To This You’ve Been Called

Text: 1 Peter 2:21-25

For about six years a wildly popular show ran on the BBC over in England, and it was also broadcast over here for American audiences on PBS. The show was called Downton Abbey. Even though it had the word “abbey,” in the title, it had nothing to do with nuns. It did have everything to do with Lord Richard Crawley, the earl of Grantham, his family, and the servants who work for them. The show spans a decade or so, beginning just before the first world war. It follows the family as they administrate and care for the county, as well as the servants who care for them.

On the show, the servants have their own lives apart from their work and the twenty-or-so of them generally get along well, and their work goes smoothly. They generally get along, except for two: a man named Thomas and a woman named Miss O’Brien. These two both dislike everyone, and they bond over their common disdain for others. That is, until Miss O’Brien’s nephew comes to work at the house. Thomas, at the time, had been working in a midlevel position for a decade and, when the next rung on the ladder opened, proceeded to vie for that position. However, Miss O’Brien had another idea. As a personal favor, she asked if Thomas would help her nephew – brand new to the business – get the same one position that he had been working a decade to get. He refused, she took offense, and the two them spend the rest of the series trying to get each other fired.

Was she justified in her actions? She felt she had been wronged and sought to get even. Thomas, for his part, felt he had been wronged and tried to get even with her; was he wrong? According to the world, no. According the Apostle of our Lord in the text: they were both wrong. It is not within our place to seek revenge or the right the wrongs that have been done to us. Instead, Christ left us His example, St. Peter said, that we might follow in His footsteps. He did not curse or revile in return for the wrongs done to Him, but instead bore all our sins in His body on the tree. By His wounds, He has healed us of ours. He has brought us wandering sheep back into the fold. In this life to which we’ve been called, there is no place for revenge, only patience and forgiveness.

I.

In our text today, St. Peter discusses a topic that is on or has crossed every human heart: revenge. We have all, at one point or another, desired to get back at those who’ve done us wrong. St. Peter’s original audience was the scattering of Christians throughout the area we’d call northern Turkey. A great thing about Christianity is that the Gospel has nothing to do with personal wealth; Jesus died for the sins of rich and poor, alike. That said, many of St. Peter’s hearers were household or civil servants. They worked low paying jobs and they did them well; yet they were treated poorly. They were commonly mistreated because being a Christian at the time was a scandalous thing. In a time where many “gods” were worshiped, family life was frowned upon, and where human sexuality knew no bounds, the Christians worshiped one God, they cared for their families, and Christian husbands and wives remained faithful to each other alone.

Their beliefs led to the Christians in St. Peter’s society being marginalized. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. However, some of the Christians had had enough of being mistreated. They were going to get back. They were going to take their revenge on those who had done them wrong. St. Peter starts addressing them just before our text. He said, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”[1] Then, he said, that some of them were being treated harshly because, well, they deserved it. But, after that, he said to those who were genuinely being mistreated for the sake of their faith, “if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.”[2]

Rather than directing those who had been wronged – whether justly or not – to take revenge, St. Peter directed them to Christ. Now, we may not have received the same treatment as these early Christians (though that time may return) but the principle stands: we are not to seek vengeance on those who’ve done us wrong. But, oh, how we’ve wanted to. I would wager in this matter that we are all guilty. Who hasn’t decided at one point that you are tired of how that other person has treated you, and wondered how you’ll get back? Maybe you’ll have a fight on the playground. Maybe you’ll spread a lie about them. Maybe you’ll give them the cold shoulder. Maybe you’ll be just unkind enough toward them that they’ll know you’re angry – that’s popular in North Dakota. In all these ways, we have sinned. Our place is not to take revenge, or to hold grudges. Our place is to follow in Christ’s footsteps, Peter said.

II.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”[3] St. Peter has in mind the prophecies of Isaiah, of the Suffering Servant who would bear all human griefs and sorrows, who would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, who – by His wounds – would heal us. These Gospel promises of God (which are in the Old Testament, even) are fulfilled in Christ.

While we were wandering like sheep, content to be lost in our own sinfulness, Christ took upon Himself our human flesh. He became our Good Shepherd. He was reviled, cursed, struck, spit upon, beat, whipped, flogged, killed. At no point did He return evil for evil. At no point did He hold a grudge. At no point did He seek revenge or to get back but, He continually entrusted Himself to the Just Judge – our Father in heaven above. He did and suffered all these things to bring us wandering sheep back into the fold. Though we were prone to wander in sin, including desiring to and, sometimes, indeed getting back at others, Jesus paid for our sins with His own body. He has brought us back into God’s fold by His own blood.

III.

St. Peter said, “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.”[4] These words are meant primarily, to comfort us when we suffer unjustly for the sake of Christ. Those times may return when faithful Christians are not just marginalized, but truly mistreated for no other reason than for our trust in Christ’s Word. Peter would also remind us of our Lord’s Word, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”[5]

But these words today also stand for us in this way – just as Christ did not seek vengeance on those who wronged Him, but bore it all while trusting in God, so also are we called. A student is not above his master, nor a servant his Lord. Neither is it within our place to do wrong to those who’ve wronged us. We have sinned in this way, yet, we are reminded by St. Peter, that even those sins were borne by Christ on the cross. Though we were prone to wander, and have wandered in sin, Christ has secured for us forgiveness by His cross.

This past Lent we went through the Lord’s Prayer again. We read these words, the meaning of the Fifth Petition,

We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

May the Lord grant by His Holy Spirit that we remember these words, endure our suffering with patience, and do good to those who’ve done us wrong.


[1] 1 Peter 2:18-19, English Standard Version.

[2] 1 Pet. 2:20-21.

[3] 1 Pet. 2:22-24.

[4] 1 Pet. 2:20-21.

[5] Mt. 5:11-12.

O Dry Bones, Hear the Word of the Lord

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk [of the Word.] Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder.” We heard these words just a few moments ago in the Introit for the Sunday after Easter. The antiphon originally comes from 1 Peter 2, where the Apostle encourages us to put away all malice and deceit, and to long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word – so that by it we may grow up into salvation. The body of the Introit itself comes from Psalm 81, where God speaks to His people. He reminds them that He brought them out of Egypt, and has yet better things in store, if they would only listen to Him.

Speaking of better things in store, the Lord spoke through Ezekiel in our text of the better things He had in store for the people of Israel. The Lord sent Ezekiel to prophesy to a people in exile. The people Ezekiel ministered to were carried off to Babylon before the final destruction of Jerusalem, which is recounted just a few chapters before our text today. The Lord gave Ezekiel a vision with vivid imagery – of old, dry bones coming back to life. This vision was directed to the people of Israel, who were saying that the Lord had cut them off and that their hope was lost. Using this vivid vision, the Lord spoke through Ezekiel that He would restore His people to life. And, He did so then as He does now, by keeping the promises of His Word.

I.

As you probably know, this passage from Ezekiel is perhaps one of the better-known portions of Scripture. This striking vision of a valley full of dead, dry bones being covered in flesh and coming back to life has been portrayed in various forms of media pretty much forever. This vision was given by the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel prophesied roughly around the same time and a little after as Jeremiah, the difference with Ezekiel being that he prophesied in Babylon while Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s ministry was also kind of different in that the things that had been prophesied by other prophets were now coming to pass. As in, Jerusalem was starting to fall. This means that, unlike a lot of the other prophets, people listened to Ezekiel.

It was hard not to. True, much of Ezekiel’s prophesying was hard to ignore, but so were their surroundings. Ezekiel prophesied to a people carried off into a distant land, living among people different from them, with a different language and culture. The people of Israel in exile lived among a pluralistic society, meaning, the people there worshiped any number of gods – or none. They lived as strangers in a foreign land. They understood that these things had come to pass as the Lord’s discipline, but they despaired of the Lord’s promises. We heard, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.[1] The children of Israel in exile were represented by the dry bones, for they felt that they had indeed been cut off from the Lord’s promise and were now without hope in the land of Babylon.

Not so, said the Lord. He told Ezekiel, “Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O My people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel…I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”[2] Though the people felt as if they were withering in a foreign land, cut off from the love of the Lord and without hope, they really weren’t. Instead, the Lord continued to be with them, and, He would bring them back to their own land. They would not wither away into dust and ash, but the Lord will raise them and bring them back. The Lord said He would do it, and He did. Seventy years later, He brought them back to Israel from Babylon. Ezra even tells us that some of those who went into exile lived to see the return.

II.

But what about us? Are we dead, dry bones? Is our hope clean cut off? If we’re being honest, sometimes it feels that way. We live in trying times. Our society is pulling further and further away from the truth of God’s Word. In various places, church attendance is shrinking, and congregations of all denominations are closing. Even in our own ND district, one of our sister congregations will be closing next month. Are we dry bones? Are we cut off? It might feel that way, but, no. We are not cut off, and we are not without hope. For, remember, Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. And He has been raised.

Our Lord rose from the dead on Easter morning. By His death, He atoned for our sin and, by His rising again, He secured for us eternal life. That first evening, though the doors were locked where they were, Jesus appeared in the midst of His disciples. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”[3] With these words, Jesus instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry. He called and equipped the Apostles to preach His Word and administer His Sacraments. He gave them, as representatives of His whole Church on earth, the authority to forgive and retain sins. When the Apostles spoke in Christ’s stead that sins were forgiven, they truly were.

This work of Christ through His ministers continues even down to our time. Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to call and equip ministers through His Church. Through them He proclaims His Word to us and by their hands, Christ gives us His own sacraments. When His called ministers speak in His stead that our sins are forgiven, they are truly forgiven – even before our Father in heaven. I’m not saying these things to magnify ministers or place them on a pedestal. Rather, we exalt the One who continues to send and work through them.

Sometimes, we do feel cut off or without hope. But we are not. We can say this, because Christ continues to work among us and all the world. He continues to send pastors, and by them He speaks to us His Word of promise. Through them Jesus gives us His body and blood and forgives our sins. Through their mouths, Jesus assures us that we are not without hope, and that our sins are truly forgiven. Not only does Christ work through His ministers, but He also works through us – His body. Through the Church, as a whole, and in our daily lives, the same Christ who forgives our sins and gives us His Word, speaks His Word of promise and hope to those in need.

III.

We would be remiss if we didn’t talk today about the hope we have in one particular promise of the Lord – the Resurrection of the Dead. The resurrection that Ezekiel saw was a vision, but it foreshadows and reminds us of the true resurrection to come. St. Paul said that, “if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”[4] In Baptism, we were united with Christ in His death. We were buried with Him so that, just as He was raised from the dead – we will be, too. This will happen on the Last Day. Christ will come on the clouds and He will raise our bodies. Then we who, by His grace, have believed in Him, will enter in both body and soul into the new creation. Death did not hold Him, and it cannot hold us, either.

The prophet Ezekiel was sent by the Lord to proclaim to a people in exile that they were not without hope. Though they felt cut off and dried up, the Lord was with them and would return them to their own land. Sometimes we feel that way; but we, as well, are not cut off. The Lord continues to send His preachers to speak His Word, administer His Sacraments, and proclaim His forgiveness. By these things, He continues to be and work among us, giving us hope of the life to come. Particularly in this Easter season, we are reminded of this hope – that though we die, yet in this flesh we shall see God with our own eyes. Alleluia, Christ is risen.


 

[1] Ezekiel 37:11, English Standard Version.

[2] Ezek. 37:12, 14.

[3] Jn. 20:22-23.

[4] Rom. 6:5.

Our Passover Lamb Has Been Sacrificed

Text: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Long ago, when our God was about to lead the children of Israel up out of slavery in Egypt, He gave them the Passover meal. God instructed them that, on the night before they would leave Egypt, they were to take a young unblemished male lamb and slaughter it. Then, they were to take the blood of that lamb and use it to mark the doorposts of their houses. When the Angel of Death came that night to strike down the firstborn of Egypt, He would see the blood marking the door and pass over those inside. In addition, the Israelites were throw out any leaven in their homes. For one whole week they were not to eat any leavened thing. This lead to the Passover also being called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

St. Paul uses these things as an illustration in our text. The Passover pointed ahead to and is fulfilled in the suffering of Christ. Jesus Christ, true God and also true man, is the true Passover Lamb. Three days ago, He was sacrificed for all human sin. God the Father handed Him over into death – even, He who had no sin. With His dying breath, Jesus uttered, “It is finished.” The sacrifice for all the sins of the world had been made. Jesus died. Our Passover Lamb was sacrificed. And, now, He has been raised. Christ died, and now He is raised again to never die again. Death could not hold Him. Just as the Passover Lamb pointed ahead to Christ, so the casting out of leaven pointed ahead to our new life in Him. Since Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed, and He has freed us from the guilt of our sin, St. Paul encourages us to cast out the old leaven of malice and wickedness so that we may celebrate the Feast in sincerity and truth.

I.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the first part of our text, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”[1] With this simple proverb, St. Paul admonished the congregation to cease from their sinful behavior, behavior which belonged to their former manner of life – the life that they seemingly had before they were in Christ. Through St. Paul, the Corinthians heard the good news of Jesus Christ. They heard and believed that Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father before all time, became true man. He became man to fulfill God’s Law, to bear our sins, and to suffer and die to redeem the whole world. By His death, Christ atoned for all human sin and has freed us all from the guilt we deserve to bear.

The Corinthians heard and believed this, yet they acted as if they had not heard. Or, at least, they used the freedom they received in Christ as liberty to continue in sin. St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians covers many such situations – eating food sacrificed to idols, lawsuits among believers, drunkenness at church gatherings, and improper sexual relationships. The Corinthians not only did these things, but they boasted in them. They held, that since they had been forgiven in Christ, their present manner of living held no bearing on their future destination. In practice, their new life in Christ was no different from their former way of living. “Your boasting is not good,” St. Paul said. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. A little sin spreads into the whole group.

Like the Corinthians, we also have heard the Good News that we are free in Christ. By Christ’s death, our sins have been forgiven. And yet, like the Corinthians, we have used the freedom from sin as a liberty to sin. When we have fallen into sin, we have excused ourselves. We have lived to seek our own pleasures and satisfy our own desires. We have applied the Ten Commandments heavy-handedly toward others while turning a blind eye to our own sin. We have denied that we are sinners and acted as if we had no sin. We have continued to live in sin and presumed upon God’s grace. And, all of this, while we’ve called ourselves Christians. Our boasting is not good. St. Paul continued by saying, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.”[2]

II.

St. Paul encouraged the Corinthians and us to cast out and be cleansed of the old leaven of sin because, by Christ’s death we have been truly made “unleavened.” St. Paul said, “Cleanse out the old leaven…as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”[3] As we said a few moments ago, at the Passover, the Israelites were to take an unblemished male lamb and sacrifice it. They would then take the blood to mark the doorposts of their homes, and death would spare those inside. Christ is the Passover lamb. He is the unblemished Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world. Though He had no sin, He was made to be sin for us. In Him, God was reconciling the world to Himself. Christ is the Passover lamb, and His blood now marks our doors; it marks us.

By His death, Jesus Christ made full atonement for the sin of the world. All of our sin, all of our guilt, all of our temptations, all of our lies, all of our self-centeredness – these things He paid for with His own precious blood. And by His blood, death has passed over us. By His death, our debt is paid and by His rising again, death passes us over. The old leaven of malice and evil has been purged from the houses of our hearts, and we have been made unleavened. That means that, in God’s eyes – by faith in Christ – we have been made to be without sin. By the sacrifice of the true Passover Lamb, we are cleansed from all guilt and blame. We are unleavened.

III.

Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”[4] As Christians in this world, we live with feet in two kingdoms. We have been brought into the kingdom of God through the washing of Holy Baptism and by the gift of faith; yet, we remain in the kingdom of the world. Before God we are righteous saints, freed from the guilt of our sins. Yet, as we remain this flesh, we are sinners. As we remain both saint and sinner, our lives are imperfect. Though we know and have heard the things we should do, we fail to do them. The Corinthians used their freedom in the Gospel as liberty to sin, and we have, too.

Let us celebrate the festival in sincerity and truth, St. Paul said, for our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. Christ, the true Passover Lamb, suffered and died for the sins of the world. And, what is more, He has been raised. Christ, our God, lives and reigns forever. By faith in Him, we, too, will rise from the dead to live in eternity. And, that eternity has already begun. In the Holy Supper, we receive a glimpse of the heavenly feast, and the lives we live now are the same lives that will continue beyond the grave. Therefore, St. Paul said, let us celebrate by living in sincerity and truth. Let us not lie but speak the truth. Let us not seek primarily our own good, but the good of others. Let us forgive those who sin against us, and seek their forgiveness when we sin against them. Let all filthy speech and actions be cleansed from our lives, even as the guilt of our sins has been removed from us.

When Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb that Sunday morning, they did not find what they expected. They were expecting to find the body of Jesus. Instead, they were met by an angel who told them, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.”[5] Jesus Christ, who was crucified for our sin, is now raised from the dead. Death could not keep Him, and neither will it hold those who are in Christ. Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed and we are free from sin and death. Let us therefore celebrate His feast in sincerity, love, and truth.


[1] 1 Corinthians 5:6, English Standard Version.

[2] 1 Cor. 5:7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] 1 Cor. 5:8.

[5] Mk. 16:6

A New Creation, at Great Cost

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Therefore,” St. Paul said, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself…in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”[1]Today, we’ve come to the lowest depths of the Church Year to witness the greatest heights of God’s love for us. On this day, we remember that He who knew no sin – our Lord – was made to be sin for us. Though He had committed no sin, He bore our sins in His body on the tree. He was betrayed, flogged, crucified. He bowed His head and died so that we, crass and ungodly sinners, might become new creations. In Christ, God reconciled the world to Himself and made us new creations, but only at great cost.

I.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that those who are in Christ are new creations, new creatures. He means that those who have been Baptized into Christ have been buried with Him into death so that, as He was raised from the dead, they, too, might walk in newness of life. Those who have been buried and raised with Christ through Baptism and by faith are new creations in God’s sight. For the sake of Christ, their sins are no longer reckoned to them and they are restored to a right relationship with God. The word that St. Paul uses to describe this new reality is reconciled. “In Christ God[reconciled] the world to Himself.”

This word is a powerful word in English. It means to right what was wrong, to create harmony and make things compatible. In this tax season, we might also reconcile our bank accounts and records. It is also a powerful word in Greek. In Greek, it’s a legal term. This word for reconcile that St. Paul uses means to formally exchange hostility for friendship.[2]It means to remove the obstacles, which were in place, which prevented a right relationship between two parties. It means to repair legally – and in reality – a relationship which had fallen into disarray.

II.

St. Paul uses this profound and specific language because, apart from Christ, there is a vast gulf of separation between our God and us. That gulf is of our own creation; it is the chasm of sin. We spoke just a few moments ago from Psalm 51. This psalm was composed by King David after Nathan brought before him his sin in committing adultery. David had spied Bathsheba from afar and lusted after her in his heart. He later physically committed adultery with her as well and, after his attempts to cover it up had failed, had Bathsheba’s husband killed. Nathan came to David and showed him his sin. David then recognized where he stood before God. God had revealed to David His holy and good will. God had been gracious to David and blessed him in a multitude of ways, and David – by his actions – despised the Lord.

Our sin may not be the same as David’s, but our own sins are just as great. As the Bride of Christ, we have all – each of us – been unfaithful to our heavenly bridegroom. We have not feared, loved, and trusted in Him above all things. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. And often, we have acted as if we and our own desires were what mattered most. And, rather than acknowledging our sin, we have denied it. We have covered it up, we’ve pretended it doesn’t exist, we have feigned ignorance, and we have been complacent in forsaking sin. We have encouraged others in their sin, and we have been strengthened in our sin by them. We have rightly, and fully, deserved God’s wrath – not only this world; but we deserve to stoke the fires of hell. Our God is a just God, and we have disobeyed and despised His holy will.

III.

Our God is a just God, but He is also a merciful God. Sin demands payment and God receives that payment – but not us; from Himself. God made the payment for sin, He atoned for sin, Himself. That brings us back to St. Paul. Remember that Paul used the word, “reconcile.” To reconcile means to cease hostility, to exchange hostility for friendship by removing an obstacle. The gulf between us and our God, the obstacle preventing a right relationship between He and us was sin. Instead of demanding payment and atonement from us, and from each and every sinner, God provided the payment – His own dear Son.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoptionas sons.”[3]In the words which we already heard, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” St. Paul continued, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”[4]

Our God is holy, righteous, and just; He is also merciful. Out of His mercy, and at great cost to Himself, He has reconciled us to Himself. He did this by placing our sin on His only-begotten Son and handing Him over into death. He who alone – in all creation – did not deserve to die, did die. He died horribly and brutally. Jesus died for you. By His death, He made full atonement for the sin of the world. He made the full payment for your sin. By faith in His death and resurrection, God has reconciled you to Himself and has made you a new creation. If anyone is in Christ, He has been made a new creation – but only at great cost. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Amen.


[2]William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 521.

The New Testament in His Blood

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.[1]

On Holy Thursday, we remember and celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper. On that Thursday evening, as Jesus celebrated what would be His last Passover with His disciples, He gave them His last will and testament. In place of the Passover, Jesus’ disciples – then, and for all time – receive a new meal, the meal of His body and blood. By the power of His Word, Jesus gives His body which was broken and His blood which was shed with the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of sins. For His last will and testament, Jesus gave His Church this Holy Supper, with the instructions that we receive it until returns, in His memory and for the forgiveness of sins.

I.

The concept of a last will and testament is not a new one for us. Many of us already have wills written, and some of us probably should get around to doing that. We leave wills and testaments directing the use of the earthly possessions we leave behind when we die, and to provide for those previously in our care. Whether written or if, according to need, spoken, last wills are legally binding and may not be changed once the will’s owner has died. The concept of a will is not new to us, and neither was it to our Lord.

Our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, knew what would be happening to Him later that Thursday evening. He knew that He would be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and crucified. So, He took the opportunity in the hearing of His disciples, to give them His last will and testament. Birds of the air have nests, Jesus once said, and foxes have their dens; but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head. Jesus had no earthly possessions to leave behind, no amassed wealth; so, what would He leave His disciples? This bread and this cup. The translators of the English Standard Version translated the words as, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood,” to bring the words in line with Exodus; but the context implies a better translation would be, “the new testamentin My blood.”

Jesus had no earthly possessions to dole out, no money to bequeath, but what He could leave behind for His disciples throughout all time is this – His body and blood. In the context of His last Passover, Jesus took bread, He broke it and gave to the disciples, saying to them, “This is My body.” In the same way, He took the cup of wine and gave to them saying, “This is the new testament in My blood. Do this…in remembrance of Me.” By the power of His Word, Jesus joined the body which would be broken and the blood which would be shed for world to the bread and wine. His last will for His disciples, and even us, is that we receive the Supper He gave.

II.

Holy Thursday is the Church holiday remembering and confessing our faith in the Institution of the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, every time we receive the Sacrament, these words are spoken, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed.” It is good for us also, on this night, to confess again our faith in what Christ gives us in the blessed Sacrament. Our Lord, on the night He was betrayed, took bread. He broke it and gave to the disciples saying, in Greek, “Τοῦτόμούἐστιντὸσῶμα;” in Latin, “hoc est corpus meum;” in English, “This is My body.” In the same way, He took the cup and said, “This is My blood[2]On these clear words, we set aside our human reason and, in faith, believe what Jesus has said. The bread and wine are His body and blood.

We learned in confirmation that this called the Sacramental Union. That means, that Christ, by His Word, gives us His true body and His true blood with the bread and wine in way known to Him alone. When we receive the Supper, it’s not like we’re biting into Jesus’ knee or something. No, it is not a physical eating but a sacramental eating. The bread and wine retain their natural substances. But, by the power of His Word, Christ joins His real body and blood to them. Therefore, we receive in the Lord’s Supper not just bread and wine only, but His very body and blood in, with, and under the earthly elements. Though plain reason may not comprehend how this can be, yet faith believes and trusts what Christ has said.

Faith also trusts the reason for and benefit of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is My body…Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”[3]As His last will and testament for the Church, Jesus gave the supper of His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Though Christ, truly, is present everywhere, He is present in the Supper for the forgiveness of sins. And, as the Catechism says, “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”[4]Christ has left us this supper as the pledge of His love for us and to be the place where we can turn to and trust in the forgiveness of our sins. Our Lord said to receive it often, which is great, because we daily sin much and need as much forgiveness as we can get. Thankfully, our Lord never tires of forgiving and blessing in His supper.

III.

Beloved in Christ, tonight we confess our faith in Christ and His blessed Sacrament. But, before we end, we should also hear again these words of the Spirit through St. Paul, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”[5]Christ, as His last will and testament instituted this Supper for our benefit. By His Word, He joins His body and blood to the bread and wine so that we may receive the forgiveness of sins by faith. As the bread and wine become the body and blood by the power of Christ’s Word, they remain so whether one believes it or not. Only those who receive the Supper in faith receive it to their blessing. Those who do not believe or who do not desire forgiveness receive, as St. Paul said, “judgment.”

So that we may not receive judgment from the Lord, but His abundant blessing, St. Paul encourages us to examine our hearts before communing. We should ask ourselves, first, do I believe what God has said in His Word. Do I believe that He has revealed to me what is good and right and true, and that I – for my part – have failed to observe it? Do I believe that because of my failure to keep the commandments, I deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment? And, do I believe that, for my sake, Christ suffered and died as the atonement for sin? Do I believe that in this Supper, I receive not just bread and wine, but also Christ’s true body and blood; do I desire that forgiveness?

We should also examine our hearts by asking this, by the Spirit’s aid, do I desire to amend my sinful ways? If I am at odds with my brother and sister in Christ, do I desire to be reconciled and so live together in the love of Christ? This is what St. Paul means by examining ourselves before receiving the Supper of the Lord. If the answer to these questions is yes, and you have faith in the words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” then you are well-prepared and may receive the Supper to your abundant blessing. If you find yourself wrestling with these words, it may be well to refrain and speak with the pastor before communing again. It is not a sin to refrain from the supper for a time; it is a sin to commune while harboring and entertaining sin in our hearts.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, gave to His whole Church on earth His last will and testament. We are to receive His true body and blood as the pledge of His love for us and for the forgiveness of our sins. May He give us all repentant and trusting hearts, that we may receive this Supper to our abundant blessing. Amen.

Fear Not, Your King is Coming

Text: Zechariah 9; John 12:12-19

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt![1]

Thus, began the week of our Lord’s passion. Five days before the Passover, the true Passover Lamb rode into Jerusalem amidst shouts of praise and acclamation.

Our Lord rode into Jerusalem not like any king of the earth, but as the true Melchizedek – the true king of peace. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill the Scriptures that were written about Him, and to bring peace to our distress and calm to our fears. He rode into Jerusalem to suffer and die, and – by His death – win for the whole world the forgiveness of sins. Today, as we enter into our Lord’s holy week, we focus on these words, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming.” With these words from the prophet Zechariah, we are reminded that our king Jesus comes to calm our fears and bring peace to our distress by His own death and resurrection.

I.

The text today takes place on a Sunday, five days before the Passover. St. John tells us this at the beginning of chapter 12, when he said, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”[2] If you know the Gospel, you remember that it was there that Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and wiped them with her hair. “The next day,” St. John says, “the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” Confessing their faith in Jesus, the crowd – some of whom witnessed the raising of Lazarus’ and thus believed – grabbed palm branches from the trees and spread them out. They sang praises to Jesus from Psalm 118, believing that He is the fulfillment of the promises God had made. Jesus then sat on a donkey to come in, just has it had been written in the prophet Zechariah.

When we heard this text last, it was from St. Matthew on the First Sunday of Advent. Matthew, likewise, cited this passage from the prophet. But, we didn’t spend time then speaking about it. Zechariah was one of the last prophets of the Old Testament. His ministry took place after the children of Israel had been returned from exile, but before the temple was rebuilt. It was a time of turmoil. The people of Israel were returned to Israel, but in their absence, others had moved in. These others did not take well to the Israelites returning, nor did they think highly of the God of Israel. In fact, they greatly opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and they caused God’s people much distress and fear. Zechariah’s ministry to the people was one of comfort. He reminded them that God had not forgotten them. And, even as His promise to return them to their home had been fulfilled, so, too, would His promise to give them a king.

Both Sts. Matthew and John cite this passage from Zechariah, but – by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – St. John makes a change to the text. The original text from Zechariah said, “Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion,”[3] but John changed it to, “Fear not, daughter of Zion.” It’s not a huge change, but a purposeful one. Jesus, the true king of Israel, rode into Jerusalem to calm all fears and distress. What were the people of Israel afraid of then? You name it. Death, for one. Without modern medicine and care facilities, death was an ever-present reality. Poverty, that was a thing. Or, perhaps, when the faithful looked around – perhaps they were afraid, as in Zechariah’s day, that God had forgotten them. What are we afraid of? Probably the same things. Death, I’m sure; what about the way the world is headed? When it comes to money, we may not be destitute, but it often stretches thin. And what about church life? Are we afraid that we may be the last generation to worship in this place?

II.

Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming…righteous and having salvation is He.”[4] These are the words our Lord has given us by the Holy Spirit. We hear these words again today, the day we celebrate what is called “The Triumphal Entry.” Jesus rode into Jerusalem amidst shouts of praise and acclamation. Not like any other king did He ride in though, but humbly and mounted on a donkey. Normally, a king would ride in victoriously on a war horse. Jesus’ horse was a donkey, and His victory was yet to be won. The battle He had come to fight was not against flesh and blood, against barbarians or armies, but against the devil, against sin and hell, and against the powers of death itself. The field of this battle would be the cross.

Not as any other king did Jesus ride in, but as the true king of peace, who would secure peace for the world by the sacrifice of His own body and blood. In just five days, shouts of praise would change to taunts and jeers. The waving palms would change to lashes and blows. The cloaks spread out on the road before Him would give way to His own clothes being torn from Him as He was nailed to the tree. And, all this He suffered willingly, most willingly. He suffered all these things and died, so that our sins might be forgiven and so that we might have peace. We’ll hear these words on Friday, “They made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth…Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied…[He shall] make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”[5]

Not as any other king did Jesus ride in, but as the true Melchizedek, the true king of peace. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to bring calm to our fears and peace to our distress. Just as all men have since the Fall of Adam, we also live beneath the shadow of death. As the consequence of sin, we will die; and this causes us to be afraid. By His death, Jesus made our death but a doorway to heaven. By His death, He atoned for our sins and secured for us forgiveness. Then, by His rising again, Jesus restored us eternal life. And, not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but He remains alive even now and – even now – remains with us. Not only is our fear of death conquered and calmed in Christ, but so is every fear and distress we now face. For, we now face all things having been united with Christ. That is what our Baptism means. In Baptism, we were united with Christ and He with us. He can no sooner abandon us than He can Himself.

Now, what does that mean? It means that all the situations in life that cause us distress and fear, we now face with Christ, and He with us. We live our lives as victors in Christ. And even though death may threaten with disaster, though our finances may go to the pot, we have a greater treasure in Christ our Lord. Not only does He remain with us in our lives, but He is here with us now. He has promised to be where two or three are gathered in His name and He is present for us in the blessed Sacrament. By His true body and blood, He binds up our wounds and strengthens our souls. St. John wrote, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming.” And so, fear not, for your king has come and is here to calm your fear and give you peace.


[1] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn12.12

[2] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn12.1

[3] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Zec9.9

[4] Jn. 12 and Zech. 9.

[5] https://biblia.com/books/esv/bibleesv.Is53.9

Before Abraham Was, I Am

Text: John 8:42-59

The Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’[1] With these words, we witness a climax of the tension between the Jewish authorities and our Lord. These confrontations seem to increase toward the end of the Gospel as those sinful men sought to silence the Word of God. Indeed, in just a few more chapters, the authorities would make up their mind to put Jesus to the death. But Jesus would not be silenced. Instead, He continued to speak to them the Word of Him who sent Him and to perform miracles, in order that some might be saved. In our text, though, things look dire. Our focus today will be on those words, “Before Abraham was, I am,” – both what they mean, and what they mean for us. Christ, the eternal Son of God – the one who spoke to Abraham and to Moses – is now become flesh to suffer and die.

I.

Our text today takes place in the temple. It would’ve happened shortly after the Feast of Booths, which is in the fall. Jesus had gone up to the temple for the celebration, and when it had ended, He went to the Mount of Olives – but, then He came back. John 8 begins with the account of the woman caught in adultery, and out text flows out of that occasion. Jesus spoke to the mixed crowd – as some of them did believe in Him – mostly concerning their father. The Jews were claiming to Jesus that they were the offspring of Abraham. Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.”[2] By this, Jesus meant they were truly offspring of the devil. For, if they were of Abraham, they would have believed Jesus, as Abraham did.

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”[3] Now, this set them off. Abraham, the great patriarch of their faith – or, so they claimed – died. The prophets also died. How could Jesus possibly say that whoever believes His Word will never die, Jesus Himself being not even fifty? That’s when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” That is, before Abraham was born, before he was brought into existence, Jesus is. The Jews picked up stones to throw at Him because they understood what Jesus meant. Jesus was saying to them, definitively, that He is God. These are the words that were spoken to Moses from the burning bush: “I am who I am… Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’[4]

With these words, Jesus was authoritatively declaring to them just who He was. He is the great I Am. He is the one who spoke with Moses from the burning bush. He is the one proclaimed by the prophets. He is the one who spoke with Abraham. He is the one who existed before all things, and by whom all things were made. With these words, Jesus is saying that He is the eternal and almighty God. There, standing in their presence, was God. And, out of the hardness of their hearts, they picked up stones.

II.

So, what does it mean when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am?” It means that Jesus is the eternal and everlasting God, the one who was before all things and through whom all things have come into being; even Abraham, even us. But, what does this mean for us? It means that all the promises of God are being fulfilled, even in the present age. Jesus is the One who, with the Father and the Spirit, created all things. Yet, He is the one promised to Adam and Eve, who will crush the head of the devil. He is the one promised to Abraham, the offspring by whom all the nations of the world will be blessed. He is the one promised to David, who would sit on the throne forever. He is the one promised through Isaiah, who will rule with justice and equity. He is the one promised to be born of a virgin. These promises are now being fulfilled.

Chiefly, being accomplished now, is the forgiveness of our sins. Christ, the eternal and everlasting God, has become flesh for this purpose – to suffer and die. We should see in this that sin is no laughing matter, no small thing. Our sins hang around our necks like a great weight. Every single sin is another shovel load as we dig ourselves down to hell; and not only us, but the whole world, also. The weight of the world’s sin such that only one sacrifice could take away the guilt – our Lord’s own self-sacrifice. Our sins prompted God to die. Mark well, the seriousness of our transgressions. But, mark as well, the depth of our God’s love for us.

Though He was without sin, though He had kept the Law of God perfectly, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against sin. That cup did not pass from Him; He drank it all. Not as any man did He die, but as both man and God. One person may not die for another; we are all responsible, each for his own sin. But Jesus Christ, man and God, died in place of the whole world. By His death, He secured for the world – for us – the forgiveness of our sins. And, so, this is what it means, “Before Abraham was, I am.” It means that Jesus is the eternal God, the author of all life. He is the eternal God now become flesh, to suffer and die. He is the eternal Word of God become flesh to win for us the forgiveness of our sins. He is the eternal Word of God, come to bring us life through the cross.


[1] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.58

[2] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.41

[3] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.51

[4] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Ex3.14