Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Jan 14


14 January 2020

Text: Rom 5:1-21

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Philosophers have always wrestled with the question: “Why is there evil in the world?”  And they have also pondered, “What is to be done about it?” 

St. Paul does not shy away from these questions.  The answer lies in Adam and in Adam’s Redeemer: our Lord Jesus Christ.  One man sinned, and sin spread to everyone – resulting in universal suffering and death.  And again, one man – by submitting to sinful men and to death, for the sake of love, conquers both sin and death.  And atonement is offered universally – resulting in justification for all sinful men who receive the gift.

“For as by one man’s disobedience,” says the holy apostle, “the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

The first Adam – whose name means “man” – was created perfect and righteous, but when tempted by Satan, he fell into sin – and he died.  But the Second Adam – whose name means “God Saves” – was not created, but was from eternity perfect and righteous, and when tempted by Satan, he did not fall into sin.  

And yet, He, the New and Greater Adam, also died.  He did not have to die, but willingly laid down His life for His friends.  He died because of love, for His beloved: every son and daughter of Adam who was, who is, or who is to come.  The New and Greater Adam does not yield to Satan, but rather vanquishes him.  And our Lord’s death results in our life; His punishment results in our justification.  

And because we receive the promise, because we believe His Word, as St. Paul proclaims: “We have been justified by faith” and “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  So why is there evil in the world?  And what is to be done about it?  The answer is so profound and joyful that we must sing it: “As by one man all mankind fell / And born in sin, was doomed to hell, / So by one Man, who took our place, / we all were justified by grace.”  Amen!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sermon: Baptism of our Lord - 2020



12 January 2020

Text: Matt 3:13-17 (Isa 42:1-7, 1 Cor 1:26-31)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” 

Our Lord does many things that He doesn’t have to do.  He was born of the flesh, circumcised, baptized, and put to death on a cross.  All of these things involve the Law – the Law that we have not kept.  But Jesus takes on our burdens.  He suffers the very obligations that we have, but which He is above.  Why does He do this, dear friends?  Because He loves us.  The lover is willing to suffer for the sake of the beloved.  This is the true meaning of the word “passion” – a word that we have reduced to describing what people think about pizza and hobbies.  True passion, in the original sense of the word, means suffering.  Even the baptism of our Lord was a kind of passion, a humiliation.  For by submitting to a washing is to give the impression of being filthy.  Jesus is not, but we are.

Jesus fulfills the Law, or as He says, fulfills “all righteousness” – so that we can be righteous.  For of ourselves, we can’t do it.  We are damaged goods.  We are rotten to the core.  We are headed to the scrap heap.  But Jesus looks upon us with pity, knowing that it is sin that has made us filthy and ugly.  It is sin that has crippled us and turned us into monsters.  It is sin that has brought death into the world.

And only He, the Righteous One who is both God (who is perfect) and Man (who exists in the flesh in our world) can keep the Law on our behalf, and then transmit His righteousness to us as a free gift.

But this gift is actually an exchange, a trade.  He gives us His righteousness, and we give Him our sins; we get everlasting life, and He gets the cross and death.  We are exalted; He is humiliated. 

“For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” 

This idea of a once-for-all blood sacrifice is radical.  But it is the only solution for us poor, miserable sinners.  God loves us infinitely, and He is willing to go to any length to redeem us, to drag us out of the pit, to bind up our wounds, to dress us in the finest clothing, and sit us at the table with Him.

St. John the Baptist recognizes the radical nature of the Messiah coming to him for baptism.  In fact, “John would have prevented Him.”  John realizes that this is contrary to how the world works.  For in the world, the guilty are punished and the innocent are rewarded.  In the world, love takes a back seat to selfish desire.  In the world, the judge punishes the offender; He does not serve the offender’s sentence.  John is aghast at just how extraordinary this is: “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”

And here is where Jesus explains the mystery of the Gospel: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

We cannot fulfill all righteousness, but Jesus does.  He keeps the Law where we fail.  And like Abraham, by faith, the righteousness of God Himself is counted to us, credited to us, given to us by proxy.  We wear the royal ring and we bear the royal scepter – because our Lord has given them to us as a passport, as a key to admission to the Kingdom of God.  It is He who takes the beating reserved for the impostor and the intruder – even as we are clothed in unearned royal garb and seated undeserved at the head table of the banquet.

And where is this faith given to us, dear friends?  In baptism!  For just before He ascended into heaven, He gave the apostles, the ministers of the church, both the authority and the order to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  John’s baptism of repentance is completed in our Lord’s baptism of salvation.  And this is what the Church does, dear friends.  We follow in the footsteps of our Lord: bringing sinners to where they find life: to Jesus, to Holy Baptism, to the Word of God, to the Gospel.

And all righteousness is fulfilled in the faith given as a gift by means of Holy Baptism, by the “Word of God in and with the water” and the “faith which trusts this Word.”  The Holy Baptism that the baptized, crucified, and risen Lord Jesus Christ gives us is “a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”

And even as Jesus emerged from the water with “the heavens… opened to Him,” and just as the Holy Spirit descended and came “to rest on Him,” and even as the Father claims Him as His “beloved Son with whom [He] is well pleased,” so too does all of this happen to us in Christ.

The Father is pleased with us, His baptized.  The Son exchanges His righteousness for our sin, and the Holy Spirit comes to rest upon us.  Our baptism links us to the cross, to the passion of Jesus, whose love impels Him to take our punishment while we receive His justification as a free gift of faith.  This is why we make the sign of the cross in remembrance of Holy Baptism, for the cross is where all righteousness was truly fulfilled.  And that fulfillment of the Law and satisfaction for our sins is made at the cross, and it is given to us “to fulfill all righteousness” at our own Holy Baptism.

Most of us were baptized as little children, even as young as our Lord was when He was brought into the covenant through circumcision.  We are weak, and God uses “what is weak in the world to shame the strong,” as St. Paul proclaims.  As children, as newcomers to the faith, we are “low and despised in the world,” so that we cannot boast of ourselves, but so that “in Christ Jesus,” God Himself “is the source of your life.”  Christ is our “wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” 

For even as children, even as sinners, even as those who are despised by the world, God Himself sends His beloved Son to us to redeem us, “as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

“For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Jan 7




7 January 2020

Text: Romans 1:1-17

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

St. Paul writes to the Church at Rome, the eternal city, the capital of the empire – the center of the known world.  He is taking the battle for the Christian faith right to the enemy – to the seat of Caesar himself.  And it is the apostle’s earnest desire and intention to come to Rome to minister to the saints there.

St. Paul wishes to “reap some harvest” among the Roman Christians, as well as “the rest of the Gentiles” that he is evangelizing.  He wishes to “preach the gospel” to the Romans, as the Lord has called him to do, and as this letter is preparing them for this preaching.

The Book of Romans is indeed a beautiful presentation of the Gospel in its fullness, beginning with the law and the painful reality that we do not keep it, that we cannot save ourselves, and that apart from Christ, we are doomed.  But of course, along with the Law comes the Gospel, the good news that our Lord has indeed come to rescue us by means of His blood, by grace and through faith. 

The very first theological statement that St. Paul makes in this letter sums up the entire Christian faith, that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  Salvation’s power, dear friends, lies not in our own righteousness, our own struggle to achieve holiness, or even in the Law.  It has nothing to do with our ethnicity or station in life.  Salvation’s power is in the Gospel, the good news that Christ has come to redeem us poor, miserable sinners.  Paul’s letter to the Romans is not only a systematic theological treatise, it is a joyful epistle that celebrates the Lord’s victory over sin, death, and the devil, and proclaims this Good News unabashedly, even as the apostle has said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”

And his next sentence put Dr. Luther into the trajectory of rethinking the Gospel, even as we Lutherans are known as “Evangelicals” in Germany, meaning, we are the confessors of the Gospel!  For Luther contemplated Paul’s assertion that “The righteous shall live by faith.”  And that one powerful verse from the Word of God and the pen of St. Paul changed Luther’s life, and the lives of millions who were liberated by the Gospel.

Let us savor the Word of God, dear friends, for in the Word, we receive the gift of everlasting life, through Christ our Lord.  Amen!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Sermon: Epiphany - 2020


5 January 2020

Text: Matt 2:1-12

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

One of the most beloved verses of Scripture is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Jesus Himself spoke these words to Nicodemus, who came to Him by night, so as not to be seen by others.

Just three verses later, our Lord mentions the darkness to Nicodemus: “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest His works should be exposed.”

As is always the case, Jesus is teaching Nicodemus (and us) about Himself.  For ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden, our world has been shrouded in darkness.  But in the fullness of time, God brought light – the light of forgiveness and life – back into our world – by sending His only begotten Son.  But of course, not everyone wants the light.  For it is in darkness that we poor miserable sinners love to commit “wicked deeds.”  And darkness and light cannot coexist.

When our Lord was still an infant, we see this clash between the light of Christ and the darkness of men.  And that is what the Epiphany is all about.  The word “Epiphany” means “to show.”  For what was hidden in the darkness now comes to light.  And so God uses the light of a star to guide Gentile “wise men from the east” to come and see the showing of this Jewish Messiah, this boy King who is to save the world by enlightening it and chasing away the darkness of sin and death.  They were led to the Light of the World by the light of a star.

This sign in the heavens was so powerful that it impelled the Magi to set out on a very long journey from the east, from the land where the sun rises, to see the coming of the Son of God.  For it was not only the Jews who were waiting for the Savior to come, but also the Gentiles, that is, all of the nations of the world, who according to God’s Word spoken two thousand years earlier to Abraham, they too would be blessed by Abraham’s promised descendant.  

And now, with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea, that time has come.  The light was shining, and could not be contained.  The light was being shown forth in a great epiphany that drew men from beyond the borders of Jerusalem, of Judea and Samaria, and of the ends of the earth – to come and see, to behold the light, to announce to the world that the darkness has been conquered!

But let us not forget, men love the darkness because their deeds are wicked.  Wicked King Herod was a fraudulent King, a pretender to the throne who only sat there by currying favor with the Romans.  Herod benefitted from the darkness of Roman rule, and the last thing he wanted was the light of the True King of Israel to expose his dark deeds as a traitor to his own people.  And so hearing about the light, Herod tried to snuff it out.  

When it had been revealed to the wise men that the light was shining in Bethlehem, Herod was “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”  And it was only with this troubled mind that the lawless man of darkness consults the Scriptures – not to learn from God, not to repent of his wickedness, not to submit to the rule of the true King – but to try to extinguish the light of the hope of all mankind.  

And so Herod resorted to a lie to cover up his attempted murder of the King, saying to the wise men: “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found Him, bring me Word, that I too may come and worship Him.”

After meeting with Herod, the wise men continue to follow the starry guidepost in the heavens, directing them to the epiphany of the Lord Jesus Christ “over the place where the child was.”  And “when they saw the star, the rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

The light in the sky led them to the Light of the World.  These wise men, sometimes depicted as three kings, rejoiced to see the King of kings, the One who is the incarnate God – the Son from the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the epiphany, that is, the manifestation, the showing, of God in the flesh.  The rule of darkness has come to an end with the epiphany of the Light of the World in the flesh.  And not even the scheming of Herod could empower the darkness to overcome the light!

It is little wonder that the Magi rejoiced!  Truly great men are joyful to submit to the rule of “God in man, made manifest.” 

And even as Herod lied about worshiping the Child, these wise men did indeed worship Him.  Worship is something reserved to God alone.  And unlike the pagan myths about various gods that they were taught to worship in the east, these wise men were now in the presence of the True God, a God who is not a myth, not a story, not a character in an unbelievable tale – but rather a baby, a flesh and blood child, a boy who has a mother.  

For the Light of the One who said “Let there be light” when all of the universe was created, now manifests Himself as the Light of the World in the flesh of this boy King.  And even as we do today, out of joy and gratitude, they offer Him gifts.  They are not buying His favor, the way they would a wicked fraudulent king of darkness, like Herod.  Rather they offer Him gifts given in the spirit of worship, of love, of joy, of thankfulness and praise.  They bring Him the kingly gold that men like Herod lust after.  They bring Him priestly incense, which was offered in the temple as a reminder of the prayers that ascend to heaven that God receives as a sweet aroma that pleases Him.  They bring Him myrrh – an aromatic spice used in embalming that would some thirty years later be brought to His tomb – His empty tomb.  

For though these gifts are offered with the spirit of gratitude and right sacrifice, ultimately Jesus doesn’t need them.  For God doesn’t need or lack anything.  Jesus is the Creator of all the gold.  Jesus is the fulfillment of all the incense.  And Jesus is the One who makes embalming myrrh obsolete.  Rather than being things that are needed, in the New Creation that Jesus brings to the world, these things are luxuries to be enjoyed for their beauty, objects used in worship that remind us of Jesus and His epiphany, of the wise men, and of the inextinguishable Light of the World.

And as much as Herod schemed to get to the Christ Child to snuff out His young life, his dark plan was foiled by God, who simply warned the magi to avoid Herod, and to “depart” and go back home “by another way.”

Jesus is that other way, dear friends.  We do not need to wallow in darkness and be harassed by death.  We do not need to fear the Herods of this world, or be consumed by deeds of wickedness.  Jesus calls us to repent, and He teaches us – even in the lingering darkness, even as He taught Nicodemus.  

And we too worship Him.  We too bring Him our treasures.  But what is even greater than what we bring Him is what He brings us: forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Jesus conquers the darkness as the uncreated and unconquerable Light! 

As the ancient prayer of the church confesses: “Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, the Light no darkness can overcome!”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Sermon: Circumcision and Name of Jesus - 2020


1 January 2020

Text: Luke 2:21 (Num 6:22-27, Gal 3:23-29)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In the Old Covenant, circumcision was the equivalent of Baptism.  It brought a man or boy – typically a baby eight days old – into the Church; the people of God.  It also signified that his wife and children were also part of the covenant.

This was a minor shedding of blood that is a reminder of the shedding of blood required to forgive sins.  And in ancient times, a covenant wasn’t signed on paper, but rather a covenant was “cut” – as the bodies of sacrificed animals were split in two, and those making the covenant would walk between the bloody pieces as a sign of their agreement.

This was also the official naming of the child.  We do the same today in Holy Baptism, as we actually pronounce two names over the person being brought into the covenant: his or her name, and the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Circumcision as a sign of the covenant reached its fulfillment in Christ.  For it was truly a minor shedding of blood in his flesh that would be a preview of His sacrificial offering in the New Testament in His blood: on the cross and in the cup.  The covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is brought to its fulfillment in Christ, and the New Covenant is offered to all of the baptized – whether they are biological children of Abraham or not: “for in Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek.”  In baptism, we have put on the circumcised and crucified Christ.  And just as we are all adopted as children of Abraham, we are all adopted as “sons” of God.  For in Christ, all of the baptized: men, women, boys, and girls enjoy the legal privilege of being sons, that is, heirs.  And the biological Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, gives us all a share in His Sonship “by faith.”

And when we are baptized, the name of Jesus, the name of God – the name of the Most Holy Trinity in His fullness: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is placed upon us, even as Aaron and his sons were authorized to speak the triune benediction upon the people, invoking the Lord three times.  

Jesus was baptized on His eighth day after His birth in accordance with the Law – which He keeps for us.  The eighth day is a reminder that in Baptism, which is to say, in Christ, we enter into a new week of creation.  The Most Holy Trinity created the universe in six days, and then rested on the seventh.  And we are in the first day of the new creation, dear friends!  In Christ, we are in the eighth day – even as we remember the eight people saved from sin and death through water, safe in the ark.

And like baptism, circumcision provided the opportunity to place a name on the child.  Our Lord is known by many descriptive names: “Lord” (which refers to the holy name of God), “Immanuel” (which means “God with us”), the Word Made Flesh (being the divine Word that brought creation into being), and the Messiah or Christ (which means “the anointed one” who is Prophet, Priest, and King prophesied in Scripture).  But His personal name is the most extraordinary of all, dear friends: “Jesus.”  This is the name that is above every name, the name before which “every knee shall bow” and “every tongue confess” that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  The name “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” 

Joshua was a common name for boys and men – but this Joshua, though He lives among us common men, is unique and holy, for He is the fulfillment of what the name means: “God saves.”

The most well-known Joshua in the Old Testament took over leadership of the people of God from Moses, after his death and his own coming up short of leading the people to the Promised Land.  Moses was a truly great prophet.  He gave the law.  He spoke with God face to face.  But Moses did not complete the work of the Lord to bring the people fully out of slavery into their Promised Land.  That work was completed by his successor: Joshua, the great general and leader of the people, who crossed the Jordan River, and led the church to her home.

There was another Joshua in the Old Testament, who was the high priest – the priest who offered sacrifice for all of the people and stood in the very presence of God in the temple.

Jesus fulfills both of these Joshuas.  For He is the new and greater prophet Moses who leads us out of slavery to sin and death.  But where Moses only gave the Law, Jesus fulfills it.  Jesus gives us the Gospel.  And Jesus is also the new and greater general Joshua who leads us to the Promised Land.  But where Joshua only defeated flesh and blood enemies, the flesh and blood Jesus conquers the devil, and He leads the Church to the Promised Land of everlasting life: by His blood, in His name, and by faith!

And whereas the high priest Joshua could only offer sacrifices and stand in God’s presence, our Lord Jesus Christ is the new and greater high priest Joshua who offers the once-for-all sacrifice – which is Himself!  For He is both priest and victim, and His blood atones for the sins of the whole world.  And whereas Joshua could only stand in the presence of God, Jesus is God.  Jesus is the presence.  And Jesus has caused the curtain of the temple to be torn in two, and we now stand in God’s presence based upon Jesus’ holiness.  For His blood, His sacrifice, His righteousness makes us worthy of the presence of God that requires no temple and no priestly sacrifice.

The holy name of Jesus describes Him simply and perfectly: “God saves.”  The name of Jesus is a complete sentence: a subject and a verb.  His name tells us who He is (“God”) and what He does (“saves”).  This chosen personal name of Jesus makes it clear that whereas the other Joshuas only pointed to God, our Lord, as fulfillment of all of the Old Covenant, is God.  And what did He come to earth to do, dear friends?  Why did He take flesh: flesh that can be circumcised and even crucified?  He came to save!  For the name Jesus does not emphasize His divine worthiness, righteousness, power, might, eternity, or His Sonship within the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.  For though these are all true, the name “Jesus” emphasizes the revelation that is wrapped up in His name, His circumcision, His incarnation, His death, and His resurrection: the fact that God saves.  

Jesus is our Savior, our Rescuer, the One whose blood is the new covenant, the One who leads us to the Promised Land and brings us into the presence of the Lord, whose name is holy and above every name.

Let us ponder His holy name, dear friends, and let us rejoice that His name and His blood have been placed upon us.  Let us sing His praises for saving us.  Let us joyfully remember our baptism with the sign of the holy cross, even as we continue to receive the Lord’s blessing:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you + peace.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sermon: Christmas 1 - 2019


29 December 2019

Text: Luke 2:22-40 (Isa 11:1-5, Gal 4:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a popular term “bucket list.”  This is a list of things that a person would like to do – truly once in a lifetime things – before the person dies.  St. Simeon had one thing on his “bucket list.” 

Simeon was a “righteous and devout” man.  It is likely that he was a retired priest.  He was also a man who was “waiting.”  He wasn’t waiting to die, or waiting for riches – rather he was waiting “for the consolation of Israel.”

Why did Israel need consoling?  Because the people of God had been stuck in a kind of limbo for four hundred years.  God had become silent.  The children of Israel had been taken captive in Babylon, were later allowed to return under the Persians – though still a conquered people, and then they found themselves under the Greek Empire.  And in Simeon’s day, the people of God were living under Roman rule, lorded over by people who worshiped many gods.  The emperor himself was worshiped as a god by the Romans who did not know the true God.

Simeon knew both God and His promises.  Israel was waiting for the consolation of the Savior, the Messiah, who would be a blessing to the entire world.  And God revealed something to Simeon: a promise to which he clung, a dream to which he held fast, knowing that until it happened, he was not yet ready to “depart” from this world “in peace.”

For “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

Maybe St. Simeon heard about the strange happenings going on: the miraculous birth of a child, John, to his elderly parents Zechariah the priest and his wife Elizabeth.  Maybe he had heard the rumors of angels appearing over the skies of Bethlehem.  Or maybe none of this was known to Simeon.  We will not know in this life.  But during his long wait, the elderly Simeon caught a glimpse of a man and a woman with a baby boy, a poor couple who could not afford the preferred sacrifice of a lamb – offering instead two turtledoves.  Of course, the reality – later to be revealed – is that their Son Jesus is the Lamb, the sacrifice that is truly “holy to the Lord” as the firstborn male to open the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Simeon came “in the Spirit into the temple.”  The Spirit – who had earlier revealed that he would see the Christ – now revealed to Simeon that the time had indeed come!  His wait was over!  The Consolation of Israel was there before him, held in the arms of His mother and accompanied by His stepfather.  Jesus came to the temple that He was to prophecy would be destroyed, when the New Covenant would render the Levitical priesthood, the blood sacrifices, and the temple itself obsolete.  Simeon stands at the precipice, the crossroads of time, the intersection between BC and AD.  The world will never be the same, and the Holy Spirit figuratively whispers in the ear of faithful Simeon: behold, your Lord and your God!

And so St. Simeon “took Him up in his arms and blessed God.”  And being in the Spirit, Simeon sang a song that we still sing today, dear friends.  It is part of the Church’s liturgy.  It is traditionally sung in Christian communities and homes at bedtime, as a reminder that we are prepared, like St. Simeon, to “depart in peace” because we have seen the Lord Jesus Christ.  And because of this revelation, we can sleep in peace without fear – not even fearing death.

And this liturgical hymn, Simeon’s Canticle, which we also know as the Nunc Dimittis, is the typical post-communion canticle sung in our churches.  For like St. Simeon, we are consoled by Christ – not merely the promise of His coming, but His actual, physical presence.  And even as Simeon held the body of Christ in His arms, we are blessed to carry the Lord Jesus Christ in our bodies by means of the Holy Sacrament.  Our wait to be consoled – to be released from sin, death, and the devil – is over, dear friends.  The Christ child is with us as surely as He was with Simeon.

And so we sing with Simeon and with generations of Christians to whom the Spirit revealed this joyful song of praise:

“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

Joseph and Mary “marveled” at the words of this song – and it is just as marvelous even today as the Church continues to marvel with the saints and angels at the gravity of Simeon’s words.  The one thing that Simeon had waited for his whole life has been fulfilled.  He was now free to lay down his weary head and die in peace, for he had “seen [God’s] salvation” – the salvation of the people of God accomplished by God.  Simeon understood that this was indeed God’s grace.  The child Jesus was not only the incarnate Word, not only a Champion of mankind who has come to take vengeance on the devil, not only the eternal extension of King David’s house and royal line, not only the promised Messiah, not only a Prophet, Priest, and yes, Sacrificial Lamb – Jesus is God’s salvation – the saving of mankind from sin and death.  And ironically, with that salvation, Simeon can look upon death without fear, knowing now that it isn’t the victory of the enemy, but rather a manifestation of the Lord’s victory over Satan.  And for that reason, Simeon can now “depart in peace.”

In the words of the ancient Lutheran hymn, Simeon now has as little to fear from the grave as he does his bed.  We Christians can die in peace because we die in Christ – “according to [God’s] Word.”

St. Simeon – in the Spirit – revealed a piece of the puzzle to Mary – something that she would not understand for some thirty years, long after St. Simeon’s holy departure: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also).  Salvation will come at a price – the price of the Lamb’s sacrifice.  And even as Mary brought the child Jesus “to present Him to the Lord,” she would later see Him presented on the cross.  She would witness not the sacrifice of two turtledoves, but rather of her own flesh and blood Son, He who opened her womb, “called Holy to the Lord.”  She would suffer the anguish that only a mother could know.  But like St. Simeon, St. Mary was also faithful and righteous and devout.  She obediently gave birth to the Word Made Flesh, enduring the shame.  She presented Him to the Lord in the temple.  She raised Him.  And she would suffer the grief of watching Him sacrificed.

But she would also know the joy of His resurrection, as well as the salvation of His blood even atoning for her.  The sword that pierced her soul would be beaten into a plowshare as many more would follow St. Simeon, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, in dying as faithful confessors of our Lord Jesus Christ, the consolation of Israel.

May the Song of Simeon continue to be our song.  May it be on our lips when we have seen the Lord’s Christ in the Lord’s Supper.  And may these joyful words deliver consolation to us when it is our time to depart in peace, according to God’s Word.  

Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Sermon: Christmas - 2019




25 December 2019

Text: John 1:1-18 (Exodus 40:17-21, 34-38; Titus 3:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We live in an age of paradox.  We have never been more connected to family and friends all over the world through social media and the internet.  We now communicate in real time at the speed of light.  And yet it seems as if we are also more detached than ever before.  Today, even a phone call seems like a lot of work when a few taps on the phone can put a text into cyberspace, and we can then move on to the next task.

And in spite of all of these connections “in the cloud” – more people are isolated and lonely than ever before.  We are designed for actual social interaction, not just looking at a screen.  And even today, the ultimate human contact is to sit down at a table together, and to share a meal.

At the fall in the Garden of Eden, that intimacy with God that we enjoyed was broken.  We became estranged.  The best that we could do was a kind of social media contact with the Lord God.  We could pray and offer sacrifices.  God would speak to us through prophets.  But the closest that God would come to us was “in the cloud.”  He spoke through Moses, but the people were not allowed on the mountain.  God make covenants, and we held on to the promise – but He was not physically present with us.  Our interactions with God were mediated through priests.  The sacrifices were a kind of token of God’s presence.

But we craved the original fleshly contact that we originally had with God in the garden.

This closeness began to be restored when God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle, a tent in which the presence of God would dwell with us.  Later, this tent would be replaced by a house, the temple, where God’s presence would abide with His people – but once again, only mediated through the priests and prophets.

The prophets spoke of a coming Messiah, a Savior, a manifestation of God to come among us – not just in the cloud, and in a way that transcended the nearness of God to us mediated by priests.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” 

This is the mystery of the incarnation, of God becoming small, of the eternal Son putting on mortal flesh, of the Almighty becoming all-vulnerable for the sake of rescuing us.  This miracle in which the finite put on the infinite is the event of which the prophets spoke.  God the Son, the eternal Word, the Creator, entered space and time as a single human cell, microscopic, and hidden in Mary’s womb.  And according to God’s will, He grew and made His appearance on the first Christmas: in the flesh of a baby delivered by His mother, born and tabernacling with us.  No more in the clouds, He is now flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bones.  At last, we can see God face to face – unmediated by priest and prophet, no longer requiring the sacrifice of tokens of flesh.  At last, God could sit down at table and look us in the eyes.

And as Titus proclaims: “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us.”  Our salvation is wrapped up in this incarnation of Jesus just as surely as the baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloths.  

Titus also mentions that Jesus is our Savior “not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Jesus saves us not through disembodied words, but through His Word attached to water.  Baptism is incarnational, as God’s Word is not in a cloud or mediated by a priest – but attached to a physical element that it placed on our bodies.  The token of sacrifice has been replaced by the direct fleshly sacrament!

Since the Word became flesh, He sits at table with us.  We have the intimacy of eating a meal together with Him.  The Lord’s Supper is likewise incarnational.  It is the true flesh and blood of our incarnate Lord, the Word Made Flesh.  We do not experience Him in the cloud or through an impersonal text message cut off from His presence.  He is physically present in His Word.  And in the Sacrament of the Altar, He appears to us in the flesh.

The world mocks this idea of God becoming small.  The world scoffs at a God who takes the despised form of a baby in the womb.  The world holds us in contempt for believing that the Man on the cross is in fact God, and that when you come to this altar, you are not only sharing a meal with God, you are in fact participating in the true flesh of God – the body and blood of the Lord that is not a sacrificial token, but a sacramental reality!

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” 

This is what we have been waiting for, dear friends.  Not just with the Advent season.  Not just in anticipation of the Christmas meal.  Rather this becoming flesh is what all of humanity has been waiting for since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden.  For when the Word became flesh, He was to dwell among us.  He was to eat with us, teach us, forgive us, and deliver eternal life to us in the flesh.  He took on flesh so that His flesh could be sacrificed upon the cross – not as a token, but as the once-for-all atonement for the sin of the world.  And that flesh was to rise again at Easter, ascend into heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that flesh, dear friends, is coming again on the Last Day.

Indeed, we live in an age of paradox.  God comes to us even as we are poor, miserable sinners.  God dies so that we mortals might live.  God becomes humble so that we might be exalted.  The Creator who is outside of creation becomes one with His creation, even to the point where we can eat and drink Him.  He is not in a cloud or on a screen, but in the manger, on the cross, in the tomb, in His Word, in the font, and on the altar.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sermon: Christmas Eve - 2019



24 December 2019

Text: Isa 7:10-14, Micah 5:2-5a, Isa 9:2-7, Matt 1:18-25, Matt 2:1-12, John 1:1-18

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a popular Christmas song called “Mary Did You Know?”  The idea behind the song is that we wonder how much Mary knew about her Son and what He was going to accomplish.  

The answer is that she knew some things, but not other things.  

This is how God works with all of us.  He reveals what we need to know at a given time, but there are also many things that remain a mystery until they happen.  So Mary certainly knew that she was going to bear a Son, even though she knew that she had not known a man.  She knew that the process took nine months, and so she knew when her Child was going to be born.  She knew what the prophets and Old Testament scriptures taught about the Messiah.  But there was indeed much that she did not know as well.  She would find out like everyone else as the future slipped into the present, and then made its way to the past, to history.  

The first thing that we ever knew about Jesus was recorded in the Book of Genesis, and was actually spoken to Satan immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin in the Garden of Eden.  God told the devil – within earshot of Adam and Eve – that the “Seed of the woman” would crush the head of the serpent, of the devil, and in the process, the serpent would bruise the heel of the Savior.  

The expression “seed of the woman” makes no biological sense.  But it must have started to make sense to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the “most highly favored lady,” as she was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would bear the Savior without the seed of a man.  Blessed Mary knew the Scripture from Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” 

Mary also knew – from the prophecy of Micah – that she would give birth in the little town of Bethlehem, “too little to be among the clans of Judah,” and yet her Son was to be “Ruler in Israel.”  She knew that He was to be “great to the ends of the earth” and that “He shall be their peace.”

She knew that David’s Royal City is called “Jerusalem,” in her language, ‘the City of Peace.”  Her Son will be the Prince of Peace, the fulfillment of David and of the promise of peace in the great city.  

She knew that like Bethlehem, she was not great.  And yet she knew that the Lord often chooses the weak – even the seemingly impossible – to carry out His mighty will.  

Mary knew the prophecy of Isaiah, “Unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given… His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” and that He would sit on David’s throne “from this time forth and forevermore.”  She knew that “the people who walked in darkness” will see a great light, her Son, who would shine on the world’s darkness and death, and replace it with light and life.  

Not only would Mary hear the announcement of her pregnancy from an angel, she was to hear the “song the angels sing,” the Gloria, the praises of heaven and earth to “God in flesh appearing” to whom she would give birth.

Mary was to know more of the particulars when the angel of the Lord would also appear to her fiancĂ© Joseph, saying, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Mary was also to come to know the suffering that would follow her and her Son, as the devil and his allies – among whom were King Herod – would try to destroy the Fetus within her.  She came to know more when the magi from the east came bearing gifts.  For not only did they come to pay homage to her Son the King, they also “fell down and worshiped Him.”  For it had been revealed to these wise men “what child is this,” and so they brought the treasures of their land: “incense, gold, and myrrh” to this King of kings” who “salvation brings.” 

Mary most likely did not know about her Son’s crucifixion, that He would save us by grace by means of His blood shed on the cross.  But St. Simeon did give her a hint when he held the baby Jesus in the temple: “Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” 

Mary knew that her Son’s mission to save the world would involve suffering.  But thankfully, the exact nature of His passion and her own heart-piercing sword, was withheld from her.  Mary did not know all of the details.  For God is merciful, dear friends.

And in the course of time, after Mary witnessed her Son fulfill His mission to save us at the cross, after she had seen Him risen from the dead, after He had ascended into heaven, after her own death, after Sts. Peter and Paul would be put to death for the sake of the name of Jesus – the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one who took Mary as his own adoptive mother to live in his house, St. John the Evangelist, would reveal to us the sublime truth, the eternal mystery, the details of which that Mary herself did not know unless it had been revealed to her, that “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.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This, dear friends, is the mystery revealed to us in the flesh of Jesus and in the Word of the Holy Scripture.  The eternal Word, the utterance of the Father “Let there be light,” in some way that we cannot understand, took flesh in the womb of the virgin, becoming the Seed of the Woman, the King of Israel, the Savior of the World, Immanuel, God with us, the Prince of Peace.

This child did not begin His life at His birth or at His conception.  For He is the eternal Son of God, “of the Father’s love begotten [before] the worlds began to be.” 

Mary knew about Jesus from the “seers in old time” who “chanted of [Him] with one accord.”  Mary knew “the voices of the prophets” and just what and Whom they “promised in their faithful word.”

And now, dear friends, Mary knows, the angels and the saints know, the whole company of heaven knows, Satan and the demons know, and we who have been saved by His redeeming grace, we who bear the gift of eternal life in His name and by His blood know: We know that He is the Christ, the Son of the Father in flesh appearing, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born to save us from our sins, He is Jesus, Immanuel, God With Us, the Christ.  And we sing with the heavenly hosts:

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sermon: Rorate Coeli (Advent 4) - 2019


22 December 2019

Text: John 1:19-28 (Deut 18:15-19, Phil 4:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

John the Baptist was an unlikely hero.  He was an outsider.  He did not wear soft clothing and live in a palace or cozy up to royalty like the Herodians.  He was not a temple priest or a Levite.  He was not a Roman, neither a patrician nor a centurion.  He had no political clout among the ruling class.  He was not a scribe or a lawyer.  He was not a merchant and had no wealth.  He was neither a Pharisee nor a Sadducee. 

He lived in the desert, wore camel’s hair, ate locusts and wild honey, and sometimes insulted the large crowds who came to hear him preach and to be baptized by him.  Eventually he would even insult the king and queen.  But people flocked to him in multitudes.  He did not tell them they could have their best life now in seven easy steps, nor did he tell people that God accepts them just as they are.  

He told them to repent and be baptized.

He told them something else, “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

The crowds could sense that something was happening.  John preached to them with a sense of urgency that the kingdom of God was near.  And when the crowds were interested in him, in John, when they asked him, “‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’”  John did not try to cash in on his fame.  John did not promote himself.  John did not put forward his own plans, but rather pointed them to Jesus.

But even the priests and the Levites knew there was something supernatural about John.  They asked if He were Elijah.  They asked if he were the Prophet spoken of by Moses in our Old Testament reading (who was fulfilled in Christ).  John kept saying, “No.”  And when the priests and Levites pressed him for an answer, John pointed them to the prophecy of Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” 

And when the Pharisees also interrogated him about his ministry of baptizing people – being that he denied being the Christ, Elijah, and the Prophet – John did what he did best: he preached Christ.

John is not just an unlikely hero, not just the final prophet, not just, as Jesus said, one who is the greatest of men born to a woman – John is the model of every Christian.  John is the model for pastors, for he preached repentance and he preached Christ.  John is also the model for laypeople, for he “confessed and did not deny.”  John confessed not only who he was and who he wasn’t, but he also confessed Christ.

We Christians are confessors – not only of our sins, but also of the faith, of the Gospel, of the cross, of our Lord.  To confess is to say the same that that you have been told.  To confess is to repeat what God has revealed to you.  God revealed Christ to John by means of prophecy.  God reveals Christ to us by means of His Word: His Word preached and His Word given in Holy Baptism.  John’s ministry is the church’s ministry: confessing, preaching, and administering sacraments, bringing people not to ourselves but to Jesus, not for our personal gain, but for the sake of love, of redemption, of salvation, of obedience to what our Lord calls us to do.

John had a call to preach.  So do pastors.  How can we not?  We are given a Word, and we proclaim.  We are given to call people to repent, and so we give pastoral care.  We are called to baptize, and so we bring people to Jesus, and like John, we bring Jesus to the people.  We point people to the One whose sandals we are unworthy to untie.  

John had a call to confess.  So do all Christians.  How can we not?  We are baptized into Christ.  We are given His Word.  We are called to repent.  We are given absolution.  Like John, we are told to confess – before friend and foe alike, before our brothers and sisters in the church, and before those who do not believe – we are called to confess our Lord Jesus Christ, and to follow Him, to be willing to suffer for Him.  

So how do you confess, dear brothers and sisters?  You confess when you do not deny Jesus.  You confess when you openly say that you are a Christian.  You confess when the Word of God is a priority to you.  You confess when you regularly are where Jesus is, when you devoutly receive His body and blood.  You confess when you give offerings not only to your church, but to those in need.  You confess when you reach out to people in love, and show them the mercy of God.  You confess when you are Christ to your neighbor.

Preachers and confessors do not seek glory for themselves.  For they are subjects of the kingdom.  Preachers and confessors seek glory only for their King.  Preachers and confessors are motivated by love: for God and for neighbor.  They are also motivated by the love shown to them by the Son, by His blood shed on the cross, by the eternal life that we all inherit through the atoning death of our Lord upon the cross.

That is our confession, dear brothers and sisters.  That is what we in the office of the holy ministry preach.  And like John, we do not accumulate followers, but rather send them to Jesus.  Like John, we preachers and confessors must decrease, and He, Jesus, must increase.  

John spoke the Word of God because He knew it was true, and He knew that it worked.  He knew that the Scriptures spoke of Jesus.  And that is what John did: in word and in deed, in his life, ministry, and even in his death.

On this last Sunday of Advent, we listen to John, for John preaches and confesses Christ.  And whether we, like John, are surrounded by adoring crowds, or whether we, like John, are stuck in a dungeon facing execution – whether we live or die – we do as we are called to do: confess Christ.  It is only in Him, in Christ, that we can, as St. Paul invites us: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  And whether we are preachers or confessors, whether we are beloved by the many or hated by the powerful – our lives are focused in Christ: “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.”

“And the peace of God,” dear brothers and sisters, dear confessors of Christ, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Dec 17 (Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men)


17 December 2019

Text: Rev 5:1-14

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

This part of John’s revelation of Jesus keeps repeating the word “worthy.”  There is a scroll to be opened, that is, there are prophecies to be fulfilled.  But history is at an impasse because there is no-one worthy to “open the scroll and break its seals.”  For four hundred years after the last prophets of the Old Testament, there was this sense of being stuck in history, waiting for the Messiah, the worthy One, to come and bring history to its fulfillment.

And even today, we have been in a kind of long advent for nearly two millennia expectantly waiting for the worthy One to return, to crack open the last book of history, and bring us to eternity. 

For we know that we are unworthy.  Even the greatest of all human beings, those who have achieved greatness in the realms of ideas and technology, or even great saints of the church whose faith was steadfast even unto death – all of humanity is unworthy, and cannot bring us to eternity.  All but One, that is.

“Weep no more,” says one of the elders in John’s vision, “behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Jesus has conquered.  He has vanquished sin, death, and the devil.  He has destroyed the power of the grave and brought the Gospel to bear on the unforgiving and unmerciful Law.  This is His work on the cross.  And so we gather around the reading of the Scroll, with music and songs of praise, with incense and prayers, singing “worthy is the Lamb,” and participating in His blood by which we are ransomed.  And this is the Church gathered in the Divine Service, those unworthy ones made worthy “from every tribe and language and people and nation.”  We join with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven – including the “four living creatures” who say “Amen” as they “fell down and worshiped.” 

Worthy is the Lamb, now and even unto eternity!  Amen!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sermon: Gaudete (Advent 3) - 2019


15 December 2019

Text: Matt 11:2-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

This was John the Baptist’s question about Jesus.

Who is Jesus?  Is He just one more prophet?  Is He yet another rabbi, another preacher?  Is He a great moral philosopher or teacher?  Is He an example of kindness?  Is He a mythological figure whose followers turned into a legend by retelling His story and putting in exaggerations over and over?  Maybe He never existed at all, but is more like a super hero in a story.

Or maybe Jesus was a crazy man who suffered delusions of grandeur.  Maybe He was a schizophrenic cult leader.  Maybe He was invented by the ruling class to hold down the workers.  

All of these theories have been floated by those who hate the Church.

John the Baptist, who heard from his own mother that when both he and his cousin Jesus were in the womb, and when the two mothers met, John leapt in the womb.  John received a vision from God at the Jordan River that Jesus was the Messiah, and John baptized Him and sent his own followers to Him.  John said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”  But now, John is in prison.  Things just aren’t working out the way he planned.  Maybe there has been some kind of mistake.  John is looking for some clarity.

“Who are You, Jesus?”

Jesus tells the followers of John to look at the evidence.  “Go and tell John what you hear and see.”  Jesus doesn’t make claims for Himself, rather He points to His miracles: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

Jesus points out just what was happening, the things that were witnessed by thousands of people during His ministry.  Everyone knew that these miracles were happening.  Even our Lord’s enemies freely admitted it.  We even have a written record of Jesus’ arrest warrant.  His accusers charged Him with “sorcery” – in other words, He really did miracles.  Their explanation for them was not that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, God in the flesh, or the fulfillment of the prophecies of Scripture.  No, indeed.  They charged Him of working miracles by means of the devil.

But to answer John’s question, Jesus points to what everybody knows is happening.  And the things that are happening, as John the Baptist, John the preacher, John the prophet knows – were prophesied in the Scriptures.  

The messengers went back with these words to John.  Jesus is working the very miracles that the Old Testament says the Messiah will do.  Nobody can explain these marvelous deeds; all that His enemies can do is claim He is acting on behalf of Satan.

Of course, as Jesus points out, this is ridiculous.  Satan wishes evil on mankind.  He does not heal.  He does not restore.  He does not reconcile.  He does not revive from the dead.  He does not forgive sins.  None of the miracles of Jesus reflect the work of the devil, but rather oppose the devil.  And when the high priest proposes that Jesus be put to death, creating a conspiracy to carry it out – he says that the problem is that people are believing in Him.  

Dear friends, John’s question is still the most important question in the history of the world: “Who is Jesus?”  The great writer and professor C.S. Lewis, who converted from atheism to become one of the greatest defenders of the Christian faith of all time, put it like this: Jesus is either Lord, liar, or lunatic.

And His greatest miracle of all would happen after His death.  Because our Lord’s execution was such a politically sensitive matter, and because of the holiday that was approaching at sundown, the Romans made extra sure that Jesus had died on the cross.  The soldier plunged his spear into the heart of Jesus, and blood and water flowed from his side.  This is because the pericardial sac around His heart was pierced.  And this is one technique that the death squad had to make sure that the condemned person was indeed dead.  His body was put into a tomb quickly, a large stone was rolled over the entrance, and because of the political sensitivities, a government seal was placed on the tomb.  Breaking it meant a death sentence.  And just to make sure, guards were placed at the tomb as well.

But Jesus rose from the dead.  The angel rolled away the stone.  The guards fell into a coma.  Jesus walked out of His tomb and was seen by witnesses for forty days – including the apostles themselves.  Eleven of the twelve would suffer death for their testimony.  And there are records of historians outside of the Bible, written by non-Christians, that record this weird turn of events – the empty tomb and the claims of resurrection.  

And this threw the entire establishment – the leaders of the Jews and the Romans – into chaos.  The Christian Church would almost overnight grow by the thousands as the Word of God was preached to these early witnesses of these events.

And they were just getting started.  Even members of Caesar’s household converted to the faith.  There are records that the wife of Pontius Pilate, who condemned Jesus, became a Christian.  The Jewish leaders persecuted the Church, and that just made it grow.  The Romans also persecuted the Church, and its numbers exploded.  It was like a raging fire that nobody could put out.  By the year 315, the Emperor himself, who converted to Christianity, made the worship of Jesus the official religion of the empire.  

Jesus continued, and continues, to work miracles through His Word and His sacraments.  Lives are changed.  Even nations are changed.  And no matter how hard dictators and tyrants try to burn the bibles and destroy the churches, this only makes us grow.  The Church of Jesus Christ is unconquerable.  And great minds continue to convert to Christianity – because it is true.

And so the Church continues to do what Jesus did: point to the works of Jesus.  We preach.  We teach.  We search the Scriptures.  We baptize.  We celebrate the Holy Supper.  We forgive, and we are forgiven.  We bring people to Jesus so that they too can enjoy forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And we look forward to His coming again.  To this day, dictators and tyrants are afraid of Jesus.  

People still ask who Jesus is, and we are happy to tell them.  He is indeed God in the flesh, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, the Messiah, the King of the universe.  “And blessed is the one who is not offended by [Him].”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.