Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lent 5 Sermon -- Mark 10:32-45 (LSB Lent 5B)

March 29, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

The incident on the road to Jerusalem pointed out the flaw of sin that lurks within all of us. The Brothers Zebedee, James and John, believed what Jesus had said: “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.” They had become convinced of Jesus’ identity as the Christ: the Holy Spirit had led them to this faith, as they had heard the words of Christ and had seen His acts throughout their three years together. But their belief in Jesus’ identity as the Christ had led them to a wrong conclusion.

There are many times when you will hear about a person’s identity and believe it, but will have incorrect ideas about its significance or influence. So it is with James and John. After hearing the prediction of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they ask for a place of honor: “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory.” James and John had anticipated a glory that Jesus would have after His suffering and death, and they wanted a greater share of it than any of the rest of the Twelve. But what these two disciples ask of Jesus have a worldly concept of glory based upon a flawed understand of Jesus’ being the Christ.

That is why Jesus points out the error of the brothers’ request: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” The place of honor will be given, but it is given in response to suffering and death. Greatness will not be displayed by the giving of random commands to any person they encounter who is of lower rank. Jesus says that is how the unbelievers act, not His disciples: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you.” Any thoughts that James and John may have had about exercising authority by being Jesus’ right-and-left-hand men were to be discarded. There will be a glory for Jesus and His followers, but not like that.

Instead, the glory of God will be shown through acts of humiliation. That is the point of Jesus’ statement about His suffering and death. Everything that Jesus describes will take place to Him: “They will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.” But in these things, the glory of God is revealed, because through these acts of humiliation, a great prize is won and presented: the redemption of the world. As that redemption is achieved, the Eternal Father honors His Son by seating Him at His right hand, and all those who are redeemed shall witness it. That glory has nothing to do with worldly authority.

So Jesus tells the two brothers: “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at My right hand or at My left is not Mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Jesus calls all of His disciples to a life that resembles His: they will suffer for following Him. And even if one of Jesus’ disciples isn’t martyred for the faith, they will still be placed in positions of servitude, just as He was: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

That is the way of life to which you have been called. It is a new way of life, given to you as Jesus has achieved it through His servitude. You have a newness of life, because of Jesus’ identity as the Christ. Because He has offered “His life as a ransom for many,” your sins have been atoned for and sacrifice has been given which redeems you. That is how Jesus has fulfilled His identity—not by lording it over you as the Son of God, demanding to be worshiped, revered, adored, obeyed, and served, but by being mocked, beaten, spat upon, flogged, and killed.

Had Jesus simply exercised divine authority over you, you would still be under divine condemnation. But since “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,” you have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. That is the promise of the New Covenant that the Lord God made: “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

This is how Jesus fulfills His identity as the Christ, as the fulfillment of everything the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system led up to. So the author of Hebrews describes Jesus: “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” Jesus’ identity is wholly wrapped up in His sacrifice for you and the entire world. The glory that Jesus earned from the Father He shares with all of you who had none, so that you may be given it in eternity.

So for all of Jesus’ disciples on earth, there is a life which resembles His. You have been set free by the ransom of Christ’s life. And yet, you are bound to be a servant to everyone else precisely because you have been set free. The glory that Christ shares with you here on earth is to be seen by imitating Him in His humility. This is the great truth that Luther put forward about the Christian life, capturing Jesus’ idea about living as a servant: “A Christian is a free lord, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.” You are freed not to be a selfish tyrant, but to be a servant in what you do to others.

Jesus’ actions done for you turn your minds away from the thinking that James and John exhibited. Once they understood what Jesus’ identity was all about, they grasped the newness of life that He gave. So there was no more arguing about who should sit on Jesus’ right or left. Instead, there was the motivation to extend the love of Christ by both speaking about Him by living among people as He did.

Through your similar actions, others will be able to learn about Jesus’ identity. By speaking about Him and imitating His actions, you will make known exactly who Jesus is: the Redeemer who forgives sins because of His love for the sin-stricken world. You have been freed to do so. You don’t have Satan binding you anymore. You don’t have the corruption of sin keeping you from knowing Jesus and His ways. You don’t have the selfish ambitions driving everything that you do. No, you have been set free from these things. So now, in the newness of life that you possess, you can be a servant and slave to all, as Jesus says.

In that way, you have the identity of Jesus right. It is a full understanding of who He is and what He has done for you. You know that Jesus is the Son of God, but you understand that He is the Son of a merciful God. You know that Jesus is the eternal heir of David’s throne, but you understand that He is a benevolent monarch. You know that Jesus is Lord of all who is subject to none on earth, but you understand that He has become your servant and has given His life in ransom for you.

As that true knowledge and understanding of Jesus’ identity is found in you and expressed that truth in word and deed, so others may learn it as well. And as they learn of who Jesus is, they receive the benefits that He has earned for them as He becomes their Lord. That is the lesson that James, John, and the rest of the Twelve learned from Christ Himself. So you may learn it also, as you have heard the words of Him who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Annunciation of Our Lord Sermon -- Luke 1:26-38

March 25, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

The angel said to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.”

The calendar does read March and we are in the fourth week of Lent, yet you hear about the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. This is no mistake, but is deliberate, since March 25 is the day the Church sets aside to celebrate the Annunciation of Our Lord. In the past, this week of Lent was known as Laetare, which means “to rejoice.” And rejoice you will, for you hear of the incarnation of your Savior, nine months before the celebration of His nativity.

You know well what the angel says to Mary. She is to be the Mother of God, a great privilege and even greater mystery. She conceives though she knows no man. It is the work of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit that makes it so: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” This is how the Son of God comes in the flesh to the world, how the Lord God becomes part of His creation, taking on humanity but losing none of His divinity.

But for this day, as it occurs in Lent this year, the focus will be on what else the angel says to Mary about her Son, God’s Son: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” This Child born in Bethlehem will fulfill all the promises made to David and Israel, the people the Lord God had chosen for Himself. And the great promise is deliverance and an eternal dynasty. Yet, His rule would not be over Israel alone, but over people of all nations.

Today’s psalm includes reference to that: “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of people.” The Psalmist is prophesying about people of foreign lands becoming part of the King of Israel’s realm. Former allegiances are put away; there is renunciation of past citizenship. Instead, these foreigners seek out the heir of David to be their lord.

What the psalm prophesies took place with Solomon, King David’s son. He ruled a great expanse of territory and had wives of royal birth from many nations. But the prophecy is truly fulfilled by the Christ, the Son of God and Son of Mary. He reigns over people of every tribe, race, and nation. The picture of heaven revealed in the Apocalypse shows Jesus as an imperial figure, holding a cosmopolitan court of Jew and Gentile. And that is the fulfillment par excellence of the 45th Psalm. That is the full extent of Jesus’ kingdom as He sits on His father’s throne and rules eternally.

But how does Jesus acquire such reign? It is through conquest, but not an earthly one. Rather, there is a cosmic conquest that Jesus achieves. In the Epistle to the Hebrews appointed for today, the author writes: “When Christ came to the world, He said . . . ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.’” And what was written of Jesus Christ? That He would suffer death, but by His rising again He would bring life to many people and make for Himself a great nation.

That message of the Christ’s work was spoken of by prophets like Isaiah, the same one who said: “Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Through a cosmic conquest over sins and death and evil, the Christ would make for Himself new subjects. Those redeemed by this work would forget their former people and former overlord, instead becoming the Lord God’s own subjects. Again, the Apocalypse says: “They sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.”

The Scriptures tell us of the Christ’s redemptive work, what He achieves by His death and resurrection. It was what Jesus is born to do. This is how He accomplishes what the angel Gabriel said to Mary about Him: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” This given for all to hear as the Lord God’s word was spoken by men and angels.

And what does the Virgin Mary say about what the Lord God says? “Let it be to me according to Your word.” The word has been spoken; let it come to pass. The prophecy has been given; let it be fulfilled. The promise has been made; let it be true. This Word is not simply the message delivered by that one angel to a particular maiden in Galilee. Rather, it is everything divinely said about the redemption that the Christ would accomplish.

Fulfillment of promised redemption: that is the Lenten message. It is necessary for the Son of God and Son of Mary to suffer, die, and rise to life again. It is necessary, because that is how you are delivered from death to life. The Christ brings to pass what had been spoken about Him. But these prophecies were not meant for His benefit, but for yours. What the Son of God and Son of Mary does is for your good, for your salvation. And it is for all who were to become the people of God through the Christ’s work.

So you have sung a hymn that praises the Lord God for acting according to His word. And you have heard the psalm—more divine words—that speaks of what will happen to you: “With joy and gladness the yare led along as they enter the palace of the king.” That is reason for you to rejoice on this day in the middle of Lent. For the Word of God has spoken this great promise to you about the life of the world to come, and it will be fulfilled.

The Eternal Father promised His Son: “I will cause Your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore, nations will praise You forever and ever.” You have done so today, according to His Word. You will do so tomorrow and always, and for good reason: because you have been made the people of God by the Son of the Most High. It is so according to His Word spoken to Mary in Galilee and spoken to you here tonight.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lent 4 Sermon -- John 3:14-21 (LSB Lent 4B)

March 22, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said]: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

Serpents have caused great problems for mankind. It was so in the beginning and is now, but it never shall be world without end. For the promise has been given to mankind: “[The Christ] shall bruise [the Serpent’s] head, and [the Serpent] shall strike [the Christ’s] heel.” The fiery serpents near Mount Hor struck the heels of the Israelites, bringing death with their mouths, just as the Serpent had spoken the death-causing lie to Eve. But in the Garden and in the wilderness, there was no one to crush the heads of those serpents.

You heard that “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” The event near Mount Hor was divine punishment for the unbelief of the Lord God’s people. Though the Lord God had brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and had provided for their welfare during their journey: “The people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses.” They had rejected the providence of God and His acts of deliverance.

For such people, there is nothing but death. The source of life has been rejected and human wisdom has been substituted for divine will. And when the Israelites realized that, they recognized their guilt: “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that He may take away the serpents from us.” The Israelites’ despair had turned them back in penitence to the One who was their Deliverer and Provider.

It was not the Lord God’s will to kill all the Israelites in the wilderness. He had made a promise, a covenant with them, one that He wished to keep, even as His people were not faithful. The Lord God hears what His people say in repentance. And to them He provides a remedy for what afflicts them. In the wilderness, the Lord God does not provide something to crush the serpents striking the Israelites, but He does give them a remedy that removes the serpents’ venom: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’” Life is given in the midst of human death: “So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”

The solution was given for the problem the Israelites faced. Believing in the Lord God’s promise, they could look at the statue and live. Once again, the Israelites were restored. They heard what the Lord God said and saw what He did, and this time they did not grumble and complain. They did not speak out against Moses and the Lord God, but believed and trusted them. And through faith, they were saved. As they believed, they looked to the ensign of salvation and received it.

But what of those who continue to be bitten by serpents, and not the earthly kind? What of those who suffer the poisonous effects of sin and evil, the venom of Satan’s lies and their own depravity? To whom do they turn? Where can they look to be saved? You suffer like the Israelites in the wilderness. You are struck by sin, death, and Satan. Your afflictions may be the result of your grumbling and complaining, your speaking against the Lord God. Other times, it is the result of your unbelief, your rejection of the providence of God and His acts of redemption. And still other times, it is simply the random snakebite, the unexplained affliction that happens in this off-kilter and chaotic cosmos.

St. Paul mentioned the situation of people’s nature as it really is: “You were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The description is comprehensive. Paul’s words detail the venom of sin that courses through mankind, through all people who are bitten by the Serpent.

So to whom do these people—do you—turn for aid? What has been set up for you to look at? That is what Jesus tells you: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Jesus identifies Himself as the ensign of salvation. Those stricken by sin, victims of Satan’s venom, are to look to Him who was lifted on a pole, and there they will find forgiveness and redemption.

The Bronze Serpent remedied the problem that the wilderness serpents caused the Israelites. But Jesus says that He is the solution to the universal problem that the Serpent brought into the world beginning at Eden. Jesus is the promised Serpent-Crusher, the One who brings righteousness to those who lacked it and life to those who were destined for condemnation and death. Jesus acts like that statue in the wilderness, but what He brings to effect is of much greater benefit. It is not simply a temporal aid, but an eternal one.

John explains this eternal benefit that Jesus brings. Many of you know these words so well: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” There is ample reason for the Lord God to condemn the world, just as there was to kill all the Israelites. But in mercy, the Lord God acts in a much different way, bringing salvation to a dying, poisoned cosmos.

And just how is this done? By the “lifting up” of Jesus to be the ensign of salvation for the world. And that “lifting up” is not done in glory, but through the brute, crass actions of Roman auxiliaries and through the duplicitous conspiracy of the Sanhedrin. Crucifixion of Jesus brings the way to salvation for those who have been victimized by Satan, by sin, by their own depravity. For in this way, the Serpent is crushed, so that his poison flows out without the ability to eternally harm. The foot of cross lands solidly on the Serpent’s head.

This is what the Church has confessed for centuries in the Lenten liturgy: “On the tree of the cross You gave salvation to mankind that, whence death arose, thence life also might rise again and that he who by a tree once overcame likewise by a tree might be overcome, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Life comes to you poisoned people, an eternal antidote produced from the fruit of the tree of the cross. For as the merits of Christ’s death and resurrection are dispensed to you through Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Word, and Holy Supper, the venom of sin is counteracted and you are revived.

Then like the Israelites, you are led on pilgrimage to the Promised Land. And on that pilgrimage, you are given that remedy for sin again and again in this wilderness of the world. On that path of life that you walk, following the way of the cross, you also are given great things to do. St. Paul reminds all believers: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Christ’s death brings you the benefit of eternal life. But until you fully receive it at the Last Day, the Lord God also gives you ways to manifest His life that is in you. This you do by your actions that the Holy Spirit leads you to do.

So then the truth of your salvation is seen. The light of Christ shines in you and through you. For you no longer are destined for death. You no longer have reason to complain or speak out against the Lord God. He has delivered life to you and set you on a path to Paradise. There was ample reason for your condemnation, but the Lord God waives it since His Son has removed your guilt, crushed your Accuser, and has given you the newness of life. His will for you has been carried out. And the expression of your new life is shown through what you do in truth, the works you carry out in God, walking in the perfection and righteousness He has given you.

Serpents have been a problem for mankind. With good reason you fear their venom. But the Ancient Serpent, the one who leads people to eternal death, has been crushed. And you have been provided salvation as you look to Him who was lifted up to give you life. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” It had to be that way, so that you who were poisoned by sin may life. And so what had been promised for us men and for our salvation has been done by Jesus.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lent 3 Midweek Sermon -- Psalm 4 (LSB Lent 3H)

March 18, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!”

The Psalmist prays for deliverance, confident that the Lord God will answer. He has been answered in the past, and he believes that it will be so again. But the words of the psalm describe a cycle of despair and hope; the need for help and the expectation that it will come. What David puts in poetic form is the depiction of the hills and valleys of earthly life.

The lot in life for the Lord God’s people is often terrible. That is what the Psalmist shows in his words: “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? . . . There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of Your face upon us, O Lord!’” These are not the statements of one who is content, one who is pleased with his circumstances. But David is not alone in this. His experiences of loss and despair are not unique to him. This evening, you heard of two others who suffered as badly or worse: Jeremiah and Jesus.

Jeremiah’s lot in life was nothing less than miserable. From youth, he was chosen to be the Lord God’s prophet, an offer he couldn’t refuse. And not only was Jeremiah compelled to speak the Lord God’s words, the message was one of condemnation, a screed against the secular and religious leaders of Israel, the first jeremiad. And for Jeremiah’s trouble, he receives punishment, narrowly avoiding death by being cast into a muddy cistern.

Listen to what this prophet says: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you heard. . . . Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.” Note what the prophet does. He makes known that he is a man of God and that his earthly fate cannot change that fact. He will receive the Lord God’s favor for trusting His word of command and keeping it regardless of the people’s actions.

The episode from Jesus’ life that you heard tonight is similar. You heard how Jesus had cast out a demon. But the response of the people was negative: “When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,’ while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven.” Despite His gracious, divine work, Jesus is slandered by the crowd, linked to Satan. The Son of God is dismissed as an ally of the prince of demons.

But Jesus’ reaction is like Jeremiah’s. He does not consume the crowd in a fiery holocaust. He does not mete out divine vengeance. Rather, He speaks the truth to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? . . . Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” The word of truth is spoken regardless of consequence, for Jesus believes and trusts what His Father has given Him to speak and do. And all who believe likewise will be saved: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

The trust that Jeremiah and Jesus had in the Lord God despite the negative settings of their earthly lives is very similar to David’s faith expressed in his psalm. There is a righteous lament over what they and you see in your lives. No prophet should be persecuted. The Christ should not be blasphemed. Kings of Israel should not be opposed. And you should not be tormented by sinful people or your own sinful desires. It’s not right, and you should not pretend that it is. But you are still called to embrace and hold fast to the unchangeable truth of the Lord God’s word, despite what transpires in your lives here on earth.

Like David, Jeremiah, and even Jesus, you have been set aside for much greater things than which occur day to day. A word of truth has been spoken to you: “You are My children, co-heirs of everlasting life with My Son. The strong man Satan who once had enslaved you has been overthrown and bound by My Son, so you are redeemed and freed. Believe this and you shall have salvation. And you may call on Me for deliverance, which may come in this age, but will certainly be given in the life of the world to come.”

That is what David confesses in his psalm: “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him. Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.” The Psalmist recognizes what his true status and identity are. What happens in this life is not an accurate measure of how much the Lord God favors you. The good and evil receive daily bread, even without their asking. But sometimes the godly prosper and other times they are persecuted. The incidents in life can agitate you, and rightly so. But agitation should not lead to sin, especially the great sin of unbelief.

Like Jeremiah and Jesus, David knows what goodness is meant for him and all of the Lord God’s people, including you: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” All the happiness that people receive from this world when their money, possessions, health, and fame abound will pale in comparison to what the Lord God will eternally provide. The salvation from sin, death, and Satan brings such joy, even a joy that needs revealing, because that freedom has no equal on earth.

So in confidence of what the Lord God provides, the Psalmist says: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” This He does for you also, for you will be eternally secure as you trust in the Lord God who died and rose to life for you. For He has redeemed you to be His own, the favored people of God.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lent 3 Sermon -- John 2:13-25 (LSB Lent 3B)

March 15, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

The Jews said to [Jesus]: “What sign do You show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

It should not surprise that the Jews wanted Jesus to give them a sign. After all, His actions were very abnormal. No one had cleared the Temple of the vendors like that in recent memory. Now the Temple authorities had to go round up the oxen and sheep and restore order to the proceedings. The Passover pilgrims would continue to stream into the Temple courts and demand the required lamb for sacrifice. Their pagan coins would have to be exchanged. But Jesus had put a huge crimp into the whole enterprise.

So they ask: “What sign do You show us for doing these things?” Jesus needs to provide some identification after this escapade. The chief priests had authority given to them. The same Lord God who had spoken the Ten Commandments had also entrusted the operation of the Tabernacle and, in turn, the Temple to the Levites. All the vendors and moneychangers had received their permission from the chief priests. But by what right does Jesus “make a whip out of cords” and drive them out of the Temple?

Paul reminds you: “The Jews demand signs.” And for good reason, for this is how the Lord God said that people with His authority would prove it. Jesus was not a Levite, so He could not be one of the Temple leaders. But if Jesus were a prophet, then He would have authority. And all the religious Jews knew that a prophet would be able to confirm what He said and did by providing a sign. So Jesus does: He gives them a sign to confirm His identity and authority.

You heard the sign that Jesus gave which was to prove His identity and provide evidence of His authority: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” What type of sign was that? Utter foolishness, the Jews said: “It has taken us forty-six years to build this Temple, and You will raise it up in three days?” The Temple is a three-storey stone edifice. Three days would give Jesus one day per storey. Our friends in Lancaster County might raise a wooden barn in one day, but not a building of granite and marble. This sign won’t prove anything about Jesus, except that He is a fraud—or at least that is what the Temple authorities thought.

The Gospel Writer gives you a very important key to understanding what Jesus meant by this sign: “But He was speaking about the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” Jesus’ prophetic sign was going to prove more than just why He could clear the Temple, it would also show why the entire Temple enterprise was coming to an end.

John says that “[Jesus] was speaking about the temple of His body.” This means that Jesus is the place where the Lord God dwelt on earth, where He could be found and approached by mortal men for salvation. Jesus was a walking, talking sanctuary—just like the Tabernacle of old. You have already heard that from John’s pen. Those who worshiped on Christmas Day heard about Jesus: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Or more literally: “The Word became flesh and made His Tabernacle in our midst.” Jesus is to be identified as God incarnate.

Because Jesus is God incarnate, His body is the true dwelling place of God. He is the Temple. If so, then He has all authority to clear the grounds in Jerusalem of the vendors and moneychangers, especially if they were unscrupulous in their dealings. As the Lord God incarnate, Jesus can restore His Father’s house, even His own house, to a place of prayer and not a commercial center.

But this isn’t the full extent of what the sign of Jesus’ dying and rising shows. The tearing down of His body and having it raised three days later tells something more. It shows that Jesus has authority, but more importantly it shows that He will be the all-availing, atoning sacrifice offered for the entire world. The sign that Jesus will give will prove His identity as the Messiah, the obedient servant of the Father who brings salvation to mankind by death and resurrection.

Jesus promises that this is going to happen, but no one understands it until the actual events take place: “When therefore [Jesus] was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this.” Everyone had to wait for the events to transpire, and then they could comprehend what was meant by Jesus’ words.

Jesus declares that He will be the source of salvation and that salvation requires the death of God-in-the-flesh, which is an odd concept. Receiving that salvation also requires believing that Jesus is actually just that, even though the religious leaders of Israel didn’t agree and all the earthly presentation of Jesus didn’t convey that at all. Paul mentions the hard-to-believe character of this whole enterprise: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

That people believed Jesus’ miracles can be understood, since you heard from John: “When [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in His Name when they saw the signs that He was doing.” The miracles and wonders do spark belief. But when Jesus speaks about tearing down temples and raising them up, when He calls His disciples to trust Him who will be crucified, then faith is a hard thing. It’s a bit sketchy, a bit iffy. The Lord God, the Author of Life, is made human, but dies. It doesn’t make sense, unless one is called by the Lord God to believe just that.

For you who have been so called, the words of Jesus are understood. You can believe what John said about Jesus: that He is the dwelling place of God on earth, that His body is the true Temple. You can be just like the disciples: “When therefore [Jesus] was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” When called to faith by the Holy Spirit, having been chosen by God Himself, you can hear Jesus’ words and understand what He meant by them and see how His actions are the fulfillment of all the promises of the Scriptures.

When the disciples saw that Jesus had cleared the Temple, “[they] remembered that it was written: ‘Zeal for Your house will consume Me.’” They remembered the words of the psalm that had predicted this very thing. Psalm 69 includes other statements that describe Jesus: “The reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on Me. . . . I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. When the humble see it, they will be glad; you who seek God, but your hearts revive.” Jesus’ actions may have perturbed the Temple authorities and brought their reproach, but to those who believe Him, the acts are worth more than any sacrifice.

Jesus provides the Passover pilgrims and all the faithful people of God a new destination. He is the place where the Lord God is found. He is how the Lord God acts in mercy and compassion for His people. He is the way that salvation is brought to those who need it. The walls of Jerusalem’s Temple would literally be torn down and never be raised again. But Jesus’ crucified body would not be left to decay: it would be raised, just as He said.

You have been called to believe what many in Jerusalem never did. Some may have believed that Jesus was a Man of God, even a prophet or a Messiah of some sort, but not the Redeemer of the world. Others never even got that far at all, but rejected Jesus and His words out of hand. But by the work of the Holy Spirit, you can hear Jesus’ words and believe that you are saved by what they promise. You see that Jesus is the sacrifice of your sins and the source of eternal life to remedy your mortality. You can understand that what Jesus promised had to be that way and it would replace everything that went on in Jerusalem’s Temple, since He was the place where the Lord God dwelt.

The death of God incarnate does not compute in the minds of man, but it makes perfect sense for you, His people: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” So you believe in the folly of the Crucified Christ, and in it you find the authority that He possesses as the dwelling place of God in the world. That is the authority to clear Jerusalem’s Temple and to clear your body and soul of all sin and death. Jesus was torn down, but three days later He was built up again for you and your salvation. So He promised, and so He fulfilled, in order to deliver you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lent 2 Midweek Sermon -- Psalm 121 (LSB Lent 2H)

March 11, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

It is essential to know where help comes from. Who is able to remedy your problem? Who can aid you in your desperation? These are questions to answer before seeking help. We don’t always put it in such grave of terms, but we ask such questions to our preschool children. They are taught to know that one goes to a doctor when ill, one goes to a policeman when lost. These are the proper people because they can help.

But what if those who are trained can’t deliver aid? To whom can you turn? You see that very situation with the Canaanite Woman. As Jesus was in the district of Tyre and Sidon, “a Canaanite woman from the region came out and as crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’” Here the situation presents itself as totally hopeless. No one can help, save for someone divine. And the Canaanite woman puts herself in the presence of that One who is able.

The recognition of Jesus’ ability is alluded to by the title that the woman uses: “Lord, Son of David.” She admits that Jesus is the Christ, the promised descendant of King David whom the Israelites had long awaited. And her plea, “Lord, help me!” places her at the mercy of Jesus. She can look to the hills of Lebanon and find no aid. But she turns to the One who is able: “the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

The faith of the Canaanite Woman and her acts based upon that faith do not go unnoticed by Jesus. You heard His remarks: “O woman, great is your faith!” You heard how Jesus reacts to her prayer, the prayer of total humility and desperation: “Be it done for you as you desire.” As the woman’s prayer was answered by “the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” the Gospel Writer tells us: “Her daughter was healed instantly.”

The Psalmist gives a detailed description of everything the Lord God does for His people. He guards them round-the-clock: “He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” This same Lord God serves as a protective barrier against the extremes of His fallen creation: “The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” The Lord God escorts His people during their earthly lives: “The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”

It is great that the Lord God acts this way for His people. So you can see why people turn to Him for aid. This is why He wants His people to use His name in their prayers, to call upon Him in every trouble. The Canaanite Woman is a great example of this. But it must be recognized that this is a great privilege, not an inherent right. That you can address the Lord God and request His aid is a privilege extended to you; it is an aspect of being His people.

The wrestling that Jacob did with the Lord God helps to illustrate this. As Jacob was alone at the Jabbok River, “a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” This was a theophany, a presence of the Lord God on earth, making Himself available to mortals. And Jacob does not let the man go: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And bless Jacob he does. But lest you think that this was Jacob besting the Lord God and demanding something as a right, listen to Jacob’s words that tell us about this event: “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

Jacob recognizes that what took place through that night should not have. In the presence of the Lord God, he should have died. But the mercy of God permits the event to take place with the final end of blessing, not death. Likewise, in the event with Jesus in Tyre and Sidon, the Canaanite Woman recognizes that she is not worthy or deserving of Jesus’ help. Her prayer should not be answered, but she says anyway: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” And the final end of blessing is seen for her and her daughter.

You heard how the Psalmist describes what the Lord God does for His people. All of it is what the Lord God extends to you as a privilege. Today’s prayer will mention the truth: “of ourselves we have no strength.” But where you lack ability and where you lack worthiness, there the Lord God makes Himself present for your benefit, for your help. It is an act of grace and mercy, not an exchange of services for your goods or a response to your demanding your rights.

And just how does this grace and mercy fully manifest itself? It isn’t in wrestling with God and it isn’t begging for His aid. Instead, that grace and mercy is fully shown when and where you didn’t act at all: in the events of God’s making Himself human and then dying and rising from death. “[Your] help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” but who also became part of His creation in order to redeem it.

The Maker of heaven and earth permitted Himself to be wrestled with and to be beaten, crucified, and buried. Man prevailed against Him, as He allowed it on that day. But He also rose victorious, and now nothing can ever prevail against Him. And through this the Lord God truly became your help for what incessantly plagues you, what neither you nor any man could remedy: sin, death, and Satan. So now you are privileged to call upon Him for aid—to beg and be answered, to be in His presence and be given life. For the Lord God has made it so for you, His people: “The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” So He does for you, even through the grave and to life everlasting on the Last Day.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lent 2 Sermon -- Mark 8:27-38 (LSB Lent 2B)

March 8, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus] called to Him the crowd with His disciples and said to them: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

Jesus says that His disciples will have a cruciform life. It will be so if they believe His words. Jesus’ disciples will imitate Him, and that includes the denial and sacrifice of oneself. It is clear that Jesus must die: “He said this plainly.” The Twelve heard Jesus’ words: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Jesus lays this out as His mission statement—what He is on earth to do.

But then Jesus includes the Twelve and all His followers in the same sort of life. He says that this will be their fate, too: not that every disciple of Jesus will be martyred for the faith, but that they will all sacrifice themselves for His sake and His Gospel’s sake. Jesus is just as clear about that as He was about His own fate: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”

This is an appropriate message any time, but especially so in Lent. Lent is meant to bring to mind self-denial, the very thing Jesus speaks of. His followers are not independent, autonomous beings. They do not make a law for themselves. Rather, they are under discipline, under a rule that is imposed upon them by their Master. This is what Jesus does for the Twelve and for all His followers.

But what does this rule look like? To understand that, you must understand what the Master Jesus did. He predicted His suffering and death at the hands of secular and religious leaders of Israel. But this was not a haphazard, accidental occurrence. Nor was it the result only of crafty work by Jesus’ enemies. This suffering and death that Jesus predicted was purpose-driven. It was foreordained to be.

You heard how the Apostle Paul described what took place through Jesus’ suffering and death: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul’s words explain the intentionality of what Jesus underwent. This was the denying of Himself and His taking up the cross to redeem you.

Jesus’ actions placed Himself under the will of His Father who desired that sinners be reconciled to Him. Jesus was born under the Law, made obedient to all the rules of the Old Testament. He was subservient to His Mother Mary and His Guardian Joseph. And this was so, despite the fact that Jesus was the One through whom all things were made and possessed a glory coequal and a majesty coeternal with the Father. Jesus is under a discipline to justify you by His death and to give you life by His resurrection.

This type of action is what Jesus calls His disciples to. Like He did, Jesus’ disciples must also undergo self-denial, taking up their crosses and following Him. As Jesus’ followers, you are not autonomous. You have orders and commands given to you; they are not of your own design or desire. Your Master instructs you how to live, how to behave toward people within the community of disciples, and how to present yourself to the world. Christianity is more than a set of propositional truths, it is also a way of life and a way to life.

But the self-denial that Jesus speaks of is not simply a loyalty test. It is the way to salvation: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Putting aside your own desires in order to conform to what Jesus says is a matter of faith. It is a trust thing. Do you believe what He says to be true? Is Jesus really the Christ? Is He really the One, the only One, who can reconcile sinners to the Father? Is He the source of forgiveness? Following Jesus means answering these questions affirmatively, so that it is not just a matter of self-denial, it is also a matter of reliance, dependence upon your Master.

This is why Jesus says: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?” Jesus wants you, His followers, to consider those questions. If you do not have yourself under Jesus’ orders, in the way of discipleship, receiving His merits, what do you possess that you can exchange with God for your soul? If you decide to acquire your own salvation, determining your own morality which you will keep, devising your own good works, making your own checklist for salvation, can you present that before the Lord God and demand entry to Paradise? Even more striking, can you simply ignore what the Lord God says and just do whatever you want, period? Then there would be no denying of oneself, no relying on anyone else. But there would also be no justification.

But those who find themselves in Jesus’ fellowship, receiving His benefits, and following His cruciform pattern of life, they partake of all that He has earned for them. “While [they] were still sinners, Christ died for [them].” They were weak, able to do nothing for their salvation, and yet Jesus helped them. “While [you] were still sinners, Christ died for [you].” This wasn’t your own choice; this is what Jesus elected to do for you and to share with you. But this necessarily requires trusting and believing in a Master, a God who is humble, weak, and unimpressive. For that is what Jesus was in His suffering and death. Not only do you not get to determine your own salvation, you don’t determine what your Redeemer will be either.

But this is how you are saved: “Whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Forgoing your self-determination and self-reliance for the sake of following Jesus and believing His acts of redemption and His teaching brings salvation to you. You imitate Jesus as you follow Him to everlasting life. Just as He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant to redeem you, so you make yourself nothing, taking the way of discipleship for your salvation. That is the losing of life that your Master speaks of.

All of this boils down to hearing and believing what the Lord God says to you. Jesus spells out this way of discipleship in His teaching. He is clear that salvation means dependence on Him. He is also clear that His suffering and death were necessary. Jesus doesn’t hide the fact that receiving His redemptive work does not guarantee any sort of earthly success. He warns you that people will hate His followers. And Jesus puts demands on His disciples. He has said so plainly to the Twelve and to you.

For those who do not believe this or do not want this, there is always the self-determinative way of living. It’s always an option. But Jesus says: “Whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes again in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Such an option is not worth choosing: it is eternally worthless.

But for those who have their “minds set on things of God,” there is a blessed fate: “Whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” That faith in Jesus and His words leads to great things when He comes again in His Father’s glory. It’s just what Paul described: “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

As that Holy Spirit has been given to you, you can believe and trust in Jesus and His Word. You can deny yourselves, pick up your crosses, and follow Him who did so for you. For there will be no shame in Jesus and His Word, as you are led by the Holy Spirit to lose your lives for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s. Instead, there will be the eternal saving of your lives: “If while [you] were enemies you were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that [you] are reconciled, shall [you] be saved by His life.” That is the promised finish that awaits you who follow Jesus’ path of discipleship. For the cruciform life has a greater end, the empty tomb. So it was for Jesus; so it will be for you when your Crucified and Risen Lord returns.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.