoration of our Lord and our Savior, the very Lamb of God.

Our King Comes to Die - True, Even If Not Understood

April 13, 2019
By Rev. James Barton

People often wonder how things could change so dramatically for Jesus from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. Palm Sunday is often called the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem. (The ESV Bible I am using tonight has those words as the heading for John 12:12-19.) These words remind some people of what happened with the Romans and with some other nations, when a king or a military leader would win a great victory in battle and be welcomed home in glory and triumph, with a royal carpet and much glory and honor - and riding in on a horse or chariot, often displaying some of the spoils of war and victory. How could people then reject such a victorious person as Jesus so quickly, calling for His death by Friday?

When you really think about it, though, this was not some Roman-style event, but a very Jewish event, with Jewish people, based on Old Testament ideas and Scriptures and prophecies.

  • Great crowds of people were already coming to or were already in Jerusalem, for one of the yearly Jewish festivals that people were required to come to, if at all possible. In this case, it was the Passover, the celebration of God’s great rescue of His people from slavery in Egypt, during the time of Moses, long ago.
  • People were instructed to wave tree branches, including palms, at times of rejoicing (Leviticus 23:40) 
  • Jewish people would sing certain psalms from the Old Testament, including words from our psalm for today, Psalm 118, every year, as they came up to Jerusalem for Passover. They would sing “Hosanna!” (which means, “Save us, O Lord, we pray.”) They would sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” - maybe thinking that they were surely blessed, coming as Jews to worship the one true God of the Old Testament (Psalm 118:25,26, John 12:13).

Again and again they would do all these things, and for some, there was still the hope that God would eventually keep His promise and send His Messiah, who would help His people, suffering under Roman oppression, now.

The coming of Jesus to Jerusalem was different, in that the vague hopes of the crowds became focused, at least for a time, on Jesus. Could he be the Promised One? But their focus seems to be primarily upon Jesus as a “miracle worker.”  Stories were being told about Him - and even that he had recently raised someone from the dead. John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us, “The crowd that had been with Jesus when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.” “The reason why the crowd went to meet (Jesus) was that they heard He had done this sign” (John 12:17-18).

Their focus went beyond Jesus to someone else, too. Remember the words of John, just before our text? “When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of Him, but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead” (John 12:9). Even today, there is a kind of fascination with stories and even movies where people claim to have died and seen various things or even gone to heaven, or been clinically dead for an hour or more - and then came back to life. Could these stories be true? What are these people like and what do they look like? You can just imagine the kind of questions you might have wanted to ask Lazarus, if you had the chance. Lazarus became such a focus and draw, in fact, that the Jewish religious leaders discussed killing Lazarus, as well as Jesus, John tells us (John 12:9-11). All this took the focus away from where it really should have been - on Jesus Himself, that day.     

And did very many people, at all, understand what was really going on, that Palm Sunday? Both Matthew and John quote a bit of the prophecy from Zechariah 9:9: “Behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt.” But did you note, in our text, what John says of all these events? “His disciples (including John himself, apparently) did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him” (John 12:15-16). Imagine that! They had been there that day and had already been with Jesus for about 3 years. Some of them had even helped get the young donkey Jesus asked for and rode on. And yet they still didn’t know what was really going on until Jesus had been raised from the dead and explained the Scriptures to them, and the Holy Spirit opened their minds and hearts to understand and led them to the truth.

Some of the disciples and some of the crowd may have remembered that at the high point of the kingdom of Israel, both King David and King Solomon had ridden on donkeys. Maybe Jesus could be a great king like them, who could conquer Israel’s enemies and expand the nation’s boundaries, by power and force. Some in the Palm Sunday crowd began to use terms like: “the King of Israel” (John 12:13), “Blessed is the King who comes” (Luke 19:38), “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:10), and “Hosanna to the son of David” (Matthew 21:9,15).

How disappointed the people who thought this way must have been, that by Thursday evening of that week, Jesus was arrested and put on trial and condemned to die, without putting up any kind of fight to protect Himself. Jesus clearly was not going to be the great earthly king and leader that so many hoped for. Why not, then, desert Him, or even turn on Him? Even the religious authorities, who should have known the most about these matters, were against Him and called for His crucifixion. And so the terrible events of Good Friday happened, even after the seemingly glorious Palm Sunday.

The reality is that most everything that people said that Palm Sunday was literally true, but so much was missed or misunderstood. Jesus was a king - in fact, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the very Son of God - true God. And He was also true man, born of Mary from the line of King David of old. And He was blessed, because He came in the name of the Lord, precisely according to His heavenly Father’s plan.

And he came to save! When the people cried out, “Hosanna!” “Save us, we pray, O Lord,” Jesus had come to do just that! But not to be an earthly savior and king, overthrowing the Roman oppressors and other earthly enemies and trying to solve all earthly problems. Jesus came into Jerusalem that Palm Sunday in order to die. As our Epistle lesson for today says, “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). He died, in our place, to forgive us, too, all the sins that separate us from God, and would condemn us and the whole world, had Jesus the King not come to die for us.

It was all predicted beforehand, and Jesus willingly went all the way to the cross and death, according to His Father’s definite plan. People seemed to skip right over the part of Psalm 118 that said that the Savior had to be the stone rejected first, before He could rise and be the cornerstone for our lives and eternal future (Psalm 118:22-23). He was “despised and rejected by men - a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” as Isaiah predicts (Isaiah 53:3).

If you read it all, the prophecy from Zechariah, quoted in part by John in our text, predicted that only “because of the blood of (his) covenant” - His own blood, shed on the cross - could Jesus “set us prisoners free” from our sins. Only by His own death for us, first, could that coming King then “speak peace to the nations” in His Easter victory and give eternal hope (Zechariah 9:10-11).

And in our Old Testament lesson, we heard God saying those surprising words, “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal” (Deuteronomy 32:39). These words are especially true for Jesus. Abraham did not have to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. But sin is so serious  and so great that God the Father had to sacrifice His own and only Son (no other price would be great enough) to pay for and forgive the sins of the world.

King Jesus had to come to die. It was true, even if misunderstood by so many. And Jesus trusted His heavenly Father every step of the way, even through the suffering and the killing and death, until the Father raised Him from the dead and gave Him life again - and in the process, eternal life for us all, who trust in Him.

What comforting words these are for all of us, too. We are sometimes just like those people on Palm Sunday. We say the right words, but we are confused and uncertain about them and don’t always understand what is going on with us and our Lord, in our lives, just like John admitted that he and his fellow disciples did not understand. We get off track, too, and focus on “Lazarus” sorts of things of our own day, not the things of Jesus. We do not faithfully follow our Lord’s will, not matter what, as Jesus perfectly did for us.

King Jesus died for us, too, and all that confusion and those sins and unfaithfulness and failures are forgiven, in Him. These words of Palm Sunday are true for us, too. “Blessed are we, too, who come in the name of the Lord,” simply trusting King Jesus and His humble, saving work for us, by His grace.

And one last note from our text. How did John and the other disciples grow in faith and understanding? John keeps saying, in our text, “It is written” (John 12:13) and that “the disciples remembered that those things had been written about Jesus” (John 12:16). Scripture interprets Scripture. That has been a key principle for Lutherans from the time of Luther, and for Christians long before. The whole Bible was written so that we can know better what God says and does , as we read it and listen to what it actually says and keep our focus, by the Holy Spirit, on Jesus, the Center of it all (Romans 15:4, 10:17). John also said, later in his Gospel, “These things 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. Amen (John 20:31, Philippians 2:9-11).

Tags: John 12:9-19

A God Who Thirsts

April 10, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

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

You see references to water and drinking all over John’s Gospel account. Early on, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman—an outsider, a half-breed, who expected to have no interactions with any Jews, let alone this Guy. He said to her, “Give Me a drink.” She responded not with water but with a query, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Okay, fine. But then comes this more peculiar response from Jesus, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” Then later, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Wait, what? Water that wells up to eternal life and slakes an eternal thirst? Yes, please. Later, Jesus told a crowd, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” If you are thirsty, Jesus says, come to Him. That is beautiful, inviting, and a bit odd.

Still later, the One who promised living water so that man might never be thirsty again hung on a cross, naked, derelict, and dying. With nearly His last breath, He cries, “I thirst.” Behold the well of living water, the fount of water welling up to eternal life. Behold the very Rock who was cleft in the wilderness to give a wellspring of life-giving water to His thirsting, complaining people. Behold the One who created the waters that flow, rivers that run, oceans that surge, water tables that nourish, and springs that bubble. Behold the God who made six stone jars of water to be the choicest vintage of wine the wedding guests had ever tasted, with a vintage to satisfy their taste buds beyond the simple wedding banquet. Behold the man! He is thirsty. Dried up, parched, with His tongue sticking like Velcro to the roof of His mouth, craving even a sip of sour wine from a sponge. Behold the man who thirsts.

Having taken human flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity now needs to drink water in order to survive. If this God does not drink, He will die. What can you make of this? The Creator relies on an element of creation to make it from day to day. His tongue is like sandpaper in His blister-dry mouth; He wants a drink.

And you? For what do you thirst? For what does your flesh ache and groan? Not a drink of water, probably. That is far too ordinary. For money, for riches, for power, for influence, for success, for popularity, for comfort, for security, perhaps. Or maybe your thirst is more basic, for another swig, for another beer, for another glass of wine to numb the pain, to dull the senses, to make you forget the cruel realities of living in this world. Maybe you thirst for more likes, more shares, more reviews, more respect. You, like Jesus, are thirsty. But you, unlike Jesus, are thirsty for self.

Jesus, on the other hand, thirsts for you. God has taken human flesh, flesh that hungers and thirsts, flesh that needs sustenance, flesh that can and was beaten, abused, mocked, nailed to a cross, and hung until it thirsts in peril for its life. But He’s not thirsting so that He can live. He’s thirsting because He can die. He’s thirsting because He has flesh. He has flesh because He desires to save mankind. Behold the man who thirsts.

Behold the man who empties Himself so that you might be filled. The man who is cut off so that you can be grafted in. The man who thirsts so that you can be satisfied. The man who thirsts so that men might drink and never be thirsty again. The man who is parched and dried up so that you might find in Him a raging river of life. The man who thirsts as He dies so that you might never die—not like this, not the big death, not this death separated from God, not death and hell. Behold the man who thirsts so that you might be satisfied.

In Him, your thirsts, your desires, your needs are quenched. Every thirst is primal, a hearkening back to the days in the Garden of Eden. Every thirst is eschatological, hearkening forward to the new creation, to the river of life, to the renewed heavens and renewed earth. Your thirsts, even when they seem shallow and distorted, are really thirsts for this wellspring, the river that flows and waters the whole earth anew. Your thirst is good, a reminder of your Creator’s provision in the garden, a harbinger of the draft that is to come, a call to remain in Jesus alone, who offers water that will quench every thirst.

Until then, as you wander in this wilderness between Eden and the New Eden, your thirst is still good. In the same way that hunger sharpens your desire for the bread of life, the body of Jesus, thirst chastens your taste buds to desire something more than water, wine, or temporary fulfillment. Thirst disciplines you to desire a heavenly draft. Until you can slake your thirst with the eternal water of life, there is a river from the Lord’s altar that can soothe your parched throat. Here, you find the actual, true blood of Him who bled for you, who thirsted for your fulfillment, who died so that you might have life. From the cup in the Holy Eucharist flows a river that gives you a foretaste of an eternal quenching, a stream that can fulfill your deepest thirst.

Behold the man whose blood still flows for you, who was dried up with thirst so that your dry lips could be satisfied with the drink of His blood for true drink. Behold the man who thirsted, who bids you thirst no more. Behold the man who is the headstream of a new drink, the river of life, the water for which you thirst deeply and intensely. Behold the man, the God who thirsts for your salvation.

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

A Stone for Breaking

April 07, 2019
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 from our Gospel lesson, where Luke records, [Jesus] looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

What we have here … is a history lesson. Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner who leaves the country, and leaves his vineyard in the hands of tenants who are … less than reputable. The time comes, and the owner wants to know how the crop is doing, so he sends a servant to bring back a sample. Unfortunately, the tenants decide to beat him and send him away empty-handed. That doesn’t deter the vineyard owner; he sends another servant; he’s not only beaten and sent away, but this guy, they treat shamefully, literally adding insult to injury. So he sends a third; that guy gets wounded – badly – by the wicked tenants, and is cast out. The vineyard owner is clearly getting frustrated; thrice, he’s sent his loyal servants to the vineyard, and thrice, they’ve been abused, mistreated, and kicked back to their master by these wicked tenants. So he decides, “Know what? I’m going to send my son to them for this task; maybe they’ll respect him, since he is my son.” … That doesn’t happen. Instead, the tenants somehow assume that, if the heir is dead, they will get the inheritance, so they kill the son.

Yes, this has been a history lesson, albeit in parabolic form, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out just who all these characters represent; even the chief priests, the elders, the scribes all seem to know what Jesus is getting at. This likely explains why, when He tells them that the vineyard owner will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others, they exclaim, “Surely not! May it never be!” They know that they, and their ancestors, are the wicked tenants in the parable. They are the ones who have beaten and abused the prophets of God through the centuries. They recognize that Jesus is calling them to task because, in the history of Israel, the “religious establishment” had always been the ones responsible for the mistreatment of the people that God had sent to them. Now Jesus says that, because the wicked tenants kill the vineyard owner’s son, they will be destroyed, and adding insult to injury, He’s going to give the vineyard, the claim of Israel, to others.

Let’s be clear here: this parable is directed at these religious leaders of Israel. It’s not quite … meant for us. You are not first-century religious leaders in Judea. Neither am I, neither is Pastor French, neither is anyone else in this day and age. This is a warning to those who, at that very moment, are plotting in their hearts to lay their hands upon the Son of God and kill Him. So, really, this parable is not about us. But what Jesus says next is applicable to all people, including us.

In response to their outcry of “Surely not!” … Jesus replies with this: “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” He’s citing Psalm 118, how the Messiah is going to be rejected. These are haunting words that Jesus proclaims. Either one will stumble and fall upon the cornerstone and be broken to pieces … or it will fall upon them, and crush them. Then. Now. The rejection of the Messiah in any age of this world … is a death sentence.

Such words should rightly strike fear into the hearts of all who hear them. But instead of repenting (even if only out of fear of God’s righteous wrath), the religious leaders double-down. In response to what Jesus has just said, Luke tells us that the scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. The days that followed would bear this out, as the chief priests, prompted by Judas’s treachery, have Jesus arrested, beaten, brought before Pilate, scourged, mocked, crucified, killed, and buried. The stone the builders rejected … is broken, as He breathes His last, suspended between heaven and earth, bearing the sins of all mankind. Those around Him, reject Him … they kill Him … and because of that, they think that they’ve won. They think the vineyard, the inheritance, the claim to be the special people marked for salvation, is theirs and theirs alone. … But the vineyard owner has other plans…

He has no intention of allowing His Son to remain dead. So as the wicked tenants bask in the self-assurance that what they have just done will help them maintain their positions and even merit blessing, the slain Son of the vineyard owner rises from death … He, who was truly dead, is alive again. This Stone, rejected and broken by the builders, has become the cornerstone! By raising Him from the dust of death, God affirms Who Jesus is: His Son, the Messiah, the Cornerstone of the new thing that He is doing in this world! He is creating a new Israel – not comprised solely of those descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but all those who do not reject the Messiah, who do not spurn the promises given in Him but rather cling to them! This new Israel, tended by new tenants, is comprised of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and masters, rich and poor – all held together by the chief Cornerstone! Those who reject Him … are broken to pieces, crushed into dust. The history bears this out, when in AD 70, Jerusalem is besieged and destroyed by the Romans, the temple destroyed, the people scattered. By contrast, those who hold to Jesus, who trust in His salvific work, grow in spite of persecution. The more the world tries to crush them, the better they grow. Like Paul, these New Israelites count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord!

So, no, this parable is not about us, but we are in the very end of it. Christ Jesus, the true Cornerstone once rejected by men, is the Messiah, and He is our Lord. He has claimed us to be His own in the waters of holy baptism. He sustains us through the proclamation of His Word, and feeds us with His own body and blood. Not that we deserved it – remember, each and every one of us bears as much responsibility for putting Jesus on the cross as any of the Sanhedrin or centurions present that fateful Good Friday. Rather, by the mercy and love of God the Father, we are grafted into Christ, the Second Adam, the New Israel. We are grafted into that beautiful and rich vine in His vineyard, and we count our blessings, knowing that He has called us out of the darkness of rejection into His marvelous light of faith. Because Jesus was broken for us, we trust that we will not break upon this Cornerstone!

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

Tags: Luke 20:9-20

A God with a Mother

April 03, 2019
By Rev. David French

To say that God and man are one in Jesus is not to say that Jesus has always been a fully-grown man. We know that, of course, considering we celebrate His birth every Christmas. But His incarnation didn’t begin at His birth. His taking on human flesh was a full nine months earlier, when the Second Person of the Trinity united Himself to a single gamete forming a human zygote or one cell human being, and at that moment, Mary became a mother and God became human.

To confess that Mary is the “Mother of God” is to say nothing about Mary and to say everything about her child, which is why the Early Church Fathers and the Lutheran Confessions insisted on this proper designation of the blessed Virgin.

To call her the Mother of God is to say that the from the time He was but a single cell the fullness of God lived inside her, as was the blastocyst, the embryo, the fetus, the infant, the toddler, the little boy. And. I’m sure, as you would guess, Jesus was fully and truly God also as and adolescent, teenager, and young man. Yes, the man with His arms outstretched on the cross of Calvary is truly God. Jesus, the Son of Mary is the Son of God.

And now, as He hangs dying on the cross, the prophecy Simeon gave to Mary, that a sword would pierce her own soul as well, is being fulfilled. And in this hour of His suffering and her grief, Jesus commends His mother into the care of His beloved disciple. He cares for her who has cared for Him.

When Mary was a young girl, pregnant and unwed, with this story about being the Mother of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, revealed to her by the angel Gabriel, do you think this is how she pictured things? When Joseph insisted on keeping her as his betrothed and took her with him to Bethlehem, did you think this is the road she thought they would end up on?

When they brought their forty-day-old baby to the temple for the rites of presentation and her own purification, and the white-haired Simeon added the footnote to his prophecy, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” do you think the pain she was feeling was what she thought of?

When she and Joseph anxiously searched through extended family for their missing twelve-year-old, only to find Him and His word, “Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” did she understand this was the His and our door to that house?

When they were at the wedding in Cana, and she received a polite rebuke for asking Him to deal with the shortage of wine, did she think she knew how short her time with Him would be? When she heard rumors of His actions in the temple concerning the animals sold for sacrifice, did she think it would lead to this?

The Lutheran Confessions are clear that, if you refuse to call Mary the Mother of God, you are a Nestorian heretic and no Christian at all. Now, a little background: In the fourth and fifth century, Nestorius wanted to defend the divinity of Jesus, so he argued that Mary could not be the mother of God. She must be merely the mother of the human part of Christ. Because no woman could give birth to God, which does make sense, but is still wrong.

Mary is indeed the Mother of God. God and man are eternally and inseparably united as one in the person of Jesus. God has a mother. But if the One who inhabits His mother’s womb for nine months is truly God, our cultures misguided opinion that a woman should be able to freely choose to kill her unborn child is sinful and seems too obvious to have to say, but it is wrong.

If Mary is the Mother of God, then children are truly a blessing from God, to be received without reservation. If what Mary has borne in her body is truly God, then God is truly human, and humanity’s only hope for salvation is the offspring of this woman. If the man she bears is truly God, then mankind has hope. If she gives the eternal Second Person of the Trinity human flesh, then all who are born of human flesh have a Savior.

But still, almost no one wants this woman to be the Mother of God. Some people shy away from calling Mary the Mother of God because to call Mary the Mother of God is to say that your flesh—with its desires to be its own god, to reject the name of God, to refuse the Sabbath rest, to dishonor and disobey your parents and other authorities, to harm your neighbor’s life and body, marriage, property, and reputation, and to be discontent with what your heavenly Father gives—is not simply weakness. The reason you can’t change is it’s who you are, and so we must look for hope and salvation outside ourselves.

But in Mary’s womb and forever more, God and man are one. God has been a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, fetus, baby, toddler, boy, adolescent, teenager, young man, and a man. If you are or have been any of those, then your hope can only be found in Him.

Behold the man! He calls her “woman,” but the One who hangs dying on the cross is not just her Son; He is also her Savior and our Savior. You see, He came to save sinners like you and me. This is Mary’s Son, who was appointed for the rising and falling of many in Israel, who is the salvation of Israel and Gentiles alike. Behold the man, the promised Seed of the woman sent to crush the head of the serpent who, with his deception, has enslaved all mankind. Behold the man who redeems your life form the pit.

And so, you, beloved of God, behold your mother, the Bride of Christ; His Church. From her womb, which is the font, you have been born again through water and the Spirit. Behold your mother, in whose care you freely receive forgiveness for your sin. In whose care you are fed by the One who provides for all of our needs and all that we have.

Mary is truly the Mother of God. And God is truly the Savior of sinners. He Himself is the promised One, your Redeemer, the incarnate God conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, who alone was worthy to offer Himself on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. Behold your Savior. Behold your salvation. Behold your God and brother, Jesus the promised One who lived and died in your place and was raised to life that you might have life and have it to the fullest.

In His name, Amen.

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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

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