O Dry Bones, Hear the Word of the Lord

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk [of the Word.] Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder.” We heard these words just a few moments ago in the Introit for the Sunday after Easter. The antiphon originally comes from 1 Peter 2, where the Apostle encourages us to put away all malice and deceit, and to long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word – so that by it we may grow up into salvation. The body of the Introit itself comes from Psalm 81, where God speaks to His people. He reminds them that He brought them out of Egypt, and has yet better things in store, if they would only listen to Him.

Speaking of better things in store, the Lord spoke through Ezekiel in our text of the better things He had in store for the people of Israel. The Lord sent Ezekiel to prophesy to a people in exile. The people Ezekiel ministered to were carried off to Babylon before the final destruction of Jerusalem, which is recounted just a few chapters before our text today. The Lord gave Ezekiel a vision with vivid imagery – of old, dry bones coming back to life. This vision was directed to the people of Israel, who were saying that the Lord had cut them off and that their hope was lost. Using this vivid vision, the Lord spoke through Ezekiel that He would restore His people to life. And, He did so then as He does now, by keeping the promises of His Word.

I.

As you probably know, this passage from Ezekiel is perhaps one of the better-known portions of Scripture. This striking vision of a valley full of dead, dry bones being covered in flesh and coming back to life has been portrayed in various forms of media pretty much forever. This vision was given by the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel prophesied roughly around the same time and a little after as Jeremiah, the difference with Ezekiel being that he prophesied in Babylon while Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s ministry was also kind of different in that the things that had been prophesied by other prophets were now coming to pass. As in, Jerusalem was starting to fall. This means that, unlike a lot of the other prophets, people listened to Ezekiel.

It was hard not to. True, much of Ezekiel’s prophesying was hard to ignore, but so were their surroundings. Ezekiel prophesied to a people carried off into a distant land, living among people different from them, with a different language and culture. The people of Israel in exile lived among a pluralistic society, meaning, the people there worshiped any number of gods – or none. They lived as strangers in a foreign land. They understood that these things had come to pass as the Lord’s discipline, but they despaired of the Lord’s promises. We heard, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.[1] The children of Israel in exile were represented by the dry bones, for they felt that they had indeed been cut off from the Lord’s promise and were now without hope in the land of Babylon.

Not so, said the Lord. He told Ezekiel, “Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O My people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel…I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”[2] Though the people felt as if they were withering in a foreign land, cut off from the love of the Lord and without hope, they really weren’t. Instead, the Lord continued to be with them, and, He would bring them back to their own land. They would not wither away into dust and ash, but the Lord will raise them and bring them back. The Lord said He would do it, and He did. Seventy years later, He brought them back to Israel from Babylon. Ezra even tells us that some of those who went into exile lived to see the return.

II.

But what about us? Are we dead, dry bones? Is our hope clean cut off? If we’re being honest, sometimes it feels that way. We live in trying times. Our society is pulling further and further away from the truth of God’s Word. In various places, church attendance is shrinking, and congregations of all denominations are closing. Even in our own ND district, one of our sister congregations will be closing next month. Are we dry bones? Are we cut off? It might feel that way, but, no. We are not cut off, and we are not without hope. For, remember, Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. And He has been raised.

Our Lord rose from the dead on Easter morning. By His death, He atoned for our sin and, by His rising again, He secured for us eternal life. That first evening, though the doors were locked where they were, Jesus appeared in the midst of His disciples. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”[3] With these words, Jesus instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry. He called and equipped the Apostles to preach His Word and administer His Sacraments. He gave them, as representatives of His whole Church on earth, the authority to forgive and retain sins. When the Apostles spoke in Christ’s stead that sins were forgiven, they truly were.

This work of Christ through His ministers continues even down to our time. Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to call and equip ministers through His Church. Through them He proclaims His Word to us and by their hands, Christ gives us His own sacraments. When His called ministers speak in His stead that our sins are forgiven, they are truly forgiven – even before our Father in heaven. I’m not saying these things to magnify ministers or place them on a pedestal. Rather, we exalt the One who continues to send and work through them.

Sometimes, we do feel cut off or without hope. But we are not. We can say this, because Christ continues to work among us and all the world. He continues to send pastors, and by them He speaks to us His Word of promise. Through them Jesus gives us His body and blood and forgives our sins. Through their mouths, Jesus assures us that we are not without hope, and that our sins are truly forgiven. Not only does Christ work through His ministers, but He also works through us – His body. Through the Church, as a whole, and in our daily lives, the same Christ who forgives our sins and gives us His Word, speaks His Word of promise and hope to those in need.

III.

We would be remiss if we didn’t talk today about the hope we have in one particular promise of the Lord – the Resurrection of the Dead. The resurrection that Ezekiel saw was a vision, but it foreshadows and reminds us of the true resurrection to come. St. Paul said that, “if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”[4] In Baptism, we were united with Christ in His death. We were buried with Him so that, just as He was raised from the dead – we will be, too. This will happen on the Last Day. Christ will come on the clouds and He will raise our bodies. Then we who, by His grace, have believed in Him, will enter in both body and soul into the new creation. Death did not hold Him, and it cannot hold us, either.

The prophet Ezekiel was sent by the Lord to proclaim to a people in exile that they were not without hope. Though they felt cut off and dried up, the Lord was with them and would return them to their own land. Sometimes we feel that way; but we, as well, are not cut off. The Lord continues to send His preachers to speak His Word, administer His Sacraments, and proclaim His forgiveness. By these things, He continues to be and work among us, giving us hope of the life to come. Particularly in this Easter season, we are reminded of this hope – that though we die, yet in this flesh we shall see God with our own eyes. Alleluia, Christ is risen.


 

[1] Ezekiel 37:11, English Standard Version.

[2] Ezek. 37:12, 14.

[3] Jn. 20:22-23.

[4] Rom. 6:5.

Our Passover Lamb Has Been Sacrificed

Text: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Long ago, when our God was about to lead the children of Israel up out of slavery in Egypt, He gave them the Passover meal. God instructed them that, on the night before they would leave Egypt, they were to take a young unblemished male lamb and slaughter it. Then, they were to take the blood of that lamb and use it to mark the doorposts of their houses. When the Angel of Death came that night to strike down the firstborn of Egypt, He would see the blood marking the door and pass over those inside. In addition, the Israelites were throw out any leaven in their homes. For one whole week they were not to eat any leavened thing. This lead to the Passover also being called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

St. Paul uses these things as an illustration in our text. The Passover pointed ahead to and is fulfilled in the suffering of Christ. Jesus Christ, true God and also true man, is the true Passover Lamb. Three days ago, He was sacrificed for all human sin. God the Father handed Him over into death – even, He who had no sin. With His dying breath, Jesus uttered, “It is finished.” The sacrifice for all the sins of the world had been made. Jesus died. Our Passover Lamb was sacrificed. And, now, He has been raised. Christ died, and now He is raised again to never die again. Death could not hold Him. Just as the Passover Lamb pointed ahead to Christ, so the casting out of leaven pointed ahead to our new life in Him. Since Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed, and He has freed us from the guilt of our sin, St. Paul encourages us to cast out the old leaven of malice and wickedness so that we may celebrate the Feast in sincerity and truth.

I.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the first part of our text, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”[1] With this simple proverb, St. Paul admonished the congregation to cease from their sinful behavior, behavior which belonged to their former manner of life – the life that they seemingly had before they were in Christ. Through St. Paul, the Corinthians heard the good news of Jesus Christ. They heard and believed that Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father before all time, became true man. He became man to fulfill God’s Law, to bear our sins, and to suffer and die to redeem the whole world. By His death, Christ atoned for all human sin and has freed us all from the guilt we deserve to bear.

The Corinthians heard and believed this, yet they acted as if they had not heard. Or, at least, they used the freedom they received in Christ as liberty to continue in sin. St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians covers many such situations – eating food sacrificed to idols, lawsuits among believers, drunkenness at church gatherings, and improper sexual relationships. The Corinthians not only did these things, but they boasted in them. They held, that since they had been forgiven in Christ, their present manner of living held no bearing on their future destination. In practice, their new life in Christ was no different from their former way of living. “Your boasting is not good,” St. Paul said. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. A little sin spreads into the whole group.

Like the Corinthians, we also have heard the Good News that we are free in Christ. By Christ’s death, our sins have been forgiven. And yet, like the Corinthians, we have used the freedom from sin as a liberty to sin. When we have fallen into sin, we have excused ourselves. We have lived to seek our own pleasures and satisfy our own desires. We have applied the Ten Commandments heavy-handedly toward others while turning a blind eye to our own sin. We have denied that we are sinners and acted as if we had no sin. We have continued to live in sin and presumed upon God’s grace. And, all of this, while we’ve called ourselves Christians. Our boasting is not good. St. Paul continued by saying, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.”[2]

II.

St. Paul encouraged the Corinthians and us to cast out and be cleansed of the old leaven of sin because, by Christ’s death we have been truly made “unleavened.” St. Paul said, “Cleanse out the old leaven…as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”[3] As we said a few moments ago, at the Passover, the Israelites were to take an unblemished male lamb and sacrifice it. They would then take the blood to mark the doorposts of their homes, and death would spare those inside. Christ is the Passover lamb. He is the unblemished Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world. Though He had no sin, He was made to be sin for us. In Him, God was reconciling the world to Himself. Christ is the Passover lamb, and His blood now marks our doors; it marks us.

By His death, Jesus Christ made full atonement for the sin of the world. All of our sin, all of our guilt, all of our temptations, all of our lies, all of our self-centeredness – these things He paid for with His own precious blood. And by His blood, death has passed over us. By His death, our debt is paid and by His rising again, death passes us over. The old leaven of malice and evil has been purged from the houses of our hearts, and we have been made unleavened. That means that, in God’s eyes – by faith in Christ – we have been made to be without sin. By the sacrifice of the true Passover Lamb, we are cleansed from all guilt and blame. We are unleavened.

III.

Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”[4] As Christians in this world, we live with feet in two kingdoms. We have been brought into the kingdom of God through the washing of Holy Baptism and by the gift of faith; yet, we remain in the kingdom of the world. Before God we are righteous saints, freed from the guilt of our sins. Yet, as we remain this flesh, we are sinners. As we remain both saint and sinner, our lives are imperfect. Though we know and have heard the things we should do, we fail to do them. The Corinthians used their freedom in the Gospel as liberty to sin, and we have, too.

Let us celebrate the festival in sincerity and truth, St. Paul said, for our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. Christ, the true Passover Lamb, suffered and died for the sins of the world. And, what is more, He has been raised. Christ, our God, lives and reigns forever. By faith in Him, we, too, will rise from the dead to live in eternity. And, that eternity has already begun. In the Holy Supper, we receive a glimpse of the heavenly feast, and the lives we live now are the same lives that will continue beyond the grave. Therefore, St. Paul said, let us celebrate by living in sincerity and truth. Let us not lie but speak the truth. Let us not seek primarily our own good, but the good of others. Let us forgive those who sin against us, and seek their forgiveness when we sin against them. Let all filthy speech and actions be cleansed from our lives, even as the guilt of our sins has been removed from us.

When Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb that Sunday morning, they did not find what they expected. They were expecting to find the body of Jesus. Instead, they were met by an angel who told them, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.”[5] Jesus Christ, who was crucified for our sin, is now raised from the dead. Death could not keep Him, and neither will it hold those who are in Christ. Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed and we are free from sin and death. Let us therefore celebrate His feast in sincerity, love, and truth.


[1] 1 Corinthians 5:6, English Standard Version.

[2] 1 Cor. 5:7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] 1 Cor. 5:8.

[5] Mk. 16:6

Healed in Soul and Body

Text: Matthew 9:1-8

Lord, Thee I love with all my heart; I pray Thee, ne’er from me depart, with tender mercy cheer me. Earth has no pleasure I would share. Yea, heav’n itself were void and bare if Thou, Lord, wert not near me. And should my heart for sorrow break, my trust in Thee can nothing shake. Thou art the portion I have sought; Thy precious blood my soul has bought. Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord…forsake me not! I trust Thy Word.[1]

The words of our hymn were written around 1567 by the pastor Martin Schalling. Martin served many years as a pastor and was removed not once – but three times – from his office for refusing to compromise his Lutheran beliefs. Through it all, he trusted in the Lord’s mercy and grace. The same could also have been sung by the paralyzed man and his friends in the Gospel text.

When they heard that Jesus was in the area preaching, teaching, and healing, some men brought their paralyzed friend to also be healed by Jesus. Recognizing faith in their and the man’s hearts, Jesus declared to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.”[2] Then, as a demonstration of His great love, and His authority to forgive sins, Jesus healed the man. The man picked up his mat and went home, leaving the crowds to glorify God.

We see in this text Jesus’ great love and compassion, and His great desire to heal. The order Jesus did things in the text can also teach us something. First, He diagnosed and healed the man’s greater affliction: his sin. Then, Jesus also healed his body. He does the same for us. Jesus heals our souls of sin now through the Gospel, and in the resurrection, our bodies, too.

I.

Our text from Matthew 9 continues in a string of teaching and miracles from our Lord. Just before our text, Jesus crossed over to the east side of the Sea of Galilee. That was when He calmed the storm. While He was on the other side, He cast the demons out of two men. The demons went into a herd of pigs and drowned them. All the people of that city came out and begged Jesus to leave them. So, He did. He crossed back over to the west side, to His home base in the town of Capernaum. Jesus did many miracles there: healing Peter’s mother-in-law, raising a girl from the dead, and just generally healing many people. Thus, in our text there was a great crowd around Jesus. This was a standing-room only situation.

As Jesus was teaching, some brought to Him a man who was paralyzed. St. Mark and St. Luke tell us that, because the house was so crowded, and they couldn’t otherwise get to Jesus, they actually cut a hole in the roof of the house and lowered the man down. St. Matthew writes, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.’”[3] What an odd thing to say. And yet, maybe not. The men approached Jesus in faith, seeking healing. Jesus the Great Physician diagnosed and healed the man’s greater illness: his sin. As great as the man’s physical affliction was, his paralysis had an expiration date. When he died, he wouldn’t be paralyzed anymore. In the Resurrection, the full use of his body would return. There’s one thing that could de-rail that though, sin and its fruit.

See, we’re more than just our bodies. As Christians, we recognize from Scripture that all we see is not all that exists. You might have this memorized, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[4] We believe that when God formed each of us in the womb, He gave us not just our body, but our soul as well. Which of these two lasts longer? Well, our soul, of course. And, just like our bodies, our souls are prone to sickness, too. The illness of our soul is sin. When we die, the sickness in our body dies; not with our soul. Sin, which separates from God, unless it is forgiven, clings to our soul forever. And, those whose sins are not forgiven or those who reject that forgiveness, have their sins bound to their souls forever in hell. Therefore, Jesus first healed the man’s greater illness, his sin.

II.

St. Matthew at this point writes, “Some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’”[5] St. Mark tells us that, in this standing-room only situation, the scribes were sitting. This marks about the beginning of serious opposition to Jesus. Their charge was this: that Jesus was committing blasphemy by forgiving the man’s sins. Blasphemy is when you take the glory that belongs to God and ascribe it to anything else. Blasphemy in general is breaking one of the first three Commandments. So, they accused Jesus of blaspheming by forgiving sins, which only God can do. This line of thinking Jesus called evil.

St. Matthew continues, “Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’”[6] Jesus asked them why they were thinking evil. Then, He turned the tables and asked them question. Which is easier to do? To say he is forgiven, or to tell him to walk? Obviously, it’s saying your sins are forgiven. How can you really measure from the outside if someone’s sins are forgiven? When sins are forgiven there’s isn’t an external change in the person. But, if you say, “get up and walk,” and that doesn’t happen…that’s pretty quick proof of something. So, to demonstrate that He has the authority to forgive sins, Jesus told the man to get up, and he did. Jesus healed the man’s soul and his body.

Jesus did this because of His great love for the man and for us. We are all weighed-down and beset by sin. It clings to us, pressing in on us from every side. Were it not forgiven, it would drag us all down into the eternal pit of hell. So that that might not be the case, Jesus took on flesh to suffer and die for you. Through His Word and Sacraments, He offers healing, peace, and pardon to you. In Baptism, your sin was washed away, and you received the Holy Spirit. Through the preaching of the Word, the Holy Spirit strengthens you in the faith and daily declares to you that your sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, we partake of Christ’s very body and blood, which purifies and heals us from the inside. By these things, our souls are healed, and we receive passage into the eternal kingdom of heaven.

Every Sunday we confess our faith not just in the forgiveness of sins, but also in the life of the world to come. In the text Jesus healed the man’s soul and in the Word and Sacraments, He heals our souls. Jesus healed the man’s body and, in the Resurrection, will fully restore ours as well. Jesus’ great love doesn’t just cover our souls, but our bodies, too. Otherwise, God wouldn’t have given us bodies or continued to care for them throughout our earthly lives. Just as the man was healed in the text, we all will be healed in the Resurrection. When Christ returns, He will raise the bodies of you, me, and all believers. We will together be changed. Our bodies will no longer bear the effects of sin, but will be as God created them to be.

In our text, we see Jesus’ great love for all mankind demonstrated. When a paralyzed man was brought to Him seeking healing, Jesus recognized His greatest need – the forgiveness of sins. Jesus forgave the man, healing His soul. Then, Jesus also healed the man’s body. Through the Word and Sacraments, Jesus has healed and continues to heal our souls of sin. And, in the Resurrection, He will fully heal our bodies, too.


[1] “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart,” stanza 1.

[2] Mt. 9:2, English Standard Version.

[3] Mt. 9:2.

[4] Heb. 11:1.

[5] Mt. 9:3.

[6] Mt. 9:4-6.

As We Were Created to Be

Text: Genesis 2:7-17

It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are or where you’ve been. When you’re traveling to a place you haven’t been before, you always keep track of where you started so that, if you end up off course, you know the part you’ve already traveled and can turn back. If you don’t know where you’ve been, it’s hard to know where you’re going. This much is shared with us, I believe, in our text today.

This week, we turn back to the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of the world, the beginning of the universe. We hear how God created man, in what state man and creation originally existed, and what we were created for. Unfortunately, because of sin, the reality of Genesis 2 is no longer what we experience. Instead, the experiences of our lives now are very different than how God intended them to be. The Holy Spirit shows us in this text how things were, so that we might know how they will be again. In other words, the Spirit shows us in Genesis 2 where we’ve been so that we know where – in Christ – we’re headed. In our text, we learn from God how He originally created us to be so that we would know a) the greatness of His creation; b) depth of our sin; and c) the greatness of His mercy.

I.

In Genesis 1 and 2, God gives us a factual and true account of how the world came to be. Before the universe existed, only God did. He forever and always existed in the unity of the Trinity. Out of His own desire to show love and mercy, God created the heavens and the earth. He spoke and all things came to be. Genesis 1 provides the overview of God’s creative activity. In chapter 2, the Spirit directs the focus on the particular activity of the sixth day of Creation: the day that God created man.

Moses wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.[1]

After God created the earth, the land and seas, trees, all plants, and animals, His hand turned to create something in His own image and in His likeness – man. Everything else, God created by speaking; but man God formed from the dust of the earth. The Hebrew word is the word also used in Isaiah for a potter forming a vessel from clay. So, God molded man from the earth.

God formed man from the dust of the earth, breathed into him the breath of life, and man became a living creature. Unlike all other creatures, whom God caused to be by speaking, man alone was formed by God’s hand and endowed with an immortal soul. After God formed the man, the text says, “[He] planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”[2] God created the garden for man, and man for the garden. Man’s job was simple. It says in verse 15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The only instructions God gave were these, “You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[3]

II.

Man’s job, as God created him was simple. Adam was to live in the Garden of Eden, to work it and keep it and care for it. Adam was to live in the garden and enjoy fellowship with God. His work would’ve been a joy, too. Genesis 2 is before the Fall. So, the unpleasant things we experience while working in the field – scorching heat, never-ending weeds – these would’ve been unknown to Adam. He would’ve needed no pesticide or fertilizer. His work would’ve been one-hundred percent joyful. He only had one command – don’t eat from the tree. This is the way Adam was to worship God, by listening to His Word. And, Adam could’ve done it. God created man with complete free will and the ability to not sin.

But, we know what happened, don’t we? Back on the First Sunday in Lent, the Old Testament text was Genesis 3. Adam was formed by God from the dust of the earth. He was molded like a clay vessel. Alone among all creatures, God blessed him with a soul and free will. Adam’s job, as Eve’s would be, was to live in the garden and work it. This work would’ve been a joy and be done in full communion with God. The way they were to worship was simply, listen to God’s Word. They had the free will and ability to do so. But instead, by the temptation of Satan, they chose to doubt and disobey God’s Word. They sinned. Ever since, the whole world has existed in this corrupted state.

God pronounced the consequences of sin in that text. To Eve, God said that childbearing would now be painful and the relationship between husbands and wives, stressful. To Adam, God said that the ground which used to be a joy to work would be cursed. Because of sin, the earth would now bear thorns and thistles, and food would only come by hard labor. Then, God gave the greatest consequence – which He said would happen – because of sin, man will return to the dust from whence he came. All these things we find true by our own experience. I’d ask you if farming is an easy job, but you know the answer. Sure, we take joy in our work from time to time. But, it’s rare to have a job without stress. And, God’s Word is true: the rest of our lives are filled with pain, suffering, and death.

III.

It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Now we know where we’ve been. God created man to be perfect. Man was placed in Eden to work and keep it. This would have been a joyful experience. The work would’ve come easily. Adam and Eve (and all after them) would neither have died nor experienced any illness or hardship. Then the Fall happened, and things have been going terribly. That is, until Christ – the Second Adam – came.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans that sin came into the world through the one man, Adam; and death came through sin. Therefore, all men die because all men sin. That’s how original sin works. We inherit from our fathers the inability to not sin. Because we sin, we die. But, St. Paul says, “The free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through the one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ…as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”[4] St. Paul means, the fall of Adam and Eve introduced the corruption of sin; but the righteous work of Christ – His obedience of the Law and His death on the cross for our sins – brings life back into the picture.

Christ earned for us re-entry into paradise and fellowship with God. After Adam and Eve sinned, God barred entrance to Eden by a flaming sword. But now, in Christ, our fractured relationship with God is restored. Through the forgiveness we’ve received in Christ, we now address God as our dear Father, and He speaks to us through His Word and Sacrament as to His beloved children. The work of Christ on the cross doesn’t just restore us to a right relationship with God, though; but, creation, too. Doesn’t St. Paul also say to Romans in chapter 8 that the whole creation groans as it awaits the redemption of our bodies?

By His death and resurrection, Christ has not only restored us to a right relationship with God, but He also restored creation. Scripture calls the “New Creation,” the place where the lion and lamb will lay together, where children will play with snakes, and death will not exist. These things will take place when Christ returns, and they’re what we mean when we say, “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Now we know where we’ve been and where we’re going. God created man perfect, to work joyfully in the Garden and live in fellowship with Him. That was all destroyed by sin, and we experience that corruption in our lives. But, through Christ’s death and resurrection sin is forgiven. We are restored to fellowship with God. We now await Christ’s return, where He will raise the bodies of all believers and bring them with Himself into the joy of the new creation.


[1] Gen. 2:5-7, English Standard Version.

[2] Gen. 2:8.

[3] Gen. 2:16-17.

[4] Rom. 5:15-16.

In Jesus, the Victory’s Won

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:51-57

“Jesus lives! The victory’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave will Christ recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; This shall be my confidence.”[1] St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.[2]

These verses from chapter 15 served as the theme text for our VBS this year. All week long our children learned that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; and that, in Christ, the victory is won.

In Christ, we have received the victory over sin, over death, over hell and all the powers of the devil. Apart from Christ, we were held, as it were, in the dark dungeon of death. We were bound and held tight by the chains of sin and doomed to die. But God, in His mercy, sent His Son to die for us. Through Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection, sin and death have been overcome. The bars of death and bonds of sin have been broken. We have received forgiveness of our sins and eternal salvation. Our theme this year, and a sentence we would do well to remember is this: In Jesus, the Victory is Won.

I.

Scripture talks about our life here on earth in many different ways. Sometimes it’s compared to race; Sometimes, to a journey. Sometimes, Scripture talks about our lives on this earth in terms of a battle. We are encouraged, for example, to put on the whole armor of God – the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. These weapons are, of course, spiritual weapons for spiritual warfare against the devil and all his host. However, the spiritual warfare waged against us often carries over into the physical world. In our Bible lessons this week at VBS we learned about some real conflicts and worries that God’s people faced.

Our first two stories went this way. On the first day, we learned how God provided victory to Joshua and the Israelites by causing the walls of Jericho to crumble before them. They didn’t have to do anything, God’s mighty hand alone made the walls come tumbling down. On the second day, we learned about King Hezekiah. While he was king in Jerusalem, the evil king Sennacherib came to wage war. Sennacherib boasted about his own strength and mocked both God and His followers. Hezekiah was greatly afraid until God spoke through the prophet Isaiah that He would provide the victory. Shortly after, Sennacherib’s boasting proved empty when God defeated 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and sent Sennacherib away empty-handed. On the third day, we learned how God provided victory to Josiah and the people of Jerusalem by forgiving their sins against His Commandments.

In Scripture, God’s people faced many battles. Some were actual battles, like with Joshua and Hezekiah. Others faced spiritual battles, like Josiah against the false gods his people worshipped and St. Paul in his missionary work. We also face those same battles. Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ across the world, and certainly throughout history, face actual physical danger as Satan wages war against God and His followers. But, we are not so far removed from that. For, just as Satan wages actual war against God’s people, he also fights against us. His weapons in this arena are more subtle: sin and the veil that is cast over all people, death.

In our daily lives, we battle and wage war against sin. We hear in Scripture that God has revealed to us how He desires to live – to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. These things are expressed to us in the Ten Commandments – to have no other gods, for example, and not murder. When we disobey these commandments, we sin. We also hear in Scripture that there is both a consequence and punishment for sin, and that’s death. The Holy Spirit spoke through St. Paul to the Romans, “The wages of sin is death.” Also, “Just as sin came into the world through the one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned.”[3] The Holy Spirit leaves very little wiggle room there. Try as we might to not sin, we will always fail. On our own, we will inevitably lose the battle against sin and we will die. Death is both the consequence of sin – when we sin we show we lack the glory of God – and God punishes sin with death. Because all men sin, all men die.

II.

And, as I said, the battle against sin and death is one that we cannot win. If it were up to us, the victory would be impossible to win. Therefore, God became man. God had mercy on us in our sinful state. He sent the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, to take upon Himself our flesh. He bore our sin on the cross and is the savior by His rising from the dead. When Jesus rose from the dead, He shattered the teeth of death and cancelled its sting. No longer does death loom over our heads waiting to dropped like a piano on an unaware pedestrian below. No longer can the devil scare and taunt us with sin and death, for, through Christ, the devil is defeated and the victory is forever won.

The children learned about this victory, the most important one in all history, on the final day of VBS. We read how Jesus willingly gave Himself into death for our sins and rose to give us new life. But, the victory of Jesus was present in our other stories, too. God forgave King Josiah and the people though the mercy shown in Christ. He saved Hezekiah from evil king Sennacherib not because Hezekiah and the people deserved it – for they did not love God above all things – but because of God’s own steadfast and eternal love for them. Same for Joshua. God didn’t tear down the walls of Jericho because His people were so good, but in keeping with His mercy and in remembrance of His promise to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey.

Same for us. We also wage war against the sin that resides in our flesh, against the devil, and the power of death. On our own, it is an impossible battle. Often times, we don’t even know what stage of fighting we’re in, nor how serious it is, or that we’re even fighting at all. This deadly battle is revealed to us in Scripture, as is God’s mercy. In love, the Father sent the Son to wage war, to suffer, to die, and rise for us. In Christ, the victory is won. The victory over sin and death has been won. Death is swallowed up in victory. It has lost its sting forever. This victory is given us by God’s grace through faith. Through faith in Christ we are now more than conquerors. God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. And, He has helped us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”


[1] “Jesus Lives! The Victory’s Won,” Lutheran Service Book, 490.

[2] 1 Cor. 15:54-57, English Standard Version.

[3] Rom. 6:23; 5:12.

“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.

Peace Be With You

Text: John 20:19-31

Peace be with you,” Jesus spoke to the Disciples. These were the first words they would hear from the mouth of their teacher since He rose from the grave. They were so important that He repeated them three times. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said. This peace is the new reality that is in play since Christ has suffered, died, and risen triumphant from the grave. Peace here means that the enmity, the separation, between God and us since the Fall into is now removed. Through Christ all things have now been made as they should be.

After the crucifixion Jesus no longer limited the use of His divine powers. Before, men taunted Him to come down from the cross – if He really were the Son of God. But, it’s a good thing He didn’t. Now, Jesus does use all of His power all the time. Today we see this happening. Twice the Disciples were behind locked doors, and twice Jesus immediately appears in their midst. They had all fallen away and were in hiding. Jesus could’ve angrily grabbed an axe and broken down the door; He could’ve turned them all to ash for betraying Him. Instead, appearing in their midst, He said to them, “Peace be with you.” Amidst their fear, doubt, and unbelief Jesus appeared to preach peace to the Disciples – the peace we share through His resurrection from the dead.

I.

We find the Disciples on Sunday evening, the same day Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospel says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”[1] Usually how the flow of the Easter season goes is that we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. That’s a great day: we have choirs and brass, and then everyone goes home and puts on their comfortable eating clothes. The next week we come back to church fresh from that celebration and we begin scolding St. Thomas for His doubting. It happens every year on the Sunday after Easter.

Part of it is because a name like, “Doubting Thomas,” is such a catchy name that you can’t not use it in a sermon. But when we spend all the time focusing on Thomas, we don’t do justice to the fact that all the Disciples were doubting at this point. It’s the first day of the week, three days after Jesus’ death. He had told them explicitly that He would rise from the dead after three days. Instead of looking for and expecting that, all of them are hiding behind locked doors. Of course the persecution that the Jewish authorities were threating against Jesus’ followers was now becoming real, but instead of trusting in God for the strength in that situation and the words to speak, they hid.

They were not just fearful in their hiding. After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to Mary Magdalene. Having seen the Lord she went and told His Disciples. Mark says that they were mourning and weeping. When they heard from her that He was alive, instead of rejoicing, “they would not believe it.”[2] Luke says that the words of the women seemed to them, “an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”[3] They weren’t just hiding for fear of the Jews, they weren’t just doubting, but they were actually not believing.

Suddenly, Jesus appeared among them and stood in their midst. “’Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”[4] Before there was a vast chasm of sin and death separating the Disciples and God. When Jesus was crucified, they forsook their faith and feared death. Instead of appearing to them to judge and condemn them, Jesus appeared to speak peace. Christ stood in their midst to forgive their sin and call them out of darkness. Because of His resurrection they are now at peace with God.

II.

We said earlier that it’s bad to pile on Thomas when all the Disciples were equally doubting and unbelieving, but we will return to him. By doing so, we also see ourselves. The Gospel says, “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’”[5] I think maybe a better name for Thomas is “Thomas the Scientist,” or “Thomas the Enlightened,” or “Thomas the Intelligent.” I mean, Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared, and so like the other Disciples he didn’t believe. Unless He saw it for himself, unless there was verifiable empirical evidence, by default he would not believe it.

By the world’s standards Thomas is completely in the right. Unless there is evidence that you can measure with your five senses, there is absolutely no grounds to believe in anything. This line of thinking came as result of the Enlightenment and has infected even the church and has further robbed us of our innocence in this matter. We are all now little Thomases. Now, despite the fact that Thomas didn’t believe it, Jesus was alive. The Gospel could’ve ended with the words of Thomas. It could’ve ended with Jesus smacking him upside the head. But instead, “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’”[6]

Though it was sinful for Thomas to demand evidence, Jesus didn’t destroy him. Jesus saw that he demanded proof, and in His grace, gave more than Thomas could ever need. The very body and blood of Jesus given for the sins of the world stood before him, alive. Rightly, Thomas was humbled, “My Lord and my God!” he exclaimed. Here Jesus pulls Thomas and us into the same boat, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”[7] This gets us on both accounts. First, not all people have been privileged to see Jesus. And so, our temptation is, like Thomas to demand signs and proof from God before we believe. The answer to Thomas and us is the same: Jesus the crucified and risen one.

As with the Disciples and Thomas who doubted and were unbelieving, Jesus the Risen One comes into our midst, into our doubt and despair, not to condemn us, but to forgive us and give us the peace that He won by His resurrection from the dead. This peace comes not from within us, but from outside ourselves. This peace He gives through the pastoral office, whereby He sends men to stand in His stead and forgive our sins. Christ stands in our midst in the words of Holy Absolution and in the feast of His own body and blood. In the words of the Benediction we hear His words, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s us. None of us has seen Jesus in the flesh yet, and yet we believe. For that purpose that Gospel was written, so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing we have life in His name. By His resurrection Jesus has destroyed the powers of sin, death and hell. Though we are often times caught in doubt and despair, in impatience and fear, Jesus comes to us with His peace. This peace is that the guilt of our sin is removed from us by His death. May the Lord continue to send us His Holy Spirit to speak peace to us, that even without seeing, we may believe and have life in His name.


 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 20:19.

[2] Mk. 16:11.

[3] Lk. 24:11.

[4] Jn. 20:19–23.

[5] Jn. 20:24–25.

[6] Jn. 20:26–27.

[7] Jn. 20:29.