Monday, April 28, 2014

Seven Days Makes One Weak; God Gives an Eighth

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The three-year-old in our Sunday School has already learned this important teaching of the faith: God created the world, everything in the visible and invisible universe, in six days; and then He rested on the seventh. In a perfect world only seven days were necessary. Six days to work and the seventh to rest. For in six days did God create the world and on the seventh He rested. Seven is the number of completeness. No more days were required in that good place where Creator and His creation were in perfect fellowship, communion, and harmony.

But as you are well aware, from both your life and from the Holy Scriptures, we don’t live in a perfect world. The good creation has been corrupted by sin which brought death with it. The seven days of the week—Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—the days in which we are created, born, live, work, play, rest, and die are not enough. You and I needed another day added—an eighth day, a day in which we may be re-created, born again, born from above, and live eternally. So God, in His mercy, grace, kindness, and love, has given us exactly what we need to have—an eighth day.

Our sermon text is John 20:26-28. Please listen to that portion of Scripture once again under the theme of “Seven Days Makes One Weak; God Gives an Eighth…”

“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and 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.’ Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

This is the Word of the Lord.

Let’s begin by saying that Thomas gets singled out and kind of picked on. History calls him “Doubting Thomas.” Actually, he was, at the time, “Unbelieving Thomas”; but he was really no different from any of the other disciples. St. Luke tells is that on Easter morning Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the women, “and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest… but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (24:9-11). Not one of the men, Thomas included, believed the women’s words. They seemed like fairy tales.

That night, however, the risen Savior appeared to His doubting disciples. They were in a locked room so that nobody could get in; and suddenly, Jesus was there in their midst. He declared peace to them and showed them His hands and His side. He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit, and declared that they would preach His Word to forgive and retain sins. The disciples knew that Jesus is risen—body and all. They’d been in His presence. They’d seen Him and heard Him. And they were glad.

Unfortunately for Thomas, for one reason or another, he wasn’t there at the time. When the other disciples told him what happened, he was skeptical. “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.”

And so, on that Easter Sunday, the first day of the week, Thomas was without faith in the risen Lord. And for seven days, from Sunday through Saturday, he walked the face of this earth in unbelief. He was, however, no different from humanity as a whole, or from you or me or any other individual. In our fallen world, unbelief is the sinner’s fallback position. It is the state in which we are conceived and born and live until the Holy Spirit gives us faith through the Word of God, until the Lord blesses us with an eighth day.

 Seven days makes one weak; God gives an eighth.

There is something very special about the eighth day.

In Genesis we read of the unbelief that filled the earth and only eight people were spared. The Lord told Noah that after seven days the judgment of God in the form of flooding rains would descend from the heavens and cover the earth. The eighth day was the day of salvation and only those on the ark saw it and were delivered from the floods of the deep. After the flood waters receded and after a dove returned to the ark with a freshly plucked olive leaf, Noah waited another seven days, and sent forth another dove. When the bird did not return, it was safe for the eight to leave the ark on the eighth day (Genesis 8:10-11).

At its dedication, the Glory of the Lord filled the temple and on the eighth day the people of Israel held a solemn assembly (2 Chronicles 7:9). Hundreds of years later, the children of Israel returned from Babylonian captivity. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, [Ezra] read from the book of the law of God. They kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance (Nehemiah 8:18).

And on the eighth day since His birth the Christ child began the atoning work as the sin-bearer. He observed the Old Testament Law, taking humanity’s place under the Law and shedding His first blood. He was circumcised and received the name announced by the angel; the name of Jesus. Three decades later, His life-giving blood flowed freely and completely as He died on the cross.

Having spent His Sabbath rest in the tomb, Jesus rose again from the dead and entered the eighth day—the eternal day. Luther writes: “For Christ rested in the sepulcher on the Sabbath, that is, during the entire seventh day, but rose again on the day which follows the Sabbath, which is the eighth day and the beginning of a new week, and after it no other day is counted. For through His death Christ has brought to a close the weeks of time and on the eighth day entered into a different kind of life, in which days are no longer counted but there is one eternal day” (Luther's Works, Vol. 3: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20. p.141).

Christ is risen! He is no longer subject to time or space. And so, a solemn assembly convened on the first Easter evening, on Jesus’ eighth day. His Word to them on His eighth day is one of Good News, “Peace be with you!” In other words, “May the peace which I won for the world in My death on the cross be yours.”

Eight days later, His disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” The gracious Lord Jesus granted an eighth day visit to Thomas. For seven days Thomas lived a faithless life. But seven days offers no hope in this dying world. An eighth day re-creation is essential for life with God. Seven days simply makes one weak; weak to the point of dying. God gives an eighth day; God gives life. If properly understood, we might say that Christians are Eighth Day Adventists. For those who stop at and only count on the seventh day, they miss the eighth day that never ends. They become like the Pharisees who tried to please God and be acceptable in His sight by their attempts to keep the Law.

Salvation is the ark on the eighth day after seven days of flooding rains in Noah’s day, the exit from the ark on the eighth day after the dove’s return with the olive branch, the sacramental circumcision of the Old Testament on the eighth day, and the naming of a child on the eighth day—all these relate to the Resurrection and Baptism. For this is where God grants each of His children their eighth day. God drowned sin in the same waters that He preserved His people in the ark. Just as Noah and his family entered a new creation when they left the ark so do you enter the new creation through the water and Word of Holy Baptism.

The Scriptures declare that “in [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in Baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12).      

St. Paul proclaims that “we were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:4-5). The Resurrection like Christ’s will be one in which we are no longer subjects to days or weeks. We will no longer be plagued by the old sinful nature and the sin which clings so closely.

The number eight has been associated with Baptism from the earliest days of the Church. To this day, many baptismal fonts, including ours here at St. John’s, are constructed with eight sides. “Our Christian ancestors knew what they were doing. For eight is the number of the new creation. And by Baptism we are newly created to live in the risen life of Christ” (Senkbeil).

Dear people of the Lord Jesus Christ, you and I have been privileged to behold this divine drama unfolding once more on this eighth day after the resurrection of our Lord. Another human being has been ushered out of eternal death and brought into the life of the eternal eighth day. Gunnar Allen Pickard, as he continues to live in the seven days of this world’s week, now also lives in the promise of the eighth day. We have also publicly recognized the Baptism of Madyn Logyn Bucher and Briyr Katelyn Bucher. Baptism is theirs and yours and my personal eighth day. It is our new creation as sons and daughters of the risen King.

Seven days makes one weak; God gives an eighth.

For those who continue to live in their baptismal grace, there is the blessed knowledge that they live in the eighth day. So, when the day within and of this creation comes when we fall asleep in Christ and our eyes close for the last time in this world—whether it be the first day of the week or on the seventh day of the week or any one of the in days between—we are already living in and will continually live in the eighth day.

Do you not remember that it was on a Friday when a certain sinner was brought to faith in Jesus the King of the universe and said law-breaker entered his personal eighth day, hearing his Redeemer announce, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43)?

The disciple whom Jesus loved described this place where the eighth day never ends: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’…

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:9-17).

What is your reaction to this wonderful gift given to you from God? Perhaps you feel you don’t deserve it. You are right, of course. But remember, your personal eighth day is a gift earned for you and given to you. Perhaps you feel that your faithlessness and doubt disqualifies you. You hear Jesus speaking to Thomas and think of yourself: “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it on My side; do not be faithless, but believing.”

However, dear people, this does not have to be condemnation but commendation. This is Good News! Don’t you hear Jesus inviting you to believe? God’s grace is greater than your convicting conscience and He knows all things (1 John 3:20). Do you not hear the Lord’s Word? “Peace be with you!”

Now, what is your reaction to this wonderful gift of the eighth day given to you from God? Join with your brother named Thomas and confess Jesus as your Lord and your God! Teach Gunnar and Madyn and Briyr and all the other children to make this good confession. Pray God that you believe it with your mind, hold it in your heart, confess it with your mouth, and live it with your life. Go out on this eighth day, for as long as it may last, praising your God and telling others of the Good News of the risen Savior who brings true peace. He was crucified for your sins and raised for your justification. For His sake you have salvation and eternal life. You are living in the blessed endless eighth day. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
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The Marks of the Risen Savior

Sermon preached at Risen Savior Lutheran Church for the dedication of their new church and preschool building.

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

This is a day that has been long in coming. A day for which many of you here have dreamed and prayed for over ten years—the dedication of your own church. It was my privilege to be with you for some of important milestones along the way, and I want to thank you for inviting Aimee and me to be here with you today.

From a human standpoint, it started out as a thought, a prayer, and a hope. Perhaps a church could be planted in Tea—a place and a people at which, in which, to which, and from which, the Gospel would be preached and taught. A small group of people started meeting for Bible study. After a while, that group, supported by the South Dakota District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod decided to start holding Sunday worship services. Trinity Lutheran Church of Hartford agreed to share the time and attention of their pastor.

As we met at the Tea Elementary School gymnasium in God’s presence at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 7, 2004 all of the basic body systems of the Church were present. We had an assembly of saints gathered around God’s Word and Sacraments. All that was left to do before being born was to grow and develop.

Nine months later, December 19, 2004, this congregation was received into membership in the South Dakota District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. You chose the name Risen Savior Lutheran Church, for the message of our Crucified and Risen Savior is the Good News that we have to share every Sunday. And so, it is quite fitting that you dedicate your new church building on this Second Sunday of Easter, a day in which we hear of our Risen Savior’s appearance to His disciples in the locked room on Easter evening and on the following Sunday.

Please listen to the Gospel assigned for this day, John 20:19-29, as we consider it under the theme: “The Marks of the Risen Savior.”

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He 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.”

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But He said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

Poor Thomas! How would you like to be stuck for almost 2,000 years with a derogatory nickname? Simon Peter is “The Rock.” James and John are “The Sons of Thunder.” Thomas starts out as “The Twin” (Didymus), but ends up “Doubting Thomas. It seems rather unfair, doesn’t it? Peter denied Jesus three times. We don’t call him “Denying Peter.” Even the traitor Judas is not called “Betraying Judas.” So why does Thomas get stuck with the insulting name?

Now, I don’t deny that Thomas doubted. In fact, it would be more accurate to call him “Disbelieving Thomas” at that point. Jesus nearly does. But really Thomas was no different from any of the other disciples. They’d all scrambled like rats off a sinking ship on Good Friday. St. Luke tells us that when the Risen Savior appeared to the women at the “tomb they told all these things to the eleven and the rest…but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (24:9-11). Not one of the men, Thomas included, believed the women’s report of the Risen Savior.

That night the doubting disciples were huddled in a locked room. The Risen Savior was suddenly there in their midst. He declared peace to them and showed them the marks of His crucifixion on His hands and in His side. He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Spirit, and sent them out as apostles to preach His Word to forgive and retain sins. The disciples knew that Jesus is truly risen—body and all. They’d been in His presence. They’d seen Him and heard Him. He’d shown them the marks. And they were glad!

Unfortunately for Thomas, for one reason or another, he wasn’t there at the time. When the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas replied, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails and place my find finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” He demanded visible, tangible proof before he would even consider the possibility. Thomas was not just a doubter, he was mule-like in his stubbornness, a poster boy for skepticism. For Thomas seeing is believing.

We get pretty tough on Thomas. And rightly so. But Thomas did us a great service with his doubt, with his denial of the disciples’ testimony, with his demand of positive proof. How? Because, as St. Gregory puts it: “More does the doubt of Thomas help us believe, than the faith of the apostles who believed.” I thank God that Thomas doubted, for when he “touched the wounds in the flesh of his master, he healed in us the wounds of our unbelief” (quoted by Chad L. Bird in Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons).  

Thomas’ problem was pragmatism. He wanted tangible proof, something you can hold onto; or in this case, something you can put your hand or finger into—like one of those marks left by the nails or spear of the crucifixion. He had seen the blood drip and ooze and gush from Jesus body. He has seen the wooden cross stained crimson with Christ’s blood. He had seen the stone rolled in front of Jesus’ borrowed tomb. He has seen it all. And for Thomas, seeing is believing.

But Scripture makes it clear: seeing is not believing. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” says the writer to the Hebrews. Indeed, faith is often believing the opposite of what you see—for that’s the way God reveals Himself to us. God hides Himself. He wears a mask, a disguise if you will. Jesus looks like a mere man, lives like a common man, and dies like a notorious criminal. Yet faith says that while Jesus is truly man, He also God of God, very God of very God. Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, David’s son, yet David’s Lord.

Your life as a Christian is often the same way. You do your daily work, you sweat, you put up with hassles of overbearing bosses, unmotivated associates, rude customers, unruly students, where one day just as tedious as the day before. Yet faith says, “My labor is holy, divine work, for I am God’s instrument being used in service to my neighbor.” You get sick, you lose weight, you hurt, you cry, you wonder how long you can last through the latest trial or travail. Yet your faith says, “I am a blessed child of God, well pleasing to Him, and no matter what may happen to me here and now, I will live forever in Christ.”

No, believing is not seeing. To believe is to confess that God is where God seems not to be, but has promised to be. To believe is to confess that God is good when God seems to be bad because He has promised to work for your good and for all of those who love Him and have been called according to His purposes. To believe is to confess that what looks like “life” is really death, and what looks like “death” is really life. To believe is to confess that the reality is God hiding behind the exact opposite of what you see. That is faith!

And that is why faith is a gift. It has to be a gift… because you can’t do it! Like Thomas, you consider these things to be real: things that you can touch and see and experience. Things like a freshly dug grave at the cemetery; a bank account running on “E”; a child who just won’t listen; a spouse who no longer care enough to even argue; co-workers or fellow students who talk behind your back; friends who betray; a conscience that won’t let you get a full night’s sleep; an unfulfilling job; a sickness that saps your strength as it seems to grow stronger and more vicious each day. These are the things you consider real; as clear evidence that God is holding out on you; that He is angry with you; that He’s disappointed with you; that He doesn’t love you as much as He does others.

But such thoughts, though natural to Old Adam are unbelief—the most dangerous of sins. And the only way to get rid of them (or any other sin) is to repent. Repent of expecting God to conform to your warped standards and expectations. Repent of craving constant “proof” that God is on your side. Confess your own blindness, your self-interest, your ego, your woe-is-me attitude. Repent and beg God for the gift of true sight—the gift of faith—which sees that which is unseen, which finds life in death, which sees the love of God in Jesus Christ poured out on the cross and raised from the tomb for you.

That is why I thank God for Thomas, for Thomas was just as we are. Yet the Risen Savior didn’t wait for Thomas to get his act straight before He reached out to him. After eight days, Jesus returned to the disciples, and this time Thomas was with them. Jesus spoke directly to Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand and place it into My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

And that’s enough for Thomas. He’s seen the Risen Savior. Like a blind man reading Braille, he’s read the love-scarred marks on His body. But more than that, the Lord has spoken His Word to Thomas. And Thomas believes. He sees with the eyes of faith, and confesses that faith: “My Lord and my God!”

That is the way of our Risen Savior—the way of grace. He doesn’t abandon Thomas to drown in a sea of doubt; He stretches out His nail-scarred hands and pulls him in. And He does the same for you.

He takes your doubts and your fears and your shame and your bitterness and your death and He makes them His own. And He takes His faith and His hope and His life and His joy and His glory and He makes them your own. He doesn’t remove your outward troubles; He gives you something better: inward peace. He may leave in place your dysfunctional family, your disease, your addiction, your pain, your failure, but He will not leave in place a heart empty of peace. For that’s what He is all about: giving you peace. The kind of peace that knows that no matter how great your sin, Christ’s love is greater. The kind of peace that knows no matter how bad this world may get at times, any suffering here is not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. That’s the kind of peace Christ gives: peace that passes understanding.

And where do you find this peace? Certainly not in your heart. For your heart is as easily fooled as your eyes. No, the Risen Savior points you once again to the marks of His body; in this case, His body the Church. His Church gathered here in this new building we dedicate today, and His Church gathered in various places around the world. Risen from the dead, the living Word-become-flesh speaks to you in His Word and tells you exactly where and how He comes to you.

This text is an excellent start, because here we are told how Jesus breathes on the disciples, sends them as His apostles, and tells them to forgive sins by speaking His Word. So, when you hear your pastor declare the Absolution, you can be certain that you are forgiven—as certain as if the Risen Savior was speaking the words to you Himself. Likewise, the Lord promises that He’s present with forgiveness in the waters of Holy Baptism. You only see water at the font, but the Lord declares that He shares His death and resurrection with you there so that you have forgiveness and eternal life. Similarly, the Lord declares that He is present in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion, giving you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

No, you don’t have His holey hands or pierced side to see and touch, but Christ is still truly present with you in His Word and Sacraments. May you always abide in these marks of the Risen Savior, for by them you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

 

Part of this sermon is drawn from a sermon by Chad L. Bird found in his book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He Has Risen, As He Said

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Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you” (Matthew 28:5-7).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“Do not be afraid.” That’s an interesting thing to say to women who have already made their way to a graveyard before the break of dawn to properly prepare the lifeless body of their Savior. One can only imagine what they have already gone through the last couple of dark days—the shameful spectacle of their Lord hanging bloody and beaten, dying and dead on the cross. The raw grief of their recent loss relooping in their brains, poking and prodding the most tender areas of their broken hearts. The horrible sense of helplessness and hopelessness as they ponder their own uncertain future. The literal gut-wrenching experience they anticipate in this morning’s grisly errand. Not to mention the shock and aftershock of a great earthquake, a dispatch of temple guards scared near to death. Oh, yeah, and the lightning-like appearance of the Lord’s angel who sits on the stone that once sealed Jesus’ tomb and who decides to speak to them.
Yes, “Do not be afraid,” makes perfect sense.  Even an angel of the Lord doesn’t want to have to deal with a couple of hysterical women if he doesn’t have to. And the presence of God’s holy angel in itself tends to have such a frightening effect on most everybody. Prophets, shepherds, temple guards: they all quake in their sandals when an angel appears. And so, on a practical level, it seems a perfectly natural thing to say to the women: “Do not be afraid.”
But the angel of the Lord has something much more important to say than whatever it takes to calm these women. This is neither a therapy session nor a pep talk. His is not just a matter of concern for someone’s emotional or psychological state; it’s not even the difference between life and death (though both are fully on display), but it is a spiritual mission that has bearing on eternal judgment, depending upon how one receives this message—in fear or in faith.
So, let’s listen to what else the angel of the Lord has to say: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and behold, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him. See, I have told you.”
The angel of the Lord points them to the reason not to be afraid. Some might say it is the empty tomb; but empty tombs in and of themselves are no great comfort. There are a number of reasons why an empty tomb would just make everything that has happened even more unsettling. I think about those who have lost loved ones but are unable to recover their bodily remains for one reason or another: the victims of the Malaysian airliner crash or the nearly 300, mostly teenaged passengers on the South Korean ferry come to mind. Many resources will be expended in order to make sure that their graves do not remain empty.
In the verses immediately following our text, Matthew offers another explanation for an empty tomb that is not so comforting. In fact, it shows that even for unbelievers an empty tomb is quite unsettling; it has to be explained in some way. Having been roused from their death-like paralysis, some of the guards go to the chief priests to tell them all that has taken place. The chief priests give a sufficient sum of money to the guards to spread the story that “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.” And then they promise to smooth things over with the governor if he catches wind of this empty tomb.
No, empty tombs are not necessarily comforting; it all depends upon why they are empty. And so the angel of the Lord points these women beyond what they see, or can’t see, to what they have heard. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.”
“Dear ladies, there is no reason to be afraid. The One who was crucified is now risen from the dead. And this should not all come to you as a surprise. It is all happening as He said on numerous occasions on this trip to Jerusalem. “And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and He will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18-19, see also Matthew 17:22-23 and 16:21).
And so, having seen the empty tomb for themselves and being reminded why it is empty, the women depart quickly, still fearful, but also with great joy as they run to tell the disciples all they have seen and heard.
But before they get back to the disciples, Jesus meets them. “Greetings!” He says. The word translated “greetings” is actually the word “Rejoice!” And that goes well with His next words: “Do not be afraid.” The same words the angel of the Lord says to the women. And this is very good for the risen Son of God to repeat these words to the women, because they’re still afraid and they’re not clear why He’s risen from the dead. Just as an empty tomb is not necessarily good news, neither is a risen Christ. It depends upon why He is risen. And it depends upon why He died in the first place. Is Jesus’ death simply a travesty of the Roman judicial system? An accident of history? A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Of not holding your tongue when you should? Of not toeing the company line? Of the little fish getting swallowed up by the bigger fish? Or is Jesus’ death part of a bigger plan? Does He drink of the Father’s cup of wrath willingly with His eyes completely open to all that is happening?
And having given Himself up to death—even death on the cross—why does Jesus come back? Is Jesus back for mercy or for vengeance?  It makes a big difference! You see, a God without the Gospel is not Good News. If He is back from the dead to condemn sinners, then that’s definitely reason to be afraid. At the top of His list for condemnation perhaps will be His disciples—His closest followers who abandoned Him and denied Him in the hour of His suffering. Yes, no greater love has a man than he lay down his life for his friends, but there’s no greater hurt than being betrayed by a loved one.  
Still, these disciples are not Jesus’ enemies; they are His brothers. That’s what Jesus tells the women: “Do not be afraid; go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.” Jesus casts out fear with His Word, and He declares that He comes in peace, with mercy and grace. And He tells the women where to have His disciples meet Him. The crucified and risen Jesus will be where He has promised to be.
Indeed, forty days later the disciples go to the mountain in Galilee. There the crucified and risen Lord appears to them and speaks to them and gives them the authority to make disciples of all nations by baptizing in the triune name of God and proclaiming that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins. On that mountain, in His presence, they are given the authority to be Christ’s ambassadors, His apostles, His messengers sent to proclaim the Gospel of the crucified and risen Lord.
But what, dear friends, if they had decided instead of going to Galilee that they would go to Mount Sinai and live under the Law; or to make a pilgrimage to the Lord’s birthplace at Bethlehem; or to grieve their days away by the empty tomb; or to rationalize with philosophers on Mar’s Hill? What then? Well, then they would have missed being in Christ’s gracious presence, of being in the presence of Him who wants to bestow His blessings upon His people.
To seek Jesus where He has not promised to be is to deny His Word and to practice unbelief. It is to be like King Saul, seeking to know what is forbidden, doing so by means of the occult. It is to be Judas, in worldly sorrow, desiring to cleanse his own conscience and cover his guilt by his own work of returning the coins and looking within himself. It is to be one of the Pharisees, counting on your own righteous keeping of the Law and traditions to be saved. It is to be Pontius Pilate, considering all truth to be a relative man-made construct and washing your hands of the whole confusing mess.
However, to seek the Lord God where He has promised to be in His grace and mercy is to believe and trust in the promise of His Word. It is Adam and Eve standing outside their lost paradise, looking for the Son who would crush the serpent’s head. It is King David seeking and receiving the absolution of sin from his pastor. It is Peter, in sorrow and contrition, repentantly looking to Jesus after the rooster crows and beholding Jesus His Redeemer. So, seek the Lord where He may be found, where He has promised to be in His grace and mercy.
And where is that today? In the same place: the Lord is graciously and mercifully present where He has promised to be, as He said: where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20); where the servant of Christ and the steward of the mysteries of God announces the forgiveness of sins (1 Corinthians 4:1); in the place where the Word of Law and Gospel are proclaimed in their truth and unity; at the Table where Jesus has promised to be where His Word is believed, confessed, and repeated: “This is My Body… This is My Blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” In other words, the crucified and risen Jesus is graciously present with His people as they gather where He has promised to be—in His Word and Sacrament. The Divine Service that takes place here is where and when the Lord serves His people. That means the highest worship of God is to receive the gifts that He graciously gives to His people.
To seek Christ where He has not promised to be is to deny His Word and to practice unbelief. It is the sportsman who claims “I can worship God just as good on the golf course or out in a boat as I can in the church on Sunday morning.” It is the one who embraces spirituality as long as it demands no more than keeping up with the daily horoscopes or reading the latest self-improvement book recommended by Oprah. It is the one who comes to worship looking for “liver shivers” or mountaintop experiences. It is the one who comes to worship week after week out of a sense of duty or with the notion that such mindless, heartless worship somehow endears her to the Lord. And it is the one who comes here only occasionally because someone else has hounded him or it is a special holiday.
You see, what you are saying when you do things like this is: “Lord, I do not need to be in Your gracious presence today. I do not wish to hear about the forgiveness You won for me in Your awful suffering on the cross. I don’t want to hear about Your glorious resurrection. I don’t need to hear how You sit at the Father’s right hand interceding on my behalf. I don’t need to hear how You pour out Your Holy Spirit upon me through Your Word and Sacraments. I don’t need to drink of the water of life or be fed the bread from heaven.”
To such a one as these and indeed, to all of you, I sincerely invite and truly beg you to be in the Divine Service next Sunday and every Sunday. For this is where Jesus has promised to be. This is where He invites you to meet Him. This is where Jesus comes in grace and mercy. This is where you will find everything that you really need for this life… and for the next!
You need not search for the crucified and risen Savior anywhere else, for He is here, just as He said—always to the end of the age in His Word and Sacraments. To seek the Lord God where He has promised to be in His grace and mercy is to believe and trust in the promise of His Word. And that makes all the difference in this world, certainly for eternity, but even here and now.
The crucified and risen Lord is here, as He said. He is here for the old man who, in the midst of a life of pain or suffering the ravages of illness, seeks and receives the absolution of sin announced by the Lord’s called and ordained servant. In the midst of this world of death, the Lord is present here with the woman who grieves the loss of a loved one and who hears the Good News that Jesus is here and she is given the certain hope of the resurrection of the dead. Jesus is with the young boy who enters the church, sees the baptismal font, and joins in the invocation of the Lord with the sign of the cross. The risen Lord is graciously present with the mom who brings her children here week after week even though she might not be able to hear an entire sermon for years as she rides herd on them. She rejoices that the Lord is here for her and her husband and for her children.
To such a one as these and indeed, to all of you, I sincerely invite and truly beg you to be in the Divine Service next Sunday and every Sunday. For this is where the crucified and risen Lord comes with mercy and grace just as He said. And because He was crucified for your sins and raised for your justification, you have salvation and eternal life. That is to say: You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

When You Pray, Say: "Deliver Us from Evil"

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It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” And having said this He breathed His last (Luke 23:44-46).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
It may not be the posture for prayer that first comes to mind. The Son of Man cannot prostrate Himself with His face to the ground in the custom of the ancient Hebrews or modern day Muslims. He cannot kneel at the altar railing or by the side of His bed like you or I might.  He can bow His head and close His eyes, but He probably can’t see much already with the blood weeping from the pricks of His thorny crown. And He can’t fold His hands together like many of us teach our children to do. You see, both of His hands are stretched out as far as they can reach. And since He’s nailed in place to the cross, He can’t go away to a desolate place by Himself as is His custom, though He’s certainly never been more alone, even surrounded as He is by the jeering crowd. The deep darkness is a sign that even the heavenly Father has turned His back on His Son, as He pours on Him the cup of wrath for each and every sin of each and every sinner since Adam’s fall all the way to the Last Day.
Still with all of that going on, Jesus prays. And His final prayer, uttered with His final breath, is not in a silent whisper, but spoken with a loud, confident voice: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Jesus prays the prayer He learned from the lips and laps of Mary and Joseph every night as a child. It was the bedtime prayer of the Old Testament, Psalm 31.
“In You, O Lord, do I take refuge; let Me never be put to shame; in Your righteousness deliver Me!  Incline Your ear to Me; rescue Me speedily!  Be a rock of refuge for Me, a strong fortress to save Me!  For You are My rock and My fortress; and for Your name’s sake You lead Me and guide Me; You take Me out of the net they have hidden for Me, for You are My refuge. Into Your hands I commit My spirit, You have redeemed Me, O Lord, faithful God.” It’s a bedtime prayer, authored by the Holy Spirit, and set to word and music by Jesus’ illustrious ancestor, King David. Now Jesus—David’s Son, yet David’s Lord—prays it in the very hour of His death: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
The psalm is certainly more challenging and substantial, but similar to our own prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Or the last sentence from Luther’s evening prayer that Aimee and I, and so many other Lutherans throughout history, have taught our children: “For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.”
This is the same message that you will find in one of my favorite evening  hymns, “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night.”
Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done
That with the world, myself, and Thee,
I, ere, I sleep, at peace may be.

Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at the awe-full Day. LSB #883 vv 2,3

“Teach me to die”—that’s how children, including many of you, learned to pray before our society got the well-intentioned, but totally mistaken notion that we should try to cover up all evidence of death, especially from our children. In our process of censoring and sanitizing we’ve left many people unprepared to deal with death—their own death or the death of their loved ones.
Psalm 31, both prayers, and hymn #883 all display a healthy awareness that there is evil out in the world that seeks to take body and soul. But they also confess a firm trust in God’s grace and mercy. Each expresses a willingness to entrust everything—body and soul—to the Father’s loving hand, with an understanding that while death is not natural, while death is a horrible thing, there is something far more terrible than physical death.
Unlike our culture, unlike you and me, Jesus does not avoid death, the talk of death, the thought of death, or even death itself. He does not run from it. He was born to die. You might say that He rehearsed for His death every night when He went to bed and prayed, “Into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
What trust!  Even as He slips into death. Even when it appears that the evil one has won!  Satan’s taken his best shot at Jesus. Got one disciple to betray Him. Another to deny Him repeatedly. The rest to abandon Him. And then with all sin heaped on His shoulders, even the Father leaves His Son to suffer the damnation of hell alone as the sky turns to black and the sun and moon cover their eyes in horror at the pouring out of God’s wrath. The serpent had to be twitching his tail in glee!            But even in that abandonment Jesus prays with trust: “My God, My God…” After all, His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death blaze the way for your salvation. They rescue you from every evil of body and soul from the devil. And Jesus knows it. He does it willingly and obediently. As the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He lays down His life as a ransom for many, as full payment for the wages of sin, for the sin of the world.
All your sin belongs to Him. He took it all the way to death, to a cursed death on the cross. Jesus has taken it and answered for it. He is the once-for-all sacrifice that atones for sin. He leaves none out. All sin. Every sinner. You too. With all His saving work accomplished for sinners, Jesus prays with all boldness and confidence: “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.” He will not be abandoned in the grave. Death cannot hold Him. In three days the Scriptures will be fulfilled. He will be raised from the dead. And then He will go to the Father’s right hand in glory. Jesus knows the end game. For Him and for you.   
Unless the Lord returns first, you also will die. That’s a fact, a sobering reality. You will die. You will breathe your last. For some it will come sooner rather than later. Learn from Jesus Christ how to die. Rehearse for it every day when you pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil”—another bedtime prayer of sorts. For when you pray that way you pray with all boldness and confidence that when your last hour comes you trust that your heavenly Father will give you a blessed end. You pray trusting that He will graciously take you from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. All for Jesus’ sake who died for you!  
That’s the end game. It’s certain and sure. And the evil one can’t do anything about it for you who trust in Jesus. This world’s prince may still scowl as fiercely as he wants, but he can’t harm you.  He’s judged. The Good Friday deed is done. It is finished!  This one little petition can fell him!  Your life is held safely and securely in Jesus who has crushed the evil one.
“Deliver us from evil.” This last petition of the Lord’s Prayer is your Nunc Dimittis. You, like St. Simeon, can depart in peace. In other words, you can die in peace. For your eyes have seen the Lord’s salvation. Jesus and His kingdom has come to you. And in your Baptism, the Lord has “delivered you from the dominion of darkness and transferred you to the kingdom of His beloved Son in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
In addition, the Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar are your medicine of immortality, which strengthens you in body and soul unto life everlasting. It is a foretaste of the eternal feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. A pledge and token, so that what you now have by faith you will have by sight when He gives you a blessed end, when He takes you to Himself in heaven, and raises your body on the Last Day.
Until then, we are like St. Paul, who, while facing imminent death wrote with all boldness and confidence: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for His heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). Until then we pray: “Deliver us from evil,” knowing that we pray along with the risen Lord who gives us this prayer. We pray, trusting that the One who began a good in work in us is faithful and will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.
Tonight and every night, you can go to bed in peace, and commit yourself into the God’s loving hands, knowing that you are a beloved child of the heavenly Father. Knowing that for the sake of Jesus Christ and His work of salvation, you are delivered from every evil of body and soul, including death and hell. Knowing that your Great High Priest continues to pray for you and intercede on your behalf. Knowing that through the work of the Holy Spirit you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Adapted from a sermon series presented by Brent Kuhlman at a pre-Lenten Preaching Seminar on Luther’s Small Catechism the 3rd chief part—The Our Father.

When You Pray, Say: "Lead Us Not into Temptation"

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And [Jesus] came out and went, as was His custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him. And when He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”
And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:39-46).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
On the night when He was betrayed the Lord institutes the Holy Sacrament of His Body and His Blood. His Supper. His last will and testament. A pure gift from Him that He promises is for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.
And then, He’s off to Gethsemane. A garden. A place of temptation. You remember Eden, don’t you? Another garden. Where Satan tempted Adam and Eve and mankind gave into the temptation and fell into sin. And now the Second Adam, Jesus, is in the Garden of Gethsemane. Tempted to not drink from the cup His Father has set before Him. The cup of bearing the world’s sin. The cup of bearing God’s wrath against the world’s sin. The cup of offering Himself as the all-sufficient atoning sacrifice.
In the Garden of Gethsemane your salvation is at stake. And Satan knows it. So does Jesus. And the temptation to avoid Good Friday is immense. “Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me,” Jesus prays. “Nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done.”
This is a big deal! You see, if there is no Good Friday, there is no salvation. There is no forgiveness—for you or for anyone! So Satan’s been working overtime to lead Jesus off the road to Good Friday. To avoid the Cross at all costs. To stop God’s kingdom from coming. To halt God’s will from being done. To stifle the hallowing of God’s name. And to prevent the forgiving of trespasses.
Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness after His Baptism. All of those temptations were intended to knock Jesus off the path to Good Friday. Satan failed. And so the old serpent left Jesus alone for a more opportune time.
But he went back to work at Caesarea Philippi. If you want to derail Jesus from Good Friday, then why not use an apostle? So Satan did. He used Peter as his mouth. Peter took Jesus aside and read Him the riot act: “All that suffering and dying talk is nonsense, Jesus! We won’t be having any of that! No way will we allow you to be a dead christ. Christs don’t die! Dead christs won’t do us any good!” And Jesus had to rebuke Peter: “Get behind me Satan!”
The pressure builds. The disciples argue about who will be the greatest this very night at the table where Jesus is among them as Servant of all. Soon Judas will arrive with soldiers to give Jesus the kiss of betrayal for some quick cash. All the while Peter, James, and John can’t stay awake and watch for one hour.
Tomorrow is Good Friday. The time to drink the cup. And as Jesus hangs on that cross Satan viciously attacks again! With a huge temptation—a temptation offered through the two robbers and the chief priests. Through them Satan hides and yet speaks: “Come down. Get off the cross. Save yourself!” “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe!”
Wow! A brilliant temptation! After all, Jesus came down from heaven so that sinners would believe in Him. And now, if He will just show some divine power… Gloriously descend from the cross…  Miraculously hop right off and save Himself… “Do that Jesus and we promise—we’ll believe in you!”
In that temptation your salvation is at stake. For if Jesus would come down from that cross alive, your sin would not be atoned for. But Jesus will not give in. He stays put. He hangs fast. Until He dies and atonement made. Salvation achieved. Salvation won. Satan loses. His head is crushed. Death put to death. There is no condemnation for you. Jesus delivered you from all that. He drank the cup of the Father’s wrath to its fullest.
Jesus is our Great High Priest. He was tempted in every way as we are, but He did not sin. Then on the cross, He exchanged that perfect obedience and righteousness for your disobedience and sin. Christ’s resistance to temptation is your salvation. Therefore He teaches you to pray: “And lead us not into temptation.”
Throughout our series on the Lord’s Prayer, you have heard about what toil and labor is needed to keep all that you pray for and to persevere. This, however, is not done without weakness and stumbling. Although you have received forgiveness and a good conscience and are entirely acquitted, yet your life is of such a nature that you stand one day and fall the next. Therefore, even though you are declared righteous now and stand before God with a good conscience, you must continue praying that God would not allow you to fall again and yield to trials and temptations.
When you pray, say: “Lead us not into temptation.” Jesus is your help in times of temptation. And believe me, you need His help! For Satan and his allies have turned their attention to you! To deceive you. Into false belief especially after you’ve prayed: “forgive us our trespasses.”
This probably doesn’t come as a complete surprise to you: Although you have been born again and are accounted as righteous for the sake of Christ and His work of redemption, you are not free from temptation. And that temptation comes from three dangerous foes: the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.
We dwell in the flesh and carry the old Adam with us like an ugly, malignant, conjoined twin. Our sinful nature exerts himself and encourages us daily to unchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, greed and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him. In short, old Adam encourages us to have all kinds of evil lusts, which cling to us by nature and which are inflamed by society, and what we hear and see of other people.
The world joins as an ally, offending us in word and deed. It drives us to anger and impatience. In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, hostility, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, slander, pride and haughtiness, with useless quest for honor, fame, and power. No one is willing to be the least. Everyone desires to sit at the head of the group.
Then comes along the devil, pushing and provoking in all directions. But he especially agitates matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs. He leads us to despise and disregard both God’s Word and works. He tears us away from faith, hope, and love, and he brings us into misbelief, false security, and stubbornness. Or, he leads us to despair, denial of God, and blasphemy. These are snares and nets, indeed, real fiery darts that are shot like poison into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil.
Satan’s most dangerous attacks go like this: “Jesus didn’t die for you! Your sins are too big for Him! He really doesn’t like you at all! He couldn’t care less about you.” All so that you despair of Jesus and His Good Friday salvation for you. To despise God’s Word. And turn to yourself or other false gods. So that you become arrogant and live in a false security that would end hellaciously!
Great and grievous, indeed, are these dangers and temptations, which every Christian must bear. You bear them even if you could somehow isolate yourselves from outside contact. Every hour that you are in this vile life, you are attacked on all sides, chased and hunted down. You are moved to cry out and to pray that God would not allow you to become weary and faint and to fall again into sin, shame, and unbelief. For otherwise it is impossible to overcome even the least temptation.
This, then, is what “lead us not into temptation” means. It refers to times when God gives you power and strength to resist the temptation. However, the temptation is not taken away or removed. While you live in the flesh and have the devil around you, no one can escape his temptation and lure. It can only mean that you must endure trials—indeed be engulfed in them. But we say this prayer so that you may not fall and be drowned in them.
To feel temptation is, therefore, a far different thing from consenting or yielding to it. We must all feel it, although not all in the same way. Some feel it in a greater degree and more severely than others. In general, the young most often suffer from temptations of the flesh. Afterward, when they reach mid-life and old age they feel it from the world. Those who are occupied with spiritual matters, that is, strong Christians, feel it from the devil. Such feeling, as long as it is against our will and we would rather be rid of it, can harm no one. For if we did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation. But it becomes sin when we consent to it, when we give it the reins and do not resist or pray against it.
Therefore, you must be armed and daily expect to be constantly attacked. Do not go in security and carelessly, as though the devil were far away from you. At all times you must expect and block his blows. Though you are now chaste, patient, kind, and in firm faith, the devil will this very hour send such an arrow into your heart that you can scarcely stand. For he is an enemy that never stops or becomes tired. When one temptation stops, there always arise others.
Beware! This is a battle that you cannot win! Certainly on your own, you can’t! But that does not mean you are without hope or help. You must take hold of the Lord’s Prayer, and speak to God from the heart like this: “Dear Father, You have asked me to pray. Don’t let me fall because of temptations.” Then you will see that the temptations must stop and finally confess themselves conquered. If you try to help yourself by your own thoughts and counsel, you will only make the matter worse and give the devil more space. For he has a serpent’s head. If it finds and opening into which it can slip, the whole body will follow without stopping. But prayer can prevent him and drive him back. So pray!
And, when you pray, say: “Lead us not into temptation.” This is how faith talks. Especially when the temptations come pouring in. Come bombarding in. For these words are your ammunition. Your missiles against Satan’s assaults. Against the world’s charms. Against the seductions of your own flesh.
But though these temptations are meant for evil against you, God means it for good, that you may have eternal life. By faith, all these temptations drive you to Jesus. The flesh and blood Jesus of Gethsemane and Golgotha. The very same Jesus who gives you His Body and Blood in the Sacrament this night as the very promise of His victory over all your sin and the wicked powers of the world and Satan. The Lord’s Supper tonight provides you with benefits for the long haul. For now and for eternity. Victory now and forever. For where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation. And Jesus promises in His new covenant, as you receive Him in, with, and under the bread and the wine by faith: “You are forgiven for all of your sins.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Adapted from a sermon series presented by Brent Kuhlman at a pre-Lenten Preaching Seminar on Luther’s Small Catechism the 3rd chief part—The Our Father.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Beautiful Mind

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“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Jesus Christ, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Academy Award-winning motion picture “A Beautiful Mind” is loosely based upon the life of John Forbes Nash, a mathematician who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994. A brilliant but somewhat antisocial man, Nash preferred to spend his time with his thoughts, which were primarily of seeing mathematical formulae in everyday occurrences rather than interacting with other people. Two people with whom he did make a connection were Charles, his roommate at Princeton, and Alicia, one of his students when he was teaching at M.I.T. in the early 1950’s, whom he eventually marries.
As time goes on, Nash lives more and more a double life, which causes major problems for him professionally and personally. Alicia stands by her husband as he faces the enemy within. And through a great struggle, Nash comes to realize that although he really misses Charles’ company, spending time with Charles is not in his or anyone else’s best interest. After all Charles is only a product of Nash’s “beautiful mind,” a mind filled with the imagination of a mathematical genius, but also caught in the delusions of paranoid schizophrenia.
I mention “A Beautiful Mind” for two reasons. First, in our text St. Paul encourages the Philippians (and us, by extension) to have the same mind or attitude as Christ, imitating His humility. Christ’s mind, His spirit of humility, is certainly beautiful. In His readiness to carry out the saving will of God, the eternal Word willingly “put His crown on the shelf” to live among us as one as of us.
The second reason I bring up “A Beautiful Mind” is the seemingly schizophrenic nature of this day. We begin with Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and end with His passion and death on Good Friday. The people shout: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Then five days later: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
On this day, we have Christ in both His states of humiliation and exaltation. The soldiers twist together a crown of thorns, kneel before Him and salute Him as King of the Jews. As He hangs on the cross, naked and bloody, the chief priests mock Him, saying: “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” On the Last Day, Christ will come down—He will descend from heaven and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord of lords and King of kings. But on that Good Friday He stays—so that He might save us from our sin!
This day in which we observe both Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion certainly seems schizophrenic and contradictory, but it’s not, for the eager reception of Jesus as the promised King triggers His arrest, trials, and crucifixion. The King who rides humbly into Jerusalem on a donkey bringing peace is glorified when His subjects rebel and hang Him on a cursed cross. The cross and the glory, humility and exaltation are never far apart, though often hidden among one another so as to be difficult to distinguish.
This is all brought together for us in our text. St. Paul begins, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Jesus Christ, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
So, how are you doing? How is your mind? Do you have the beautiful mind of Jesus Christ? Are you humble? Are you obedient? Are you servant-minded? Are you really? All the time?
A little while ago I was talking with someone who needed to have an EEG. He joked about the doctors being able to read his mind. I responded that I certainly wouldn’t want them to be able to do that to me. The idea that my selfishness, lovelessness, disobedience, and depravity would be on display for anyone else to see in all of its stark ugliness is a mortifying thought. It should be enough to scare the hell out of me…literally… but it doesn’t because my sinful old Adam is rather fond of his hellish ways.
Still there is one who knows my every thought and yours as well. He knows my mind better than I know myself. He, of all people, should stay away from you and me, for what has light to do with darkness? What has holiness to do with sin? And yet, He does come near. He comes so near that He becomes one of us. One who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. One who is tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. Though He is God from eternity, the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. He humbles Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Jesus willingly gives His perfect, obedient life as the necessary sacrifice for the sin of the world. Christ’s righteousness is credited to you and me by God’s grace through faith in the Gospel, and we have forgiveness, life, and salvation in His name and through His Word.
That Word and name given to us in our Baptism, means that we do have the mind of Christ. While we still carry along with us the corrupt and evil nature that we inherit because of Adam’s fall into sin, a new spiritual life and nature has been created in us by the washing of rebirth. The fact that within us dwells both sinner and saint makes it imperative that we continually reorient our mind to match our Savior’s through daily repentance. “By Baptism we have been made to share in Christ’s death and resurrection. As He has buried our sin, so we too can and must daily overcome and bury it. And as He is risen from the dead and lives, we too can and must daily live a new life in Him” (Small Catechism).
Christ Jesus is both the perfect example and the ultimate source of strength for living lives of Christian humility and love. The more thoroughly we come to know Christ, the more completely Christ and His love will fill our hearts. The more we are in Christ and Christ is in us, the more we will have the mind of Christ.
As St. Paul encourages us to adopt our Savior’s mind, he offers a magnificent description of the mind of Christ. By summarizing the humiliation and exaltation of our Savior, the apostle takes us by the hand and leads us to see the divine mysteries of the person of Christ and His work for our salvation.
From all eternity Jesus has been one with the Father. Being “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,” Jesus’ divine nature is not capable of experiencing humiliation. Nevertheless, Jesus, while fully retaining His divine nature, takes on a true human nature. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, He who is true God from all eternity becomes a true man and dwells among men. In Jesus’ incarnation, His human nature shares in all the attributes of His divine nature. The two natures are now perfectly united. Christ is the God-man. He possesses all of the fullness of the divinity; yet, because He is truly man as well as truly God, He could and did humble Himself for us.
As little as we would be able to understand one of John Nash’s complex mathematical equations in advanced game theory, much less can we understand this. Our human understanding of divine things is limited by sin, but God clearly reveals these truths to us in His Word. We humbly accept them in grateful faith.
Jesus is indeed true God, possessing all the characteristics of God, as He clearly demonstrates during His earthly ministry. Here is a man who can read the hearts of men, feed multitudes, control the weather, cast out demons, heal the sick, and even raise the dead. Those who observe Him closest have to declare, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Nevertheless, the apostle tells us, He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
Jesus was well aware of the fact that He is God, that He possessed all the majesty of God from all eternity. But Jesus did not consider this something to be displayed, or used for His own glory. The mission He received from the Father simply could not be combined with an open display of divine majesty. So Jesus humbled Himself. He “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” The expression “made Himself nothing” literally means “emptied Himself.” Jesus, of course, did not empty Himself of His divine nature. He was and always remained true God. But during His earthly life and ministry, Jesus laid aside the unlimited exercise of His divine power. It was as if Christ covered the glory of His divinity with the tattered rags of a beggar. He became like every other human being—lowlier, in fact, than most. Although He is the Lord of the universe, He was born in a stable, with a manger for His bed. He lived without earthly property or wealth. He was despised by many of His contemporaries. He placed Himself under the demands of God’s Law.
This was a necessary part of His office as our Redeemer. If He had lived on earth only as the disciples saw Him at His Transfiguration, His obedience to the Law as our substitute, as well as His rejection, suffering, and death would never have taken place, and our salvation never would have been won.
What a remarkable difference to earthly rulers. Earthly rulers seek victories through strength. They are forever building up weaponry, armies, and alliances to guarantee power for themselves. Jesus wins His victory for us in the very opposite way. He deprives Himself of the full use of His power and becomes altogether lowly in order to carry out the Father’s plan to save mankind.
With particular reverence, St. Paul describes for us the lowest depths to which the humiliation of the God-man sunk. Not only did Jesus humble Himself to become a man among sinful men, to take the lowly form of a slave, for man’s sake He became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Death on a cross was the most shameful death a man could experience, reserved for only the vilest criminals and slaves. Even more significantly, it was a kind of death cursed by God. In Old Testament Israel, after a wrongdoer had been put to death, the civil laws prescribed that His dead body be nailed to a tree. This was to impress upon the people that this individual, by His transgression, had suffered the ultimate curse of being cut off from God and His believing people. If, in the sight of God, the hanging of a dead body signified His curse, how much more then the hanging of a living person would be considered a curse, especially when that person was experiencing anguish beyond description.
The shame and degradation of this slave’s death made many, even St. Paul before his conversion, absolutely sure that Jesus could not be the Messiah. The lowliness simply did not conform to what they expected the Messiah to be. So the cross of Jesus becomes a stumbling block to many, even yet today.
But Holy Scripture’s clear answer to all human protests is that Jesus’ humiliation is not a contradiction, but a fulfillment of the Scriptures. It is a voluntary act by which Jesus bore our sins, took our curse, and experienced God’s wrath to carry out the Father’s plan for our salvation. The depth of Jesus’ humiliation is at the same time the height of His self-sacrificing love. The Blessed One, He in whom the Godhead dwelt bodily, hangs on a tree as one accursed. He is charged by God with the collective sin of the world and is forsaken by God into the torments of hell. This is the noblest act of love the world has ever seen, the mystery of the Gospel that even the angels desire to look into.
And it is all done for you and me. Because Jesus takes our sins, God declares us sinless in His sight. In God’s great exchange, our sins are charged to Christ and His righteousness is credited to us. By His humiliation Jesus reconciles us to the God from whom we have been separated by our sins. Now, we, as Jesus’ followers, are to have this same mind among ourselves, to imitate His humility.
But the basis on which Paul’s admonition rests includes not only Christ’s humiliation; it also includes His exaltation. Christ willingly humbles Himself for us and for our salvation, but this was only for a definite, limited time, and it was undertaken only to accomplish a specific purpose. When man’s salvation is fully accomplished, Jesus’ humiliation ceases forever. Having completed His mission, “God has highly exalted Him.” God the Father declares the work that Jesus has done as perfect and complete. The beggar’s cloak, the slave’s form, has been dropped, and Jesus no longer treats with restraint the fact that He is God. Now He fully exercises His majesty to rule over everything in heaven and on earth.
The Apostles’ Creed lists the various events of Jesus’ exaltation: “He descended into hell. The third day He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
What a glorious victory these words describe. Jesus, our Savior, having won our redemption, openly triumphs over the forces of death and hell. Death has to relinquish its hold on Him. Earth can no longer contain Him. Heaven opens its doors to receive Him. Jesus, our victorious Savior, now rules all things in heaven and on earth in the interest of His believers, and He will come again to judge the world, and take His believers to be with Him and to share His glory in eternal life.
In His humiliation, Jesus is rejected by sinful men. In His exaltation, He will receive the homage of all created beings. “At the name of Jesus,” Paul concludes, “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” All created beings must and will confess Jesus as Lord: the saints and angels in heaven, all human beings on earth, even the demons and the damned in hell. The only question is how and with what spirit they will make that confession.
Even now heaven rings with the perfect praise of the saints and angels. On earth, we sinful and imperfect believers faintly echo that heavenly praise. On Judgment Day the whole universe will stand before Jesus. His glory and majesty will be fully revealed to all. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Unbelievers, of course, will make that confession to their shame. But believers will rejoice on that great day to confess together the most important truth in all the universe. We will joyfully confess throughout eternity that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
But there’s no need to wait! You can bow and confess Jesus as Lord even now, right here, week after week. Bow your head and come to the Lord in prayer, trusting that He will answer you for Jesus’ sake. Humbly confess your sins and receive Christ’s holy absolution. Kneel at His altar and receive your Lord’s very body and blood often. Hear His Word of life and salvation. For in these humble means our exalted Lord comes to you with this Good News: You are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Into the Wilderness

"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskoy Click here to listen to this sermon. “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out ...