Monday, April 27, 2009

What Must I DO To Be Saved?

Is forgiveness truly free? Or must you do something in order to be saved? It is true that many Christians teach and believe that you must do something in order to be forgiven by God (you must believe/have faith). This is not what the Bible teaches, nor is it correct Christian doctrine.

God forgiving us is a gift. A gift is something that is given. One does not do something to receive a gift. If one does something and gets something in return, that’s not a gift but a wage/something earned. If I give you a gift there is nothing you can do to receive it, it’s yours. It’s true that you can reject my gift, but you can’t do anything to gain possession of it. You are in possession of it because I have given it to you. That’s what forgiveness from God is.

The sinful human mind—and the Bible teaches that all humans are completely sinful—responds: yes, but don’t we have to do something? What about faith? What about belief? It’s true that we have faith and believe. However, the Bible teaches that this, too, is a gift of God. Romans 3:28 says, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (ESV) (Emphasis mine.) But we also teach that works prove that you are forgiven and therefore being forgiven doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. While true, that doesn’t mean that forgiveness is not free. It means that the forgiveness is given and so are the works that the forgiven person does. God produces those works. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV) (Emphasis mine.) Jesus accomplished salvation for the world, this is the gift.

Consider Jesus’ words on the cross: “Father, forgive them.” Jesus was not speaking simply of those individuals present who crucified Him, He was speaking of every person who has ever lived. This is what Mel Gibson was getting at when he said that he used his hand in the movie Passion of the Christ for the soldier hammering the nail into Christ’s hand because he (Mel) is responsible for Christ dying on the cross, along with everyone else.

The Bible not only teaches that Jesus accomplished the work of taking away our sins, but also accomplished what we could not in regard to God’s Law. Christ came to fulfill the Law. We are unable to abide by God’s Law. James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (ESV) Jesus said He came not abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

So, what must I do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! This, too, is the work of God [This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent. John 6:29 (ESV)] Thanks be to God!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Things Aren’t Always As They Seem

Third Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2009
Luke 24:36-49

The Resurrection is victory. It’s all about power and glory and the defeat of Satan and death and hell. But when you look at what happened after Jesus rose from the grave the disciples don’t understand the victory. Jesus shows them who He is and what He has done but they’re still in a daze about the whole thing. Yes, they’re happy and glad that Jesus is back and that He’s truly God. But they’re surrounded by the world. They still wonder what the enemies that put Jesus to death might yet do to them. Yes, Jesus is alive, but how much has really changed? Why, as we heard last week, are they still locked up in a room a week after He has conquered the grave?

A lot of our questions have to do with our expectations. We expect things to be radically different when God enters the picture. And while things may be exciting at the moment, in day to day life how much have we really been impacted by Him? What we’re expecting is different from what God is giving. What we need is humility. We need to come to our Lord expecting that we don’t fully understand what we need. He’s the one who knows and He’s the one who gives us what we need.

That’s why, after all that Jesus had done, after all they had witnessed, they still didn’t understand what was going on. So what did Jesus do? He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. What does this mean? How did He do this? Did He do something here like He did with the ears of the deaf and the eyes of the blind, where He opened them? Where they could now miraculously hear and see? So, in the case of the disciples here, they now miraculously understood the Scriptures?

That sure would have been great, wouldn’t it? They now suddenly understood everything perfectly. Doesn’t it seem, though, that the more we study the Scriptures, the more we see we need to study them? The more we learn, the more we need to know? That was the case with them. They still didn’t fully understand. But what they did have now was the crucified and risen Lord standing before them and showing them that what they had, and would continue to have even after He would ascend into heaven, was the Scriptures. He was showing them that the pages of Scripture don’t just contain information on a page, but are the very Living Word of God which delivers to them—their hearts, minds, and souls—the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ Himself.

Things aren’t always as they seem. Jesus might have appeared to be a ghost, but He was flesh and blood, as He showed when He invited them to touch Him, when He ate the fish in their presence. The pages of Holy Scripture may have seemed to be just words, but they were the very message of salvation brought about through Jesus. The disciples might have thought themselves simply as students of their master, but they were in fact witnesses to His death and resurrection and ambassadors to the world of the Gospel message of repentance and forgiveness.

Jesus rising from the dead puts everything into perspective. Now He says, You see, the entire Scriptures are all about Me and what I have done to accomplish salvation. His laying it out before them is nothing else than what He will continue to do for them in their lives.

We, too, have experienced the risen Lord coming to us in our lives. We have actually been raised from the dead ourselves. With Him. In our Baptism, we have been united with Christ. You have new life in Christ even though you don’t fully understand how Christ is significant in your daily life. Things aren’t always as they seem, and you might wonder how significant it really is that you are united with Christ. You don’t necessarily seem to be any better off than non-Christians. But this is why Christ always opens our minds to the Scriptures, laying them out for us, that they always flow from Him and point us back to Him. Christ, who is Almighty God, is not interested in showing off spectacular displays of power. Indeed, when He rose from the grave He did it when no one was around. His display of love is through humbly serving us. You may not seem to be better off, but be assured that your soul is in the eternal care of the Almighty and Loving God.

When you go through your day to day life, do you feel like locking yourself up back to safety? Away from where you can’t be touched by the things that cause you distress, the things you fear, the things that can harm you? It’s impossible to do, isn’t it, because even in our homes we run up against difficulties with our loved ones. When we seek reprieve from the stress of our lives, we often find temptations in our times of relaxing to engage in behaviors or thoughts that aren’t just relaxing, but indulgent of our sinful nature. That’s how one alcoholic drink can easily turn into too many. How an hour or two of TV can turn into hours, and how that can easily become a habit. How, in fact, anything we do for relaxation or enjoyment can become an addiction for us where we find that we have no hunger for God’s Word or our Lord’s Holy Supper.

These are the places where we’ll find the strength and rampart we need. Things aren’t always as they seem. The Body and Blood of Christ you receive often here at this altar might not seem any special help or strength when you’re battling temptation in the middle of the week. It doesn’t necessarily seem that the Body and Blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine translate into helping you feel better during the week when you’re hit hard by the realities of life. But the Lord’s Supper isn’t a shot in the arm. You don’t come here on Sunday morning to get motivated for the rest of the week, hoping you’ll last at least half way through. The Lord’s Supper is Christ coming to you, just as He did to the disciples. You are witnesses of these things. You are Baptized, united with Christ. You eat and drink the very Body and Blood of Christ. Your ears take in the proclamation of the Gospel straight to your heart and soul.

You are a disciple of Christ. You live in union with Him. You’re not just trying to get by. You’re a redeemed son or daughter of the Living God. You bring the Good News of the crucified and Risen Lord to a world that is looking for a shot in the arm. Don’t offer them that—that’s what they’re already offered by the world. Give them Christ. That’s what you’ve received. He’s who you received. Things are not always as they seem. They may seem to think nothing more of what you’re giving them than they do the fact that it’s trash day. But know that Christ is the Teacher. Know that He sends His Holy Spirit to work in their lives to bring them to faith. He has done so with you. He continues to strengthen you in that faith: in His Word, in your Baptism, and in His Holy Supper; both in this life and to eternity. Amen.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

God’s Construction Workers

Do you know someone who’s constantly tearing others down? You’re almost afraid to see them for fear of who they’re going to talk about next, and what they’ll say about them.

Or maybe you haven’t noticed it about yourself, that when you’re talking about other people that you’re tearing them down. You think that you’re simply speaking the truth; you’re not saying anything bad because it’s true. You won’t say these things to the person you’re talking about, of course, but without any inhibition will spread the info far and wide to any who will hear.

Paul has some guidance about what comes out of our Christian mouths: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV) Similarly, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)

Instead of tearing others down, what are we to do? We are to build them up. The question isn’t just, Is what I am saying about the person true? It’s also, Is what I’m saying about the person going to build him up or tear him down?

The Eighth Commandment takes a lot of abuse among Christians. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” What does this mean? It means, as the apostle Paul makes clear in Ephesians and 1 Thessalonians, that we are to speak of others in such a way that is truly loving toward them. This includes speaking truthfully of them but also in a way that is beneficial to them and that won’t harm their reputation.

The Eighth Commandment teaches us to speak about others in this way: to “explain everything in the kindest way,” or as the old version of the Catechism says it: “put the best construction on everything.” We are God’s construction workers. We use our words to build others up, not tear them down. Putting the best construction on everything doesn’t mean we lie. It means that when we speak about others we don’t assume the worst but rather the best. It also means that we not only speak the truth but we do it in a way that is beneficial.

Maybe the question we should ask ourselves before speaking about others should be: “Would I want others to speak this way about me?” Jesus Christ spoke about others while hanging on the cross. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is how He speaks about us, and by His grace we may speak in the same loving way about others.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Confession, Absolution, Confession

Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2009
John 20:19-31

When you look around you you see things that are fragile, as if they’re a mist that is faint, that you feel slightly but know will not last. If you examine your life you might be holding on to missed opportunities, mistakes you’ve made that you can’t change but would do almost anything if you could go back and change them. If you measure where you stand, what you’re facing, you may be wondering how you’re going to get through the challenges ahead, the unfair situations you’ve found yourself in, or the messes you’ve created for yourself.

You may be on edge, you may be on the verge of despair, you may simply feel like not caring anymore. You may look around you and wonder if it’s all real; how a good and powerful God could allow the decay, the sorrow, the pain to go on in this world He created. You might be wondering what your life has come to that God allows you to live with the hardships you face, the sins you struggle against, the pain you endure in your own life.

You might not know where you can turn to; to find some comfort, to have meaning for your life, to be at peace. You may feel like your life is simply grasping at something that’s just out of reach. It’s so close you can taste it. It’s tantalizing and depressing at the same time, because you’re not sure really what it is you’re looking for, what you need—you just know that it’s out of reach.

On the other hand, you may feel great; you may be content. You might feel like things are going on just fine and there’s nothing really that you need to be in a better position. Oh sure, you’ll take the good things that come your way, but not rocking the boat is just fine with you.

There’s an answer readily available. Everywhere you turn you will see that answer. Because there are three sources that will hold this answer up to you constantly. They will not rest in offering you hope for your struggles or confirmation of your peace of mind. What is this hope? You can be at peace with who you are. You can celebrate your humanity and not let people bring you down by insinuating that you’re the problem; that you’re too blame. Or, if you’re happy where you’re at, there you go! Isn’t that what God wants for you?

The ones who offer you this gospel of celebrating who you are and being at peace with yourself are your enemies. They seek your destruction. They seek your torment in hell. You know these enemies—even though you don’t want to think about them much: Satan, the world, and your sinful flesh. They want to present you with a hope that appeals to you so that you will die slowly, without realizing it. Like the frog in the kettle, slowly roasting to death, unaware of its doom.

Your enemies will always present you with hope in any way, of anything or anyone other than Christ. Anything to get you off of Him and onto yourself or something else. Satan wants you destroyed. The world wants you to enjoy the ride. Your sinful flesh wants you to indulge yourself. All three want you nowhere near Christ and His cross.

The one who stood before the disciples on Easter Sunday was the Crucified Lord. The one who had been nailed to the tree. The one who had died. He now stood before them in their world of fear, consisting of a locked up room, alive. Still bearing the scars of His crucifixion, Christ appeared to them in order to slap around the enemies that were against them—Satan, the world, and their sinful flesh. This is always why Christ comes. He doesn’t offer you some better way. He simply comes into your life.

And when He does, it’s not always pretty. It’s not necessarily appealing. Oftentimes we’ll do the denial act like Thomas, like the other disciples had done before him. We will end up deceiving ourselves and calling God a liar. Because who do you want to put your hope in? How do you want your salvation to come? How do you want your new life in Christ to be? Is it without hardship and struggle? Is it with peace of mind without constantly grasping at some nebulous peace that it is tantalizingly out of reach?

Do you want salvation to come in the form of a God who shows you scars on His hands and in His side, one who bears the marks of having suffered in weakness and pain? One who by His very nature prompts you to see in yourself things that aren’t pretty, that evidence your wicked and sinful heart? One that comes bringing with Him His Sword, which pierces your heart so that you must see that there is nothing within you that could bring you peace that lasts? So that the only way you could convince yourself that you are not by nature sinful and unclean is by deceiving yourself and calling God a liar?

Jesus stands before you and you must confess your sin. You must stand before Him and answer for your hope that what you’re grasping for is within your reach. When in fact it’s entirely out of your reach. When in fact there’s no hope within your sinful flesh. Confession of sin is tough stuff. We want to hold on to some part of ourselves where we can walk away with some dignity. But the apostle John was there on that Easter evening. He heard the words of Christ. Forgive those who are repentant. Withhold forgiveness from those who are unrepentant. That’s why John exhorts us as he does in the epistle reading to confess our sins. Strip away all notions of hope or peace of mind within ourselves and confess that we utterly depraved.

Jesus doesn’t get His jollies out of this. He didn’t show up to the disciples’ hideout to rub it in that they were poor miserable sinners. His joy is in the Absolution. He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. God always tells the truth. You have no hope apart from Him. God delights in showing mercy. The one who stood before them stood with scars from the suffering He bore on behalf of the world. When the nails were driven into His hands your sins were nailed to that cross. When the sword pierced His side blood and water poured out of Him to cleanse you of your sin; His righteousness poured out for you. You are absolved. Forgiven. You may go in peace. When Jesus comes that’s what He brings. Because He brings Himself.

His peace, His joy, His salvation, His forgiveness is not out of reach. It is received by you because He delivers it right to you, through your ears when you hear the Absolution spoken to you and when you hear the Gospel proclaimed to you. It is received by you when you are Baptized, cleansed of all of your sins; united to Christ in His death and resurrection. It is received by you when you eat His Body and drink His Blood in His Holy Meal. He’s not just going to stand around and show you His scars. He’s going to deliver their benefits to you, in His Gospel and in His Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

This is what they received that day. It’s what the Christian Church has been receiving ever since that day. It’s what Luke describes in the reading from Acts: the apostles were proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ for the salvation and life of the people of God. It’s what John was telling the Christian Church of in the epistle reading when he said that they were witnesses of the Living and Resurrected Lord. It’s what you receive today and often in the hearing and the receiving and the partaking.

So you have confession. You have Absolution. You confess your sins and in being absolved you have life eternal and life in peace that is not of this world. What more is there to know? Only this: confession. There is not only confession of sins but confession of faith. Thomas blurted it out: My Lord and my God! That’s what we Christians do, we confess our faith. He had repented, he had received Absolution. We believe that our only hope is in the only God, the God of the cross and the empty tomb—so we confess it. We can’t help it! Just like Thomas, my Lord and my God!

John said that he wrote these things so that we may believe and that by believing have life in His name. You believe. You have life in His name. You have confessed your sins, you are Absolved. You confess your faith as a Baptized child of God and you receive the Body and Blood of your Lord in His Holy Supper. Far from out of reach, He comes to you right here at His Holy Table. You proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Your Lord and your God is your hope. Your Lord and your God is your your life and your salvation, now and forever. Amen.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Glory and Humility Go Together

There are two ways to be humble. Either you are brought to your knees (humiliated, if you will) or you willingly make yourself lower. If you are basking in your own glory, God will bring you to knees. God has the corner on glory. He alone is God and He is above all. When we bask in our own glory we are pretenders. He brings us down for our own good—so that we may see that we need Him.

Which brings us to the second way: the way of Jesus Christ, who is true God, who is all-powerful, who is worthy of all honor and glory. He rises from the dead, He exerts His almighty power by conquering the grave …and what does He say? “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) Talk about humility! We would have said, “Look at me! I’m all-powerful! I’m Lord over life and death, bow down before me!” Not Jesus. He comes in humility. His glory is not in power or receiving glory. His glory is in humility. Not just the humility of suffering and dying. The humility of being sent. Thus His words, “As the Father has sent Me.”

He conquered death and it was simply a continuation of His sent-ness. His coming in humility to save sinners. He does this through His life, suffering, death, and resurrection. Not through glory. Not through proving His greatness. In humility. In being sent to save. In serving us because we need forgiveness and salvation.

So what do we do? We get on our knees and thank and praise Him. We rejoice in His saving action and in the calling He gives to us to serve Him by bringing the Gospel to others. Our Lord continues to serve us by giving us the grace to serve in humility and joy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

God—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—Gives You Peace

The Resurrected Lord comes to His disciples in their fear. He brings them peace. But Jesus never acts alone. He works along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The disciples were in fear after Jesus’ death. Even after receiving reports that Jesus rose from the grave, they were still holed up in fear. They did not believe Jesus—the words He had spoken to them that He would rise from the grave. So Jesus comes to them, to bring Himself to them, to bring them peace.

Three times in John 20:19-31 Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” His speaking it three times points us to the work of the Triune God—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—bringing peace. The Triune God does it in the Person and Work of Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus comes to give peace. He does it by giving Himself. He says to the disciples: “‘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.’”

The peace the Triune God gives is peace that passes all understanding. It is peace not as the world gives but only as God can give. It is not peace of mind. It is not peace in everybody putting aside their differences and getting along. It is peace that is the answer to fear. We ought to fear being in our sins. We ought to fear if Christ remained in the grave. But the Triune God is the God of creation and the God of Resurrection. Christ is not in the grave. He is living and He brings peace. He forgives your sin and will raise you up on the Last Day.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Christ Has Risen from the Grave

“The same day Sadducees came to Him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked Him a question.” [Matthew 22:23]
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” [1 Corinthians 15:12]

The Christian Church believes that Jesus rose from the dead. If a pastor got up into the pulpit and said, “the resurrection story in the Bible is just that, a story, to teach us that God has risen in our hearts,” we would conclude that he is a false teacher. If a Christian said to someone asking about Christianity, “the story of the resurrection is in the Bible to teach us that God is powerful,” we would conclude that that person is severely misguided and wrong.

It’s always surprising to hear Christians deny the Resurrection, but it’s not new. The Sadducees were religious leaders in Jesus’ day and denied the resurrection. Paul was writing to the Christians in Corinth, some of whom denied the resurrection.

Some of the religious leaders and some regular Christians were maintaining that there is no resurrection—once you die, that’s it. If you deny the resurrection of all people on the Last Day, why would there be a need to believe in the Resurrection of Christ?

We would expect non-Christians to deny the resurrection. But when Christians believe and teach that there is no resurrection, we need to make clear to them that they are holding to a belief that denies eternal salvation (even as we need to with non-Christians).

The apostle Paul goes on to say: “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” [1 Corinthians 15:14]

There is no salvation in Jesus having been raised in your heart. You have no hope in the fact that God is powerful.

Our faith is in Christ. Our hope is grounded in His death and resurrection. The story is not simply a story. The truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the Gospel. That is what saves, not a notion that God is powerful. God actually conquered death in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Some maintain the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s Resurrection are not true because we can’t prove them. They’re right that we can’t prove it. But whose word do you want to go on—people who say that it’s false, or the Word of God?

When you die and are raised on the Last Day, you will know without doubt the truth of the resurrection—you will stand face to face with your Maker and Judge. Those who don’t believe in Him will be raised from the dead and judged to eternal damnation. Those who believe that Christ is their only hope from sin will be raised from the dead to eternal life.

This is why we believe as we do—we go on the Word of Christ. He said that He is the way, the truth, and the life. How He is is by dying for the sins of the world and rising from the grave.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Just as He Told You

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Day
April 12, 2009
Mark 16:1-8

It was an emotional day for Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Salome. But we are emotional beings. Events like those that occurred to them affect us emotionally. When it comes to our interacting with God, every person is a slave to their emotions.

The three women who went to the tomb evidence this. The most striking thing that shows us this is how the Resurrection account ends: they go away from the Good News spoken by the angel and away from the empty tomb fleeing because they were seized with trembling and astonishment! They leave and say nothing to anyone because they’re afraid!

The Good News of Easter is that fear is conquered. But these women are so emotionally wrapped up in themselves that they’re in fear rather than joy.

It’s important for us to know that this is not the difference between emotion and reason. Their reason was getting them no farther than their feelings. It made sense that Jesus’ lifeless body would be in the tomb—He had died.

It’s also important to know that emotions and reason aren’t bad. They’re not wrong. They’re even good and useful. God gave them both to us and we should make use of them and even enjoy them. But what occurred at the tomb shows us that we can’t rely on them. What Jesus has told us is what we must rely on. It’s emotion and reason versus fact. It’s what makes sense or seems to be the case against what Jesus has said to us.

We don’t hear much about these women in the Gospel accounts. But we know that they were with Jesus through a lot of His Ministry. They and the disciples had been through a lot emotionally in the previous week as well as the three years of Ministry of Christ. This event on Sunday morning was kind of the topper. No wonder they were afraid. They didn’t know what was going on. The disciples were hiding out, that’s how afraid they were. All of them were overwhelmed.

We can empathize with them considering what all they had gone through, can’t we? But this response is exactly the sort of emotional response they had. The Resurrection account contrasts our emotional, and even logical, response to who Jesus is and what He did with the fact of who He is and what He did. We identify with the women and the disciples and empathize with them. But in our emotion, and even logic, we end up excusing them. We, after all, probably would have reacted in the same way.

How about Jesus? What had He gone through? If anyone had gone through an emotional whirlwind it was Jesus. What He had experienced with His agony and suffering was enough to bring Him to despair. In the Garden of Gethsemane He was distressed to the point of death. But His response and actions were never emotionally or rationally driven. They were always humbly and obediently driven. Thy will be done was His prayer to His Heavenly Father. What His Father said would happen would be what would happen, and Jesus was content to accept that.

When the women got to the tomb they didn’t find Jesus. The angel who was there spoke to them of what Jesus Himself had said. He had told His disciples on a number of occasions what would happen. Now the message at the empty tomb was that of a reminder that every one of those things had indeed happened.

We know this. The women should have known it. The disciples should have known it. But they didn’t know it. Rather, they didn’t believe it. They were wrapped up in their emotional fear, in their rational acceptance of what they saw. The simple alternative was what Jesus had told them.

When the women got to the tomb on that Sunday morning they saw that things weren’t the way they expected them to be. Instead of having to find someone to help move the stone, the stone was already moved. When they went into the tomb they were alarmed at this other-worldly being sitting there. No Jesus. What was going on? Why wasn’t Jesus there? Could their first thought be, Wait, He’s not here, He told us He wouldn’t be, He’s alive!? No, it couldn’t be because that would depart from what their emotions and reason told them. It couldn’t be because that would have meant that they had actually believed the word of Jesus. It couldn’t be because they were afraid.

What is the antidote to fear? The Word of Christ. In this instance the word of Christ was spoken by His representative, the angel. Do not be afraid, he said. I know why you’re here. You’re here because you didn’t believe what He had said. You’re here because you saw that He was buried here and you don’t believe that His death on the cross was not the end but the beginning.

Their emotions and reason got them nowhere when it came to salvation. Emotion and reason brought them to the tomb, again, expecting Jesus’ lifeless body to be there. They fled from the tomb in the same way, emotionally in a whirl about all that had happened and what the angel had now said to them.

So the question for you today is this: What does it mean what Jesus has said? Will you go away from here today relying on your feelings and what seems logical? Or will you go away believing the impossible? Will you walk away from here not caving in to what the world says and what your emotions and reason tell you to listen to? Will you wonder about God’s love and care for you when you’re struggling?

When the world scoffs at you because you believe that you are hopeless without Christ’s forgiveness for you, will you listen to the world and wrap yourself in the security blanket of good feelings about yourself; that you don’t need Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, and the forgiveness of all of your sins? If you suddenly find yourself facing mortality earlier than you expected because they’ve found a tumor on your lung, will you resist comfort from God’s perfect healing in heaven because you want to cling to life on this earth with all your might?

You will find yourself in life, daily even, going through all kinds of emotions as those women did two thousand years ago at the empty tomb. You may go through the challenges in life in fear as they did. But remember that your emotions aren’t going to bring you peace or lasting comfort. They won’t take away your sins and they can’t save you. Your intellect and reason and all the evidence in the world won’t solve all of your problems. What you do have is what those women had. What you have been given is exactly what they were given moments after the event that changed the world and that can change your life: the Word of Christ. What He has told you is what you have, no matter what you’re going through.

I won’t try to prove to you today that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s the very last thing I will attempt to do. What I will do is what the angel did. What Jesus Himself did. What I will do is what the apostle Paul in the epistle reading for today did: state the Resurrection as fact. You don’t need to go around and prove that Jesus rose from the dead anymore than you need to go seeking proof for it. Reason, and certainly your emotions, will tell you the opposite! Simply listen to what your Lord has told you. Simply tell others who He is and what He did. That He died and that He rose. He did this for them even as He has done it for you. People will have strong emotional and rational reactions. But you? You know it’s true—just as He told you. Amen.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Drawing a Clear Difference

Good Friday
April 10, 2009
Mark 14:1—15:47

It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest Him by stealth and kill Him.

This is how it begins. With the intent of murder. Not with reverent thoughts about God’s grace in the Passover Festival. Not with preparation for the Passover worship. With a consuming desire to rid themselves of this person who was getting in their way.

We know the Passion story of our Lord well. We know the details, we know the purpose. Perhaps we know it too well as a story and not well enough as the Gospel. Jesus’ Passion is the Gospel. Who Jesus is and what He did is what saves.

How the Passion of our Lord played out we rightly call a story, as individuals acted and events unfolded. There is a difference in the people of the Passion account: those who rejected the Suffering Savior and those who saw in Him their only hope.

The unrighteous and the righteous, the unsaved and the saved, unbelievers and believers, non-Christians and Christians. But in another sense, the two kinds of people in the Passion account are Jesus Christ and everyone else. Christians and non-Christians alike are sinners. Those who believe in Christ are every bit as sinful as those who don’t. As important, Jesus died for both.

So what’s the difference? How are the “everybody else” divided into two groups? The difference is, who do you want to be your Savior? Do you want to go it alone, or place your eternal salvation in Christ alone?

The irony is rich that those very religious leaders were seeking to murder Jesus while Jesus was using that very death to bring about salvation for them. On the other hand, the woman Jesus praises actually can accept no praise of her own account because her act of worship toward Jesus is one of acknowledging that she doesn’t deserve salvation from Him.

It is remarkable that Judas betrayed Jesus to death while Jesus willingly died for Judas. On the other hand, Jesus’ other disciples were ready and willing to gather in worship with Jesus in the celebration of the Passover, submitting to Jesus’ gift to them of His body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins. They acknowledged that they were sinners and in need of the forgiveness.

It would be easy to paint the religious leaders and Judas as evil and the bad guys and the woman and the other disciples as the good guys. But what does Jesus say of the disciples? You will all fall away. The true difference here is that Jesus alone can save and He alone does. We, whether we believe in Him or not, are unable to save ourselves. But not only can we not save ourselves, we don’t deserve to be saved. We are born in sin and actively sin each day. The woman and the disciples were no different from the religious leaders and Judas in this regard. Where the difference came in is that they believed that they were utterly lost, not deserving of salvation, had no hope apart from Jesus and His suffering and death.

The sinful nature is a fighter. What is Peter’s response to Jesus? I won’t fall away! I’m faithful! Yeah, right. He was no better than the religious leaders who actively sought to murder Jesus and Judas who actively betrayed Him. Oh yeah, and all the other disciples joined in the chorus with Peter; they were no better either.

But maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe you still harbor some good feelings about yourself. That you could somehow rise above what Peter did in denying his Lord. That the praise Jesus bestows on the woman could be given to you because, well, you deserve it. The further we get into the Passion account, the further we see how utterly incapable anyone in this story is of accomplishing anything of lasting value—except, of course, Christ. In Gethsemane, He stayed awake. Not the disciples. They couldn’t even stay awake! How were they supposed to save themselves? How could they have any hope within themselves if they couldn’t even be there for their Lord?

We too easily rationalize away our sinful nature. If you think Pilate was a bad guy, you’re right. But we are just like him. He tried to rationalize his way out of condemning Jesus to death. He knew Jesus was innocent but put himself before Jesus. One of them was going down—Pilate politically, Jesus to death—Pilate chose for Jesus to go down. The Roman soldiers were just doing their job—and enjoying the perks of their job of making the pain of crucifixion even worse in brutalizing Him. Yes, these men, Pilate and the soldiers, treated our Savior awfully. But do we do any different when we willfully sin as if we can be good Christians and hold on to our sinful desires?

There were some standing beneath the cross who exemplify the proper attitude a Christian ought to have, in the same way the woman who anointed Him had: humbly looking up to the one who is suffering in their place. Knowing that they are the ones who deserve to up there, who deserve eternal separation from God. The women and the centurion who stood looking at Christ on the cross are not examples to us for anything that was good in themselves, but of their repentance and faith in the only one who could save them.

It begins with those who would seek to destroy Jesus. It ends in one sense with their successful accomplishment. But really it begins with Jesus’ choice to submit to the murderous intent. It plays out with Jesus humbly suffering the attacks of His enemies and patiently bearing with the weakness of His followers. Ultimately, it ends in triumph. Not for those who wanted Jesus dead. For the world. For every sinner. The death of Jesus was what He humbly chose.

There is a clear difference between the people in the Gospel Passion account: some rejected Christ, others looked to Him as their only hope. Just as there is a clear difference today, some don’t believe in Christ and others do. But there is no difference with any of us in our sin and our need. We see in the people of the Passion account in contrast to Christ that we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves and have no eternal hope of ourselves. Our salvation is in Christ. Our hope is in Him. All are in need of salvation.

The difference our Lord draws is not between us and others but between Himself and everyone. He suffered in the place of everyone, He died for all. What those there intended was a world of difference in what Christ intended. He used the death they sought in order to save them and us and everyone. The difference is that we have no hope apart from Him while He is our hope, our life, and our salvation. Amen.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

You Know What You’re Getting

Maundy Thursday
April 9, 2009
Mark 14:12-26

They knew what was to happen. And yet, they didn’t know what was to happen. Jesus knew what was to happen, and yet, went on through with it.

Yes, it would be easy enough to celebrate the Passover with His disciples. But to be betrayed. To be arrested and convicted and mocked and beaten and crucified. Jesus knew all this would happen. The suffering for the sin and guilt of the world. Jesus knew what was to happen. The disciples didn’t. They thought they would simply be celebrating the Passover. They didn’t know Jesus would celebrate something else. They didn’t know, although they should have, that He would be betrayed and arrested and crucified.

So though they knew what was to happen, they really didn’t know what was to happen.

And what about us? Do we know what is to happen? Do we know what happens in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper? In a few moments we will approach the Lord’s Table and partake of the Lord’s Meal. Is that something we just do, just as the disciples asked Jesus where they should prepare for the Passover meal? Or do we, unlike the disciples did that night, know exactly what is going on in the celebration of this Meal?

What Jesus did during the Passover meal must have thrown His disciples for a loop. Why did Jesus institute it? It’s for this reason: He knows what is going to happen. We don’t. Oh, we know. But not really. We know we need it. But do we know just how much? Do we know and believe that without it we will starve spiritually? Our Lord knows us better than we know ourselves.

The disciples were all ready to prepare for the Passover. They were ready to celebrate it. But Jesus knew that what they needed was not just a reminder of God’s saving acts. They needed salvation. They needed to be forgiven of their sins.

Jesus knows what you and I need. We need to be forgiven. And we know this. But perhaps we suffer from the same problem the disciples did, only from the opposite direction. They didn’t know what was going on because things were unfolding. We know exactly what happened because we’re after the fact and have it in black and white in the pages of Scripture. But whereas they were thinking they’d just be celebrating the Passover meal, we might think we’re just celebrating a sacred meal. They didn’t know exactly what Jesus was doing in giving them the bread and wine with the words “this is My body, this is My blood.” We know—but do we take it for granted? Do we just go through the motions? Is it just a remembrance?

The Lord’s Supper is most certainly a sacred meal, but it is also and especially a Sacrament. It is an actual means by which our Lord forgives us. We know the Lord’s Supper is a big deal, but it’s hard not to take it for granted. This is natural. That doesn’t mean it’s okay, it just means that we very easily slip into taking the things that are most important in our lives for granted.

Do you still get as excited after twenty years of marriage when your spouse comes home as you did after twenty days of marriage? Or do you just take him or her for granted? You know you love your husband, you know you love your wife, but do you treat him or her in a way that shows you cherish him or her? I’m not talking about having ecstatic emotional feelings for them all the time. I’m talking about being grateful for and cherishing the man or woman God has given you to love in marriage. Is this the way you see your spouse, or do you often just take your marriage for granted?

This can happen easily to us. With the people we love the most. With the things that are most important to us. Does it happen to us with the Lord’s Supper? We clearly confess and believe that in and with the bread and wine, we eat the body of Christ and the blood of Christ. But do we then just take that for granted? Do we hunger and thirst for receiving the body and blood of Christ? Do we cherish the gift our Lord gives to us in His Supper of Himself and the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith? Do we rejoice in the unity we share in the partaking of Holy Communion?

The things we most treasure are often the things we end up not treasuring. This will happen if we don’t cherish the blessings we are given. In the Lord’s Supper our Lord has given us an eternal blessing. He gives it to us in the context of our sinful state and our need for salvation. The Passover was instituted in order for the people of God in the Old Testament to celebrate not just a festival, but the grace and salvation of God. He had rescued them from their slavery in Egypt and spared their firstborn children in the judgment of the slaying of the firstborn. It was only by the blood of a lamb that the firstborn were saved.
Why is the Gift our Lord gives us in His Holy Supper surrounded by the harsh reality of sin and the slaughtering of animals and the blood of them being used? Why can’t the Passover be a celebration that is free from a history in which firstborn children were struck down and an animal had to be slaughtered? Because God comes right down into our sin-filled world, right where we’re at, in the midst of the harsh reality of our need. Nothing anyone could do would prevent Jesus from going to the cross. Remember, Jesus knew what was going to happen when He was celebrating the Passover with His disciples and planning on instituting His Holy Supper. He knew Judas was going to betray Him. He knew that He was going to lose His life.

This was the context of instituting His Supper. This shows us why He did so. He did because you and I need to be rescued from the slavery of our sin. He did so because you and I often betray our cavalier attitude toward our Lord’s Holy Supper rather than hungering for it and cherishing it.

The disciples didn’t know what they were getting that night. You do. The body and blood of Christ. Given and shed. For you. For your forgiveness. They didn’t believe that hours later Jesus would be hanging on a cross. You know that He did. And you know that it was for you. For your forgiveness. This is what you’re getting in His Holy Meal. You’re getting Him. His body. His blood. His forgiveness of your sin for your salvation, now and forever. Amen.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Lord Has Need of It

Palm Sunday
Sunday of the Passion
April 5, 2009
Mark 11:1-10

We have reached Holy Week. There is no time like Holy Week. It is an intense observance of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. Many of the images of Holy Week come readily to our mind: Jesus riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Him clearing out the temple, the Last Supper, praying and being arrested in Gethsemane, being crucified, buried, and of course the Resurrection.

But there a lot of little details. Things we might never think about unless we took out our magnifying glasses and examined some of the words used in the Scriptures. The main thing is the cross and the empty tomb. But there’s a lot that Jesus accomplished in the little details, that led up to the cross and the empty tomb.

There’s, for example, a donkey. A donkey doesn’t seem like such a big deal. A donkey doesn’t seem like a major part of the plan of salvation of God. But a donkey is important to Jesus. He tells the disciples to go get a specific donkey and that if they encounter questions about taking it that they should say, “The Lord has need of it.” Not just any animal would do. It had to be this one. And it was needed by Jesus.

This from the God who has everything. The God who created the cattle on a thousand hills and all the animals on land and in the sea. The God who created the sea and the land and the incomprehensible number of galaxies that span the universe. This from the God who is going to take on the sins of the world. He needs a donkey.

But it’s not so different, what Jesus is doing here at the end of His incarnation in the flesh, living on the earth for thirty years as a man. God doesn’t need anything, He has created and owns all things. But He makes use of His creation. When He came out of the womb He needed a feeding trough so that He could sleep. When He made His way back home to Nazareth He needed a bed to sleep in and clothes to wear to go to school. When He began His Ministry He needed water so that He could be Baptized. When He gave sight to a certain blind man He needed mud to rub on the man’s eyes. He needed bread and wine to institute His Holy Supper on the night when He was betrayed.

It’s not that He couldn’t do without these things or couldn’t accomplish salvation except through them. It’s that He makes use of His creation. And He often does it through the ordinary things of His creation. A feeding trough, water, bread, wine, a donkey. He had need of that donkey, so He sent His disciples to go get it. They would understand later that He was making use of it in order to accomplish salvation. Just as He would make use of one of the most excruciating instruments of torture ever invented, a cross.

The God who doesn’t need anything makes use of the things in our lives to meet our needs. What we want is often more than what we need. What we want is often at the expense of what we need. God has everything, He wants to meet our needs. Whereas He makes use of the things of His creation, we’re inclined to use the things of His creation to meet our wants, rather than being content with Him meeting our needs.

You can see this just by the way you often talk about things. Do you say you really need something when in fact it’s really just what you want? Do you say that your needs aren’t met when in fact they are met but you’re not content with that? Do you find yourself longing for all the wants you have that aren’t met? You’d rather have a nice car instead of being grateful that you simply have a car. You’re discontent because you don’t eat fine cuisine when you should give thanks that you have enough to eat every day. You’re weary of the strife you endure between your spouse or your children or your siblings, when you should be at peace knowing that you have the opportunity to love and cherish them and reconcile when needed.

Jesus didn’t head to Jerusalem thinking about what He wanted. He had everything. He did go into Jerusalem thinking about what He needed. And that happened to be a donkey. Because Jesus doesn’t need anything except to make use of things for us, not for Himself. When we think about what we need we too often slip into what we want. God in His grace even gives provision for that, praying for what we want according to the third petition, “Thy will be done.” Unfortunately, we’re often so self-absorbed that our petitions meld into “My will be done.”

Not Jesus. He went into Jerusalem praying, “Thy will be done.” Father, you want Me riding in humbly and mounted on a donkey?, then that’s what I want; then that’s what I need to do. Father, You want Me beaten and mocked and crucified?, Thy will be done.

I guess it would have been cool for Jesus to drive into Jerusalem in a limo. It would have been awesome for Him to stand on the highest point in Jerusalem and proclaim to the world that salvation is in Him. God could easily have arranged for Jesus the infant to be born in a palace. He didn’t have to use mud to give sight to that blind guy. A spectacular display would have made a much greater impression.

But Jesus came to save the world of sin. He didn’t come for what He wanted or needed—He doesn’t want or need anything. What He does is love everyone. What He does is come for everyone. What He does is die on the cross for the sin of the world.

He is the all-powerful God of creation who humbles Himself to be part of His creation. To make use of it so that we who are part of His creation may be part of His Kingdom of eternal glory. He makes use of His creation to rescue us from a world that is fallen, that is deteriorating from the effects of sin. He uses the things of this world to save us from our sin in which we often use the things of this world not for His glory but for our own selfish wants.

On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem only to find Himself a few days later standing before the high priest. He had allowed mock witnesses to make the case against Jesus. But when Jesus declared Himself to be the Messiah, the high priest victoriously rose up with the cry: “What further witnesses do we need?” (Mark 14:63 ESV) Notice the contrast between what Jesus was doing there and what the high priest wanted. Jesus needed the donkey to get Him into Jerusalem to die for Caiaphas, the high priest who condemned Him. Caiaphas used whatever means at his disposal that he could in order to bring Jesus down.

Thank God Jesus submitted to this. The Lord had need of that donkey to bring Him into the place where He died for the sins of the world. The same Lord continues to have need of things in our lives to deliver His salvation to us: the water of our Baptism, the words spoken and preached of Absolution and proclamation, the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. The Lord has need of these things to give you Himself. The Lord has need of these things to bring you into His eternal Kingdom.

You live in this world. It’s the world your Lord came to in order to save you. You deal with the things of this world on a daily basis. What Jesus did on Palm Sunday was very practical. By having need of that donkey, you have new life. You are in the world but not of it. You may make use of the things of this world but don’t have to be slaves to them. The Apostle Paul has this very practical advice for Christians when it comes to their needs: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28 ESV) What this means for you is that your life is not about you and what you want. It is about your needs and what your Lord has done to meet your needs. He has accomplished salvation for you, meeting your greatest and eternal needs. He blesses you in this life with the things of this life, including others who help you. Including you helping others.

Just when you think that there’s not much to your life in Christ, think about that donkey. He has need of it, because He had His sights set on you—saving you, giving you new life, setting you on a new path to serving Him by serving others. It’s done with the things of this life, not the pie in the sky notions of your wants. He takes ordinary things in this life and uses them as the means by which He forgives you. During this Holy Week, and throughout your life, remember that. Your needs are met in the cross and the empty tomb. The God who needs nothing brings His mercy and forgiveness to you by His Word and in His Holy Supper.

Just when you think there’s not much to those words on the page in your Bible, remember, the Lord has need of it. Daily devotions, studying the Word of God, your Lord has need of it to strengthen you. Just when your Baptism seems not all that relevant in your life, remember, the Lord has need of that water He washed you with, using it to wash away your sins. When you approach the altar and receive a small piece of bread and a small drink of wine, remember, the Lord has need of it. Just as He made use of a feeding trough, some mud, and a donkey to bring you Himself, He makes use of bread and wine to do so today and often. It’s what you need, and that’s why He has need of it. Amen.