Blessed Be the Holy Trinity

Text: Creed

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”[1] St. Paul wrote this to the Romans after considering the mystery of salvation. God the Father sent forth His only-begotten Son into the flesh to suffer and die for the sins of the world. By this work, He accomplished salvation for His people. Those who are saved, He foreknew and elected to salvation by granting them the gift of faith – which itself is worked in human hearts through the Holy Spirit. This great grace and love of God is hard for us humans to understand, so St. Paul simply ends with a doxology – a hymn of praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate the Festival of the Holy Trinity. This is a Sunday set aside for centuries to give praise to our glorious and awesome God by speaking specifically about this wonderful doctrine. The Christian faith is wrapped up into this doctrine: we worship one God who exists eternally in three persons. None is before or after another, none is greater or lesser than the other. Yet, there are not three Gods, but one God. Though human reason cannot understand, yet faith confesses that God has revealed Himself to us as a Trinity. Our salvation rests in Him alone.

I.

In our time together today, we want to confess both what we believe about the Trinity and why this doctrine is important. We’re going to do it backwards, though, and start with why faith in the Trinity is important. We’ve been spending a lot of time in the Easter season and Pentecost hearing from Jesus’ final words before His passion. Shortly before He was betrayed, in St. John’s Gospel there’s what is called the “High Priestly Prayer.” Right at the start of the prayer, our Lord prayed this, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”[2] Jesus breaks down for us what eternal life is. In addition to rescue from sin and death and living in eternal joy, eternal life is to know God and to be in fellowship with Him. To be in communion with God is to receive eternal life. Apart from knowledge of God, there is no life.

Therefore, God revealed Himself to mankind. He revealed Himself generally through nature and the conscience. But, so that man might know Him fully and thus receive salvation, God revealed Himself through the Scriptures. Through the Scriptures He has revealed Himself to be a plurality of persons, yet unity of substance. Trinity is the word we use to describe this. Trinity means, “three-in-one.” The Trinity is revealed to us throughout Scripture, but there are two passages which you probably already know. The first, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[3] The second is from St. Paul, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”[4] Our Lord tells us to Baptize in the name of the Triune God, yet is also clear to confess that He and the Father are one God. You might’ve noticed last week in the Tower of Babel, how the one God spoke in the plural, as He also did at Creation.

II.

The first question to answer today is why we believe in the Trinity, and why are compelled to confess our faith. The answer to that is because to know God is to know eternal life. To not know Him is death. So that we might have life, the Lord revealed Himself to us in Scripture as one God in three persons. Scripture teaches us that we are saved by faith. But, faith saves not because it is a good work which merits righteousness. Faith saves because of its object. We are saved not because we have faith, but because of what our faith is in – namely, in God the Father who sent His Son and, who by the Holy Spirit has called us to faith.

Since we’re doing this backwards, the next question is what do we believe? We believe, as we’ve already said, “the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three God, but one God.”[5] This is the Christian faith. We believe in one eternal God, who exists in three persons. All three are God, all three are Lord. None are before or after another, none is lesser or greater than another. They differ in relation to each other in that the Father begat the Son, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. They differ in their work in that the Father primarily is the Creator, the Son the Redeemer, and the Spirit the Sanctifier. Yet, they are all active in each work as one God. You’re probably thinking that this is impossible for us to understand, and you’re right. Human reason cannot understand the Trinity. It can only and must be believed.

We believe in one God, three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. None are more God than the other, and none are less. There are some common misunderstandings when it comes to the Trinity. The first is what non-Christians sometimes charge us with, namely, that we are really polytheists – that we worship three gods. That is not true. We hold to the Scripture which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”[6]

On the other side are misunderstandings that were created within the Church, which the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds were written against. In order to preserve the oneness of God, some taught that the Son was, indeed, God – but was created by the Father. They said that there was a time when the Son did not exist. Others, taught that the three persons of the Trinity were just different masks that the one God put on. In other words, you could not have all persons of the Trinity in the same place at the same time. And still, others, which are today known as Unitarians, taught that the one God acts in three different ways, sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Spirit.

Against these teachings we believe the Scripture, such as at our Lord’s Baptism. Our Lord was in the water, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove. We believe the words of our Lord, who taught us to baptize in the one name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, we receive the words of angelic praise, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.”[7] We worship the God of our salvation, who has and always will exist in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

III.

As we’re nearing the close of this sermon, since we’ve answered why we should confess the Trinity and what we believe, we might ask, also, what comfort this doctrine brings. I would venture that the comfort that this doctrine brings is this: we have divinely transcendent God who far above all creation, whose ways are unsearchable, unknowable, and inscrutable – but who yet is also near and ever present in our lives and at work for our salvation. God the Father is the author and source of all life, He created all things and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He provides for us our daily bread and protects us from all evil. He sent forth His Son.

The second person of the Trinity became man. He did not change from God to man but brought humanity up into Himself. He suffered and died for the sins of the world. By His ascension, He is preparing our own ascension to His side and He continues to dwell among us by His Word and Sacrament. From Him and the Father, the Spirit proceeds. The Spirit works through the Word of the Son to call all people to faith. He creates faith in the hearts of those who hear the Word and works through the Sacraments to sustain them. The Spirit dwells even within our hearts and intercedes for us with the Son to the Father. He comforts us in our weaknesses and helps us to pray.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not something we’ll understand this side of eternity, but it is true, and our salvation depends on it. Jesus said eternal life is knowing God and knowing Him as He has been revealed by the Son through the Holy Spirit. We who have received that life, therefore, give all glory to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.”


 

[1] Romans 11:33, 36, English Standard Version.

[2] Jn. 17:1-3.

[3] Mt. 28:19.

[4] 2 Cor. 13:14.

[5] Athanasian Creed, 3-4; 15-16.

[6] Deut. 6:4.

[7] Is. 6:3.

Babel Undone

Text: Genesis 11:1-9

Today, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost, which means “Fifty,” used to be called the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament. It was a harvest festival where, fifty days after the Passover, the children of Israel would present an offering of new grain to the Lord.[1] Pentecost as we know it, received a new meaning in the New Testament; it has sort of become the Lord’s harvest festival. Fifty days after the Passover – which is the day our Lord died on the cross to win for the world the forgiveness of sins – the Lord poured out His Holy Spirit on the Apostles, and the saving Gospel of Christ was spoken in many languages. Men from all corners of the known world heard the Apostles speaking in their own languages and received the gift of faith.

At Pentecost, God worked a reversal of the Tower of Babel. After the Flood, mankind supposed to spread over the ends of the earth and populate it with faithful children of God. Instead, they all gathered in one place – not to worship, but to make a name for themselves. To punish their sin, the Lord confused the languages of mankind and scattered them all over the earth. At Pentecost, the Lord once again united all mankind again – this time, in the faith. Though now we remain separated by language and geography, by sending the Gospel out into many languages the Lord has created a unity which is pleasing to Him – unity in the faith. Today we celebrate the reversal of Babel by the outpouring of the Spirit, who unites us together in Christ.

I.

The account of the Tower of Babel is a brief one, but there are many lessons to be learned from it. After mankind was expelled from Eden as result of our first parents’ sin, humans began to spread over the earth. As they spread, the hope and faith in the Messiah promised first to Adam and Eve grew more and more dim. The world became such that the thoughts of all mankind were only evil continually, and the Lord was sorry He had created man. Yet, Noah and his family trusted in the Lord, and the He preserved them in the ark while the rest of the world perished in the Flood.

When the waters receded, and dry land appeared again, the Lord gave them the same instructions He gave before, “be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”[2] The Lord again desired that the world be filled with His faithful children and that all over the world, people would know to call on and be called by His name. But, instead, we heard in the text, “the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.”[3] As Noah’s descendants spread out across the earth, they eventually stopped. They found a plain and settled there for this purpose: they said, “let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”[4]

Rather than listen to God’s Word and call upon His name, while Noah was probably still alive, His own descendants decided to do things their own way. To prevent God’s will from happening – He had told them to spread – they made a city for themselves and built a tower with its top in the heavens. In their arrogance, they sought to set aside God’s name and will and be known by their own. But, isn’t that what sin is? Every sin is claiming that we know better than God.

They sought to build a tower to heaven, but evidently, they didn’t quite make it. The Lord came down from heaven to look at the tower, you see. Rather than living in the unity that God had desired, living together in the one true faith, mankind created a unity of its own – a unity of sin and arrogance. The Lord saw this sinful unity and knew that there would be no end to mankind’s pursuit of sin. So, in judgment – yet, perhaps also in mercy – the Lord confused their language so that they would not understand each other and, “dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth.”[5]

II.

Let’s shift, now, to Pentecost. As our Lord prepared to ascend to the right hand of the Father, He instructed His disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance all the things Jesus said and did and would cause them also to bear witness. Ten days after the Ascension – and fifty days since Passover – the disciples were together in one place.

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.[6]

Now, Pentecost was a festival that brought many people to Jerusalem, people from many different countries and languages. When they heard the sound of the Spirit descending on the disciples, they all came to see what had happened. When they got there, they found the disciples speaking in many different languages. Men who were by birth Galileans, were speaking in languages they had not previously known. And what were they speaking? The Good News of Jesus Christ. The disciples were speaking in all those different languages the Good News that Jesus had suffered, died, and rose for the forgiveness of sins. Where, once, all these people were divided before by language, now they were being united in the Gospel of Christ.

So, Pentecost is like a reverse of Babel. Mankind tried to create its own unity by making a name for itself, a unity of sin and arrogance. The result was separation. At Pentecost, God created a holy unity by sending the Gospel out in so many languages. At Pentecost, God sent out the Holy Spirit to unite all mankind in this truth: Jesus Christ, both God and man, suffered on the cross for the sins of the whole world. Though in our lives we experience no end of heartache and trial, Jesus has won for us peace with God and eternal life with Him in heaven. All who were once united by sin and death, may now be united in faith and life. Pentecost is like a reversal of the Tower of Babel. Whereas mankind’s language was confused as a punishment for sin, now God sends out the Good News in all languages, so that we may be united again – this time, in Christ.

Pentecost is a fitting day for our congregations to have confirmation, as well. As our Lord has sent His Gospel out into all the world, uniting men and women all over in the one truth faith, so also has the Gospel been delivered to us. We have one in our presence now, who desires to confess the faith we share and so receive the Lord’s Supper in our fellowship. For this, we thank and praise God. Whereas of Pentecost of old, man brought in a harvest offering, now we celebrate Pentecost as God’s harvest festival. Though mankind was separated as a result of sin, now God has brought all mankind together in the confession of Christ’s name. At Pentecost, God undid Babel. Thanks be to God.


[1] Lev. 23:16, English Standard Version.

[2] Gen. 9:7

[3] Gen. 11:1-2.

[4] Gen. 11:4.

[5] Gen. 11:8.

[6] Acts 2:2-4.

The Holy Spirit, the Comforter

Text: John 15:26-16:4

Let us pray,

O King of glory, Lord of hosts, uplifted in triumph far above all heavens, leave us not without consolation but send us the Spirit of truth whom You promised from the Father; for You live and reign with Him and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

This prayer, the Collect of the Day for the Sunday after the Ascension, is a wonderful prayer. It ties very well into the readings, which speak about the work of the Holy Spirit. It recognizes that we have celebrated the ascension of our Lord to the right hand of the Father and asks that He would send upon His Church the promised Holy Spirit.

In the prayer, the Spirit is called the Spirit of truth who offers us consolation, or, perhaps one might say, comfort. Our text this week comes, again, from the final instructions Jesus gave His Disciples before His passion. In it, He teaches that, though the world will rage against His disciples – and they will be tempted to lose heart – Jesus will send them a helper from the Father: the Holy Spirit. This Helper would help them by comforting them with the Word of Christ – that He will never leave them nor forsake them, and that by faith in Him their place in heaven is secure. In our text, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to His disciples, to comfort us in all our distress by pointing back to Christ.

I.

Our text today is a hard speech to hear. John 13-17 are all part of Jesus’ final instruction to the Disciples, bits and pieces of which we’ve heard over the Easter season. We heard chapter 13 on Holy Thursday and the last number of weeks have been in chapter 16. Last week, we heard Jesus’ invitation to prayer and promise that the faithful are heard by their Father in heaven. The portion we hear today is difficult because Jesus detailed the opposition His disciples would face after His departure. Up to this point, the opposition they faced – say, from the Pharisees, scribes, and chief priests – had mostly been directed toward Jesus. Jesus was the one they were really after. Though, their ire did start to spread – St. John told us that they had wanted to kill Lazarus, too, since many were believing in Jesus because of him.

After Jesus ascends to heaven, though, the opposition directed toward Him will pass unto His apostles. Our Lord described some of things the world would do to His chosen ones, “They will put you out of the synagogues,” Jesus said. “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”[1] We don’t have to get too far past Pentecost in the Book of Acts, to see these things being fulfilled. The apostles were thrown of out synagogues and called unbelievers. In Acts 7, we hear how St. Stephan was stoned, being the first martyr. The men who killed him thought that they were doing a good work for God. The same happened with James, the brother of our Lord, when he was thrown from the top of the temple.

In other words, it’s going to get bad after His ascension, according to our Lord. The hatred of the world for Him and the Gospel will pass to His followers. However, Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.”[2]When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”[3] Jesus means, that although the world will rage against His followers and against His Gospel – and though they will be tempted to despair – Jesus will preserve them by sending them a helper, the Holy Spirit.

II.

The word rendered into English in our text as “helper,” is the Greek word Paraclete, which also means, “comforter.” Given the context, comforter is a better translation and gives us a better sense of what Jesus is saying. What He is saying is that, though the sea roar and the world rage, no harm shall come to His Church. The hymn goes, “Built on the Rock, the Church doth stand.” Christ preserves His Church and His faithful ones by sending them the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to comfort us, by pointing us back to Christ.

When we talk about the Holy Spirit, we most often talk about His work in connection with Pentecost. It’s the Holy Spirit who works through the Word to call all people to faith in the saving work of Christ. We are all Christians because the Holy Spirit has brought us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that we have life through His death for our sins on the cross. It is also the Spirit’s work to comfort the faithful in Christ. St. Paul said, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.”[4] When the beloved of Christ’s flock are faced with trial and distress, it is the Spirit’s work to comfort them and make them bold.

We see His work in the Apostles. What Christ told them in our text did come to pass. Yet, none of them fell away. The Apostles faced persecution, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, and death. Yet, they remained faithful through the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit continually put before their eyes the promises of our faithful God. He is our Good Shepherd who never forsakes His flock; He has opened paradise to us by His death on the cross; and, by His resurrection, our own deaths will prove to be but the doorway to eternal life. The Holy Spirit comforted the disciples by pointing them back to promises of Christ.

III.

In our text, Jesus preached a hard sermon to the disciples. The hatred the world had for Him would pass to them. Nevertheless, He would send upon them the Holy Spirit, who would comfort them and make them bold. Jesus said, “He will bear witness about Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”[5] The Holy Spirit would comfort them by bringing to their remembrance all the words and works of Christ for them, and thus they also would bear witness to others.

Now, to us. We do not face the same immediate dangers the disciples did, but we face trials and difficulties of other sorts. The disciples faced excommunication from the synagogues. With each passing year, faithful Christians face excommunication from the world as our confession – that Jesus is the only true God – becomes heresy. The teaching of our Lord in the text is mainly directed to this end, that though world rage against the work of Christ and the spread of His Gospel – His work will go on. To comfort us, we who are His hands and feet, He sends us the Holy Spirit to remind us of His promises to never leave us nor forsake us, to never abandon His Church, and to bring us into eternal life.

We might also say something about the experiences of our own personal lives. The comfort of the Spirit is not just limited to making us bold in the face of persecution, but also confident in the promises of Christ within our daily vocations. Because, as if being a faithful Christian isn’t hard enough, living is hard. Some of us are facing cancer, some work difficulties. For some of us, even as we celebrate Mothers’ Day, we recognize that our family life is rife with turmoil. Even if we don’t notice the persecution of the world personally, our own lives themselves cause us no end of trouble.

The work of the Holy Spirit is not just to make us bold in our witness as Christians, but also to comfort us in our weaknesses, as St. Paul said. And He does this by pointing us back to Christ – in His Word and in His Sacraments. When our bodies fall apart, the Spirit points us to the resurrection, where they shall be restored. When our loved ones die in the faith, the Spirit points us to the blessedness of heaven – which we have through Christ’s work on cross. When we face the loss of our goods, the Spirit reminds us that Christ had no permanent home and that He suffers their loss with us. And, when our faith seems weak, the Spirit points to the Sacrament – where our sins are forgiven, and our faith is made strong.

Jesus said, “when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.” As the disciples were to face the difficulty of life in a world that hates the Gospel, Jesus sent upon them the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. The Spirit comforted the disciples by pointing them to Christ and emboldened them in their witness. So, also, does the Spirit work in our lives. When we suffer and are heavy laden, the Spirit points us to Christ, who bore all our sorrows and all our sins.


[1] Jn. 16:2-3, English Standard Version.

[2] Jn. 14:16.

[3] Jn. 15:26.

[4] Rom. 8:26.

[5] Jn. 15:26-27.

Neither Gone, Nor Forgotten

Text: Acts 1:1-11

“Gone, but not forgotten;” that’s what we might say when someone impactful on our lives is no longer accessible. Often, the phrase is found etched on headstones as reminder to us of those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. Implicit in this phrase – what is assumed – is that the person in question is now permanently separated from us. Their only influence upon us now is through our memories. That’s also what people say, “they live on in our memories.”

Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, but His separation from us is not like those who are separated by the grave. Rather, when Jesus was taken up into the cloud, He sat down at the right hand of God. From there, He continues to be present in all places, and especially where His Word is read or spoken, and His Sacraments are received. Our Lord’s ascension is part of His exaltation. He returned to the right hand of God to resume the glory that was His before the foundation of the world. Christ, our dear Lord, ascended to the right hand of the Father to rule over all things for our benefit, even as He continues to be with us in His Word and Sacrament until He comes again. He is not gone, and neither has He forgotten us.

I.

Today we celebrate, for Christ’s ascension is further proof that He defeated death and hell. By His death on the cross, He made payment for all the sins of the world. By His resurrection, He broke the bars and loosened the chains of death. As He now lives forever, so, too, will all those who believe in Him. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let us hear again from St. Luke. He wrote,

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.[1]

The Book of Acts is a continuation of St. Luke’s Gospel. Whereas the Gospel is primarily about the words and deeds of our Lord Himself, Acts continues the account of our Lord’s work through His Apostles. The reason we are celebrating Ascension today is because today is when it happened – 40 days after Easter. Our Lord Jesus Christ, after He had been raised from the dead, did not immediately ascend into heaven. Rather, He remained for 40 days. Some of the things He did, we’ve heard about already – how He appeared to the disciples even though the doors were locked and how St. Thomas felt the mark of the nails and spear. St. Luke also wrote that Jesus appeared to two disciples on the way to Emmaus. There was also a miraculous catch of fish after the resurrection. St. Paul wrote that Jesus once appeared to over 500 people at one time.[2]

Jesus remained those 40 days to provide definitive proof that He had, truly, defeated sin, death, and the devil. Imagine that you heard of someone claiming to have come back from the dead. Perhaps it would take you a while to believe, too. But, not only did Jesus prove by many acts that He was alive, He also continued to teach the disciples. A few weeks back we heard that Jesus had more things to teach them, but they couldn’t bear it yet. Now that their minds had been opened to understand the Scriptures, Jesus taught them all that was necessary. Then, according to St. Mark, “The Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”[3]St. Luke adds that two angels came and stood among the Apostles and said, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go.”[4]

II.

Thus far the narrative. Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. He remained for 40 days to teach and prove that He was alive. Then, He ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. But, what does this mean? What does it mean that Jesus has ascended into heaven? For starters, “the right hand of God,” is not a placein the way that we use the word. When we say we’re in a place, we mean that we are fixed in a specific location. We cannot be in two placesat once. However, the right hand of God is figure of speech to describe how Christ has returned to His throne on high. Since Scripture tells us that God is everywhere, His throne extends over every place. Our Lord did not ascend to be away from us, but to be with us everywhere. He said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[5]

But, what is our Lord doing at the right hand of God? He’s not resting; He did that already in the tomb. Our Lord said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”[6]Our Lord ascended into heaven to rule over all things for the benefit of His Church. St. Paul said it this way, “[The Father] put all things under[the Son’s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church.”[7]Our Lord, at His ascension, resumed the glory that He had before the foundation of the world. As the victor over sin, death, and hell, He rules over all things for our good. He blesses us and watches over us; He works all things together for our good and salvation.

And, not only does Jesus rule and watch over all things, but He is also the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, as we heard back on Good Shepherd Sunday. He intercedes for us before the Father in heaven. When Satan brings charge against us, Jesus pleads our case with His own blood. Our Lord prays for us. Just as an earthly priest prays for those in his care, Jesus – who is a priest forever – prays for us, we who have been united with Him in Baptism. He also watches over our souls by sending faithful pastors into all the world. He defends His Word from corruption and, by His Holy Spirit, continues to call and comfort us all in the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus also said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[8]That is, Jesus is also preparing our place in His presence in His eternal kingdom.

III.

When someone dies and is parted from us, we sometimes say they are “gone, but not forgotten.” In His Ascension, Jesus is not gone from us – for the right hand of God extends to every place. The Lord has said, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?[9]At the right hand of the Father, Jesus rules all things for our good, He prays for us, He prepares a place for us at His side. He is not gone in the Ascension, and neither has He forgotten us. Though His throne extends over all places, our gracious Lord has also left us His promise that there are specific places we can find Him. He has left us promises so that, though we know He is everywhere, we can know that He is herewith us.

Our Lord has said, “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”[10]Though Christ can be and is everywhere, He has promised that where two or three are gathered in His name – He is there with them. It’s one thing to know that Christ is everywhere, but it is another to know that He is here. Even now. He is present wherever His Word is read or spoken, and He is present, also, in His Sacrament. On the night He was betrayed, our Lord gave us this most precious meal. We receive in, with, and under the bread and wine, the true body and blood of our Lord – the same which were broken and shed for us. In this sacred feast, Christ continues to be with us for our good, to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith.

Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms…if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”[11]Remember what the angels said to the Apostles; Christ, our Lord, will return to us in the same way He left. Someday soon, our Lord will return on the clouds. He will raise us and all the dead. Then, we and all believers in Christ will be gathered to His side to enter in both body and soul into the new creation.

Today we celebrate our Lord’s victory over death and the grave. His Ascension to the right hand of God is the capstone of His achievement. From the right hand of God, He rules all things for our good, He intercedes and prays for us, He prepares our place at His side. He is not separated from us, but is in all places and is with us where His Word and Sacrament are received. Soon, He will return on the clouds, that where He is, we may be also. Alleluia. Christ is risen.


[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ac 1:1–3.

[2]1 Cor. 15:6.

[3]Mk. 16:19.

[4]Acts 1:11.

[5]Mt. 28:20.

[6]Mt. 28:18.

[7]Eph. 1:22.

[8]Jn. 14:2.

[9]Jer. 23:24.

[10]Matt. 18:20.

[11]Jn. 14:2-3.

Ask, and You Will Receive

Text: John 16:23-30

Our Lord said to His disciples on the night He was betrayed, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”[1] Ask, and you will receive, He said. The Latin word for ask is rogare, and it’s where we get the title and theme for the sixth Sunday of Easter, Rogate Sunday – Ask Sunday.

As our Savior was preparing to be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, suffer, die and be raised, He also had in mind that He would soon after those things be with His disciples no longer. Jesus also had in mind His ascension, the time where He would sit down at the right hand of the Father. Though He is still with us, His presence with us now is different than it was before. In order to comfort His disciples at His seeming absence, He gave them something. On the night our Lord was betrayed, He comforted His distressed disciples by inviting them to pray and promising that their (and our) prayers are heard and answered.

I.

Ask and you will receive, in order that your joy may be full,” Jesus said. Our text this morning, as well as the Gospel readings for the last few Sundays comes from John 16. Jesus’ teaching in this chapter comes as part of His final discourse with the Disciples before His passion. We’ve heard already about the work of the Holy Spirit and why Jesus was going away. But, we also heard last week about the sorrow that was filling the Disciples’ hearts. By now, they’d been with Jesus for three years. Where He went, they went. When He ate, they ate. They were there for His teaching and witnessed His miracles. Soon, He would be with them no longer. Though at this point they did not fully understand (as St. John himself said – that they didn’t understand until after the Resurrection), they knew enough to be sad.

Our Lord, who knows all things, knew their sorrow. Our Lord is also a kind Lord and, to comfort His disciples, gave them a precious gift. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive.” Our Lord gave to the disciples the gift of prayer. Though up to this point they may not have understood their great need, they soon would. Soon, Jesus would be with them no longer. They will have sorrow while the world rejoices. And so, to comfort them, Jesus invited them to pray.

When they felt the scorn and hatred of the world, when they suffered persecution and great trial, when they encountered hostility, poverty, illness, and despair, and when the hour of death drew near, Jesus encouraged the Disciples to pray. To pray means to speak to God. In all hours of need and trial, Jesus comforted the Disciples by inviting them to pray in His name – to beseech and ask of the Father through faith in His name. “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive,” Jesus said.

II.

In that day you will ask nothing in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.”[2] Our gracious and kind Lord knew the sorrow His Disciples were enduring and would continue to face, and so He comforted them with the invitation and privilege to pray. But He didn’t just tell them to pray; He also promised that their prayers would be heard. The true comfort is not just in the act of praying, but in praying and knowing that our prayers are heard. “Ask, and you will receive,” Jesus said, “for the Father Himself loves you.”

Jesus invited the Disciples to pray to the Father and promised that He would hear and answer their prayers. “The Father Himself loves you,” He said, “because you loved Me and have believed that I came from God.” That is to say, those who pray to the Father through faith in Jesus can know and be assured the Father receives their prayer. And, for the sake of Jesus, He answers the faithful who pray. Those who are united with Christ by faith and through Baptism become fellow heirs with Him of the kingdom of heaven and are God’s beloved children. The Heavenly Father does not abandon His children, but watches over them and cares for them in every need. Jesus said elsewhere, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead…give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg…a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”[3]

When Jesus said, “I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf,” He was not saying that He would no longer pray for His followers, for He will never cease that duty. In Hebrews it says that Jesus continues in His priestly office forever. He continually prays for us. Rather, Jesus means that His followers can now pray directly to the Father. Remember how, at Jesus’ death, the temple curtain was torn in two – showing the separation between God and man is removed through faith in the cross of Christ. Through faith in His death for the forgiveness of sins, the faithful in Christ find the door to the Father open wide, and so also His fatherly heart. As the Disciples were being filled with sorrow, Jesus offered them this comfort – they may pray to the Father directly and set every care before His throne, and know that He hears and loves them.

III.

My friends in Christ, the same invitation and promise that Jesus gave to the Disciples on the night He was betrayed, He has also given to us. We also can pray to God and know that our prayers are heard. By Baptism into Christ, we have received the white robes of His righteousness. When the Father looks at us, He sees only His beloved children and delights to answer our prayers. By faith in Christ’s death and resurrection for us, we have direct access to God and can know that for Christ’s sake, our prayers are heard.

What things, then, should we pray for? Everything! Every trial, need, temptation, distress, trouble. But, also, we should pray in thanksgiving for the many blessings and the gifts which God has already freely given us. It is true that God knows our every need even before we do and even if we don’t know it at all, but He loves to be asked and loves to answer. He hears and answers our prayers not because of any personal holiness or goodness on our part, but because we have been purchased back from sin and death by the blood of Christ and have been given faith in His name. Therefore, we can have confidence when we pray. The answer to our prayer depends not only our holiness, but on Christ’s holiness for us and the Father’s love.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night He was betrayed, knew His Disciples’ sorrow. He knew, also, that He would soon no longer be with them. He would be separated from them by His death and, later – in a different way – by His ascension. To comfort them, Jesus invited them to pray to the Father and assured them that their prayers are heard. This invitation and promise, He has given also to us – His Church. In every trial and temptation, and also in every blessing, we may pray to God and be comforted that He hears and answers our prayers for the sake of His Son.


[1] John 16:23-24, English Standard Version.

[2] Jn. 16:26-27.

[3] Lk. 11:11-13.

The Lord is My Strength and My Song

Text: Isaiah 12

Sing to the Lord a new song…for He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him…He has remembered His steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.” Such does the Psalm writer sing in Psalm 98. We didn’t speak that psalm today – we spoke Psalm 66 – but the words of Psalm 98 give us our theme for worship this week as we sing to the Lord a new song. The sermon text today is the reading we heard from the prophet Isaiah, particularly these words, “Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously,” and “the Lord God is my strength and my song.”[1]

These words were spoken by the prophet Isaiah during a time when the Lord’s victory felt to His people as if it were far from certain. In their time, the kingdom of Israel had been ruled by a line of kings for nearly 300 years, many of which were terrible. Those years were filled with war and hardship. Before that, they were ruled by what were called judges, governors more like. Those years were terrible, too. Before that, they were in slavery in Egypt. And yet, Isaiah said, “Sing praises to the Lord.”

Isaiah encouraged the people to sing praises to the Lord, for the day would come when the Lord would deal gloriously with His people, when He would finally put all their enemies and all the things which caused them distress to flight. The day that Isaiah spoke of has now come to pass; Isaiah spoke of Easter. On Easter morning, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. By His resurrection, He defeated for us all the powers of sin, death and hell. He secured for us rescue from this valley of the shadow of death. That Good News gave Isaiah’s audience hope, as we also now have. Through His death and resurrection for us, Jesus has become our strength for this life and our song.

I.

The prophet spoke in our text, “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me.’ ‘Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.’”[2] Isaiah spoke these words to the king and his officials in the palace courts and to the people in the temple about 700 years before Christ was born, but even he actually wasn’t the first to proclaim these words. They were first sung by Moses and the children of Israel after they had crossed the Red Sea. It says in Exodus 15, “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.”[3]

You might remember the story of the Exodus, how for over 400 years God’s children lived in slavery. The image of Charlton Heston in the movie The Ten Commandments will forever be ingrained in my mind. The slavery in Egypt was not pleasant; it was a rough life that continually became worse. From the Bible we know that, when the slaves began to outnumber the Egyptians, Pharaoh ordered that all the male children be thrown into the Nile. But then, after a little while, the Lord answered the cries of His people. He delivered them from their slavery, from their distress and fear, by leading them through the Red Sea on dry ground. No water touched their feet. When Pharaoh and his army tried to do the same, the sea swallowed them up.

It was with that in mind that Isaiah spoke to his people. In Isaiah’s time it wasn’t the Egyptians they feared, but a people called the Assyrians. The Assyrians were conquerors, they were bad guys. A good word to describe them would be, bloodthirsty. The people of Israel were afraid that the Assyrians would come and conquer them and place them in slavery again. And, well, they did. But not for long. The Scriptures tell us that God disciplines those He loves, just like a father disciplines his child. A father disciplines his child for his good. Assyria came and conquered Israel, but the Lord delivered them just as He always did. But, that’s not what Isaiah’s singing about in our text.

II.

Instead, this reading from Isaiah 12 works as both an Easter and a Christmas text. Isaiah said, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name, make known His deeds among the peoples, proclaim that His name is exalted.’ ‘Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously’”[4] From the context, we know that the day of salvation that Isaiah spoke about was not the day of deliverance from Egypt nor the one from Assyria, but something bigger. The day Isaiah’s talking about is the day we hear about every Christmas season, where the shoot will come from the stump of Jesse, the day when the wolf and lamb shall dwell together and the cow and the bear both graze.[5]

Isaiah is talking about the day of Jesus Christ and, in particular, the day of His resurrection from the dead. Jesus Christ, true God from all eternity, became also true man by His conception and birth of the virgin Mary. Though He was without sin and obeyed the Law of God to perfection, He suffered and died on the cross. He did this to pay for our sins. See, our actions – the bad things that we do which hurt others around us – aren’t just bad. They are sinful. A sin is something done against God’s holy will, and God punishes transgressions against His commandments with death. But the wrath and punishment that we deserve were removed from us by Christ. By His death, He took our place in death, so that we might share His place in eternal life. This is called forgiveness. Jesus Christ died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and He gives to you and me eternal life – not because we deserve it, but as a free gift.

III.

I will give thanks to You, O Lord, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me. ‘Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation…Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously.’”[6] In our congregations, we use what’s called a lectionary. That means that the readings for each Sunday are selected for that Sunday. The readings we use here have been heard by Christians for generations. I selected this text to preach on today because, sometimes we need a reminder of the Lord’s goodness to us, and that He doesn’t leave us hanging.

Sometimes it feels like that. “Running on fumes,” is a good description for how we feel most days. We put on a good face for others because we don’t want to bother them with our troubles. Little by little, our strength grows weak. Illnesses and financial uncertainty, family and work troubles, seem to pound us into the ground until there’s nothing left. The Lord knows this. That’s why He became our strength. He died and rose for us, for the forgiveness of our sins and so that we might have hope. He died and rose so that we might have hope of a life to come, a life with Him and with those who’ve died in the Christian faith, a life without pain or suffering, a life with only joy and happiness – as God intended when He created man. This life that is in Christ, the forgiveness and joy of the life to come, He gives to all freely. In your Baptism and by faith in Jesus you have the forgiveness of sins and the hope of a joyful future. And this gives us strength now.

We have strength now not because of anything in us, but because of Christ. St. Paul said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”[7] St. Paul meant that, by faith in Christ – through hearing His Word and receiving His gifts in the Sacrament – he can endure and prosper in all things. And, so can we. We have been brought here together by the Holy Spirit, and He will continue to gather us until that day when we feast in heaven with all the saints of God. Though our days now be filled with sadness, we shall reap celestial joy, one hymn says. By His death and resurrection for us, Jesus has secured for us forgiveness and eternal life. He has become our strength in this life, and our song. Amen.


[1] Isaiah 12:5, 2. English Standard Version.

[2] Is. 12:1-2.

[3] Ex. 15:1-2.

[4] Is. 12:3-5.

[5] Is. 11:1, 6-7.

[6] Is. 12:1-2, 5.

[7] Phil. 4:13.