The Heavenly Courtroom

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter based on John 14:15-21

Dear defendants in the heavenly courtroom: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you are charged with a crime, the best thing you can do to escape punishment is to hire a team of lawyers to represent you. They know the ins and outs of the law. They know when to speak and when to be quiet. They know the best way to get you off the hook for what you’ve done.

On your own, without a team of legal counsellors, you would probably have the tendency to respond to the accusations of the law by saying, “It’s not my fault,” and trying to shift blame, thus perjuring yourself. You might also try to excuse what you’ve done wrong, seeking to justify it, thus incriminating yourself.

It’s best to have the counsellors do the talking for you. It’s best to have the counsellors deal with the prosecution’s discovery evidence and witness testimony that incriminates you.

Jesus promised that God the Father will send us another Helper or Counsellor. One way of looking at it when picturing the heavenly courtroom, is to think of the Holy Spirit as our legal counsellor representing us. And He’s not the only one. Jesus says “another” counsellor, indicating that there is more than one. And indeed, Jesus Himself is also in the heavenly courtroom representing us as our mediator and advocate. We have a team of lawyers defending us in the heavenly courtroom.

Without our counsellors, we would have the tendency to respond to the accusations of the law by saying, “It’s not my fault,” and trying to shift blame, thus perjuring ourselves. We would also try to excuse what we’ve done wrong, seeking to justify it, thus incriminating ourselves. On our own we would only make matters worse and dig ourselves into a bigger hole.

God’s Law accuses us. Jesus Himself says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If you love God, you will keep His Commandments. Every single one. The Law thus tells us that we do not love God. We do not love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. Responding with “It’s not my fault” won’t cut it. Making excuses won’t get us off the hook.

It’s not just some prosecution investigators trying to find dirt on us or human eyewitness testimony that is presented for evidence. It is God Himself who accuses us and presents His evidence. He who sees the actions of all, hears the words of all, and knows the thoughts and hearts of all gives testimony against us. Every sin of thought, word, and deed is known to Him, including those sins of which even we are not aware.

This too, is where our counsellors come in. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin (John 16:8). This means He convicts you of sin. He opens your eyes to how you have not kept God’s Commandments. He convicts you of the fact that you have not loved God with all your heart, soul, and mind, or your neighbour as yourself. Even though He is your counsellor and representing you, He’s telling you to fess up. Confess what you’ve done. Confess your sins.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t tell you to do this so that you will be found guilty in the heavenly courtroom. In fact, that is how you get off in the heavenly courtroom. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9)

The way to be found guilty in the heavenly courtroom is to deny your sin; to make excuses for your sin. Saying that you love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself is deceiving yourself. It’s being blind to the times you have had your priorities skewed, your own selfish interests at heart, and ignored the needs of your neighbour.

But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s how the heavenly courtroom works. It’s not about having your counsellors argue what a good member of society you are or listing the good that you have done. It’s not making excuses or pointing fingers at others. It’s about confessing your sins. Confessing what you have done wrong, without excuse. It’s about admitting guilt.

Then you are pronounced innocent, as Jesus, your mediator and advocate stands up for you because His blood has covered your sins and transgressions. He has already paid the price of your sins. He has already been found guilty of your sins and been punished for them. There’s no more punishment to come from the Judge. The legal demands of the Law have been met on your behalf by Jesus, and your punishment has been taken and paid by Jesus. You will be declared innocent.

You know that on Judgment Day you will be declared innocent, because you have a preview of Judgment Day every Sunday. Every Sunday in Divine Service you hear God’s Word, through which the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin. Every Sunday in Divine Service you confess your sin and admit your guilt. Every Sunday in Divine Service you are declared innocent and free from sin, as you are absolved in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This absolution is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with you Himself, because it is He who has commanded your pastor to absolve you in His name. The Judge Himself has declared you forgiven and pardoned through His representative, thus you have already been judged.

Legally, you cannot be charged for an offence a second time. In American and Canadian law, this is called double jeopardy. No person shall be subject for the same offence to be twice put into jeopardy of life or limb. You cannot be again tried for something of which you have been acquitted. Since you have been declared forgiven and pardoned, you cannot be tried for them again. You cannot be charged with them again.

Jesus was charged with all your sins and found guilty. You walk away scot free because you have confessed your sins, and your counsellors have spoken on your behalf. You’ve been declared forgiven. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Citizens of Heaven

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter based on John 14:1-14

Dear citizens of heaven: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Without Jesus, God is unseeable and unapproachable. God is Spirit, a blinding light and a consuming fire. He is the almighty creator, immortal, invisible, all-knowing, and omnipresent God, not part of creation. As God told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Ex. 33:20)

However, in Jesus, God has come to earth, not only to be a part of creation, but also to partake of our very flesh. Thus Jesus, God in the flesh, tells His disciples, “Believe in God; believe also in me.”

This man, Jesus, is God. Believe in Him as you believe in God. Trust in Him as you trust in God. See this man Jesus as the almighty creator, immortal, all-knowing, and omnipresent God.

That is not how Philip saw Jesus, so he said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus responded to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

After all that time spent with Jesus, Philip still struggled to grasp that Jesus is God. This man who walked with them and talked with them and ate with them is God in the flesh. This man who grew up from a little boy is God. This man who was born of a woman, nursed and raised by her, and had his diapers changed by her is God. That just didn’t sit right with Philip, and we’d be lying if we said it sat right with us. Yet, it is true.

There’s even more. This man who was mocked and abused by men is God. This man who was shamefully treated, whipped, spit on, crowned with thorns and crucified is God. This man whose arms were outstretched on the cross at Golgotha is God. Colossians tells us that the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in this man Jesus, that He is the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15; 2:9).

It is necessary that Jesus is God in order for Him to defeat sin, death, and the devil, and pay the price of our sins. It is necessary that Jesus is God in order to reconcile us to God.

Because we are reconciled to God by the death of Jesus, Jesus doesn’t just speak of God in a distant or generic sense. Jesus doesn’t speak of Him as if He is unseeable and unapproachable. Jesus calls Him Father. Because you are reconciled to Him through the Son, you can call Him Father.

And the Son invites you to His Father’s house, saying, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Because God the Son has reconciled you to God the Father, you have a place in the Father’s house waiting for you. God is no longer unseeable or unapproachable for you. In His house, you will get to see Him face to face and live. He will then no longer be invisible to you or seem distant from you.

So whatever troubles you in this life, cast your burdens on Jesus, because He’s got a place waiting for you in the Father’s house. Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Jesus, His Son.

The man Jesus not only has a place for you in eternity, but He also has promised that He Himself will receive you into the Father’s house. At Jesus’ death, as the temple curtain was torn in two no longer separating God and man, so the doors of the Father’s house were flung wide open for you. This means that whenever you die, Jesus is ready to receive you into your eternal dwelling in the Father’s house. The doors stand open waiting for you.

Jesus said that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. Thus, wherever Jesus is, there God is. Through Baptism, you are in Jesus. Those who have been absolved on earth in Jesus’ name are absolved before God in heaven. Those who have eaten and drunk the bread and wine of holy communion on earth have eaten and drunk the body and blood of God in the person of Jesus. You are in Christ; thus you are where He is.

Ephesians tells us that because we have been baptized into Christ, God the Father has taken us who were dead in our trespasses and made us alive together with Christ and has raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:4-6). To say that we are seated already now in the heavenly places sounds as crazy as saying that God was being nursed by Mary, but it also is true. Through our incorporation into Christ, we are where He is. We are not removed from earth physically, but we are already now sharing in the heavenly blessings. We already now reign over death which has no authority over us (Rev. 20:6). Our citizenship is already now in heaven; we’re already now enrolled in heaven (Phil. 3:20; Heb. 12:23). We already now have a place waiting for us in the Father’s house because we are already now alive in Christ.

God’s invitation to you through Jesus isn’t just for a nice meal at His house. There certainly will be many fine meals at the eternal banquet that never ends, but it is also so much more. God’s invitation is for you to live with Him eternally in His house where thieves cannot break in and steal; where tears will flow no more; where sin, guilt, and shame will be no more.

Since you are already enrolled in heaven; since your citizenship is already in heaven, let this be reflected in how you live here in exile, away from your eternal home. Live with your mind set on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2). Put to death the sinful desires that you have (Col. 3:5). Live like your sin, guilt, and shame has been removed from you, because it has. Jesus took all your sin, guilt, and shame on Himself so He has taken it away from you. You are a child of the heavenly Father with a special place prepared just for you in the Father’s house.

No matter what happens in this life, let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Jesus, His Son. Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life. He is the one and only way to the Father. He is the one and only way to the Father’s house. Since Jesus has died for you and prepares a place for you the Father’s house, you can be certain of your place there. You can be certain that He will return, and will take you to Himself, that where He is, you may be also. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

My Sheep Hear My Voice

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter based on John 10:1-10 (I Peter 2:19-25)

Dear sheep of the Good Shepherd: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says that His sheep hear His voice. He says His sheep follow Him, because they know His voice. He says His sheep will flee from following a stranger because they don’t know the voice of a stranger, but they do know the voice of their Good Shepherd, so they follow Him.

Is that what you do? Do you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him? Can you tell the difference between His voice and the voice of the thief and robber who does not come in through the door but climbs in by another way? Do you flee the voice of a stranger because you know that it is not the voice of the Good Shepherd?

The voice of the Good Shepherd is heard every Divine Service and every Bible class. His voice is heard in the Bibles you have in your homes. Yet, Divine Service attendance is sporadic and trending downward. Bible class attendance is dwindling. /dwindled to the point that we stopped having Bible class.

But you listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. You read Scripture every morning and every night. Your Bible is not one of those gathering more dust on the shelf than special occasion china.

Do you know the voice of the Good Shepherd? If you hear some television or radio evangelist, or some preacher at a so-called community “ecumenical service,” can you tell if you are hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice or the voice of a stranger? If you hear the preacher in this pulpit, can you tell if you are hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice or the voice of a stranger? Don’t tell me you don’t care, because Jesus says that if you’re not listening to His voice, you’re listening to the voice of a thief and a robber who comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

If one pastor insists on practising closed communion and another will commune anyone, which one is doing what the Good Shepherd has commanded? Do you know, or do you not recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice? Jesus says His sheep know His voice.

If one pastor says it is a sin to live together outside of marriage and another says it is perfectly fine, which one is speaking with the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do you know, or do you not recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice? Jesus says His sheep know His voice.

If one pastor says it is a sin to have a woman teach or exercise authority in the church, and another says it is perfectly fine, which one is speaking with the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do you know, or do you not recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice? Jesus says His sheep know His voice.

These things are not a matter of personal interpretation or opinion. Scripture tells us, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Man doesn’t decide how to interpret Scripture. Man didn’t decide what to write and man doesn’t decide how to interpret. The Holy Spirit wrote and the Holy Spirit has told us how to interpret.

Second Timothy tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Scripture cannot be profitable if we can all decide for ourselves what to make of it. If I can interpret it one way and you can interpret it another way, then the Bible is completely useless and you might as well take it off your shelf, not to dust it and read it, but to chuck it in the garbage. If God gave us the Bible so that we can all decide for ourselves what to follow and what not to follow, it is the most useless book in the world and we might as well burn every copy and find something better to do on Sunday morning instead of Divine Service and Monday evening instead of Bible class.

But the problem is not with the Bible; the problem is with us when we want to twist what the Bible says to make it fit our fancy. The problem is not with the Bible; the problem is with us when we think we can interpret the clear words of Scripture in a way that lets us do whatever we want. The problem is not with the Bible; the problem is with us when we don’t know what the Bible says and thus cannot differentiate the voice of the Good Shepherd from the voice of a stranger who is a thief and a robber who comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

We take pains and efforts to protect ourselves from thieves and robbers who would come to steal our earthly goods, but do we do anything to protect ourselves from the thieves and robbers who would come to steal our eternal salvation?

Our sinful nature is immediately ready to start making excuses. Life is busy. It’s not my fault that the pastor I’m listening to says something different from the Good Shepherd. I have Jesus in my heart and that’s all that matters. But excuses get us nowhere.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says that His sheep hear His voice. His voice is heard in the Divine Service, in Bible class, and in the Bibles you have in your homes. Jesus says His sheep follow Him, because they know His voice – they know what He says in His Word. Jesus says His sheep will flee from following a stranger because they don’t know the voice of a stranger, but they do know the voice of their Good Shepherd, so they follow Him.

The sheep of the Good Shepherd follow Him where He leads them. The Good Shepherd leads His sheep to the font, to Absolution, and to the altar.

The Good Shepherd leads us to the font, to Absolution, and to the altar because He knows that we are sheep who like to wander. He knows that we haven’t always listened to His voice or followed where He has led. That’s why He comes to search for us from all the places where we’ve wandered. He calls us through His Word to return to Him, the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. He knows that we haven’t always listened to His voice or followed where He has led. That’s why He leads us to the waters of Baptism, the blessing of Absolution, and to the food of His holy Supper. The Good Shepherd says His sheep follow Him to where He leads, because He leads us to where He gives us forgiveness. If we haven’t gone to the font and don’t go to the altar, we aren’t following the Good Shepherd.

Excuses aren’t the answer, but repentance is. The Good Shepherd is calling for us to follow where He leads because He leads us to where He gives us forgiveness. We cannot get forgiveness from anywhere else. We cannot get forgiveness from anyone else. The Good Shepherd gives us forgiveness.

The Good Shepherd laid down His life for us sheep so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Jesus took the punishment of all of our failures to hear Him and follow Him. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth (I Peter 2:22), but He died for our sins; He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). He Himself bore your sins in His body on the tree… By His wounds you have been healed (I Peter 2:24).

Jesus’ suffering and death are the reason we can be His sheep. His suffering and death are the reason He leads us to the means of grace where we receive forgiveness.

The sheep of the Good Shepherd follow Him to the font, to Absolution, and to His holy Supper so that they will follow Him to eternal life. In these means of grace the Good Shepherd gives eternal life, because wherever there is the forgiveness of sins, there is eternal life; there is life and salvation. The Good Shepherd leads us to where He gives us forgiveness, so He leads us to eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.