Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Laying Down His Life Shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 29, 2012
It’s not just that Jesus is a shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd. It’s not just that He’s a good shepherd, He is good in that everything that is good and pure and perfect is found in Him as the epitome of it. Whether in political leaders or sports figures people look up to or favorite teachers or people who serve in vocations that help people you will end up finding some weakness, some sin, some way in which you find that they are not in fact good in the sense that all others are judged by the standard he or she embodies. That’s not to say we shouldn’t look up to those who are good, moral, decent people. We simply must recognize that they too are sinners as we are.

Not Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd. But it’s not just that Jesus felt it necessary that we should know this. That wouldn’t be all that good, after all. By the way, I’m the Good Shepherd, just thought you should know. That smacks of arrogance. We don’t need that in our Lord. We need one who truly is good, who truly will do what it is that we need.

That’s why Jesus defines what it means that He is the Good Shepherd. The one who is pure and perfect and loving is the one who lays down His life for His sheep. We usually think of Jesus as our Good Shepherd in the description of the Twenty-third Psalm. And that’s not bad. If anything, it’s good. We know those phrases well, that He is with us, He guides us, He leads us, He protects us. Even in the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil. That’s all very beautiful but Jesus is the one who defines what all that means. He lays down His life for us. That’s how we have the life in which we are able to go forward and in which we know that His goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

He is the Good Shepherd, after all. Everything that is good and pure and perfect and loving is embodied in Him. And we see that in the singular act of Him laying down His life for us. That’s more of a blessing than we can imagine because there’s no one else who will do that. It’s not just that no one else would want to, there are some who in fact would. But the problem is that no one else can. Only the one who is pure and good and holy and perfect can. If you give your life to save someone else’s that’s a noble and loving act. But Jesus isn’t trying to deliver you from being hit by a truck or rescue you from cancer. As the Shepherd He’s not trying to pull a sheep out of being stuck in the fence when it can’t get itself free.

We are sheep who have gone astray. Every one of us has gone our own way. Our straying from the pasture of our Lord’s grace and care leads us into destruction. It’s hard for people to think about this because we’re so caught up in the here and now. We’re consumed with our daily problems and stresses. We’re concerned and worried about what’s coming down the road for us financially or health-wise or with our children or with our aging parents. We struggle with coming to terms with our trials but don’t often think about what our sin and straying from God brings about for us. Maybe it’s because we can’t comprehend what that will actually be like. We know hell in an intellectual way. We know it’s really bad. But it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that our straying from our Lord brings us to hell and that it’s separation from Him forever and torment forever.

Jesus the Good Shepherd does not lay down His life for us to help us out. He does it to save us. This isn’t sheep caught in the fence, this is us under the condemnation of eternal suffering in hell. Jesus is the only one who is pure and good and loving and able to rescue us from that condemnation. That’s why He’s telling us that He is the Good Shepherd. That He lays down His life for the sheep.

Our sinfulness and our living in the fallen world is to such an extent that there are many voices out there which claim love and goodness and help and salvation. You know you have convinced yourself that you’re not really that bad despite the mistakes and even the sins you have committed. After all, even your sins, are they so bad that you deserve to be eternally separated from God and condemned to eternal torment? That voice that comes from within your heart leads you astray. If you do by the grace of God hear His Word and repent of your sins there are voices that will ring out with the message of love and peace and comfort that you’re not really that bad. Don’t make yourself out to be such a bad person because God wouldn’t make bad people, would He? God is loving, so He really wouldn’t condemn people when they’re not horrible people, would He?

You hear these voices all the time. You’d expect them from those who don’t believe in the true God. Sadly, these voices ring out boldly and constantly within the Christian Church. Jesus calls these people hired hands. They don’t truly love the sheep. They love themselves. That’s not to say that they’re not nice people. It’s not even to say that they don’t do a lot of wonderful things to help people. But they are not the Shepherd and so don’t truly love the sheep. How do we know this? Jesus says they flee when the wolf comes.

What is Jesus teaching us here? That when you’re down and out and your pastor decides to watch the Charger game instead of being there for you that he’s nothing more than a hired hand? While that’s an unloving act and needs to be repented of what Jesus is showing us is that the hired hand doesn’t truly love the sheep. The hired hand flees, he doesn’t lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus does. He is the Good Shepherd. Since no one else can do this, however, as we are all sinners and cannot take away the sin of the world, let alone our own sins, how exactly do we find those servants God has called to take care of the Flock, that is, the Holy Christian Church, and avoid those who are hired hands?

The first reading today gives us a great picture of what the hired hands in the Church do. The religious leaders were actively working to prevent the apostles from proclaiming Jesus and His death and resurrection. Guess who the faithful shepherds God called were? They were the apostles, who if it meant their life suddenly changing by being thrown in prison or being tortured or coming to a crashing end by being martyred, they would not waver in confessing before others and proclaiming to others the Gospel, Jesus’ death and resurrection for the sin of the world. Guess who the hired hands were? The religious leaders. The religious leaders were cowards. They sought their own welfare instead of truly loving God’s people. They were not out to get the apostles because they had healed a man. They were attacking Christ and trying to put an end to the apostles’ work of proclaiming the Gospel. The religious leaders were undoubtedly kind and helpful people and leaders, but they led people astray by turning them away from Jesus Christ.

The way, as the apostle John says in the Epistle reading, we ought to lay down our lives for others is by loving them in Christ. Obviously, as he also says, we should help them in their physical and temporal needs. But apart from Christ and His love and forgiveness and salvation in His death and resurrection you have not truly loved them and helped them. This is what so many hired hands in the Christian Church fail to see. When people leave the Church because they don’t want to hear the message that they are sinful and are condemned to hell, so many pastors and religious leaders will soften the message and just tell people that their life is not all that God would have it be. These people are hired hands and do not truly love God’s people. You will hear a constant refrain of voices from without and within the Christian Church that we must help people in their needs—and that is true. But if the Church fails to give to people what they truly need, the Gospel, the proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of their sins, then we have done nothing more for them than what any group or organization can do, whether or not that group is Christian.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not just a good shepherd. He lays down His life for us. He knows us. In a remarkable work, He gives to us a gift in which we also know Him. I know My own and My own know Me. It isn’t just that we know that He’s God and that He saved us. It’s that we are in a relationship with Him in which He loves us purely because of His love and grace for us. It’s that we love Him in return purely out of His grace and love for us in laying down His life for us. This is why Jesus’ knowing us is not just a thing in which He’s a really good shepherd and therefore knows all of His sheep really well; as a good coach would know each player and what makes each of them tick individually. It’s that He knows us in the way the Father knows Him and He knows the Father. God the Father loves His only-begotten Son with an eternal and perfect love. It’s wholly selfless and abounding. This is how Jesus knows us and loves us. It’s the kind of love that Jesus says moved His Father to send Him, Jesus, to lay down His life for the sheep.

It’s the kind of love that moves Him to do this not just for those who are His own but for everyone, as He says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” This is love that we simply cannot love with in our self-willed and sinful nature. Those not of this fold means those people who are out there in the world and don’t see things the way we do and do things that impinge on our comfort zone. That’s why Jesus doesn’t require us to love others in order to gain His favor and to be loved by Him. It’s all by grace. It’s all in His laying down His life for us that we are able to do so for others, whether our family members or our neighbors or our co-workers or any number of people we know in our lives. You may never be called upon by God to give up your physical life for someone else but daily you are given the opportunity by Him to put yourself in the background and love others as you have been loved by your Good Shepherd. Laying down your life for others is not easy, how could it be? But it is a joy that can never be comprehended or experienced apart from the Gospel, the love of God in sending His beloved Son Jesus to lay down His life for you.

The Good Shepherd is truly good. What you need is not to get your act together or figure out how you can straighten out other people’s lives. Certainly God gives you many gifts to use to help people in any number of ways. But what a blessing it is to know that when God uses you to help people, and even more, to truly love them, that it’s Him doing the work, Him loving them, Him giving you what you need to love them by reminding you that, as He said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”

Don’t rely on yourself. He’s the one who laid down His life of His own accord. He’s the one who had the authority to take it up again and rise from death. Having laid down His life for you and having risen from the grave you have new and eternal life, new and eternal opportunities to receive more and more His grace and love and to share grace and love others. Amen.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Opening Your Mind to Understand the Scriptures

Third Sunday of Easter
April 2, 2012
Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…

Wouldn’t that have been great to be there? To stand before Jesus as He opened your mind to understand the Scriptures? There are those times you’re in Bible Class and you’re really examining a passage in the Bible and it just doesn’t make sense. Or those times when you’re at home reading the Bible or spending time in devotions and a passage of the Bible says the opposite of what you would expect God to say in His Word. Or the times when someone challenges you on a particular passage in the Bible and you’re stumped, conceding to them that you really don’t understand what that passage means.

How great would it be to have Jesus right there with you opening up your mind to understand the Scriptures? If you could go back to certain times and places in history, which ones would you choose? This is one of those events in history I would want to have experienced. What must that have been like for Jesus to open their minds to now understand the Scriptures? Was this like a light-bulb moment, where now they understood it all perfectly? All their questions were answered instantaneously; all those things didn’t quite get before they now had a handle on; all those passages that had stumped them before they could now rattle off a coherent explanation of them.

This isn’t quite what happened on that day when Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. As much as we would love to have an immediate and perfect grasp of the Scriptures, on this side of heaven that’s just not going to happen. Certainly one of the things the apostles understood as they now had their minds opened by Christ to understand the Scriptures was that they still had a life-long learning and growing process in those very Scriptures.

So what does it mean that He opened their minds to understand them? He tells us in the next words He says: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” This is an amazing statement by Jesus. He’s not just saying, “You guys now understand that the Old Testament prophesied that I would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” The Old Testament did indeed prophesy that, but Jesus had on other occasions said this very thing. Look at what He says now, He says that the Old Testament prophesied these things as well as this: “and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Start at Genesis 1:1 and read all the way through Malachi 4:6 and you won’t find those words in the Old Testament.

But if we back up for a moment, and those first two things Jesus mentioned, His suffering and resurrection, what are we to make of these things having been prophesied in the Old Testament? Does it specifically say, as Jesus says in our Gospel reading, it is written, that “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” If you look in the Old Testament will you find those words? Most Christians don’t feel at all uncomfortable in finding that those exact words are not found in the Old Testament. It is amazing enough at how the words of the Old Testament do prophesy Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. There are passages such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 that when you read them you can’t help but marvel at how words that were written centuries before Christ so accurately describe what Jesus went through.

So it’s pretty easy for us Christians to look at the Old Testament and see how they do indeed prophesy Jesus and His suffering, death, and resurrection. It’s easy enough for us to see in those and many other passages in the Old Testament prophecies that do not mention the name of Jesus a direct fulfillment in Jesus. When Jesus opened the apostles’ minds to understand the Scriptures, though, what do you think they made of Jesus’ next words, “and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem”? Now that they had this new-found understanding of the Scriptures directly from Jesus, were they able to open up directly to chapter and verse in the Old Testament and find where this thing Jesus was talking about was prophesied?

What in actuality was happening is what happens to you. Though you weren’t there on that day, what Jesus did for them on that day He does for you today. When Luke says that Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, he is showing us that what Jesus was doing was opening up the Scriptures for us as well. How this is is because he was showing that Jesus wasn’t just saying that there are particular passages in the Old Testament that prophesied Him and that He fulfilled. He was showing that the Old Testament serves this purpose: to bring Christ to us. The Old Testament is admittedly tough to understand in many ways. But it’s impossible to understand if you don’t see what Jesus is doing here, namely, showing us that He is the thing the Old Testament is delivering to us.

There is a religion that only holds to the Old Testament and not the New Testament. There are many religions that reject the New Testament even as they do the Old Testament. But Christians look at the Old Testament and also the New Testament and see the Word of God. The Old Testament shows us how God paved the way for salvation to come about through Christ. The New Testament shows us the fulfillment of that. The New Testament lies in the Old Testament concealed. The Old Testament lies in the New Testament revealed.

Another way of saying this is that apart from Christ the Old Testament is just another book. Christ is at the center and heart of the Old Testament, but in a concealed way, not as in the New Testament. Whereas, for example, the Old Testament will say that salvation will come through the Suffering Servant and that by His stripes we are healed, as in Isaiah 53, the New Testament states overtly that Jesus is the one who was our Servant, who suffered on the cross, and that it was in His suffering and death we are healed of the sickness of our sinfulness and are forgiven.

This is why it’s such an important statement when Jesus says that it is written “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” What Jesus is doing is not saying, “If you just turn to Isaiah chapter 30 you’ll find those exact words there.” What He is doing is showing us that He is the one who interprets the Bible. He is the one who shows us what the Old Testament is saying, teaching, and prophesying. And what that is is, well, it’s Him. He is the object of the message and the prophecies of the Old Testament. They point to Him. They show us Him. They deliver to us salvation that is completely in Him.

This is what He opened the disciples’ minds to understand. It is what He does for you in your life. When you read and study the Old Testament you aren’t just reading a bunch of historical stories and vague prophecies. You reading, and receiving, Christ who suffered, died, and rose for you. And you are being delivered to you something you might never have realized before: “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

You can see how Jesus’ having opened the disciples’ minds to understand the Scriptures bore out as Peter points to this reality in the First Reading: “what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” You can see how this bore out, as two thousand years later we are sitting here in San Diego, around the globe from where it started in Jerusalem and we are hearing this very same message, as Jesus said it was prophesied in the Old Testament, “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

You and I carry the very same message out in our lives, to the people we know and the people we meet, San Diego becoming our Jerusalem. You don’t need to wonder if you really understand the Scriptures. You don’t need to fear that you don’t know what to say. You know exactly what the Scriptures teach and what they give: Jesus, the one who suffered, died, and rose for the sins of the world and the repentance and forgiveness that comes about through Him. Amen.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

What Do You Need and How Do You Get It?

Second Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2012
It really is this simple: what you need is Jesus, and how you get it is Jesus. But that doesn’t really do justice to what you need and how you get so it’s worthwhile to flesh it out. There are a lot of things you need. But cut through it all and there’s one thing you really need and that’s Jesus. The good thing is that when you get Jesus you get it all.

The first Christians as we see from our First Reading today from Acts realized this. Even those who were wealthy realized that as nice as it is to have all that wealth, when you have Jesus you have so much more. One of the things they had that perhaps we have lost was a conviction that Jesus was returning in glory imminently. If you believe that it puts all your wealth into a new perspective. As they say, you can’t take it with you. So if Jesus is coming again very soon why not do with your wealth what will benefit the most people?

That’s not to say that that passage of the Bible is telling us Christians today that if we have a lot of possessions that we must sell them and put them in the general pot for everyone to share. That might make things a little easier at Prince of Peace around budget time, but it would miss the point. As a description of how the first Christians saw their life together as a Christian community we have a stark contrast to our individualistic and wealthy culture we have in twenty-first century America. Obviously, that may not seem to be the case for many during these days where many people are taking a bit hit with the slide the economy has gone into. It remains, however, that compared to the culture the first Christians lived in 2000 years ago our standard of living is very different. We have many blessings as a society they simply did not have and if they were transported into our time they would marvel at our wealth.

The point, though, is not how much we have or even how much we are struggling economically or otherwise. The point is that the Christians back then and we as Christians today have something in common and that is Christ. In our culture it’s easy for us to live out our Christian lives with a ‘Jesus and me’ attitude. How much more would others be blessed if we saw our possessions as not simply our own, and they are, but as blessings God has given us in order not only to enjoy the life God has given us but also to serve and help others? What we really need is Jesus. Any blessings such as possessions and money and even wealth are blessings above and beyond. If everything you owned were stripped away you would still have Jesus. And you would have everything.

This is so because with Jesus you have everything you need. You have peace that goes beyond all understanding. You have forgiveness of all of your sins. You have the promise from Christ Himself that you are blessed. You have everything you need, you just don’t realize it because you are so caught up in the things you think you can’t or don’t want to go without. You are blessed beyond what you can imagine, you just don’t fully embrace that because you worry about those things you don’t have that you think must have. You are eternally wealthy, wealthy beyond compare, you just don’t get all that excited about that because you are caught up in the things of the world, just as those who are not Christians.

The point here is not to say that it’s so bad that we live in the culture we do. We live in the culture we do, the Christians 200o years ago in Palestine lived in the culture they did. This is just the way it is. If you had grown up in a poor culture in Africa things would be very different for you. The point of this is not to compare, the point is to see how God has blessed you no matter who you are or in what society you live or where you grew up or where you live. Some people are blessed with a lot of wealth, some barely scrape by. What you need, just as with everyone, is forgiveness of your sin. You need new life. You need peace with God. You need hope in the midst of all of your fears and struggles and temptations, and yes, even your sins. What you need is Jesus. With Jesus you have it all whether you have a lot or a little, whether you live here or in Brazil, whether you are alive now or if you had lived 1300 years ago.

John makes this clear in the Epistle reading when he says that Jesus “is the propitiation [that is, the sacrifice] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” This is an important thing the Scriptures teach. What everyone needs is Jesus. That’s why Jesus made the payment for everyone’s sins. Many people don’t know this. They don’t know or don’t believe they need their sins paid for. As Christians we do know this. Since we do we should live like we know it. Above all people we should recognize daily that we need Jesus. We need forgiveness, we need the peace He gives, we need Him. John makes another statement, a sobering one: if we say we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar. Think of it this way, why would Jesus have died on the cross for the sins of the world if payment for sins were not necessary? He did it because it’s necessary. We need Jesus.

Knowing what we need, how do we get it? How we get what we need, which is Jesus, is Jesus. Jesus gives us Himself. We can’t get what we need by anything we do. We need Jesus and so He gives to us what we need. He gives us Himself.

Jesus rose from the grave. John and Peter made their way to the tomb on the Sunday after the Friday Jesus died. They saw it was empty. Furthermore, Mary Magdalene saw Jesus Himself. She told those apostles. So what were they doing? Setting up a nice meal for when He would arrive? Talking about all that was in store for them now that they knew He was no longer dead and that He’d be able to continue to be with them as He had for three years?

Nope, they were cowering in fear. They were still not believing He was with them. They were doubting the sight they had seen that the tomb was empty. They were doubting the words of Mary Magdalene that she had seen Him. What was it that these men needed? To believe? To trust? To go back to all of those words Jesus had told them, that He would suffer, die, and rise? To listen to Mary and take her at her word? Yes, they definitely needed to do all those things.

But what did they really need? What was the one thing that could break through all of their fear and doubt and confusion? Jesus. What they really was needed Jesus. And Jesus they got. They didn’t go to Him in fervor or firm belief and trust, He came to them. He broke through more than the walls He miraculously passed through. He broke through their trusting in the things of this world; of what they thought they needed. He came right into the midst of them and was now before them.

Peace be with you. That’s what they needed. Jesus was before them and how they got what they needed was that Jesus came to them to give it to them. The peace He spoke to them was peace that was followed up with an object lesson of sorts. As our Gospel reading today says: “When [Jesus] had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” What they needed was Jesus. The one who had scars on His hands and in His side. The one who had suffered on the cross as the sacrifice for all of their sins and the sin of the whole world. What they needed was Jesus and Jesus was what they got because He delivered Himself to them.

The Gospel reading today does an amazing thing. It might appear that the amazing thing it does is tell us of an amazing event. While it is amazing that Jesus passed through walls, stood before them in flesh and blood, having risen from the dead, and was ever patient with Thomas in his doubts, the truly amazing thing it shows us is that when we get what we need, namely, Jesus, it is in a way that is more real than when the disciples got Jesus that day when He stood before them. How this is so is because while they certainly could touch Him and His scars in a way you and I can’t, He offered that to them for what, forty days? After that, I’m going away again guys. I’ll be ascending into heaven in forty days and you will no longer see Me as you do now. When you are afraid or have doubts or get caught up in the cares of the world or the struggles of your life, I won’t be passing through the walls of your living room to show up so that you can see that I really am your God and Savior.

They still would need Him though. We still do today. What Jesus did and what He still does today is come to us. You might say He passes through the walls of this sanctuary in order to be before us right here at this altar, in bread and wine. When you eat the bread and drink that wine you won’t be touching it in order to feel any scars. But you can be assured that the body in and with that bread is the body of Christ that bore the scars from nails piercing through His hands. You can know for certain that the blood in and with that wine is the blood that was poured out on the cross as the sacrifice for all of your sins, even as it was shed for the sins of the world.

In this way you know what you need and how you get it. Just as He came to the disciples that day He rose He comes to you today with what you need: Himself. And with Him you get it all. Amen.


Thursday, April 12, 2012


When Joseph brought his pregnant wife to Bethlehem he tried his best to get her into a place where she could give birth in relative comfort. He kept running into ‘No Vacancy’ signs. He ended up in a cave.

Eventually the son that was born in that cave ended up hanging on a cross on a hill called ‘Skull Hill’. When His last breath left Him He ended up in another cave. His body lay there, never to breathe again.

The thing is, when the women went there on Sunday to give proper care to His lifeless body, there was an angel there with this message: “He is not here.”

Joseph of Arimathea would be able to use his own tomb, after all. It was now vacant. Empty.

Have you ever looked down in a grave before a casket was placed in it? Have you ever been in a mausoleum? Ever stepped into a cave that was hewn out to be a tomb?

Empty only describes part of the experience. It not only looks empty, it feels empty. There’s an eeriness to the surroundings, the air seems different, it’s unearthly quiet.

When the women showed up at Jesus’ tomb on Sunday they probably didn’t experience any of this because they were trying to figure out what had happened. All they had to do was listen to the angel. This tomb was now vacant.

Jesus was no longer there. He wasn’t there any longer because He was no longer dead. He had risen from the grave and thus left death behind along with its eeriness and emptiness.

The angel told them something else: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” The tomb was vacant, but that didn’t mean that Jesus was no longer around. The angel told the women where the apostles would see Him.

The Scriptures tell us where we can see Him as well. The altar is empty except when bread and wine are on it. There you see Him. When you approach the Lord’s Table, keep in mind the words of the angel in reference to the tomb: He is not here. He is now here, at His Table, for you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Jesus Rose. Why Is There Still Fear?

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Day
April 8, 2012
Sorry to begin on such a down note. I know that today is supposed to be a day of rejoicing and excitement, and it is. But I can’t help but think about all the regrets. All the things I haven’t done that I should have done. I can’t get out of my mind all those things I’ve done that I shouldn’t have done. All the people I’ve hurt. All the things I’ve said that I can’t take back. All the times I should have spoken up but was too afraid. All the people I didn’t help because I was too busy thinking about myself. All the sin. All the guilt. I can’t do away with them. I can think about good things and I can rejoice in good things, but all those stains on my conscience hang around. They’re not going away.

Maybe you’ve come here today putting on a smiling face along with your Easter Sunday best clothes, but inside you’re sad or worried or afraid. Perhaps you’re wracked with guilt or you’re nursing a grudge or you’re being beaten down emotionally by a co-worker or your boss or a family member.

I wonder if these were the kinds of things that were going through the minds of the women on that day they went to the tomb. They were expecting Jesus to be laying there in the tomb, His lifeless body waiting for them to anoint it. But He wasn’t there. It’s not that someone had moved or stolen His body. He wasn’t there because He was no longer dead. He was alive and that was cause for joy and excitement. But instead, in one of the more remarkable passages in all of the Bible, Mark concludes his resurrection account of Jesus in this way: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

It seems to make a lot more sense how Matthew handles the account of the resurrection, where he says: “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” He at least gets the joy part in there. Even Luke is a little more helpful than Mark, in that even though he doesn’t say anything about joy, he doesn’t mention the fear either, just a simple “and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.”

When the women realized what happened, they were alarmed. We can definitely understand that. The angel even addressed their state of anxiety with his encouragement to not be alarmed. It was only afterward that they were afraid. We don’t hear any exhortation from the angel to not be afraid.

It finally dawned on me one day what it is that I think and feel. It is fear. I don’t mean all the time. And I don’t mean only fear, either. But I do realize that I’m afraid. I’m afraid when I look at what is in my heart. I’m afraid at the thoughts I have and the sins I’ve committed and the things I haven’t done that I ought to have done and the things I’ve done that I should not have. There’s guilt. There’s sadness. There are regrets. There are many other things. But there’s also fear.

How is that the case when Jesus rose from the dead? How was it that when the women went away from the empty tomb that they were afraid? We can see how they would have felt that way on Good Friday after He died. But Easter Sunday after He rose? Why did the Holy Spirit who inspired Mark to write this Gospel account of the resurrection of our Lord guide him to write that these women went away in fear? Couldn’t he have ended it on a much more joyous and positive note?

I would like to submit to you today that that is exactly what it is. Ending it in this way tells us exactly what we need to know. For one thing, it tells us that it’s okay to be afraid. At the least, it tells us that as human beings living in this life, we are at times afraid. God knows how weak we are, that even when we hear the best news we are often not fully embracing of it. Even though God loves us so much that He gave His Son to die for the sin of the world and that He rose from the grave conquering death, we face many things in our lives that remind us of our mortality and our sinfulness and our guilt. If this doesn’t cause fear in us we should take a step back and be aware that as we stand before God we are unworthy and utterly sinful. On Judgment Day we will understand fully what fear is if we stand before God in unrepentance.

But there is another thing we learn from this. We learn that the key in all of this is who Jesus is and what He has done. Whether you are afraid or not Jesus died on a cross for every sin you have ever committed. Whether or not you see clearly your guilt and your unworthiness the tomb where Jesus once lay is empty. He is not dead. He rose from His grave, He awoke from death. The Holy Spirit did not inspire the writers of the Bible to write the events in such a way as to give a glowing picture of how the resurrection of Christ immediately changed everyone and they now were no longer afraid and they all understood perfectly now and everything in their lives was now okay.

God the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to write things as they happened. Guess what, the people who lived back then were ordinary people like you and me. They were afraid, just like you and I may be at times when we know we should be feeling something else, such as joy or excitement. This means that who Jesus is and what He has done means exactly the same thing for you as it did for them. It means sins forgiven. It means death conquered. It means guilt washed away. It means eternal life. All of this is for you even though you still struggle, even though you are still wracked with guilt, even though you still wake up every day and find new ways to sin. It does not depend on you it depends on Jesus. That’s why He went to the cross. That’s why He rose from the tomb. You can’t pay for your sins, He did. You can’t bring yourself back to life, He did.

It would do no good to come here on Easter Sunday and act as if everything is okay, act is if you’re supposed to be joyful when you’re really not. What good would it do to ignore all those things you’re holding inside? It would do no good and the great thing about God is that He agrees with this. The great thing about the Bible is that it’s real. It doesn’t sugar coat things. You’re met with details like these, where when the event that shatters death once and for all the people who were there to witness it were afraid.

Frankly, I can identify a lot more with those women who went away from the empty tomb afraid than if they had gone away thinking, “Everything is now okay.” We know things aren’t just okay. We know that there’s a lot that is wrong. We know that much of what is wrong is deep in our hearts. We know that that guilt hangs around for a reason. It won’t go away on its own. With Jesus actually conquering the grave we know that He is in actuality who He says He is, that He is Lord. There is s a certain amount of fear in that.

But isn’t the Resurrection of Christ supposed to be a joyful event? Isn’t it supposed to put to rest our fears and our condemnation for our guilt? Yes, it is; and yes, it does all those things. But that’s the beauty of it. The Bible doesn’t tell us that this was just such a wonderful event, that everyone felt so happy and good after they found out Jesus was no longer dead. When it tells us that they were seized with trembling and astonishment and that they were afraid it is showing us what an amazing and wonderful blessing this is that the Holy Spirit inspired Mark to write these words rather than some sappy emotional account of how everything was now just fine and wonderful and they felt so good. What Christ has accomplished in His death and resurrection doesn’t depend on our feelings. It depends on Him and who He is and what He has done.

This is good news! You don’t have to rely on yourself. If you are wracked with guilt or holding a grudge or avoiding doing something you have a duty to do or are caught up in a sin you are having difficulty stopping, you can see in the account of the Resurrection good news. Not just in the fact that Jesus rose from the grave, but in the fact that those who were there were afraid. If it had been up to them, we would all be sunk. If salvation and hope relied on human beings there would be no salvation or hope. The fact that those women were afraid is not just a detail of the account of the Resurrection it’s a fact that gives us hope.

It shows us that the Resurrection is for you and me. It show us that it’s for people who really are struggling. It shows us that we can thank God that the conquering of death and guilt and sin relied solely on Christ and His power to come to life from the dead and not on us. Amen.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Keeping the Vigil

Easter Vigil
April 7, 2012
The women on the Saturday after Jesus died weren’t keeping a vigil. The disciples certainly weren’t. They had seen Him die and were still in mourning over their loved one they thought would be with them forever. We gather here on the Saturday between our observance of Good Friday, the day Jesus died, and our celebration of Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose. We call our observance a vigil. How do we keep a vigil? Why do we keep a vigil?

You might recognize that the word ‘vigil’ is related to the word ‘vigilant’. To be vigilant is to be watchful, to be ready. As Christians we are called upon by our Lord to be ever vigilant; as long as we breathe on this earth, as long as our Lord delays His return in glory on the Last Day. We are to be watchful, vigilant.

This remains true today even as our observance of this day that we call the Easter Vigil has our observing of it for a specific reason. The women on the Saturday after their Lord died were waiting for Sunday to come so that they could resume the embalming of His body. We are here this evening knowing everything that happened. We know that He was in the tomb on Saturday. We know He rose from His tomb early on Sunday morning. We know that He died and rested in the tomb and rose from the grave all for the securing of salvation for the world.

This is what we know. And this is the focus of our vigil. If you think about it, it really is the focus of our ever being vigilant throughout our lives as Christians. The problem, of course, is that we so often aren’t vigilant. We forget. We get caught up in day-to-day affairs. We get caught up in the desires of our sinful flesh. We perhaps aren’t aware that our lives as Christians are to be ones of vigilance, ever watchful for the day when our Lord will return in glory. If we are aware perhaps we’re not aware of how to be vigilant.

They way we do it is by receiving the grace and gifts of God as He gives them to us in Word and Sacrament. By daily dying and rising; dying to our sinful flesh in repentance and rising to new life in our Baptism. By being in God’s Word in daily devotions and weekly in Bible Study.

Basically, we keep the vigil, that is, we live lives of watchfulness and vigilance, by being in those things our Lord has given us where He instills in us the watchful and vigilant mind and heart which has its focus on and joy in our Lord who came in order to go to the cross, who rested in the tomb, who rose victoriously from the grave, and who will come again in glory to welcome us into the eternal glory He has prepared for us. Being vigilant isn’t something along the lines of being a monk in a solitary setting. It is much more along the lines of being who you are, where God has called you to serve, and living in the grace of your Lord as He gives it to you in His Gospel through preaching and His Sacraments. Amen.


Friday, April 6, 2012

The Cry of Faith

Good Friday
Commemoration of Lucas Cranach and Albrecht Dürer, Artists
April 6, 2012
Perhaps the most misunderstood thing in Christianity is faith. And there is perhaps no better time to ponder what faith is than on the day we call Good Friday.

Faith we usually think of as something we do. We normally see it as something we must do. You must have faith. You must believe. If you don’t have enough faith then you won’t receive from God what you are asking.

These are the kinds of things you hear often from Christians and that you yourself may often say and think.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While it’s true that faith is something we do it’s not true that faith is something from us. We are not able to have faith on our own. If we have faith it is by the Holy Spirit creating faith in us.

And while we have faith our having faith is not something we sustain. The faith we have is sustained solely by the Holy Spirit, not by us.

Faith also is often thought of us as understanding or intellectually grasping doctrine. There is indeed an aspect to faith that understands and comprehends and is inseparably linked with rational assessment of actual events and doctrines.

But we are not saved because we understand. We do not stand in God’s favor because we assent to the things He has said and the things He has accomplished.

We are saved by God’s work, His power, His grace.

It’s true that we are saved by faith. The Bible is clear on that. It says those exact words, in fact. So it would be foolish to say that we are not saved by faith.

But here we go back to how we started and the upside-down understanding of faith we so often have. When the Bible says that we are saved by faith it is saying that we are saved by God and His work and His power. We are saved by the trust we have in Jesus Christ and who He is and what He has done, not by what we do.

When we think of this trust that we have as something we do or come up with we are undermining faith. We are going against what God has given us in giving us faith.

The trust we have in Him is not something we naturally have of ourselves. Trust in ourselves is. This is why Christ went to the cross. This is what Good Friday shows us. If we were saved by what we do then Jesus didn’t need to suffer and die on the cross.

He wasn’t nailed to the cross to show us the way, He was nailed to the cross to pay for the sin of the world.

In the Gospel account of the Passion of our Lord we heard this evening from Mark there were a lot of things said and done. There are two things in particular which bring into focus what faith is and why it is at the heart of who we are as Christians.

One statement is by Jesus as He hung on the cross and as His life was about to leave Him. The other statement is by a man who was standing there who we would never expect to believe in Jesus. It was the centurion.

We normally don’t think of Jesus as having faith. When we talk of having faith we are talking of having faith in God. Since Jesus is God it seems strange that He would have faith.

But Jesus’ statement on the cross to His Heavenly Father was a cry of faith. He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This is an amazing statement coming from our Lord.

If you and I were to say this to God it would be seen as a sign of not having faith in Him. Jesus says it on the cross and it is the ultimate cry of faith. It could be thought of as the essence of what faith is. Part of this is because it comes from the mouth and the heart of Jesus Himself.

When you remember that faith is not something you produce but that God produces then you see that true faith you have does not have its center in you but in Christ.

When Christ therefore speaks in this way He is speaking in true and ultimate faith.

But how is that so when it seems He is decrying being forsaken by the Father? “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Isn’t He showing a lack of faith?

What He is doing is expressing the greatest faith of all. On the one hand He is stating what is actually occurring in His Suffering and death on the cross. It is painful to think of the punishment and torture Jesus experienced from the hands of the Roman soldiers; not to mention the onslaught of persecution from the religious leaders and passers-by.

But Jesus didn’t willingly be handed over to be crucified to suffer in only this way. What ultimately was happening is that He was suffering at the hands of His Heavenly Father. This is infinitely more painful and saddening for us to consider, that the Justice of God was brought down upon Jesus, who is holy and good and without sin and not deserving of anything but the highest honor and glory.

Jesus’ cry of being forsaken by His Heavenly Father was not a cry of despair but of faith. It was the ultimate assent to what was happening. He willingly suffered this wrath and eternal punishment by His loving Father because He did it in our place, in order to save us from this eternal punishment.

We know this because the Scriptures time and again show us this is the work Jesus willingly desired to do. We know this also because of Jesus’ very careful words. They were not, “O God, why have You forsaken Me?”, but “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Even in the suffering for eternal punishment at the hands of the Father, His Father was still His Father, His God.

This is the cry of faith. It is not Jesus on the cross assessing the situation rationally and coming to a conclusion. It is Christ on the cross crying out in faith. Fully one with the will of His Heavenly and eternal Father—His Father, His God.

It is the cry of faith, not a giving up or a rebuking but of a statement at one with the good and gracious will of His Heavenly Father that He be forsaken so that we may be at one with the Heavenly Father, who becomes our Father, our God, in His Son Jesus Christ.

How was it that the centurion who stood there, a man who likely was a pagan, a man who was heading up the team of soldiers that day in crucifixion detail, how was it that he stood there and cried out, “Truly this man was the Son of God”?

How it was is that it was a cry of faith. It’s not something he produced of his own power or will. It’s not something he rationally understood. It’s something he believed and trusted in because the Holy Spirit produced in him faith.

The object of the centurion’s faith was Jesus Christ, hanging there on the cross, dead. The object of our faith is Christ, the one who was crucified, suffering and dying for the sins of the world.

The object of Christ’s faith was God the Father. Because of His faith, because of His suffering and death, we are granted faith.

What a blessing to see that our faith is so much more than a rational understanding of this, that it is indeed a cry of faith, a joyous and firm trust that Jesus is the one who has accomplished everything we need for us to be children of God—our God, our Father. Amen.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Time Enough for Eternity

Maundy Thursday
April 5, 2012
A lot happened on Maundy Thursday. In these few verses of our Gospel reading Mark tells us of a lot of things that happened. And he doesn’t even include everything. First they had to prepare the Passover. Jesus had taken care of all the details. The disciples now had simply to carry them out. Then there was the incident we’d just as soon not have to deal with on Maundy Thursday, if at all. Jesus announced that one of them would betray Him. In one of the saddest things ever spoken of a person, Jesus said that it would have been better if that man had never been born. Then one of the most amazing, if not strange, things that ever happened: Jesus gave bread and wine to His disciples and said that He was giving them His body and His blood. After that they went to the Mount of Olives and our Gospel reading this evening ends there. We know that what occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane was Jesus being handed over and arrested.

There’s way too much here to deal with all of that in a short time. But more significantly, there’s way too much here to comprehend fully in a lifetime. But that’s why our Lord has not given us simply a lifetime. He has given us eternity. How He has done so is by giving us His body and His blood. It’s impossible for us to comprehend that in a little physical temporal piece of bread we are given eternity. We are given Christ Himself. It’s impossible for us to wrap our minds around receiving eternity in that little sip of wine.

So the key to all of this is not to comprehend it. It is to receive it by faith. There’s a lot to that, to be sure. There’s the simple hearing of it. There’s the trusting in it. There’s the believing in the Lord who gives you His very body and blood. There’s the confessing of our sin and our unworthiness of such a gift. There’s the rejoicing in it. There’s the confessing it that it’s true and the sharing it with others. But most importantly, there’s the hearing of it. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.

Think for a moment what you are receiving in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. You are receiving the Lord. You are taking into your mouth the body of Christ and the blood of Christ. Reason can’t explain this. Faith simply receives it and rejoices in it. That’s why we are given eternity. It can’t be exhausted, and so we are given not just enough time to understand it but an eternity to rejoice in it and relish its benefits. We are given it not so much so that we can understand it and analyze it but so that we can be blessed in it. This is something that happens in time but is also outside of time. This gifts of God deal in eternity. By His grace He gives us enough time for eternity.

Mark’s account of what occurred on the Thursday before Jesus went to the cross recounts events that occurred in time. This is a historical account even as its primary purpose is theological: namely, to create and sustain faith in us. This is how we see that it is in time that we receive eternity.

Jesus had His disciples prepare the Passover Meal. What they didn’t realize is that Jesus was the one who really was doing all the preparing. He was using them as vessels to prepare the meal they would celebrate. In the same way we prepare the Lord’s Supper on this altar with the various vessels for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But make no mistake, Jesus is the one who is doing all the preparing. All we can do is provide on this altar bread and wine. He’s the one who prepares this Meal as one in which what we eat and drink is His body and blood.

The only things we can do in time are things that last in time and history. Jesus uses the things of this world and in time to give us things that last forever. In time He gives us eternity. There is time for eternity because it is in time He gives it to us. At His Holy Supper you are partaking of a Meal in time that is at the same time a Meal celebrated in eternity. When we partake of Holy Communion we are communing with the angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven, all of whom are not in time but in eternity. In time, that is, here and now when we celebrate Holy Communion, we are brought into eternity with them.

This is why we shouldn’t simply go through the events of that night when Jesus was betrayed as historical events. We shouldn’t simply try to pin them down as events in time that happened one after another. They happened. They’re historical. We believe they’re true. But simply to understand them and appreciate them misses the main point of why they happened. They happened because in them our Lord was preparing for us a Meal. In them our Lord was bringing about salvation history. In time, that is, in those events that occurred, Jesus was bringing eternity down here to earth, giving us time and the means through which we are brought into eternity.

In bread and wine we are given the Body and Blood of Jesus. Jesus’ body and blood were given and shed on the cross. In His Holy Meal He gives to us this very gift: Himself, His body and blood that were given and shed on the cross. When Jesus was on the cross that was a historical event, an event that occurred in time. And yet, eternity was taking place, if that’s even the way to say it. The point is, Jesus was suffering on the cross eternal damnation, in our place. The suffering of this was in our place, therefore, when that was occurring, eternity, that is, eternal life apart from damnation, was being secured. This is what is given, then, in the Holy Supper of our Lord, this eternity, this eternal salvation, this forgiveness of all of our sins.

Never give short shrift to the fact that it comes in such a simple way, through bread and wine. Simply marvel in it. It is in these things, in time, that you are given eternity. Amen.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why Are You Doing This?

Palm Sunday
Sunday of the Passion
April 1, 2012
When Jesus sends His disciples to untie and retrieve a donkey that is not theirs He tells them that they may get asked why they are doing this. He gives them a simple response and it does the trick: they are to say, “The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.”

I wonder if the disciples asked Jesus, Why are You doing this?, when He asked them to get a donkey. There’s no indication given that they thought this unusual. The plan for Him to ride into Jerusalem on that donkey seemed to accomplish what He set out to do. The crowds seemed to know what was going on, what with their putting their coats and branches on the ground. What with their quoting Scripture and their praises of this one coming in the name of the Lord.

It doesn’t appear that they were asking Jesus why He was doing this. They seemed to know. But the Scriptures tell us they didn’t know; at least, they didn’t fully comprehend who Jesus was and why He was coming into Jerusalem. The Scriptures tell us the disciples didn’t even know. The religious leaders certainly didn’t know. Who knows, maybe the people who owned the donkey did know. There was a reason they had that donkey upon which no one had ever sat. But everyone else didn’t know.

What about you and me? Do we know? Why was Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? Why was Jesus even in a position to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey? That is, Jesus being God, how was God in a situation in which He was riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? That He was shows us that He was a man. We know this of course. We’re Christians. We believe Jesus is a man. We believe also that He is God. That He is God and that He is a man shows us something that is at the heart of who He is. We might take a cue from those who asked the disciples why they were untying the donkey and ask Jesus, Why are you doing this?

Why did You become a man? Why were You born? Why, since You were, were You born in such remarkable circumstances; that is, in such a lowly fashion? Why did You confine Yourself in Your life here on earth to such a small area of the globe? Why, in the same fashion, did You confine Your life here on earth to such a small period of time; namely, about thirty years, and only about three of those in actual ministry? And toward the end of those three years, why did You ride into Jerusalem on that donkey?

Jesus did many things after being born. He grew up as we all do. He was in the care of His parents, Joseph and Mary. He went to school. He probably worked with His dad after that. Why did He do these things? Was He just killing time before the big thing—you know, the one where He died for the sins of the world? Why, when He left His carpentry tools behind, did He spend three years in ministry? Was it just a warm-up for the main event, where He suffered on the cross? When He was in His ministry, why did He do all those things He did, the teaching, the healing, the miracles? Why did He heal some and not others? Why did He show some His powers and conceal it from others?

It’s perhaps a little dangerous to bring up all these questions when there’s not time in one sermon to answer all of them. But questions are good. The purpose of questions can be to stretch us, not necessarily to get answers in a neat and tidy way.

Even so, all these questions can be answered in a straightforward way. What Jesus did on Palm Sunday teaches us why Jesus did what He did. He rode into Jerusalem on that donkey to fulfill Scripture. He rode in on a donkey to make His way to the place where He had always planned on going, Golgotha. Everything Jesus did, from being born to being raised by His parents, to being in ministry where He healed and taught, to riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, all was for the purpose bringing about salvation. Scripture foretold it in the Old Testament, Scripture shows the fulfillment of it in the New Testament.

Nobody seemed to be asking Jesus on that day, Why are You doing this? Why are You riding into Jerusalem on that donkey? They seemed to know. But they didn’t know. They didn’t ask because they thought they knew. We know, but we should ask. Jesus, why did You ride into Jerusalem on that donkey? The words of Zechariah in the Old Testament reading tell us. The words of Paul in the Epistle reading tell us. The words the people who hailed Jesus in the Gospel reading tell us. He rode into Jerusalem in order to fulfill Scripture. He did it in order to go to the cross. He did it in order to be the King and Savior that He is.

We know this. We know why He did it. But we need to ask. But why? Why do we need to ask our Lord why He did that? Because we need to know why He continues to do what He does. It’s one thing to know what Jesus did. It’s equally vital to know why He does what He does now.

So often our questions to God are like this: God, why are You doing this? Why are You guiding me in a way I don’t want to go or don’t understand? Why are you allowing me to suffer through difficulties? Why do You seem so distant if You are always with me? Why is it so hard to talk to others about You when it should be the easiest and most natural thing in the world? Why do You come to me in the ways you do, in ways that seem not to be very compelling, such as water and bread and wine?

One thing we can know is that it’s not a bad thing to ask God questions. He invites them. What we must learn is that we should ask them in humility and faith. We must learn that our asking God why He does what He does should not be to question Him but to seek His will.

In this way we can ask our questions. Jesus, why are You doing this, coming to me in the way You are, in the waters of Baptism? Why are You coming to me through simple bread and wine? Why are you using a man who is just as sinful as I am to proclaim the Gospel to me and absolve my sins? Why do You use me, an ordinary person, and one who doesn’t always know what to say to others, to make known the Gospel to the people in my life? Why not just use those who are really good at communicating and relating to others?

When you look at the way God did things as shown to us in the Scriptures you begin to see the way He does things today. Why He does them is also shown. Why did God become a man? He certainly did it for us. We, the people He created, removed ourselves from His care and so He came to us in a way in which He could restore us to His care. Why was He born in the way He was, humble and to insignificant people? We, the people of this world, placed ourselves above our status and so He came to us in humility, lowering Himself to be our servant. Why did He come into Jerusalem that day on a donkey? Zechariah in the Old Testament reading said that God would come as Savior, lowly and riding on a donkey. He did not enter in power but in peace and salvation.

The Epistle reading shows the true power and glory of God in that Jesus is fully God and yet took the form of a servant. He even placed Himself in submission to His Heavenly Father, becoming obedient to Him. His obedience was not just doing what we ought to do and have failed to do in keeping the Ten Commandments, it was becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Everything else Jesus did was for the purpose of carrying out His obedience unto death, specifically, His death on the cross.

That explains a lot in regard to why He does what He does today. Why does Jesus first come to us in water? Just as God’s Word went forth from the formlessness and the void bringing about creation, everything that we see, so God’s Word goes forth and is connected to that water that is poured on you in Baptism. You are now re-created in Baptism. You are now given new life in Baptism. The water was one of the things He created at the beginning, it is one of the things He uses to bring to you His Son, Jesus Christ, in order to give you new life.

Why does Jesus come to us often in bread and wine? Bread and wine are also ordinary things God created, just like water. Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Word that God spoke at creation was brought forth in His Son when Jesus became a man at His birth. On the night before He went to His death on the cross where His body would be given and His blood would be shed Jesus gave bread and wine to His disciples in a meal. It was a memorial meal, no doubt, Jesus says that Himself. This Memorial Meal was unlike any other, however, in that in the bread He gave and in the wine He gave He gave His very body and His very blood.

It is in the things of creation God’s Word is at work. It is in ordinary things Jesus comes to us. No longer should it seem strange to us that He uses us also, the crown of His creation, as the vessels through which others hear about Christ as we talk with them and serve them. That He used a donkey doesn’t seem all that strange after all when you consider that He is the one who created donkeys in the first place. And when you consider that He also created water and bread and wine it’s perfectly natural that He would use those things as well.

If you every wonder, Lord, Why are You doing this?, just think about what occurred on that day when Jesus posed that some might ask that question. It was about the donkey. That donkey ended up being the vehicle which carried Jesus on His way to the cross. In the same way, the water of Baptism, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, are vehicles carrying Jesus to you. Amen.