Ask, and You Will Receive

Text: John 16:23-30

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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


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

[2] Jn. 16:26-27.

[3] Lk. 11:11-13.

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

Before Abraham Was, I Am

Text: John 8:42-59

The Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’[1] With these words, we witness a climax of the tension between the Jewish authorities and our Lord. These confrontations seem to increase toward the end of the Gospel as those sinful men sought to silence the Word of God. Indeed, in just a few more chapters, the authorities would make up their mind to put Jesus to the death. But Jesus would not be silenced. Instead, He continued to speak to them the Word of Him who sent Him and to perform miracles, in order that some might be saved. In our text, though, things look dire. Our focus today will be on those words, “Before Abraham was, I am,” – both what they mean, and what they mean for us. Christ, the eternal Son of God – the one who spoke to Abraham and to Moses – is now become flesh to suffer and die.

I.

Our text today takes place in the temple. It would’ve happened shortly after the Feast of Booths, which is in the fall. Jesus had gone up to the temple for the celebration, and when it had ended, He went to the Mount of Olives – but, then He came back. John 8 begins with the account of the woman caught in adultery, and out text flows out of that occasion. Jesus spoke to the mixed crowd – as some of them did believe in Him – mostly concerning their father. The Jews were claiming to Jesus that they were the offspring of Abraham. Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.”[2] By this, Jesus meant they were truly offspring of the devil. For, if they were of Abraham, they would have believed Jesus, as Abraham did.

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”[3] Now, this set them off. Abraham, the great patriarch of their faith – or, so they claimed – died. The prophets also died. How could Jesus possibly say that whoever believes His Word will never die, Jesus Himself being not even fifty? That’s when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” That is, before Abraham was born, before he was brought into existence, Jesus is. The Jews picked up stones to throw at Him because they understood what Jesus meant. Jesus was saying to them, definitively, that He is God. These are the words that were spoken to Moses from the burning bush: “I am who I am… Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’[4]

With these words, Jesus was authoritatively declaring to them just who He was. He is the great I Am. He is the one who spoke with Moses from the burning bush. He is the one proclaimed by the prophets. He is the one who spoke with Abraham. He is the one who existed before all things, and by whom all things were made. With these words, Jesus is saying that He is the eternal and almighty God. There, standing in their presence, was God. And, out of the hardness of their hearts, they picked up stones.

II.

So, what does it mean when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am?” It means that Jesus is the eternal and everlasting God, the one who was before all things and through whom all things have come into being; even Abraham, even us. But, what does this mean for us? It means that all the promises of God are being fulfilled, even in the present age. Jesus is the One who, with the Father and the Spirit, created all things. Yet, He is the one promised to Adam and Eve, who will crush the head of the devil. He is the one promised to Abraham, the offspring by whom all the nations of the world will be blessed. He is the one promised to David, who would sit on the throne forever. He is the one promised through Isaiah, who will rule with justice and equity. He is the one promised to be born of a virgin. These promises are now being fulfilled.

Chiefly, being accomplished now, is the forgiveness of our sins. Christ, the eternal and everlasting God, has become flesh for this purpose – to suffer and die. We should see in this that sin is no laughing matter, no small thing. Our sins hang around our necks like a great weight. Every single sin is another shovel load as we dig ourselves down to hell; and not only us, but the whole world, also. The weight of the world’s sin such that only one sacrifice could take away the guilt – our Lord’s own self-sacrifice. Our sins prompted God to die. Mark well, the seriousness of our transgressions. But, mark as well, the depth of our God’s love for us.

Though He was without sin, though He had kept the Law of God perfectly, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against sin. That cup did not pass from Him; He drank it all. Not as any man did He die, but as both man and God. One person may not die for another; we are all responsible, each for his own sin. But Jesus Christ, man and God, died in place of the whole world. By His death, He secured for the world – for us – the forgiveness of our sins. And, so, this is what it means, “Before Abraham was, I am.” It means that Jesus is the eternal God, the author of all life. He is the eternal God now become flesh, to suffer and die. He is the eternal Word of God become flesh to win for us the forgiveness of our sins. He is the eternal Word of God, come to bring us life through the cross.


[1] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.58

[2] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.41

[3] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.51

[4] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Ex3.14

“(In This Way) God Loved the World”

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

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

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

I.

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

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cantate

https://www.spreaker.com/embed/player/standard?episode_id=8343360&autoplay=false

Text: John 16:5-15

      Jesus said to the Disciples, “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”[1] Jesus was preparing them for His departure and training their hearts to not be fixed on the things of the flesh. Up until this point, they had still been hoping that Christ would not be leaving them. They were still looking for that earthly reign of Jesus. Remember how the mother of two of the Disciples asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hands in His kingdom. Now it is becoming clear that that reality won’t be happening. Instead, Jesus is going to leave them. Our text this week comes before our text last week. Last Sunday we heard that, even though Jesus is going away and His disciples will be filled with sorrow, they will see Him again and their sorrow will to joy.

      This week Jesus tells us why He is leaving and what will happen after. He says in our text, “I am going to Him who sent me;” or, as He said it in chapter 14, “I am going to the Father.”[2] We’ll sing it this way after the sermon, “Now to My Father I depart, from earth to heav’n ascending, and, heavn’ly wisdom to impart, the Holy Spirit sending; In trouble He will comfort you and teach you always to be true and into truth shall guide you.”[3] All of these are nice ways of saying that Jesus is going to die. He will be violently taken away, His life cut off from the world of the living. He will be brutally executed. But, Jesus says, it is good that this is happening. Today we’ll look at two things: First, what Jesus means when He says that it is to our advantage that He goes away and, second, what the Holy Spirit does.

  1.                  

      Let us hear the first verses of our text again, “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”[4] What are these things that Jesus has been telling the Disciples? If we walk backwards through the Last Supper in John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus had told them one of the Twelve will betray Him, specifically Judas. Things are beginning to happen just as the Scriptures said they would. And, just as the Scriptures said, Jesus is going to die. Moreover, after His death the world will hate His Disciples just as they first hated Him. In fact, the hatred of the world for Jesus’ followers will be so strong that the time will come when people will kill Christians, claiming to be truly serving God.

      Upon hearing these things, the Disciples were filled with sorrow – only, not entirely for the right reasons. Looking back, we would say that they definitely should’ve been because we know what Jesus is talking about. But, by their own admission, the Disciples didn’t totally understand what He was saying until after the Resurrection. We actually get some clue of what they were thinking when, after Jesus was raised, He says not to cling to Him in the flesh. They were still looking for an earthly reign of Jesus – and themselves. That’s why sorrow was filling their hearts. No, Jesus says, it’s to your advantage that I go away.

      How? If Jesus’ going away means He is going to die and the world’s going to hate us, how is that good for us? Well, remember that for Jesus, “going to the Father,” is code for dying on the cross. And you know how that is good for us. St. Paul says it like this, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”[5] If Christ had not gone to the Father through His death on the cross, than neither could we rise from the dead. If Christ were not crucified, then there would be no forgiveness of sins and we would be lost to death and the devil forever. But, in fact, He has been raised from dead. Notice, too, how Christ talks about His death; He isn’t fearful, but instead calls it going to His Father. That’s how we should look at our own deaths. When we die we are immediately in the presence and joy of our eternal God and Father.

  1.                  

      Jesus also said to the Disciples that evening, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”[6]  Though the Disciples were filled with sadness, it is good for them (and us) that Jesus does depart. For, if He did not go to the Father through the cross, then we would not have the forgiveness of our sins. That was the first thing from the Gospel we should learn: that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. The second thing we should learn from the text this week is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that if He does go, He will send the Holy Spirit after Him. The confirmation students know what the Holy Spirit’s job is – it’s to make and keep us holy, like we confess in the Third Article. If we wanted to be more precise, we could divide His work into three parts: the Holy Spirit teaches, convicts, and comforts. In a couple weeks we’ll talk about how the Holy Spirit comforts us. Today Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit’s work to convict the world.

      The convicting the world is part of what Jesus calls the Holy Spirit taking what is Jesus’ (the teaching) and declaring it to us, and it’s both Law and Gospel. The Holy Spirit preaches Lutheran sermons, you see. Anyway, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin. What does that mean? Well, have you noticed that the world has no problem calling certain things sins? I mean, like sins against the Second Table. Nobody will argue outright that theft, lying, or murder are wrong. They might quibble about what murder is, but not that it is in principle wrong. But, try telling the world that false belief is a sin. That’s what it means that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin – He shows that it’s not just actions that are sins, but also thoughts, including the idolatry that we all commit when we put ourselves above God and our neighbor.

      That brings us to what it means that the Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness. The world has no problem declaring itself righteous. And sometimes, that’s a temptation we also fall into when we declare that we really good people because we do good works. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to preach the Law and show us that all our good deeds are like a polluted garment, as Isaiah says. As soon as He does that, then the preaching of the Spirit moves from Law to Gospel. He preaches the Law through Scripture and the mouth of pastors to convict the world of sin – that everything we are and do is sin. Then, the Holy Spirit points us to the righteousness that is not our own, to Christ’s righteousness. The Scriptures say that as far as the East is from the West, so far are our sins removed from us. That’s because on the cross Jesus takes our righteousness (or, lack thereof) and He gives us His through Holy Baptism.

      Lastly, Jesus says, the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning judgment, “because the ruler of this world is judged.”[7] First, the Spirit convicts the world of sin, because it doesn’t believe in Jesus. Then, He points it the cross where Jesus dies to become our righteousness, which is the only true righteousness. Last, because Jesus has gone to Father – He has died and been raised from the dead – the devil and the world are defeated. The judgment has been rendered and there will be no appeal. Death and all its powers can no longer appall us. They are defeated, and we are victorious in Christ.

      Jesus says at the end of our text that the Spirit will guide us in all truth by taking what is Jesus’ and declaring it to us. And He’s actually doing that right now. There were two things that we should learn from today’s Gospel. We learned about the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. We also learned how it is good for us to have Jesus to go to the Father. For, by that, He means that He goes to suffer and die on the cross. And because He did do that and rise from the dead, we are forgiven our sins.


     

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn. 16:6–7.

[2] Jn. 16:5; Jn. 14:12.

[3] “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice,” Lutheran Service Book, pg. 556. Stanza 9.

[4] Jn. 16:6–7.

[5] 1 Cor. 15:13–20.

[6] Jn. 16:7–8.

[7] Jn. 16:15.

 

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.

And Dwelt Among Us

Text: John 1:1-14

The Holy Spirit caused John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, to prophesy in Luke 2, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies.” I don’t know if I can really sum up the meaning of Christmas better than that, and that was spoken before Jesus was even born. But today, we remember, celebrate, and confess that Jesus Christ has been born. Today we feast knowing that the Savior has come into the world to rescue us from the ruinous guilt of our sins. We see in the text from John 1, that Jesus Christ is not simply a man, but He is the eternal Word and Son of the Father. Though He existed from all eternity and created all things, today He has taken upon Himself our flesh, to dwell among us with His grace and truth.

I.

St. John starts with the beginning of the Bible as the foundation of his Gospel. We read, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Here, and other places in Scripture, we learn the beginnings of Jesus – there are none. Instead, Jesus is the eternal Word of God, for whom there is no beginning. He has always existed as the Second Person of the Trinity, in perfect unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Though He has no beginning, He Himself is the beginning of all things. Praying in the Garden of Eden, Jesus said, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” We also know His words in the book of Revelation, “I am and the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Everything that now exists, including our own bodies, was created directly through the eternal Word of God and by His hand. There is nothing that now exists that was not made by His work and nothing exists that the Jesus did not make. As it says in Psalm 33, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,” and as our Epistle text from Hebrews 1 states, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Jesus Christ, the eternal Word and Son of the Father, is true God. He existed before all things and all things were created by Him.

II.

The Gospel text continues by stating that in the Word of God, in Jesus, was life. This life within Him was light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overtaken it. We have here a picture of the reality that we live in, a reality being crushed under the weight of sin. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, is Light and Life, but there is also darkness. Darkness, of course, is the absence of light. In the same way, sin is the absence of things pleasing to God. In the beginning God created all things good. He created the earth and all things in it; He created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden. He gave them free will, and they used it against Him. Tempted by the Devil, Adam and Eve doubted God’s Word and rejected Light and Life.

God’s Word says that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The language the Holy Spirit uses says that the darkness tries to grab the light and make it its own, to possess it, and control it. The darkness doesn’t win, but it still tries. Isn’t that the nature of our sin? St. John describes it like this, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” John shows a distinct difference between the true light and everything else. The True Light was coming into the world, the world which He made, and yet it did not know Him. The Light of the World came to His own people, and they did not receive Him; instead, they preferred the darkness to the Light.

It’s easy to point fingers at history, at people who obviously preferred darkness; but you know the cliché – when you point a finger, three point back at you. Every one of us has been corrupted by sin. Every moment of every day it’s hiding in the corner, waiting for us to loosen up to catch us off guard; it’s even at work within our own bodies, driving us to do and think shameful things in pursuit of the desires of the flesh. Our natural inclination as human beings is to put ourselves first. We determine what we want. We determine what is right and wrong. We determine what is true and false, and we determine whether or not our truth applies to anyone outside ourselves. We are like the darkness that tries to overtake the light and claim it as our own. We are sinners and deserve the just rewards of our trespasses.

III.

The Gospel continues, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” On our own, we are nothing but darkness and sin. Jesus is Light and Life; we are not. The text says that the children of God are not those born of blood, nor of the will of flesh or of man, but those who are born by God’s will. St. Peter writes that those who are in Christ have been caused to be born again by the mercy of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He says that those born again are not born of perishable seed, but imperishable, through the “living and abiding word of God.”

The natural person is darkness and doesn’t accept the things of God, but the children of God are made so by His action. As we learn in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” This is where the last verse of the Gospel comes in: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The eternal Word of God became flesh. He did this not by changing from God into man, but by bringing humanity up into Himself, becoming both fully God and fully man. The magnitude of human sin, the painful reality of death and decay, made this the only way. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. He lived among us, fulfilling God’s will perfectly, and then was crucified for our sins.

At His death, darkness and the Devil had one last hurrah, thinking that the darkness had overcome. But it didn’t. Christ burst triumphantly from the grave and now lives forever, having destroyed death itself. And now He dwells among us. Christ, the eternal Word of God, never changes. He never leaves, He never forsakes. Instead, He has come to dwell among us with His grace and truth, His free and plentiful forgiveness. In Him is life, and this life is the light of all mankind. Amen.