Babel Undone

Text: Genesis 11:1-9

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

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

I.

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

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] Gen. 9:7

[3] Gen. 11:1-2.

[4] Gen. 11:4.

[5] Gen. 11:8.

[6] Acts 2:2-4.

The Holy Spirit, the Comforter

Text: John 15:26-16:4

Let us pray,

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

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] Jn. 14:16.

[3] Jn. 15:26.

[4] Rom. 8:26.

[5] Jn. 15:26-27.

Neither Gone, Nor Forgotten

Text: Acts 1:1-11

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

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

I.

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

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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


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

[2]1 Cor. 15:6.

[3]Mk. 16:19.

[4]Acts 1:11.

[5]Mt. 28:20.

[6]Mt. 28:18.

[7]Eph. 1:22.

[8]Jn. 14:2.

[9]Jer. 23:24.

[10]Matt. 18:20.

[11]Jn. 14:2-3.

Ask, and You Will Receive

Text: John 16:23-30

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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


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

[2] Jn. 16:26-27.

[3] Lk. 11:11-13.

The Lord is My Strength and My Song

Text: Isaiah 12

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

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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

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

III.

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

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

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


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

[2] Is. 12:1-2.

[3] Ex. 15:1-2.

[4] Is. 12:3-5.

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

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

[7] Phil. 4:13.

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.