God’s Visitation Now

Sermon for Advent Midweek Service – God’s Visitation Now (based on Acts 1:15-26, I Corinthians 11:23-32, John 12:44-50)

Dear people who are visited by God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last week we heard of God’s visitation of Old – how His visitation of unbelievers throughout history meant curse, suffering, plague, and death, but how His visitation of believers throughout history meant blessing, salvation, and life.

Today, instead of looking back into history, we look to the present. We look to how God visits us now.

After Judas had betrayed Jesus and killed himself, Peter quotes Psalm 109 verse eight, “Let another take his office.” Matthias was chosen to take his office. What is interesting, is that the word translated as “office” in English is the same word as “visitation” in both the Hebrew of the Psalm, and the Greek in which Peter cites it. The office or position to which Judas had been called, is an office of oversight or supervision, but it speaks specifically of the act of watching over with special reference to being present, of visitation.

This makes sense, because it is through the office or position of His ministers that God visits His people. God sends His ministers to do His work, and through them, visits His people. Thus, Ephesians four tells us, “When [Christ] ascended to the highest place, He took captivity captive, He gave gifts to men… He Himself gave the apostles and the prophets and the evangelists and pastors and teachers, for bringing the saints to completion, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:8,11) Christ gives pastors to His church to work in the church for the benefit of His people. Pastors continue the work that Christ started.

Of course, it is Christ Himself who works through pastors. Thus Jesus says to His ministers, “He who hears you, hears me.” (Lk. 10:16) Pastors in themselves can do nothing. Indeed, Jesus says to all believers, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) It is God who works through His Word. It is God alone who turns us away from our sins in repentance. It is God alone who creates faith. It is God alone who saves.

Yet, God saves through the preaching of the Word. God saves through water with the Word. God uses these means to save. God uses these means of grace to visit His people, and He calls ministers to dispense these means of grace.

As with God’s visitation of old, His visitation today can be for good or for ill, for blessing or for curse. For those who trust God’s Word, His Word is a blessing and the path to eternal life. For those who reject God’s Word, His Word is a curse and the path to eternal damnation.

Thus Jesus says that whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in Him is condemned already (Jn 3:18). He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (Jn 5:24) “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (Jn 12:48)

Jesus is speaking of the very same Word. His visitation by means of His Word means life for believers and judgment for unbelievers. His Word does not judge believers because they pass from death to life, but His Word does judge and condemn unbelievers.

We see this also in the Lord’s Supper, where Christ visits us with His true body and blood. The same body and blood of Jesus can be received for forgiveness or for judgment. Whoever eats and drinks in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. We are therefore told to examine ourselves before partaking.

You must examine yourself to see whether you are sorry for your sins, whether you plan with the help of the Holy Spirit to change your sinful life, and whether you believe in Jesus Christ and His words in the Sacrament. If you aren’t sorry for your sins, you receive the Lord’s Supper to your harm. If you have no intention of turning away from your sins but returning to them upon receiving the Sacrament, you receive the Lord’s Supper to your condemnation. If you do not believe in Jesus or you do not believe His Word that He truly gives you His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, you eat and drink judgment on yourself.

This once again serves to point out that the same visitation of God is a curse for unbelievers and a blessing for believers. For the faithful, God’s visitation is a Gospel event, but for the godless it is Law.

This also serves to point out that faith alone saves. It is not a question of how many sins you have committed. It is not a question of how many sins you struggle with or how many times you have fallen into temptation. Faithful reception of Christ’s true body and blood means being sorry for your sin and desiring to do better, and believing that Jesus gives you His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.

Christ visits you humbly with forgiveness. He sends pastors to His church who are in the office of visitation, visiting you with His Word and His body and blood.

Since faith alone saves, God has given you faith. He visited you by washing you in the waters of Holy Baptism, joining you to Himself. He visits you by speaking His Word to you through His ministers to call you to repentance and to strengthen you in the faith. He visits you in the Sacrament of the Altar where He nourishes you to life everlasting.

God visits you in His Word and Sacrament. His visitation of you is not in wrath or anger, but forgiveness. He gives us His Word for this purpose. Christ also specifically instituted the Lord’s Supper for the very purpose of increasing and strengthening faith. If you are weak in faith and struggling with your sins, the Lord’s Supper is for you to give you forgiveness and strengthen you in your fight with temptation. As for all believers throughout history, God’s visitation of you means blessing, salvation, and life for you. Amen.

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

God’s Word is Eternal

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent based on Luke 21:25-36

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

Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This heaven and earth are not eternal. They will not last. But God’s Word is eternal. It will last.

Therefore, you have a choice of clinging to that which will pass away, or to that which will not pass away. You can cling to the mammon and treasures and pleasures of this life which will all be burned with fire, or you can cling to the Word of God which leads to eternal life. Clinging to that which will be destroyed by eternal fire means that you will be destroyed by eternal fire. Clinging to that which does not pass away means that you will be saved eternally.

God’s Word is eternal. It has been proclaimed on the earth since the beginning. Adam was a preacher. So were Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The preaching of the Word has been since the beginning, and has always been the same: the preaching of repentance and the promise of the forgiveness of sins as a free gift. It has always been about turning away from idols, turning away from that which will pass away and holding fast to that which is eternal, to that which will not pass away.

The first writing down of God’s Word that we have recorded in Scripture, is God Himself writing the Ten Commandments on stone tablets. Over the next thousand years, the rest of the Scriptures were written which we call the Old Testament. Our epistle lesson tells us, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The Bible was given to us so that we would learn from it, and that we would have endurance, encouragement, and hope.

After a period of silence which lasted four hundred years, God the Father sent His Son into the world. The Word became flesh. God again spoke, and the New Testament was written.

The Old and New Testaments are God’s Word. Everything that is written down in them was inspired by God, so they are free from error. Second Peter 2 says, “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.” (1:20-21) Everything that is written by men is subject to error. Because God is responsible for the words written in the Bible, it does not have errors. It cannot have errors, because God does not have errors or make errors. The Bible is perfect and reliable.

The Bible is therefore the only authority by which the church, its teaching, and its teachers are to be judged. The church does not decide any point of doctrine. The church is to submit to the doctrine revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Bible. That’s why you cannot have votes on matters of doctrine. A church committee or council or convention or voter’s assembly cannot make decisions on matters of doctrine. A pastor cannot make decisions on matters of doctrine. The entire church must submit to God’s Word as the sole authority on all things spiritual.

That’s why Saint Paul writes to Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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.” (II Tim. 3:15-17)

Scripture is God-breathed. This means that God is the source of Scripture. It is for teaching. This means it teaches us God’s doctrine. It is for reproof and correction. This means it calls us to repentance over our sin. It is for training in righteousness and equipping us for good works. This means that it teaches us that we are declared righteous by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, so that we would live a God-pleasing life.

What is it that Saint Paul writes is the main purpose of the Bible? To make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. This is what Saint John also writes, “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

The main purpose of the Bible is not to be a book of rules and commands for us to follow. In fact, the first purpose of the Bible is to show us that we cannot follow the rules and commands God has given us. The second, and main purpose of the Bible is to tell us how Jesus died for our sins so that we have the promise of the forgiveness of sins. These are the two major divisions of the teaching in the Bible – Law and Gospel.

Law and Gospel will never pass away. They are eternal.

The Law of God is eternal because it is the will of God for us which is holy, and righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). In eternity it will no longer accuse us because we will fulfil the Law perfectly in heaven. We will no longer sin. We will live according to the Law of God in thought, word, and deed.

The Gospel is eternal because it is an enduring message of deliverance from evil (cf. Rev. 14:6). We will no longer need the Gospel because we will no longer need the forgiveness of sins, but its effect is eternal. Because of Jesus’ death for us, we will spend eternity in heaven with Him and see Him face to face.

This is why even though heaven and earth will pass away, God’s Word will not pass away. His will for us remains forever and His promises to us remain forever.

This eternal Word of God makes you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. This eternal Word of God gives you faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and thus gives you life in His name.

Don’t cling to the things of this life that will pass away. Whether God gives these earthly things or takes them away, say with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (cf. Job 1:21)

Cling to God’s Word which is eternal. God’s Word will bring you to eternal life because it tells you about Jesus, the Word made flesh. He joined our human race in order to take upon Himself the sin the kept us away from God. He removed it from us by bearing its penalty in Himself. Christ crucified is the chief and main topic of the Bible as well as of the preached Word of God. He who created all things in the beginning and joined His creation in the fullness of time sends us His Holy Spirit, who daily and richly forgives us all our sins. This is how He keeps us united to Him in faith until the very end. This world will pass away, but the words of Jesus and those who cling to them in faith will endure forever. Amen.

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

God’s Visitation of Old

Sermon for Advent Midweek Service – God’s Visitation of Old (based on Genesis 50:15-26, I Peter 2:1-12, Luke 19:29-48)

Dear people who will be visited by God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Times of God’s visitation are recorded in the pages of sacred Scripture. For the faithful, this visitation is a Gospel event. For unbelievers, it is Law.

Joseph prophesied to his brothers that God would surely visit them in the land of Egypt and bring them out of Egypt to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God did indeed visit His people and He saved them. God’s visit meant that the Hebrews were freed from slavery and brought into a rich land flowing with milk and honey.

God’s visit for the unbelieving Egyptians, however, meant that their water was turned into blood. God’s visit meant that they had plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, and locusts. Their livestock was struck dead, and the people were struck with plague. Hail killed man and beast and struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. Darkness enveloped their land and God struck down all the firstborn in all the land of Egypt. Finally, God drowned Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen in the Red Sea.

God’s visitation had dramatically different results for the Egyptians compared to the Israelites. For the Israelites, God’s visitation meant blessing, salvation, and life. For the Egyptians, God’s visitation meant curse, suffering, and death.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we heard that Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He said, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

God was graciously visiting His people in the person of His Son. Jesus was there in compassion to seek and save the lost. He wept because the people of the city that He came to visit would kill Him before the end of the week and would be punished by God for not believing in Him. As He was led away to the cross, Jesus said to the daughters of Jerusalem, “Do not weep for me; but weep for yourselves and your children.” (Luke 23:28)

The name “Jerusalem” means “city of peace,” but the people of Jerusalem did not recognize the Prince of Peace when He came. Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem is the visitation of God that offered peace. Their rejection of Him would mean their destruction, just as Jesus lamented.

Indeed, Jesus’ prophecy came true in the year 70 A.D. Jerusalem was besieged by four legions of the Roman army and conquered. The Temple was burned and destroyed. The historian Josephus records that the city was filled with slaughter. Even the peaceful citizens, the weak, and the unarmed were butchered wherever they were caught. A section of the wall surrounding Jerusalem was saved to show how well fortified the city was that the Romans had laid to waste. The rest of the wall was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those who dug up its foundations that you could not tell the city had ever been inhabited.

Josephus writes that 1.1 million people were killed during the siege, mostly Jews. The siege happened during Passover, when Jews had gathered from far and wide in Jerusalem to celebrate. Those who were not killed were sent to be gladiators in the arena. Others, including those under seventeen years old were sold into slavery.

Another writer reports that Titus, the commander of the army and future Emperor, refused to accept a wreath of victory, saying that the victory did not come through his own efforts but that he had merely served as an instrument of divine wrath.

Jesus wept because He knew this future. He knew that because they rejected His gracious visitation, they would have a visitation of wrath and punishment.

Matthew records Jesus saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

Jesus loved the people of Jerusalem, but they did not love Him. They rejected Him. They mocked Him. They beat Him. They crucified Him. They did not know the things that make for peace.

Yet, in their crucifixion of Jesus, peace was made. They did not know it, but peace was made between God and man. The punishment of the sins of mankind was put on Jesus. Because of Jesus’ death for us, not only do we escape punishment, but we are put into a positive relationship with God. We are at peace with Him. We are His dear children and He is our dear Father. The things that made for peace were Jesus’ suffering and death.

God will visit us. His visit will be curse, suffering, and death for unbelievers. His visit will be blessing, salvation, and life for us. Not because we deserve blessing, salvation, and life, but because Jesus earned it for us.

When will God visit us and give us every blessing? When will God visit us and right every wrong and end our suffering? When will God punish the wicked and save His children? We do not know. So, we wait for Him. We wait for Him in joyful anticipation because He will graciously visit us.

God’s visitation in the person of His Son shows His disposition towards us. We know that He loves us to the point of sending His Son to suffer and die for us. Thus we know that when He visits us, He will visit with grace and mercy. He will visit us with a loving and forgiving heart. In repentant faith, we are ready for His visitation, whenever it will be. Amen.

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

 

Your King Comes to You

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 21:1-9

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

If you live by what you see and feel, you will be sorely disappointed in Jesus. He rides in poverty, humbly on a borrowed donkey into Jerusalem. How is such an advent befitting a king?

But faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. It depends on the Word alone, and not on vision or sight. For this reason, Christ was received only by those who believed the words of the prophets who foretold His coming. Christ was rejected by those who had their own ideas about what the Saviour should say and do. He was rejected by those who did not believe what the prophets spoke about Him.

If you live by what you see and feel, you will be sorely disappointed in Jesus. He comes in mere water with the Word. He comes in humble bread and wine. But faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. Faith hears the words, “Baptism… now saves you” (I Peter 3:21) and “This is my body… this is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:26,28)

Faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. Your king entered Jerusalem to suffer and die. This is not an advent befitting a king. He gave His life for you, so that you will live eternally.

You receive your Saviour, because you believe the words of the prophets who foretold His coming. The prophet Zechariah prophesied, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey.” (Zec. 9:9) Your king. He who was promised to you, whose own you are. It is your king – He whom you have yearned from the beginning, whom the prophets desired to see, who will deliver you from all that has burdened, troubled, and held you captive.

This is a comforting word to a believing heart. An unbelieving heart trusts only what it sees and feels. An unbelieving heart sees only a poor man riding on a humble donkey to die a gruesome death. Thus, an unbelieving heart is left in uncertainty, without a clear conscience, and in fear of death and hell.

Where the heart receives the King with firm faith, it is secure and has no fear of death, hell, or any other evil. The conscience is clear and the certainty of eternal life is known. Your king rode in to Jerusalem to die for you, thus securing your victory over sin, death, and the devil. Your king is the Lord of life and death, of sin and grace, of heaven and hell, and all things are in His hand.

Such great things are contained in these seemingly unimportant words, “Behold, your king.” Such boundless gifts are brought by this poor and despised king. Reason and emotion cannot understand or comprehend, but faith alone does. Therefore, He is called your king; yours, who are vexed and harassed by sin, Satan, death and hell, the flesh and the world. He is your King and He will bring you into His eternal kingdom.

“Behold, your king is coming to you.” He comes to you. This is great news, because you cannot go to Him, neither can you bring Him to yourself. He is too high and too far from you. With all your effort, work, and labour, you cannot come to Him. You cannot receive Him by any merit or worthiness of your own. You have only demerit and unworthiness on your side. He comes to you with grace and mercy on His side.

By this is condemned the teaching of free will in spiritual matters. As if we should by the power of free will first seek God, come to Him, run after Him, and acquire His grace. Beware, beware of this poison! It is nothing but the doctrine of devils, by which all the world is betrayed.

Before you can cry to God and seek Him, God must come to you and must have found you. As Saint Paul writes, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15) God must first seek you before you can seek Him, before you can call upon Him in prayer, before you can cling to Him in faith. Thus, your king seeks you. He comes to you.

Your king comes to you in the Gospel. Hence, it can be recognized that not greater wrath of God exists than where God does not send the Gospel – there is only error, sin, and darkness. On the other hand, there is no greater grace than where He sends the Gospel, even if not all, or perhaps only few, receive it.

This is what is meant by “your king comes.” You do not seek Him; He seeks you. You do not find Him; He finds you. For the preachers come from Him, not from you. Their sermons come from Him, not from you. Your faith comes from Him, not from you. Everything that faith works in you comes from Him, not from you. Where He does not come, you remain outside. Where there is no Gospel, there is no God, but only sin and damnation.

Where the Gospel is preached, there your King comes to you. Where holy communion is distributed, there your King comes to you. He comes to you humbly, but with overflowing grace and mercy.

Christ did not ride into Jerusalem just for the apostles, but for you. He is your Saviour from sin and death. He is your Saviour from Satan and his Satanic crew. He is your King and you too will reign with Him.

Believe your Saviour’s Word and promises to you. As you see the dark times that have overtaken us, trust your Saviour’s Word. As you face illnesses and tribulations, trust your Saviour’s promises. As you face death, believe that your King has come and died for you, that He comes to you in His Word and Sacrament, and that He will come again with glory to take you to Himself.

Faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. So, hear and listen to the Word of your king, and receive Him as He comes to you in bread and wine with overflowing grace and mercy. Amen.

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

[This sermon borrows content from a sermon by Martin Luther on the same text.]