This Mind Among Yourselves

Text: Philippians 2:5-11

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

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

I.

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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


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

[2] Phil. 2:5-8.

[3] Gal. 3:13.

[4] Phil. 1:6.

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

Text: The Second Article

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

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

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

I.

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

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

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

II.

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

“Do Not Hold Back a Word”

2017/03/22 Lent Midweek III – Manuscript

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

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

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

I.

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

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

II.

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

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

III.

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

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

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

2017-03-22 Lent Midweek III Bulletin

Wednesday After Oculi, Third Sunday in Lent

March 22nd, 2017

Order of Service: Evening Prayer, Hymnal Supplement, pg. 17

Psalm 4 (antiphon v. 8)

Readings: Jeremiah 26:1-15

Hymn: LSB 589, “Speak, O Lord, Your Servant Listens”

Sermon

Prayer

Collect of the Day

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from Your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Your Word; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Jeremiah 26:1-15 (English Standard Version)

In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the LORD: 2 “Thus says the LORD: Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. 3 It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds. 4 You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, 5 and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.’ ”

7 The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. 8 And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! 9 Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.

10 When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the LORD and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the LORD. 11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

12 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13 Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14 But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

 

“(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.

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.

Judica, the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Text: Commandments VIII-X

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, St. Paul wrote to the Romans,

If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

St. Paul says that though the Law of God is good and wise – It is His holy, righteous, and perfect will – since the Fall into sin it has served another purpose: the shows us our sin. It shows us God’s holy and good will, the things that God desires us to do, but in doing so it also reveals just how godly we really are.

So far we’ve looked at the first seven Commandments. Last week we looked at the Fifth through Seventh, and some of us may have thought that, okay, now here were some things we can do. Don’t murder, don’t cheat on your spouse, and don’t steal. Those seem pretty reasonable. Of course, we know from the Sermon on the Mount that the Commandments don’t just regulate outward physical actions, that was the error of the Jews, but the very inward thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Even if we didn’t have Jesus to teach us that, we would still learn it from a right understanding of the last three Commandments. These govern not just physical actions, but our thoughts as well. And, by doing so, the final three Commandments turn us back to the First. We are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things so that we then love our neighbors as ourselves.

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At first glance, Commandments 8-10 seem to deal only with outward things. The Eighth Commandment is “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” The Ninth and Tenth Commandment are both “You shall not covet.” The Ninth speaks about coveting our neighbor’s things, the Tenth about people associated with our neighbor, such as his wife or workers. We learn from the Eighth Commandment that we should, first, not bear false witness in the court of law. Neither should we betray our neighbor’s secrets or slander him. We should also not do anything to purposely hurt his reputation, but instead defend him and speak well of him, explaining everything in the kindest way. The Ninth and Tenth Commandments both warn us not to use dishonest means to get our neighbor’s things, which is also the Seventh Commandment – and the Eighth.

An example of that Commandment from Old Testament Israel would be that, because of their hardness of heart, a husband might give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away. This was all legal. But, suppose you were a married man who fancied another’s wife. Now, you wouldn’t stoop to breaking the Sixth Commandment. Instead, you would divorce your wife. Then, you would find a way to make the husband of the wife you fancied dislike his wife. He would divorce her and you would scoop her up. It’d all be legal. Legal, but wrong. This situation might not play out the same today, but you can see how it illustrates the Commandment “Do not covet,” for we are to fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get things which aren’t ours in ways that only appear right.

But, now you see. These Commandments, and all of them, deal not just with external, outward actions, but the lying and scheming hearts that beat within our chests. They reveal that, at the core, our hearts are just plain bad. It says in the Psalms, “The Lord looks down from heaven…to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt.” Jeremiah laments over the condition of the human heart saying, “The heart is deceitful above all things.” Who among us can go a day without lying or without coveting? The Lord teaches us that He provides for all our needs, and yet we doubt and look to all the things other people have. He continually comes to us in His Word and Sacraments to give us the forgiveness of our sins and to reassure us of His grace. He promised that against these things the gates of hell shall not prevail, and yet, we worry about whether we’ll even be here in 5 years.

Dear Christian friends, the Commandments show us not just our failures to live according to God’s will by our actions, but they shine a spotlight on the natural condition of our heart: bad, bad, evil, bad. This is the doctrine of original sin. By nature, our hearts are totally corrupt, devoid of the good things of God and actually turned against Him. St. Augustine wrote that original sin is the lack of original righteousness. That is, Adam and Eve were created with the ability to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, an ability we now lack. It’s the Commandments’ job to show us that. It says in the Smalcald Articles, one of the documents in our Lutheran Book of Concord, that our human nature is so deeply corrupted by original sin that no one can understand it by reason or logic; it must be believed from Scripture. So then, by revealing the natural contents of our hearts, Commandments 8-10 form a wreath bringing us back the First Commandment, or perhaps at this moment, a noose around our necks.

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St. Paul continued in his letter to the Romans, “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin…I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh…I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” With Paul, we agree that God’s Law is good and right, and we ought to do the things it says. Hymn 579 says in stanza 3, “To those who help in Christ have found and would in works of love abound it shows what deeds are His delight and should be done as good and right.” As those redeemed in Christ, we are forgiven our sins, our failure to obey God’s Law. In Holy Baptism the guilt of original sin, and all sin, is washed away. It is the washing of renewal and rebirth where we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He leads us to scorn the flesh, desiring and doing God’s holy will. And yet, we aren’t out of danger yet.

For, though we are baptized, our old corrupt nature is not totally obliterated. God’s work in us will not be complete until the resurrection, where what is perishable puts on the imperishable. We are forgiven now and will enter eternal life, but in the meantime we are still sinners. You’ve heard the phrase simul justus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner. What does that mean? Do we focus on the saint part and write off the sinner part saying that sinners are just going to sin as a matter of fact? No! The Law needs to be continually be preached, even to Christians, because honestly, sometimes we can get lazy.

The Law has three jobs, one we already know. First, it acts as a curb, saying “Don’t bear false testimony; Don’t covet.” Second, it shows us how godly we are by nature: that even if we don’t sin in action, our thoughts and words are still in play. (That’s called acting as a mirror.) And, third, it stands as God’s will for our lives as, a guide for redeemed Christians. Redeemed, yes, but also still sinners. That is why we’ve been looking at the Commandments this Lent: to increase our understanding of God’s Word and the depth of His mercy. The moment we cast off the preaching of God’s Law is also the moment we free ourselves of the Gospel.

St. Paul confessed, “What a wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” This confession we share. We’ve looked at all Ten Commandments; how have you scored? When measured against God’s holy law, we don’t look so good. In fact, we are revealed to be totally corrupt, vessels fit for destruction. But, “Thanks be to God through Jesus our Lord…There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ is the true God of all heaven and earth and yet, in our time, He took on Himself our human flesh. The author of the Law became subject to its demands, as we are. Only, He kept them all perfectly. He actively obeyed God’s will in action and thought. Then, as payment for our transgressions, He died the brutal death we deserve for every evil thought. Through the preaching of His Word, in the washing of Holy Baptism, and in the Sacrament of the Altar, He daily and richly forgives our sins as a free gift. Through the Law we learn God’s will and our corruption. In the Gospel we learn the magnitude of His mercy. Thanks be to God.