A New Creation, at Great Cost

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

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

I.

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

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

II.

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

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

III.

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

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

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


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

The New Testament in His Blood

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

Fear Not, Your King is Coming

Text: Zechariah 9; John 12:12-19

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

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[4] Jn. 12 and Zech. 9.

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

A Christian in Two Kingdoms

Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Bulletin: 2017-11-19 Trinity XXIII – Bulletin

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

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

I.

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

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

III.

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

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


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

[2] Matt. 22:16.

[3] Mt. 22:15-17.

[4] Mt. 22:20-21.

[5] Rom. 13:1.

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

[7] Rom. 13:6.

The Law, and How to Keep It

Text: Matthew 22:34-46

Our Lutheran Book of Concord says this near the end,

The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a particularly brilliant light. It serves the purpose of…properly explaining and understanding the Scriptures…We must guard this distinction with special care, so that these two doctrines may not be mixed with each other…When that happens, Christ’s merit is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and purely.[1]

Today we have another text in which the distinction between the Law and the Gospel brought up and taught to us by our Lord. When questioned by the Pharisees about the Law, Jesus explained the holy and righteous will of God, the actions that all the Commandments are pointed towards: love of God and love of neighbor. As Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”[2] Our Lord went on to explain the Gospel: that He is both the promised Son of David and David’s Lord, his Redeemer.

The thing about the Law and the Gospel is that you can’t have one without the other. These two teachings must remain and be preached in the Church until Christ returns. If you take away the Law, the Gospel gets turned into a new Law. If you take away the Gospel, then you doom people to eternal condemnation. Therefore, our Lord rightly teaches both the Law and the Gospel in this text. Today we confess that in the Law we are taught God’s holy and righteous will and in the Gospel, we are taught what Christ has done for us.

I.

The text this week takes place during Holy Week, around the Tuesday. Sunday was the Triumphal Entry, and much of the first part of the week Jesus spent teaching in the temple. While He was teaching, the challengers just kept coming. First, it was the chief priests with the elders, then the Pharisees. Then came the Sadducees – who don’t believe in the Resurrection. Then came the Pharisees, again, in our text. Their plan? Get Jesus to trip up and incriminate Himself. So, the text begins, “When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?‘”[3]

This was an on-going discussion for the Pharisees. They and their scribes and the rabbis would argue back and forth about which is the greatest commandment. If Jesus said something different than the others generally responded, then they got Him. Jesus won’t be caught in their game. He cuts through the muck and goes right to the heart, as only the author of the Law could. He cites from Deuteronomy 6, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[4] As Jesus said, this is the first Commandment. We are to fear, love and trust in God above all things. But, a second goes with it – again from the Old Testament – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[5]

These two commandments are the sum of the whole Law. In fact, all Scripture is directed to this end: that we love God and love each other. Sounds pretty simple. But, remember, Jesus is preaching the Law here. He’s speaking to the Pharisees, of whom we’ve had examples over the last number of Sundays: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector or the parable about humility from last week. The Pharisees were known and loved for their outward piety. But in their hearts, they did not love their neighbors and, therefore, did not truly love God. And neither do we.

The great commandment is that we love God with all that we have and are, but do we? To use an illustration from Luther, we would rather have a gold coin in our pocket that we could use to feed our appetites than hear the whole and pure Gospel read. God’s holy and righteous will is that we love our neighbor as ourselves, yet so often – for all we care – our neighbor can take a hike. Like the priest and Levite, we pass by while the Samaritan suffers. Even if we don’t pass by physically, we hold both contempt and apathy in our hearts.

II.

The will of God is given to us in the Law: we are to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. This is good, right, and true. Jesus says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” And, I think that’s devastating. Because, the whole of Scripture directs us to those two things, and condemns for our failure to do them. This is what the Law does: it shows us what we are to do, and it condemns us when we don’t. Therefore, the Law must not be preached alone. But, after the Law, the Gospel. This is what Jesus does. He has just taught the right understanding of the Law, which is both good and hard for us to hear. In it we hear what we are supposed to do, but that which we fail to do. What we need now is the Gospel.

Jesus preaches the Gospel here in an odd way, by talking about King David. King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sang Psalm 110, which says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’[6] We know from elsewhere in Scripture that the Messiah would come from the David’s bloodline. This is shown in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. But, here David – and Jesus by citing it – says that not only would the Messiah be his descendent but also his Lord. And, by “Lord,” he also means “Redeemer.” To redeem someone, in the Scriptural understanding, is to buy someone back from something else. In David’s case and ours, Jesus is our Redeemer and Lord, for He has bought us back from sin, death, and the devil.

“Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Jesus is David’s son and Lord, and ours, by purchasing us out of death by His own suffering and death in our place. But, before He died for us, He kept God’s Law for us. First, He did truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Second, He perfectly loved the whole world by dying for the whole world on the cross. By these things Jesus both fulfilled God’s Law in our place, and secured for us the forgiveness of our sins. This is the distinction between the Law and the Gospel: the Law shows us God’s will for us and condemns transgressions against it, the Gospel shows what us Jesus did for us and gives to us.

But, if we cannot do the Law or obtain merit before God by our works, why is the Law still preached? Well, because the Commandments remain holy and righteous and good. They are God’s will for us as Christians. Besides, it is good to not steal or kill or commit adultery. Sometimes we need the reminder. When Jesus was questioned about the Law, He didn’t say we should put it on the shelf and talk about something us. Rather, He taught the Law and then the Gospel. The Gospel is different from the Law in another way, too. The Law doesn’t actually give us the ability to keep it, but the Gospel does. The Gospel doesn’t just tell us we are forgiven, but through being preached it actually does it. The Gospel is the instrument through which the Spirit creates and sustains faith, and through which we are equipped and led to do God’s will, the Commandments.

We won’t keep them perfectly, since we are in the flesh. Now that Christ has atoned for our sins, God our Father no longer looks down at our failures as an angry judge, but, to use Luther again, God looks at us through His fingers. He sees only the righteousness of His own dear Son. For our part, as God’s dear children, we seek to do the will of our Father. The Lutheran Confessions say that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a brilliant light and the way to rightly understand Scripture. In our text, Jesus teaches both the Law and the Gospel. In the Law, He shows that God’s holy will is that we love both Him and our neighbor. In the Gospel, Jesus showed that He is both David’s Son and Lord, who has redeemed us all by His perfect life and death.


 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 552.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 22:40.

[3] Matt. 22:34-36.

[4] Matt. 22:37.

[5] Matt. 22:39.

[6] Ps. 110:1.

This is My Body, This is My Blood

Text: The Sacrament of the Altar

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, tonight we gather again in observance of our Lord’s passion. This past Sunday we celebrated with hymns of victory and praise. We left the sanctuary with palm branches in our hands, symbols of our King’s victory over sin, death, and hell. Tonight, Holy Thursday, marks the night when our Lord was betrayed into the hands of sinful men, an event foretold in Sacred Scripture and necessary for our salvation. Yet, on this night we also celebrate the most holy meal given us to eat. The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Tonight we momentarily continue our Lenten devotion as we meditate on the gift of our Lord’s precious body and blood in His Supper. In this meal we receive the true body and blood of Jesus under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins. As our Savior went willingly to His death, He left us His last will and testament in this Sacrament, desiring that we receive it together until He returns at the end of time.

The Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and the Lord’s Supper are all names for the same meal we confess and celebrate this evening. Already we’ve heard what the Church knows as the Words of Institution. These are the words that Christ spoke as He reclined with His disciples in the Upper Room. It was in the midst of the Passover meal, the meal that Jesus said He earnestly desired to eat before His suffering, that Christ gave us something new. At a certain time He took bread. After He had given thanks, He broke and gave it to the disciples saying, “This is my body which is for you.” In the same way He took cup and, when He had given thanks, gave it to them saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” With these words Christ gives us the Sacrament of the Altar and explains to us what it is, what it gives, and who it is for.

First, what is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is as Jesus says in His own words: His body and His blood. As we learn it from the Small Catechism, “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.” In Holy Communion the very body and blood which were broken and shed for the forgiveness of sins are given to us in the form of bread and wine. Though we see with our eyes only the bread and wine, yet through faith we know that, by the power of His Word, Christ Jesus joins Himself to the elements. As St. Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [communion] in the body of Christ?”

We therefore believe that these words of Christ are plain and clear: “This is My body…This is My blood.” The bread is not just bread, but the real body of Christ. The wine is not just wine, but the real blood of Christ. We are not cannibals. We simply believe in what theologians call the sacramental union, a technical term that basically means: “Jesus is God. He knows how to do things I don’t understand. He says the bread is His body and the wine, His blood. Therefore, it is.” We believe that the Words of Institution mean exactly what they say, such that even a child can read and understand them and confess that when Christ says “is,” He means it.

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In the Lord’s Supper we receive in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is the same body and blood that was bruised, broken, and shed on the cross, and which rose from the dead to be seated at the right hand of God the Father. Christ gives this meal to us freely; but for what purpose? Jesus said so in the words we heard at the beginning of the sermon, “Given for you…shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” If someone asked you to give them the Christian faith in a nutshell, what would you say? Probably the best answer is that it’s about the reconciliation between God and sinners through Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins. Christianity’s all about the forgiveness of sins. What do we receive in the Lord’s Supper? The forgiveness of sins.

We believe that we receive our Lord’s body and blood in His Supper for the express purpose of receiving forgiveness. This is not a special forgiveness, mind you. You are not receiving a different forgiveness than you received in Baptism or through the preaching of the Gospel or through Holy Absolution. You are, though, receiving it in an especially neat way, though. Christ, through His Word, gives into your mouth His very body and blood to bring to you the forgiveness He won for you on the cross. In the Supper He is intimately joined to you, and you to Him.

There are other benefits that we receive from the Lord’s Supper, though the most important benefit remains the forgiveness of sins. Along with it we receive eternal life and salvation. Where there is forgiveness of sins death no longer reigns, hence eternal life and salvation in Christ. We also receive in the Sacrament the strengthening of our faith in Christ, which leads us to also love God and our neighbor. Lastly, by communing together, there is also a public demonstration of our unity in faith. St. Paul writes, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Likewise, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

III.  

We believe from our Lord’s Words of Institution that what we receive in His Supper is not just bread and wine, but also His true body and blood, broken and shed for us. In the Holy Sacrament Christ gives us these gifts for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith. We’ve now heard what the Lord’s Supper is and what it’s for, but now we must ask who is it for? Let us hear the words we’ve learned from the Small Catechism. “Fasting and bodily preparation are, indeed, fine outward training. But a person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given … and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” What does that mean? The Lord’s Supper was instituted for the sake of poor sinners like us. In the Sacrament Christ offers peace and pardon in the forgiveness of sins, and He invites to His table those who believe His Words; namely, that the Supper is His true body and blood, not symbolically but sacramentally, given for the forgiveness of sins.

Our individual beliefs do not make it the Lord’s Supper, but the power of Christ’s Word alone does. Neither do we receive the benefits of the Sacrament just by doing the motions, as if a ritual could merit us salvation. Rather, the power of the Sacrament lies in Christ’s Word and its benefits are received only by those who believe what Christ says about it and desire what Christ gives in it. Those who do not believe Christ’s Words or doubt them should not receive the Lord’s Supper. For, St. Paul writes, “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

In the Lord’s Supper we receive a visible, tangible gift of God and the assurance that Christ is with us, always at work forgiving our sins. Jesus gave us many promises in His ministry, “I am with you always; I will never leave you nor forsake you; Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I; This is My Body, This is My blood for the forgiveness of sins.” In His Supper Christ is with us in a real, bodily way. In the feast of His body and blood He unites Himself to us for the forgiveness of our sins. He makes His home in us, strengthening the faith that was created through the preaching of the Gospel and washing of Holy Baptism. His presence leads us to love and serve God and our neighbor. In His Supper Christ gives us exactly what He says: His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. God grant that this meal would be preserved among through all time until we feast with all the saints at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which will have no end.

 

Hosanna to the Lord, for He Fulfills God’s Word!

Text: John 12:12-19

As we’ve been getting closer and closer to Easter this year, I’ve had this weird urge to watch the old Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments. I suppose it’s not actually that odd. It probably springs from the years of my childhood when it was broadcast on national television somewhere around Holy Week, which it still is, on ABC. What interests me is that it’s not an Easter movie. It’s about the Passover, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. The name Jesus isn’t mentioned in it at all. And yet, through the eyes of Scripture, it definitely is an appropriate film for this time of the Church year.

It feels like we just heard the Triumphal Entry, and that’s because we have. The lectionary also places the Triumphal Entry on the First Sunday in Advent, where we hear it to prepare for our Lord’s second coming. Today we hear the text again as we remember and confess our Lord’s Passion. The Triumphal Entry marks the final week of Jesus’ life. Today we’ll see that Jesus, our humble king, rides on to the cross in fulfillment of the Scriptures and for our salvation.

But, like I’ve said, I’ve had this weird urge to watch The Ten Commandments. I’ve also been listening to a heavy metal concept album about the Exodus. Maybe it’s because the daily lectionary, which provides Scripture readings for every day of the year (you can find it beginning on pg. 299 in our hymnal), has been walking us through the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and now Moses. This week we’ll hear about the plagues, the Passover, and the crossing of the Red Sea. Now, what I’m getting at with Charleton Heston, with concept albums and the lectionary, is that there’s a connection the Scriptures make that we sometimes forget. In chapter 12, St. John is inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell us that we’ve now entered the week leading up to the Passover. The Passover and Jesus’ Passion are connected; it’s not a coincidence.

The Holy Spirit mentions the Jewish festival three times in John’s Gospel, each time taking something connected to the Passover and doing something new. The first time was at the wedding in Cana. The six stone jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons of water that Jesus turned into wine – those were for washing in preparation for the Passover. The Passover is mentioned again at the feeding of the 5,000. In the wilderness Jesus fed the multitudes, with 5 loaves and 2 fish. The manna and quail were an Old Testament preview. The third time the Passover is mentioned in John’s Gospel is as we enter the week of our Lord’s passion. It’s not a coincidence.

The Passover was given by the Lord in Exodus 12 as meal to be eaten in preparation for the Exodus. The people were to take an unblemished male lamb and slaughter it at twilight. Then they were to take some of its blood and put it on their doorposts. The blood would be sign for them. When the Lord came through to strike down the firstborn of Egypt, He would see the blood on the crossbars of their doors and pass over them. Through the blood, death passed over. That’s not a coincidence.

The Passover pointed ahead to and is now fulfilled in the Passion, the suffering, of our Savior. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we stood in the bonds of slavery. Only our slavery was to sin, to death and the powers of hell. From of old, God has heard the cries of His people. Every tear of distress, every cry of anguish and grief, every prayer of sorrow prayed by loved ones left behind, has entered God’s ears. In the Garden of Eden He promised that He would put an end to death and the devil, and it happens this week. We remember and confess this week the most holy and sacred week in the history of the universe, where the Son of God dies for us. His arms were outstretched on the cross so that His blood now marks our doors. Through His suffering and passion, we are rescued from slavery to sin as death passes over us.

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The Evangelist writes,

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written.

As I’ve already said, it’s not a coincidence that the Passover and the Passion fall during the same time. We also just heard that Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it had been written in the Scriptures. This another connection that we might not always notice. Everything Jesus did was to fulfill the Scriptures, and there’s nothing in them that isn’t connected to Jesus.

Since we’re in the year 2016, the events of Holy Week and Easter have happened already. We aren’t reliving or re-enacting them. Rather, we’re looking backwards through the resurrection to learn and confess all the things Christ did for us. That’s what Jesus taught the Disciples to do as well. Remember after the Resurrection, how Jesus appeared to them and taught them to understand the Scriptures? He opened their minds to see that throughout the Law and the Prophets He is talked about, particularly how it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise on the third day. St. John writes in our text, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him.”

What was written in the Old Testament about Jesus at the Triumphal Entry? Look at verse 15, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” The Holy Spirit applies the words of the prophet Zechariah to this event, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion…behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation…because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free.” The Holy Spirit is preaching that Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem is the king of glory entering His holy temple. But rather than a building, Jesus’ temple is the cross. The cross is where He offered up His own body and blood as the sacrifice for all the sins of the world. This is where all the Scriptures find their meaning: the bruised and broken body of God dying on the cross for the sins His creation committed against Him.

So, let us return to these comforting words this Palm Sunday, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming.” Fear not, daughter of Zion. That’s the Church. The Lord is speaking to you, now, “Fear not.” You who wait anxiously for the redemption of your souls and the resurrection of the body; You who patiently bear the reproach of the world for the sake of Christ’s holy name; You who suffer illness, trial, temptation, sorrow, and grief: Fear not. Why? Because your King is coming. And, not like the kings of the world does Jesus come, but as the humble Son of God riding on a donkey. He rides on in majesty, in lowly pomp, in fulfillment of the Passover and the completion of God’s promises, to die for your salvation.

I invite you turn to the Lenten hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth.” (438) Stanza 2 speaks about our true Passover lamb. “This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great friend, the Lamb of God, our Savior, whom God the Father chose to send to gain for us His favor. ‘Go forth, My Son,’ the Father said, ‘And free My children from their dread of guilt and condemnation. The wrath and stripes are hard to bear, but by Your passion they will share the fruit of Your salvation.’” Here we sing of Christ fulfilling the Scriptures for our salvation. He is the true Lamb of God, whose blood takes away the sin of the world. He was sent by God the Father, in keeping with His promises through the prophets, to gain for us salvation. Though the wrath and stripes of God’s punishment are hard to bear, Christ bore them willingly. For, by His passion, we are made to share the fruits of His salvation: the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.

This week we remember and confess the events of Christ’s holy passion. We call it His passion because He allowed all the things that happen this week, to happen out of His great love for us. On Thursday we’ll celebrate the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, where at His last supper Christ gave us the feast of His body and blood, through which He gives us the forgiveness that He won on the cross. On Friday we’ll gather in observance of His suffering and death for us. Then, on Sunday we will celebrate with all the faithful His triumphant resurrection, where death’s reign is ended as it is swallowed up in victory.