An Empty Tomb is not Enough

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter based on Luke 24:36-49

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

An empty tomb is not enough.

An empty tomb could mean that Jesus’ disciples did somehow manage to steal the body of Jesus. It could mean that the chief priests and Pharisees took the body and burned it. An empty tomb could just be part of a myth, a metaphor to say that Jesus rises when the hearts of His people come alive with faith. Rubbish.

What the eyewitness accounts provide is proof of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. He shows His apostles His scars in order to show that He really did die, that He is the crucified One. He was slain as a substitute, in our place, so that the angel of death would not come for us but pass over. He laid down His life as a ransom for many. He died to satisfy the Law’s demands, to empty hell of its wrath and fury.

He died. He has the scars to prove it. But He has come through death. He is alive in His body.

This is why He eats with the apostles and tells them to touch Him. The point is that He died and He rose, but He is not a ghost, or a spirit, or an angel. He is still a man. They, and we, have an advocate with the Father; a High Priest who has endured all our temptations and overcome them. He paves the way into heaven, not for angels or saints, but for men – and sinful men at that. For He who knew no sin became sin.

Thus the very corpse – the very body born of Mary, nailed to the cross, pierced by the centurion, dead and laid into the tomb – this body has been renewed and reborn. Our God is still a man; still one of us. He died, but is alive, and heaven is open to sinful men.

The disciples disbelieved for joy and were marvelling. They were uncertain. Then He ate with them. Even as in Emmaus where Jesus was removed from the disciple’s physical sight, but they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread, so also here in Jerusalem the apostles recognized their Lord in eating with Him. The apostles ate broiled fish with God in the flesh, back from the dead, and their hearts were full of joy, faith, and peace.

It is not so different for you. Jesus is not apprehended by your eyes, but by faith. As Jesus said to Thomas, ““Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus is not apprehended by gazing into an empty tomb, but in the breaking of the bread under a visual reminder of the sacrifice. It is no accident that the Lord’s Supper is consecrated on an altar under a cross or crucifix. Here you eat with God. He gives you His body risen out of death. You touch Him. It is not a corpse. It is the living, risen, glorified body, true God and true man, which God joins to bread to be your food, to satisfy your soul, to forgive your sins, and to encourage and strengthen your faith.

You eat the body of Jesus, who is alive. Thus, you are alive. His body and blood give you new life now, and eternal life in the world to come. They strengthen you through the trials and temptations of life. Christ’s body and blood give you peace.

When Jesus appeared to His disciples, He said, “Peace to you.” Jesus was not hoping that they would have peace or praying that they would have peace. He was giving them peace with the very words He spoke. He says it, and it is so. Jesus waged war on sin, death, and the devil. He faced God’s perfect justice for all sinners. He fought the war on the cross and won peace. He won peace with God because God’s anger has been stilled. We are reconciled and have peace with God.

Jesus showed the disciples His war wounds with which He won them peace, and He gave them peace. He calmed their troubled and doubting hearts. He comforted their startled and frightened minds.

For you, Jesus’ body and blood are not a hope for peace or a prayer for peace. His body and blood give you peace. He says it, and it is so. Jesus has won peace with God for you, and He gives you peace in His Supper because He gives you forgiveness. Wherever there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation.

Here at the altar you eat with God in the flesh, so that your heart will be full of joy, faith, and peace.

The empty tomb is not enough. What you need is the risen body of Jesus the crucified. And it is the risen body of Jesus the crucified that the Lord provides. Amen.

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

(Reworked from a sermon by Rev. David Petersen/Rev. Dr Burnell Eckardt)

Absolution is from Christ

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

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

Many people find Absolution offensive. Only God can forgive sin, they say. How then can you have a pastor saying, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”?

It is true that only God can forgive sin, but in what way has He promised to forgive sin? He sends His ministers to forgive on His behalf, saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Christ has the authority to forgive sin. He earned it by paying for every sin ever committed through His suffering and death. And Christ gives that authority to His Church on earth. When a pastor speaks the forgiveness Christ has sent Him to speak, it is Christ Himself who forgives sin. Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, so it is He who decides how He wants to forgive sin. Christ has chosen to give forgiveness of sins through the mouths of sinful men sent to His people for that purpose.

Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it is somewhere out there for you to find. Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it’s sitting in heaven. Forgiveness of sins needs to come to sinners, where sinners are. That is why Christ instituted the church. The church is the place for sinners to gather and receive forgiveness. Forgiveness belongs to the church.

Since forgiveness belongs to the church, no man can assume the office of pastor without a call from the church. The church, to whom forgiveness belongs, must call a pastor to give this forgiveness to them. No one can appoint himself to be a pastor. This is what it means in Romans 10 where Saint Paul asks, “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” They cannot preach unless they are sent. They must be called by God through the church.

Christ instituted the office of the ministry, or the office of pastor, for the purpose of preaching His Word and giving His forgiveness. It is the office or the position that is special, not the man who occupies the office or position. There is nothing special about the man John Nieminen. He has nothing to say to you. He has no special wisdom, insight, or knowledge to impart to you. Yet when your pastor speaks Christ’s Word to you, it is Christ Himself who speaks to you. When your pastor forgives you your sins, it is Christ Himself who forgives you your sins through the Word He has given your pastor to speak.

This is why pastors wear albs or robes. They cover up the man and remind you and me that it is only according to his office as pastor that he has the right to say one word from God. This is also why pastors are called by their title. It’s not a matter of pride or conceit, but rather a reminder to you and to me that I’m not here of my own doing. I didn’t decide one day that I think I’ve done enough studies, look on a map and say, “I’m going to move to the prairies and serve these two congregations in Neudorf and Melville as their pastor.” No, God called me here to be your pastor. He called me through you, the church. You called me to come and speak God’s Word to you and forgive you your sins in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m not here as John to do what I want or speak what I want. I’m here as a pastor, doing what God has commanded me to do, and saying what He has commanded me to say.

There are some things I’m tempted to not preach or teach. I’m tempted to avoid saying things that get people upset. I’m tempted to not touch sensitive topics with a ten-foot pole. But I don’t have a choice in the matter, unless I am going to be faithless to the One who has called me to teach and preach to you.

I must preach God’s Law to you. I must tell you what God commands you to do in every aspect of your life. It is necessary, not because you can fulfil the Law of God, but so that you will recognize your failures to do what God commands and repent of your sins. It is necessary for me to preach the Law so that you realize that you need forgiveness and that you would desire to receive that forgiveness.

I must preach the Gospel to you. I must tell you that Jesus died on the cross for all your sins, so that every single sin is forgiven: big sins, little sins, public sins, secret sins. Jesus took the punishment of every single one of your sins so that you have the promise of eternal life instead of eternal punishment in hell.

I must forgive the sins of repentant sinners. I must also retain the sins of the unrepentant.

Those who are offended by a man forgiving sins are even more offended at a man retaining sins. “Who are you to judge?” they say. Once again, we have to go back to the Word of Christ Jesus Himself, who says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Withholding forgiveness is not done arbitrarily or based on the whims of the pastor. Here too, a pastor must follow the Word of Christ. It is only the impenitent sinners who have their sins retained and are not forgiven; those sinners who refuse to turn away from their sin; those who have no desire to do better.

Every sinner who is repentant is forgiven. The weak sinner who struggles with his sins is forgiven. The repentant sinner who has again fallen and thought, said, or done something which breaks God’s holy Law is forgiven.

This is where Absolution comes in. Absolution gives forgiveness to the weak and doubting heart. It strengthens faith. It is Christ’s Word spoken to you in His stead and by His command.

When you hear the words of Absolution, it may be the voice of your pastor you hear, but you are hearing the words of Jesus. Jesus instituted the office of the ministry for the benefit of His Church, so that through the ministers who faithfully proclaim His Word, Jesus Himself is speaking. When Jesus commands it to be spoken, so it is.

You can thus be confident in the Absolution you receive from your pastor. The forgiveness he speaks is not his own forgiveness, but the forgiveness of God. He is the messenger of Christ, speaking that which he has been commanded to speak; forgiving what he has been commanded to forgive.

Your faith is thus in Christ and His promises, nothing else. Christ cannot deceive or lie, so you can confidently trust His word of forgiveness which He speaks to you through the mouths of His ministers. Ministers come and go, but Christ’s promises to you are eternal. Amen.

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

The Resurrection

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

Dear people celebrating Jesus’ resurrection: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There are many aspects of Christianity than cannot be proven or disproven. You cannot prove or disprove that Baptism saves. You cannot prove or disprove that we receive the true body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.  You cannot prove or disprove that God is triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe all of these because God tells them to us in His Word, but they cannot be proven or disproven from observations, tests, or examinations of evidence.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is, however, a different matter. It is a historical event that is better documented than most events in the history of the world. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after His resurrection. There were multiple accounts of Christ’s resurrection that were written while the people who witnessed His death and His appearances after His resurrection were still alive. This is important, because if the accounts written about Jesus’ death and resurrection were not true, those hundreds of witnesses would have spoken up about the falsehood of the accounts, and told what really happened.

Many people have tried in vain to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. However, when they examine the evidence, they have to agree that it cannot be disproven. The most you can conclude is to say that you don’t believe it even though hundreds of witnesses certainly did, and that all the evidence in existence, even of the enemies of Jesus who put Him to death, indicates that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead.

Studying the evidence of the resurrection, however, does not create faith by itself. Faith does not come from the logical study of historical evidence. Believing that Jesus rose from the dead is not faith.

Consider the chief priests and Pharisees. After they got their desired goal of having Jesus killed, they went to Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate gave them a guard of soldiers to secure the tomb, and the stone was sealed. (Matt. 27:62-66).

However, when the angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled back the stone from the tomb and caused a great earthquake, these soldiers became like dead men. They reported to the chief priests what had happened, to which the chief priests in consultation with the elders, decided to bribe the soldiers to say that Jesus’ disciples had stolen His body during the night while they were sleeping (Matt. 28:11-15).

The chief priests thus knew that Jesus rose from the dead. They knew that the fearful disciples were in hiding, scared for their lives. They knew that the disciples could not and would not take on a guard of professional soldiers or move a great stone which was under heavy guard by those soldiers. They knew the report of the soldiers concerning the earthquake and the angel. They knew that Jesus had risen from the dead, but they still did not believe in Him. Believing the evidence of the resurrection is not enough to have faith in Jesus.

This was also true for the women who came to the tomb and for the disciples of Jesus. As the chief priests had heard Jesus say that He would rise from the dead on the third day, so also the women and the disciples had heard Jesus say this. Yet the women still went on the third day to anoint a corpse and were surprised that it wasn’t in the tomb. They saw the evidence of the empty tomb. They saw an angel, but they didn’t believe the angel’s message, because they were terrified and so they said nothing to anyone. When they did finally tell the disciples, the disciples did not believe their report. The words of the women seemed like an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

Even when Jesus appeared to them when they were hiding behind locked doors, they still disbelieved what they were seeing. Jesus showed them His hands and His feet and He told them to touch Him. He ate food in front of them to prove that He was not just a spirit, but that He had physically risen from the dead, but they still did not believe. It was not until Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures that they believed. It was not until Jesus explained to them why it was necessary that He die and rise from the dead, and what it meant for them that they believed (Luke 24:36-49).

It does not require faith to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. All the evidence points to it, so it is the logical conclusion from studying the resurrection accounts. This is not yet faith. Faith comes from hearing God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). Faith comes from God telling you why Jesus died and rose again.

What is it that God tells us in His Word is the reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection? Romans four tells us, Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (v. 25) In other words, our sins were the cause of Jesus’ death and He was raised with the purpose of our justification. That we are justified means that God has acquitted us of our sins. Our sins and transgressions are taken away, covered over, and in no way charged to our account because Jesus was delivered up for them.

This is the Gospel; the good news that Jesus died to save you from your sins; that Jesus’ death in your place has taken your sins away from you; that Jesus’ blood has covered your sins; that you will not be charged with your sins because Jesus was charged with them.

This is all proved by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If Jesus’ death did not conquer sin and pay for every sin ever committed, then He would have remained dead. If Jesus’ death in our place was not accepted by God the Father, then He would have remained dead.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead means that your sins are forgiven. Your Baptism into Christ means that you also will rise from the dead to eternal life.

To ensure that you receive eternal life, Christ gives you His Word which creates and sustains faith. To ensure that you receive eternal life, Christ gives you His body and blood which nurture and strengthen faith. He gives you His Word which tells you why He died and rose from the dead, so that you too would believe not just that He died and rose from the dead, but that He died and rose from the dead for you; that He paid the price of your sins; that His resurrection means you also will rise from the dead.

As we sang, “Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands For our offenses given; But now at God’s right hand He stands and brings us life from heaven.” (LSB 458 st. 1) 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 18:1-19:42

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

“I find no guilt in Him,” said Pilate, pronouncing his judgment. Indeed, three times Pilate the governor declared Jesus innocent, finding no cause worthy of death in Him.

After his first declaration of innocence, Pilate had Jesus, the innocent one, flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and arrayed Him in a purple robe. They mocked Him and beat Him – the man Pilate declared innocent.

Seemingly, Pilate tried to get sympathy for Jesus from the bloodthirst mob, and brought Him before them in such a state, and said, “Behold the man!” This was as if to say, “Do you not think He has been punished enough? I have found Him guilty of nothing but have nevertheless severely punished Him to satisfy you. Let that injustice be enough.”

The Jews accused Jesus of being a king who wanted to overthrow Caesar, so Pilate presented Him as a miserably lashed, smitten, beaten, and lacerated man with a scourged and torn robe and a crown of thorns. “Behold the man!” He is not a king you have to worry about. Look at His miserable state. He hardly looks like a threat to overthrown Caesar.

The Jews, however, had no compassion on Jesus. Pilate’s appeals for sympathy and compassion fell on stopped ears and hardened hearts. Pilate’s declarations of innocence meant nothing to the mob. They wanted Jesus dead in the cruellest way possible – hung on a cross with nails until dead. To every declaration of innocence, the crowd responded with shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

Thus, Jesus was crucified. Innocent though He was, He was punished as if guilty.

If you think Jesus suffered unjustly at that hands of Pilate, you haven’t heard anything yet. Jesus suffered unjustly at the hands of God the Father.

We heard from Isaiah, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief.” (53:10) God the Father did this, as He had planned from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; cf. Acts 2:23; I Peter 1:20); as He had foretold by the mouth of His servants the prophets for thousands of years.

God the Father foresaw the birth of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. Indeed, He foretold it in Scripture. God created trees that would be fashioned into a cross for Jesus to hang. He created iron ore that would be smelted into nails that pierced Jesus’ flesh. God orchestrated world empires and the government affairs that led Pilate to Judea, Caiaphas to Jerusalem, and the crowds to repeatedly cry out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (partially from Reed Lessing’s Isaiah commentary)

That’s why, in every step of the Passion account, we hear, “This was to fulfil the Scripture.” When arrested, Jesus said, “‘If you seek me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfil the word that He had spoken, ‘Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.’” The Jews’ insistence to Pilate that Roman law deal with Jesus instead of Jewish law, “was to fulfil the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death He was going to die.” The soldiers dividing Jesus’ garments and casting lots for His tunic “was to fulfil the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’” Jesus, to fulfil Scripture, said, “I thirst.” Jesus’ legs were not broken but instead His side was pierced, to fulfil the Scripture, “Not one of His bones will be broken,” and another which says, “They will look on Him whom they have pierced.”

Jesus suffered unjustly at the hands of Pilate, yet even more unjustly at the hands of His Father. Though perfectly innocent of any sin, Scripture tells us, “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Cor. 5:21) God the Father declared Jesus guilty of all the sin and evil in this world. God piled your sins onto Him. God piled my sins onto Him. Every sin of everyone.

And God the Father did not have compassion on Jesus. No, after piling all the sins of the world on Him, God the Father abandoned Him to die, so that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

All this, so that God the Father would have compassion on us. God has compassion on us, even though the Law finds us guilty. We are far from innocent. We have broken God’s Law and are accountable for all of it. The Law finds us guilty and pronounces judgment on us. Cause is easily found in us that makes us worthy of death – both temporal and eternal death.

Yet, it is time for another sentence of justice. You are declared innocent. Every Absolution you hear is the pronouncement of God Himself forgiving your sin. God wants you to hear His Absolution often, so that you would trust His Word that you will hear the same declaration on Judgment Day.

This seems like injustice, but it is not. It seems unjust that we sinners should be declared innocent, but Jesus willingly took your punishment for you. He willingly suffered and died for you. He willingly paid the price of your sins. It is God’s justice.

Think of it this way. If you owed a million gold coins to someone, a debt that you could never pay, and then someone stepped forward and willingly paid the debt you owed, what would be left for you to pay? The creditor got what he was owed. He can’t come after you for anything anymore. There is nothing for you to pay any longer.

So it is with Christ’s payment of your sins. He’s paid the debt in full. Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. Since your debt has been paid, there is no blood, or suffering and death for you to pay for your sins. You are declared debt free, forgiven, innocent, righteous.

On Judgment Day, Christ, who is the Judge of the living and the dead will declare concerning you, “I find no guilt in him.” Unlike Pilate who sentenced an innocent man to suffering and death, Christ will open up the gates of eternal life for you because He suffered in your place. He had compassion on you and gave His life to save yours eternally. If Christ finds no guilt in you, neither can anyone else. If Christ finds no guilt in you, you are indeed guiltless and innocent, and will live with Christ forever. Amen.

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

Christ’s Letter to the Church in Laodicea

Sermon for Maundy Thursday based on Rev. 3:14-22 and Mark 14:12-26

Dear people who have an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

To conclude our Lenten series on Christ’s letters to the seven churches, our sermon this Maundy Thursday is based on Revelation 3:14-22: “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” Here ends our text.

Being lukewarm is intolerable. It is being neither cold nor hot, but indifferent, uncaring, apathetic.

The church in Laodicea was self-satisfied in their material wealth, and indifferent to spiritual wealth. They thought because they were materially wealthy, they had everything they needed. They thought their material riches were all that mattered, and they lived lives primarily for earthly wealth and selfish desires.

They had no enthusiasm for God. Not that they hated God, no, no. They were just indifferent to Him. They could take Him or leave Him. They did not realize that their indifference to spiritual riches would cause Christ to spit them out if they did not repent. They did not realize that even though they thought they were rich and needed nothing, they were in reality wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Yet, they were indifferent to what Christ offered them.

We know indifference. How often do we show indifference to the spiritual riches that God offers us? We will show up to church here and there, when we feel like it. No big deal. Bible class? No thanks. Reading the Bible? Not today. Not that we hate the Bible, no, no. We are just indifferent to it. We could take it or leave it. No big deal. We have no enthusiasm for it. The Lord’s Supper? Nah, I already had it once this month.

The indifferent will say, “I already believe, so what’s the harm if I miss church here and there? I already know who Jesus is, I don’t need to read more about Him. I’m already forgiven, so what if I don’t receive the Sacrament of the Altar today?”

Christ says, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth… Be zealous and repent.” Being zealous for God means having zeal and eagerness marked by a sense of dedication. It means having desire and enthusiasm for God and being committed to Him and His Word. It means most of all a love for receiving the spiritual riches God offers to you freely.

Repenting means having contrition and sorrow over showing indifference to God and His Word, and trusting that for Christ’s sake, you are forgiven. Repenting means desiring above all things what God desires for you.

It’s not a matter of being compelled by God’s command to go to church and Bible class or being compelled by God’s Law to read the Bible and receive the Sacrament. Rather, we do them out of love for God’s Word, out of enthusiasm to hear it and learn it, and out of a desire to receive Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sin.

Where does love for God’s Word come from? It comes from God’s Word! Start reading God’s Word every day, and you will wonder how you could have lived without doing so. God works through His Word to strengthen and nurture your faith, and to teach you. You will find yourself thinking about God more and you will start coming up with all kinds of questions for which you desire answers, and you will want to read more and more. You will learn new things from familiar passages, and be reminded of old things from new passages.

Scripture will give you the desire to receive Christ’s true body and blood more. Why? Because God’s Word tells you that the Lord’s Supper was not dreamed up or invented by men, but by Christ Himself without anyone’s counsel or deliberation. If Christ Himself instituted the Sacrament and says that it is good for you to receive it often, surely your desire will be awakened to receive it often.

Christ’s Word distinguishes this sacrament from ordinary bread and wine, so that it truly is His body and blood. Let a hundred thousand devils, with all the denominations that deny this, come forward and say, “How can bread and wine be Christ’s body and blood?” Still we know that all the devils and fanatics put together have less wisdom than the divine Majesty has in His pinkie finger. Here is Christ’s Word: “Take, eat, this is my body.” “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in my blood.” Here we shall take our stand and see who dares to teach Christ and alter what He has spoken. As Christ’s lips speak and say, so it is; He cannot deceive or lie.

With Christ’s body and blood, we receive what He promises He gives to us in the Sacrament – namely, the forgiveness of sins. This indeed is the real purpose of the Sacrament. “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” For this reason Christ bids you to eat and drink, that it may be yours and do you good as a sure pledge and sign – indeed, as the very gift He has provided for you against your sins, death, and all evils.

Therefore, it is appropriately called food of the soul, for it nourishes and strengthens us. We are born again through Baptism, but we still have our human flesh and blood. There are so many hindrances and attacks of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faint and at times even stumble. Therefore Christ has given us the Lord’s Supper as food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger. For the new life should be one that continually develops and progresses. But it has to suffer a great deal of opposition. The devil is a furious enemy; when he sees that we resist him through contrition and repentance, and when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and prowls about every turn, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce the faith or lose heart and become indifferent and lukewarm. For times like these, when our heart feels too sorely oppressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.

Here again the devils and fanatics will shout, rant, and rave, “How can bread and wine forgive sins or strengthen faith?” Yet, it is not the bread and wine. It is Christ’s Word which imparts these to us. It is Christ’s Word which promises these things to us. It is Christ’s Word which promises us that He gives us His body and blood, and Christ’s body and blood cannot be unfruitful and useless things that do nothing and help no one. Indeed, Colossians chapter one tells us that we are reconciled to God in Christ’s body (v. 22), and First John chapter one tells us that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (v. 7). It is not because of the bread and wine, but because of the Word which Christ has joined to the bread and wine through which He promises us His body and blood, and the forgiveness of sins.

Although Christ’s work took place on the cross and forgiveness of sins has been acquired, yet it cannot come to us in any way than through the Word. We cannot know of forgiveness or where to receive it without believing Christ’s Word. And Christ promises us in His Word that He gives us His body and blood with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins (Beginning with “Scripture will give you…” up to here, I have intertwined, cited, and paraphrased much from LC V.4-32).

These wonderful promises of Christ to us ensure that we are not indifferent. Christ’s promises to us give us a zeal and eagerness to hear His Word and receive the Sacrament He instituted for us. Christ’s Word has given us a desire and enthusiasm to receive the spiritual riches He offers to us freely. In this way, Christ Himself has ensured that He will not spit us out, but instead He will come in and dine with us and we with Him, and we will conquer and sit with Him on His throne, even as He has conquered and sits with the Father on His throne.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen.

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

Celebrating with Palms

Sermon for Palm Sunday based on John 12:12-19

Dear people celebrating with palms: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Palm trees in the middle of a barren desert wasteland are a sure relief for dry eyes and a parched tongue. Palm trees indicate an oasis; a place with water to sustain life. They indicate food since many of them provide edible fruit. They indicate rest, shelter, and shade in a barren and hostile place.

The Israelites found such water and food, rest and shelter camped at an oasis with twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees after God saved them from Egypt (Ex. 15:27). As a yearly reminder of God bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, which included rejoicing and celebration with palm leaves (Lev. 23:33-44). They rested in the Promised Land from their years of slavery and hardship, and celebrated in the lush, fertile land of Canaan, an oasis from the wanderings in the wilderness.

Once settled in the Promised Land, God gave rest, refreshment, and safety to His people in the Temple. It was thus fitting that the decorations of the Temple included engraved palm trees around all the walls of the inner and outer rooms, on the doors of the inner sanctuary, and on the leaves of the doors at the entrance of the nave (I Kings 6:29-35). The Temple was the place where God refreshed His people with forgiveness, gave them rest from work, and safety from sin, death, and the devil.

How fitting then, that when Jesus entered Jerusalem to be the sacrifice for our sin, He was greeted with palm branches and celebration. Jesus is our rest, refreshment, and safety. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to fulfil what God prefigured and foreshadowed by bringing His people out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus entered Jerusalem to save all of us from the slavery of sin, our true enemy.

If it was fitting for the Temple to be decorated with palm trees as a sign of rest, refreshment, and safety, how much more fitting it is that Jesus would be greeted with palm branches since He is the Temple made without hands. If the people of Israel had reason to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with palm branches every year, we have more reason to celebrate Palm Sunday with palm branches every year.

In fact, we are in good company when we celebrate with palm branches. The book of Revelation tells us that the saints enrolled in heaven praise God with palm branches in their hands (7:9). Those who have come out of the Great Tribulation and have been washed by the blood of the Lamb celebrate with palms because Jesus entered Jerusalem to be save us.

“Save us!” That’s what Hosanna means. It is a prayer to God that He save us. It is thus a prayer to Jesus that He be our rest, refreshment, and safety, our oasis in this world of sin.

Jesus is our rest. He is our rest because we can rest from our attempts to save ourselves by trying to earn God’s favour. We can rest in Jesus because He has completed the work of saving us. And He is our eternal rest as He will take us from this life of toil and sorrow to His eternal celebration feast which has no end.

Jesus is our refreshment. He is our refreshment because He has given us new life. He gives us His body and blood to eat and drink which takes the heavy burden of our sins from us. He nourishes us with forgiveness so that we have strength for the days to come.

Jesus is our safety. He is our safety from sin, death, and the devil. Sin cannot harm us because we have been forgiven. Death cannot harm us because Jesus defeated death by rising from the dead, promising us that we also will rise from the dead. The devil cannot harm us because Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated him and all he can do is thrash around helplessly as Jesus has crushed his head.

It is most fitting that we sing “Hosanna” in the Sanctus as part of our communion liturgy. We pray to Christ who comes to us in His body and blood that He would save us. And He does. He gives us rest, refreshment, and safety by giving us forgiveness in His body and blood. He saves us from sin, death, and the devil through this most sacred of meals. He joins us in communion with Himself, with each other, and with the saints already enrolled in heaven.

We are in a barren and hostile place. We are in a barren desert wasteland that is this world of sin and death. Jesus has given us an oasis with palms here in His church, where He gives us rest, refreshment, and safety.

Thus, we take up palm branches in celebration. We celebrate with God’s people of old who were saved from slavery. We celebrate with God’s people who were refreshed in the Temple and given rest and safety. We celebrate with the saints in heaven who are no longer in the Great Tribulation in which we still find ourselves.

We celebrate with palms this wonderful day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem with one purpose – to suffer and die for us all. He never sinned, but He suffered the punishment for all the sins of the world, so that we who have sinned will live with Him forever in the joys of Paradise.

Hosanna! Save us we pray! Lord Jesus, be our rest, refreshment, and safety until You take us to rejoice with all the saints in heaven who praise you with palm branches in their hands. Amen.

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

Christ’s Letter to the Church in Philadelphia

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service based on Revelation 3:7-13

Dear people with an open door: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Patient endurance. Jesus commends the church in Philadelphia for their patient endurance. They had but little power, yet they kept the Word of Christ and did not deny His name. They were persecuted, but they held fast to what they had.

Patient endurance is waiting for God while holding fast to His promises. It is bearing up under suffering without complaining, trusting that all things are in God’s hands and that He knows what He’s doing. It is quietly waiting for the salvation of the Lord (cf. Lam. 3:26). This is easier said than done.

We see how wicked the world is. It is filled with senseless violence and murder, corruption and dishonesty. We see our authorities implementing policies that are anti-Christian and harmful for our nation. We see our courts perverting the course of justice and criminals receiving all the rights instead of their victims. We see children being brainwashed in schools and led astray but their celebrity idols. Christ’s name is blasphemed in the world and even in places that call themselves the church.

We are tempted to say that God is slow to fulfil His promise to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). We are tempted to say Christ is taking too long to return. Such temptations lead us away from patient endurance.

It is the scoffers who say such things. As we heard from Second Peter, scoffers will come in the last days and say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (II Peter 3:3-4) Such scoffers think that this world will never end because they deliberately overlook the fact that God created the world with the power of His Word and the only reason it still exists and is preserved is because God has so commanded and ordered it.

Many such scoffers have misplaced their trust by putting it in government, as if the government can save us. Scripture says, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” (Ps. 146:3-4)

With a godless government like ours in Canada, we are often made to wonder how they can be so foolish and stupid. Yet, we have our answer in Job, where we heard, “[God] makes nations great, and He destroys them; He enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a trackless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and He makes them stagger like a drunken man.” (Job 12:23-25)

For those leaders of men who reject God and His Word, God takes even their understanding of natural things away. Then, in their stupidity, they don’t even know what a man is or what a woman is. They don’t know what a family is. They don’t understand justice or truth or beauty in anything, and they punish the righteous and reward the wicked.

This is related to what Romans chapter one tells about those who did not honour God or give thanks to Him. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. It says God gave them up in the lust of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves. God gave them up to dishonourable passions and to a debased mind.

They rebelled against God, seeking to be free of Him, so God gave them up to the slavery of sin which they pursued. Giving them over to sin is their punishment in this life. Sin degrades and brings shame and disgrace and leads to its inevitable goal, eternal death in hell, their eternal punishment.

Scoffers are going to scoff. Corrupt leaders will do corrupt things. This is no reason for us to lose hope. In fact, this should increase our hope because God told us that these things would happen. They should be no surprise to us.

Christ will return and the world and everything in it will be destroyed by fire, as it was destroyed by water during the Flood. God is not slow to fulfil His promise, but He is being patient so that people are given time to repent.

When Christ returns, it will be too late to repent. Every day that goes by without Christ returning is another day of mercy and grace given to mankind to repent before the world is destroyed. God does not want anyone to perish eternally, but that they would come in through the open door of heaven.

Christ is after all the one who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. To His Church, Christ says, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.”

The door of heaven is open for you, and no one can shut it. The nations can rage, and the people plot in vain, the kings of the earth can set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, but He laughs at them (Ps. 2). They cannot close heaven for God’s people. They cannot close what Christ has opened.

Violence and murder, corruption and dishonesty will not stop in this world until Christ returns and burns it all up. Wicked rulers will continue implementing policies that are anti-Christian and harmful for our nation. Godless courts will continue perverting the course of justice and giving criminals all the rights instead of their victims.

However, we will patiently endure. We will wait for God and hold fast to His promises. We will bear up under suffering, trusting that all things are in God’s hands and that He knows what He’s doing.

We will patiently endure because our sins are forgiven and the door of heaven is open to us. We can patiently endure because our hope is not in earthly government or judges or lawmakers or anything on the earth. We will patiently endure because our hope is in heaven, and no one can shut the door that Jesus has opened for us.

Jesus promises that the door of heaven is open for us. We trust Him because He gave His life for us. He died to save us from our sins and has a place prepared in heaven for us. He has done everything for us, and has the door of heaven wide open, waiting to receive us when we die or when He returns, whichever happens first.

Christ Jesus is the one who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. To you, Christ says, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” Amen.

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

Which Cup is for You?

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent based on Mark 10:35-45

Dear Christians who drink the cup of blessing: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

James and John wanted to be granted to sit one at the right hand and one at the left of Jesus in His glory. Jesus told them they did not know what they were asking. They did not understand the glory of God.

At another time, Jesus explained to them that His glory included His death and burial; that His glory would be when He cast out the ruler of this world; that His glory would be when He is lifted up from the earth on the cross (Jn. 12:23-32). Jesus’ crucifixion was His glory.

Thus, to be at Jesus’ right and left in His glory would have been to be where the two robbers were, crucified at Jesus’ right and left. Those would be the right and left-hand places in the kingdom of a crucified King. That’s not what James and John wanted. They did not know what they were asking.

James and John said they were ready to drink the cup that Jesus would drink. Yet, when He was sorrowful and troubled even to death in Gethsemane, Jesus fell on His face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” (Matt. 26:39) “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:41)

Jesus prayed that if at all possible, He would not have to drink the cup. He knew what drinking the cup of the wrath of God meant. If there was any other way, Jesus did not want to drink the cup.

But James and John confidently said, “Hey no problem, we can drink the cup.” They did not know what they were saying. When Jesus was praying in great agony, His sweat becoming like great drops of blood falling down to the ground, where were James and John? James and John were sleeping. When Jesus was arrested so that He would drink the cup of the wrath of God, where were James and John? James and John fled along with all the other disciples. They could not drink the cup. They couldn’t even stick around to watch Jesus drink the cup. They didn’t know what they were saying when they said they are able to drink the cup Jesus would drink. They did not know what the cup was.

The cup that Jesus drank was the cup of suffering; the cup of God’s judgment; the cup of God’s wrath. The cup was filled to the brim with punishment for your sins and the sins of the whole world. The cup was filled with every sin ever committed and the just punishment each sin deserves. Is that a cup James and John would have wanted to drink? Is that a cup you want to drink?

Dear Christian, that is not your cup to drink! Oh, you deserve to drink it, as do I. We deserve what Isaiah and Jeremiah describe happens to those who drink God’s cup of wrath: we deserve the resulting devastation and destruction, famine and sword, and death in every street (Is. 51:17-20). We deserve to drink the cup of wrath that causes those drinking to stagger and become crazed because of the sword, as they are made a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, the cup being a punishment that will cause one to fall and rise no more (Jer. 25:22-29). Yet, it is not our cup to drink.

This is the cup that Jesus drank. Just the thought of drinking it filled Jesus with sorrow, trouble, and anguish. It is quite possible that the description that Luke the physician gives in his gospel account of Jesus’ sweat becoming like great drops of blood falling to the ground was in fact the blood vessels in Jesus’ skin breaking because of the severe stress He was under. Knowing what was coming, knowing how excruciating His suffering and death would be, Jesus still submitted to His Father’s will. He submitted to His Father’s will and drank the cup – for you.

Jesus knew that the only other option was that you would have to drink the cup of God’s wrath. He knew if He did not drink it, the punishment of your sins would be on your own head. You would be left in your own guilt, with your own sin, facing your own punishment. Thus, Jesus drank it all. He emptied the cup. He willingly drank it all for you, leaving not a drop.

And Jesus instituted a new cup for you: the cup of His blood shed for you. It is the cup of blessing; the cup of forgiveness; the cup of everlasting life. Because Jesus drank the cup of wrath and paid the price of your sins by shedding His blood for you, His blood for you gives you that forgiveness, that blessing, and that eternal life. He drank your cup, so now you get to drink His cup.

How can it be said that there is glory in Jesus dying on the cross? Because in Jesus’ death, we see the true heart of God. We see that He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to drink the cup that we poisoned with our sins. The cross is where Jesus took our place so that we will spend eternity with Him in His glory. He did not come to be served but to serve. He became the servant of all and gave His life as a ransom for many.

God’s glory is our salvation. Jesus said concerning His death, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

Jesus could have left us to drink the cup of wrath that we deserve, but then He would have remained alone, the only Son of God. For our sake, He died. Instead of remaining alone, He bore much fruit, and now there are many sons of God. We have been adopted by grace, adopted as God’s sons by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14-17). By dying, Jesus bore much fruit. He bore the fruit of millions of children for God, fruit in most glorious abundance.

We are the fruit of Jesus’ death. We are alive and in Christ because He died for us. That we are saved is the glory of God because in saving us helpless, miserable sinners, God showed His power to save. God showed His great love which is boundless and endless.

The death of Jesus shows you God’s love. It gives you absolute confidence that when you drink the blood of Christ, you drink forgiveness, life, and salvation. It gives you firm trust that Jesus drank the cup of suffering; the cup of punishment; the cup of wrath so that you can drink the cup of blessing; the cup of forgiveness; the cup of everlasting life. Amen.

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

Christ’s Letter to the Church in Sardis

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service based on Revelation 3:1-6

Dear conquerors who will be clothed in white garments, whose names will never be blotted out of the book of life, and whose names Jesus will confess before His Father and before His angels: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The church in Sardis was the big church with a full schedule every week. Moms and Tots on Mondays. Quilting and youth group on Tuesdays. Free suppers for the homeless on Wednesdays. Serve your neighbour Thursdays. Clean up the city Fridays. Men’s groups, ladies’ groups, young adults’ groups, youth groups, children’s groups, family groups. You name it, they had it. They thus had the reputation of being alive.

They had the reputation of being alive because of all the works they did in their communities, all the help they offered to the needy, all the funds they raised for relief efforts around the world. They had the reputation of being alive because they had the numbers – big attendance numbers, big event numbers, big dollar numbers collected in offerings.

Yet, Jesus says they are dead. The reputation they had before men was a lie. Men judge by outward appearance; God judges by the heart (I Sm. 16:7).

Hebrews 11 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (v. 6). Romans 14 tells us that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (v. 23). We also heard from John chapter fifteen where Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (v. 5) This means that even works that are excellent and praiseworthy in human eyes are sin before God if they are done without faith. Without being in Christ, we can do nothing good; we can bear no fruit.

The church in Sardis got completely wrapped up in every imaginable purpose except matters of faith. The church had become a community club where the members gathered to do things, but they did not gather for the purpose of hearing God’s Word and receiving His forgiveness. The church came to have a life of its own, apart from life in God, and thus Jesus said that they are dead. They were dead branches cut off from the vine.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. Churches that have been around for a long time can forget their reason to exist. Churches can even be started for the wrong reasons. People go to church, they attend services, but they don’t know why they’re there. They go through the motions. They say sing the hymns. They say the responses. But their hearts aren’t into it. Their minds are preoccupied by other things.

Christ says, “Wake up!” Don’t get distracted or caught up in events and programs and groups and committees. Come to church to hear God’s Word. Yes, in church you hear the very words of God Himself written for you and spoken to you. Come to church to receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. This is where sins are forgiven and removed from you as far as the east is from the west. This is where God takes your sins from you and throws them into the depths of the sea.

Don’t even get caught up in good works. Yes, those who have been reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit are obligated to do good works. In fact, they cannot help but do good works because they have been freed from the slavery of sin and have been filled with love for God and for their neighbour. God Himself has prepared good works for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Abiding in the vine, the branches will bear fruit.

However, let your focus always be the Gospel – the forgiveness of sins Christ has won for you and gives to you freely. It is Christ’s death for you that gives you eternal life. It is His Word and His body and blood that strengthen you through the trials and tribulations of this life to eternal life.

It is also the Gospel that motivates you to do good works. The threats of the Law may get you to begrudgingly do what it demands, but these are not good works before God no matter how much men may praise you for them. The threats of the Law may compel to a full schedule of events and programs to help others, but without faith it is all sin. Without faith, even works that are excellent and praiseworthy in human eyes condemn to hell. Without faith, you may have the reputation of being alive, but Jesus says you are dead.

Do not turn inward, however, to try and find faith. Faith does not come from within us. Faith comes from outside of us. Faith comes from God.

Faith comes from God when He tells you that He has clothed you in white through Baptism, covering all your sin. Faith comes from God when He tells you that He has written your name in the book of life and He will never blot it out. The devil cannot blot your name out because he’s been thrown out of heaven. Your sins cannot blot your name out because you are clothed in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. Your name will never be blotted out of God’s book of life, because no one can snatch you out of God the Father’s hand since He is greater than all (John 10:29).

Finally, Christ says He will confess your name before His Father in heaven and before the angels. He will shut down every accusation against you. Clothed in the robe of forgiveness, Jesus will claim you as His own. He will confess and acknowledge that you belong to Him, and you will thus enter the holy city, which comes down from the new heavens to the new earth (Rev. 21:2).

You are alive. Not because of your busyness with programs and events and good works or because of your reputation before men. You are alive because you abide in the vine, Jesus, in whom you will bear much fruit. You are alive because you are in Christ, and He is alive, and because Christ is alive and will live forevermore, you are alive and will live forever. Amen.

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

Not to Condemn, but to Save

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on John 3:14-21

Dear people for whom the Son of Man was lifted up: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. He didn’t come as Judge, but as Saviour. He came to be lifted up on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and thus save us from our sin.

He came in love, but the world hates Him. We heard the familiar verse that starts, “For God so loved the world,” but the love is not reciprocated. God loves the world, but the world hates God. The world loves darkness instead of the light. The world loves sin instead of loving God.

Why does the world hate Jesus so much? Why do they reject Him? Why do they refuse His forgiveness? It is because they do wicked things and they don’t want to come to the light, lest their wicked deeds should be exposed. Jesus is the light of the world, but the world does not want to come to Jesus who exposes their sin.

We must confess that our sinful inclination is the same. None of us enjoys hearing God’s Law which convicts us of the sins that we have committed. None of us likes God’s Law exposing our sin. Our sinful flesh does not want to hear about God’s rules or commandments, or about how we have failed to keep them. Our sinful flesh says, “If God really loved us, He wouldn’t give us all these rules and commandments to follow. If God really loved us, He would let us do what we want.”

Our sinful flesh is wrong on this matter as it is wrong on every matter.

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. He exposes our sins not so that He can condemn us for them, but so that He can forgive our sin.

We can hide our sins from each other. We can lie about them to each other. We can lie about them to ourselves.

God, however, sees all our sins and knows all our sins. He doesn’t expose our sins for His sake, but for our sake. He shines light onto our sins so that we would see how dark and evil they are and hate them as much as God hates them. He shines light onto our sins so that we would flee the darkness and seek the light. He shines light onto our sins so that we would flee to Christ for refuge.

Christ is our only refuge. He is the light of the world. In Him there was no darkness, but He took our darkness from us onto Himself. He took every single one of our sins onto Himself and died for them.

How do you know that He took your sins? Because He took the sins of the whole world. Every sin of thought, word, and deed was put on Jesus. Every selfish thought, every lustful word, every greedy deed was put on Jesus. Your every sin of anger and doubt, your every sin of jealousy and discontentment was charged to Jesus. He was charged with all the sin of the whole world and was punished for it all. He took your punishment in order to give you eternal life, because He loves you.

It sounds so simple, and it is. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally.

The simplicity of it is what sometimes gets us tripped up. Consider the Israelites in the wilderness from our Old Testament lesson. They had again sinned against God in speaking against Him and complaining about the food God was giving them, so God sent fiery serpents among them. They bit the people and many of them died. This led to the Israelites repenting of their sin. The light of God revealed their darkness, and they repented and asked for the serpents to be taken away.

God provided a solution. He had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it onto a pole. If a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Sounds so simple, and it was. Look and live. It sounds too simple. It kind of even sounds silly. That is the foolishness of the cross.

It would sound better to our reason if God would have told the Israelites to offer Him extra sacrifices and to do all kinds of acts of contrition in order to get forgiveness. It would make more sense to us if God had given them steps for overcoming their difficulties and guidelines for living better lives to save themselves. It would be more reasonable to us if the Israelites would have had to do work to pay off their sin. But God says simply, “Look and live.”

Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Jesus was lifted up onto the cross to save us from the poison of our sin. It’s as simple as that.

Our reason tells us that we should have to offer extra sacrifices and do all kinds of acts of contrition in order to get forgiveness. Maybe if we had to suffer a little bit and work harder to overcome and live better, then we could work off our sins. But none of our sacrifices or acts of contrition or good works can pay for our sins.

The answer is far simpler. Jesus has done it all for you. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally. That’s why Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished.” Your salvation was accomplished then and there. Your sins were paid for then and there. Eternal life was purchased for you then and there. There’s nothing left to pay. There’s nothing left to do. It is finished.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. He didn’t come as Judge, but as Saviour. He came to be lifted up on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and thus save us from our sin.

When Jesus returns, He will return as Judge, but our judgment has already been pronounced. Jesus was judged in our place, so we are already declared innocent.

Jesus says that those who reject His forgiveness are also already judged. He says, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Whoever thinks that they can earn their own salvation; whoever things they can save themselves and see no need for Jesus; whoever rejects the free forgiveness Christ offers is condemned already.

We, however, look to Christ lifted up on the cross. He is the light of the world and He has exposed the darkness of our sins so that we would trust in Him for forgiveness.

We look to the cross, but we cannot go to the cross for forgiveness. Rather, the forgiveness earned on the cross comes to us. Forgiveness comes to us in Baptism, [as it did for Emma this morning. Forgiveness comes to us in] Absolution, and Holy Communion. Once again, it’s so simple. God forgives our sins through water, through the Word, and through bread and wine. It doesn’t require anything from us. Jesus has done it all and He gives us forgiveness freely.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. It sounds so simple, and it is. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally. Amen.

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