This Mind Among Yourselves

Text: Philippians 2:5-11

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.”[1] With these words St. Paul encouraged the Philippian congregation in their life together as brothers and sisters in Christ. The young congregation was buckling under pressure. They faced pressure from outside, from the surrounding Roman culture that constantly challenged and belittled their faith. And they faced conflict within the congregation. The outside pressure from the surrounding culture started to tear away at the bond of love that existed between the beloved of Christ. They were thinking more highly of themselves than each other and less of those who lived and worked around them. Under pressure, the allure of false teaching became harder to resist, and some were resorting to legalism to get them out of their mess.

St. Paul’s pastoral eye cut right to the chase; under pressure from the world and each other, the congregation lost sight of its Master, Jesus. He did not pride Himself on being God. He truly could demand the loyalty and servitude of all Creation, yet He didn’t. He humbled Himself by voluntarily refraining from His power and majesty and taking upon Himself our human flesh. He became subject to the Law and was obedient even unto death on a cross. In the Torah it says that those who are hung on a tree are cursed by God. Christ took that curse upon Himself. Jesus Christ humbled Himself so that He might redeem us from our sins and so that we might live in love toward one another.

I.

The Philippian congregation was, perhaps like us, a smaller congregation. It was founded when St. Paul, Silas, and Timothy visited the Roman colony during the Second Missionary Journey, about 49-51 A.D. Philippi was not the biggest city in the district, but it was prestigious. The citizens of Philippi were afforded all the same rights and privileges as if they were living in Rome herself. This was reflected in the culture. It was very cosmopolitan. As a society, infidelity in marriage was to be expected and pagan worship was the norm. As result, the congregation faced challenges in its call to be faithful to God’s Word. In Philippi, Paul and Silas were unjustly imprisoned after they had cast a fortune-telling demon out of a slave girl. The demon was making the her owners money, you see. Even with this conflict, the Philippians were known to be a generous congregation. They, largely, funded the mission work among the Corinthians by giving over and above what could’ve been expected of them.

Their generosity flowed out of the love they had received from Christ, but it didn’t divert the pressure they were under. As we said, Philippi was a Roman colony. Things there were as you would expect – not friendly to the Christian faith. So, when the members of the congregation didn’t go to the pagan temples and were faithful to their spouses, the surrounding culture did not appreciate that and, in fact, was hostile to them. Within the congregation, that external pressure was certainly felt. We experience the same. We know what it’s like to have our society largely disagree with our confession of faith. We know that pressure, so we should recognize what happened with the Philippians. They started arguing. Rivalry and jealousy were very present. Things were done not in service of the Gospel, but of oneself. In general, everyone was exalting their position by putting down their brother in Christ. Some in the congregation also turned to false doctrine, hoping that a teaching that was more in line with the culture would save them. It wouldn’t.

II.

St. Paul knew what would, though. The Philippians were near and dear to Paul’s heart, and so it was with all affection that he directed them to who would save them: Jesus. St. Paul wrote,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.[2]

St. Paul turned them to Christ. In Philippians 1, Paul told the congregation that they shouldn’t be surprised at the conflict they faced from outside the church. It had been granted them to suffer with Christ, as it has been to all Christians, and we should rejoice at that. For, as Christ promised the Apostles, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. But that doesn’t mean that internal struggles and fights won’t tear a congregation apart. So, he turned them to Christ. Jesus Christ, from the very beginning was in every way fully God of fully God. By Him and through Him all things were made. He alone is truly Lord of all creation and by right could demand that all things bend to His will. (That day will come.)

But, rather than rest on His laurels and pride Himself on the fact that all things must obey Him, He humbled Himself. St. Paul says that He emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant. This means that Jesus Christ willingly, for a time, refrained from using His eternal power, glory, and authority, and He took on our human flesh. He who deserves above all things to be served, came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. He became obedient to the Law, perfectly submitting Himself to God and neighbor. He committed no sin and spoke no deceit. Yet, He was numbered with the transgressors. He poured out His soul unto death, even death on a cross. Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”[3] Christ willingly took that curse upon Himself, which we also confess this Palm Sunday.

III.

Why did Christ do this? Why did He humble Himself – stepping down from His throne, veiling His glory, becoming flesh and blood, and dying on the cross? He did it as the prime demonstration of God’s love for us, and to redeem us from our sins. Apart from Christ’s death, we were lost in sin and death. We had nothing to look forward to, save the eternal separation from God that starts at death. Christ suffered and died to save us from that. St. Paul says that in Baptism we were united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Through Baptism, our sinful nature drowned and died with Christ, and we were raised again to new life with Him. This new life is what Paul means when he says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ humbled Himself, obeyed the Law, and still died in our place to save us from our sins and has enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in love. Though we, by nature, are prone to fighting and insults, to lies and arrogance, to distrust and disunity, that has all been put away through the death of Christ and our Baptism into it. As we’ll hear next week, through Christ’s resurrection the old leaven of malice and evil is put away and we celebrate with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. These things St. Paul called to the minds of the Philippian congregation. Their fearful infighting was not right. Christ died to forgive them those sins – and they are forgiven – and they are enabled through Him to live in love. They are to look to Jesus Christ for both the example and the strength to live in love.

Were the Philippians, after Paul’s letter, perfect at this? Probably not. Still, Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John wrote this to them some fifty years later, “I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love…and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now.” St. Paul’s confidence in the congregation and his encouragement for all Christians is found in the opening of this letter, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.[4] May Christ our Lord grant us the same grace as the Philippians, that we may give thanks for all His benefits and live in love – especially in the coming Easter season.


[1] Philippians 2:4-7, English Standard Version.

[2] Phil. 2:5-8.

[3] Gal. 3:13.

[4] Phil. 1:6.

“And in Jesus Christ, Our Lord – Pt. II”

Text: The Second Article

Today we continue our Lenten study of the Apostles’ Creed. So far we’ve learned from the First Article about God the Father. We’ve learned that He has made us and all creatures, and has given us all we need to support this body and life. And, He still continues to take care of us. He guards and defends us against all evil. We don’t deserve any of these things; God does them because He is love. And, because God is love, the Father sent forth His only-begotten into the flesh to bear our sin and be our savior.

Two weeks ago we looked at the words of the Second Article up to our Lord’s death and burial. For us and for our salvation, Christ our Lord stepped down from His throne on high. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He became both fully God and fully man – but not by changing from one into the other; instead, by taking our humanity upon Himself. For our salvation, He became subject to God’s Law and kept it perfectly. As payment for our transgressions, Christ offered Himself up on the cross and breathed His last. The Son of God did truly die and was buried.

This week we pick up with what happened next. After Jesus died and was buried, He was made alive again. After He had risen from the dead, but before leaving the tomb, Christ descended to hell. He didn’t go there to suffer, nor to release anyone, but to proclaim His victory over death and the devil. On the third day Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to His disciples and others for forty days. He did many things to prove He was alive and taught His disciples about the kingdom of God. After the forty days, Jesus ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God, where He rules all things for our benefit. On the Last Day He will come again to judge both the living and the dead.

I.

In our last look at the Creed we learned that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. In theological talk this idea is called, “The Two Natures of Christ.” It means that Jesus, fully and at the same time possesses, both divine and human natures. In Christ these natures are so united that we can’t separate them without doing great harm to the faith expressed in the Scriptures. We confess that Jesus Christ is fully God because the Scriptures clearly call Him God, they describe His divine attributes, and they show Him doing things only God can do. We confess that Jesus is man because the Scriptures also clearly call Him a man, describe His human characteristics, and show Him doing and suffering things as humans do. Only as man could He take our place, suffer and die. Only as God could His death atone for the sins of the whole world. This is what we mean when we say that Christ is both God and Man, or that He possesses two natures.

Today we’re going to learn another idea. It’s called, “The Two States of Christ,” which are the Humiliation and the Exaltation. All the things we’ve talked about so far have been part of Christ’s humiliation. His humiliation is the time, beginning with His conception, when Christ did not always and not fully use His divine powers. He did use His powers when it was appropriate to His work, but in His humiliation He refrained from the full and total use of His power. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”

Christ’s state of humiliation is the time when He did not fully use His divine power. It began with His conception and ended with His death. His exaltation is the time – now – when He always and fully uses His divine power. His exaltation began with His descent into hell, continued in His resurrection and ascension, and still is going today as Christ cares and watches over us from the right hand of God the Father. St. Paul wrote, “[Christ] humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death…therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.”

II.

The first event of Christ’s exaltation is, as we confess in the Creed, “He descended into hell.” The reason why we believe that His descent is not part of His suffering is because of Jesus’ words from the cross, “It is finished.” Jesus meant that His work of atoning for our sins was complete with His death. Therefore, anything which comes after that is not part of His suffering, but His exaltation. This is how St. Peter frames it, “Christ also suffered once for sins…that He might bring us to God, [having been] put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” The word “proclaimed” is understood by its context to mean that Christ descended to hell neither to suffer, nor to offer a second chance to those who were there, but to proclaim to the devil and the souls of the unbelievers that He had conquered. The when of Christ’s descent is after His resurrection but before leaving the tomb. As for the how, we will have to leave that to when we know more in the new creation.

On the third day Jesus rose from the dead. That is the chief confession of our faith. We can leave the narrative of Easter to when we celebrate it again in few weeks. The Scriptures teach that after Christ rose from the grave, He remained on earth for forty days. Scripture gives two reasons for His appearances after the resurrection. It says in Acts 1, “He presented Himself alive to [the disciples] after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking to them about the kingdom of God.” Jesus appeared to the women, to Peter, to the rest of the disciples, to the five hundred brothers at the same time, to James, and to Paul. He allowed them to touch Him and even ate to prove to them that He was alive. Then, as St. Luke writes, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

III.

When the forty days were complete, Jesus led His disciples as far as Bethany and, as the Creed says, “ascended into heaven.” We learn from Scripture that this was a true and literal ascension. Jesus was visibly lifted up into the clouds before the disciples’ eyes. After ascending into heaven, Christ resumed His position at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. The Right Hand of God is not one literal location, but it extends everywhere and every place. The Right Hand of God means that Christ now rules and fills all things.

He can now be in all places at all times, which is a particular comfort for us in our suffering. Because Christ has ascended into heaven and no longer refrains from using His power, He can be and truly is with us at all times and in all places. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “[God the Father] raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

Finally, in the Creed we confess, “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” The Scripture says, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” We believe that on the Last Day – God the Father alone knows the date – Jesus will return. When He returns He will raise the bodies of all the dead and, as our Lord Himself says, “will sit on His glorious throne,” to judge the world in His righteousness. Those who rejected Him and His Word will return, in both body and soul, to eternal torment. Those who believed in Him and His Word will enter into the eternal joy of the new creation.

Now, how may all of this be a comfort to us? We confess that Jesus Christ suffered once for the sins of the whole world. By suffering in our place, He who is both God and Man, secured for us the forgiveness of our sins and the joy of eternal life. When He had risen from the dead, He descended into hell to proclaim His victory. This comforts us because Christ truly has defeated death and the devil; they no longer have any claim over those who are in Christ. He proved throughout those forty days that He was alive. So, too, will those who believe in Him rise from the dead in glorified bodies. By His ascension to the right hand of the Father, Christ continues to be with us at all times and in all places. He is able to comfort us in all distress and provide us with His own body and blood in His Supper. When He returns, He will gather us together with all the faithful to Himself to live in eternal peace and happiness.

Next week we will finish our Lenten devotion by studying the words of the Third Article.

“Do Not Hold Back a Word”

2017/03/22 Lent Midweek III – Manuscript

Text: Jeremiah 26:1-15 (Alternate text in LSB)

We’ve spoken of Jeremiah’s ministry on a few occasions. We’ve learned that Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem during the time leading up to the Fall in 586 B.C. His ministry lasted about 40 years – perhaps longer. Jeremiah is often singled-out for the difficulty which he faced in his ministry. He was viciously opposed by many of the priests and the abundance of false prophets in Jerusalem, who held that it was utterly impossible for Jerusalem to fall. In our text tonight we get to peer back behind the curtain and see why Jeremiah was rejected and treated as he was.

The Lord gave him specific instructions in verse 2, “Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.” That is to say, the Lord sent Jeremiah to speak the Law to His people. He was sent to call out against Jerusalem her great and many sins, which would soon bring upon God’s wrath. He was sent to preach the Law, and was told not leave anything left unsaid. But, not leaving anything left unsaid also applied to the other part of Jeremiah’s preaching: the Gospel. Jeremiah was sent to preach both the Law and the Gospel to God’s people. The Lord sent (and still sends) His servants to preach both Law and Gospel, so that sinners may repent and be forgiven.

I.

Jeremiah’s ministry took place over a long time, but the king in our text is Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was a son of Josiah, and actually the 2nd son of his to reign – after his evil older brother was taken to Egypt. Jehoiakim was also evil. When the Lord sent Nebuchadnezzar up to Jerusalem, he rebelled and the end of the city began in earnest. But still, even at this point all was not lost. Even in the face of impending doom, the Lord again sent His servant to preach. He said to Jeremiah, “Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah…all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.”

Jeremiah was another in a long line of prophets. Each was sent by God to speak His Word to His people, both about their transgressions against Him and His mercy and willingness to forgive. Jeremiah was also sent to preach both Law and Gospel. In this case, the Law was that, because of Judah’s evil deeds, Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. God said, “If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh.” Shiloh was the first resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, which the Lord caused to fall to ruin because of Israel’s unbelief.

II.

The Lord sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, specifically telling him not to omit a single word, even though the people wouldn’t like hearing it. We learn from Scripture that the Law always has an effect; it always causes one of two reactions. The first reaction, which is really Satan’s work, is what we see in our text. It says, “when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded…then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’” The first reaction to the preaching of God’s Law, the attitude that is from the devil, is denial and resistance. God’s Law is meant to show us our sin, but the Old Adam in us, and the influence of the devil in the world around us, tempt us to deny its truthfulness. Sadly, in the case of some who are deeply lost in the sin, the result of pointing out their sin leads them to become hardened and even more resistant to God’s Word. This is purely the devil’s handiwork.

There is another reaction to God’s Law, the one which He desires and creates: repentance. We learn in our text why God sent Jeremiah to preach the Law. He says, “It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way.” In short: God sends His servants to preach the Law to show us our sins, so that we may repent and be forgiven. God’s great mercy is also demonstrated in this text. It was not long after that Jerusalem did fall. Even up until the very last possible moment, God continued to send the prophets, who promised that God would stop the disaster, if only they would repent. God’s Word through Jeremiah was not hypothetical. Because of Judah’s sin, Jerusalem would be destroyed. Yet even then, God was willing and desired to forgive, and would avert their doom, if they would only repent.

III.

That is the reason why God sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, so that the Gospel might also be preached. The Lord said, “Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.” Though their sins were great, though they were like scarlet, God was ready and willing and more fully desiring to forgive than we can ever know. Even in the face of destruction, after generations of idolatry and covetousness, God would forgive. Just like we heard on Ash Wednesday, “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him.”

So also does God send His servants to preach to us today, both His Word of Law and His Word of Gospel. He sends them to preach the Law to show us our sins. When we hear from them that we are sinners, the words which judge us are not theirs, such as what the people thought of Jeremiah, but God’s. The Law is and remains God’s holy Word. When we hear from it that our sins are great, we should respond with the words, “Amen; this is true.”

God also sends His servants to preach the Gospel to those who recognize from the Law that they are, in fact, sinners. Just like God offered to freely forgive even the adulterous people of Jerusalem, He will freely and completely forgive all who turn to Him in repentance and faith. If God the Father willingly sacrificed His only-begotten Son on the cross, how true His promise to forgive our sins must be; if only we repent. So that we may repent, God speaks to us His Word of the Law through His servants. Then, when they have shown us our sins, they reveal to us the Gospel of Christ: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

“(In This Way) God Loved the World”

Text: John 3:16-17; 1 Jn. 4

St. John the apostle wrote in his first letter, our epistle reading, that God is love. This a phrase that most people probably know, even if they don’t always know that it’s from the Bible. True, if you’ve ever been to church, you’ve most likely heard it. (I would hope.) But, we also see it in many other places. It’s on everything: from t-shirts and mugs to bracelets, and at present, even on protest signs on TV or in the paper. Something interesting happens when a word or phrase is used so frequently and in so many different places. What happens that its meaning changes. Words and phrases get their meanings from how they’re used, the context. One comes to my mind right now. What frequently changes, as I’ve learned over the past few years is “Sloppy Joe.” I was always taught the a sloppy joe has three ingredients beside the beef: ketchup, mustard, brown sugar. Does that sound like a sloppy joe to you?

I wonder, has this sort of thing happened to the phrase, “God is love?” What I’d like to to do today is go back to the Scriptures, where the phrase originally comes from, and learn what it’s all about. In doing so we’ll also see what the Christianity thing is all about. Just like with phrases, what people think Christianity is all about fluctuates, too. What Scripture says, and what we must preach, is that God’s love for the world is shown in this way: He sent His only Son to die, so that everyone who believes in Him would not die, but have eternal life.

I.

Let’s remind ourselves of the verse we heard a few minutes ago. A lot of people have it memorized from their VBS days, but I’ll read it again. This is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Another verse goes with it today. St. John also wrote, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.” So, we’ll get this part out of the way: God is love, this is true. Now, Lutherans are a quirky bunch. This is shown by the fact you can tell someone was raised as a Lutheran because they instinctively ask, “What does this mean?” whenever they hear Scripture.

What does it mean that God is love? That’s the question today. First, it means that God created everything – the heavens and the earth. As Scripture says, God is love; but, to love, there needs to be something else – something to love. So, God created. God created all that there is, including us, and He continues to provide for all that we need to support this body and life. Since God is love, He created human beings with the ability to love Him back. But, the ability to love works both ways. If you can love, you can also not love. Unfortunately, that’s what happened. Shortly after God created mankind, they decided that loving God wasn’t what they wanted to do. And that’s where sin comes from.

God created everything out of love, desiring nothing other than to love us and be loved back. Instead, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Bad happened. It’s kind of like going into the basement and loosening up the one light bulb so that it flickers. When it flickers, there’s light. But, in between you stub your toe and knock things over. When Adam and Eve decided to not love God, it broke the world. When they decided to not love God, it also introduced a new and terrible thing: death. See, to live in fellowship with God is life. To live apart from Him is death.

The Scriptures do say that there is a punishment for sin, and that is death. The failure to love God results in death. All those times where we don’t listen to the Bible and do what we want instead, all those times where we think thoughts about those whom we aren’t married to, all those times where we maybe aren’t as helpful to others as we could be add up. The end result is that, for our sins, we will all die.

II.

But, the Scriptures say this: God is love. Love is what led God to create and take care of us. Love is also what made it so that God couldn’t just stand by while the whole world dies. Instead, He loved the world so much that He acted. He acted in this way: He sent His only Son as the payment for our sins. God is a loving God, but He is also a just God – a fair God. Fairness demands that transgressions be punished, that wrongs be righted. God is also mercy, however. Instead of demanding that we right our own wrongs, pay for our own sins, God sacrificed His Son, His only Son, Jesus.

In this way, God’s love for the world is demonstrated. He sacrificed His only Son to pay for our sins. Now, we might not think that we’re really that bad. Think about it this way. When you speed you get a ticket. If you lie to a judge, you can be placed in jail. If you disobey a king, in some countries, you will be put in prison – or worse. That’s for a single offense, and we’re trained to accept that. What do you think should happen if you disobey God? What do you think should happen if you willingly and purposefully break the law many times a day for an entire life? But God is love, so He sent Jesus to die in your place, to pay for your sins.

Jesus Christ’s death did pay for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world. By His death on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus has restored us to a right relationship with God. He put the water back under the bridge, tightened the light bulb so that it shines like it should. By His death and rising again, Jesus has brought back to mankind eternal life. He won for us the ability for us to again call God, “Father,” and the ability to live at peace with those around us and in our community. These things He gives to us not because we deserve forgiveness, eternal life, and peace – but by His grace as a gift. As it says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Some of us are newer to the whole Lutheranism thing. Some of us have been around it for a while; and we sometimes forget, but this is what it’s all about. The Christian faith, and Lutheranism as a part of it, is all about how Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. We’re talking forgiveness of sins for everyone who believes in Him. It doesn’t matter whether you were born into the Church, or came as an adult. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, where you live, how much you give, or even how often you warm a church pew – Jesus died for you. He gives the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life to everyone who believes in Him.

Now, this is all fine and good, but some of us might be thinking why we need to hear this again. Why should I to go to church, if I’ve heard this once already? For starters, life is hard. It is a struggle; it is busy; some days we don’t even know how to do. Even beyond that, before we’ve noticed, we’ve been short with people; we’ve treated them poorly and they’ve done the same in return. Church allows us to hit pause, to hit reset and reflect, to hear God speak to us and tell us that it’ll all be okay – that our sins our forgiven, and that eternal life awaits us in heaven. In heaven there is no pain or sorrow or stress.

Then, St. John also says, “If God so loved us, we also ought to love each other.” Speaking for myself – even as a pastor – I’m not always so good at that part as I should be. So, in addition to pausing to hear God speak through His Word that my sins are forgiven, church also helps me to love others as I have been loved by Christ. “We love because He first loved us.”

May the peace of God be with you this week and always. God is love, and this is the way He showed His love for you: He sent His Son Jesus to die for you, so that through faith in Him, you might not die but live eternally. In Jesus’ name.

“Return to the Lord Your God”

Text: Joel 2:12-19

“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart’…Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”These words from the second chapter of Joel serve as our text as we begin again the Church’s yearly remembrance of our Lord’s journey to the cross. He went to the cross, to suffer and die, most willingly. He was crucified for our sins, and on the third day, rose again to restore to us eternal life. Sometimes, though, knowing that and believing it are two very different things. Sometimes, the ash on our forehead overwhelms us with with the pervasive knowledge of our own sinfulness. The ash reminds us that, for our sins, we must die. But, for our sins Christ did die. Tonight we confess that the Lord God is gracious and merciful, and He abundantly pardons our sins through Jesus Christ.

I.

You might remember that one of the major categories of writing in the Old Testament is prophecy. There are prophecies throughout it – prophecies concerning Christ, especially. But, there are also whole books of prophecy. From there we divide them into two categories: the Major and Minor Prophets. The majors are the ones whose books are really long; the minors, short. Joel is among the Minor Prophets. Compared to someone like Jeremiah, whose life story we almost completely know, we know not a lot about Joel. We don’t know for certain either exactly who he is or when he prophesied. You might remember St. Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, though. A crucial portion of that was quoted from Joel. Beyond these things, Joel’s prophecy stands as a message for all time.

What was Joel’s message? Repent, and the Lord will forgive your sins. The nearest context we find for Joel’s ministry was that it followed a plague of locusts. These plagues were an occasional thing, but something was different about this one. Perhaps it was even worse than usual. Joel writes, “What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.” Whatever the case may be, Joel proclaimed what the response to such a disaster should be: repentance. The locust plague foreshadowed, Joel preached, the day when God will fully cut off and put away all that is unholy and profane, all that is sinful and thus deserves His wrath. As the locusts devoured the land and left nothing behind, so the Lord’s righteous judgment will leave no stone left unturned and not even the stubble of sin will remain.

II.

“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart.’” Even when this great disaster has happened, the locust plague foreshadowing the Day of Judgement, the Lord promises to forgive. One can imagine the response of the people to the plague. The locusts came and devoured everything, one’s entire livelihood. We know from Scripture that sometimes God allows such things to happen as the consequence of sin. Perhaps in such a situation it would be easy to despair. It would be easy to think it’s all over. It’s also easy for us to think that way.

We gather tonight as Christians, yet also having come to the realization that we are sinners. The ash on our foreheads reminds us of this, just in case we forget. However, often times we experience the very opposite of forgetting our sinfulness. We are very much aware of it. How many times must we sin and repent? How many times must we try harder and harder to resist temptation, and give in anyway? How many times will our sinful actions just “fly under the radar?” Given these realizations, the temptation is always there to despair. We are tempted, and sometimes do think, that we are beyond the reach of forgiveness – that we might as well keep going, since we’ve done so much already.

Return to the Lord Your God, for He is gracious and merciful,” Joel urges us. The Lord takes no pleasure in death and punishment, but He delights to forgive. He is slow to anger and His steadfast love knows no end. When it says, “He relents over disaster,” it means God also can easily change the bad in our lives to good. The Lord is patient and kind. He is always more ready to forgive, than we even are to ask for it. And, so that we may ask for forgiveness and be forgiven, the Lord has given us His Word. In His Word, He reveals our sinfulness through the Law. He sends pastors to preach the same. Through these things He leads us to repent of our sins. Then, even when we are tempted to despair, He forgives us through the Gospel of His Son.

III.

Then the Lord became jealous for His land and had pity on His people. The Lord answered and said to His people, ‘Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.”One of the fun things about the prophets is that, sometimes, they talk about both the present and the future at the same time. That’s what is happening here. Just like the plague was compared by Joel to the coming day of the Lord’s judgment, His willingness to forgive us now is a reflection of the joy that awaits us.

Though we are often overcome by our own sinfulness, the Lord is more ready and willing to forgive than we could ever know. Though it may seem that sinning is all we do, the Lord abundantly forgives all who repent and look to Him. For our sin, He sent His only Son – Jesus Christ. Jesus kept the whole Law perfectly, without fail. Then, He suffered the punishment for our sin when God’s wrath was poured out on Him on Calvary. The wrath which was previously stored for us. And, behind this suffering in our place, God has left the blessing of the free and full forgiveness of sins for all who turn to Him in faith.

Soon will come the day when sin will be no more. Then the Lord will fully take away our reproach and His people will no longer be a byword among the nations. Until then, He remains gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Through Jesus Christ, God abundantly pardons all who repent and turn to Him in faith. God grant this to us all.

“Love Bears All Things,” Luke 18:31-43

Text: Luke 18:31-43

“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind…[it] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 

Since ancient times this epistle reading has been paired with our Gospel reading from Luke 18. Already from St. Augustine, who died in 430, we have sermons combining these texts, demonstrating the depth of Christ’s love for us. In the Gospel, Christ demonstrates a love beyond comprehension, that defies understanding – a love that endures all things.

These past weeks leading up to our Lord’s Lent, we’ve been looking at grace and salvation from a few different angles. First, we had the parable of the Vineyard, where all the workers received the same wage. Second, last week we heard the parable of the Sower. In it Christ sows His Word like a seed. Where it takes root, it bears fruit a hundredfold – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This week, as Jesus nears the final week of His earthly life, He again teaches what will soon happen to Him. He will be betrayed, mocked, humiliated, spit upon, flogged, and killed – all to accomplish what was written in the prophets concerning our salvation. But, as we read, the Disciples didn’t understand. This is our focus this week.

The grace of our Lord is given freely to all who believe in Him. It comes through the preaching of the Word. And, this week, we confess that – apart from the Holy Spirit – our minds cannot understand or believe it. Despite our sinful flesh, Jesus willingly went to endure suffering, so that all that was written concerning our salvation might be accomplished.

I.   

Our text this week comes from Luke 18. Here we find Jesus nearing His final ascent to Jerusalem. It’s been a long journey. He began this journey in Luke 9, where it says, “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This whole time He’s been preaching and teaching and healing and raising the dead, but with this end in sight – He is going to Jerusalem to die and rise. This is what Scripture has always been about, and it’s where the forgiveness of sins comes from. And, this is exactly what Jesus preaches in the text.

St. Luke writes, “Taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.’” If you look at this text in the Bible, you’ll find that this is now the third time that Jesus has predicted His death. Each time He’s mentioned that He’s going to die, and before that be betrayed. This time, though, He opens it up and teaches just what is going to happen to Him before He dies. Again, He’ll be handed over. But, also, He’ll be mocked and treated shamefully. He’ll be spit upon. He’ll be flogged. And then, then they’ll kill Him.

I was reading in a book not too long ago about the concept of crucifixion. Crucifixion was a barbaric practice – quite painful – but also, humiliating. It was meant to be a humiliating death. That’s why people were crucified in public places with signs above their heads. It’s also why it was against the law to crucify Roman citizens. But, what I learned is this: In every picture I’ve ever seen of Jesus on the cross, He had has some sort of cloth on Him. You know, covering His private parts. However, considering that crucifixion was purposefully humiliating, and that Scripture tells us that they gambled for His clothing, it’s most likely that Jesus was crucified totally naked.

I bring this up because Jesus knew this full-well. He knew entirely what would happen to Him, indeed, what must happen to Him. He knew how shamefully He would be treated, and He did it anyway. All so that Scripture would be fulfilled and we be saved. Jesus died exposed so that our sins might be covered. Jesus didn’t just allow this to happen to Him, but He willingly did it for us. Luther wrote on this passage, “Whoever looks at His suffering without seeing His will and heart in them must be terrified at it rather than rejoice in it. But if we see His heart and will in [His suffering], this produces true comfort, confidence, and joy in Christ.” “Love is patient and kind…love bears all things…endures all things.”

II.   

Here we have our Lord pouring out His heart, telling how much He loves us and what He is willing to endure, so that we might be reconciled to God. But, how is it received by those nearest to Him? “But they,” the twelve, “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Jesus demonstrated the depth of His great love for us, the vastness of His mercy and grace, while the disciples showed the Holy Spirit to be right when He caused St. Paul to write, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law.”

It still had not set in for the disciples that Jesus’ suffering is absolutely necessary for our salvation. Without it we cannot be saved, and apart from faith in Christ’s suffering there is no salvation. Even though, in this same chapter, Jesus welcomed the little children, called the rich young ruler to follow Him, and healed the blind beggar, they still didn’t quite get it. Neither do we. 

By that, I mean that we are all by nature Pharisees. We all by nature try to center our salvation on something inside of us, something we do. Whether it’s feeling that we are saved because we go to church, or because we consider ourselves good people, or because we do some good things – our sinful nature doesn’t understand that relying on those things is like going up to the cross and pulling Jesus down. Our sinful nature rather not look at the cross.

But look to the cross, we must. We must look to our dear Jesus, naked and dying on the cross, because that is where salvation comes from. All of Scripture leads us there. It is there that we see how much, how deeply, how seriously God loves us. Though it is hard, no, impossible, for our sinful flesh to understand, Jesus’ suffering is the prime demonstration of His love for us. By His suffering He accomplished what was written in the prophets and secured our salvation.

III.  

St. Paul did write that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. Then he wrote, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” Thanks be to God for the great gifts that He bestowed on us in our Baptism. We were all by nature Pharisees and children of wrath. We were unable to see in our Lord’s sufferings the fulfillment of Scripture and our salvation. We were mired in sin. But now, all of that has been washed away. Instead of leaving Adam and Eve naked, God clothed them in flesh. Instead of exposing our secret and shameful sins, Jesus has covered them up by His suffering in our place. By our Baptism, the Holy Spirit has given us faith to believe and eyes to see in our Lord’s blessed wounds the fulfillment of the Scripture and the source of our salvation.

As our Lord continued His journey toward Jerusalem to suffer and die for us, He was met on the road by a blind beggar. He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus stopped, spoke, and the man’s sight was restored. Immediately, he began praising God. Thanks be to God for the great love with which He has loved us. Jesus Christ suffered humiliation on the cross so that Scripture might be fulfilled and we be saved. In Baptism He opened our eyes to see and believe the same. 

“What Sort of Man is This?” Matt. 8:23-27

Text: Matthew 8:23-27

Storms and the sea are things that come up pretty often in Scripture. When I did a word-search for, “sea,” I came up with over 400 matches. Sometimes its vastness is considered. Other times it’s mentioned as the place where the great creatures dwell. Just after our text in Matthew, the Sea of Galilee is where Legion drives a heard of pigs and drowns it. Often, its raging and roaring – its destructive nature and potential for death – rouse fear and wonder. But, overwhelmingly, the witness of Scripture is that the sea, and the storms that rage on it, are under God’s control. “The sea is His, for He made it. And His hand formed the dry land.” God is the one who set the boundaries of the sea, who dried up both the Red Sea and the Jordan River so His people could pass through in safety. Psalm 107 speaks this way, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”[1]

Such words should’ve been the confession of the Disciples when the storm rose up in the Gospel text. Instead, they feared for their lives – even with Jesus in the boat. It appeared to them that all was nearly lost. Then, Jesus – who was with them and in control the whole time – rebuked the wind and wave and brought about a great calm. Bewildered, the men were left scratching their heads. “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?”[2] In our text, Jesus again revealed His glory as the One who has power and authority over wind and wave.

I.

            Today we’re picking up in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel that we were in last week. Only ten verses separate our passages, but a lot has been going on. After Jesus healed the centurion’s servant He went and stayed at Peter’s house. There He healed Peter’s mother-in-law from her fever and many others who were sick and oppressed by demons. St. Matthew writes, “With a word [He] healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’[3] We’re beginning to get a pretty good picture of who Jesus is, what sort of man He is. He’s the one whom the Father proclaimed from heaven, He’s the one who turned water into wine, the one who cleansed the leper, the one who heals diseases and casts out demons simply with a word, the one who will be whose face and clothes will shine like lightening next week. In short, He is God and is in control of all things.

St. Matthew writes, “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to over to the other side…And when he got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves. [So, they] went and woke Him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’[4] At Jesus’ instruction, they departed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had just been rejected by a scribe and an unnamed disciple, so He decided to go preach to the Gentiles. As they were sailing, a great storm arose. We aren’t given any clue from the text to make us think that this is anything other than the type of storm that would occasionally happen on the Sea. But, with a boat that measures only about 4 feet deep, waves can begin to overcome you fairly easily.

During this time, St. Matthew writes, Jesus was sleeping in the helm of the boat. He was in the captain’s spot, unworried by the wind and waves. Though, by His human nature, He needed rest, by His divine nature, all things were in His keeping. The Disciples should’ve taken a clue from this. They should’ve remembered all the miracles He’s already done. Instead, they were afraid for their lives and they woke Jesus. “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”[5] As they were crossing the sea, a great storm arose that caused the Disciples to panic. They woke Jesus who, though He did rebuke them, caused the wind and sea to be exceedingly calm. He revealed that all things were under His control. What sort of man is this, they ask? The sort who has power over illness and disease, death and demons, and – now – wind and wave. Jesus again revealed His glory as the Son of God, who has power over all things.

II.

            “What sort of man is this?” That same question is still asked today. Whether it’s just in minds, spoken, or written, it is asked all the same – seemingly, with as many answers as there are people. There is, however, only one right answer. That hasn’t stopped the constant flow of opinions, though. Especially in this last political season, it seems that there is a Jesus to fit every cause and ideology. Most of the millions of Jesus’ that are proclaimed by politicians and activists are simply reflections of their preachers – and not the way it should be. But, when it all comes down to it, when life takes a turn for the absolute worst – which it always seems to do – none of those Jesus’ will save; not the Jesus of radical equality and tolerance, not the Jesus of universalized religion, and not the Jesus who simply says nothing.

We often fall into the same path as the Disciples in our text. I’ve said it before, and you don’t need me to say it again, but no one makes it through life unscathed. The fact is, life is hard. Sometimes it feels like living is the worst of all possible options. Whether it’s our health going down the tubes, our spiritual life feeling hollow, and even the rent on land going up – life is hard. Maybe the harder pill to swallow is that, like the storm in our text, sometimes God in His wisdom allows these things to befall us – but not without reason. And, not outside His control. Sometimes God allows bad things to happen to teach us to rely on Him, that man does not live by bread alone. But, because the weakness of our flesh, we often fail to receive all things as coming from God’s loving hand. We assume that a good life means God’s happy with us and that suffering must mean He’s angry with us. We don’t always thank Him for the good and when bad happens, we question His care for us. “What sort man is He, anyway?”

Jesus is the man who is God, who has control over wind and wave. He demonstrated that by rebuking the sea in our text, rescuing the Disciples from their fear of death and teaching them that all things are under His control. So, He revealed His glory again. He has command over all things, and knows what best to provide us. Sometimes, this means that He does calm the storms in our lives. Sometimes He does rescue us from danger and harm, illness and anxiety. Sometimes not. But, to bring St. Paul in, “Who [or what] shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”[6]

Why is St. Paul able to speak so confidently, even though he himself suffered so much – including being imprisoned and beheaded for the faith? Because he knows that Christ, the Lord of wind and wave, has calmed the ultimate storm. Apart from Christ we can only be tossed about like a ship on the ocean of sin. But, by Christ, sin and death have been defeated. By His death and resurrection, He rebuked and calmed the claims of sin and death against us. Though in this life we groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies, we know that at His return Christ will put a final and complete end to all suffering and death, and we will inherit eternal gladness with the saints in light.

Just what sort of man is Jesus? He is God. He is in control of all things: sin and death, disease and illness, wind and wave. In His wisdom, He does sometimes permit disaster to befall us – but that does not mean that we are out of His keeping. The disciples feared that was the case. Then Jesus rose and rebuked the wind and sea, and the resulting calm was greater than the raging of the storm. Though in this life we may be tossed about, we know that Jesus has calmed the ultimate storm. At His return, all suffering will cease, and He will fully save. What sort of man is this? The One who reveals His glory by calming the storm, both this time forth and forevermore.


[1] Ps. 107:28-29.

[2] Matt. 8:27.

[3] Matt. 8:16-17.

[4] Matt. 8:18, 23-25.

[5] Matt. 8:26.

[6] Rom. 8:35, 37.