This week, please read this sermon by Rev. Rolf Preus: Sermon
The audio is available here: Audio
Sermon for Maundy Thursday based on Exodus 12:1-14
Dear people of the new covenant: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The first time we hear about eating in the Bible, we hear about man’s fall into sin. God had given man everything that he needed for his body and life, and he could choose to eat of all the trees throughout the Garden of Eden, except one. He had only one command – not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam chose to eat of that one tree which was forbidden him, and sin and death entered the world, man became separated from God, and the world was cursed.
How fitting then, that God gives forgiveness, life, and salvation through eating and drinking. Our eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ undoes the effects of Adam’s eating.
Adam’s eating brought curse; our eating brings blessing. Adam’s eating brought sin into the world; our eating grants us forgiveness. Adam’s eating brought forth death; our eating gives us life.
The most important eating in which God’s people in the Old Testament partook was the Passover meal. The Passover was a prophecy of the Lord’s Supper, pointing forward to that which was yet to come. It was a defining meal for the people of Israel in terms of who they were as a people. It celebrated God’s deliverance of the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.
God instructed each household to sacrifice a lamb without blemish and put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintel of the houses where they would eat the Passover Lamb. The angel of death would go throughout Egypt and kill every first born son from Pharaoh to slave, both man and beast. The only thing that would turn the angel of death away from a house was the blood of the Passover lamb around the door. The blood of the lamb would cause the angel of death to pass over the house, thus the name for the feast, “Passover.”
Inside the houses with blood on their doorposts and lintels, God’s people would eat the roasted lamb and receive God’s gift of salvation according to His promise. The lamb was sacrificed, and the people would eat the lamb. The blood of the lamb saved them from death, and from slavery in Egypt.
Every year after the first Passover, the people of Israel would hold another celebration of the Passover. These celebrations included a retelling of the events of the first Passover so that future generations would continually hear about the great salvation God worked for His people. The eating of the lamb was accompanied by bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Sometime after their arrival in the Promised Land, wine was added to be part of the Passover celebrations.
Moses calls the Passover celebration a statute forever. Some Christians are confused by this and think that we should still be celebrating the Passover. There are issues with this.
FIrst of all, we do not know what the liturgical rites of the Passover meal were. We don’t know what they were in Old Testament times, and we don’t know what they were when Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples. All we have are some writings from well after the destruction of the Temple, from Jews in the Middle Ages.
Second, considering Jesus’ own warnings about the traditions and practices of the Pharisees and rabbis, whatever writings were passed down and still exist have no value to reconstruct such a Passover meal.
Besides, have you ever heard of a church that even attempts to eat the Passover meal with what we do know from the Bible? Does every family buy a lamb and feed it and take care of it until the night they all kill them together and butcher them? No, they pick and choose what they want to have a meal of novelty, mixing the Jewish and Christian religions.
Moses said that the Passover celebration is a statute forever, because it finds its fulfilment in Christ for all eternity. Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples on Maundy Thursday not to end the Passover, but to fulfil it.
Jesus took likely the third cup of wine, one of the four cups of wine which was drunk as part of the Passover meal (that is, if in fact at that time they had four cups of wine in their liturgy, we don’t know) and told them to drink His blood of the new covenant, which is shed for the forgiveness of sins. Thus, the old covenant or testament is fulfilled as the new covenant has come and taken its place.
There is no more sacrifice of lambs as Jesus sacrificed Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. The sacrifice of lambs for Passover pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of all our sins. Thus Saint Paul writes, “Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” (I Cor. 5:7) Why would you go back to the old testament sacrifice of a lambs when you have the new testament sacrifice of Jesus? The old testament sacrifices were a shadow of what was to come (Col. 2:17). Why leave what is fulfilled and realized in Christ and go back to the shadows that pointed to Him?
The event of the Passover itself also pointed forward to Jesus. As God freed His people from bondage in Egypt and brought them safely to the Promised Land, so Jesus’ death for us has saved us from bondage to sin and will bring us safely to our promised eternal home in heaven. Passing through the waters of the Red Sea are called a baptism into Moses, which pointed forward to our Baptism into Christ, in which we receive the salvation which He won for us upon the cross.
There is no more eating of bitter herbs, unleavened bread, lamb, or drinking of wine to celebrate the Passover of the old covenant, but rather we have the unleavened bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, the blood of the new covenant, which is the fulfilment of the Passover meal. We eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus as the Passover Lamb who takes our sins away. The unblemished Passover Lamb has been sacrificed, and we eat the Lamb and are saved from sin, death, and the devil. His blood causes the wrath of God to pass over. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 3:1-12
Dear people with tongues: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The tongue can set the entire course of life on fire, by the fires of hell, says our Epistle lesson. Not just our own lives, but the lives of others as well. The tongue, though a small member, is compared to a bit in a horse’s mouth and the rudder of a ship. A large horse is controlled by the bit in his mouth, and a great ship is controlled by the rudder even in strong winds and big waves. So our tongue affects our course of life, as insignificant as it may seem.
We are often blind to this truth. We even have a saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We tend to think of words as weak and powerless. We tend to think of words as empty and meaningless.
We also tend to think that we can say what we want, when we want. Freedom of speech right? If someone is offended by it, that’s their problem.
If you have ever been betrayed by someone close to you, you know how much words can hurt. If you’ve ever had your secrets revealed by someone you trusted, then you know the power of words. If you’ve ever had lies and slander spread about you, then you know how the tongue can set the entire course of life on fire; you know how the tongue can be a restless evil, full of deadly poison – poisoning the speaker, the hearers, and those who are the subject of the evil spoken.
It was with words that Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph and got him thrown into prison. It was with words that Delilah convinced Samson to tell her the secret of his strength, and with words that she betrayed him so that his hair was cut off, his eyes gouged, and he was forced to grind at the mill in prison. It was with words that Jezebel got worthless men to falsely accuse Naboth of blaspheming God and the king, and with her words that she got him stoned to death. It was with words that Judas betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and officers for thirty pieces of silver, and it was with words that Pilate condemned the innocent Jesus to death by crucifixion.
What we say matters. All of the Commandments can be broken with our words, and two out of the Ten Commandments directly have to do with what we say. The Eighth Commandment commands us not to tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation in any way. We are rather to defend him if someone speaks ill of him. We are to speak well of him even if others don’t, and we are to explain everything in the kindest way.
The Second Commandment commands us not to misuse God’s name by cursing, swearing, using satanic arts, lying, or deceiving by His name. This Second Commandment is broken by false teachers who preach false doctrine.
This is why our epistle lesson starts out with saying, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” We all stumble in many ways. We all sin in what we say. But one who teaches will be judged with greater strictness. Why? Because false doctrine is deadly. Not just deadly in that it separates soul from body, but deadly in that it delivers both body and soul to eternal punishment. False teaching sends those hearers who believe it to hell. This is beyond the tongue setting on fire the entire course of life by the fires of hell. False teaching delivers to the eternal fires of hell those who are captured by it.
To keep the course of our lives from being set on fire by false teachers, God has given us His Word. We may be few within His fold, and by the world forsaken in these dark times that have us overtaken, but we have the Word of God that is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). False teachers confound the truth with fraud which they themselves invent, but we have the Word of God which is truth. False teachers’ hearts are not grounded in God’s pure doctrine as they parade with outward show, but our hearts are grounded in God’s pure doctrine, so we follow God’s Word rather than outward show (some phrasing borrowed from TLH 260, our opening hymn).
The Word of God protects us from the entire course of our lives being set on hell fire by the tongues of false teachers because we won’t listen to their lies. We know better than to watch and listen to every television and radio preacher. We know better than to read every so-called “Christian” book and devotional from every so-called “Christian” bookstore.
We sang in our opening hymn that God’s saving Word for us shall fight. This is not just a matter of the tongue of God casting false teachers and their followers into hell. It is also a matter of Him declaring us forgiven through the tongues of the ministers He sends. When God’s Word fights for us against evil, it fights against all evil, including ours. God’s Word fights against our evil by saying, “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven you.”
Absolution is God’s Word which casts out our evil. If the words we speak can have tremendous effects, how much more the Word of God which is all-powerful! God’s powerful Word even forgives our sins of the tongue; the restless evil and poison we have spoken; the cursing we have done with our mouths against those made in the likeness of God; the lies and slanders wherewith we have caused the course of our lives and the lives of others to be set on fire by the fires of hell.
When Isaiah had a vision of God, he exclaimed, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” A seraphim flew and took a burning coal with tongs from the altar and touched Isaiah’s lips and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Is. 6:1-7)
For you, the Lord’s Supper touches your unclean lips and your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. Your unclean tongue is cleansed.
Do not say, “How can my unclean lips receive the true body and blood of Jesus? I need to first cleanse my tongue and lips before I can receive Jesus.” Do not say this, because you can never cleanse your tongue and lips. That thinking is futile and in vain. The body and blood of Jesus are what cleanse your tongue and lips. His body and blood are the medicine that give you eternal life. His body and blood take your guilt away, and your sins are atoned for.
That your sins are atoned for means that you have been redeemed. An innocent life was offered as a substitute for your guilty life. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, died for the guilt of your sins, and He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink, in which you receive forgiveness and your guilt is taken away. His body and blood cleanse your tongue of all uncleanness so that you can with a pure tongue sing praise and thanksgiving to God, and speak well of your neighbour.
The true body and blood of Jesus forgive you all your sins and strengthen you to not say words that later need recalling. His body and blood have atoned for your sins and guard you from idle speech. His body and blood bring you to everlasting life, and give your words grace lest you offend the weak. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will start using the One-Year Lectionary.]
Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on John 6:51-69
Dear followers of Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
We live in days when pretty much everyone is pretty much always offended. Everyone is so self-centred that they cannot even tolerate hearing a point of view different from their own. People are offended by natural marriage and families. People are offended by those who want to protect the lives of the unborn. People are offended because everyone doesn’t bow down to their newly fangled ideologies and perversions.
As the morals of society change, what is offensive changes. This is certainly reflected in the media. Things that used to be offensive to society and would never have been seen in television and movies are now common in most media. Yet things that used to be common in older movies and shows are now deemed offensive.
What has not changed and will not change is that the world will be offended by Jesus. Jesus has not changed. His Word is the same as it has always been. When people are offended by what Jesus says, they either twist it or stop listening to it.
In our Gospel lesson, many of Jesus’ disciples were offended by Jesus. They had been following Jesus, but then He said something that offended them, and they turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. They said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” They said that Jesus’ Word was difficult to accept, intolerable, and offensive. They did not want to listen to Jesus’ Word. They didn’t want to listen to Jesus.
Jesus was teaching them about the manna God’s people of old received from heaven, and said about Himself that He is the bread that came down from heaven; that He is the bread of life. Those who ate the bread in the wilderness died, but those who eat the bread of life will live forever. Whoever feeds on Jesus’ flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.
Many of Jesus’ disciples didn’t like Jesus’ interpretation of the Scriptures as He taught them in the synagogue that day. They thought they could be disciples of Moses and followers of the Scriptures and faithfully attend the synagogue, but reject Jesus. They neglected to understand that the Scriptures speak about Jesus; that Moses spoke about Jesus; that the synagogue was the place to hear about Jesus.
Jesus had earlier said to the Jews seeking to kill Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (Jn. 5:39-40)
The Scriptures all speak of and point to Jesus for eternal life. He was there before their eyes and they were offended, and they rejected Him and refused to hear Him teach anymore. The words that Jesus said are spirit and life to them, they did not want to hear.
We too can be offended by Jesus’ words. We too have been so influenced by the rapid demoralization of the world around us that Jesus’ words can offend us. Jesus tells us to purge the unrepentant person from the church (I Cor. 5:13), but that sounds offensive and unloving to world-influenced ears. Jesus tells us to practice closed communion (I Cor. 11:17-32), but that too sounds offensive to world-influenced ears. Next week’s Epistle lesson tells wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22). There’s not much that will more offend this feministic society we live in and those influenced by it.
However, the reality is that the Law of God is not what causes people to stop walking with Jesus. That God gives rules and has standards for behaviour does not cause people to part from Him. Everyone expects that God should have standards and rules.
Look at what happened to the disciples in our Gospel lesson. Jesus didn’t give them an extra commandment, causing them to say, “Hold on, that’s one too many. We’ll take the Ten Commandments, but we can’t handle eleven.” They didn’t fall away because Jesus told them to work for their daily bread. They fell away from Him because He said that He is the living bread that will cause all those eating His flesh to live forever.
Instead of giving them more rules, He was giving them Himself and thus promising them eternal life; promising to raise them on the last day.
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Many of Jesus’ disciples found this offensive.
What we have to understand is that when we find God’s Word offensive, that is our sinful nature rebelling against God. It’s our sinful heart saying, “I know better than God.”
When we find God’s Word offensive, we need to drown the Old Adam is us by contrition and repentance. We may not understand why God says what He says, but we must cling to His Word as the truth, because it is the truth.
The cross is a scandal and an offence because we don’t want to admit that we are sinful. We don’t want to admit that it was for our sin that Jesus suffered and died. We don’t want to admit that we need God’s forgiveness every day.
Yet, Jesus gives us the forgiveness of our sins. He gives us the gift of faith. He gives us His true body and blood. We feed on His flesh and drink His blood, so Jesus promises us that He is in us and we are in Him. He promises us that we will live because of Him. He promises us that He will raise us on the last day and we will live forever.
Do we understand this perfectly? No, but we still trust Jesus’ word.
Do you want to go away from Jesus and hearing His Word along with those who are offended by His Word? No, you don’t. We answer with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
You trust Jesus, because you know He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. You trust Jesus because He is the one who took all your sins onto Himself and suffered and died for you, taking the punishment you deserve because of your sins. You trust in Jesus because He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink so that you believe and have come to know that all your sins are forgiven and you will live forever.
There will always be those who are offended by Jesus and thus turn away from following Him. We however will follow Him, because God the Father has granted to us to come to Jesus. We follow Him because He paid the price of our sins. We follow Jesus because He alone has the words of eternal life. Amen.
Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:30-44
Dear people fed by Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
God gave manna to the children of Israel as they wandered through the wilderness for forty years to physically nourish and strengthen them. Just as God’s people were set free from slavery through the waters of the Red Sea, so we are set free from the slavery of sin through the waters of Holy Baptism. Just as God fed those whom He freed from slavery with manna from heaven, so we are fed by the bread of life, who is Jesus Christ himself. Just as the children of Israel couldn’t “stock up” on manna for another day but needed to gather it every day as their daily food, so we need Jesus every single day. We need his precious Gospel. We need the words of life He alone can give. We need to take His flesh and blood into us by faith, as well as by eating and drinking the sacramental bread and wine, which are, as Jesus plainly teaches, His real body and blood.
We see in His miraculous feeding of the five thousand that Jesus is the Creator. He worked a miracle that only the Creator could do. He created. Where there had been only five loaves and two fish, He created enough food to feed five thousand men, not counting women and children, and with twelve baskets of food left over. Consider who this man really is. He is God. He is the Creator of the universe. He is the one who sustains all things by His mighty power. He is the one who made us in His image, male and female. He is the one who rained manna from heaven, and now has come down from heaven to be with us, never to leave us.
Jesus is our Creator. We tend to think of God the Father as our Creator. This is of course true, but God is not divided. Saint John writes in the beginning of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (Jn 1:1-3) God the Son was also creating, as was the Spirit of God who Genesis tells us was in the beginning hovering over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together, one God.
Jesus created us, and He still sustains us. He gives us what we need for this body and life. Even more, He gives us eternal life. He has joined us in our own flesh and blood, that He might bring us back to Him as pure, holy, and perfect saints. He came to do what we could not do. He came to restore God’s lost and fallen creatures. He came to redeem us body and soul. See Him do what only the Creator can do. It is our Creator who has joined us in our human flesh and blood by becoming a human being while remaining the Creator God. Jesus is true man. He is a man in every single respect. He is like we are in all things except that He never sinned because He could not sin since He is eternally pure and holy.
Jesus provides us with what we need for this body and life, but the time will come when this earthly life will end. We will all die. This is for what Jesus prepares us most of all. He prepares us for death, because He has died the death we deserve. The eternal death we deserve for our sins was swallowed up by Jesus’ death. We have eternal life waiting for us as our promised inheritance because we are baptized into Christ. We have eternal life waiting for us because Jesus Himself forgives sin in Absolution.
And Jesus gives us His true body and blood to spiritually feed us. There are two kinds of eating and drinking that take place in the Lord’s Supper: physical and spiritual. The physical eating and drinking is done bodily with the mouth. The spiritual eating and drinking is through faith. Just as the mouth receives the body and blood of Jesus – because that’s what the sacramental bread and wine are – faith receives the benefits of Christ’s body and blood: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Our Creator God who has taken on our flesh gives us His body and blood to recreate us through the forgiveness of sins. He feeds us hungry souls who are burdened by sin. He nourishes us and strengthens us by forgiving our sins, and He thus nourishes us and strengthens us to eternal life.
Jesus provided physical food to the five thousand, but it wasn’t really about the bread and the fish. Jesus’ miracle showed that He is God; that He loves those whom He has created; that He is the provider of everything they need. He wanted the people to realize that He is their Creator, and they should go to Him for everything they need.
Jesus provides physical food for our bodies, but He also wants us to realize that He is God; that He loves us; that He provides everything we need, and so we should pray to Him for our every need.
Our greatest need is the forgiveness of sins. With our sins forgiven, there is nothing to keep us from eternal life. With our sins forgiven, we will inherit Paradise.
Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, as He did to little Roslyn this morning. Baptism is not just some empty tradition. It has God’s command and His promise.
Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in Absolution, as He did to you this morning. Absolution is not the pastor’s forgiveness, but God’s. It has God’s command and His promise.
Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper, as He will give to you this morning. The Lord’s Supper is not just some superstitious gimmick. It has God’s command and His promise.
The reason you know that Jesus gives you forgiveness of sins in these ways is because He is the one who created you. He can and does give you everything you need. He died on the cross to pay for your sins and take your punishment in your place. He gives you the benefits of His death in Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.
The God who created you will also raise you from the dead. It is His promise to you, because you are baptized into Christ and strengthened and nourished by His Word and Sacrament. As surely as Jesus rose from the dead, so you too will rise, and our loving Saviour will give eternal life to you and to everyone who trusts in Him. Amen
(This sermon borrows much from two of Rev. Rolf Preus’s sermons on John 6.)
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.
(Reworked from a sermon by Rev. David Petersen/Rev. Dr Burnell Eckardt)
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.
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.
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.
Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 14:22-33
Dear storm-tossed disciples: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
How do you know for certain that you are saved? How do you know for certain that your sins are forgiven? How do you know for certain that you will receive eternal life? How can you be certain that when you are sinking and you cry out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus will save you?
Do not respond by saying that it is because you have faith. You do have faith, and because of the faith that God has given you, you are saved (John 3:16), but that is not the answer to the questions.
Look at the example of Peter to understand why having faith is not the answer to the questions. When Peter stepped out of the boat, he had faith in Jesus’ Word. When he saw the wind, he was afraid and doubted Jesus’ Word.
Do we not do the same? We believe Jesus’ Word until we see the wind and waves of this life howling and threatening. That’s when doubt sets in. When we are overwhelmed by loss and strife, illness and death, we doubt. When we pass through trials, with sin and ills contending, bearing the cross that God has sent us; when we are facing adversity and the storms of woe dismay our souls; when death pursues us without rest and the only thing between us and death’s strong grasp is a failing breath – at such a time, do not turn inwardly to find your faith. You will have a hard time finding anything but doubt.
Our response is not likely to be one of faith, but despair. We question why God would allow such tragedy. We may even feel angry towards God. We respond like the widow of Zarephath to Elijah when her son died, who said, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sins to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” (I Kings 17:18)
The widow responded with those words because when she turned inwardly to find faith, she found only sin. She thought because of her past sin, God had taken her son from her. She thought because she remembered her sin, God also remembered her sin and punished her for it.
To find certainty of your salvation; to know for certain that your sins are forgiven and not remembered by God; to know for certain that you have eternal life, do not look inward to your faith. We are sinful people whose faith waivers, especially in trials and temptations. When we are sinking and we turn inward to look for faith, we will find only doubt and despair.
For certainty of your salvation, look to where God has promised you salvation. God has promised you salvation in the waters of Holy Baptism. Scripture tells us that Baptism gives the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) and washes away sins (Acts 22:16). Scripture tells us Baptism rescues from death and the devil (Romans 6:3-5) and clothes us with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Scripture tells us that as Noah and his family were saved in the ark from the flood waters, so the flood waters of Baptism save us (I Peter 3:21).
When the wind and waves of this life hit you with full force, do not turn inwardly to try and find faith. Instead look to your Baptism where God has given you faith. Look to your Baptism which is not a feeling or emotion. Your Baptism doesn’t waiver. Your Baptism doesn’t wear off. Baptism saves you.
You have certainty in Baptism because that is where God has promised you salvation. In the midst of trials and tribulations, remember your Baptism where God claimed you as His own and promised you the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
For certainty of your salvation, look to where God has promised you salvation. In addition to Baptism, God has also promised you salvation in the Sacrament of the Altar. Scripture tells us that in the Lord’s Supper, we receive Christ’s true body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Matt. 26:28). Scripture tells us that Christ’s blood cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7). Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation (SC VI.2), thus eternal life and salvation are also received in the Sacrament of the Altar.
When the wind and waves of this life hit you with full force, do not turn inwardly to try and find faith. Instead look to the Sacrament of the Altar where God gives you the forgiveness of sins and strengthens your faith. Look to the Sacrament of the Altar which is not a feeling or emotion. The Lord’s Supper doesn’t waiver – you always receive Christ’s true body and blood. The Lord’s Supper saves you through the forgiveness of sins.
You can thus be certain of your salvation through the Sacraments because they are where God has promised you salvation.
When Peter doubted and began to sink, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of Peter and saved him. Jesus didn’t say, “No, I’m not going to save you because you are doubting instead of believing.” It was not because of the strength of Peter’s faith that Jesus saved him. In spite of Peter’s doubting and lack of faith, Jesus saved him.
All of this does not downplay the importance of faith. Faith is what saves, but faith has an object. Faith believes in something.
Faith in false gods does not save. Faith in one’s own goodness does not save. Faith in one’s own faith does not save.
Saving faith is trust in Jesus and His promises. Saving faith is trust that Jesus’ death on the cross was for your sins. Saving faith is trust that when Jesus’ Word tells you Baptism saves you, you believe it to be true. Saving faith is trust that when Jesus tells you that He gives you His body and blood to eat for the forgiveness of sins, you believe it to be true. Faith is trust that Jesus gives you all the benefits of His life, death, and resurrection through the Sacraments He instituted for that very purpose.
This is why faith does not turn inward to look to itself. Faith looks to Christ on the cross. Faith looks to the empty tomb. Faith looks to Christ and what He has accomplished for our salvation.
Faith must also look to where Christ has promised that we receive that salvation. We cannot receive salvation from the cross. We cannot receive salvation from the empty tomb. We receive salvation in Baptism. We receive salvation in the Sacrament of the Altar. Thus, faith looks to Baptism. Faith looks to the Sacrament of the Altar. Faith looks to these two Sacraments where Christ has promised us salvation.
When the storms of life gather and our road looks dark; when great woes and troubles overtake us; when disaster brings our sins into remembrance and death looms near, know for certain that you are saved. Know for certain that your sins are forgiven. Know for certain that you will receive eternal life. Know these for certain, because these are the promises God Himself has made to you in your Baptism and in the Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.