The Word – Opposed, but Salvific

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:14-29 (Amos 7:7-15)

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

The preaching of God’s Word is opposed everywhere it is heard. The prophet Amos was told to leave the land of Israel and never again prophesy there; never again to speak God’s Word to them there. John the Baptist wasn’t just asked to leave and never preach again. He was beheaded in prison.

Both messengers of God had merely preached the Word God had sent them to preach. Amos called the people of Israel to repentance over their idolatry and various other sins such as taking bribes, fornication, and not helping the needy. John certainly called the Israelites to repentance over many sins, but it was his calling of Herod to repentance over adultery that he was put to death.

No one finds the preaching of God’s Law to be pleasant. You don’t like it when I tell you that you are despising God’s Word when you don’t come to church. You don’t like it when I tell you that you are robbing God by not giving more offerings to support this congregation. You don’t like it when I tell you that sex outside of marriage is sin and that those who live together outside of marriage are to repent. God knows what discord and conflict has been caused in this congregation when I have called couples living in sin to repentance.

No one finds the preaching of God’s Law to be pleasant, but it is necessary for salvation. It is necessary that you have God’s Law preached to you so that you would recognize sin to be sin and repent. It is thus necessary that you support this congregation so that it can remain here, and the preaching of God’s Word can be heard here.

If you don’t support this congregation, and it does close, where are you going to go to church? An ELCIC “Lutheran” church in town? They don’t call sinners to repentance. They harden sinners in their impenitence. Did you know that at their sister church’s teen assembly in the U.S. earlier this month they had a boy who says he is a transgender girl speak to the teens about God’s call for him to be transgender? This was received with loud cheering by the teenagers. They had a woman who cross dresses as a pastor have the teens repeat after her that homosexuality is beauty. She also has drag queens perform at her church, calls some of Scripture “wretched,” teaches that hell is not real, and views the Wiccan goddess as an aspect of God. (See https://www.exposingtheelca.com/ for this and much more.)

Is that where you are going to go to church and is that where you’re going to send your children and grandchildren for youth camp, or are you going to support this congregation so that God’s Word can still be heard here in this place?

No one else is going to support this congregation. Those who are on the membership rolls but despise God’s Word aren’t going to give a red cent. Nor should they. Why would they support the preaching of God’s Word which they don’t want to hear? Why would they support the preaching of repentance which they despise? They’d sooner support an ELCIC congregation that encourages them to keep sinning. They need to be removed from membership, but that’s another matter. The point is that you need the preaching of God’s Word here, and in order for you to have it, you need to support it.

It is not for my sake that I say this, but yours. It doesn’t matter what happens to me. Like Amos, I can be told to leave here and never again preach God’s Word to you. Like John the Baptist, my preaching can be stopped by the authorities who hate God’s Word. For your sake, you need God’s Word preached to you. You need to support this congregation so you do not lose the great treasure of the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

God can keep this congregation here until Christ returns. If He does so, it is not for your sake that He acts, but for the sake of His holy name, which you have profaned (cf. Ezek. 36:22). You have profaned it by not supporting the preaching of His Word or gladly hearing and learning it. You have profaned God’s name by your sins which have caused God’s name to be blasphemed by unbelievers (cf. Rom. 2:24).

But God does not save you because of what you have done or left undone. He saves you for His own name’s sake. He has sprinkled you with water and cleansed you from your uncleanness, and from all your idols He has cleansed you. He has given you a new heart, and a new spirit He has put within you. He has removed the heart of stone from your flesh and given you a heart of flesh. God has put His Spirit within you, and He will cause you to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules (cf. Ezek. 36:22-27).

And God says to you, “Bring the full tithe… And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 3:10-12)

God promises you every blessing in giving your tithes and offerings to Him. The greatest blessing is that your offerings ensure that His Word remains in your midst; that Absolution is still spoken to you to forgive your sins; that Christ’s true body and blood are still given to you to nourish and strengthen your faith.

The truth is that you have supported and do support this congregation, otherwise it would not be here today. God has already moved your heart to give to Him, and He continues to move you to give.

I am confident that you will ensure that God’s Word is preached to you, not just today, but for years to come.

In this world that has abandoned sanity, you need God’s Word preached to you in its truth and purity. In a world that watches some vile, bottom-feeder from Hollywood say, “God bless abortions” on her Netflix special, you don’t need a church like the ELCIC that encourages abortion. You need to hear the truth that God abhors abortion as a detestable and horrendous sin.

In a world which cannot differentiate male from female, natural from unnatural, or good from evil, you need to hear the truth that God created us male and female, and that He instituted marriage for one man and one woman for life.

You need to hear what is right and true so that you will also recognize where you have departed from God’s thinking and followed the world’s thinking. God has His Law preached to you so that you would turn from sin and receive forgiveness.

Forgiveness is after all what God wants for you. It doesn’t matter the sin, God wants to give you His forgiveness. Every sin is forgivable, whether it is living together outside of marriage, homosexuality, divorce, or abortion. Jesus knows these sins. Jesus died for these sins.

Jesus didn’t think that He was coming to die for people that were overall pretty good. He knew our detestable and wicked sins of rebellion and selfishness, and He came to earth to die on the cross for them. He came to forgive sin. He came to give new life. He came to soothe guilty consciences that have made decisions that cannot be undone. He came to give comfort to you, living in this world of confusion and chaos. He gives you His body and blood to keep you in Him to life everlasting.

Cling to God’s Word and do everything you can to ensure it is preached to you. The Law that points at our sins is not pleasant to hear, but it diagnoses our sinful condition, so that the soothing ointment of the Gospel will comfort us with forgiveness, life, and salvation.

God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). Cling to its light to stay on the path that leads to everlasting life. Amen.

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

Mere Words Save

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 4:26-34

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

Talk is cheap, it is said. This is of course true of man’s word. It is far easier to talk of great things than accomplish them. It is easier to say that you care than to show that you care, just as it is easier for politicians to make promises than to deliver on those promises once elected.

We are so experienced and familiar with empty talk and vain words, that we tend to hold words to be of little significance or value. Even worse, we recognize our own gossip, slander, complaining; our own name-calling, cursing, and lying and we may indeed say silence is better than words.

Yet God has chosen to save us through words. Not just any words, but His words. God has chosen to save us not through miracles that we witness; not through astonishing incidents we experience; not through overpowering sensations we feel. God has chosen to save you through the humble means of human words. He has chosen to save you from eternal death and hell by His Word.

They are very particular words that save: words that express the Gospel – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for your sins on the cross; particular words that tell you that God loved you so much that He sacrificed His Son for you; particular words that proclaim you justified, that is, declared not guilty for Christ’s sake through faith, when you believe that you are received into favour and that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.

These words are sown into hearts. The sower sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The sower simply scatters the Word. He’s not worried about the outcome.

Anyway, the growth is not in his hands. The earth automatically produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

It may seem like a small, insignificant seed. Just mere words. But these seeds grow up and become larger than all the garden plants and put out branches so that birds can make nests in their shade.

God’s Word produces. It produces faith – saving faith which brings us to heaven. It produces works – good works which serve our neighbour and supply the proof that faith is living. God’s Word produces. It does not return to Him empty, but accomplishes that which God purposes, and succeeds in the thing for which He sends it (cf. Is. 55:11)

This is true for Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well. Without God’s Word, the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit.

Without God’s Word, the bread and wine are plain bread and wine and no Lord’s Supper. But with Christ’s words, “This is my body… this is my blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” He gives us exactly what He promises: His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

God’s Word does what it says it will do. It produces faith and it produces good works, which are the fruit of faith.

Jesus continued the parable saying, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Scripture often calls the close of the age or Judgment Day, the harvest. Once the grain is ripe, it is harvested.

There is only one Judgment Day, but in way, it does not come at the same time for all of us because we all die at different times. As the book of Hebrews tell us, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment” (Heb. 9:27) After death, there is no opportunity to repent or believe or do good works – these are all to be done while we are still alive.

Do not look at death from an earthly perspective. Look at death from God’s perspective. When the grain is ripe, He puts in the sickle because the harvest has come. When God has called His elect to faith and He has produced growth in them so that that are ripe, He harvests them into His barn. He takes them home to heaven.

From an earthly perspective, we sometimes hear it said that it was too soon. My parents were taken too early. My spouse died too soon. My poor little child died too young. God says, when the grain is ripe, He puts in the sickle because the harvest has come.

The earthly perspective forgets that heaven is our aim, our goal, our home. It is God’s aim, goal, and home for us. When our loved ones die in the faith, that is God harvesting His ripe grain. It is God taking His children home.

We have the same aim and goal as all believers – to be forever with the Lord. However, since we are still here on earth, that means it is not yet time for our harvest. It means that we are not yet ripe. We are still here to grow in faith and produce the fruit of faith. Even bed-ridden believers can pray for others while on their deathbeds and provide a witness of hope in God’s promises to their families. We can grow in faith and produce the fruit of faith until we are ripe, and then the harvest comes.

The harvest will come. The time will come when your appointed time to die arrives, and then comes the judgment. Because God’s Word has been sown in your heart and faith has sprouted and grown, you will be ripe for the harvest.

You have nothing to fear in death or on Judgment Day because Jesus has already been judged for your sins. You are baptized into His death and resurrection and you eat His body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of all your sins, so you will receive your promised inheritance of eternal life.

This is not empty talk or vain words. It is almighty God’s promise to you that is sure and certain. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s promise to you will not pass away (Matt. 24:35). Man’s words are empty. But when God speaks, it is already done. 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.

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.

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.

The Word Stands Forever

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent based on Isaiah 40:1-11

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

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” God’s Word is eternal. It will endure forever. It is unchangeable. It will not wither or fade.

Fads, on the other hand, come and go. Trends are born and then they die. New ideas, new beliefs, new churches, new religions – they come and they go. Man’s word falters, waivers, and deceives, and then withers and fades.

We are used to everything being transitory and temporary. Our clothes wear out. Our kitchen appliances stop working. Our cars break down on us. Our own bodies, too, wear out, and in the end, will lose the battle with illness, disease, or some other cause of death. Everything see and touch withers and decays. Everyone dies.

Even the kingdoms of this world will all totter and fall. Any study of history will quickly show the rise and fall of countless kingdoms, empires, and civilizations. The cycle continually repeats itself: Hard times create strong men; strong men create good times; good times create weak men; weak men create hard times. Then the cycle repeats. We are certainly at a time of weak men, so we know hard times are coming, and the end of western civilization does not appear to be far off.

Everything does wither and decay, and most directly, this passage is speaking of us, people: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” It’s not really talking about grass and flowers. It says, “Surely the people are grass.” Our faithfulness is like the flower of the field. In other words, we people will wither, fade, and die. Our faithfulness to God stands out like a flower in the field one day, only to fade into oblivion the next. We are faithful one moment and unfaithful the next. We are fickle and feeble. We always have been. We always will be, so long as we are alive.

Thus, when we hear God’s proclamation of comfort and that all flesh will see His glory, we are inclined to think that it too won’t last very long.

Our experience with comfort is in fleeting glimpses here and there. We are busier than ever with the things of this world, thinking that they will bring comfort. In this preparatory season of Advent, we certainly are preparing for Christmas, but not in the way the voice in the wilderness calls us to prepare. We are busy shopping and decorating, buying and crying. We’re busy planning our meals, finding our deals, and preparing for visits and visitors. We want to have a nice comfortable Christmas, and will work for weeks in the hope of having a few brief moments of comfort. In the end, in the hustle and bustle, the unfair present exchanges, the missing batteries, the fighting children, the overcooked turkey, and the smashed lamp, the only comfort we may have is in a glass of spiced rum eggnog once all is said and done.

This is the reason God’s proclamation of comfort is tied with His Word enduring forever. Since God’s Word endures forever, the promise of comfort that He gives in His Word endures forever. The comfort that God promises isn’t a fleeting, momentary comfort, but an eternal comfort of peace and joy. The comfort is ours because our warfare with God is ended, and our iniquity pardoned.

The warfare was not started by God, but by us falling into sin. It was mankind who rebelled against our Creator and made Him our enemy. Instead of living in peace and quietness in His Kingdom, we decided to break His Laws. We rebelled by following our own sinful desires rather than following God’s good and perfect will for us.

Instead of destroying us as we deserved, the Lord God Almighty punished His Son in our place. Christ Jesus was punished as a rebel and a sinner even though He never did anything but serve His Father and us, His creation. Jesus received punishment for all our sins, and then God sends a word of comfort to us. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. The price of your sins has been paid. You have the promise of comfort, instead of the affliction of hell your sins deserve.

This comfort is only possible through the forgiveness of sins. There is no comfort to be had in sin, even if the devil would have you believe otherwise. The only true comfort we can have is when the threat of hell does not hang over our heads; when the threats of the Law and the threats of punishment have been removed.

These threats have been removed because Jesus not only faced the threat of God’s Law for us, He fulfilled God’s Law for us. He didn’t only face the threat of punishment for us, but He took the actual punishment for us as well. Thus, God speaks tenderly to us of comfort.

This comfort is eternal. It will not wither or fade. Saint Peter writes that it is an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (I Peter 1:4).

This brings us back to the Word of God standing forever. Since God’s Word stands forever, God’s promises to you stand forever. They don’t wither or fade.

When God said to you through Baptism that you belong to Him, it stands forever. When God says to you that your sins are forgiven through Absolution, it stands forever. When God says that you receive the forgiveness of sins through the body and blood of Christ, it stands forever.

We can neglect and reject what God gives to us, but that is not God breaking His promises or invalidating His Word. It would simply be us refusing to believe it. God’s Word stands forever, whether we believe it or not.

God’s Word will stand forever, but this does not mean that every congregation will last forever. When God’s Word is taken for granted, neglected, is not preached or heard, or read or studied, it is not the end of God’s Word. It is merely the end of those congregations and the end of Christians in those places where God’s Word is taken for granted, neglected, is not preached or heard, or read or studied. Christians do not and cannot exist apart from the Word of God.

The people of Israel had God’s Word, but they rejected it and lost it, so now they have nothing. The apostles and many after them brought the Gospel to many nations and peoples throughout Europe, but they neglected it and now they have Islam. Rome also had God’s Word but rejected it, and now they have the pope. So you dare not think you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt for God’s Word will not let it remain. Therefore, take hold and hang on tightly, while you are able to grab and to hold. Neglecting to hear and read God’s Word has never turned out well for anyone (partially rephrased from Luther’s Letter to the Town-Councilmen, AE:45, 351-352).

Hearing and reading God’s Word, however, always brings blessing. Faith is created through the Word of God. Trust in God’s promises comes from the Word of God. Comfort comes the Word of God.

Only in God’s Word do you hear of the comfort that comes from having your sins forgiven. Only in God’s Word do you hear that your warfare with God is over, that your iniquity is pardoned. Only in God’s Word do you hear that because of God’s promises to you that stand forever, you will have comfort forever.

We will wither and fade, but God’s promises to us will stand forever. Because God’s promises to us will stand forever, after we have withered and faded, we will have eternal comfort in the joys of Paradise, and our comfort will endure forever. Amen.

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

Weeds in God’s Field

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

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

There are weeds growing in God’s field. God knows it. We know it. Right next to the good wheat that Jesus has planted, there are weeds planted by the devil. The wheat and weeds are growing side by side in the same field. God knows it. We know it.

Right beside a church that teaches the truth of God’s Word is a church that teaches the lies of the devil. Right beside a church that sows the good seed of God’s Word is a church that sows the weeds of the devil. They may both have started out looking the same, growing up together, even both being congregations of Lutheran Church-Canada. However, as the wheat comes up and bears grain, so the weeds also come up and are seen for what they are. Side by side, the wheat and the weeds grow together.

The Christian church always has to contend with false teaching and false teachers. Jesus says so. The devil is not going to stop sowing weeds among the wheat until Christ returns and the angels gather the weeds and bind them up to be burned. Christ certainly will not stop sowing the good seed of His Word until the harvest when the wheat is gathered into His barn.

The good seed of God’s Word produces only good wheat. The devil deliberately sows weeds where the good seed has been sown. We are witnesses of this. We see all the evil things that are done in Christ’s name. Churches are condoning all kinds of behaviour that Scripture says are sinful practices. Churches and pastors condone the favourite sins of the day including living together outside of marriage, homosexuality, and divorce. They support the lies of the devil like feminism, women’s ordination, and the confusion of what is male and what is female. All kinds of blasphemous practices are taking place in churches where following Scripture is replaced with following the desires and feelings of man.

When the bad seed was initially sown, it may not have been obvious. While Christ sows His seed openly in the day, the devil sows his seed secretly at night. At first you may not be able to tell any difference between the two. Once the seeds sprout and grow, then you see the difference. Then you can differentiate the wheat from the weeds. Then you can distinguish the sons of the kingdom from the sons of the evil one.

In this life, we cannot perfectly distinguish between the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one. Certainly, there are signs that you are one or the other, but oftentimes we cannot know. God knows. God can perfectly identify the wheat from the weeds. God does perfectly distinguish between the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one.

Even so, God does not weed His field. He doesn’t pull up the weeds to bind them up for the fiery furnace. He doesn’t round up the sons of the evil one and cast them all into hell. Oh, He will do it, but not yet.

The servants of the master expected the master to want them to gather and remove the weeds immediately, but the master said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” God does not want to uproot sons of the kingdom by rooting out the sons of the evil one around them. Out of His love and concern for the sons of the kingdom, He does not uproot the sons of the evil one at this time.

God is patient and long suffering. He endures the weeds in His field for the sake of the wheat. He endures the weeds also for the sake of those weeds. God desires the sons of the evil one to become sons of the kingdom

After all, we all had our start as weeds. After Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, they were weeds. Weeds cannot produce wheat, only more weeds, thus all mankind gets their start as weeds.

It is not until being watered with the waters of Holy Baptism that God turns weeds into wheat. He makes sons of the kingdom out of sons of the evil one. In Baptism, He adopts us as His sons because He forgives us all of our sins. He covers the sinful nature of who we are with His perfection. He pours out His love and mercy on us, giving us what we do not deserve. We deserve to be bound and burned in hell for eternity. But our dear Lord took the punishment of our sins in our place so that instead we will be gathered into His barn, which is His eternal heavenly banquet.

Even though we must remain, grow, and produce fruit in a world where we are surrounded by weeds, we are safe. God waters us through Baptism to claim us as His own, separating us from the multitude of unbelievers. He has separated the wheat from the weeds already now by His claim on the wheat, even though we still grow surrounded by weeds. God nourishes us with the meal of His Son’s body and blood so that we would remain in Him, grow in Him, and produce good fruit.

God gives us these good, wonderful gifts because He knows our sinful tendencies. He knows the temptations of the world around us. He knows the evil one is always lurking to deceive and tempt us. That’s why God continues to forgive us our sin. He doesn’t count how many times He forgives us. He keeps forgiving us. He doesn’t remember our sins, but removes them from us. He casts our sins into the depths of the sea. He forgives our sins now, so that we will be ready for the harvest to come.

There will be a harvest. Judgment Day will come. As we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. As Scripture teaches, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (II Cor. 5:10) The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace, that place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, while the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Therefore stay awake! We do not know when Christ will return. Do not get caught up in the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches. Do not get choked by the weeds that surround you so that you fall into their manner of thinking and living. Do not harden your heart so that the devil snatches away the Word that has been sown in your heart.

On the Day when Christ returns, it won’t matter if you have four million dollars in your bank account or if you are overdrawn; it won’t matter if you are rested from time at the lake or exhausted from being overworked. The only thing that will matter is whether or not you have faith.

The thing about faith is that it doesn’t come from you; it comes from God. You cannot sustain your faith; God sustains your faith. You cannot strengthen your faith; God strengthens your faith.

Faith comes from hearing God’s Word, so listen to God’s Word. Faith is strengthened by hearing God’s Word, so do not find excuses not to hear. Faith is nourished and nurtured by receiving the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for, so eat and drink for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Don’t let the weeds growing around you convince you that God will not ever weed His field. The harvest will come. God knows there are weeds in His field and you know this.

God also knows those who are His. God knows you, the wheat, because He planted you. You are sons of His kingdom. Your names are written in His Book of Life because your Saviour has paid the debt you owe.

The weeds are no threat to you. Not even the evil one can threaten you. God has given you faith, thus He has turned you from weed to wheat. He has made sons of the kingdom from sons of the evil one.

You are wheat growing in God’s field. God knows it. You know it. Though you are surrounded by weeds that will not immediately be pulled, you are safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers. Because your sins are forgiven, on Judgment Day you will be gathered by the angels into the barn of our Saviour, where you will shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father. God knows it. You know it. Amen.

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

The Word

Sermon for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 13 1-9, 18-23 (Is. 55:10-13)

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

God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

In other words, God’s Word does what it says it will do. God’s Word has power. God’s Word has power to condemn; God’s Word has power to save. God’s Word is the seed which bears fruit and yields a hundredfold, sixtyfold, and thirtyfold.

Without the seed, you can have no fruit; you can have no growth. It doesn’t matter what kind of soil you have. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like – whether you get enough sunshine or enough rain. Without the seed, you have nothing more than dirt.

Just so, without God’s Word, you cannot have faith, you cannot have good works, you cannot have salvation or eternal life. It doesn’t matter what you face in life, what decisions you make or don’t make, what you do or don’t do. Without God’s Word you cannot have faith, you cannot be strengthened in the faith, and you cannot have eternal life.

God’s Word has power. The Holy Spirit has bound Himself to work through the Word. When God’s Word is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit has promised to be there calling sinners to repentance and faith. His Word does not return to Him empty, but will accomplish what God purposes, and will succeed in the thing for which God sent it.

Wherever the Word of God does not result in faith, the fault does not lie with God. It’s the exact same seed being scattered everywhere. God doesn’t short-change anyone. The fact that God’s Word is rejected by so many does not point to a weakness or short-coming in the Word of God. It points to the hardness of hearts that refuse to understand and believe the Word of God. It points to the weakness of trying to find root in oneself and thus when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, such a man immediately falls away. It points to the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choking the Word so that it proves unfruitful. This is not God’s doing, nor is it God’s fault.

God’s Word has the power to save, but people don’t like what God’s Word says, so they avoid hearing it. God’s Word has the power to bring sinners from darkness to light, but sinners prefer the darkness to the light because their deeds are evil. God’s Word has the power to bring the dead to life, but the dead prefer the death of their sins to everlasting life.

Because of the great power of God’s Word to save and God’s desire to save us, He gave us the Third Commandment. The Third Commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”

This Commandment is openly despised by many people who claim to be Christians. They don’t go to church because they don’t think they need to hear God’s Word. They do not realize that the devil is real and is out to deceive them and lead them astray from God’s Word. They do not realize the world is not a neutral place, but does everything it can to get their attention away from the Word of God. They do not realize that they are their own worst enemy and that their sinful flesh does not want to hear God’s Word because it exposes their sin to be sin, breaking their contrived conviction that they aren’t so bad and their sin isn’t so serious.

If someone truly believes that he is sinful, why would he not take every opportunity to receive the forgiveness of sins? If someone truly believes that he is sinful, why would he not take every opportunity to be strengthened against the devil, the world, and his own sinful flesh? If someone truly believes that he is sinful, why would he not take every opportunity to hear God’s Word which alone has the power to save from sin?

The more one is away from the Word of God, the more he is influenced by the devil, the world, and his own sinful thoughts, ideas, and feelings. He will not realize it. He will just follow what he thinks is good and feels right, and without the direction of God’s Word, it will be further and further away from what God says is good and right.

That’s why you are here. To hear God’s Word. To receive His forgiveness. You have not done what you should have done. Your sinful flesh cries out, “Yes, I have,” but God’s Word says, “No, you haven’t.” You have done what you should not have done. The devil and the world cry out, “No you haven’t,” but God’s Word says, “Yes, you have.”

The reason why God sends His Word to you to tell you this is not so that you would despair and lose hope and be condemned to hell. Rather, God sends His Word to you to call you to repentance and faith. God sends His powerful Word to you to bring you from darkness to light; from death to life.

God’s Word does this because it tells you of Jesus, whose blood covers your sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, so He takes away your sin. Jesus’ death covers your sin of despising preaching and His Word, and not holding it sacred and gladly hearing and learning it. Jesus’ death covers your sins of preferring the ways of the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh to the ways of God revealed in Holy Scripture. Jesus’ death removes from you your sins of trying to find root in yourself in stead of God’s Word, and from being deceived by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.

God has not abandoned you because of your sin. He still sends His powerful Word to you to forgive you all yours sins and take them away from you as far as the east is from the west. He still gives you the body and blood of Jesus which give you eternal life.

When you struggle with your sins and do what is wrong, God does not turn into your enemy. He ever remains your loving Father calling you back to Him for forgiveness given freely. He gives forgiveness to you freely because Jesus has already paid the price of your sins. There’s nothing left for you to pay.

When God’s Word convicts us of sin, the reaction of the sinful flesh is to flee from preaching and the Word of God. Do not listen to your sinful flesh. Listen to God’s Word which tells you that His Word will do what it says it will do. God’s Word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish your salvation as God has purposed it.

God has claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism. No one, not even the devil, can snatch the gifts of your Baptism from you. Christ our Lord gives you His very body and blood to eat and drink to spiritually nourish you and keep you in the faith. Your sins cannot prevent God’s Word from accomplishing God’s purpose. God’s purpose is for your salvation, and His Word will succeed in saving you. Amen.

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

My Sheep Hear My Voice

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter based on John 10:1-10 (I Peter 2:19-25)

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

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says that His sheep hear His voice. He says His sheep follow Him, because they know His voice. He says His sheep will flee from following a stranger because they don’t know the voice of a stranger, but they do know the voice of their Good Shepherd, so they follow Him.

Is that what you do? Do you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him? Can you tell the difference between His voice and the voice of the thief and robber who does not come in through the door but climbs in by another way? Do you flee the voice of a stranger because you know that it is not the voice of the Good Shepherd?

The voice of the Good Shepherd is heard every Divine Service and every Bible class. His voice is heard in the Bibles you have in your homes. Yet, Divine Service attendance is sporadic and trending downward. Bible class attendance is dwindling. /dwindled to the point that we stopped having Bible class.

But you listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. You read Scripture every morning and every night. Your Bible is not one of those gathering more dust on the shelf than special occasion china.

Do you know the voice of the Good Shepherd? If you hear some television or radio evangelist, or some preacher at a so-called community “ecumenical service,” can you tell if you are hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice or the voice of a stranger? If you hear the preacher in this pulpit, can you tell if you are hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice or the voice of a stranger? Don’t tell me you don’t care, because Jesus says that if you’re not listening to His voice, you’re listening to the voice of a thief and a robber who comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

If one pastor insists on practising closed communion and another will commune anyone, which one is doing what the Good Shepherd has commanded? Do you know, or do you not recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice? Jesus says His sheep know His voice.

If one pastor says it is a sin to live together outside of marriage and another says it is perfectly fine, which one is speaking with the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do you know, or do you not recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice? Jesus says His sheep know His voice.

If one pastor says it is a sin to have a woman teach or exercise authority in the church, and another says it is perfectly fine, which one is speaking with the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do you know, or do you not recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice? Jesus says His sheep know His voice.

These things are not a matter of personal interpretation or opinion. Scripture tells us, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Man doesn’t decide how to interpret Scripture. Man didn’t decide what to write and man doesn’t decide how to interpret. The Holy Spirit wrote and the Holy Spirit has told us how to interpret.

Second Timothy tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Scripture cannot be profitable if we can all decide for ourselves what to make of it. If I can interpret it one way and you can interpret it another way, then the Bible is completely useless and you might as well take it off your shelf, not to dust it and read it, but to chuck it in the garbage. If God gave us the Bible so that we can all decide for ourselves what to follow and what not to follow, it is the most useless book in the world and we might as well burn every copy and find something better to do on Sunday morning instead of Divine Service and Monday evening instead of Bible class.

But the problem is not with the Bible; the problem is with us when we want to twist what the Bible says to make it fit our fancy. The problem is not with the Bible; the problem is with us when we think we can interpret the clear words of Scripture in a way that lets us do whatever we want. The problem is not with the Bible; the problem is with us when we don’t know what the Bible says and thus cannot differentiate the voice of the Good Shepherd from the voice of a stranger who is a thief and a robber who comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

We take pains and efforts to protect ourselves from thieves and robbers who would come to steal our earthly goods, but do we do anything to protect ourselves from the thieves and robbers who would come to steal our eternal salvation?

Our sinful nature is immediately ready to start making excuses. Life is busy. It’s not my fault that the pastor I’m listening to says something different from the Good Shepherd. I have Jesus in my heart and that’s all that matters. But excuses get us nowhere.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says that His sheep hear His voice. His voice is heard in the Divine Service, in Bible class, and in the Bibles you have in your homes. Jesus says His sheep follow Him, because they know His voice – they know what He says in His Word. Jesus says His sheep will flee from following a stranger because they don’t know the voice of a stranger, but they do know the voice of their Good Shepherd, so they follow Him.

The sheep of the Good Shepherd follow Him where He leads them. The Good Shepherd leads His sheep to the font, to Absolution, and to the altar.

The Good Shepherd leads us to the font, to Absolution, and to the altar because He knows that we are sheep who like to wander. He knows that we haven’t always listened to His voice or followed where He has led. That’s why He comes to search for us from all the places where we’ve wandered. He calls us through His Word to return to Him, the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. He knows that we haven’t always listened to His voice or followed where He has led. That’s why He leads us to the waters of Baptism, the blessing of Absolution, and to the food of His holy Supper. The Good Shepherd says His sheep follow Him to where He leads, because He leads us to where He gives us forgiveness. If we haven’t gone to the font and don’t go to the altar, we aren’t following the Good Shepherd.

Excuses aren’t the answer, but repentance is. The Good Shepherd is calling for us to follow where He leads because He leads us to where He gives us forgiveness. We cannot get forgiveness from anywhere else. We cannot get forgiveness from anyone else. The Good Shepherd gives us forgiveness.

The Good Shepherd laid down His life for us sheep so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Jesus took the punishment of all of our failures to hear Him and follow Him. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth (I Peter 2:22), but He died for our sins; He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). He Himself bore your sins in His body on the tree… By His wounds you have been healed (I Peter 2:24).

Jesus’ suffering and death are the reason we can be His sheep. His suffering and death are the reason He leads us to the means of grace where we receive forgiveness.

The sheep of the Good Shepherd follow Him to the font, to Absolution, and to His holy Supper so that they will follow Him to eternal life. In these means of grace the Good Shepherd gives eternal life, because wherever there is the forgiveness of sins, there is eternal life; there is life and salvation. The Good Shepherd leads us to where He gives us forgiveness, so He leads us to eternal life. Amen.

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