We Confess that Christ Reigns

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

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

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

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

This is shown in Ephesians, where it is written, “When [God the Father] raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (1:20-23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jesus is the Christ

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent based on Mark 8:27-38

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

We care what other people think of us. We may ask others what they’ve heard said about us because we want to make sure only good things are being said. We are vain.

That’s not why Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus knows what everyone thinks of Him.

Jesus wanted the disciples to know and take notice of what the world was saying about Him. The world was saying that Jesus is a prophet. A prophet like John the Baptist or Elijah. They said He was a respectable teacher with teaching worth hearing.

Jesus wants His church today to also know what the world says about Him. Guess what? It hasn’t changed. The world still says that Jesus was a prophet. They still say He was a teacher with some good lessons to teach. They say He’s one of the great religious leaders like Gandhi and Buddha. Even Muslims say that Jesus was a prophet like Mohammed.

There’s always room for another prophet. There’s always room for another teacher. Even the Pharisees called Jesus “Rabbi,” which means teacher. With teachers you take what you think is good, and discard what you think is not so good. If you don’t like one teacher, you find another.

Peter did not confess that Jesus was just another teacher. He confessed, “You are the Christ.” You are the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. You are the one anointed by God the Father to save us from our sins. You are God in the flesh, here to save us from hell.

We needed saving from hell, because there was not one spot left in us untainted by sin. We were sick with sin’s poison, infected with nothing but grim death in our future.

Christ, the Son of the living God, came and took our sentence of death in our place. He never broke any law or committed any crime to receive such a sharp sentence of death by crucifixion. Yet, He was crowned with thorns, smitten, and scourged. He was cruelly mocked and nailed to a tree. Even then the mocking continued.

All this was for us. Our sins were the reason Jesus suffered and died. All the wrath and the anguish that Jesus took on Himself was what we merited and deserved. The Shepherd died for sheep that love to wander, and the Master paid the debt His servants owed Him (paraphrased from LSB 439).

Jesus is the Christ. This remains the confession of the Church. There is salvation in no other name (Acts 4:12).

Peter did not confess this because he was wise and well learned. He didn’t confess Jesus to be the Christ because he was such a wise theologian. He confessed it because it had not been revealed to him by flesh and blood, but by the Father in heaven (Matt. 16:17).

Immediately after Peter’s confession, we see his lack of understanding. Peter had just confessed Jesus to be the Christ, and thus the Saviour of the world, but as soon as Jesus started explaining what that would mean, Peter rebuked Him. As soon as Jesus told the disciples that being the Christ meant that He would suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, Peter took Jesus aside and told him no, that’s not how you are going to save us.

That’s where our cleverness gets us. Our intelligence gets us to say that Jesus is just another teacher. Our wisdom says that God’s Son should not die to save us.

The only way we know the truth about the promised Christ is if it is revealed to us by the Father in heaven. It is not from our great studies or learning or wisdom that we figure out God’s truth. Rather, God reveals His truth to us in His Word. His Word is truth.

God’s Word reveals Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. God’s Word reveals that it was necessary that Jesus die on the cross to pay for our sins. No other payment would have been enough.

Then God takes us miserable sinners and claims us as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism. He washes us clean from all our sins and joins us to Himself.

It is not through our intelligence or wisdom that we become children of God. Those who think that we choose God and believe in Him through our own reason and strength thus reject infant Baptism. They say babies haven’t done the studies necessary to be baptized. They’re not smart enough for Baptism. They’re not learned enough.

This brings us back once again to where our learning and intelligence get us. They get us to say that Jesus is nothing more than a good teacher and that He should not die for our sins. They get us to rebuke Jesus’ suffering and death as a good plan of salvation. In other words, they get us nowhere as far as salvation is concerned.

Only through God the Father revealing to us that Jesus is the Christ do we believe and then confess this to be true. “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” We need the Holy Spirit to call us by the Gospel. We need the Holy Spirit to wash us and claim us through the waters of Baptism. We need the Holy Spirit to enlighten us with His gifts. We need the Holy Spirit to sanctify us and keep us in the true faith.

This the Holy Spirit has done despite our reason and our intelligence. He has washed away our sin and given us faith to confess that Jesus is the Christ. God has revealed to us in His Word that we have peace with Him because of Jesus’ death in our place – that great payment that was required for our sins to be paid. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us and saved us from the wrath of God by justifying us by His blood. Our sins are forgiven. We are reconciled to God.

Thus, the Church has always confessed and will always confess who Jesus is. He is not just another teacher or prophet. He is not just one of many religious leaders from whom we pick and choose what we like. Jesus is the Christ – the anointed Saviour of the world. He is our Saviour from sin, death, and the devil. There is salvation in no other name. Amen.

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