Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Name:
Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lent Mid-Week 3

Lent Mid-Week 3[1]

February 27, 2008

Text: Phil. 2:5-11:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though
he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness
of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming
obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly
exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the
name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father
(ESV).

Jesus, our Lamb of God, pure and holy, who on the cross didst suffer, is ever patient and lowly (LSB 434). Tonight we meditate on His lowliness, His humility for us and for our salvation.

Humility is hard to find these days. It is not considered a virtue in a society where self-esteem is all-important. In fact, humility is often mistakenly thought of as low self-esteem, considered to be the ultimate handicap of our modern-times. But our Lord Jesus was humble. He was lowly. And He was humble in a way that we, in our pride, cannot even begin to imagine: though Himself God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, He did not count His status as God a thing to be grasped, but humbled Himself. He made Himself nothing. He took on our flesh, became a servant, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He who is eternal God, was made man, for us men, and for our salvation.

That God would humble Himself to take on human flesh was considered by the Jews to be demeaning, by the Greeks to be foolishness. And even in our modern day we consider it beneath God Almighty to become one of us. But God Almighty is not above demeaning Himself for us. It is a mystery above all mysteries, but the Father sends His Son into our flesh, that we might be reconciled to Him, become His own children once again, and worship Him in Spirit and in truth. The events of Jesus’ life, from His incarnation through His suffering and death, is known as our Savior’s state of humiliation. He lowers Himself. The state of humiliation, if you remember your catechism, is defined as that time in which our Lord, having taken upon Himself our flesh, did not always or fully use His divine powers. Being fully God, He only allowed those around Him glimpses of His divinity in the miracles He performed, miracles that were never for His benefit alone, but for the benefit of those around Him, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the dumb, the leper, and those suffering from various diseases, those demon possessed, and even those in need of raising from the dead. But by and large, He appeared to those around Him as just any other man. And that is why the Jews were not afraid to arrest Him. That is why the Romans were not afraid to crucify Him. That is why those who stood by, and even those crucified with Him, were not afraid to mock Him and hurl insults at Him as He hung upon the cross for their sin. The ultimate act of humility is when the Son of God hangs upon the cross, suffers, and submits Himself to death as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is a paradox beyond our human understanding, but in the humility, in the lowliness of suffering and death, the Son of Man is glorified. His glory is to do the work of the Father, obediently, humbly. And that work is saving sinners, saving you, saving me.

Therefore God has highly exalted Him. His state of exaltation begins with His resurrection from the dead. After His resurrection He descends into hell to proclaim His victory over sin, death, and the devil. Then He shows Himself alive, mortal wounds and all, to His brothers and sisters, that they might believe in Him and have life in His Name. And after He has given final instructions to His Church and accumulated sufficient witnesses of His resurrection, He ascends into Heaven where the Father seats Him at His right hand. There He ever intercedes for us before the Father and rules all things at the Father’s side. His enemies have become His footstool. Now, in His state of exaltation, not only as God, but also as man, the God-Man, He fully and always uses His divine powers. Therefore He is with us always, even to the end of the age, in both His divine and human natures. He is with us in a specific way, and this, too, is a paradox. God in the flesh is with us under the lowly forms of water, words, bread, and wine. He is with us in Word and Sacrament. And He will come again to judge. In that day, not only those who believe in Him will confess Him, but every tongue in heaven and on earth and under the earth will confess that Jesus is Lord and bend the knee in humility at His Name. Jesus humbly submitted to the will of the Father, therefore the Father has exalted Him to the highest place, and given Him the Name that is above every Name, the Name of God, YHWH, for Jesus is the very revelation of God in human flesh.

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus is the perfect model of humility. He denies Himself, always putting the interests of others above His own, submitting Himself to death for their sakes, even death on a cross. But you have not been humble. You have been proud. We even tell ourselves to be proud of who we are, to feel good about ourselves, to love ourselves, to believe in ourselves, to believe we’re worth it and that we should have everything our way. The commercial world is built on such notions, and we buy it hook, line, and sinker. Have you not told your stories in such a way that you always look good? Have you not hidden your sins and weaknesses in the recesses of your heart? Is it not true that pride has kept you from private confession and absolution? You wouldn’t want the pastor to know you’re really a sinner! Have you always put your neighbor above yourself? Have you not always been concerned with your own best interests? Have you been concerned with God’s glory, or with your own? You are full of sinful pride. Repent. This is not the way Jesus would have us think of ourselves. He would have us be humble, as He is humble.

But thanks be to God, Jesus is so much more than an example of humility for us. He is humble in our place. In Baptism, the humility of Jesus is credited to us. We are given His perfect humility as a gift, along with the forgiveness of all our sins, including the sin of pride, by virtue of His death on the cross. But not only is this so, in Baptism, Jesus also imparts His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, unites us with the resurrection of Christ, so that we, too, may walk in newness of life, root out the sinful pride of our old Adam, and in humility, submit to the will of God. First God gives us the humility of Jesus. Then He actually makes a beginning of humility within us. This humility will not be complete in us until we are in heaven or our Lord returns, and every tongue confesses His Lordship. But it is a holy work that God has begun in us, and He will bring it to completion. Until then, we crucify our sinful pride, our sinful flesh, daily drowning it in the waters of Baptism, daily repenting, daily returning in faith and humility to God who gave His Son into the humility of death for us, only to exalt Him to the highest degree, and exalt us with Him, bestowing on us the Name that Jesus bears, the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] This year’s midweek services at Epiphany are based on Lamb of God, Pure and Holy (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008). The sermons are mine, but they are based on the sermons from the book.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Third Sunday in Lent

Third Sunday in Lent
February 24, 2008
Text: John 4:5-30, 39-42

There is nothing more refreshing or more necessary for a dry mouth and a parched throat than water. We need water to live. When we do not have enough water, our body tells us so. We thirst. The human body is roughly 60% water. The brain is 70% water and the lungs are 90% water.[1] We are water and dust, physically speaking. And the water outweighs the dust. Drinking water is next to breathing in terms of importance for keeping our bodies alive and in good health. But one thing is for certain: no matter how much water we drink at any one time, we will have to drink again. We can never drink enough to quench our thirst forever. Thirst is a part of the fallen creation.

And if physical thirst is a part of the fallen creation, how much more is spiritual thirst, dehydration even, a part of the fallen creation! If we need physical water, two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen to live, how much more do we need the living water that only Jesus can give! In our text, Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a cup of water from the well. He is tired and thirsty from traveling in the hot sun, and He must rely on the woman’s charity if He is to have a drink. But there is something much more important behind Jesus’ request for water. In asking for water from the famous well of Jacob, Jesus opens up an opportunity to discuss the much more important matter of living water with the woman. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10; ESV).

Now we should point out from the outset that good Jews do not speak to Samaritans, and good Jewish men do not speak to strange women without the presence and permission of the husband or father. When the disciples come back, they are astonished that Jesus is speaking with her (v. 27). Furthermore, as it turns out, this woman is particularly disreputable, having had five husbands and living in sin with another man. But Jesus offers precisely this woman His living water. Everyone who drinks of the water from Jacob’s well, or any well, or any tap for that matter, will be thirsty again, “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v. 14). This is the very water this sinful Samaritan woman needs. For she is parched. She is thirsting.

The Samaritans were confused about how to assuage their spiritual thirst. For them, YHWH was one among many gods, perhaps their chief God, but the Samaritans were the remnants of the ten Northern tribes of Israel taken captive by the Assyrians, who intermarried with the pagan nations upon their return from exile. This woman’s people practiced a religious mixture of the faith of Abraham and pagan idolatry. Add to this religious confusion the fact that this woman was a sinner, one known for her many marriages and unlawful cohabitation, and we see just how much she is in need of the Savior and His living water. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” says Jesus (Matt. 9:12). This woman is sick and needs the healing medicine, the living water, of the Great Physician of her soul, Jesus Christ. Jesus does not excuse her sin. He forgives it! He calls her to repentance and gives her the only medicine that can heal her. Jesus offers her living water, and in this way He knows that He is offering that living water not only to the woman at the well, but to all the Samaritans, separated so long from their Jewish brothers and sisters, and to all sinners, everywhere, and at all times, wandering around for so long, spiritually parched, in the wilderness of sin.

So what is this living water, of which those who drink will never be thirsty forever? It may be tempting to automatically equate it with Baptism, but Baptism is only a part of it, the means of receiving it. The living water is the gift of life and salvation in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and all the other gifts that come along with that. In short, the gift is Jesus Himself, the Messiah, come to save His people from their sins. That is the living water. If you have Jesus and His gifts, you will never be spiritually thirsty again, for He offers water living and plentiful. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Jesus is the righteousness of all who hunger and thirst, and He alone satisfies. The living water of Jesus quenches the driest of sinners.

Beloved, you are thirsty, are you not? You are spiritually parched. You have been wandering around in the arid wilderness of sin for too long now. You have sought water in all the wrong places. Money could not quench your thirst. Sex could not quench it. Not one of the many fleshly pleasures in this life could begin to slake your spiritual dehydration. Not even the good things in life, your spouse, your children, your friends, even your fellow church members can give you what you need outside of Jesus Christ. Repent. Ask Jesus and He will give you living water, His life and His Spirit, His redemption and salvation. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (Is. 55:1)! Do not refuse. Do not harden your hearts as did the Children of Israel at the waters of Meribah (cf. the OT Lesson, Ex. 17:1-7). Drink deeply of this grace given in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. For He loves you. He died for you. He shed His blood as your ransom, to make peace for you with the Father. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

How do you get this living water? Jesus gives it abundantly to all who worship Him in Spirit and in truth, which is to say, all who receive this living water in the Word and Sacraments. This water proceeds from the spiritual rock, which is Christ, who goes with His spiritual Israel, the Holy Church. When the side of this rock is struck, water and blood flow out, filling font and chalice, giving birth to the Holy Bride of Christ, His new Eve, the Church. Jesus comes to the well seeking His Bride, just as Abraham’s servant sought Rebekah for Isaac at a well (Gen. 24) and Jacob sought Rachel at a well (Gen. 29). Jesus is indeed greater than the patriarch Jacob. He is the new and greater Jacob. He seeks to gather His Bride into His house, here, where He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Eph. 5:26), where He might whisper His wooing Word into her ear, forgiving all her sins, and prepare a wedding feast for her at His Table. This is the living water. It is to this that Jesus calls you this morning.

Those worship the Father in Spirit and in truth who worship where Jesus is present. And He is present here in His congregation, speaking His Word into our ears and hearts and feeding us His true body and blood, given into death on Calvary’s holy mountain, and raised to life again on Easter morn. We do not have to worship on Mount Gerizim, as the Samaritans mistakenly did. And we no longer have to worship in the Jerusalem temple. Jesus is the location for worship in Spirit and in truth. Jesus is the new Temple, the dwelling place of God with men. Wherever Jesus is, there are those who worship the Father in faith, in the Holy Spirit, in the truth of His Word.

May God bestow on us His grace that we, too, might worship Him in Spirit and in truth along with the woman at the well and the other Samaritans who came to Jesus in faith that day. Yes, there were others, for when the woman encountered Christ, she could not help but tell others about Him. “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). Some of the woman’s fellow Samaritans believed on the basis of her word. She spoke the Gospel to them, and they believed in Christ. “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did’” (v. 39). But the woman did not stop there. She brought her townsfolk to a place where they could hear Jesus for themselves. “And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world’” (vv. 41-42). So also may we, who have come to be convinced ourselves that Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world, speak His Word to others, and bring them here, to the Church, where they can hear Him for themselves, and become members of His holy Bride, washed clean of all sin, united to His death and resurrection, and given living water in abundance.

And may God grant us His grace that we not neglect to drink this water ourselves. Water is necessary for the health and survival of our bodies. The living water of Jesus is necessary for our spiritual and eternal health and survival. If you knew the gift of God and who it is that speaks to you, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water, such that whoever drinks from it will never be thirsty forever. You do know the gift. You receive it right here where He has promised. And you know the voice of the One who speaks to you, your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Come often to His house. Come to the waters. Receive His gifts. Worship in Spirit and in truth. For the water that Jesus gives becomes in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Percentages from USGS, http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lent Mid-Week 2

Lenten Mid-Week Two[1]
February 20, 2008
Text: 1 Peter 2:21-24:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an
example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit
found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered,
he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He
himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to
righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (ESV).

Jesus Christ, our Lamb of God, pure and holy, who on the cross didst suffer, is also ever patient in His suffering on our behalf (cf. LSB 434). And in this way He has left an example for us in our own suffering. Jesus is not an example of how we save ourselves. He saves us. He is not an example of how we merit God’s favor. Jesus has merited God’s eternal love and favor for us. But He is an example of how we as Christians should bear the holy cross, the trials and temptations that God, in His love and wisdom, allows us to undergo as we live our earthly lives, fulfill our vocations, and await our deliverance. We should bear our cross patiently, as Jesus did. We should suffer patiently, following in the steps of our Lord, entrusting ourselves to Him who judges justly.

God is the One who alone judges justly. Jesus patiently endured His suffering by entrusting Himself to God, the eternal and just Judge, to whom belongs vengeance for evil and reward for good on the Last Day. In other words, Jesus could suffer patiently because He knew He was in God’s hands. He knew the end of the story. He knew that God would judge Him righteous and raise Him from the dead and seat Him at His right hand. Therefore suffer He did. He suffered for you and for me. He suffered for our sins. St. Peter quotes Isaiah 53, the great “Suffering Servant” chapter of the Bible, in our text: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (v. 9). These words, and all of Isaiah 53, speak of Christ our Lord. He suffers all manner of evil and even death at the hands of sinners, unjustly, having done no evil and spoken no evil Himself. He does so because in this way, as Isaiah says in the same chapter, He bears our griefs, carries our sorrows, is wounded for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by His stripes, His wounds, we are healed (vv. 4-5). Christ does not die primarily to be an example for us, although He is that. He dies first and foremost as the sacrificial Lamb of atonement, the payment for our sins. We put Him on the cross by our sin. On the cross He dies for every last person in the world who has ever lived or ever will live. That includes you and me. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). All your sins were placed upon the head of Jesus on Good Friday. That includes the sin of impatience in suffering.

Before Jesus is your example, He is your sacrifice of atonement. He bore your sins in His body on the tree. He died for all those times you did not bear the cross patiently, all the times you refused to follow Jesus even unto death. He died for all those times you refused to die to the self, sacrifice yourself for others, and even bear unjust punishment from your enemies. When there was deceit in your mouth, there was none in His. When you reviled those who persecuted you, He did not revile, but blessed. When you threatened those who threatened you, He did not threaten, but prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). When you refused to turn the other cheek, He gave His cheeks to those who pull out the beard; He hid not His face from disgrace and spitting (Is. 50:6). He fulfilled God’s holy and righteous Law in your place. He patiently endured suffering both as your sacrifice and when you could not. And here is the good news for you. In Baptism, you are given all the credit for His perfect righteousness and His patient endurance, His active and passive righteousness we call them in Christian theology, and His sin-atoning death covers you. Your sins are washed away and you are pronounced righteous in Christ.

But there is even more than that. You are also given power to live a new life in Christ. You die to sin and live to righteousness. You are given the Holy Spirit, who not only calls you to faith, He also sanctifies you, makes you holy, and gives you power to bear the cross patiently. In this way, Jesus is your example. What you could not do, He has done for you, and now gives you power to do yourself. He gives you power to turn the other cheek. He gives you power to bless those who curse you. He gives you power to take up your cross and follow Him. You do so entrusting yourself to God who judges justly. You know the end of the story. You know that He has pronounced you righteous on account of Christ and will raise you from the dead. You know that you, also, will stand before the throne of God and of the Lamb and worship with the choir of saints and angels. In the mean time, you hurt, it is true. But you know that your Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, pure and holy, has borne your griefs, and by His wounds you have been healed. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] This sermon is based on Lamb of God, Pure and Holy (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008). Though the sermon is mine, I am indebted to the authors for many of the ideas expressed here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Second Sunday in Lent

Second Sunday in Lent (A)
The Baptism of Madelyn Renee Krenz
February 17, 2008
Text: John 3:1-17

Can an infant have faith? Can an infant trust in Jesus Christ for his or her salvation? This is a vital question, particularly on this day as we have witnessed the Baptism of Madelyn, for St. Paul writes in this morning’s epistle lesson that one is accounted righteous before God by faith alone. St. Paul writes, “And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5; ESV). Christ’s righteousness and forgiveness and salvation are received by faith, and faith alone. “That is why it depends on faith,” writes Paul, “in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (v. 16). Faith is the receiving hands of the gracious gifts of God, including salvation itself. So if infants cannot have faith, cannot trust in Jesus Christ, how are they to be saved?

Our Lord Jesus, however, declares that infants and little children are to be our models of faith. Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matt. 11:25), νηπίοις in Greek, infants! “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (19:14). In this case the Greek word is παιδία, again meaning infants or very young children. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child (παιδίον) shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15). What does Jesus mean by all of this? Think of the faith of little children even just in human terms. They do not question what they are told. They just believe. Anything is possible. If Dad says there was once a boy named Jack who climbed a bean stock into the clouds and found there a giant, it must be true. Of course, Dad would be lying if he represented that story as true to his child. But the child would believe it nonetheless. How much more when God our heavenly Father, who cannot lie, tells His children of remarkable things, like the death of His Son on the cross which brings forgiveness of all sin, the creation of the heavens and the earth in 6 literal 24 hour days, a flood that covered the whole earth leaving only 8 people and the animals they had gathered into an ark to survive, or that bread and wine are also really Christ’s body and blood. Little children have no problem with any of these things. They believe God. They trust Him. If God says their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, little children believe Him. Why would they doubt Him? Infants and little children do, indeed, believe. It is we adults who have trouble.

But how do little children, and particularly infants believe? They cannot begin to intellectually grasp the faith. They cannot verbalize their faith in Jesus Christ. But who ever said we are saved by intellect or the ability to verbally communicate? You won’t find that anywhere in Scripture! Faith is trust, not intellectual or verbal ability. God gives this faith, this trust, to infants in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, as you have witnessed this morning. Thus Jesus says in our text, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6). Madelyn was born of the flesh on February 7th. But she is a daughter of Adam. In Adam’s sin, all mankind fell. She has received the original sin of our first parents from her immediate parents. And believe me, even at this young age, as precious as she is, she is guilty of many actual sins as well (especially in the middle of the night!). She is wholly corrupt. It is true of her also, what the Psalmist, King David, said of himself in Psalm 51: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5). From the moment of conception we are sinners, in the spiritual possession of the devil, spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. Our will is bound. We cannot love God or serve God. We are wholly opposed to God. It breaks my heart to say it, but my daughter is no exception.

And that’s why God has given us Baptism. We must be born again of water and the Spirit. We need a new start. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. To be born again means to be baptized! Baptism is the means by which infants come to saving faith. It is the means by which infants become believing members of God’s family, the holy Church. It is the means by which their sins are washed away, their old Adam, the sinful flesh is crucified, and the new man daily emerges and arises. It is the means by which they are incorporated into and given the righteousness, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and everything else that He has won for us. It is the means by which an infant’s will is freed from the bondage of the devil and bound to God as Father, the means by which the spiritually blind are given sight, the spiritually dead are raised to new life, and those at enmity with God are reconciled to Him. All that is Christ’s becomes the possession of the Baptized, even as all their sin and wickedness becomes Christ’s and is nailed to the cross. Never underestimate the power and importance of Baptism. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit works faith in the heart. This is particularly true of the infant, but it is true of you, as well, no matter how old you were when you were baptized.

I think the big hang up when it comes to infant faith is the nature of that faith. When adults have faith, they are led to intellectually think about that faith and confess it with their lips. Infants cannot do that, and this is one reason we have sponsors, who along with the parents and congregation verbally confess the faith on the infant’s behalf. But again, faith is not the power of the intellect or the ability to confess that faith with the mouth. Faith is trust. An infant’s faith in Jesus is much like an infant’s faith in his or her mother and father. An infant cannot intellectually think through the trust she has in her parents. She cannot confess that trust. She doesn’t even know her parents’ names. But trust them she does! I am amazed at how my daughter trusts my wife and me. She knows our voices. It calms her to be in our arms. She depends on us for her every need. She knows that we will provide for her every need. That is faith! In the same way my newly baptized daughter trusts her Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit has given her faith in Him, much the same way St. John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit and before he was even born, leapt in his mother’s womb when he heard the voice of the pregnant virgin Mary. Dr. Luther writes:

"What if all children in baptism not only were able to believe but believed as well
as John in his mother’s womb? We can hardly deny that the same Christ is present
at baptism and in baptism, in fact is himself the baptizer, who in those days came in
his mother’s womb to John. In baptism he can speak as well through the mouth of
the priest, as when he spoke through his mother. Since then he is present, speaks, and
baptizes, why should not his Word and baptism call forth spirit and faith in the child
as then it produced faith in John? He is the same one who speaks and acts then as now."[1]

Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, baptizes the infant and grants His Holy Spirit, who brings the baptized to faith. We can be certain that infants believe because they are not responsible for their own faith. Neither are you, by the way, you adults. Faith is God’s responsibility. It is His gift. It is a passive act on our part. And the nature of Baptism as the passive reception of faith and the gifts of God is supremely illustrated by infant Baptism. Luther continues:

"I maintain as I have written in the Postil that the most certain form of baptism is child
baptism. For an adult might deceive and come to Christ as a Judas and have himself
baptized. But a child cannot deceive. He comes to Christ in baptism, as John came to
him, and as the children were brought to him, that his word and work might be effective
in them, move them, and make them holy, because his Word and work cannot be
without fruit."[2]

Infants can and do most certainly believe when they are born of water and the Spirit in Baptism. By this faith they receive eternal salvation, the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness of Christ, and every other grace and blessing. In short, they receive the very kingdom of heaven. And all of you who are baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection, are likewise the recipients of these gifts. You receive His kingdom as little children. All of you children of Adam who have received the washing of regeneration can know for certain that you have a loving God, a God who calls Himself your Father, who sent His Son Jesus to die for you, and who has also raised Him from death, that you, likewise, might rise from the dead. The promise is for you and for your children. You have been given saving faith in Baptism. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Christ has snatched you from the devil’s grasp. He has rescued you from the tyranny of sin. He has delivered you from death. That is why in every circumstance, be it filled with joy or fraught with sadness, in the day of strength and in the day of temptation, in faith and in doubt, you can confidently declare, “God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!” (LSB 594:1). And then you can make the sign of the cross and speak those words, that Name, the Christian family Name which was bestowed upon you in your Baptism: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, “Concerning Rebaptism,” Luther’s Works: American Edition Vol. 40. Conrad Bergendoff and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1958), 242-43.

[2] Ibid., 244.

In Memoriam +Lina Lissy VanderBaan+

In Memoriam +Lina Lissy VanderBaan 1920-2008+
February 16, 2008
Text: Isaiah 40:1-2

Dear Jack, Jane, family members, friends, and members of our church family, grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hear again the Word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah (40:1-2; ESV):

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

It was almost three weeks ago now that Jack called me late in the night to tell me that Lissy was in the hospital and that there was little hope for recovery. After I hung up the phone, as is my custom when encountering such news, I prayed for Lissy and for Jack and for their family, commending them to the Lord for comfort and strength, for healing according to God’s will, and for a blessed death if healing is not His will. Then later that night as I lay awake in bed, thinking and praying, I turned on my mp3 player (Lissy probably never knew what an mp3 player is!) and I turned to the music of the Church, this time the cream of the crop, Handel’s Messiah, as the tenor heralded the Word of the Lord recorded in the prophet Isaiah, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.”[1] And I thought at that moment how appropriate this verse is as the earthly life of a saint in Christ Jesus comes to an end and she is born into heaven to await the resurrection with Jesus.

For Jesus was Lissy’s comfort throughout her earthly life, and she is even now beholding the face of her Savior and singing with the choir of saints and angels, music beyond anything Handel ever could have imagined. Lissy is comforted, for her warfare is ended and her iniquity is pardoned. Her Lord Jesus paid the awful penalty for Lissy’s sin, and for yours and mine, with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death on the cross.

Yes, Lissy was a sinner in need of redemption. She would be the first to tell you that. We sometimes think we should only say good things about a person at their memorial service. But that is not the case at a Christian memorial service. Christians are blunt about the human condition. All mankind fell in Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden, and ever since, Adam’s children have been infected by original sin, which produces all manner of actual sins. Lissy was no exception. She was a sinner. And the wages of sin is death. But she was also baptized. The Holy Spirit had called her to faith in Christ by the Gospel, enlightened her with His gifts, sanctified her, and now He has completed His work in her by keeping her in the one true faith unto everlasting life. Lissy was baptized into Christ. Or better, she is baptized into Christ. She is baptized into His sin atoning death. And she is baptized into His victorious resurrection from the dead. So she has the full and free forgiveness of all her sins, she lives with Jesus in heaven, and she has the sure and certain promise of her own resurrection from the dead to come. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his,” writes St. Paul (Rom. 6:5). “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (v. 8). As a baptized child of God our heavenly Father, Lissy has given all of her sin to her Lord Jesus Christ to be punished on the cross, and she has received all of Christ’s perfect righteousness, so that when she stands before the Father, He only sees the righteousness of His Son. That is how she is able to stand before the Father today in heaven. The Father loves her as He loves Christ, His Son. Lissy’s warfare is ended. Her iniquity is pardoned. She is comforted.

Lissy would speak this comfort to you as well. She would tell you that you are a sinner in need of a Savior, too. You are Adam’s children, and Adam’s children cannot free themselves from their bondage to sin. The wages of that sin is death. But Lissy would remind you that Christ can free you from that bondage. He is faithful, and has forgiven your sins. You, too, can take comfort in Christ’s death and resurrection. For you who are baptized into Christ, His death and resurrection are yours as well, just as they are Lissy’s. And if you have not been baptized, why delay? Take this comfort upon yourself that Christ has died for you and wishes to bring you into His holy Church through Holy Baptism and give you the sure hope of eternal life through His blood and the resurrection from the dead. Lissy would be the first to tell you that there is no comfort like that which Jesus gives. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).

Jesus Christ is your only comfort in life and in death. And the comfort He gives is not just a platitude. He gives you the real and certain comfort of a physical resurrection from the dead. I can say this with absolute certainty that the body of Lissy VanderBaan, the body we laid to rest in the cemetery this morning, will physically rise again. Jesus Christ will call Lissy, body and soul, forth from the grave on the last day. This is how it will happen according to St. Paul: “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage,” comfort “one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:15-18). Yes, comfort one another with these words from the Lord God. We who are baptized into Christ will see Lissy again! She will rise from the dead. And we who are left will be caught up together with Jesus and Lissy and all the saints in the clouds to meet the Lord, and be eternally with Him and with Lissy and with the saints in our new, physical, resurrection bodies… these very same bodies, but made perfect, without sin and without pain and without death… living in a new heaven and a new earth. For the Christian weighed down in grief at the death of a loved one, these are comforting words indeed.

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.” In Christ, Lissy’s warfare is accomplished, finished, completed, and she is at peace. And so also your warfare is accomplished. In Christ, Lissy’s iniquities have been pardoned, forgiven, wiped out and separated from her as far as the east is from the west. And so also your sin is pardoned. In Christ, though Lissy has died, she lives. And in Christ, you also join her in eternal life. In the sad days ahead as we grieve our temporary separation from Lissy, may our Lord Jesus comfort us with His life, His death, His resurrection for us, and the forgiveness of sins that He has won for us. May He sustain us in the faith of our Baptism by His Word and Sacrament. May He keep us in the one true faith, just as He kept Lissy, until the day we, too, are born into His heavenly mansions. Our Lord is faithful, and He will do it. Therefore even in the face of death, comfort one another with these words. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Liner notes, Sir Thomas Beecham: Handel Messiah (BMG Classics, 1992) p. 9.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lent Mid-Week 1

Lent Mid-Week One[1]
February 13, 2008
Text: 1 Cor. 1:21-25:
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it
pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For 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. For the foolishness of God is wiser
than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (ESV).

Our Lenten meditations this year are based on the hymn, “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy” (LSB 434). Jesus Christ is the pure and holy Lamb of God who on the cross didst suffer as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice of atonement for our sin. He made peace for us with the Father by His holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death. And that is the whole content of Christian preaching: Christ crucified. Regardless of what the world demands, regardless of the world’s disdain for Christ and Christianity, regardless of whether the world considers us to be fools for believing in a God who dies for us, we preach Christ crucified. That is the charge given to the Church, to proclaim Christ crucified to a world lost in sin and death.

It is not a message the world wants to hear. The wisdom of God appears to be foolishness to the eye of the sinful flesh. We don’t always catch just how illogical the cross is because we have heard it preached so often. But understand, to the Jews and Greeks of the ancient world, a crucified God was an impossibility. And the scruples of the modern world will not allow for such a thing either. Why would almighty God submit Himself to death? That’s not very almighty! A wise God would win the victory over sin, death, and the devil by His power, according to the Greeks. And the Jews did not believe that God would demean Himself to take on human flesh and humiliate Himself to die on a Roman cross. The Old Testament declares that if a criminal is put to death by hanging on a tree, “you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God” (Deut. 21:23; emphasis added). Crucifixion is death by hanging on a tree, and it is an unclean, bloody, cursed mess.

No, the world does not want a crucified God, and truth be told, according to our sinful flesh, we, too, are scandalized by Christ and His cross. I suspect that is why so many prefer an empty cross to a crucifix. I know you’ve been told that an empty cross is a celebration of the resurrection, but that’s actually something we came up with later to explain why we had banned the crucifix. Besides, crucifixes are too Roman Catholic, or so the story went. But I thank God that Epiphany has a crucifix. Crucifixes are not specifically Roman Catholic at all. Crucifixes are Christian. For we preach Christ crucified. It isn’t pretty, but it’s the real deal. There is no other Christianity. There is no Christianity devoted to the empty cross. There would be no resurrection, no Easter, without the death of the Son of God on Good Friday. We sinners want our Easter without Lent and Holy Week. We want glory without suffering. We want life free from pain and death. But this is our sinful flesh. This betrays our union with the world. Repent. Forsake your idolatrous addiction to a cross-less, crucifix-less religion and turn to the One who sacrificed Himself on the cross to redeem your idolatrous heart for Himself, Christ crucified.

We are always tempted to preach something other than Christ crucified, are we not? After all, the cross doesn’t sell. It doesn’t meet anybody’s felt needs. We could fill these pews to overflow if we just did something other than preach Christ crucified. But we’re always talking about things like sin and death and blood, ugly things, sad things, and it’s such a downer. But isn’t that why Christianity is so real? This is the one place where we don’t dress the truth up in euphemisms. In the preaching of the cross, we must call a thing what it is. Here there is plain speech about the good, the bad, and the ugly. You are a sinner. You have made yourself into your own god. You have sought your own benefit and pleasure rather than that of your neighbor or the glory of God. You have not loved God above all things. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself. You have done things you shouldn’t have and neglected to do the things you should. You have coveted, stolen in your heart if not with your hands. You have lusted, committed adultery in the heart, if not with your body. You have hated, murdered in your heart, if not physically red-handed. That’s plain speech. For once someone is leveling with you. You’re in trouble. You’re a sinner, and the wages of sin is death. But let me level with you some more. There is a way out. God Himself has given it. It is not by your own sacrifices or good works. Not all the blood of bulls and goats could cleanse you from your sin. But the blood of the Lamb of God, pure and holy can. God Himself has provided a Lamb without blemish to die upon the altar of the cross for you. In Him there is full and free forgiveness of all your sins, victory over sin, death, and the devil, and new and abundant life. Believe it and it is yours. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even the chief of sinners, even you, even me.

And, to speak plainly, God delivers the benefits of that sacrifice to you in very tangible ways: Scripture and preaching, Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. It’s foolishness to the world. It seems like God would use something a little more spectacular than words and water and bread and wine to convey His gifts. But of course, our God is not that of the world’s imagination. He is not wise or powerful by the world’s standards. But it is the world that is without understanding. The Holy Spirit has called us to faith so that we can understand spiritual things, like the fact that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). For us who have been called by the Gospel and enlightened with the Spirit’s gifts, the preaching of the cross is no stumbling block. Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God for salvation to all who believe. And what great grace that we have been numbered among those who believe in Him, all because someone came to us preaching Christ crucified. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Epiphany’s Lenten series this year is based on Lamb of God, Pure and Holy (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008). While I wrote this sermon myself, I used many of the thoughts of the authors of the book, to whom I am indebted.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

First Sunday in Lent

The Divine Service at Epiphany was cancelled this morning due to weather. The following is the sermon that would have been preached.

First Sunday in Lent (A)
February 10, 2008
Text: Matt. 4:1-11

Wherever our Lord goes and whatever our Lord does, He does for us and for our salvation. He does so as our Brother, united with our flesh by His blessed incarnation and His holy nativity. He is baptized by John in the Jordan, thus sanctifying all baptismal waters. He is baptized into us, into our sin, our unrighteousness, and our death, that we might be baptized into His holiness, His righteousness, and His life. He is inseparably united to us, and we to Him. He is the new and greater Adam, the head of the new creation.

So it is that where our first father, Adam, failed, bringing sin and death into the world, and where we have failed ever since, our Lord goes into battle for us, in our place, for our salvation. He is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1). He faces our old wily foe head on. He wins the victory for us, resisting the temptation of that sly serpent. And He sets the pattern for our own Christian life as we daily battle against the sinister lies of the evil one.

Our Lord was hungry. He fasted. We Lutherans don’t fast enough. Lent is a good time to fast in preparation for the Feast of Easter. Clearly our Lord Jesus fasted and even commended it as a good practice, reminding us that unlike the Pharisees, we should not make a show of our fasting, but let it be a spiritual exercise between us and God. He says, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (6:16-18; ESV). “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training,” says Luther in the Small Catechism with regard to preparation for the Lord’s Supper. Fasting is a form of outward discipline, a crucifying of the old sinful flesh, bringing our bodies into subjection to our spirits and to the Holy Spirit, and focusing our minds on the Word of God and prayer. Jesus needed that focus as the Holy Spirit led Him out into the wilderness to be tempted, for He was about to engage in serious spiritual battle with the devil.

Notice that the Spirit Himself led Jesus out to be tempted. It is not that the Spirit was the cause of the temptation. God tempts no one. The devil does the tempting. But God does allow us to go through times of trial and temptation, in order to refine our faith and lead us to cast ourselves on the mercy of God, mortify the flesh, rely on the Word of God and the precious Sacraments for strength, and pray in faith for deliverance. That’s what we do whenever we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation.” In this case, the Spirit led Jesus to be tempted so that He could square off with humanity’s greatest enemy, Satan, who is a real and present enemy, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8).

The devil preys upon our weaknesses. He is cunning and devious. Though he is not all-knowing (for though he is a powerful angel, he is not omniscient, as God is), the devil knows us too well. Jesus was hungry, for He had been fasting. “(T)he tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread’” (Matt. 4:3). Notice the devil’s tactic. He not only tempts Jesus to break the fast and look to the needs of the flesh. This is not enough for the father of lies. He also tries to introduce doubt as to whether Jesus really is the Son of God. “If you are the Son of God…” whispers Satan into Jesus’ ear. “If you’re really the Son of God, prove it. Start acting like it. Command these stones to become bread. A true Son of God could do infinitely more if He wanted to. And anyway, if God is really your Father, He really ought to take better care of you than this. Imagine, driving His Son into the wilderness to starve!”

How does Jesus respond to the devil’s assaults? You know the answer. And it is the answer for every single temptation of Satan you ever have to face in your daily battles with the spiritual forces of this present darkness. Jesus answers the devil with the Word of God. “But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’” (v. 4). Have you ever been tempted by the devil to believe that God doesn’t really love you? That you’re not really His own beloved child? Have you ever been tempted to believe that God has been unfair and even unloving to you, depriving you of bread and driving you out into the spiritual wilderness? This is the voice of that great deceiver, the devil. He is trying to tempt you in the same way he tempted Jesus. Resist him, firm in your faith, and in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. Do what Jesus did. Quote the Word back to Satan. For man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. The Word is your daily bread and your lifeline, the sword of the Spirit, your sure defense against the attacks of the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.

Twice more the devil sought to tempt our Lord to rebel against God and doubt His divine Sonship. In each, case, our Lord resisted by speaking the Word. But remember, the devil and his evil angels also know the Word of God, and will always seek to misquote it and use it against us. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is no exception. Satan took Jesus to Jerusalem and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (v. 6). Of course, the devil is right. God did say these things specifically about Jesus in His Word. But how easy it is to make the Bible say things it doesn’t say when the Word is quoted out of context. This is why false doctrine is so dangerous and rears its head so often in the Holy Christian Church. In this case the devil fails to mention the rest of the verse, where the Psalmist declares, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11; emphasis added). The ways of the Lord Jesus are only those in accordance with the will of the Father. And the will of the Father is as Jesus reminded the devil, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt. 4:7). Once again, Jesus was victorious over the devil by making God’s Word His defense.

But the devil gave it one last try. He took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. His last temptation struck at the very heart of the First Commandment: “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (v. 9). Now of course, the devil doesn’t have the authority to make good on his promise. He’s lying! He’s the father of lies! The truth has never been a concern of his. And as the Son of God, Jesus already possesses these kingdoms, though not yet in a visible way. But beneath this temptation is the assertion that there is perhaps an easier way for Jesus to reclaim the world for Himself. Perhaps the cross is unnecessary. It would be silly for Jesus to suffer and die for the life of the world when the devil could easily hand Him the kingdoms of the world on a silver platter. Satan is tempting Jesus to forsake the cross and take the glory road. And our very salvation is in the balance. Thank God, Jesus once again counters Satan’s attack with the Word, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (v. 10), which is the same as to say, “You shall have no other gods before me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Beloved in the Lord, the devil could not win against our Savior, Jesus. In the face of God’s holy Word, the devil must flee. And where one has gone through times of trial and testing there is also strength from our God and His ministering spirits. “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (v. 11). What is true for Jesus is also true for you, for Jesus was baptized into you, and you have been baptized into Him. All that He does He does for you and for your salvation. He resists temptation and is victorious for you and for your salvation, in your place, so that His victory over the devil is your own. He has given you a pattern for resisting the devil in your own Christian life, armed with the Word of God. And where the devil has been successful in tempting you, well, Jesus has taken care of that, too. He died for you, and His death on the cross is made your own in Holy Baptism. Likewise His resurrection from the dead. Everything that belongs to Jesus, everything that He has done and all His righteousness before the Father is your own in Holy Baptism. And He gives you power, power to resist the temptations devil, power to resist the allurements of the world, power to resist the base desires of your own fallen flesh, power to live each day in His grace, in faith as a child of God. In other words, not only does He justify you, pronouncing you righteous, He also sanctifies you, makes you the holy one He has declared you to be. All that went wrong with Adam is made right in Jesus Christ. “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). Thanks be to God! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ash Wednesday

It's been a hard week of Winter weather in West Michigan. Epiphany's Ash Wednesday and First Sunday in Lent services were both cancelled. What follows is the Ash Wednesday sermon that would have been preached this week. We are using the CPH series, Lamb of God, Pure and Holy for our mid-week Lenten meditations. The sermon is mine, but I'm using their texts and some of my thoughts have their source in the sermons from the book. What I appreciate about the series is the devotional book that goes along with it, which we gave to each family in the congregation.

Ash Wednesday[1]
February 6, 2008
Text: 1 Peter 1:18-19:
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your
forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious
blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (ESV)

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, Pure and Holy, spotless and without blemish, who alone is the all-sufficient sacrifice for our sin. All the sacrifices of the Old Testament, the blood of bulls and goats, the spotless lambs without blemish offered by the children of Israel up to this time had to be repeated again and again, because they were not sufficient for sin. They were only shadows of the reality to come in Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This Lamb is offered up on the altar of the cross: “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5).

This evening we sit in the sackcloth of repentance, our foreheads marked with ashes in the pattern of the cross. This is good and right. It is time to make a clean break with our sin. It is time to crucify the flesh and remind ourselves that we have been redeemed, ransomed from the empty way of life we inherited from our forefathers. What is that empty way of life? It the way of sin. It is the way of the child who does not love, honor, and obey his parents. It is the way of the parent who does not love her child enough raise her in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and exercise discipline when necessary. It is the way of the man who despises his neighbor in his heart, and so is already guilty of murder, and perhaps even murders his neighbor’s reputation by spreading juicy gossip about him. It is the way of the spouse who cannot avert her gaze from Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome, while her oblivious husband sits next to her at the restaurant. It is the way of the drunkard and the glutton and the sloth. It is the way of the tax-fraud and the tyrannous employer and the lazy employee. And it is the way of every one of us who worship our own selves as gods. It is the way of idolatry, of those who fear, love, and trust in money, things, sex, other people, and most of all, the self, before God. Repent.

Because that is not who you are anymore. That is your former way of life, but it is not your way of life now. You have been ransomed. You have been bought at a price, and the ransom is precious. You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold, as precious as these things may be. You have been redeemed with the very blood of the Son of God, the Lamb without spot or blemish, the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices. There can be no more precious ransom than the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of the only Son of the Father.

Let us then confess our sins unto God our Father and receive the forgiveness He imparts to us to freely in Christ Jesus. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). The whole life of the Christian should be a life of repentance, a daily returning to our Baptism, turning from sin and to God for forgiveness in Christ, a daily drowning of the Old Adam in us and a daily rising of the new man in Christ. But it is also good that the Church has set aside specific times for discipline and repentance. Repentance is like prayer: If we don’t set aside specific times for it, we tend to neglect it. Lent is such a specific time for repentance. Lent is a time of repentant preparation for the joyous festival of Easter. We prepare by rooting out the sin in our lives and giving it over to God to be dealt with. And it is dealt with in this way: It is crucified on the cross of Christ, covered in His blood, buried in His tomb, separated from us as far as the east is from the west, never to be mentioned again, unable ever to harm us again. So don’t hold back. Don’t hold back any sins from God. If you hold them back, how can they be forgiven? No, give them over to Jesus. He died for every sin you’ve ever committed or ever will commit. Don’t hold onto those sins. They are the marks of an empty, futile way of life. They promise so much but deliver only death. Rather, hold on to Jesus. Hold on to Jesus in faith. For He is faithful to you. He loves you. He died for you. He has redeemed you. And He will raise you up from death.

For it is this Jesus Christ, true God, begotten from the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, who has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[1] This year’s Lenten series is based on Lamb of God, Pure and Holy (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What Parents Owe Their Children

Pastor’s Window for February, 2008

What Parents Owe Their Children

Beloved in the Lord, As my wife and I prepare for the birth of our first child, I have been spending some time studying and meditating on what our God has to say about parenting in the Holy Scriptures. What does it mean to be a faithful Christian parent? This is an important question not only for me to consider as a father, but to teach you about as your pastor. It may be difficult for you to take parenting advice from me, since I am new to parenting. But what I want to do in this article is tell you what the Holy Scriptures say, rather than giving you my own personal advice. In other words, this is not my personal opinion, but the Word and command of God. What does God say in His Word about the office of parenthood? What do parents owe their children?

Parenting is a vocation, a holy calling from God, and indeed, one of the most difficult to fulfill faithfully. It is also one of the most important God-given vocations. In the Table of Duties from the Small Catechism, Luther quotes St. Paul’s words from Eph. 6:4: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Luther’s Small Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1986]). From this we learn that the most important responsibility given to parents by God is the spiritual formation of their children. This is reinforced in the Catechism as each chief part bears the heading, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” This takes work. St. Paul calls it “training and instruction.” Other translations use the word “discipline” in place of “training.” Learning the faith is not all coloring books and crafts. It is also serious bookwork, learning the Holy Scriptures, the Catechism, the liturgy, and hymns by rote, so that these things become a part of the child’s heart language. This is why daily family devotions are so important. This is why you should encourage your child to do individual devotions as well. And this is why you should require your child to be with you in church, to pay attention and follow along in the hymnal, to attend Sunday School, Catechism Class, and be involved in the congregation. I can’t stress this enough. Too often I have heard parents in this congregation tell me, “You can’t require your children to participate in church. It will just drive them away. You’ll understand someday when you have kids.” Beloved, this is hogwash (yes, that is the correct theological terminology). This is a lie of your sinful flesh attempting to let you off the hook of having to do something hard, that is, be a parent to your children. Repent. You have a responsibility, a command from God, to make sure your children are learning the faith, even if they don’t want to. You owe such spiritual leadership to your children. There is also this promise attached to the command: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6; ESV). It is true that not every child of faithful Christian parents remains in the faith. Children have to believe for themselves. But children who are given a thorough grounding in the faith from early childhood are much more likely to remain in their baptismal faith throughout their lives.

Of course, you also have a responsibility to provide for your children’s physical and emotional needs. You should love your children, feed them, clothe them, provide a roof over their heads. Our heavenly Father is our model: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15-16). This providing also includes discipline. Why is our culture in need of a show like Super Nanny? Because parents have forgotten that the discipline of children is their responsibility and charge from God. We need a television show to remind us of this. But the Bible has always been clear: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:22). Parents who use verses like this to justify abusing their children are certainly sinning and acting outside of their vocation. But God-pleasing discipline is not optional for Christian parents. It is for the good of our children. Here again our heavenly Father Himself is our model: “we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them… For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:9-10). You are not called to be your children’s buddy. You are called to be their parent. Sometimes you have to do things that do not please them, but hopefully as they grow older, they will respect you for it, and perhaps even thank you.

As earthly parents, we are never perfect. We often fail and fall into the sinful trap of doing what is easiest or most convenient. So as earthly parents, we cast ourselves as children on the mercy of our loving Father, who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him into death for our forgiveness. We repent, confess our sins to God, receive His forgiveness, and go back to our vocations praying for God’s grace to do better. God is always a faithful Father to us. We are His own children in Holy Baptism. He gives us the strength to do what we are called to do as Christian parents.

The Peace of the Lord be with you all,
Pastor Krenz

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Last Sunday after the Epiphany/ Transfiguration of Our Lord (A)
February 3, 2008
Text: Matthew 17:1-9

No one can see the holy God and live. When Moses asked to see the Lord’s glory, the Lord hid him in the cleft of a rock and covered him while the divine glory passed by, and only allowed Moses to see His back, because, the Lord declared, “you cannot see my face and live” (Ex. 33:20; ESV). The problem is that sin and holiness do not mix. Poor, miserable sinners cannot survive unmediated divine holiness. So when the prophet Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (Is. 6:1), he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5). Isaiah knew that a sinner could not see the face of God and live. He would have died had an angel not cleansed him with a burning coal: “Behold, this [burning coal] has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Is. 6:7). Yet in our Old Testament lesson (Ex. 24:12-18), “Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank” (vv. 9-11). God is present on the mountain in His glory. The men see Him, they eat, and drink, and God does not lay a hand on them. What is it that allows these men, these sinful men, to eat and drink in the presence of the holy God and not perish immediately? They are covered in blood. “And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (v. 8).

By now the phrase, “blood of the covenant,” should be ringing some bells. It could also be translated, “blood of the testament,” the same word in Hebrew and Greek, and, of course, you know where I’m going with this. What allows us, as sinful men and women, to eat and drink in the presence of the holy God and not perish immediately? We are covered in blood. We are covered in the very blood we are given to drink every time we gather for the Lord’s Supper. We are not just covered in the blood of bulls and goats. Those sacrifices pointed forward to another, greater, once-for-all sacrifice. We are covered with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the blood of the covenant. That is the New Testament. The blood shed on Calvary’s cross for the forgiveness of your sins and mine. The blood that is given to us along with the very body of the Son of God for us poor sinners to eat and to drink. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).

The blood of the Old Testament sacrifices had power to cleanse because of its connection with the blood of Jesus Christ. But what gives the blood of Jesus Christ its power? Because we dare not be deceived on this point: If Jesus’ blood is only that of another man, we are still in our sins. Jesus of Nazareth is fully man, but He must be more than that. He must also be fully God. This is why the article of doctrine commonly called the Two Natures in Christ is so important. Jesus must be man if He is to be our representative, our vicarious substitute before God, be tempted in every way as we are, fulfill the Law in our place, and be punished in our place. But if He is just a man, and even a perfect man at that, His righteousness and sin-atoning death cannot be credited to us. He would only have died for Himself. He must also be God, so that He can bear the load of the whole world’s sin, fulfill the Law perfectly, give us His perfect righteousness, defeat Satan, and finally defeat death in His resurrection. The God-man alone can serve as the one mediator between God and men because He is both God and man.

Well, what does all this have to do with the Transfiguration? When Peter, James, and John ascend the holy mountain with Jesus, they know full well that He is a man. But in case they missed it, Jesus is going to make it absolutely clear that He is not just any man. He is also God. The Transfiguration is the epiphany, the manifestation, of Jesus’ divine nature. God is present on the mountain in His glory. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shown like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matt. 17:2). Moses and Elijah represent the testimony of the whole Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets, as they appear with God the Son. Jesus is the Messiah to whom they had always pointed. The three apostles are bewildered by all of this. They know something great is going on, but they’re not quite sure what. Peter does not even know what he is saying when he declares, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (v. 4). Peter is right in that it is indeed good for them to be there, but it is not good for them to stay. It is also good for them to descend the mountain so that Jesus can continue on the way to the cross for the salvation of the world.

The Father also testifies to Jesus’ divinity, just as He did at Jesus’ baptism. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (v. 5). The disciples are terrified. They, too, know that sinners cannot be in the presence of the righteous and holy God and live. But like Moses and the priests and the elders in the Old Testament lesson, they don’t die. Why are they safe? They are safe, because God has come to them in human flesh. God has come to them in Jesus. “Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (vv. 7-8).

The three apostles, Peter, James, and John, behold all of this for a reason. Later, after Jesus’ resurrection, they are to declare this event to the entire world, so that all may know that they are covered in the righteous blood of none other than the Son of God. He is not just some Tom, Dick, or Harry off the street. He is God in human flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. It is His blood that covers the apostles and you and me so that we can come before a righteous and holy God without fear, without punishment, without God’s wrath. In Christ, God is covered in our flesh, and our flesh is covered in God’s blood. So we stand before God righteous and pure with the righteousness and purity of Christ. And we eat and drink before Him as children at His Table, a Table He Himself has set for us with His Son’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

But how can we be sure? We don’t have the benefit of beholding the Transfiguration with our own eyes. How can we know for sure that the blood shed for us, the blood with which we are covered, the blood we drink in the Lord’s Supper, is the blood of the Son of God Himself? We can be sure because the Word of God says so. We have to take God at His Word as He speaks through His holy prophets and apostles. St. Peter actually says the Word is more sure than his own human experience of the Transfiguration. Remember, Peter was on that mountain. He wanted to stay and build three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah: “we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (1 Peter 1:18). But he writes, “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (v. 19). In other words, Peter is saying the same thing the Father said of Jesus at the Transfiguration: “This Jesus is God’s own Son. Listen to Him. Listen to Him as He speaks to you in His Word. Listen to Him as He calls you to repentance for all your sins, as He speaks His forgiveness over you and bespeaks you righteous. Listen to Him as He calls you to holiness and eternal life. Listen to Him as one day He will call you forth from the grave to live anew and forever in a new heavens and a new earth.” The Scriptures are the very voice of Jesus, and so the voice of Almighty God. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (v. 21). So you can be sure that this Word is for you. God is covered in your flesh and you are covered in His blood. So you come into His presence here in this place this morning as His children, washed in Holy Baptism, to hear His Word and feast before Him on His Son’s body and blood. You do so with no fear of death. For you are covered in blood. Your sin stained robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). And you are called by His Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.