Sermons

Archives - April 2021

Good Shepherd Jesus

April 25, 2021
By Rev. David French

When Jesus uses word pictures like parables, metaphors, or other figures of speech, He more often than not represents God as someone who is unusual.  In the parable of the sower, the sower throws seed everywhere, not just on the good soil. In the parable of the vineyard, the owner pays everyone the same wage no matter how long they worked because he could. In the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, the land owner sent his own won to collect the rent from tenants who had already killed his servants. These are just a few of the unusual characters who represent God in Jesus’s parables.

Today, we heard Jesus describe himself as the Good Shepherd. And so, as we celebrate the Confession of Faith our junior high school students will make (tomorrow/in just a little bit) we consider the words of our Good Shepherd – words that reveal to us the way of salvation. The thing is, we’re so used to hearing about Jesus as our Good Shepherd that we may not listen as closely as we did in the past. We can forget some of the things Good Shepherd Jesus is saying about Himself or about us. I mean, if you think about it, Good Shepherd Jesus really is a very unusual shepherd.

Like today, shepherds in first century Israel were not raising flocks of cuddly fluffy pets. They used the sheep primarily for wool, mutton, and sacrifices. The reason shepherds watched over the sheep so carefully was not because they loved the sheep, but because sheep were the source of their income. They had families that needed food, clothing, and shelter. When a predator began stalking the flock, the shepherd was not really concerned for the sheep per se; he was concerned because the predator was taking food off the table and clothes off of his family’s backs. When a shepherd was good, his sheep were well cared for so that they would produce plenty of wool for years and gain plenty of weight when it was time to sell them to the butcher.

Shepherds have always defended their flocks from predators, but again, they don’t do it because they love the sheep. They kill or drive off the predators to preserve their wealth. And while a shepherd could be killed by a predator, he certainly does not lay down his life for the sheep. We heard Jesus describe Himself … saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). That is, Jesus describes Himself as a shepherd who loves His sheep by surrendering His life for them. With these words Good Shepherd Jesus sets Himself apart from all other shepherds.

If you were to take all the religions of the world and place them into one of two categories: true or false, all the false religions would teach some form of self-salvation … that is, salvation by works in one form or another. Boil each one down and you would find that you have to save yourself. Christianity, the one true religion, is the only religion that teaches the Creator God takes on human flesh and lives without sin in order to offer His life as payment to Himself for the sins of all humanity in order to save and restore the crown of His creation: we who were created in His image.

You see, the shepherd who is a good (lower case “g”) shepherd cares for his sheep because of what he can get from them, but Good Shepherd Jesus doesn’t need anything from His sheep. He defends and cares for the sheep with His life simply because He loves them (us).

Yes, we are the sheep He’s talking about, but Good Shepherd Jesus also spoke about “the wolf.” Now, it does not matter one bit how healthy and fit a sheep is, it’s never going to be able to take on a wolf. If a sheep has to defend itself, the wolf will have an easy lunch. The wolf that comes after us is Satan, but he not alone. The world and our own flesh are Satan’s greatest allies. They also tempt us to sin, and sin leads to death.

Good Shepherd Jesus, on the other hand, fought with and defeated Satan, paid for sin, and overcame death; and He did it in a most unusual way. First, Good Shepherd Jesus became one of the sheep. When the time came for Good Shepherd Jesus to battle death, He gave death the home-field advantage by offering His life on a cross. As He hung on the cross, Good Shepherd Jesus endured the full cup of God’s wrath in our place. He suffered death for us. Good Shepherd Jesus did all this so that we can be His sheep forever.

Good Shepherd Jesus has a special message for us in the Gospel we just heard. He said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). Since Jesus told these words to the Jews who were listening to Him at the time, these words inform them that Jesus has sheep that are not part of the Jewish flock. That means that we who are gentiles by birth are also sheep in His flock. The entire flock of Good Shepherd Jesus is the Holy Christian church that has sheep … “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” This means that Good Shepherd Jesus laid down His life for all people in all times and in all places. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for you.

Good Shepherd Jesus proclaimed that He will lay down His life for the sheep. As we heard from our lesson, He went on to say, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it 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 10:17–18). You see, Good Shepherd Jesus promised not only to lay His life down for the sheep, but He also promised to take it up again. That means He overcame death’s grip, and so Jesus did rise from the dead just like He said He would. He rose from the dead and the disciples saw the holes of the nails in His hands and feet for themselves.

But the resurrection of Good Shepherd Jesus is a promise fulfilled and one spoken to us. The day will come when the wolf that is death will catch you and me, but in Jesus we will not stay dead. Instead, Good Shepherd Jesus will come on the Last Day and bring us all to be with Him in body and soul. As Peter wrote, “On that day the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved. … Then there will be new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

All of us who, by grace through faith, believe that Jesus lived and died to pay for our sins and rose that we might have life eternal, will come together as one flock. We will share in the eternal joy of our God. We will share in all the blessings that Good Shepherd Jesus earned for us when He laid down His life for us. And, we will live with Him forever, where there will be one flock and one shepherd who is Christ our Lord. 

In His name, Amen.

Living Proof! Living Word!

April 18, 2021
By Rev. James Barton

Who was there behind locked doors that first Easter evening? We know that there were ten of the original disciples, minus Judas and Thomas. But Luke also adds, “and those who were with them, gathered together” (Luke 24:33). We don’t know who these people were or how many of them were there, but it might have been a fairly large number.

For them, it had already been a busy day. Women had come from the tomb of Jesus to tell them that the tomb was open and empty, except for two angels, who told them that Jesus had risen from the dead (Luke 24:1-6). Mary Magdalene also told them that she had seen and talked with the living Lord Jesus (John 20:11-18). Luke tell us, though, “These words seemed to the apostles and the others to be an idle tale, and they did not believe” the women (Luke 24:10-11).

Simon Peter then ran to the tomb to see for himself and found everything just as the women had said. Later that day, Jesus appeared alive also to him, though we do not have the details of that appearance in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:5). Cephas is another name for Simon Peter (John 1:42, 1 Corinthians 1:12). He too had reported back to the others, and they knew that Peter also said that he had seen Jesus. In fact, just before our text Luke tells us that they were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34).

Then, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus had Jesus appear to them too and taught them the Scriptures. He clearly showed them that He was the risen Lord Jesus as He blessed and broke bread and gave it to them (Luke 24:13-32). Then Jesus “vanished from their sight,” and they hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the apostles about the living Jesus too (Luke 24:33-35).

Then our text for today begins and we hear, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ (Luke 24:36). You might think, by this time, that the disciples would be overjoyed and get it that this was their Risen Lord. Instead we read, “But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit” - maybe something like a ghost or something not real (24:37).

If you read through the Gospels, that is exactly how these disciples often were. Jesus had been with them for about three years, and He knew them well. They were a tough, stubborn group, hard to teach and to get them to understand. In fact something like this had happened earlier. Jesus had done an amazing miracle. He took five loaves of bread and two fish, and looked up to heaven and blessed the food and was able to multiply it to feed 5,000 men plus women and children. The disciples were there and had helped Jesus pass out all this food. They knew the miracle and what had happened. Jesus then sent them ahead by boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. He took time to dismiss the crowd and pray to His Father in heaven and then He came, walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee, to His disciples still in the boat because the wind was against them and they were making little progress (Mark 6:34-48).

In Mark’s gospel we read, “When they saw Jesus walking on the Sea, they thought it was a ghost, and they cried out and were terrified” (Mark 6:49-50). Jesus immediately reassured them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he stopped the wind that was troubling them and got in the boat and they were “utterly astounded.” Mark adds, by the inspiration of God, “For they (the disciples) did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52). They still did not understand who Jesus really was and what He had come to do. Some of that hardness of heart was still there in the disciples on Easter evening.

Jesus showed great love and patience and care for His disciples, though, in giving living proofs that it really was He, the same Jesus who died on the cross, who was alive again with them. Jesus does and says these things also for us, for our benefit and our faith too. We have not had the chance to see the Risen Lord Jesus as they did, but we do have the eyewitness testimony of those who were there. These words of Jesus are for us too, especially when we have low and difficult times, and when questions and doubts trouble us about our life and faith.

Listen to what Jesus said to them and to us: “Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet” (Luke 24:38-40). They were surely able to see the nail marks on His hands and feet and to touch Him. As Pastor French said so well in last week’s sermon, it wasn’t just doubting Thomas who needed some more proof. They all needed it and they had the chance to “touch and see” the living Lord Jesus.

Yet we read, “They still disbelieved for joy and were marveling” (24:41). There seems to have been belief and unbelief mixed together. Maybe it all seemed to be too good to be true. They were so surprised by the joy that Jesus really could be alive and standing before them. So, Jesus gave them another living proof. “He said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.’” A ghost or a figment of their imagination could not take and consume food until it was gone; but Jesus had done just that, because He was alive and with them (24:41-43. See also Luke 24:30-31 and John 21:-14).

       

Jesus gave one more living proof of the reality of all this and of His being alive. He pointed the disciples to the living Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. They already had the Old Testament Scriptures by the inspiration of God. And there were now also the very words and deeds of Jesus Himself. And there would soon be the New Testament Scriptures, written down as the Holy Spirit led these writers. Listen again to what Jesus said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead’” (24:44-46). It is written! Jesus had to suffer and die to pay the penalty for all sins; and Jesus had to rise from the dead on the third day to show that he had conquered sin and Satan and death. And only then, Jesus says, can and will repentance and forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in His name to all nations.

This text closes with one more promise of Jesus. He said, “I am sending the promise of the Father upon you.” He is referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit, who proceeded from the Father and the Son, Jesus, and would empower the disciples to believe and proclaim and write down the Good News accurately, for the benefit of all people, including us today, every time we read or listen to God’s Word (24:49).

Finally, these disciples were understanding, as Jesus opened their minds to understand Scripture. God’s rescue plan for this sinful world had been there all along in the Old Testament - God’s working through the Jewish nation and finally through the coming of the promised Savior. God’s rescue plan was also there, all along, in the words and deeds and saving work of Jesus. Three times He had told them, very plainly, that he had to suffer and die and on the third day rise from the dead. The disciples really didn’t understand and believe it until now, when they saw their risen living Lord Jesus standing before them.

Earlier, Jesus had said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me; yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus is the key to the Scriptures and the center of them all. God’s rescue plan is in Jesus and is Jesus.

Now the disciples were understanding for themselves and trusting in Jesus as they should - as their Savior. They still had so much to learn; but they were beginning to understand their future mission too - just to tell the world about Jesus. Jesus had put it so simply in our text, “... that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his [Jesus’s] name to all nations.” It was simply what we Lutherans call Law and Gospel. It is for all nations, because every single person in the world needs to hear that message and keep on hearing it, including you and me. It is a call to repentance, so that we realize that we are all sinners who cannot save ourselves and need rescue (the Law). It is then the sharing of the Good News of forgiveness and new and eternal life that comes only through Jesus (the Gospel). That is the message those disciples eventually went out and shared; and they never forgot this Easter evening story and the confidence and hope it gave them, in Jesus.

Peter witnessed to a man by the name of Cornelius in the Book of Acts and said, “They put Jesus to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third day and made Him to appear … to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39-41). Peter never forgot that broiled fish that Jesus ate to prove that he was alive.

And you can hear the apostle John thinking about Easter evening as he wrote in 1 John, “That which was from the beginning [God the Son, who always existed and then became the God-man, Jesus, according to His Father’s plan] which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands … the Word of Life … the Eternal Life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:1-2). And John went on to preach and write just what Jesus wanted. In 1 John 1:8 he wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (the Law calling us sinners and calling us to repentance.) Then he wrote in verse 9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins).  This is what we all still need to keep hearing still today through the living Word of God. We are sinners; but every sin, every failure, every time of doubting and struggle of faith, is forgiven and forgotten in Jesus. In Him is our hope and our eternal future; and we can say in Lutheran terms, “This is most certainly true” in the living Christ and His living Word. Amen.

The Peace of Christ

April 11, 2021
By Rev. David French

Even though it’s the same every year, it seems wrong to always pick on Thomas the very first week after Easter. I mean, there are people who have never picked up a Bible, but they know about “Doubting Thomas.” But, let’s do a quick review of last week from Luke’s perspective. In chapter 24, after the angel tells them Christ is risen, we read, “Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Did you hear that?  They … meaning the apostles … did not believe them.  At that moment, the apostles were not just doubtful, they flat-out did not believe. So yes, Thomas said … unless I see it (that is, what the others saw) I will not believe. But Thomas was no worse than any of the others. So how come Thomas is the one singled out as the doubter? The truth is, no one believed Jesus had risen until after they had seen Him in the flesh.

That’s what makes some of the other things that happen in today’s gospel so amazing. Jesus shows up among them and the first words He speaks to them are, “Peace be with you.” “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” That is, God’s anger over sin has been removed and there is now peace between God and man. Jesus had every right to criticize them for their lack of faith, and He will later, but not now. So, Jesus not only assures them all is well; He also invites them to check out His crucifixion wounds. 

 And then He builds on that as we read, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’” Literally, Jesus said He’s the Apostle or the Sent One of the Father; and He in turn is sending this bunch of underachieving doubters out into the world to be His apostles … His “sent ones.” And they are sent with a unique God given authority. “Jesus breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’” With His words and breath, Jesus gave to His apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit and the authority to extend or withhold the forgiveness of sins.

Now, let’s just think about that for a minute. A few days earlier, Jesus was falsely accused and arrested, abused at the hands of the soldiers, dragged through several so-called trials, mercilessly beaten, flogged, put on display for ridicule, and put to death by crucifixion, not to mention enduring the full wrath of God, all to pay for sin. And then He takes that forgiveness, that priceless treasure, and puts it in the hands of this group of doubting underachievers. I can’t overstate how strange and wonderful and bizarre and amazing it is that Jesus would place the forgiveness He earned in the hands of these men who, just a few short hours before, had refused to believe that He had risen from the dead. But, by giving it to the apostles, whose writings are, along with the prophets’, the foundation of Christ’s church, He in effect gave that authority to His church.

Jesus has given His forgiveness to the church. Luther’s Small Catechism covers this authority to forgive sin in the discussion of the Office of the Keys. You remember:

  • What is the Office of the Keys? The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
  • Where is this written? That would be today’s lesson - John 20:22-23
  • What do you believe according to these words? I believe … this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

I exercised that authority earlier in the service when I said, “Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce unto you the grace of God and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You see, these words are so amazingly precious that even if the rest of the service is a total bust … the sermon dull … the hymns hard to sing … the organ out of tune ... no matter what may go wrong during our time together, it is worth being here just to hear those blood bought words. For with those words of forgiveness, we receive the very same thing Jesus gave to those underachieving disciples on the very day that He rose from the dead.

 There is real comfort for us in today’s gospel reading. All of us mess up. We are all sinners. In that regard, we are just like the apostles. Peter was known for sticking his foot in his mouth. James and John are called the Sons of Thunder because of their temperaments. You get the idea. All the apostles said they were ready to die with Jesus, and then they all ran away when He was taken captive. Today’s lesson tells us that they were in a locked room because of fear. Isn’t that the same as saying nothing because of fear? You see? We’re just like the apostles. But just as Jesus came to His apostles with His peace and forgiveness, He also comes to you and to me again today.

The forgiveness that Jesus earned on the cross is yours. Today’s lesson teaches that you receive it when you hear the words of the absolution. Scriptures teach that you receive forgiveness whenever you hear or meditate on the Good News of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. We receive it through the water and the Word of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine that when combined with His Word are His body and blood given for your forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus uses every one of our five senses to offer His love and forgiveness to you. Do we need all five? No. We just happen to have a God who is abundant in love and rich in mercy, and who pours out His love in many and various ways.

Luther once preached, “It is a great and excellent thing for the mouth of every honest minister and preacher to be Christ’s mouth, and for his word and forgiveness to be Christ’s word and forgiveness. If you sin and confess it, believing on Christ, then your minister and preacher will forgive you the same sin in Christ’s place, and the words which he speaks on God’s behalf, you ought to accept as if Christ himself had spoken them to you.”

Now, I read that not to build myself up, but to humble myself, as I am reminded what an amazing thing it is that Jesus has promised to deliver: the forgiveness of sins through the mouths of sinful men who He has called to serve as under-shepherds or pastors of His church. Most have a very clear understanding of how unworthy we are to speak those words of forgiveness. And yet, I do so with great confidence and joy because I also receive the forgiveness I proclaim. In fact, I’m convinced that forgiveness is the peace Christ offers precisely because it is Jesus alone who forgives our sins. 

In His name, Amen

Return to the Lord: Return and See

April 04, 2021
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 for this holy, joyful, blessed Easter morn comes from our Old Testament text where Isaiah records, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”  Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

When you were a child, what did you imagine heaven is going to be like? Often, children will equate and amplify exponentially the thing they absolutely love the most with what awaits us in the life of the world to come. For the one who loves basketball, heaven is obviously going to be a massive, never-ending game where everyone plays and you’re able to make 3-pointers every time. Me? I loved Christmas, and growing up, we had this beautiful but simple nativity set that we’d set up every Christmas. I loved that thing, so for me, when I thought of heaven, I imagined a gold and jewel-encrusted stable where everyone adored the infant Jesus. Yes, I was an odd little kid! Most everyone imagines something different, but what Isaiah records in our text was not an imagining. It was a vision.  He writes, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” What a vivid picture he paints! A joyful gathering of people “from all tribes and peoples and languages.” And in this gathering, the Lord of hosts has “swallow[ed] the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.”

No matter what we imagine heaven to be like, the reality of what actually awaits us … is infinitely better than any of us could imagine! Even Isaiah’s words here, beautiful though they are, fall short of what we will actually see and experience! We read his beautiful account, we picture its fulfillment … and we rightly yearn for its fulfillment right now. We look around ourselves at this vale of tears in which we live, this broken world, the debilitating cataclysms, people being ugly to each other … and we long to be at that “feast of rich food” already. Mostly, we yearn for “the covering that is cast over all peoples” to be consumed once and for all … because that covering is the pall of sin and death. It covers us because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We cannot rid ourselves of it. It can’t be shaken off or removed. We are trapped beneath it. Our sinful nature clings to us so much so that … it’s part of your identity. You are a sinner. And you know it. Your conscience cries out against you, and your thoughts accuse you every waking moment. To attain to this “feast of rich foods” seems impossible.

Paul verbalizes that frustration when he tells the Romans, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing … Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” We lament, we grieve over it. … and the amazing thing is, we hear Jesus’s reply: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” God does not desire the death of the sinner, but that all would come to the knowledge of the truth, and the truth is this: God sent His only-begotten Son to deal with this problem that we brought upon ourselves and all creation. “He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

God stepped in and made the impossible … possible! He did so in and through Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, and what we honored in solemn reverence this past Friday … that’s what made it possible. On that mountain, Calvary’s hill, the LORD of hosts made for all peoples … atonement, satisfaction, payment, sacrifice for their sins. That’s how He dealt with our sin. His Son took our place, robbing us of our sin, dying the death that we deserved … so He that could give us in exchange His righteousness. In Him, your sin is forgiven; ALL OF IT. In Him, your salvation has been secured!

Because He made that sacrifice for you … because He rose from the dead for you …, you have a seat at His table! In your baptism, Jesus made you a participant in His death and in His resurrection. In your baptism, He applied His bloody victory and salvation to you. In your baptism, He clothed you with pure vestments, the robe of His own righteousness, in return for your own filthy garments! With Isaiah, we sing, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”

That first Easter Sunday morning, when Jesus walked out of His tomb, resurrected from the dead, His first task was to invite the disciples to Galilee, to come and see the beginning of the new creation! “Come to Galilee. Come to the mountain where you will find Me.” So they did. They went to that mountain and gathered at Jesus’s feet, and He gave them a task, simple, but crucial. “You’ve come. You’ve seen. You’ve worshiped. Now, go. Go and make disciples. Go and baptize. Go and teach. Go, and know that I am with you always. Come and see; go and tell.”

This morning, He extends the same invitation to us: come and see! Come, look upon the One who was pierced for your sins and see that His plan of salvation for you has been completed! Come and see … “taste and see that the Lord is good” in His Supper! Here is where we see Jesus. We see Him reach down and claim His own in Holy Baptism. We genuflect toward the holy ground, this blessed altar where God comes to earth to give of Himself to us. We receive His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine at His Table. Come and see!

Come and see … then go and tell. “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” You have come and you have seen the salvation won for you by your Lord and Savior! Go out now into the world and to share with others what you have seen! Be glad, and rejoice in Him! Invite them to come and see that He is not dead! The tomb is empty! Shout it out to this dying world!

+ Alleluia! Christ is risen! + Amen.

What God Wants You to See and Understand

April 02, 2021
By Rev. David French

So, this is Jesus - your King. The One about whom you sang your Hosannas. This bloodied and beaten man about whom Isaiah writes, “… his appearance was … disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” This is the One you come to in your desperate hours, the One you trust when you hold the hand of a loved one who is dying. This Jesus who can’t even lift His head, He’s your Savior, the One you look to for salvation? Honestly, hanging on that cross this Savior looks more like a pathetic … nothing. And yet here we are ready to kneel before him because He is the only Savior that the world has been given. Isaiah prophesied that it would be like this. A time of darkness and silence. Not because there would be no one around to speak but because of what they were seeing. Christ hanging on the cross was shocking to the senses. The lashings and beatings had left Him as Isaiah revealed, “… marred beyond human likeness.” In the next verse he also wrote, “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.”

So, what is it that God wants us see and understand? My friends Jesus wants us to know and believe again this night that your salvation is found not in power, but in weakness; not in glory, but in suffering; not in majesty, but in disgrace. On the cross we are seeing what God wants us to see, and by grace through faith, He wants us to understand that this is how He saves you.

Let me share with you a divine mystery. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He took the dust of the earth in His hands and He made Adam in His image and then breathed into him the breath (or spirit) of life. At the end of Jesus’s ministry, God is again making something, but this time He’s making His holy Son in the image of man. The apostle Paul puts it this way, “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.”

You see, as Jesus hangs on the cross, it’s like He’s hanging between two worlds. He hangs above a world that is killing Him and below the heavens that have now rejected Him as He endures the Father’s wrath against the sin of the world, which He willingly took upon Himself. For every thoughtless word, every broken promise, every greedy or selfish action, and placing ourselves before others and many “things” before Him, Christ offered His life. For all of these things and the things I don’t speak about, but you know, Jesus willingly went to the cross and suffered God’s wrath so that you and I could be forgiven and saved. What you see on the cross is God’s final judgment against sin. Isaiah was right. The world was struck silent at both the horror of sin and the justice of God as it is poured out upon His Son, our Lord, Jesus, who is the Christ of God. But out of that silence, Isaiah also tells us a voice is heard. It’s a human voice, but it carries divine authority as Jesus, the Son of God, opens His mouth to speak. It’s ironic that when God created Adam, we’re told that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and he “became a living creature.”

As Jesus’s life comes to an end, God will use His dying breath to restore the life that was lost when sin first entered the world. And Jesus breaks the silence with one word, “Tetelestai.” It’s a merchant’s word, a word used by tax collectors, a word that one would write at the bottom of an account that had been paid in full. Out of that deafening silence on Good Friday, with what little strength He can gather, Jesus forces out the word “Tetelestai.” It is finished. The debt owed to God for the sin of all humanity, from the sixth day of creation until judgement day, is paid in full.

With His last word to mankind, Jesus wanted us to understand that God’s demand for justice has been satisfied because, as we see again this evening, our salvation is a result of God’s good and gracious will alone. And Christ, who freely and willingly gave His life for you, also gave that life to you as you were clothed with His righteousness in your baptism, as the promise of life eternal and a heavenly home was spoken to you by name.

Earlier this week we were talking in the office about Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion,” and I was reminded of the day I was given that DVD by a member who told me that he would never it watch again. For him, it was too violent and too graphic in its depiction of The Passion, so much so that he decided to give it to the church. However, He did tell me about one scene that He just couldn’t get out of his head. It was when Jesus speaks to His mother Mary on the way to the crucifixion. Jesus is bloodied and beaten. He’s carrying His cross through the crowded streets of Jerusalem. He falls for the third time, right in front of Mary, and she reaches out as if to catch Him. Her mind is filled with images of the past. She remembers Him running to her as a child in the streets of Nazareth. These images of the past, however, only made the present more painful. She realizes that this time she can’t catch Him. She can’t save Him. This day, her Son is going to die. But as Mary is reaching out to Jesus … His face swollen, bruised, and bloodied … He looks at her and says, “Behold, I make all things new.” You see, when Mary’s mind is filled with images of the past, Jesus offers her a promise for the future. When Mary’s heart is breaking over the end, Jesus comforts her with the promise of a new beginning. Where Mary sees death, Jesus reveals life. Jesus teaches Mary to see this horrible moment as God’s most creative act.

This scene is not found in the Scriptures. There is no biblical record of Jesus saying those words to His mother on the way to Golgotha. So, on the one hand, Mel Gibson used dramatic license on the how this might have happened, but on the other hand, in terms of its spiritual meaning, his point was absolutely right. The death of Jesus was indeed the beginning of a new creation.

Tonight, God gathers His people together in a world that is being torn apart by sin, and He offers us hope. Hope in a promise that in the midst of the turmoil is being brought to its fulfillment. Hope about the day when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. Hope of one day being in heaven.

You see, this crucified One is King, not just of the Jews, but of all creation. And we, who by God’s grace believe in Him, who again this evening hold tightly to the promise of our crucified Savior, will one day see Him face to face in His new and glorious creation.

John begins his gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word.” Then John speaks to us about God’s work of Creation, about how God spoke and brought life into being. Now, at the end of John’s gospel, he records a time when there was darkness and silence. No human words could express the suffering of Jesus. No human effort could get Him down from that cross. He hung there between heaven and earth, dying. And with His final word before giving up His spirit, Jesus spoke into the silence exactly what God wants us to see and understand, “Tetelestai.” His work to save fallen humanity ... it is finished. Your sins are forgiven.

In His holy name, Amen.

Return to the Lord: Return to the Table

April 01, 2021
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 for this Maundy Thursday comes from our gospel text, especially where Mark records, “And as they were eating, [Jesus] took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’”  Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Let’s play a very brief game of “hypotheticals.” You arrive home one Tuesday afternoon after a long day at work. As you pull up to your house, you stop at the end of the driveway and step out of your car to check the mailbox. As you sort through the mail, you spot an oversized envelope with a wax seal on the flap. Heavy paper with the address inscribed in flowing calligraphy. It is stunningly beautiful, exuding luxury and prestige. There is no return address, but you can tell that this is a special invitation. Without waiting to get in the house, you crack the seal and open the envelope. Inside is an engraved invitation to join the Queen of England for a grand banquet. Your travel arrangements have already been made. All expenses are covered, and you will travel first class. Before you can even consider what you have in the closet for such an event, you see that the appropriate attire, shoes, and accessories will be provided for you. You need only to show up.

A few hours later, you’re on a plane winging your way across the Atlantic. Upon arrival, you’re whisked to a luxurious suite where you have a little bit of downtime to prepare for this amazing honor. You shower and dress in the snazzy duds laid out for you and then follow the instructions given where to find the table. As you enter the room, you are surprised to find that you are not the only guest. The hostess has invited many people, from all walks of life, and everyone gathers around the table to take their seats. Small conversations pop up as people get to know one another, and common interests are discovered. There is great joy in the banquet hall.

Everyone here admires the Queen and is overjoyed to be in her presence. The assembled group is full of kind, loving people, and all are made to feel that they are part of the group. As the night goes on, however, arguments begin to bubble up. A man is angry that his neighbor took so much of the gravy for his potatoes. Another pair begins to argue about whether the crystal in use is the best choice for such an event. There’s even a guy in the back who had a little too much to drink, and is now attempting to belch the alphabet.  As you look around at this … august company, you begin to wonder whether you or any of these well-dressed troglodytes actually belongs here. The meal is so sumptuous, the environment so posh. Yes, you’re well-dressed, but the company is so boorish, and you wonder if this was really meant for you. Present company excluded, you wonder what in the world you could have done to deserve such a gift. How could you or any of these crass degenerates ever repay such kindness?

Hypotheticals are fun, but far-fetched and incredible as it may have been, there is a real, far more sumptuous, more luxurious, more … vivifying feast spread before you here tonight. No, the venue is not Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace; it is this sanctuary. The Table has no mahogany beauty or gold filigree, but are these humble little tables, here at the front of the nave. And the people who have been invited are, well, all Christians—fellow sinners and saints of this congregation, yes, but also all who faithfully gather around their respective altars the world over, as well as “angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven,” who come together for this foretaste of the Feast to come. You see, the invitation comes not from the Queen of England, but from One of infinitely greater consequence. Your invitation comes courtesy of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the One “by whom all things were made.” Your gracious host … is Christ Jesus

We gather together this night in response to the invitation that Christ our Lord has extended. He says, “Return to My Table; return to the fellowship and joyous communion that you have as members of My body; return to the holy ground where your God deigns to come down to serve you.” It is the same invitation Christ extends to you every week, drawing you to His Table to feed, nourish, and strengthen you in the one true faith.

This is the feast par excellence, but it doesn’t take long to see that it is also marred by sin. We are the chosen of God, but we also possess a sinful nature that infects everything. We sit at the Table with the same people who can’t control their kids in worship, the man who smells a little funny, the woman who sings off-key, and the friend who failed to keep your secret last month and betrayed you to a mutual acquaintance. You may even wonder if you really belong here, whether any of us is worthy to partake. Even at the Last Supper, Jesus revealed that one of His disciples would betray Him, and it rippled through the whole group. “Is it I?” each wondered in turn. “Am I that messed up that I would do something like that?”

Well, you are. And so am I. We are sinners, but Christ, the host of this magnificent feast has nevertheless drawn you here. He serves His banquet to us poor, wretched sinners. He offers not “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” No, it’s much, much more than that. He offers you His own, actual, true body and blood in, under, and with this simple bread and wine. He doesn’t clothe you in a Gucci suit or a Prada dress; He clothes you with His blood, His own righteousness. He invites you to taste the forgiveness of your sins, the life and salvation He won for you, in this Holy Meal, as Luther explains in his Small Catechism: “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”

This Meal may not fill your belly, but it takes away your faults. This Meal binds you to your brothers and sisters in Christ, here and throughout time and space – but more importantly, it binds you to your Lord and your God, Jesus Christ. This Meal covers your sins, strengthens your faith, and nourishes your body to serve God and neighbor in His kingdom. We eucharisteo, we give thanks, for His grace that invites us to His Table, joins us in fellowship with one another, removes our sins, and strengthens and nourishes us for service.

There are precious few things that compare with the Supper on this side of eternity. However, amazing as this Feast is, never forget that it is a foretaste of what God has in store. This bit of bread … this sip of wine … they are but a glimpse of what we will partake of when all the saints of God come together for the wedding Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. We live in this crazy, “now but not yet” world – sustained by God’s Word of promise even as we walk by faith and not by sight -  but we also know that what we experience now pales in comparison to what the Last Day will bring. Rejoice in this gift of Holy Communion, which we share today, and hold fast to the promise of the full feast yet to come.

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

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