The King of Glory Enters In

Text: Psalm 24

Bulletin: 2017-12-06 Advent Midweek I

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

I.

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

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

II.

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

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

III.

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

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


 

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

[2] Ps. 24:3.

[3] Ps. 24:4-5.

[4] Ps. 24:7.

The Righteous Branch

Text: Jeremiah 23:5-8

Bulletin: 2017-12-03 First Sunday in Advent

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

The Lord spoke through Jeremiah,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Matt. 12:20.

The One to Come

Text: Matthew 11:2-6

The Voight-Kampff machine is a sophisticated piece of equipment. It’s a very advanced form of lie detector machine that measures contractions of the iris muscles in your eyes in response to carefully worded questions and statements. It also has a set of bellows which are sensitive to the invisible  pheromones released from the human body. Like I said, a sophisticated machine. It needs to be, because bounty hunters need to be able to discern whether the subject in front of them is an android or a human. The machine is used in the 1968 book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? You might know the film adaptation, Blade Runner.

Rick Deckard is the main character in both. His task as a blade runner is to seek out and “retire” escaped androids. The literature plays on many themes, not the least of which is what makes one human. In the movie the androids are shown to think and dream, to have emotions. In our Gospel text, think of John the Baptist as a blade runner. His job was to point to and show the people the true Messiah, Jesus. The Voight-Kampff machine in Blade Runner is like Jesus’ miracles. The miracles show that Jesus is the One to Come, but there is some confusion. In the movie, the machine can sometimes give false positives – such as, showing an android to be a human. In our text, John wondered whether his machines was giving a false positive, so he sent his disciples to Jesus. When they met Him, Jesus showed through His Word and deeds that He is the One to Come. Blessed is the one who is not offended by Him.

  1.  

The text from St. Matthew’s gospel begins, “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ The scene begins with John in prison. By this point he had been there about a year already. In the Gospels, John is active before Christ’s ministry. His job was to preach about the coming Messiah and call people to repentance in preparation for His arrival. The time came for Jesus to be baptized by John. He had no need of forgiveness, but His baptism for repentance was necessary to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus said. Immediately at His Baptism, the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove while the Father spoke from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

It was revealed to John there just whose way He was preparing – Jesus’. Jesus is the One to Come, who is now here. But John’s in prison now. He’s there for his faithful witness to God’s Word. He rightfully called Herod to repent for his adulterous marriage and was thrown in the king’s dungeon. Now, John is starting to creak. The old house isn’t falling down by any means, but when the wind blows hard enough, it moans a little. Most commentators on this text are very pious and say that it wasn’t John who doubted Jesus, but his disciples. I don’t really think it makes a difference. John sent his disciples with a simple task: find out whether Jesus is the “one who is to come,” (the Messiah), “or should we look for another?”

I think it doesn’t make a difference whether it was John himself who wanted to know, or his disciples, because the reason is the same. Jesus did not conform exactly to their idea of the Messiah. Hear some examples of John’s sermons: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.” “His winnowing fork is in his hand…the chaff he will burn with fire.” See, they were expecting the Messiah to come and deal with sin immediately. He was supposed to come and burn away the dross, to put away the evildoer and cast him into eternal fire. John saw the dove and heard the voice at Jesus’ Baptism, but maybe the machine was broken. Maybe the Voight-Kampff machine identifying Jesus was throwing a false positive.

  1.   

If John was a blade runner, whose task is to seek the Messiah, then we are blade runners, too. And, just like John the Baptist and his disciples, we sometimes get the wrong idea. See, we all want the perfect lives. Who came blame us? All we ask for is health, a comfortable amount of money, a warm home, a stable family life…we look for these things and expect them from the Messiah, but we don’t always get them. We get disheartened and disillusioned. Sometimes, like John, we’re not sure either.

But, what does Jesus do when the disciples ask Him? He doesn’t rebuke them. Instead, He says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. Jesus does not send them away in anger or despise them, but He them tells to convey what they’ve heard and seen. They’ve heard Jesus preach that the kingdom of God has now drawn near to them. They’ve heard Him say that He has come to bring the free forgiveness of sins. We learn in the Catechism that where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. In the presence of Jesus, not only are sins forgiven, but the blind now see, the lame now walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf can hear, the dead are raised and the poor in spirit receive Good News.

These things are all actions which were prophesied by the Lord through Isaiah many centuries before. Jesus is the One to Come. Jesus shows this not just in words, but in deeds which only the Lord God Himself could do. The man who was born blind and yet healed by Jesus put it this way, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Jesus showed Himself to be a tree that is known by its fruits. He is the One to Come, whom God’s people had long awaited, and now He’s here. Only, He is not here primarily to judge and destroy. There will be a time for that, but not yet. In our text Jesus has come to bring forgiveness, to release those held captive in the bondage of sin by healing their diseases and infirmities. Their healing is a small picture of the healing which we will all receive in the resurrection of the dead.

III.   

Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” In Blade Runner they have a machine called the Voight-Kampff machine, which is used to determine whether the subject in front of them is an android or not. John and his disciples had a machine that they were using to determine whether Jesus was the one to come; They had the miracles. But they wondered whether their machine was giving them a false positive. In the movie, one android is able to make it through over 100 questions that were designed to tell androids from humans. Maybe John and his followers were mistaken. Jesus had the miracles, but He wasn’t displaying the wrath and fire, the immediate punishment of evil that they were expecting.

Instead, Jesus was forgiving sins and healing. He was showing mercy and preaching the Gospel, not desiring that any should perish, but that all come to repentance and faith. John and his disciples put Jesus into a box, expecting Him to conform to their idea of the Messiah. Jesus said, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” That statement applied to John, but its real focus was the scribes and pharisees. They, likewise, were looking for the Messiah. They saw Jesus and the signs that He did, and yet they rejected Him. John did not, despite his struggles. Jesus speaks to us as well.

We can all get behind Jesus. In hindsight it’s easy to see that Jesus is the Messiah. He heals the sick, makes the deaf to hear, raises the dead, even rising from the dead Himself. He is the One to Come, the Messiah who brings with Him the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the healing of all ailments in the resurrection. But, beyond that we also put Jesus into a box. We compartmentalize Him into just a section of our lives and ignore the demands He makes on our entire being. Jesus calls us to a life of repentance, not just Sunday mornings. He teaches us to cast out the old leaven of sin, and yet often we aren’t too serious about avoiding sinful behavior. Jesus teaches through the mouth of the Apostle Paul to mark and avoid all false doctrine, and to prize the true teaching above all things, but that’s too much work – and on top of that, it’s often seen as not “nice.”

Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” These words apply to us as well as to John and his disciples. Jesus, however did not rebuke or belittle their question. Rather, Jesus showed through word and work that He is the One to Come. He is God in the flesh, come to release us from the bonds of sin. The title for the Third Sunday in Advent is Gaudete, which means “Rejoice.” This comes from our antiphon, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Therefore, let us rejoice at the coming of the Lord. He has shown through His words and deeds that He is the One to Come, who has come and released us from our sins. When John and his disciples were offended on account of Jesus’ not fitting their ideas, He did not turn them away in anger but showed mercy. In the same way, may He grant us grace not to take offense at Him or His Words by lighting the darkness our hearts with His gracious visitation.

 

The Righteous Branch, Advent Midweek I

Text: Jeremiah 23:(1-4) 5-8

The Lord declared through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” These words are quite similar in tone to the words of John the Baptist, and they should remind us of him. John the Baptist, you remember, came ahead of Jesus to prepare the way of the Lord. Jeremiah also came preparing the way of the Lord, though in a different way. Jeremiah came as the weeping prophet, whose ministry contained harsh words of judgment against Judah and the resulting destruction coming its way. And yet, with these words of judgment came also words of promise. In our text today Jeremiah proclaims the coming of the Righteous Branch, the shoot from Jesse’s stump. The days are coming, says our text, and are yet here, when Jesus the Righteous Branch will cause His people to dwell securely.

I.

For us to understand the idea of the Righteous Branch, this king who will come and will deal wisely and execute justice, it’s important to understand the context of our reading. Jeremiah’s ministry lasted a long time – from the reign of the good king Josiah until fall of Jerusalem – over 40 years. His time was a very political time. Assyria in the north, had control of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and was declining. In its place Babylon was rising. Now, throw Egypt into the fray as a world power and it all became one big powder keg. Jerusalem, and the kingdom of Judah, sat in the middle of it all – quite literally, geographically speaking. And they got nervous. Everyone had different opinions about what to do. In all of it, the Lord consistently and faithfully sent them prophets to show His people the way. These prophets told the people God’s will, but they ignored it. Everyone had an idea about what to do, and none of them were God’s.

This refusal to submit to God’s will resulted in a very high turnover of kings. Egypt would come and displace some, Babylon some others. Thus, in absence of true kings, the nobles of Judah gained much power; but, rather than use it to lead God’s people wisely, they abused it. God had spoken through Jeremiah that Babylon was going to come and destroy Jerusalem – though complete disaster would be averted if they would just listen to the Word. Instead, they allied with Egypt – an alliance that ended poorly. Because of all this the Lord says in the verses leading up to our text,

You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.”

The kings and leaders of God’s people were poor shepherds. They did not listen to God’s Word nor teach the people to. Instead, they substituted their own thoughts and dreams. God would later chastise them for not seeking the council of the Lord. Therefore, He would attend to them for their failure to attend to His people. He will fix it all Himself by gathering His flock from all the countries where they have been driven and by placing shepherds over them who will care for them. Under His care they will fear no more, nor be dismayed, and none shall be missing.

II.    

This is how the Lord will fix everything. He says,

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

This is what the Lord says. He will deal with the poor shepherds of Israel and care for His people by fulfilling the promise He made to David in 2 Samuel 7, that an offspring from David’s line will sit on the throne of the Lord forever. The “forever” part rules out Solomon as the fulfillment of that promise and makes it squarely about the Messiah. The Lord says the days of the Messiah are coming. He will reign as king and deal wisely with the people. The Scripture teaches that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That is how this Righteous Branch will rule and reign, through the wisdom of God’s Word. The result will be that, in His days, Judah and Israel (the whole Church) will dwell securely and call upon the Lord, who is our Righteousness.

The Lord speaks again of the coming Righteous Branch. He says,

Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”

The days are coming, says the Lord, when His people will no longer look to the past for the mighty deeds of the Lord, for they shall forever be in His presence.

It will not be like how God’s people would celebrate the Passover to remember His mighty deeds of old. Instead, this passage brings us to the end of Scripture, to the new heaven and new earth, where at His return Christ recreates all things as they should be. We get a picture of this in Eden, but even that doesn’t compare to the glory that awaits us in the presence of Christ. This Advent, let us then fix our eyes on Jesus our Righteous Branch. We remember and celebrate His incarnation in the manger, but we pray for His glorious return, where He will gather all His people and cause them to dwell in security and joy forever.

 

The Perpetual Throne

Text: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

There used to be a show on ABC called Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Loving neighbors nominate a friend or family member who has fallen on hard times and needs work done on their house to receive a free home makeover. The producers of the show treat the chosen family to a vacation while local contractors go to work remaking the house in a week while the occupants are busy. If the house is deemed beyond repair, they just demolish it and build a new one. This, of course, is all filmed for our enjoyment.

In the text from 2 Samuel 7 we heard, “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.’”[1] King David basically wants to do an extreme makeover for the Lord’s house. He sees that he lives in this nice strong house made of cedar. Him being king, it’s probably extravagant. David lives in a house, but he sees that the ark of God remains in a tent. He decides he’s going to do something for God, then. God responds through the prophet Nathan that He has something else in mind: God is going to build a David a house, one which will last forever. In this house of David, the throne will be established forever. This is no mere mortal house, rather, it is the house that Christ established, and it is His throne that lasts into eternity.

I.

Certainly David’s desire is pious. It is well-intentioned and comes from the heart. It maybe is a desire that many of us can identify with. A number of us here can remember the old sanctuary and the building of the one we are currently in now. We call the church the “house of God,” so that’s something else we have in common with David. Even Nathan the prophet said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”[2] Now that the Ark of the Covenant had been brought to Jerusalem, a feat in itself since David had to defeat the people who already lived there, Israel’s enemies have been defeated and David received rest from the Lord.

The Biblical witness of David is that he is a man of war, a man with blood on his hands. But, the Lord is with him. God Himself testifies that it was He who went before David cutting off all his enemies, just as God led the people in their wandering and their conquests. But now, that time has passed. At least for a little while, there will be rest in the land as God has granted it. In this rest David happens upon the fact that he is living comfortably in a palace, while God sits in a tent. So, he figures, if he can build a house for himself, he might as well have a go at making one for God, too. That sounds pretty good, at least initially. Nathan speaks for himself that it’s a good idea and encourages David to go ahead.

That night the Word of the Lord came to Nathan with a message for David. This message was not exactly what David wanted to hear, but it was both bad and good as we shall see. The message begins, “Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling.”[3] The Lord asks a powerful rhetorical question of David: would you build me a house to dwell in? David, the aforementioned man of blood, later testified shortly before his death, “I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.’”[4]

God continues His Word: “In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’”[5] He says that from the day He brought up the people of Israel from Egypt up until now, He has not lived in a house. Neither did He speak a single word with any of the judges about building a house for Him. Even if He did ask for a house, how could man build a house for God – He whose throne is the heavens and footstool, the earth?

II.

No, God did not need David to build a house for Him. Instead, He’s going to do something for David. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name…And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more…I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”[6]

The Lord says, thanks but no thanks. Instead of David making Him a house, God will make David a house, just as He took him from the pastures, made him prince, and cut off all his enemies before him. All these were for the benefit of the children of Israel. Now, God is going to build a house for David, for the faithful children of Israel, and for us as well. Only, this isn’t a house that decays and eventually falls; this isn’t a house made by human hands. Instead, it is a house that lasts forever with a throne that lasts into eternity. As God says in verse 16, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”[7]

In the Gospel text Gabriel testified to Mary what Scripture had long promised, “[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[8] This is the truth that David understood as well, as we can read in his response later in 2 Samuel 7. The house that God was referring to is not one built by human hands, though the kingdom and temple of Solomon would serve to foreshadow the coming of Christ. The house that God means is one that lasts forever, where people have a place to find security and peace. The house that God means is His house, the Church.

We do not mean a house that God Almighty physically rests in, but it is the place where He dwells and makes Himself available to His people. We are human and so God has provided a place where we can go to receive His gifts and be in His presence. The throne that lasts forever is as the Gospel text says – Jesus’. This throne He reigned on from the beginning, and yet He stepped down from it to be born of the Virgin Mary, the event we will shortly be celebrating. He set aside His throne and glory to take our flesh upon Himself. He became Immanuel, God with us. In His body He carried our sin and reconciled us to God by destroying the powers of sin and death through His death on the cross.

After His death He no longer restrained His glory, instead He proclaimed to the souls in prison that death had no power over Him. He appeared to hundreds of people, healing their diseases, and then He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The right of the Father is not some location separated from us in time and space, but rather, it extends everywhere and lasts forever. Where can we see it? Here. Here in the Church is where Christ dwells and is among us. Here He comes to us with His Word and Sacraments to forgive us, to strengthen us, to renew us, and to reassure us that He is coming again. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 2 Sam. 7:1–2.

[2] 2 Sam. 7:3.

[3] 2 Sam. 7:5-6.

[4] 1 Chron. 28:2-3.

[5] 2 Sam. 7:6–7.

[6] 2 Sam. 7:8–11.

[7] 2 Sam. 7:16.

[8] Lk. 1:32–33.

To Proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor

Text: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

During the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry He went all around Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and being praised by all. Then He went to Nazareth, His hometown. It was His custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. There He stood up to read and the scroll of Isaiah was handed to Him. He unrolled it and it opened to our text this evening. He rolled the scroll back up after He had finished reading and said to all the people staring at Him, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[1] The account ends with Jesus’ own people driving Him up a hill to try and throw Him down the cliff.

Jesus claims our text this evening as His own. The work of God’s servant in the text is Jesus’ own. Christ did not come to be a new lawgiver, He did not come as an example, nor did He come to make us try harder. Instead, Jesus Christ, the anointed Messiah, came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and to release the captives of the law of sin. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor and to set the prisoners free.

I.

The text begins, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”[2] This reading comes from near the end of Isaiah. The Fall of Jerusalem has been prophesied, as has the return from exile. The tone then shifts to the coming Day of Judgment. God laments, “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually.”[3] Thus, wrath is coming for those who reject God’s favor.

But that is not our text tonight. Here the Lord speaks of salvation, of His work on behalf of sinners. Jesus says that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him and He has been anointed to bring good news to the poor. Many at Christ’s time were looking for a Messiah to come who would be an earthly ruler. They expected a king that would throw off the Romans and establish a new kingdom. I guess the flip side is that, in order to establish a kingdom, rules and taxes need to be imposed to make things work. That’s not what Christ came to do. He did not come to impose, but to bring cheer to the poor and afflicted with His good news.

The Spirit of the Lord was upon Christ to come and bind up the brokenhearted. Christ came to bind up those have been broken by life, those who have been tossed to and fro by the waves of the world. He came to save those who sought after the world, its riches and pleasures, only to end up in the gutter brokenhearted. But this brokenhearted means something else as well. It means those who have been broken by God’s Law. It means those who have tried and tried to be a good person, and yet have found themselves lacking. Christ came for those who hear God’s Word and wonder how God could demand things we cannot do, and then punish those who don’t do them. That’s brokenhearted there.

Jesus said that He came to bring good news to the poor and to bind up the brokenhearted. He also came to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of prison to those who are bound. In the Greek text, it says that He came to bring recovery of sight to the blind. Christ came to bring liberty those in the chains of sin and in the prison of death and the devil. These are also the chains worn by the brokenhearted, the chains of the Law. Prior to faith in the Messiah the Law hangs around all our necks demanding that we do work to earn the forgiveness of sins and to inherit eternal life. Christ came to set us free from that as well.

II.

The text proclaims that the Messiah came to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken and to proclaim liberty to the captives. The question is, how? How do all these things take place? How are ashes exchanged for a beautiful headdress, or mourning for the oil of gladness? I think you know the answer. These things happen through Jesus Christ, through His saving work on our behalf. It was for us that He created the earth. It was for us it was promised to Adam and Eve that one would come to destroy the power of the devil. For us, Jesus took upon flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.

Jesus is the Son of God incarnate. He is both perfectly God and perfectly man. He fulfilled the Law perfectly, and then suffered and died for you. He took your sin, and the sin of the whole world upon Himself. God Himself suffered brutally so that your sins could be forgiven. And so they are. This is not because we are especially good, and it certainly isn’t because it’s what we deserve, but it’s because God is love. In love Jesus Christ was born to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the forgiveness of our sins. In love, He has clothed us in His own robe of righteousness, purchased by His own death on the cross. Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk. 4:21.

[2] Is. 61:1–2.

[3] Is. 65:1–3.

The Fortunes of Zion

Text: Psalm 126

I love the opening words of Psalm 126, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.”[1] The psalmist recounts the astounding grace of the Lord God who abundantly cared for His people, and in the time of the psalmist, returned the people from their captivity in Babylon. His favor was so great, that His people lived like those in a dream. In the movie, A Christmas Story, Ralphie Parker dreams about one thing: A Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. This BB gun is the one thing that he wanted for Christmas. Throughout the movie, this is the focus of his thoughts and dreams. Even at the end, the adult Ralphie reflects back on his receiving the gun as the best present ever. When he got it, it was like he was dreaming.

Throughout the Old Testament God worked in and around His people for their benefit. When they rebelled against Him, He disciplined them. He continually blessed and watched over them. Even in their exile, He did not abandon them, but instead restored their fortune by returning them to the Promised Land. His action was such that the surrounding nations took notice that the Lord had done great things for His people. As this was the case for the Israelites returning from exile, so the Lord has restored our fortunes as well. We, who once were dead in our sins and captive to the powers of the devil, have been restored by Jesus Christ. By His death on the cross He has restored our fortunes, and He will restore them again.

I.

The text begins, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.”[2] Here the psalm writer recounts the great deeds of God on behalf of the children of Israel. Most commentaries say that the specific application of this psalm is in response to the return from Babylon. The nation of Israel had a long and sordid history in regards to their relationship with God; it often was an unfaithful relationship on their part. This lead to the destruction of part of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.

The return may have been the freshest work of God in mind, but it was by no means the only work. Israel entered the Promised Land in 1406 B.C., but even 700 years before that God had promised the Messiah to Abraham, saying nothing of God’s grace and forgiveness shown to Noah, Adam, and others. Instead, though God’s people were always in a state of flux, God’s love remained constant.

There’s a situation that comes to mind as an example. For a long time after Israel entered the Promised Land they were ruled by the Judges. They did not have a king. Then, in 1 Samuel 8, that changed. Seeing that the prophet Samuel was growing old, Israel demanded a king so that they could be like the other nations. God tells Samuel that, from the day He brought them out of Egypt, His people have done nothing but forsake Him and serve other gods; and now, even more, they are rejecting Him again. It’s sort of like how Ralphie got his Red Ryder BB gun. Israel got their gun, but then they actually did shoot their eye out. Because of this, God’s people were carried into exile. Jerusalem was destroyed. But that didn’t last forever. God soon acted through Cyrus, king of Persia (538 B.C.), to return His people to the land and restore their fortune.

As God restored the fortunes of Israel when He returned them from exile, His Holy Israel – us – has been restored from our captivity to sin. This has been accomplished completely through the work of Jesus Christ, without anything on our part. Like Israel in captivity and powerless against Babylon, we were once all enslaved and in the chains of sin, death, and the devil. Some professors say that once the people were in exile, Babylon was relatively unconcerned with them. But our captivity to sin was much different. St. Peter said that the Devil prowls around like roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.[3] He will never be satisfied until he has murdered and led away from Christ every single person on earth. His roaring and battle against us is such, that as St. Paul said, “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”[4] Even greater than the return of the people to Israel, is the truth that, by His death and resurrection, Jesus has rescued us from the guilt of our sin, from the eternal death that we deserve.

II.

Psalm 126 continues, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”[5] The psalm shifts gears from recounting God’s grace that has made His people dreamers and how His work has been made known among the nations, to a prayer and an assurance of things to come.

The joyous return from captivity, both for the children of Israel and for us, is short lived. We’ve heard the last couple weeks about how mankind is like grass that blows away. The return to the Promised Land soon turned from joy to weeping. When Israel was carried away, different people then filled the land. And when they returned, they were met with contempt. That was the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. They met opposition not only in trying to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem’s walls, but people tried to wipe them out entirely.

Though we have been rescued from our enslavement to sin through the work of Jesus Christ, which we receive through the gift of faith, we are also faced with the harsh realities of life. We all know that outside these walls, and sometimes within, life is not easy. The psalm talks about sowing in tears. It’s like when a farmer sows his seed and for a while is in the lurch about what’s going to happen: whether it’s going to be a good crop, whether prices will hold, whether his family’s going to hold. That can lead to much distress. Even in our personal lives it seems that we often sow in tears. Even in the church. It feels like we work and work, and we toil and labor, and it looks like nothing is coming up.

Therefore we pray that the Lord would restore us like streams in the Negeb. The Negeb is an arid region in the southern part of Israel that gets less than 8 inches of rain a year, almost none from April to October. Then the winter comes and it brings with it what seems to be a torrent of rain and the parched soil just can’t hold it. Water pours out everywhere, becoming a life-giving flood in the wilderness.

In Christ, our fortunes have been restored. We have been saved through the life-giving flood of Holy Baptism, having received the gift of faith through the washing of the water and the Word. In verse 4, the psalmist prayed that the Lord would restore His people’s fortunes, yet again, through His overflowing love. The psalmist knows that God is true to His character – He is steadfast in love and abounding in mercy. Therefore, the text continues in confidence: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”[6]

As Jesus was in the upper room with His disciples on the night He was betrayed, He taught them: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”[7] How well we know that to be true. Jesus promised that the world will hate us, and that we will weep and lament. It so often seems that life is just a pointless endeavor, it’s nothing but stress and turmoil. But, Jesus says, though you have sorrow now, you will see Him again. When you see Him again, your heart will rejoice, and nothing can take that from you.

Though Israel continually rejected God, still He persisted in love towards them. He rescued His faithful children and restored their fortunes by returning them from captivity. Though we once were in slavery to sin, and though we are beset by it on all sides, Jesus Christ has restored us. Through His death, He has cancelled the hold that sin had over you. In this life, even though we are made new in Christ, we will have sorrow. But the truth is: Christ has not abandoned us. He is with you always and in every situation. He has promised that He will return, and all sorrow will be no more. For at His coming we will rejoice and no one can take that away from us.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps. 126:1.

[2] Ps. 126:1–3.

[3] 1 Peter 5:8.

[4] Rom. 7:23.

[5] Ps. 126:4–6.

[6] Ps. 126:5-6.

[7] Jn. 16:20, 22.