Victory Over Temptation

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent based on Mark 1:9-15 and James 1:12-18

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

Lead us not into temptation. These are the words Jesus taught us to pray.

In our Epistle lesson, James helps us understand what this means. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:13-14)

In the Small Catechism, we have the explanation to the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

We have in the Small Catechism a great treasure for the church. It so wonderfully summarizes the faith and gives simple explanation for young and old alike. You can do no better than to recite portions of it every morning and evening. If you don’t know what to do for daily devotions, pick up your Small Catechism. If you don’t have a Small Catechism, pick one up from the table in the narthex.

But back to our text. God tempts no one. From where do temptations come? Temptations come from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.

The devil and the world don’t have to work very hard to tempt us because of our sinful nature. Our sinful nature is always ready to sin and always seeking opportunity to sin. Our sinful nature has desires that are contrary to God’s desires for us. That is why we fall into sin even when we’re not tempted by the devil or the world. As we heard, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

This desire varies from person to person, and even within a person from youth to old age. In younger years, temptation is often in sins of the flesh. In middle age, it’s often money and power that are the greatest temptation. In older years, it is often the desire to live forever that is the greatest temptation.

Most often, however, we do not and cannot anticipate what will tempt us, from where the temptation will come, or when it will come. The truth is that anything can be a temptation for us.

We can be tempted to overwork, we can be tempted to be lazy. We can be tempted to meddle in other people’s affairs, or we can be tempted to be indifferent to other people altogether. We can be tempted into hardness of heart and believing we need no forgiveness or we can be tempted to believe that our sins are too awful to be forgiven and thus be tempted to despair.

Temptation is not just into obvious vices and evil. Temptation comes like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, disguising itself as something good.

Material possessions are a good blessing from God, but we are tempted to be more attached to God’s physical blessings than His spiritual blessings. Having a good reputation is a blessing from God, but we are tempted to not speak up when we should, for fear of the disapproval of others. Leisure time is a blessing from God, but we are tempted to do anything except study God’s Word when we have free time. Thus, there are temptations for us everywhere and with everything.

These temptations come from within us, as we desire what God forbids. The world adds to the temptation because the world does what it wants and seems to enjoy it. The devil adds to the temptation because he is ever seeking our fall.

God, however, does not tempt us. God may test us, as He did Abraham, but He does not tempt us into sin. “[God] does not test in order that we may fear and hate Him like a tyrant but to the end that He may exercise and stir up faith and love in us. Satan, however, tempts for evil, in order to draw you away from God and to make you distrust and blaspheme God.” (Luther AE 4:132)

Everything God does, He does for our eternal good. Everything the devil does, he does for our eternal ill. God wants you to trust Him in poverty, illness, and failure and He wants you to trust Him in wealth, health, and success. The devil wants you to distrust and question God in poverty, illness, and failure, and not to think of God at all in wealth, health, and success.

Thus, we pray to God, saying lead us not into temptation. Guard and keep us from falling into temptation. We cannot avoid temptation with out own strength. If we could, we would have no need to pray this petition. We pray this petition because we need God to fight temptation for us.

Hebrews tells us that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, as He was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. The devil threw every temptation he could muster up against Jesus, but Jesus did not sin. The cunning father or lies is no match for the Word of God. Jesus won the battle.

The temptation of Jesus is more than Christ’s personal victory over temptation. It is our victory as well. Just as surely as we inherited Adam’s sin, so we also inherit Christ’s righteousness. St Paul put in this way in his Epistle to the Romans: For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)

The devil won the victory against Adam. He came to him through his dear wife. God gave Eve to Adam for him to care for. He owed her spiritual care. God had made him her spiritual head. He was to care for her as a man should care for his woman by protecting her with the Word of God. Instead, he abdicated his office as pastor of his own home and elected Eve to be his pastor and immediately submitted to her spiritual oversight. The devil gained mastery over Adam through his wife. But while Eve ate the forbidden fruit before Adam did, the Bible blames Adam. It is Adam’s sin that is reckoned to the world. So it is that Jesus, the second Adam, comes to do what Adam failed to do. Whereas the first Adam disobeyed, the second Adam obeyed. (quoted from a sermon by Rev. Rolf Preus)

Jesus gave us an example of how to fight the devil’s lies with the Word of God, but He is not merely an example for us in fighting temptation. His victory over temptation is our victory because He is our substitute. His obedience is our righteousness as we heard from Romans, because He is our substitute.

Jesus was obedient to the point of death on a cross. There He also acted as our substitute. He lived our life and He died our death. In His life He fought temptation for us and won, and in His death He paid the price for our falls into temptation.

And Jesus sympathizes with your weaknesses. When you feel all alone in temptation and think that no one understands; when it seems like your whole life is taken over by some desire, know that you are not alone. Jesus is there and He sympathizes with your weaknesses. He knows what it’s like to be tempted. He suffered when tempted so His heart aches when He sees you suffering in temptation, and He helps you in temptation (Heb. 2:18).

Jesus sympathized with your weaknesses to the point of death. It is for you that Jesus suffered and died. It is for you that He rose again. His victory over temptation is your victory over temptation, and His victory over death is your victory over death. 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 Ephesus

Sermon for Ash Wednesday based on Revelation 2:1-7

Dear church of Christ who will eat of the tree of life: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christ Jesus, the Lord of the Church, sent seven letters to seven churches. Tonight, we focus on His letter to the church in Ephesus.

Jesus starts out with commending them for their works, especially in recognizing false teachers. He praises them saying, “You cannot bear with those you are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and have found them to be false.”

The church in Ephesus was enduring and bearing up under the great difficulty of having false teachers in their midst. Jesus specifically praises them for hating the false teachings and works of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus says He also hates. The church in Ephesus was clinging to the truth of the Gospel in the midst of trying times and false teachings.

Jesus does have something against them, however. They had abandoned the love they had at first.

When the Gospel had first reached Ephesus, those who believed the Gospel had responded with great love. They loved gathering to hear God’s Word in church. They loved sharing what they had with the needy. They generously gave offerings to the church so that more people could hear the good news that had saved them. They did good works in the community out of love for God and love for their neighbour. They did these good works since they were so filled with love because their sins were forgiven and they had the promise of eternal life.

Over time, however, their love had grown cold. They no longer had the same love for God which they had at first, so they did not do the same works they did at first. They no longer showed love for their neighbour. They no longer showed love for hearing God’s Word.

Jesus warns in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew that in the latter days, “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matt. 24:12) This happened in Ephesus already at the time of Jesus’ letter to them.

Lawlessness was great in Ephesus. This is evident from the influence of the Nicolaitans in Ephesus. The Nicolaitans were an antinomian cult participating in offering food to pagan gods and cult prostitution, quite likely connected to the popular goddess Artemis of the Ephesians. There is documentary evidence of the worship of up to 50 gods in Ephesus, but all paled in comparison to Artemis, the temple built to her being numbered among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for hating the works of the Nicolaitans, but these evil works around them still influenced their love to grow cold.

The church had condemned the works of the Nicolaitans, but they still lost members to the cult. They had done outreach to their pagan neighbours, but their neighbours didn’t come to church. They had helped the poor and needy in Ephesus, yet they still had the poor and needy around them. They had taught their children the faith, yet their children were being lost to the world and its enticements. All their works did nothing. Their love grew cold.

It’s not just their love for good works that grew cold. Their love for God grew cold. These are really one and the same. Their love for God grew cold, because they thought He should be doing more in Ephesus. They thought God should knock over the great temple built for Artemis; that God should take care of the poor and needy; that God should bring these worshipers of false gods to a knowledge of the one and only true God.

Because God didn’t do what they expected Him to do, their love for Him grew cold, and they stopped inviting their neighbours to church. They stopped helping the poor and needy and reduced their offerings to God. They stopped teaching their children the faith.

Jesus knows all His churches and all His people. Therefore, He writes a letter to the church in Ephesus saying, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

In the first chapter of Revelation, we heard that the lampstand is the church. Thus, Jesus is saying, if you don’t repent, I will remove the church out of Ephesus. If you do not repent, I will take away my Word and Sacraments from you.

If Jesus wrote a letter to the church in Melville, what would He say? Has our love for God grown cold because of lawlessness that God has not curtailed? Has our love for our neighbour grown cold as there continue to be poor and needy even though we have helped them? Have we stopped doing the works we used to do because our invitations to our neighbours and children and grandchildren to join us in church have gone unheeded?

Christ’s warning to the church in Ephesus is His warning to the church in Melville and to the church in every city in the world. Repent. If you do not repent, I will remove the church out of your midst.

What is it that Christ is calling us to do? Grow the church here? Eliminate poverty? Turn unbelievers’ hearts? No. We can do none of those things. God, and God alone gives growth to the church and turns hearts to Him (I Cor. 3:6-7), and Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you.” (Matt. 26:11)

Jesus is simply calling for us to love Him and trust Him, even if He doesn’t do what we think He should do. And since Scripture teaches that faith without works is dead, that is, it is not true faith (James 2:17), we strive out of love for God to serve our neighbour. Not to earn salvation, for this we can never do, but willingly and joyfully because we are already saved.

Galatians teaches, “Let us not grow weary of doing good… as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:9-10) This does not mean that our invitations to others to come to church will be accepted and our church will grow. It does not mean that our congregational budget won’t be tight. It doesn’t mean that there will be no more poor.

It means that out of our love for God, we do good, regardless of the outcome, regardless of success or failure, regardless of the lawlessness around us.

Jesus promises, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

Revelation twelve tells us that Satan has been conquered by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 12:11). Romans eight tells us that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Rom. 8:37).

In Christ by faith, we are conquerors, and will eat from the tree of life in paradise. Adam and Eve did not get to eat from the tree of life which would have caused them to live forever as sinful beings (Gen. 3:22), but when we are brought into the joys of paradise as sinless people, we will get to eat from the tree of life and live forever.

In fact, we already get to eat from the tree of life. Not the one in paradise, but the word Jesus uses which is translated as tree, is more often used to refer to wood which has been cut down, and thus points us to the tree of the cross. The fruit of the cross is the forgiveness of sins, which we eat every Sunday in the Lord’s Supper, and which we eat again tonight. This fruit of the cross keeps us in Christ, so that we are conquerors, and will be strengthened in faith and in good works until we eat of the tree of life in paradise.

Because of the fruit we eat from the tree of life now, we receive the forgiveness of sins. Because we receive the forgiveness of sins, will live forever, and will join Christ our dear Saviour and Lord of the Church in the paradise of God. Christ has made sure of it by shedding His blood on the tree and thus conquering Satan. Christ has made sure that we will eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God by giving us the fruits of the tree of His cross in His body and blood given and shed for us. Amen.

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

Fear and Glory

Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord based on Mark 9:2-9

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

There is only one emotion present when sinners are in the presence of the glory of God. That emotion is fear. In the presence of the glory of God Almighty, man falls on his face in terror.

As Jesus walked around looking like any other man, He was hiding His glory. His glory was veiled so everyone did not fall down in fear around Him. On the mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John got a glimpse of Jesus’ glory and heard God the Father’s voice from heaven and were terrified and did fall on their faces (Matt. 17:6).

Mankind is sinful, so we can have no other reaction to God’s glory than falling on our faces in fear. Scripture tells us that on Judgment Day, every knee will bow to Jesus, the judge of the living and the dead (Rom. 14:11). Whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever, you will bow down to God in His glory because of your sin. Our sin will make us fear.

Right now, we don’t fear. Our sins don’t even seem like such a big deal. God didn’t punish us the first time we fell into sin, and He hasn’t punished us when we returned into that sin. He hasn’t punished us as we keep falling into sin, even as we have gotten others to sin and made our sin their door. God hasn’t punished us for the sin we shunned a year or two, but wallowed in a score. (language in this paragraph paraphrased from ELH 498)

In the presence of the glory of God, however, we will be acutely aware of our sinfulness. We will fall on our faces in fear at the judgment seat of Christ.

Christ will not leave us in fear. As Jesus touched the disciples on the mount of transfiguration and said to them, “Rise, and have no fear” (Matt. 17:7), so He will raise us off our faces and tell us not to be afraid. We do not have to be afraid because Jesus was punished for our sins.

The Almighty God took on human flesh, veiling His glory. He veiled His glory so that He would give His life as a ransom for our lives. Our sins were and are such a big deal that they required God to die in order for them to be covered. It required the life of God in the flesh to pay the price of our sins and thus save us from eternal damnation.

Jesus will raise us up off our faces and tell us, “Rise, and have no fear. I have paid the price of your sins.” His forgiveness is so great and overflowing, that it covers even those sins into which we fall repeatedly; those sins of weakness which we hate and detest. Jesus’ forgiveness covers those sins we have brought into the lives of others.

Jesus doesn’t ask, “How many times must I forgive you?” He is the one who taught unlimited forgiveness when He said, “If [your brother] sins against you seven times in a day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:4) If he demands such forgiveness from you, do you seriously think He will not show such forgiveness to you?

That’s why God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” Listen to Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. He is the one foretold by Moses and Elijah. Listen to Him. All the Old Testament points to Jesus. Everything that God said for thousands of years was about the coming of the Christ. Now that He has come, listen to Him.

The book of Hebrews starts with the words, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.”

The prophets of old searched and inquired carefully to learn about the promised Christ (I Pt. 1:10). They did not have first hand knowledge of the divine mysteries concerning which they prophesied. They simply repeated faithfully what God had told them to say.

Now, in these last days, God has spoken to us by His Son. Not just another prophet bringing the Word of God, but He is Himself God, the eternal Word (Jn 1:1). He speaks as one who has authority, because He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18).

Jesus is not just one of many topics in the Bible. He is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). If you take Him out of the Scriptures, you have nothing left. Thus, when Jesus sent out His apostles, He did not send them to talk about their own views and ideas. He sent them to talk about Him. He is the one to whom we should listen. His voice is the voice we hear on the pages of sacred Scripture. Listen to Him.

Christ Jesus came to you hidden in the waters of Holy Baptism. He comes to you veiled in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He needs to be hidden and veiled so that you are not overcome by your sinfulness in His glorious presence and fall on your face. We would be afraid of the sacraments if we could see what happens in them.

Jesus knows us. He knows our sins and He knows our fears. Therefore, the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit He veils with water. His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins He veils with bread and wine. He knows you need the forgiveness of your sins, so He gives it to you freely. He knows your frailties, so He gives the forgiveness to you in these veiled ways, so that you will not fear.

There will come a time when we will not fear to see God face to face. It will be when we are raised with perfected and sinless bodies that are spiritual and imperishable (I Cor. 15:42,44), and we will be like God, because we will see Him as He is (I Jn 3:2). Then we will dwell in His presence forever without fear because we will be without sin. Then we will not fall on our faces in God’s glorious presence because we will be glorious in His glorious presence.

Until then, we are in the veiled presence of God. He is here because He has promised us, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 28:20) He is here because He has promised us, “Take eat, this is my body… drink of it all of you, for this is my blood…” (Mt. 26:26, 28) He is here because He has promised us, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) Amen.

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

Preaching is Better than Healing

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany based on Mark 1:29-39

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

God is not a vending machine. You don’t put in a dollar and then make your selection of what you want.

This is the way false gods are worshiped. The prophets of Baal thought that the longer they prayed, and the more intensely they prayed, the more they would be heard by Baal. When they would not receive an answer, they would cut themselves in the hopes of getting their false god to have compassion on them and answer their prayer (cf. I Ki. 18).

Offering sacrifices to idols was in order win to the favour of the idols. If food offerings didn’t result in an answer to their prayers, then they would try animal sacrifices. When animal sacrifices still did not result in the idol answering their prayer, they would even offer their children to be sacrificed, as the followers of Molech did. The thinking was that if you wanted the god to answer your prayer, you had to offer a sacrifice that was great enough. You put in your dollar and make your selection.

Atheists use a similar misunderstanding of God as an argument that there is no God. They say, “I prayed to God and He didn’t give me what I wanted, so there is no God.” I made my selection on the vending machine, but I didn’t get what I wanted, so I do not believe.

But God is not a vending machine, regardless of how people think of Him. He’s got better things prepared for us than we can even understand.

The whole city gathered at the door of the house where Jesus was. They wanted healing. They wanted sicknesses and diseases gone. Jesus did heal many. He healed many who were sick or oppressed by demons, as He had healed Simon’s mother-in-law from her fever.

However, Jesus said He came to preach. As more people came looking for Him desiring healing for themselves or their loved ones, Jesus departed to go on to the next towns in order to preach. Jesus did not heal everyone in the city, even though He could have. Instead of healing, Jesus did the more important thing – preaching. He said to His disciples, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Preaching is better than healing. Healing leads to living longer in this sinful world, but preaching leads to eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth.

Yet, how often do we pray for preaching? “Dear God, grant me to hear more sermons.” How often do we spend time listening to sermons and reading sermons? Okay, maybe we’ll hear one on Sunday morning, but what about hearing God’s Word throughout the week? I hardly think too many of us pray for more preaching. I don’t think anyone prayed this morning, “Dear God, grant my pastor to have an extra long sermon this morning.”

Yet, we do pray for healing. We pray for healing for ourselves and our loved ones. We keep hitting the healing button on the vending machine and are disappointed if all we get is preaching. We’d rather have the healing than the preaching.

It’s not that healing is bad. Healing can mean less pain. Healing can mean more time to spend with our families before we die. Healing can mean hearing more preaching before we die.

Healing is, however, temporary. We will all still die. Healing just puts off the inevitable for a little while longer. Illnesses and sicknesses will return. Death will come. In the end, healing makes us no better off.

Preaching teaches God’s Word and tells us what God’s will is for our lives. Preaching convicts us of sin and brings us to repentance. Preaching creates and sustains trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and it thus makes us eternally better off.

Sometimes we need illness. We may need it to humble us. It is a very humbling thing to have your body or mind fail and require the help of others. It is humbling to be bedridden or confined to a wheelchair. God certainly can use illness to crush our sinful pride and give us humility.

Illness also can make us think of eternal matters. When we are healthy, we are busy with the things of this world. Illness can make us reflect on the fact that we will all die. Illness can prompt in us a greater desire to hear preaching and the Word of God. God can use illness to turn us away from the world and open our eyes to better things.

Whether God sees it fit to give healing or not, He does not give it because of anything we have done. God does not answer our prayers because our prayers are long or well-worded or intense. He doesn’t answer our prayers because we have sacrificed greatly or given Him offerings.

Everything God gives to us, He gives only out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. Even the illnesses that He gives to us, He gives to us out of love, desiring what is for our eternal good.

Unlike a vending machine, what God gives to us is not His response to what we have given to Him. It’s the other way around. God gives to us first. He gives blessings to us, so that we have something to give to Him as an offering. He gives us the greatest good – the forgiveness of sin – so that our hearts would be freed to give offerings to Him willingly and joyfully, not under compulsion. He gives us eternal life, so that we will not cling to the things of this earth like they are going to last, but that we would release our hold of what God has entrusted to us and use it for the eternal good of others, by supporting preaching here and around the world.

Preaching is better than healing, because it brings not just temporary healing, but eternal healing. If you do pray for healing from illness, just know that God may say no to healing in this life, and instead bring you into His eternal joys where you will have eternal healing.

Pray for preaching. Pray that God will graciously grant you to hear the preaching of His Word for all the days of your life. Pray that God would grant your children and grandchildren preachers who preach His Word. Pray that God would give you a desire to hear His Word, and that He would give you wisdom and understanding when you hear it preached.

There is nothing better than hearing the Gospel preached to you. Jesus died for you, so your sins are forgiven. Your sins which plague you cannot keep you from heaven because your sins have been removed from you. You have the promise of eternal life. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. You have the promise of being healed eternally from all illnesses and sicknesses, where you will see God face to face, and He will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Eternal healing is God’s promise to you, and that promise gives you trust in God through all the illnesses of this life. Amen.

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

The Devil Cast Out

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany based on Mark 1:21-28

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

Talking about the devil is not a popular topic of conversation. It is not even common in sermons these days. People want to hear good and pleasant things, not about the devil or about hell. “Tell me about Jesus blessing the children or calming a storm, not about the devil or his demons.”

This is understandable. It is not nice or pleasant to hear about the devil. Yet, it is important that we hear about him. It is important that we hear about this great enemy of ours who is scheming to tempt us and prowling to devour us. It is important that we know that he is wily and cunning, a murderer and a liar, and that we understand that he unceasingly wages war on the Church of God through every means possible. This means the devil wages war on you.

Ever since tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, the devil has been tempting mankind to question what God says. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” he asked, twisting God’s Word. (Gen. 3:1) “Did God actually say,” the devil continually asks.

The devil has his successes. The Bible tells us the devil incited King David into sin which resulted in God striking the people of Israel so that 70,000 men died from pestilence (I Chron. 21). The devil enticed King Ahab into a war which resulted in his death (I Kings 22). It is the devil who forbids marriage (I Tim. 4:1-2) and who tempts married people to infidelity (I Cor. 7:5), which we know goes everywhere. The devil snatches God’s Word out of hearts who hear so that they would not believe and be saved (Luke 8:12), and he sows his evil children among the children of God to cause strife, discord, and fighting even in the church (Matt. 13:38-39).

Do you think the devil is not behind the evil we see in the world? Do you think he is not behind the teaching of evolution that is taught to our children in school that denies what Scripture teaches? Did God actually say, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first billion years”? (cf. Gen. 1:5) Do you think the devil is not behind the murder of unborn children, whose blood cries up to God from the ground? Did God actually say, “You shall not murder, unless the child is not yet born”? (cf. Ex. 20:13) Do you think Satan is not behind homosexuality, transgenderism, pornography, and every other perversion of God’s gift of marriage? Did God actually say, “You shall not commit adultery, unless you were born that way”? (cf. Ex. 20:14)

The devil has so blinded the minds of this world that they will unhesitatingly and unblinkingly call black white and white black (2 Cor. 4:4). His power in the world is so great, that Scripture even refers to him as “the god of this world.” (2 Cor. 4:4)

Unbelievers are completely under the power of Satan until God’s grace and power deliver them from the domain of darkness and transfer them into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14).

This then is why we hear about Jesus casting out a demon in Epiphany. Yes, it reveals that Jesus is God, but it also reveals that the coming of the promised Saviour means that the reign of God has arrived in the person of Jesus, as He takes men captured by the devil away from the devil with nothing more than His Word. “Be silent, and come out of him!” is the command from Jesus for the devil to release his grip on the man and depart. It is the revelation that Jesus was beginning to turn back the forces of the devil and drive him to destruction.

Just before His crucifixion, talking about His own death, Jesus announced, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31) Jesus’ death appeared to be Satan’s victory, but in reality, it meant his overthrow. It meant the casting out of Satan from power and his reign ended.

The world was judged when Jesus was judged. The world was found guilty, but Jesus took that guilt on Himself. Jesus was punished for the sins of the world as He suffered and died.

Death was unable to keep Jesus. Jesus defeated death by rising from the dead. This means that Satan’s threats of death because of our sin are vain and useless. Our death is now nothing to fear, since we will rise from the dead as Jesus rose from the dead. Everyone who is in Christ has conquered death. Everyone who is in Christ will rise to everlasting life.

Thus, remain in Christ. Remain in Christ by remaining in His Word. Remain in Christ by receiving His body and blood. Being in Christ is your protection from Satan and his attacks and temptations, and from his fiery darts with which he seeks your eternal ruin.

Do not think that God gave you His Word for nothing. Do not think Christ commands you to abide in His Word (John 8:31) for no reason. God gave you His Word and commands you to abide in it because you cannot defend yourself from the devil on your own. Abide in Christ’s Word so that you will not fall for every trick and temptation of the devil.

If you do not abide in Christ’s Word, when the devils tempts you and asks, “Did God actually say…” you will have no idea of what God said or didn’t say. If you do not abide in God’s Word, you will be blown around by every false teaching and false teacher because you do not know what God has actually said.

And do not think Christ Jesus instituted a useless meal. Do not think He commands you to commune often for no reason. Christ gives you His body and blood to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith often so that you are always protected from the devil. Martin Luther wrote, “If you knew how many fiery darts the devil was shooting at you, you’d run to the Sacrament of the Altar every chance you got!”

Christ’s body and blood keep you in Christ, which means His righteousness and perfection cover your sin. Christ’s body and blood keep you in Him, safe from the devil’s ugly accusations, safe from a guilty conscience, safe from hell.

Christ gives you His Word and His body and blood because He doesn’t want to lose you. He refuses to allow the devil to take you. He yearns jealously over you (James 4:5) because He wants you completely for Himself.

The devil is more powerful than we are. He is smarter and more cunning than we are. He is our great enemy who is scheming to tempt us and prowling to devour us. But he cannot have us. He has been defeated and his power has been destroyed. He bit Jesus’ heel, but he bit off more than he could chew as Jesus crushed his head.

Christ has given us His Word so that we won’t fall for Satan’s twisted lies. Christ gives us His body and blood, so that even when we do fall into sin, the devil still can’t have us. Christ’s Word and His body and blood strengthen and preserve us in body and soul to life everlasting.

That’s why we can talk about the devil all we want without fear or unpleasantness. The devil is powerless. He’s been cast out. He may convulse and cry out like the demon did, but he must obey Christ who conquered him. His reign is ended. His power is gone.

Did God actually say that the devil, the ruler of this world be cast out? Yes, He did, and then He died and rose again, and actually did what He said and cast the devil out. His power over us is finished, and we do not need to fear him. That is both a nice and pleasant thing to hear. Amen.

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

Repentance – Specific and General

Sermon the Third Sunday after the Epiphany based on Mark 1:14-20

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

“Repent and believe in the Gospel,” Jesus preached. The Holy Spirit does not give us any more content of Jesus’ sermon here, or a list of any specific sins of which the people were to repent. The Holy Spirit simply had Mark record that Jesus preached a general call to repentance.

There is a need to preach about specific sins so that we would recognize those sins to be sin and repent of them, but there is also a need to preach general repentance. This is because we tend to think that our problem is a specific sin. Maybe it’s a bad temper. Maybe it’s discontentment. Maybe it’s gossip. We think, if only I could keep my cool a little better; if only I could find a little more contentment in life; if only I could say less bad things about others, then I would have my sin under control, then I’d be a moral person, then I’d be a good person.

We tend to think of our sins very specifically, as if the solution to our sins is to do better in the areas we struggle. I’m going to show more love to my spouse. I’m going to drink less. I’m going to be more patient with the children. I’m going to go to church more.

However, doing better with specific sins is no solution. The problem with us is not our specific sins. The problem with us is that we are sinful in general. All of us, all our being is infected with sin. Our very nature is corrupt. Our flesh is sinful to the core and has not one good desire. We are sinful from conception and will remain that way until we die.

Specific sins are merely a symptom of what is wrong with us. We aren’t sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. Working on committing less of a particular sin is like dealing with a symptom of illness, without treating the illness itself. Working on committing less of a specific sin as the solution to sin is like having cancer but getting no treatment other than an Advil for your fever. Even if your fever goes down a little for a while, it doesn’t help your overall situation at all.

Now don’t get me wrong. Turning away from specific sins is part of repentance. Striving to do better in the areas we struggle is what God commands us to do. The point is that we need to repent in general. We need to repent not just of what we have done and left undone, but of who we are and what we are. We need to repent of our sinful hearts, which is where all our sins of thought, word, and deed originate. Jesus says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:19) These specific sins come about as the result of general sin of the heart.

It’s not that a pretty good person commits murder and thus becomes a bad person, or a moral guy commits adultery and becomes an immoral sinner, or an essentially honest man steals and thus becomes a dishonest man. The problem is the heart. We sin because we are sinful. Because we are bad, immoral, and dishonest, we break God’s Commandments.

We can work on individual sins all we want, but it will not help us unless we address our general situation – that we are by nature sinful and unclean.

This is why the general preaching of repentance leads into the specific preaching of the Gospel. Repent and believe in the Gospel, but not just any gospel. There is only one specific Gospel that saves us from sin – the specific Gospel that Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that we have the promise of eternal life.

This specific Gospel is the cure for our illness of sin. It doesn’t just treat symptoms, but it makes us new from top to bottom. It gives us a new heart and new desires to do what is right. It makes us clean from sin in general, so it makes us clean from specific sins also. Every specific sin is wiped away from us. Every sin of thought, word, and deed that we have committed was put on Jesus and He paid the price for them. That is the specific Gospel for you, but it still gets more specific and more personal.

The Gospel is not just out there somewhere for you to find. Christ has instituted specific places where He gives you the forgiveness of sins. Those places are Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar. These are the specific ways God gives you forgiveness.

Baptism is a washing away of your sins. It washes away the guilt of specific sins you have committed, but it also washes you generally clean of sin. It forgives individual sins, but it also forgives your sinful heart. All of you is washed clean, and all of you is claimed by God as belonging to Him.

Baptism is very specific. Your name was spoken along with God’s name. You, personally and specifically, became a child of God in Baptism.

Absolution is God’s forgiveness spoken to you. It declares you righteous. It declares you forgiven. Absolution is God’s Word, spoken at His command, and with His promise.

Absolution can be spoken in general, as it is every Divine Service, or it can be specific, personal, and individual. Yet, the forgiveness is the same, and specifically for you.

The Sacrament of the Altar is Christ’s true body and blood given to you for the forgiveness of sin. It gives forgiveness for specific sins, general sin, all sin. You yourself receive it. You eat, you drink, so you know that you, specifically, receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sin. This specific meal strengthens and nourishes your faith until you are at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

Repent and believe in the Gospel. Yes, repent of specific sins that you commit because of your weakness, and strive to do better. But the only solution for sin is the Gospel – the good news that Jesus suffered and died for your sin and freely forgives you all your sin; the good news that your sinful heart and all the sins that flow out of it are covered with the blood of Christ; the good news that your general sinfulness as well as your specific sins were put on Christ, and you will not be punished for them because Jesus was punished for them.

Repent and believe in the Gospel. Amen.

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

Come and See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that all that happens here? Come and see.

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

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

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

We don’t see it. We can’t see it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, come and hear the Word of Jesus.

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

Come and see. Come and hear. Amen.

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

Baptism is Eternal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Word Will Not Be Stopped

Sermon for Christmas Day based on John 1:1-14 (Psalm 2)

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

The Word made flesh would not be stopped. Our Psalm asks, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed” (Ps. 2).

What useless and vain plotting and scheming. Nothing could stop God’s plan of salvation. The Word became flesh.

King Herod in all his power was a pathetic puppet of Satan in his vain attempts to kill the baby Jesus. God warned Joseph to flee to Egypt so that Herod’s attempts to murder Jesus were unsuccessful. In his fury, Herod murdered all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old or younger, but Jesus he was not able to kill. God had a plan and a time, that was not it. Nothing would stop God’s plan of salvation.

The light came to shine in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him? That did not stop the Word made flesh. There was no room in the inn? That did not stop the Word made flesh. The great red dragon sought to devour the child of Mary (Rev. 12:1-6)? That did not stop the Word made flesh.

The Word made flesh came to be the life of men. He came to us in our hall of death, to breathe our poisoned air, to drink for us the dark despair that strangled our reluctant breath (LSB 834 st. 3). He saw our wretched state, as we lay fast bound in Satan’s chains, with death darkly brooding over us; sin tormenting us night and day. God’s Anointed had compassion on us, and brought us salvation; from sin and sorrow setting us free. He slayed bitter death for us that we may live with Him forever (LSB 556 st. 2, 4, 5).

The Word made flesh would not be stopped. His opponents and enemies did not stop Him. The temptations of the devil did not turn Him aside from His plan of salvation. Nothing stopped Christ’s plan of salvation from the manger to the rough wooden cross. No price was too high to pay, even His own life He gave for us sheep who love to wander. He would not be stopped.

The Word made flesh is not stopped today either. He rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He is your light and your life, and He has given you the right to be children of God, by the will of God. And He will not be stopped.

His forgiveness to you will not be stopped. The nations can rage and the peoples plot against God’s children, but it is in vain. The kings of the earth can set themselves, and the rulers can take counsel together, against the Lord and against his children, but it is useless and in vain.

Our governments can pass whatever laws they like; they can ban every Christian belief, every Scriptural truth. They can take away the livelihoods of believers and imprison us for our faith and put us to death. But the Word made flesh will not be stopped.

He will not stop saving His people who cry to Him for help. The pathetic and powerless hands of earthly kings and authorities will not prevent God from saving us.

God laughs at any attempts of rebellion against His Word. “He who sits in heaven laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” God ridicules and mocks those who think they’re going to stand in the way of God’s salvation.

The Word they shall let remain. They may not receive it. They may not care for it. They may hate it. It matters not. The Word made flesh shall return to judge the nations and break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

God’s plan of salvation for you will not be stopped. God’s claim on you through the waters of Baptism cannot be undone. His adoption of you as His child cannot be overturned. They body and blood of Christ that you have received have placed you in communion with Christ and it will not be reversed.

This means your salvation is firm and secure, no matter if the nations rage and the peoples plot against you. No lies or slanders against you will prevent your salvation. Not war. Not hunger. Not old grudges or fresh wounds. Not bad news from doctors, teachers, or the stock market. Not new laws from a wicked government.

Not even death can prevent your salvation. Death has lost its sting, the grave its victory.

Your salvation cannot be undone because Christ’s birth for you cannot be undone. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is a fact that endures forever. Your salvation cannot be undone because Christ’s death for you cannot be undone. His death for you has paid the price of your sins forever. Your salvation cannot be undone because Christ’s resurrection for you cannot be undone. As surely as He lives and reigns to all eternity, so you also will live with Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Let the nations rage. Let the peoples plot in vain. Let us join our Lord in heaven who laughs and holds them in derision. The Word made flesh was not stopped and will not be stopped. He is our light and our life, and it will not be undone. Amen.

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

Christmas with a Cross

Sermon for Christmas Eve based on Matthew 1:18-25

Dear people who celebrate Christmas and yet carry a cross: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

God put Joseph into a predicament. Joseph didn’t really have any good options. His betrothed wife, Mary, was with child, and it wasn’t his. The virgin Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

Joseph concluded what everyone would conclude today: that Mary had been unfaithful to him. Joseph was a just man. Even though it was obvious to him that Mary had cheated on him, he still did not want to expose her to public shaming. Being a just man, he resolved to divorce her quietly, to minimize the damage to her reputation.

The angel’s appearance to Joseph in a dream, telling him that that which is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit, not from another man, certainly must have been a great comfort and relief to him. He then knew that Mary had not been unfaithful to him. Mary’s virginity, her loyalty, and her love for Joseph remained pure.

The predicament, however, remained. People would talk. They always do. Gossip never cares for the truth. Gossips are always liars. They embellish their tales even when they know that they are false. Joseph would face shame even though he had done nothing wrong. And God is to blame.

Also, let’s not ignore the fact that God had quite simply taken Joseph’s wife from him and impregnated her. God didn’t ask Joseph first. The Son born to Mary was not Joseph’s.

Being a just man, Joseph submitted to God’s will. He took guardianship of both Mary and the baby Jesus. Joseph trusted what God was doing, even if it brought a cross that he would have to bear.

Is that not what is most difficult to bear – the cross that God sends? If we suffer because of our own sins, if we’re honest with ourselves, we will say that we deserve it. But if God sends us a cross to bear for no reason we can figure out, then we become exasperated. We want to know why God is doing what He’s doing, but He won’t tell us.

Such is a time to learn from Joseph, and trust that God knows what He is doing; trust that God is good; trust that what God does is good, even if He doesn’t tell you what He’s doing.

We can certainly see the good in what God did in Joseph’s situation. God brought forth the Saviour into the world.

As foretold by the prophets, the Christ would be born of a virgin. Christ is the eternal God, begotten of the Father before all ages, but is also true man, born for us men and our salvation from the virgin Mary.

As the colt on which Jesus rode to enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday never had anyone sit on it before, and as no one had been laid in the tomb in which He was buried, so also Jesus’ mother had to a virgin, set apart for a holy purpose.

Since children need a father, God did not impregnate a single woman, but one who was betrothed; one who was promised by oath to a man. Thus, God provided an earthly father for Jesus.

God planned and executed the coming of Jesus in the perfect way, but it meant carrying a cross for Joseph. He couldn’t escape the shame of the gossip, or the cross of God taking his wife for His holy purpose. Again came the cross when Joseph’s friends and family in his hometown of Bethlehem did not make room for him and his family. Soon afterward, Joseph had to flee to Egypt with his family as Herod sought to murder the baby under his guardianship. Mary was not alone in bearing a cross because of Jesus, Joseph also bore a cross.

From the cross, however, comes good. From the cross that Joseph and Mary bore came the Saviour of the world – the Saviour who went to the cross on Calvary to die for the sins of the world.

From Christ’s cross comes good. From His cross comes life and salvation for mankind, because Mary’s baby went on to buy us evil men out of captivity with His death. The good from the cross is given to us in Baptism where God washes us clean from sin and claims us as His own. The good from the cross is given into our mouths when we receive the body and blood of Jesus that gives us forgiveness and nourishes our faith. The good from the cross is given to us when we hear that since Jesus rose from the dead, we too will rise from the dead on the Last Day.

We see from Joseph, that following Jesus comes with a cross. With the cross, however, comes good. God may not tell us what that good is. We may not know until He takes us home to be with Him. But we trust that God knows what He is doing. We trust that God is good. And we trust that what God does is good, even if He doesn’t tell us what He’s doing. Amen.

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