Baptism: The Way to Heaven

Sermon for the Festival of the Holy Trinity based on John 3:1-15

Dear people born again by water and the Spirit: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Nicodemus went to Jesus at night and they had a conversation about how one gets into heaven. Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus is so simple and easy that he struggled to grasp it or understand it. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Yes, the water of Baptism which gives you the Holy Spirit brings you into the kingdom of God. That’s it. That’s how you get into heaven – through Baptism.

“How can these things be?” Nicodemus asks. Surely it must be more difficult than that. Surely I must do something. There must be rules for me to follow to distinguish myself from others. Surely I must make some grand confession before witnesses, study the Scriptures, and go to church. Jesus says, no. The way to heaven is by being reborn of water and the Spirit.

How can these things be? Because Jesus says so. Because Jesus gives you the forgiveness of sins through Baptism. He puts His name on you and claims you for Himself in Baptism.

Heretical spirits will say that Baptism is not important; that it is a useless ceremony. We are saved by faith alone, they say, so we don’t need Baptism.

We have God’s Word and command that have instituted, established, and confirmed Baptism. What God institutes and commands cannot be useless (LC IV.8). Thus, God promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)

What is faith without Baptism? Faith in what? Faith must have an object – faith must have something to believe – something to which it can cling and upon which it may stand (LC IV.29). Faith clings to God’s promises. God promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Faith clings to God’s promise that we are baptized into the death of Christ, and we therefore get all the benefits of Jesus’ death through our Baptism into Him (Rom. 6).

Of what use is Jesus’ death on the cross if you do not receive the benefits of His death? If you do not personally receive the forgiveness of sins Jesus earned by His suffering and death, His death is of no advantage to you.

How important is Baptism? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” If you’re not baptized, you’re not getting into heaven. That’s how important Baptism is.

If Baptism is so powerful and gives the forgiveness of sins and saves from sin, death, and the devil, and brings us into Christ’s kingdom to live with Him forever, why do we need anything else? Why do we seek to follow God’s commandments? Why do we need God’s Word, Absolution, the Lord’s Supper? Why do we go to church?

We seek to follow God’s commandments because they are for our good. They are God’s good and perfect will for our lives. There is no better way to love God and your neighbour than following the commandments of God. There is no better way to live than the way God created you to live.

We need to hear God’s Word so that we can hear His commandments and how He wants us to live. In His Word we also hear His promises, including the promises He connects to Baptism. God has given us Absolution and the Lord’s Supper to continually give us forgiveness because we fail to follow His commandments perfectly. He uses them to continually strengthen our faith to life everlasting. These things God gives to you in His Church on earth, and that’s why we go to church.

This is why parents and baptismal sponsors make promises to bring the child to church and eventually to the Lord’s Supper. The faith given in Baptism will die if it is never nurtured by God’s Word. Jesus didn’t give us His Word and institute the Sacrament of the Altar because we don’t need them and don’t benefit from them. He gave them to us because He knows we need them to bring us to everlasting life.

Do not neglect the means of grace that give you life. They are for your benefit. Baptism is what has brought you into the kingdom of God. God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper keep you in the kingdom of God. That’s why your salvation is sure. It is not up to you. It is up to God.

God has brought you into His kingdom here on earth and keeps you in His kingdom so that He will also bring you into His kingdom of heaven. His kingdom here on earth is His Church. Through His Church on earth, He brings you into His kingdom of heaven, because through His Church on earth He baptizes, feeds, and nourishes you with His Word and the body and blood of Jesus.

Jesus’ suffering and death for the sins of the whole world doesn’t benefit you if you are not actually receiving forgiveness. That is why Jesus instituted the church and the means of grace – the ways that He gives you forgiveness, which are His Word and sacraments. They are not useless ceremonies, but they are the miraculous way that Jesus gives you forgiveness and brings you to eternal life. Amen.

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

 

The Day of Pentecost

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost based on Acts 2:1-21

Dear believers who have the Holy Spirit: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christians long for another Pentecost; another Peter to rise up and call sinners to account for their sins so that they are cut to the heart and ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37) Another day with lots of Baptisms. Another day when three thousand souls join the church after hearing one sermon.

Especially as churches are closing, Divine Service attendance is dwindling, and people are just plain getting bored with hearing God’s Word, we may wonder why the Holy Spirit doesn’t come with the sound of a mighty rushing wind and fill this room and cause tongues of fire to appear and rest on our heads while granting us to speak in tongues we have never before studied or spoken.

The first thing to clarify, is that there will not be another Pentecost. Pentecost was the fulfilment of the prophecy found in Joel as Peter preached, and was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit who would guide the apostles in writing the New Testament, in preaching God’s saving Word, and to work in the hearts of those who would hear the Word, which is for all peoples of all languages. Those prophecies have been fulfilled.

Secondly, don’t need another Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit. He continues to call sinners to repentance and faith through the preached Word as He did on Pentecost. Does that mean we will see three thousand souls saved in one day, after hearing one sermon? It doesn’t seem to be happening today, but He certainly could do so again.

What we need to realize is that the Holy Spirit works faith where and when it pleases Him. We might think He should work faith in our community and fill our church. He will do it if it so pleases Him.

We cannot control the Holy Spirit or tell Him what to do. We cannot manipulate Him by our own efforts or schemes. He is working wherever the Word is heard. He continues to call sinners to repentance. Will they heed His call? We will have to see. The question for each one of us is not “Will others heed His call?” but rather, “Will I heed His call? Will I turn away from my sin and repent, or will I harden my heart to His call?”

What we should realize is that even while the Holy Spirit is calling sinners to repentance and faith through the preached Word, hard, sinful hearts are rejecting His call, today just as they were on Pentecost. Yes, three thousand souls where saved, but how many heard Peter preaching? How many mocked the apostles and called the miraculous preaching of the Gospel in many languages nothing more than drunks babbling? Hard hearts will always reject the Holy Spirit’s call to repentance and faith.

Meanwhile, hearts that are convicted of sin cry out with those on Pentecost, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s response was, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (2:38-39)

Repent and be baptized, every one of you. Already baptized? God be praised. Repent and return to your Baptism. Circumcise your hearts. Turn from your sin. Throw yourself upon God’s mercy. Confess your sins because you are baptized. You have been named with God’s name. You belong to Him. But then, if that is the case, He also belongs to you. He cannot and He will not refuse your call. He has promised to be your God. You have access to Him through prayer, confession and absolution, His Word, and holy communion. Return to His name, His way, to His promise. Return to Holy Baptism where the Holy Spirit was poured out upon you and where God’s own Word was made your inheritance. There you will find a Father eager to accept and welcome you home (from a Rev. David Petersen sermon for Pentecost).

Longing for the Holy Spirit to turn sinners to faith is a good, Christian desire, even if we will not have another Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is working through the Word to call sinners to repentance. The work that He does in others we can leave to Him. The work that He does in us, we can also leave to Him.

What work does the Holy Spirit perform in us? He calls us to repentance. He convicts us that we are sinful and need a Saviour. He also grants us faith through the Gospel, when we hear that we do have a Saviour, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. He gave His life as a ransom for us. He died for our sins. He has saved us from everlasting condemnation by being condemned in our place.

The Holy Spirit still works in us through our Baptism, reminding us that we were adopted as children of God through Baptism. He strengthens our faith and nourishes us to life everlasting through the body and blood of Jesus, which take away all our sin. And finally, on the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. Amen.

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

We Confess that Christ Reigns

Sermon for the Ascension of our Lord based on Mark 16:14-20

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

Mark writes that upon His ascension into heaven, the Lord Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. This we confess in all three of our creeds.

At the time of the Reformation, Zwingli and other radical reformers used this as an argument that Christ cannot give us His body and blood in the Lord Supper, since His body and blood are at the right hand of God in heaven. Luther wrote an extensive response to these fanatics, showing how the right hand of God is not a localized physically confined space, as if Jesus is incarcerated on a throne in heaven and cannot leave.

This is shown in Ephesians, where it is written, “When [God the Father] raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 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.” (1:20-23)

This passage shows that to be at God the Father’s right hand, though referring figuratively to a place, far from being confined to a space, it represents a power that is working everywhere; a power that is above all power, all rule, authority, and dominion. Thus, Luther contends, if God’s right hand is an image for His almighty power and if God’s mighty power can be shown to be at work in all places, then the right hand of God to which Christ is appointed is also everywhere. And if Christ in His almighty power is everywhere and fills all in all as Scripture says, He is certainly also in the bread and wine of communion as He has promised to be.

That Christ sits at God’s right hand means that He rules over all things. He has all power and authority. He is no longer in the state of humiliation, to suffer poverty and hunger with no place to lay His head, to be beaten and suffer and die. He accomplished all these things for us and our salvation, but now He lives and reigns forever.

If sitting at God the Father’s right hand meant that Jesus was stuck someplace in heaven, He also would not have promised us saying, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20) and “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20) Jesus is with us. He is wherever His Word is.

Two Sundays ago, we heard Jesus say that it is to His disciples’ advantage that He go away because He would then send them the Holy Spirit. This morning, we also heard His promise of sending the Holy Spirit. It is to our advantage that Jesus ascended into heaven and has sent us His Holy Spirit to give us faith through the Word of God.

It is also to our advantage that Jesus has ascended into heaven and rules over all things, especially His Church. As we heard from Ephesians, Jesus is the head of the Church, which is His body. As the head of the Church, He rules through His Word. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119:105). His Word is eternal and will not wither or fade any more than Christ’s reign over us will wither or fade.

This is the confession Brooke will be making this morning. She will be confessing that her ascended Lord Jesus Christ rules over all things. She will be confessing that she believes what He teaches in His Word even if all the rest of the world forsakes His Word. She will promise that she would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this confession and Church.

That is a rather huge promise and confession to make. One might even ask, “How can the church ask her to make such a confession and promise?” The answer is that it is Jesus who says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:32) Romans 10:9, which is Brooke’s confirmation verse, tells us, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The other reason we ask for such a confession is that which one of you can see her heart? Which one of you can see what she believes? You cannot. But you can hear her confession when she tells you what she believes.

This is why the church has always based admission to the Lord’s Supper upon confession. No pastor can see your heart, but he can hear you confess what you believe.

Every member of this congregation has confessed and made the same promises that Brooke will confess and promise. Those who have not made such a confession and promise therefore are not admitted to the Lord’s Supper at this altar. Why? Is it because a judgment is being made against their faith? No, not at all. Remember, no one can see another’s faith. Rather it is because their confession of faith has not been heard. Or, if it was heard some years ago, it has since changed.

The confession of Lutheran Church Canada says that the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God. This means that we do not believe that as society changes, we should follow society, but continue to follow the Word of God. There is thus necessary conflict between what our church believes and what the world believes.

Church bodies that follow society instead of God’s Word have abandoned the confession of this congregation and church body. Sometimes people join such churches to avoid the conflict that Jesus tells us Christians will have in this world (John 16:33). Sometimes it is done without knowledge of the differences. Either way, everyone must be taken at their confession, which is made through the promises and confession you have made at the church where you are a member.

Why are we such sticklers to following Christ’s Word? Because we believe that He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty, and that He will return to judge the living and the dead. We believe that He reigns far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and thus we fear no other power. We desire those who are lost in errors maze to hear the truth and be set free.

Most especially, we believe that Christ is our head and we are His body. Jesus, our head, rose from the dead. Do you think that we, His body, will remain dead? Jesus, our head, ascended into heaven. Do you think that we, His body, will remain here on earth? Where the head is, there will His body be also.

Jesus made sure of this by His suffering and death in your place. What is there to keep you from ascending into heaven? Your sin? You sin was nailed to the cross with Jesus and left in the grave when He rose. Your sin was removed from you in Baptism, and Christ offers you forgiveness again and again in Absolution and in His body and blood.

Since Christ in His almighty power is everywhere and fills all in all as Scripture says, He is certainly also in the bread and wine of communion as He has promised to be. Not in the same way as He is everywhere, for Christ never promised concerning anything else that in it He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sin.

Yes, Christ who reigns at the right hand of God says, “This is my body… this is my blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Christ is not incarcerated in heaven. He reigns from heaven and is everywhere, filling all in all. He is where His name is confessed before men. He is where two or three are gathered in His name. He has promised to be with us until the end of the age. And He has promised to give us His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.

Let the world and the devil rave and storm. We will follow our risen and ascended Lord and confess what He teaches in His Word even if all the rest of the world forsakes His Word. We would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this confession and Church. Amen.

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

 

Praying in Jesus’ Name

Sermon for Rogate based on John 16:23-33

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

Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” He tells us that we can pray directly to God the Father because He Himself loves us. God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. He has promised to hear the prayers of His children and to answer our prayers.

For what do children normally ask from their fathers? Candy? A treat? A toy? Yes, children tend to ask their fathers for frivolous things. We really are no different. As God’s children, we tend to pray for frivolous things, too. We pray for prosperity, for mammon, for little trifles for this life. We might pray for a bigger house, a newer car, more prestige in the community.

Saint James writes, “You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (4:3) Like little children, we don’t know what we should be asking for. We ask for things out of jealousy or greed. We pray for selfish things that aren’t good for us.

Our Father in heaven knows how to give good gifts to His children. While we tend to pray for earthly blessings, His desire is to give us heavenly blessings. While we tend to desire earthly pleasures, He desires to give us eternal pleasures, eternal joy. Our eternal life is what He always has in mind in what He gives and doesn’t give in answer to our prayers.

To be sure, God does also give us earthly blessings and pleasures. We can certainly pray for them. Like the child who is told “No” when asking for more candy, we may also be told “No,” but God has given and continues to give us very much more than we need for this body and life.

The thing about earthly joys is that they don’t last. A fun moment, a pleasurable dinner, a nice vacation – they all end, and then all you have left are the memories. Every earthly possession will one day break down, rust, or be destroyed. Even our bodies will one day give up our spirit and decay in the ground.

Why would we not pray for spiritual blessings? As opposed to earthly blessings, spiritual blessings are promised to us by God. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

There is true joy in having your sins forgiven and having peace with God. There is true joy in knowing that God is not angry with you over your sin, and that He will not punish you for your sin.

When you pray for forgiveness of sins, you don’t have to wonder if God will grant you forgiveness or not. The context of Jesus telling the disciples that they can pray directly to the Father in His name is Jesus speaking about His upcoming suffering and death on the cross. It is because of Jesus’ death that you know God will forgive your sins when you ask in Jesus’ name. It is because of Jesus’ suffering and death that you know that God will forgive you your sins for Jesus’ sake.

To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray with faith. It means to pray that God would give you what you ask for Jesus’ sake, relying on Jesus’ death in your place. Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, which means that He has satisfied the demands of God’s Law for us through His perfect obedience and His perfect payment for sin. Praying in Jesus’ name is relying on Jesus having satisfied the wrath of God over our sin.

Praying in Jesus’ name also means trusting that God knows what you need and will give it to you. So, pray for prosperity. Pray for mammon. Pray for little trifles for this life. Pray for a bigger house, a newer car, more prestige in the community, but pray for it all asking that God’s will be done. That is what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught us. We don’t pray, “My will be done,” but “Thy will be done.”

We pray that God’s will, which is good and perfect, would be done in everything for which we pray and in everything in our lives. We pray that if in our lack of wisdom we pray for something that is harmful for our spiritual well-being, God would not give it to us. If we pray for something that would lead us away from God, that would cause us to sin, that would lead us into temptation, we pray that God would not give it to us. We pray that God’s will would be done rather than our will.

God does want what is best for you. That you can know and trust. Since He has given His only Son to death for you, you know He will withhold nothing from you, but will graciously give you all good things. He who claimed you as His child in the waters of Holy Baptism, forgives your sins through Absolution, and strengthens your faith through Christ’s body and blood will give you everything you need and more.

Even sinful earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children. How much more does your heavenly Father know how to give you good gifts. He Himself loves you, so you can pray directly to the Father in Jesus’ name, knowing that He will answer your prayers and your joy will be full. Amen.

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

 

All of the Truth

Sermon for Cantate based on John 16:5-15

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

Jesus told His apostles that it is to their advantage that He goes away because He would send them the Holy Spirit who would guide them in all the truth. This explains to us how the timid and fearful men who fled at the arrest of Jesus were later preaching publicly, even amidst opposition and threats, that He is risen from the dead. It explains to us how these men who struggled to understand much of what Jesus taught them while He was with them were able, by the inspiration of the promised Holy Spirit, to write the inerrant words of holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit guided them in all truth. They did not write man’s word, but God’s Word as directed by Him.

It is worth pointing out also that Jesus did not say that the Holy Spirit would guide them in some of the truth, but that the Holy Spirit would guide them in all of the truth. Everything we have in the Bible is the truth. Not just a version of the truth, as if there are other versions of the truth, but the Bible is all of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The Bible is thus reliable for us as we learn the truth. All our doctrine therefore must be from the Bible since that is how the Holy Spirit now guides us in all the truth.

Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.

What is sin? The world says sin is being judgmental, intolerant, or unaccepting. The world accepts and praises every depravity and perversion, and thinks Christians sin if we stand up for the truth of God’s Word or say that their depravities and perversions are sin. The world will accept every idea, lifestyle, and religion, so long as it is not from the Bible, the only source of truth.

The world also has its own ideas about righteousness and judgment. They justify their every selfish behaviour as if they are righteous. They don’t believe judgment in hell exists. Everyone just goes to heaven. Except maybe people like Hitler, but certainly, they do not believe hell is something the average person needs to worry about, even though Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14)

Those who find the gate to eternal life are few because people prefer to follow the world’s definitions of sin, righteousness, and judgment, not God’s definitions as He gives us in His Word.

God defines sin as that which breaks His holy commands. God’s Law does not tolerate sin, but judges sin. God’s Law commands you to love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbour as yourself. Because you are sinful, it is not possible for you to fulfil these commands. You do not live for God because you want to live for yourself. You do not live for your neighbour because you want to live for yourself. God’s Law condemns the entire human race. We are all guilty of sin, which means we are sinful not righteous.

Yet, we must understand that even though our unrighteousness is found in our failure to love God and our neighbour, our righteousness is not to be found in fulfilling the command to love God and our neighbour. Our righteousness is not to be found in doing good works. Our righteousness is not to be found in giving generously to charities or helping your neighbour. Our righteousness is found only in Christ. He is our righteousness. His blood covers our sins. We must be covered by Christ’s righteousness if we are to appear righteous before the judgment seat of God.

Note carefully who Jesus says is judged. He says that when the Helper comes, He will convict the world concerning judgment “because the ruler of this world is judged.” The ruler of this world is Satan, and he has been judged guilty and condemned of being a liar and perverter of the truth. Those who follow his lies are thus condemned along with him, that is why Jesus says that the world is convicted of sin because the ruler of this world is judged. They are convicted because they reject the truth of God’s Word and follow their own hearts, which are of one mind with the devil.

Those who follow the truth of God’s Word, even though we are convicted by the Law as sinful, are convicted that we are not righteous, and are convicted that we deserve judgment, nevertheless do not despair because we trust in Christ. Christ has taken our sin. He is our righteousness. He was judged in our place.

Thus, we do not seek righteousness in what we do. We do not think that we are right in God’s eyes because we help our neighbour, give offerings at church, or visit the sick. We are right in God’s eyes because Jesus’ righteousness covers us. Because Jesus’ righteousness covers us and we were purchased by His blood, we belong to Him. It is not some kind of part-time ownership or timeshare. First Corinthians says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (6:19)

You belong to God. All of you – your heart, mind, body, and soul; your time, your money, your possessions. So, when you consider how you should use any given hour of the day, remember that the hour belongs to God. When you consider how you should use any given dollar, remember that the dollar belongs to God. When you consider how you should use any possession, remember that the possession belongs to God.

Also remember that your use of God’s time, money, or possessions will not give you any merit or worthiness in His sight. The only merit and worthiness you have is Christ’s. Everything that you think, say, and do is covered by Christ’s righteousness and thus forgiven. Yes, I dare say that even if you squander all of God’s time, all of God’s money, and all of God’s possessions that He has entrusted to you, for the sake of Christ, God will not condemn you.

That is the freedom of the Gospel. The free forgiveness of sins frees you from doing what you are commanded to do. You are then free to use God’s time, money, and possessions in a God-pleasing way – not because you must in order to be saved, but because you want to. You have been freed from the slavery of sin and from the condemnation of the Law, and have been promised eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth.

Eternal life is, in the end, all that matters. Time, money, and possessions will all be burned and they have no future. You have been freed from the slavery to these elementary principles and have been granted freedom in Christ who gave His life for you on the cross to pay the price of your sins and rose from the dead to secure your resurrection to life everlasting.

Cling therefore to the eternal truth of the Word of God. Cling to God’s definition of sin, righteousness, and judgment, because your sin is forgiven, you are declared righteous on account of Christ, and the ruler of this world has been judged and cast out, and you have the promise of eternal life. Amen.

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

 

Death Defeated!

Sermon for the Resurrection of Our Lord based on Mark 16:1-8

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

We know death. We see signs of it in every illness, every injury, even in every paper cut. We’ve seen it drawing nearer and nearer in hospitals and nursing homes. We’ve seen it come surprisingly and unexpectedly. We’ve seen it take the young and the old, the healthy and the sick. Death is all around us.

Death seems so permanent to us. Year after year, more bodies are buried in cemeteries and the number of tombstones only increases. We don’t see people come out of graves, they go into them and that’s the last we have seen of them.

This is exactly what the women going to the tomb on Easter morning knew. They knew death. They had seen the mean, bloody, gruesome, torturous death of Jesus at the hands of a wicked, cruel mob. They had followed and witnessed Joseph lay Jesus’ breathless, lifeless corpse in the tomb.

The women made their way to the tomb early in the morning in order to put spices and ointments on the dead body to prepare it for permanent burial. Their hearts were filled with love for Jesus who had done nothing but good to them and for them and everyone else. They could not forget Him now that He was dead. Their biggest concern was how to move the large stone away from the entrance of the tomb so that they could gain access to Jesus’ body. They were completely unprepared for what they found once they arrived at the tomb.

The great stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was not there. John records that Mary was weeping at the tomb, and the angels asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary responded with saying, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” In other words, she said, “What are these wicked men trying to do? Why do they afflict and torment us poor, miserable people? Haven’t they done enough to poor Christ our dear Master and Lord? They’ve put Him to a cruel death and now will not even allow His body a resting place in the earth now that He is dead!” (adapted from Spangenberg)

An angel said to the women, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him just as He told you.”

Just as He told you. This wasn’t something new that the women were hearing. Jesus had been telling His disciples many times that He would suffer and die in fulfilment of Scripture and that He would rise from the dead on the third day. It was necessary that He die to save us from our sin. It was necessary that He pay the price of our sins so that we do not have to pay the price. It was necessary that He rise from the dead, defeating death.

It was too much for the women to handle. Mark writes, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

They were in shock. They trembled. They were afraid. Their world had been turned upside down by Jesus’ death. Now it just seemed to be spinning and they were trying to come to grips with what they had been told by the angel.

When the women calmed down enough to talk, they went and told the apostles what the angel had told them and what they had witnessed. Luke says that the apostles did not believe the women and their words seemed like an idle tale. Then Jesus appeared to the apostles when Thomas was not with them, and Thomas would not believe that Jesus was alive even though all the apostles told him that they had seen Him.

This is how wrapped up we are in death, that is is difficult for us to understand life. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead burst the bars of death for us. Death was defeated.

When Christ returns, every single grave will give up its dead. Those who died rejecting Christ will be raised and sent to eternal punishment in hell, and those who died with faith in Christ will be raised to eternal life in heaven. The grave will keep no one.

The good news for us is that getting into heaven is not about what we have to do or not do. You don’t go to heaven because you’ve done more good than bad in your life. You don’t go to heaven because you lived a life of virtue and avoided scandal. You don’t go to heaven because you’ve been to church on more Sundays than you’ve missed. You go to heaven because Christ Jesus died on the cross for your sins and has earned you eternal life. You go to heaven because Jesus paid the price of your sins and suffered hell for you so that you do not have to suffer in hell. You go to heaven because Christ Jesus gives you forgiveness through the waters of holy Baptism, through the word of Absolution, and in His body and blood, given and shed for you.

We are surrounded by death, and we see death all around us. But Christ has defeated death, and death is now our door to Paradise. Our graves are beds in which our bodies rest even as our souls go to be with Jesus until He returns and raises our bodies as He is raised.

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, death has lost its sting. Jesus lives and we will live with Him. Amen.

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

Good Friday

Sermon for Good Friday based on John 18 & 19

Dear guilty ones who are set free: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Good Friday is about God’s wrath, whether you like it or not. Perhaps that is why people skip the Good Friday service but come to church on Easter. Good Friday is too dark, too bloody, too gruesome. But on Good Friday we hear in detail how God poured out His wrath onto His Son, Jesus, instead of us.

The scourging Jesus received was supposed to be for us. It is we who should have been mocked and insulted, spit upon, beaten, and whipped. All our sins should have been dragged up in front of the whole world and we should have been accused of every single wrongdoing and fault of ours, every secret sin and misdeed. We should have then been punished eternally in the fires of hell.

In Jesus’ suffering and death, God the Father poured out His anger over our sin. Jesus was scourged unjustly so that we would not receive the scourging we deserve and have merited. Jesus suffered unjustly, so that we will not suffer justly in hell.

Here we see God’s love for us. He watches us day and night as we make bad decision after bad decision. He sees the unnecessary sadness and pain we inflict on ourselves and those around us. He sees our rebellious hearts that have desires that are opposed to His good and gracious will.

Yet, instead of pouring out His wrath and anger on us as we justly deserve, He poured it out on Jesus who never thought, said, or did anything that was opposed to His Father’s will.

The Master dies instead of the servant. The creditor dies for the debtor. The Physician dies for the good of the patient. The Shepherd dies for His sheep. The King dies for the sins of His subjects; the Peacemaker for quarrelsome rebels. The Creator dies for His creation. In this we see God’s love for us.

God’s love for us doesn’t fill Him with happy thoughts or make Him glad to see us. His love for us does not make Him happy. His love for us hurts Him. His love towards us does not serve itself, but us, His beloved. His love serves us to the point of death on a cross. God’s love hurts Him, causes His heart to break, and water and blood to pour out. God loves the world so that He gave His only Son into death for rebels who hated Him and killed Him and who chose Satan and Barabbas over Him.

This is true love. God has compassion on us in our sin to the point of suffering and death.

No one had compassion on Jesus when He suffered and died. Pilate tried to get the crowds to have compassion on Jesus by scourging Him unjustly and allowing the crowd of soldiers to insult Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, put a purple robe on Him, beat Him with their hands, and dishonour Him. Pilate allowed all this even while he kept saying that Jesus is innocent and has done nothing wrong. He tried to shame the Jews into having compassion on an innocent man who was free from guilt and was suffering without cause and unjustly.

The crowds would not have compassion on Jesus, but demanded His crucifixion. Pilate offered to release Him, but they instead wanted Barabbas to be released, a man imprisoned for insurrection and murder. The release of Barabbas highlights the injustice of Good Friday: the guilty goes free while the innocent is crucified.

You are the guilty, and you have been set free. You are free from the accusations of the Law. You are free from punishment and the wrath of God.

God has given Himself over to death in order to give us Himself, His crucified and risen body and blood in Holy Communion. If He had not died, there could be no testament. If His blood had not poured forth, it could not fill our chalice. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, the book of Hebrews tells us (9:22).

When the Old Testament faithful went to the tabernacle or Temple, they went there for the sacrificial blood, that their sins might be forgiven. So we also come to church. We come for blood so that our sins might be forgiven. Jesus gives us His life-giving blood into our mouths, so that we might offer sacrifices not of blood, for that is offered to us, but that we might offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise.

Indeed, how can we not? How can we servants, debtors, patients, sheep, subjects, rebels, and creatures not thank and praise our Master, creditor, Physician, Shepherd, King, Peacemaker, and Creator for dying for our sins, for freeing us from eternal damnation, for giving us eternal life?

How can we not renounce every sin that would vex or grieve the Holy Spirit, and quench with holy thoughts and prayers all fires unholy? How can we not turn away from earth’s vain joys to do God’s holy will?

In these endeavours, we will still find that our strength will not suffice to crucify desires that still entice us. We need the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to do God’s will, and we continually need forgiveness of sins when we fail. We continually need the blood of Jesus to cover our sin.

God will never withhold forgiveness from a penitent sinner. His wrath is not for you. His wrath was poured out on Jesus on Good Friday and He gives His never ending forgiveness from the font, through Absolution, and from the altar. God loves you. He died for you and now lives and reigns for you, and will return and take you to Himself, so that where He is, you may be also.

Good Friday is about God’s wrath – how God poured out His burning anger onto Jesus the innocent one, so that we, the guilty ones, walk away free. Amen.

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

(Portions of this sermon were adapted from writings by Cyril of Alexandria, J. Heermann, J. Gerhard, and D. Petersen).