Come and See

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany based on John 1:43-51

Dear people who hear the Word of Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Come and see.” With these words, Philip invited Nathaniel to come and hear Jesus. It’s not a very complicated evangelism program. It is a simple invitation to come hear Jesus’ Word.

When we think of evangelism, that’s not what we normally think about. There are those who would like to sell us on the idea that evangelism is handing out tchotchkes like What Would Jesus Do bracelets, Jesus Loves You pens, or craftily devised cards and pamphlets. They would like to sell us on the idea that evangelism is wearing a God Loves You T-shirt, putting a float in a parade, and leaving gospel tracts in public bathrooms.

Evangelism is a whole lot easier than that, and cheaper than that. You don’t have to buy expensive evangelism kits. You don’t have to memorize “clever” sayings or slogans. Evangelism is as easy as saying, “Come and see. Come to church and hear Jesus’ Word.”

You cannot convince someone to believe. I cannot convince someone to believe. The only way that anyone comes to faith is through the Word of Jesus. The only way that anyone comes to faith is through hearing that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness and that Jesus has died for you and gives you forgiveness freely. This we hear in Jesus’ Word.

We fight against it because we think it’s too easy. It’s too cheap. It doesn’t involve our work or effort. It doesn’t require an evangelism committee or an evangelism budget. All it requires of us is to say, “Come and see.”

Furthermore, inviting someone to see what goes on in church… well frankly, that’s a little embarrassing. There’s not too much to see that goes on here.

Inviting someone to go to the football game? Well, that’s exciting! Inviting someone to our favourite concert? Well, that sounds great! Inviting someone to see the latest blockbuster at the theatre? Well, that’s some real action and exhilaration!

But inviting someone to church? Boring. Not too much to see here.

We sing. Sometimes not so well. A pastor talks. We sing some more. Maybe a song we don’t know so well, so that’s no good. The pastor talks again. He gives out a little wafer of bread and a sip of wine. We sing. Then we leave. Not so much to see.

The truth is, if that is all that happens here, we shouldn’t invite anyone to church. We ourselves shouldn’t come either. By every worldly standard, there is no greater way to waste your time on Sunday morning. If what we see is what we get, stay home.

Is that all that happens here? Come and see.

It is true that we don’t have exhilarating close calls on the side-lines or the latest beats. We don’t have Dolby digital surround sound or action sequences that make our hearts race and put us on the edge of our seats.

We do have something far better. We have the Word of Jesus, which is the Word of life. We have God’s voice from heaven, printed on pages we can read, and which can be read to us.

We have something better than seeing heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Heaven is open as we join the angels and archangels in praising God with the same words they sing in heaven. Heaven is open as we join our loved ones who have died in the faith in communion with each other and with Jesus Christ, the head of the Church. Heaven is open as the Son of Man descends here with His true and resurrected body and blood, so that we will ascend into heaven with Him.

We don’t see it. We can’t see it.

Thus, we fight against this also. It cannot be. I don’t hear the angels. I don’t see my loved ones. I don’t see Jesus.

You cannot convince someone to believe. I cannot convince someone to believe. The only way that anyone believes is through the Word of Jesus. What is this Word of Jesus? Jesus says, “Take eat; this is my body… Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt. 26:26-28) It is as simple as that. And, “You have come to… the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven… and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24). It is as simple as that.

Yes, come and see, but you may not see what you want to see.

Do you think there was so much for Nathaniel to see when Philip invited him to come and see Jesus? Come and see Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Come and see the blue-collar worker’s son from the despised city of Nazareth, where no one expected any good to come. Come see the carpenter’s son who was born in an animal feeding trough and had to flee from danger like any ordinary, weak human.

To identify Jesus as the one of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, as Philip did, was not the result being convinced by seeing anything special in Jesus. He looked like an average man from a below-average town.

Do you think that the disciples in the upper room saw any more than we do, when Jesus said, “Take eat; this is my body… Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood…” Do you think they saw more than bread and wine? They did not. There was no special light or sound show that accompanied Jesus’ institution of the meal.

Do you think the disciples who believed in Jesus saw a special twinkle in His eye as He walked about teaching? Do you think that Jesus had a halo around His head everywhere He went as He is typically depicted in drawings and art? I assure you, He did not.

Isaiah writes that Jesus had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Is. 53:2-3).

Jesus could not have looked weaker, more miserable, more detestable, or more despised than when He hung on the cross to His dying breath. Yet, come and see, for that is where He shed His blood for thee.

Come and see, but you may not see what you want to see.

Jesus on the cross was not a beautiful sight to behold. Neither is Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Yet both are the simple realities of Jesus’ Word. You are a sinner in need of forgiveness and Jesus has died for you on the cross and gives you forgiveness freely in His body and blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

You cannot convince someone to believe. I cannot convince someone to believe. The only way that anyone comes to faith is through the Word of Jesus.

So, come and hear the Word of Jesus.

Invite others. We don’t need distracting flashy gimmicks or useless silly tchotchkes to give away. We don’t need anything other than the Word of Jesus, which is the Word of life.

Come and see. Come and hear. Amen.

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

Baptism is Eternal

Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord based on Mark 1:4-11

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

Thousands of years ago, God said, “Let there be light.” Since God’s Word does not wear out, wither, or fade, we still have light today. God’s Word which created light so many years ago has not expired, otherwise we would be in absolute darkness; there would be no light. Time does not undo God’s Word, or make it of no effect.

God’s Word with which He claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism does not wear out, wither, or fade either. It doesn’t matter how long ago God claimed you through Baptism, your Baptism has not expired and will not expire. Time does not undo God’s Word, or make it of no effect.

We confess this truth also in how we deal with the elements consecrated for holy communion. The bread that has been consecrated to be the body of Christ, and the wine that has been consecrated to be the blood of Christ are treated with the understanding that God’s Word does not wear out, wither, or fade. Time does not undo God’s Word, or make it of no effect.

How can you undo God’s Word? Once God’s Word has been joined to the bread and wine, so that we have the true presence of Christ’s body and blood on the altar, how do you undo it? How do you reverse it? How do you cancel it? By waiting for a few minutes? By saying the benediction? By taking the elements out of the nave?

Since we cannot undo God’s eternal Word, we simply do what Christ instructed: we take eat and we take drink. We consume what has been consecrated to be the body and blood of Christ. God’s Word does not expire.

We, however, will expire. Our bodies will die, but God’s Word will not. The fact that we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection cannot be undone. The fact that we are in communion with Christ through the Sacrament of the Altar will not expire.

In the Baptism of our Lord the heavens were torn open to Him and the Holy Spirit descended on Him. No less happened to us in our Baptism. We could not see it, but that is nevertheless exactly what happened. We were given the gift of the Holy Spirit and the heavens are open to receive us when we die from this life. We were adopted as God’s sons and God is well pleased with us because our sins were washed away in Baptism.

There is a danger, however, that comes with Baptism. Baptism puts a target on your back for the devil. You either belong to the devil, or you belong to God. There is no one else to whom you can belong. In Baptism, God snatches us away from the devil, whose child we are by nature. God claims us away from the devil for Himself.

Don’t think for a second that the devil doesn’t care. The moment that one is baptized the devil goes to work to get him back. The devil knows that God’s Word will not expire, but his goal is to make us reject what God has given to us in Baptism. His goal is to make us believe that our Baptism wears off and that God’s Word is not eternal.

Immediately once Jesus was baptized, the devil tempted Him. That is the next verse if we would have kept reading in Mark’s gospel. This was no coincidence. The devil also comes after all of us with temptations immediately when we are baptized.

For this reason, it is not a good idea to baptize an infant if the parents have no intention of raising the child in the faith. Doing so brings the devil with his temptations, yet without God’s Word regularly sustaining the child’s faith, that faith will die.

Thus, parents are required to make an oath before God and the congregation that they will teach the faith to their child, promise to bring the child into God’s house, and bring him to the altar rail to receive the strengthening of faith in the Lord’s Supper when he grows up. Without these, faith dies, just like the flame of a lamp with no oil.

We even have sponsors for Baptisms, who are supposed to encourage the baptized in his faith and in regular church attendance, so that his faith does not die.

If you are a baptismal sponsor and your godchildren are not regularly attending Divine Service, call them up and encourage them. Tell them to stop acting like their Baptism has worn off, and to stop despising their Baptism. Tell them to come hear God’s Word and to be strengthened in their faith before it dies.

In all this, we see that the problem is not with Baptism, but with us. Baptism cannot be extolled and praised enough. Baptism cannot be held in high enough esteem.

Thus, Luther directs us in the Catechism during daily prayers at morning and evening to make the sign of the cross on ourselves in remembrance of our Baptism. Thus, our hymnal in every order of service directs us to make the sign of the cross during the Invocation, as a reminder to us that we are baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. During the Creeds when we confess that we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, the hymnal also directs us to make the sign of the cross to remind us that this very body of ours will be raised from the dead because we are baptized into Christ.

The certainty of Baptism is why we should continually remember and celebrate our Baptism. God’s Word which claimed us in Baptism will not wear out, wither, or fade. Our Baptism will never expire.

When guilt comes chasing us, we should flee to our Baptism for refuge. When the devil comes with his temptations, we should flee to our Baptism for strength to resist and overcome temptation. When death and disease come knocking, we should find comfort in our Baptism which has rescued us from death, disease, and every danger to our bodies and lives.

Baptism is how you can stand before the holy Lord God almighty without fear of being destroyed because your sins are covered. Baptism is how you can receive the body and blood of Jesus without receiving the Sacrament to your judgment and death. Baptism is how you have been set free from sin and live in newness of life.

Just as God’s Word which created light has not expired, so also His Word which has claimed you in Baptism has not expired. He has also given you His eternal Word and the Sacrament of the Altar which nourish the faith given to you in Baptism, and strengthen you against the devil and his temptations. They strengthen your faith in what God gave you in Baptism, so that you do not reject His great gift to you.

Just as the heavens were opened to Jesus at His Baptism, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him, and He was declared by God the Father to be His beloved Son in Whom He is well pleased, so also because of our Baptism into Christ, the heavens are open for us, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, and God declares us His sons who are well pleasing to Him.

God’s Word will not be undone. His claim on you will not wear out, wither, or fade. God’s name on you will not expire. You belong to Him forever. Amen.

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