Make a Straight Highway

Text: Isaiah 40:1-8

Bulletin: 12-17-2017 the Third Sunday in Advent

Last Sunday we sang the hymn, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You,” during the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. The hymn is in the Advent section of our hymnal, but it could also very well be in the Confession and Absolution section. This hymn praises our Lord for His coming to us, humble and mounted on a donkey, which we heard about two weeks ago. Yet, the hymn takes a turn when it also talks about why Christ became flesh. Pastor Gerhardt writes, “I lay in fetters, groaning; You came to set me free; I stood, my shame bemoaning; You came to honor me.”[1]

The hymn recognizes that Christ’s Incarnation was not just for fun. Christ, the eternal Lord, took on our human flesh to suffer and die for us, poor, miserable sinners. Because we are so wrapped up in our own sinfulness, by which we have created a vast chasm between us and our God, Christ became flesh. No one else could bridge that divide. He suffered and died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. That forgiveness, He freely gives those who repent of their sins and look to Him in faith. Our text today is from our Isaiah reading, where we hear that we have received from the Lord’s hand double forgiveness for our sins. Since, therefore, our Lord comes to bring pardon to our iniquity, let the valleys and mountains of our hearts be made straight, that we may meet Him with joy at His appearing.

I.

With this service, we are now three weeks into the Advent season. Advent is a season of joyful expectation. We celebrated the First Sunday in Advent by hearing of the Triumphal Entry of our king into Jerusalem. Just as He entered humbly then, He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. For that day, we are joyfully waiting. Yet, in this this in-between time, we are also aware of what prompted our Lord’s visitation, our sinfulness. Advent is a season of expectation, but also one of repentance. This theme started coming out in last week’s readings. Our Lord encouraged us to watch ourselves, lest we be weighed down by the cares of the world. In the Old Testament text, John the Baptist was promised. He would be the one to come and prepare the way of the Lord.

John prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance and faith. You know John’s words to the Pharisees, that they were like a brood of vipers only seeking to escape the wrath to come. But, to others, John preached repentance and faith in the One who was yet to come. He preached that the axe is now at the root of the tree, and that every branch that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut down. When the people asked him what to do, he said, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”[2]

John’s preaching consisted of pointing out to people their sinfulness, and then pointing them to the Christ. Though their sins were like scarlet, they would be made white as snow through the blood of the cross. Those who mourned and confessed their sins, were baptized in the hope of the forgiveness that was yet to be revealed. John was the one who prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance. Or, in the words of Isaiah, lifting up every valley and making every mountain and hill low.

II.

The ministry of John the Baptist carries on even today through pastors, and our own Christian selves, when we encourage each other toward repentance. The first of the 95 Theses is very good. It says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”, He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[3] The goal of all Christian preaching is repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. This is carried out by the preaching of both Law and Gospel. We know that Jesus Christ came to defeat the devil and take away the sin of the world. He made full payment for all sin by His perfect life and death. The forgiveness which He won, He gives freely to all through faith. Faith receives the forgiveness of sins. The one who receives forgiveness, is the one who first acknowledges their own sinfulness.

So that we might acknowledge our sinfulness, Jesus sends pastors to preach His Law. When the Law is preached, it’s not the pastor – or whoever – being mean; the preacher is simply helping to us understand how things are and where we really stand before God. The preaching of the Law goes like this: God has revealed to us His will for human life in Scripture, and we have not done it. We have not kept God’s Law, and we fully deserve the punishment due. There is one punishment for sin – death and eternal separation from all things good. The preaching of the Law is not being mean; it is simply speaking the truth of where we stand before God.

And, to be honest, I think the Law that needs to be preached today is what St. Paul said a few weeks back, “The hour has come…to wake from sleep…Let us walk properly as in the daytime…not in quarreling and jealousy.”[4] This is something we have all struggled with. Satan has planted seeds of jealousy and quarreling in our hearts, and we have not treated each other as we should. We have not explained everything in the kindest way, we have assumed the worst. We have not forgiven each others’ faults. We have despaired of what the future holds for us. We have been sinful, and we have deserved eternal condemnation.

III.

Let us mourn our wretched bands and, in the words of Paul Gerhardt, bemoan our shame. But, let us do so in faith. It is true that we are sinners. Of that, we can be sure. But, true, also, are these words from the Lord, “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”[5]

We are sinners, as were the people in Isaiah’s day. Yet, His words to us here are not words of condemnation, but comfort. God called Isaiah to comfort His people, for they have received pardon for their iniquity. Israel has received double grace for all her sins, through the eternal sacrifice of Christ. The forgiveness He won stretched back to them and forward to us through faith. There is no sin too bad nor sinner too sinful for His forgiveness and pardon. There is no heart of stone that He cannot turn to flesh, nor dead person that He cannot raise to life in Baptism. In Christ, there is free and full forgiveness and pardon from iniquity, and He gives it freely through faith.

Let us then, in this Advent season and especially as we see the Day drawing near, make straight the valleys and mountains of our hearts. We have treated others poorly and thought more highly of ourselves than we should. Let us confess our sins, be forgiven, and by the Holy Spirit seek to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Acknowledging that, by faith in Christ’s blood, we have received twice the forgiveness for all of our sins, let us care for one another and build each other up in love. Then, when Christ comes, we may meet Him with joy and a clean conscience. “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”


[1] “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?” Lutheran Service Book, 334.

[2] Lk. 3:8.

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 25.

[4] Rom. 13:11-13.

[5] Is. 40:1-2.

Call Upon the Lord

Text: Psalm 50:1-15

Bulletin: 2017-12-13 Advent Midweek II

Right in a middle chunk of the Augsburg Confession, the Lutheran confessors bring up a great point that goes with our psalm tonight. The Augsburg Confession, beyond Luther’s Small Catechism, is what defines us as, “The Lutheran Church.” The Augsburg Confession is divided into 28 articles, the first 21 of which are given just for the sake of clarity. They show that the Lutherans did not teach anything new, nor did they depart from what the Church throughout the world has always taught. The last of those articles talks about praying to the saints. There, it says, “Scripture sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Atoning Sacrifice, High Priest, and Intercessor. He is to be prayed to. He has promised that He will hear our prayer. This is the worship that He approves above all other worship, that He be called upon in all afflictions.”[1]

I bring this up, because it bears on our psalm this evening. In Psalm 50, God is described to us as drawing near for judgement. He summons all earth and heaven, and testifies against His people. He testifies against them for, although their sacrifices were continually before Him, their hearts were far away. Instead of offering sacrifices of thanksgiving from cleansed hearts, they offered only out of obligation. They blessed with one side of the mouth and cursed out the other. God urged His people in this psalm to call upon Him in their times of trouble, for He will deliver them. Tonight, we confess that true worship of God is to call upon Him in trouble, for He will deliver us.

I.

In their statement, the confessors found themselves aligned with God in their sentiment. In the time of the Reformation, the worship life of the Church at large had become corrupted. In many cases, no parts of the service were in the language of the people, so they went only out of obligation or fear. In places where the common language was spoken, it was often not a level people could understand. There were priests whose sole job was to offer private communion services for donors day and night. It would be one thing if people were seeking the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament at all hours of the day – but that wasn’t the case. Instead, receiving the mass was an act to merit grace.

This is a similar picture to how God’s people throughout the Old Testament, and what is described in the psalm. At many points, the people are described as misusing God’s Word and misunderstanding the sacrifices. In the psalm, God says the point He is upset with His people over is not a lack of sacrifices. Those were always before Him. Rather, God testified against them, “You hate discipline, and you cast My Words behind you…You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit.”[2] God’s people lied and spoke evil, they did not live according to His Word. Then, they came to offer sacrifices out of obligation, and thought that was worship.

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble.”[3] When the topic of worship is brought up in the Book of Concord as a whole, Psalm 50 is called upon to define the Lutheran understanding of worship. True worship of God is not to just go through the motions, but to look to God for all things good. True worship is begun in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Through the Word, He convicts us of our sins and points us to Christ, who made full payment for the sins of the whole world. True worship is to look to God for the forgiveness of sins and for all blessings, both temporal and eternal. Especially, as God named, true worship is to call upon Him in the day of trouble.

II.

Psalm 50 portrays God as drawing near to judge His people. He testifies against them. For, although their sacrifices were always before Him, their hearts were not, and they did not call upon Him in the day of trouble. If they would call upon Him in faith, He would deliver them. Often, instead, the people treated the sacrifices like pagans would. Their understanding was, if you wanted Baal to act, you had to bribe him first. Or, they treated sacrifices like doing God a favor. You do right by Him, He does right by you. Or, they treated God like a vending machine. Sacrifice a goat, get a boat. For this, God bore witness against His people.

God teaches and calls upon us here to pray, because He wants to answer. As we learned in the Catechism, God answers our prayers not because we deserve it, but because of His own fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy. To those who call upon Him in faith, He does answer and bless. Jesus has said, “Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do.”[4] Throughout our lives, we have received blessing upon blessing from God. Everything that we have, we receive from His loving hand. For all this it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

God also offers this promise to those who worship Him in truth, who call upon Him in faith, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”[5] As our lives have been filled with blessing after blessing, so also has God delivered us from our troubles. We would not be here today, had not God brought us this far. And, who knows how many traps the devil has laid out for us, that God has sprung – we unaware? What great comfort this is for when we are suffering; we can call upon God and He will deliver. He will deliver us, also, on that Final Day when our redemption draws near.

The Augsburg Confession states with our psalm, that the worship that God desires and approves above all others is that we call upon Him in times of need. May God, by His Holy Spirit, keep us mindful of the deliverance He has provided us in the past and in the confidence that He will deliver us from all troubles, even on that Last Day.


[1] AC XXI, 2-3. Reader’s Edition.

[2] Ps. 50:17, 19.

[3] Ps. 50:14-15.

[4] Jn. 14:13.

[5] Ps. 50:15.

The Day is Coming

Text: Malachi 4:1-6

Bulletin: 12-10-2017 the Second Sunday in Advent

Hard words were spoken by the Lord through the prophet Malachi. Malachi was one of the last writing prophets of the Old Testament and his book is the last. He prophesied and wrote about two generations after the return from exile. Worship in the temple was restored, along with all its various feasts and festivals. The sacrifices and offerings for sin had resumed. Yet, in that short time, God’s people had nearly forgotten Him. For both the lay person and priest, apathy, and even contempt, for God had become regular. They offered blemished sacrifices and kept the best for themselves. The priests taught falsely and gossiped. Lay people, in turn, fell back into idolatry. They withheld their offerings from God. They all figured, if God hadn’t punished them by now, maybe they were okay. What does St. Peter say? That with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day.[1]

The Lord is patient, not desiring His wrath to fall on anyone. Rather, He desires that they turn from sin and live. Therefore, He waits. Someday soon, though, the waiting will stop, and the Day of the Lord will come. The Lord spoke through Malachi in the verse just before our text, “Once more you shall know the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not.”[2] The Lord says the day is coming when the sun of righteousness will rise. For we who fear His name, it will mean leaping like calves dashing out of the stall. Today we confess that Christ, the sun of righteousness, has risen upon us in His incarnation and will lead us out like calves from the stall on the great and awesome day of the Lord.

I.

Malachi prophesied after the children of Israel were returned to their homeland. You know the history here. Because of their wickedness and idolatry, God’s people were handed over to Babylon and kept in exile for 70 years as God’s judgement. After those years had passed, just as God promised, He returned them to their own land. He kept and preserved them in all that time, and many of them even prospered while in exile – men like Daniel and Nehemiah. Yet, after God brought them back, things still weren’t okay. They were, for a time, under faithful leaders like Ezra, and others. But overall, the heart of the people began drifting back into paganism and unbelief.

And so, the Lord sent Malachi. As we recounted already, apathy was common among both layman and priest. A good chunk of this book is given to words of condemnation for those wicked priests, although the people were not left out. God condemned them for robbing Him by holding back their tithes and contributions. But, in the midst of this preaching of the Law there was also the Gospel. In chapter 3, God promised to send a messenger to prepare the way of the Messiah. We know that is John the Baptist. Then, again, in our text God promised to send Elijah before His great day. When the disciples asked Jesus about this, He told them, “All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”[3] And, if John is that messenger of God who would prepare the way of the Lord, that makes Jesus the Lord.

That’s the truth. In Jesus, the sun of righteousness has risen upon us. Jesus came with gifts of healing, forgiveness, and peace, and to be the light in this dark world. At the right time, in the right place, Christ the Son of God took on our human flesh and was born of the virgin Mary. He preached and taught the Good News of God: that by His wounds we are healed. No longer are we enslaved to sin and death. By His death, our debt was paid. By His resurrection, His disarmed death and put both it and the devil to open shame. They will not defeat those who fear His name.

II.

Jesus came with gifts of pardon, peace and rest. In the Incarnation, the sun of righteousness dawned upon us with healing in His wings. We live, here and now, in the forgiveness of sins and in a confident hope of life eternal. Even so, the sun has not fully dawned upon us. As is often true in the prophets, more than one day is talked about at the same time in this text. As with God’s people throughout time, we await a yet more glorious day. We await the day when Christ our savior will come on the clouds of heaven. We wait for it eagerly, because we experience all the sin and evil in this world, and in ourselves. We are taught by the Lord here to observe the law of Moses until He comes, but we daily transgress against it. As those redeemed by Christ, we desire not to sin – but we still constantly fall. We also bear the scorn of the wicked and evildoers. There are many who ridicule us for gathering together, who tempt us to do otherwise. They say that our prayers are not heard and that we should stop. But we won’t.

Our Lord will return. This is what the angels promised at the Ascension, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven, this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go.”[4] St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”[5] Christ, our dear Lord, said Himself at the end of Revelation, “Surely I am coming soon.”[6] The day that Christ returns will be the great and awesome day of the Lord. Then, the sun of righteousness will fully dawn and shine on us. Then, as our Lord said, will our redemption be drawn fully near. But all the arrogant and all evildoers will be reduced to stubble and be left without root or branch.

All those who have despised the Lord and hated His appearing, all those who spurned His Word and scorned us who believe in it; they will be gathered together as well. Whereas we and all the faithful will be gathered together and enter with joy into the eternal wedding feast, they will enter with shame and sorrow into eternal punishment. As Jesus said, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”[7] For those who have loved His appearing, even for us, that great and awesome day will be the day when we go out leaping like calves from the stall.

At His return, though we have forgiveness now, then we shall be fully purified. At His return, though we have the hope of eternal life now, then shall we be fully free. At His return, though we have protection from sin and evil now, then we shall be fully delivered from all evil. Then, like the Greek OT says in verse 2, we will skip for joy. Like calves from the stall, we will skip for joy for being finally delivered from all sin, death, and from the devil.

In some ways, then, our whole lives are like one big Advent season. Like the faithful in Malachi’s time, we are waiting for the great and awesome day of the Lord, when He will finally come and deliver us. Yet, in this time of waiting, the sun of righteousness has risen upon us with the forgiveness of sins. By His death on the cross and rising again, our sins are forgiven here and now, and we have the hope of our own resurrection to eternal life. May the Lord grant us a continued blessed Advent, both in 2017 and beyond, while we wait for our day to go leaping like the calves.


[1] 2 Pet. 3:8.

[2] Mal. 3:18, English Standard Version.

[3] Matt. 11:13-14.

[4] Acts 1:11.

[5] Phil. 3:20.

[6] Rev. 22:20.

[7] Jn. 3:19.

The King of Glory Enters In

Text: Psalm 24

Bulletin: 2017-12-06 Advent Midweek I

Tonight, we begin another period of special devotion to our God and King. We come together this evening to hear His Word, to sing His praises, and to return Him our thanksgiving for the gifts He has freely given us. Especially in this Advent season, we remember His loving kindness as we await His return in glory. In all of these things, we are united to the saints of old in the Old Testament, who worshipped God in the tabernacle and temple with the singing of psalms. The texts for our meditations this year will each be based on the Psalm of the Week. The Psalm for the First Sunday in Advent is Psalm 24. Tonight, we confess that Christ is the King of Glory, who entered into His own creation so that we might receive blessing from God.

I.

Along with many of the other psalms, Psalm 24 is one that we know relatively little about. With some of the psalms – like Psalm 51 – we know who wrote them, when, and why. Psalm 51 was written by David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. We know less about Psalm 24. The psalm is attributed to David in both the Hebrew and Greek. The Greek adds that this was a psalm meant to be sung on Sunday. In the Church’s history, this psalm has been sung on Ascension and, for about the last 400 years – on the First Sunday in Advent as well. It’s easy to see why. This psalm is a psalm of worship to God as our king.

Psalm 24 lays out right away why we worship God as King – He is the author and founder of Creation. It says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.”[1] This  topic comes up over and over in Scripture, and often it’s the first topic that we cover with our children. Our God, the Triune God, commanded the universe to exist and it did. He spoke and it came to be. He set the stars in place and knows them each by name. He set the boundaries of the seas and rules both wind and wave. The earth and all who dwell in it are the Lord’s. He gives all things their food, and they receive it from His loving hand. Truly, the Creator God is a King worthy of all praise.

II.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?”[2] That is to say, who may stand before this God and King, who may stand in His presence to sing His praise? “He who has clean hands and pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord.”[3] God, our God, is the God of all creation. Not one thing escapes His eye or happens apart from His knowing. He deserves to be worshipped in sincerity and truth, for His Word is truth and He is the truth. Those who worship Him with pure hearts receive from Him blessing and honor.

But, as we live our lives, we find well-enough that we do not have pure hearts. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and operate outside of the truth. Those who receive blessing from God are those whose hands are clean, whose hearts are pure, who do not deal falsely or speak deceitfully. Yet, on each count, we are guilty. Our hands we have used to commit iniquity and our hearts are filled with the same. We have spent our lives pursing our own passions and desires and have often done so at the expense of our love for others. We have spoken and sworn deceitfully. We do not deserve to ascend the Lord’s holy hill or stand in His holy place.

III.

Then the psalmist sings, “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”[4] It’s possible that this psalm was sung as the Ark of the Covenant was moved to its final resting place in the temple. In which case, the doors may be literal. In the Church’s use, these words are also sung to creation in the confidence that the King has come. Though we may not stand in the Lord’s presence nor receive His blessing because of our sinfulness, Christ Jesus is the one who has clean hands and a pure heart. He does not lift up His soul to what is false or swear deceitfully. He who is the King of Creation now has entered into His creation to redeem it from sin. Though He spoke no lies and had no guilt, He bore our sin on the cross. He suffered, died, and rose again victorious for us.

Therefore, with all of God’s people – past and present – we sing the praise of the King of Glory. He entered into the universe He made at His incarnation, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. From there, He rose to conquer sin and death by His own death on the cross. He comes to us now, bringing with Him blessing from God in Word and Sacrament. Through these, He gathers us together and makes us a generation that seeks the face of the God of Jacob. Soon, all gates and ancient doors must open as He returns to judge the living and the dead. This Advent, may we ever be mindful that Christ, the King of Glory, has entered into His creation to bring us blessing from God.


 

[1] Ps. 24:1-2, English Standard Version.

[2] Ps. 24:3.

[3] Ps. 24:4-5.

[4] Ps. 24:7.

The Righteous Branch

Text: Jeremiah 23:5-8

Bulletin: 2017-12-03 First Sunday in Advent

Today marks the beginning of a new church year. We know by now that the Church Year flows in seasons. Seasons, which are patterned after the life of Christ and the Church. The first season of the year is Advent, a season of both repentance and joyful expectation. In Advent, we celebrate our Lord’s coming the flesh and His future coming again, even as we recognize in ourselves our own sinfulness. Christ, by His death, has secured for us forgiveness and eternal life. But still, we live here as exiles. And, like exiles, we groan.

The groaning among God’s people in Jeremiah’s time was that they were ruled by an unfaithful shepherd. Or, rather, a line of unfaithful kings who did not abide by God’s Word nor rule by His wisdom and justice. By these kings’ negative influence, the people also fell into idolatry – until Jerusalem was finally destroyed as the punishment for their evil deeds. Still, God’s faithful people among them longed for a new king, a new shepherd, who would be faithful to God’s Word. Therefore, God spoke through Jeremiah that the days were indeed coming, when the Righteous Branch would rule. Unlike the kings of Israel and Judah, and unlike all kings of the earth, Jesus the Righteous Branch executes justice and righteousness and makes His people dwell securely.

I.

Jeremiah is a prophet that comes up a lot in conversations and the lectionary. He, along with Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel are called the Major Prophets – for the length of their writing. Not only is the book of Jeremiah long, but so was his ministry. Jeremiah preached perhaps more than 40 years, during which time a complete handful of kings ruled in Jerusalem. As you might guess, this was not a good time for Judah. Their brothers in the Northern Kingdom had long before fallen to Assyria, and now Jerusalem was on the road to destruction herself. The reason would be the same that Israel was given into the hands of their enemies, idolatry. Both king and people were unfaithful to God’s Word.

Jeremiah 23 is part of a sermon given in the king’s court. In it, Jeremiah recounted the deeds of King Josiah’s sons and grandson who followed him on the throne. Josiah was a good king. He abided by God’s Word – his sons, not so much. In the Old Testament, when you were king you weren’t just king. You were a shepherd; you very much a spiritual figure for your people. It was also your job as king to encourage worship of the one true God. You were to discourage and punish idolatry. Josiah’s sons, along with many of the other kings, didn’t do that. The kings did not abide by God’s Word. They were frivolous in their living. They did not care about their neighbor near as much as themselves. They were in it for themselves. And, as were the kings, so were the people.

This is not an unfamiliar concept for us. Just a few weeks ago we talked about how the rulers and governments that exist are put in place by God. Now, ask yourself, how many of them do God’s will according to His written Word, the Bible? As the kings, so the people. In America, the disfunction goes even deeper. There are many people who dislike the government, so they take their orders and inspiration from celebrities. But, it’s also not just the rulers who don’t follow God’s Word – neither do we. At least, not all the time. We all set up little shrines to ourselves in our own hearts. We are the most important things in our lives, we do what our hearts desire and disregard the good of our neighbor. As those who have been redeemed by Christ, we recognize and lament our own sinfulness. With the faithful people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time, we also groan. God’s Word to them and us is the same.

II.

The Lord spoke through Jeremiah,

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’[1]

Remember that Jeremiah is speaking these words in the court of the king – at this time – Zedekiah. Jeremiah preached the Law against Zedekiah reign, and against those who came before him by calling them wicked shepherds. Now comes the Gospel to God’s people, where He promises a Righteous Branch, a Righteous Shepherd, a righteous king. These terms are often used interchangeably for the Messiah. The Lord promised David a son who would sit on his throne forever. The prophets Isaiah and Zechariah both talked about the branch of the Lord, the shoot from the stump of Jesse. Ezekiel preached about how the Lord would shepherd His people Himself. Branch, Shepherd, King, all mean the Messiah.

The Messiah, of course, is Jesus. He is the promised offspring of Adam and Eve, the offspring of Abraham. He is the true Son of David. He is the Righteous Branch who reigns as king. Unlike the kings of Israel and our time, Jesus does rule according to God’s will and Word. In His life, in the Garden, and on the cross, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will. He spoke and acted according the Word of God. According to the justice of God, “a bruised reed He [did] not break, and a smoldering wick He [did] not quench.”[2] Jesus does reign as king and deal wisely according to God’s Word, and that also means demanding the justice of God. One way God is just is in demanding punishment of sin. The kings of Israel did not punish the sin of idolatry. Jesus will punish sin eternally at His return. So that all the world might not perish in iniquity, Jesus also kept the Lord’s justice by bearing God’s wrath against sin in Himself on the cross. Jesus atoned for our sin by drinking the cup of God’s wrath for us.

The Lord promised through Jeremiah that the Righteous Branch would make both Israel and Judah dwell securely. That means He will bring all of God’s people together to live in peace. Such, has Christ done by His death. Though we were once united in death, by His death, Christ has brought His people together in life. He unites His people in every time and place together through His Holy Word and Sacraments. In Baptism, we are brought into the one family of Christ. In the Supper, we are united to Christ and each other. Through the preaching of the Word, the same Holy Spirit dwells in each of us. We have peace and security now in the forgiveness sins. But, that’s not the only thing we have. We have the blessed hope of eternal life. Someday soon, our Lord will return. He will send His angels and gather all the faithful from the ends of the earth. He will bring us together, and together we will enter the blessedness of the new creation. There, we will have no sin or sorrow, no danger or need. There, we will dwell with our king in our land, and we will all know Him.

But, for now, we groan. We are united with God’s faithful people in Jeremiah’s time. We are sinful people living in a wicked world at a wicked time. Yet, we are also the forgiven saints of God, purchased and won from sin and the devil by the precious blood of Christ. Through faith in His death we have the forgiveness of sins now, even as we await His return. While we suffer here as exiles below, God’s Word to us now is the same as then.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.

[1] Jer. 23:5-6, English Standard Version.

[2] Matt. 12:20.

Oil Enough and More

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

Bulletin: 2017-11-26 Last Sunday of the Church Year

Once again, during the final Sunday of the Church Year, we return to our Lord’s teaching during the final week of His earthly life. That final week, He spent much of His time teaching in the temple. He taught about the greatest commandment, about being a Christian in two kingdoms, even about His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Today, we turn to some of our Lord’s teaching on the End Times. It’s fitting that we talk about the close of the age as we are at the close of the church year.

The focus of our Lord’s teaching today is this, as Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”[1] Jesus taught the parable of the Ten Virgins to emphasize to His Disciples that His return to judge and bring in the New Creation would not be an immediate thing. This fact doesn’t surprise us, some 2000 years later, but it was new for them. It’ll be, Jesus said, like the days of Noah. People were eating and drinking and marrying up until the Flood and caught them all unaware. Today, we confess that our Lord’s return will be sudden and unexpected, but He sustains us in our watch through His Word and Sacraments.

I.

As usual, when we dive into a text it’s important to understand the context. The context of our passage today is that comes from a chunk of Matthew where Jesus is speaking about the destruction of the temple and signs of the end times. It happened that, as they were walking out of the temple, Jesus told the Disciples a time would come when none of its stones would be left standing. That prompted them to ask what the signs of would be of Jesus’ coming at the end of time. Then, Jesus taught them the passages we’ve all heard about wars and rumors of wars. As we live amidst what seems like endless wars and disasters, our minds sometimes fall with the Disciples – that maybe the end is near. Every so often someone gets on TV, the radio, or internet and proclaims that they know the exact day. But, the point of Jesus’ teaching today is that His return will be unexpected.

Just before today’s Gospel, Jesus taught in chapter 24 that no one knows the day or hour of His return – not the angels, not even the Son of God – only the Father. Following our text, is the Parable of the Talents. That’s where the master left his money with his servants and went away. When he came back, he expected his servants to have done something useful with what he gave them. The meaning of that parable is that we should wait for our Lord’s return, making faithful use of the things God has given us. God has blessed each of us with many talents and skills, and we are to use them in loving service to God and neighbor during our exile here below.

But, we sometimes take all this for granted. It is not news to us that our Lord’s return wouldn’t be immediately after His Ascension. But it was news for the first Christians and even the Disciples. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians twice concerning it. First, they thought Christ had already come and they missed it. Then, when they heard it may not be soon, they grew idle and lazy. St. Paul wrote them every parent’s favorite verse, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”[2] Even the Disciples had trouble with this. Just before the Ascension, they asked Jesus if He would restore all things right there. He said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.”[3] The point being, they were to wait and watch; as are we. Such, Jesus explains with a parable.

II.

It’ll be like ten virgins, Jesus said, who took lamps to meet the bridegroom. The custom at the time was that the bridal got prepared and then waited for the groom to come and get them. When arrived, they would all proceed together to the wedding hall for the ceremony and feast. Jesus said, “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”[4] It happened that the groom was delayed in his coming, and all the virgins grew tired and slept. Then, at midnight came the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” The virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The wise were prepared and had oil, but the foolish had run out.

The foolish virgins said to the wise, “‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’[5] The foolish virgins did not expect the delay. And, when the cry came, it caught them unaware. They left to go and buy oil. And, while they were out, the groom came. He gathered the wise virgins, they went to the wedding hall, and the door was shut. The foolish virgins knocked at the door saying, “‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’[6] Jesus interpreted the parable for us. As we heard before, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

III.

This is a parable directed to and concerning the Church on earth. Very seldom, if ever, in Scripture, is the word “virgin” used for anyone other than a believer in Christ. The ten virgins in the parable are members of the visible Church on earth. In the parable, they were all called to await the bridegroom. Likewise, as Christians, the Bride of Christ awaits His return. Our job is to wait and keep watch for His coming. We are to be alert and expecting His return at any moment.

But, on this end of things, it appears to us that Christ’s return is delayed. At the very least, we’ve been waiting a long time. This will be my 28th Advent. That means I’ve heard the story of the Triumphal Entry read and preached 56 times, each time mentioning the fact that Christ will someday return in glory to take me to heaven. Most of you have heard it more, and we’re still waiting. Waiting, like forgiving – which we talked about a few weeks ago – and praying, can make us grow weary.

When we grow weary, we are troubled by temptations of two sorts. The first, is to fall away from our watch. Some cease coming to church. It usually doesn’t happen all at once. But some fall away from regular attendance, and their lamps go out. The other temptation is to become focused on other things. We might still be here to receive God’s Word and Sacraments, but the temptation is for our lives to really revolve around something else, be it sports or family, or some collision of the two. We become so focused on other things that we forget what we’re watching and waiting for.

So that we might keep watch, Christ has given us and sustains us with His Means of Grace. This is important because, if we’re being honest, waiting for Christ to come is hard. Every year the Church calendar starts up again and the secular calendar after that. It’s hard, but the hope that has been poured into our hearts will not put us to shame. Through His Word and in His Sacraments, Christ forgives us our sins. The Lutheran Confessions say that the Holy Spirit works through these things as through instruments to give to us the forgiveness Christ won on the cross. But, through these things, also, is our watch sustained.

The temptation with this parable is to try and nail down what the oil is and how to get enough. I’m not sure we want to go down that route. Rather, let us stick to our Lord’s interpretation, that His return will be sudden and unexpected. Therefore, we are to keep watch. Though our flesh is weak, His Spirit is not. So that our watch is sustained and filled with hope, Christ gives us His Word and Sacraments. Through these things, our lamps have oil enough and more. And when the Bridegroom does finally call us, we will enter the wedding feast with joy.


[1] Matthew 25:13, English Standard Version.

[2] 2 Thess. 3:10.

[3] Acts 1:7.

[4] Matt. 25:2-3.

[5] Matt. 25:8-9.

[6] Matt. 25:11-12.

A Christian in Two Kingdoms

Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Bulletin: 2017-11-19 Trinity XXIII – Bulletin

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.”[1] With these words, Jesus put the attempts of the Pharisees to trap Him to flight. They came to Him in the temple to catch Him once-and-for-all, and finally put Him to death. This side of the Gospel, we know will happen only three days later, but we have in this text another picture of the hatred they had for our Lord. We also have here another masterful teaching from our God. With their words, Jesus’ enemies tried to trap Him. But, with His words, He both confounded them and gave us an important teaching.

The teaching was as useful to the first Christians as it is to us now – and would’ve been to the Pharisees, had they received it. The lesson is, just like Jesus said before Pilate, His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom or system of government. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be Christians in every country in the world, we will all be gathered together right now. In fact, we are together, now – in the kingdom of God. This called the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Christ teaches us that, as Christians, we live in two kingdoms. Both are established and ruled by God, and we are led by Him to give what is due in both.

I.

Let’s set the scene, shall we? We’ve been in this chapter of Matthew already in the Church Year, so we know that everything after 21 takes place in Holy Week or after Easter. When we were last here, the Pharisees put Jesus to the test by asking Him which was the greatest commandment. Remember that He was not fooled, but correctly taught that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mt. 22:37-39) The Pharisees even admitted that Jesus taught correctly in our text. They said, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully…you are not swayed by appearances.”[2] But, they’re up to something. Nearly every time the word “Teacher,” is used for Jesus, it’s by an enemy.

In fact, they are up to something. St. Matthew wrote, “The Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in His words. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians… [They said] …Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”[3] It’s important to understand some of the context here. The Pharisees had some specific ideas about the Messiah. One of them was that, when the Messiah did come, he would be an earthly ruler. He would overthrow the Romans and institute a new worldly order. Now, the people called the Herodians who came with them – they were fans of the Romans. When they asked Jesus about paying the tax, they thought they would stick Him either way. If He said to pay it, then He would offend the Pharisees and their followers. If He said to not pay, then He would alienate Himself from those who favored the Romans…and potentially lose His head.

Just like before, Jesus wasn’t fooled. It says that Jesus, aware of their malice, had them bring Him a coin – which, of course, they had. Then He said, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” When they said, “Caesar’s,” then Jesus answered, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.”[4] Just like that, Jesus cut free of their trap and pulled them into it. Confounded, the Pharisees left Him alone. When they put Jesus to the test, to try and get Him to choose between serving God or government, the right understanding is that we serve God in both. A Christian lives both in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world at the same time.

This is as an important teaching now as it was then. It’s important for us to confess this, because we sometimes take it for granted. All things being equal, a Christian does not need to choose between living in God’s kingdom (the Church) and the world, because God has established and rules both. In the world, He rules by His Law; but in the Church, He rules by grace. From our Lord’s mouth, we confess that we live in both kingdoms, and He leads us to render to each what is due.

II.

So far we’ve been talking about the Two Kingdoms. When Jesus was put to the test to choose between them in principal, He said to serve both. Now, let’s define them and talk about what should be rendered to each. The first, is the kingdom of caesar, the Kingdom of the World, the Kingdom of the Left. This kingdom is the collective governing systems of the world. The majority of countries have some sort of governing party that establishes and enforces law. The intention of most is to prevent and punish evil and promote and reward good. All these things are originally God’s idea.

St. Paul taught the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”[5] St. Peter, likewise, said, “Be subject for the Lords sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”[6] As an institution, government was established by God to maintain order and promote good. This happens by the establishment and enforcement of laws. There are many good examples in this of Scripture. Monday nights, we’ve been going through Daniel where kings used laws to promote the worship of God. At Kelleher, we also learned about Nehemiah, who was a governor and used his position for the good of God’s people.

In order for the government to do its work, which is really God’s, it does need some things. The thing brought up by our text? Taxes. Pay your taxes. The government serves by God’s command, so Paul says, “because of this you also pay taxes.”[7] When we pay our taxes, even as we can disagree about the amount in good conscience, we are acting in obedience to God’s Word and it pleases Him. At times, we may be called upon to serve our government with our talents and bodies. We should also do that in good conscience, for behind the government, we are really serving God. It may be that God has given us talents and gifts that may be of service to our government – whether it be running for office or entering voluntary service – in these also, we render to Caesar what is his. The kingdom of the left, extends over all the world and over all people. The whole world is ruled by God’s Law. He sets in place and overthrows, He plants and uproots. But the kingdom of the right, the Church, God rules by grace. We are brought into this kingdom through faith in Christ.

III.

According to our Lord, we also live in the kingdom of God. Just as the kingdom of the world was established and is ruled by God, so also the Kingdom of the Right. It is built upon the preaching and teaching of the prophets and apostles, Christ Himself being the cornerstone. In this kingdom, Christ rules by His grace. Those who have sinned are forgiven. Those who die daily to sin, are raised in Baptism and in the resurrection to come. Here, He mends broken hearts and binds up weak souls. To Caesar we render our external obedience, our tax money, and our talents. But to God, we render our hearts. This is the Law Christ preached to the Pharisees, and we should hear it – our hearts belong to God and not the things of this world. Too often we mistake this, and place our trust in things that fail. The Psalm says, “Trust not in princes.”

Thanks be to God, then, that we do live into two kingdoms. As Christians, we live and serve God in both realms. In the Kingdom of the Left, we serve God through the government by being subject to it, obeying laws and paying taxes. We know that behind these things, we have both the command and promise of God. He said to the Israelites in exile that they should pray for the city they were in, for in its welfare they will find their own. We also live into the Kingdom of the Right, the kingdom of Grace. We were brought in through Baptism and here we receive the forgiveness sins of daily, we are strengthened in the faith, and led to love and serve God and neighbor. When the Pharisees put Jesus to the test, He confounded them and taught us the truth. We are called and led to serve God in both kingdoms. The Lord grant that, by His Holy Spirit, we cheerfully render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.


[1] Matthew 22:21, English Standard Version.

[2] Matt. 22:16.

[3] Mt. 22:15-17.

[4] Mt. 22:20-21.

[5] Rom. 13:1.

[6] 1 Pet. 2:13-14.

[7] Rom. 13:6.