Easter Thoughts from Arthur A. Just Jr.

9780758606716_p0_v1_s260x420“Yet the Creator, who took on flesh and was born into His creation, is at this moment of death, bringing in new and eternal life, a new creation.  The darkness is a sign that already the end of the old world has come in a preliminary way in the death of Jesus (cf. Luke 21:25-26; Acts 2:20).  A new and eternal day, a dawn from on high, is about to break forth and shine forever on those who dwell in ‘darkness and in shadow of death’ (Luke 1:78-79).

“With Jesus’ death, the old order finally gives in to the curse of death brought on by Adam’s sin.  At the same time, Jesus’ work of atonement is completed, and He is about to enter into His own Sabbath rest (Luke 23:54, 56).  God’s provision for His new creation is completed; the new order is ready to shine forth, and it will do so with the first morning light of Easter.  Together, darkness and light – the three hours of darkness while Jesus is on the cross and the brilliant light of Easter morning – inaugurate the new creation, the eternal Sabbath rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9-10).  The new day of Sabbath rest has that beginning, but it will have no end; in the end times there will be no darkness, only light (Revelation 21:23-25); no crying or morning from suffering and death, only joy (21:4).”From Arthur A. Just Jr.’s book “Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service” published in 2008 by Concordia Publishing House, page 92.

Lenten Reflection

Luke 14:7-14

PRBC Cross7. Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, 8. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, 9. And he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

12. He said also the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends, or your brothers, or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

In this passage, Jesus is making his way towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. He is making his way towards the cross to give his life for you. He is going there to win forgiveness, life and salvation for you. On His way to Jerusalem Jesus is helping people. He is curing people. He is healing people. He is teaching people. And he is facing opposition from those who believe in their own righteousness, from those who do not believe they need forgiveness of sins from Jesus. Most of the Pharisees belonged to this group of people.

On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus stops by the house of a Pharisee to share a meal. This, of course, is striking because the Pharisees, in general, do not view Jesus favorably. When Jesus is there they watch him closely to see if he will break their law in some way. Yet Jesus, the divine Son of God, knowing their thoughts, knowing their opposition to him, knowing the plans they have for them stops to eat with them.  And while Jesus is there he teaches.

Jesus teaches, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Of course this plays out in everyday life. No one likes to be around a braggart. People generally prefer to be around people who aren’t always talking about their own greatness. Yet this teaching runs far deeper than a lesson in morality. Jesus’ chief concern here isn’t really about whether or not a Pharisee gets embarrassed at a wedding feast. Chances are these men already have a pretty good understanding of the social etiquette in their own social circles.

Jesus’ teaching here is a call to humility in the presence of a Holy God who is inviting us to the wedding banquet of His Son. The humility Jesus calls us to is the humility of a child of God. It is the acknowledgment that we do not deserve to be children of God, to be invited to the wedding feast, to be welcomed into Heaven in the first place. This humility causes us to say, “I, even I, am the chief of sinners.” It confesses, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This humility never sparkles in the eyes of the world. In fact it goes against every inclination of our heart. Too often we want to come into the presence of God on our own terms. We want to come on the basis of our own goodness. We want to come robed in our own glory. We want to be acknowledged as the most holy, as the most important. And pretty soon we are choosing the places of honor for ourselves based on our own perceived goodness. This will never do.

Jesus did not go to the cross to give us a little help on our journey to Heaven. He did not go to the cross because all we need is some inspiration to spur us on to ever increasing heights of love and good works. Jesus went to the cross because we are sinful and unclean. He went because we are the beggars who cannot repay Him. He went so that we might receive forgiveness of sins from Him. The attitude God desires us to bring to His house is one of humility. It is an emptiness of spirit that says, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.” It resembles a kid who shows us up at our door on Halloween with an empty bag hoping that we might put something in it. It is a brokenness of spirit that takes the lowest seat, so that Christ might give us his righteous through the preaching of the Gospel and then at the last day, Jesus, having filled us with His righteousness and merit, might come and say to us, “Well done good and faithful servants. Come, move up higher.”

This Lenten season let us reflect on Jesus. Let us reflect on Jesus, who for us and our salvation suffered and died. Let us give him thanks and praise that he has assured us a place at the Heavenly Wedding Feast that is not based on our own natural goodness or merit but on his mercy and grace.

Ash Wednesday

My niece Amy and I have a game that we play.  I call it tickle training.  When we play I have Amy stand close to me and raise her arms above her head.  Then I hold my hand up in a claw and slowly move ever so closer to her side.  Amy is extremely ticklish so I don’t know why she ever consents to playing the game, but bless her heart, she tries so hard to stand there as my hands inch in closer and closer for the tickle, but she just can’t do it.  Before I can even touch her, her strength of will caves in and she runs away giggling so hard that I might as well have been tickling her the whole time.

Amy and I have had plenty of tickle matches in the past, so she knows what is in store for her.  She can feel it before it even happens and in the end, the knowledge of what she is about to endure is simply too overwhelming and being unable to overcome it she runs.

Our text this evening tells us how Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  From here until the end of Luke, Jesus is all about the business of heading towards Jerusalem.  He is on a beeline for it even though he knows exactly what awaits him there – suffering, rejection and death.  Yet he does not run away nor does he cower in fear rather he set his face to meet his destiny.

And once Jesus set his face toward his final destination, there was no stopping him.  When Jews traveled to Jerusalem from where he was, typically they would circumvent Samaria – such was their distaste for it – but Jesus went right on through.  It was the quickest path to where he was going.

Jesus’ focus on his mission was also evident in how he addressed those who had interest in following him.  When one said he would follow Jesus wherever he would go, Jesus told him that the Son of Man had no place to lay down his head.  Jesus had no place of rest or residence to call his own.  Such comforts would only serve as a temptation to stay his mission as he journeyed on his way to the cross.

Another person asked to be given time to first bid goodbye to those at home before following Jesus.  To him Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  One who doesn’t look straight ahead when plowing the field is going to have furrows leading everywhere but straight.  Jesus would not look back.  He could not look back.

For Jesus, acceptance, family ties, and worldly cares could not stand in the way of his pursuit for his crown – of thorns.  But what could possibly inspire Jesus to be so resolute?

In a few moments we are going to partake in an ancient rite of the church – the Imposition of Ashes.  When you come forward, some ashes will be smudged on your forehead and the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” will be spoken.  The rite is a stark reminder that we are mortal creatures all with the same end in sight – death.  Despite all our medical advances, despite healthier life styles and an abundance of food the death rate in the world remains – one death for every life.  “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  They are the words of judgment God spoke to Adam after he and Eve rebelled against God and tonight they are spoken to us as well.

But the smudge made upon our foreheads isn’t just any smudge.  The ashes are put upon our foreheads in the sign of the cross – the same cross that Jesus went to with all the purpose of heaven behind him.  What could possibly inspire Jesus to be so resolute?  It was the will of the Father, the endowment of the Holy Spirit and his own love for you all joined together for the purpose of saving a lost and desperate creation.  The cross placed upon our foreheads is a sign and confession of our faith in the one who redeemed us upon the cross.

The sign of the cross made in ash reminds us of how we were sealed with the Cross of Christ and marked as his at our baptism.  The cross reminds us that in our baptism we were joined with Christ in his death.

The ashes and the cross together remind us that while we will still suffer death on this earth, death will not have the final word.  In our baptism, not only were we joined with Christ in his death, but we were also joined with him in his resurrection.  His victory will be ours as well.  In the cross placed upon our foreheads Christ tells us once again, “You are my beloved child.”

Luke 9:28-45

icon-transfigurationWhat do you say when you see the impossible?  Peter saw the impossible.  He saw it many times.  He saw Jesus raise the dead, heal the blind and infirm, and calm the stormy seas.  He stood witness as Jesus fed 5000 people with but a few loaves and fish.  What do you say when you see the impossible?

After Jesus fed the 5000, he asked his disciples who the common crowd thought he was.  Jesus knew people all over were talking about him.  Some thought he was John the Baptist raised from the dead; others thought Elijah or some other prophet from long ago.  Those were the rumors, at least and the disciples confirmed as much.  Then Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was.  Peter, after witnessing the miraculous feeding of the 5000 answered, “[You are] the Christ of God.”  It was Peter’s great confession and after seeing the impossible, it was all he could say.

I expect this was a high point for Peter.  To finally confess that this man who he’s been following is the Christ, the anointed one from God… It’s hard to go back on something like that once it is said aloud.  In many ways, it was like a marriage proposal.  Once the “will you marry me,” or the “yes” is out there it is really hard to go back… and rarely does one want to.  At that point, one’s heart sees only a blissful future.

Once Peter confessed Jesus to be God’s Christ, once it was out there, Peter must have felt like the wheels were in motion for something great.  This is God’s Christ he is following.  This man is going to change the world.  He will be the example to follow.  He will make us all better people.  No longer are people going to be hungry, no longer will there be pain and disease or lousy rulers and regimes.  This guy is going to set things right.

Peter was on top of the world when Jesus decided to take him, James and John to the top of the world to pray.  They went up the mountain and during the course of his prayer and while the three disciples fought against sleep Jesus’ appearance changed.   And like the vampires in that awful movie Twilight, he became all sparkly.  Then the ancient Jewish heroes Moses and Elijah appeared out of nowhere and started talking to Jesus.

Again, what do you say when you witness the impossible?  “Master, it is good for us to be here,” Peter blurted out, “let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!”  Peter didn’t want to leave.  He liked what he saw.  It was good.  It was glorious.  It matched his vision for what the Christ should look like and how life could be with Jesus ruling the world. “Let’s stay in this place.  Here everything is good!”

Like Peter, we find a glorious Christ attractive.  A miracle worker and a teacher like Jesus is just the sort of person we want to follow.  He is the kind of person who can give a boost to good people like ourselves.  He’s the kind of guy who can dig in the spurs and inspire us to live better and be better.

We aren’t addicted to sin; we just have a little problem and by the grace of God and a little hard work that can be taken care of.  Positivity is our bread; an encouraging word is our wine; with them we can be all that God wants us to be.  We can get better.  If we just work hard enough we can take the bad and make it good.

One of my favorite movies is the Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  At the beginning of the movie is a pleasant scene in a beautiful rural village called Hobbiton.  It is a happy scene.  Everything is green, people are cheerful and happy.  Gardens flourish, children play, food is plentiful, a party is in the works and people are happy.  But it only lasts for about 10 minutes before war, hunger, pain, and suffering assault our senses for the rest of the 10 hour epic.  While the trilogy is very enjoyable, I always find it hard to leave Hobbiton.

We have a natural aversion to evil, which is probably why so many of us prefer the Sioux over that other school.  We don’t like to call something evil or corrupt or foul and if we do it is something that can be fixed with effort or better and more comprehensive policy.  But the reality is that evil is the reality.  What’s worse is that it isn’t just something out there, but that we are a part of it.  We are not good people and if history tells us anything it is that we are not getting better.  Romans chapter 3 helps us here.  “There is no one who is righteous, not even one… there is no one who seeks God.  All have turned aside… there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.”

The world is a place of evil.  We are a part of that.  Where there are people, there is sin.  Where there is sin, there is suffering.  Where there is suffering, there is death and none of it can be called good.  The world needs more than either we or Peter want to believe or are able to give.  The wickedness of the world itself testifies as much.  Peter’s response was wrong, but fortunately his wasn’t the only response.

A cloud came and overshadowed the disciples.  Understandably they became frightened and as they entered into it, the voice of God broke in, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

If there was doubt about whom Jesus was, God’s voice settled it.  He is God’s Son.  As God’s Christ, he is God’s chosen one.  While God’s words alone may not have shocked Peter and the disciples, but how Jesus defined them sure confused them.

After Peter identified Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus told them that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected, and be killed, and on the third day be raised again.  At the end of our text this morning, Jesus told the disciples the same thing; that he would be betrayed into human hands.  And when Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah in the glory of their shimmering sparkly-ness, the topic of discussion concerned Jesus’ departure to Jerusalem – they were talking about the gruesome suffering he would soon endure and his impending death on a shameful piece of wood reserved for the worst criminals.

Jesus knows the state of the world.  He was not disillusioned by anything the world presented.  Looking at the whole of humanity, he could see that none were righteous, not in the least.  Looking at you and I, he could see what we cannot; the chains of sin forged with links signifying our own stubborn desire to free ourselves with good works, good intentions and an inability to see ourselves as we truly are, sinful human beings.

We truly are in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves.  Any other confession is just a lie.  Jesus knew this.  He knew our true need and our need took him to the cross.  On the cross, Jesus called our sin, sin; he called our corruption, corruption and he took it and bore it all in his flesh upon the cross.  Jesus owned up to that which we could not and would not and he did it for you.

Christ went to the cross so that rather than us doing good works under the pressure of restoring the world or earning grace, we may do them to demonstrate the mercy and love of God.  Christ went to the cross so that rather than us being nourished by positivity and encouraging words – food that will only leave us wanting – we may eat of his body and drink of his blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

“For the forgiveness of our sins.”  Forgiveness isn’t an effort to hide or downplay our sins..  Forgiveness doesn’t look at a wrong and say, “that’s okay,” rather it looks at our sin, and names it for what it is – sin.  Through the cross, God delivers to you in the waters of baptism, in the bread and the wine and in the preaching of the Word the declaration that you are free from the blame and guilt of your sin.  You are free to see yourself as you truly are and know that God loves you and died for you.

This is Christ’s word to you today.  Today God says to you, “I love you.  I went to the cross for you knowing full well all that you are and all that you have done.  For the sake of my Son, I forgive you and I name you my child.  You are mine.”  Amen.

Sermon on Luke 3:1-18

Sermon on Luke 3:1-6

Introduction to the text: Repent, the Lord is coming

                In today’s text, God gives to us two things. The first is a call to repentance. The second is a promise.

                Luke writes, “The word of God came to John… and John went proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

 

The Word comes to us in real time, in real space through real people for real sinners

 

                This “Word of God” came to John in real time and in real space. It came when a man named “Tiberius” was the Emperor or Caesar. It came while certain other men were governors or tetrarchs or priests. The “Word of God” was revealed while John was “in the wilderness.” The Word of God comes in real time, in real space, to real people with real sin.

This Word came to John who is referred to as “the son of Zechariah.” John the Baptist has already been introduced in Luke’s Gospel. Indeed before he was conceived, his birth was foretold by the Angel Gabriel who said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And he will be great before the Lord. And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” John was born as the Angel promised. And now, having received the Word of the Lord, he goes out with the Spirit of God to proclaim God’s message for his people.

 

God’s message is two-fold. The first part is “repent.”

 

                The first part of God’s message is repent.

John’s appointed tasks are “turn many to the Lord,” “to turn the hearts of the father’s to the children,” and “the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” In short he is to “make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” In doing so John proclaims a baptism of repentance.

The content of John’s preaching of repentance begins with our sin. He says to those who come to him, “Repent ye brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” He does not say, “Come here you wonderful good people. Let me tell you how special you are. No, John says “Repent, God’s wrath is coming.”

This message of sin is a message that we do not really enjoy listening to. No one likes to hear, “You are full of wickedness and sin. The venom of asps is on your lips. Your heart is deceitful – do not trust it.” Yet this is the message that we are given.

We are descendents of Adam. We are heirs of his sin. Sin grows in us as naturally as fruit does in its tree. Sin twists and corrupts the good creation God has made in us. Sin corrupts even the best of our works and the most natural of our desires.

When the crowds come to ask John “What must we do? How can we bear good fruit?” John points them back to God’s law. He tells them, “The one with two tunics must give to the one who has none.” That is to say, “The ones with plenty (and that would be most of us) must share with those who have little.” More succinctly – love your neighbor. Tax collectors ask John, “what must we do?” And John tells them, “Do not collect more than you are authorized.” That is, “You shall not steal.” More succinctly – love your neighbor. Soldiers ask John, “What must we do.” He tells them, “Do not extort money by threats or false accusation.” That is to say, “You shall not steal. You shall not kill. You shall not bear false witness.” More succinctly – love your neighbor.

The law of God is not hard to understand. It can be summed up in one easy sentence – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” The difficulty we have is this – the sin, the old man within us, does not do this. The sin within us cries out, “Watch out for number one!” Our old, sinful nature directs us to guard our own rights, to get our own ways.”

The sin nature in us likes to be called a “good servant.” But it also likes to be served rather than to serve. It likes to be honored rather than to give honor.

Because of our sinful nature we are as able to supply the righteousness God requires in his law as we are to fill the Grand Canyon with a spade. Because of our sinful nature we are as able to love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves as we are to level the Rocky Mountains with a shovel.

Jesus makes this clear when he is approached by a rich ruler who says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus points him back to the Commandments. Jesus points him back to the law. The ruler responded, “I have kept all these from my youth.” But Jesus responded, “One thing you lack. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then come follow me. But the man could not do this. He loved his possessions and his life too much – so he walked away sad. The disciples and those who saw this happen were astonished and they asked Jesus, “Lord who can be saved?” Then Jesus told them, “With men this is impossible. But everything is possible with God.” The rich ruler could not supply the righteousness God requires in his law – nor can we. There is only one person who has supplied the righteousness God requires. That person is Jesus. For after saying, “What is impossible with men is possible with God,” Jesus told his disciples, “See, we are going to Jerusalem and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophet will be fulfilled. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked, and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

John’s preaching of repentance is not just an exhortation to, “Be nice.” He did not just come to say, “Shape up.” No, John, as he is preaching repentance, comes to preach the fullness of the requirements of the law. He came to preach a law we cannot keep. He came to humble us, to prepare us to hear Good News.

Repentance is more than behavior modification. True repentance results in behavior modification. It changes the way we live.  But repentance goes deeper. For true repentance is first awareness, sorrows and terror over sin combined with faith in the Gospel. Good works follow.

 

The second part of John’s message is forgiveness of sins and the salvation of God.

 

                Here we come to the second part of God’s message for us. The second part is “The forgiveness of sins – the salvation of God.”

John came baptizing those who were repentant. And in this baptism the baptized people received the forgiveness of sins. It was a baptism, a washing, done with water which looked forward to the “one who would come. The one who would be greater than John. The one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The one who would gather the wheat into his barn and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire on the great Day of Judgment.”  Those who were baptized by John were forgiven through faith in Jesus, the Savior who would come and has come.

John came as a forerunner of Jesus to prepare the way for him to come to his people. John came preaching repentance so that through this preaching of the law those who were deep in the depths of sin could receive forgiveness. He came preaching the law so that prideful sinners secure in their ways would be brought low. He came preaching the law so that those whose ways were crooked or deceitful could be made straight and honest. He came preaching so that those who were violent and rough would not continue to abuse. Through the preaching of John, God would “fill the valleys, lay low the mountains, straighten the crooked paths and level the rough places” just as Isaiah the prophet foretold.

But all of this is for one purpose. The preaching of the law is given so that all flesh, that is all people, might see the salvation of God.

When God shows us our sin, it is because he wishes to reveal His Savior, our Lord, Jesus Christ. The law is necessary to make us ready to hear the Gospel. Before we can be pardoned, we must first be convicted.

 

Today God gives us his salvation received by faith through baptism and his Word.

 

                Today we are called to look backward, forward and up.

Today we are called to look backward upon the work of Jesus who for our sake took on flesh, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, and rose again. We are called to look back and say, “All of this, Jesus has done for me. Because of Him my sins are forgiven.” Today, for those of us who are baptized, we are called to look back at the day in which we ourselves were baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of our sin. We are called to trust God’s promises spoken in Romans 6, Colossians 2, Galatians 3 and 1 Peter 3. These promises say, “Everyone who has been baptized into Christ has been baptized into the death of Christ so that just as Jesus rose from the dead we too might walk in newness of life.” “Everyone who has been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” and “Baptism now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” For those who are not baptized you may trust in God’s promise that “everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.” And, also, you should be baptized as God commands and receive the promises that come with it.

We are called to look forward. Jesus is coming back. He will judge the living and the dead. For this reason we are still given God’s law which shows us our sin and teaches us how we should live. Jesus is coming soon. For this reason we should hear God’s regularly God’s promise of forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ the Lord so that our faith may be regularly strengthened.

And finally, we are called to look up. We are to be mindful of what God has told us in his law in all of our ways, and in all of dealings. And we may rejoice at this – Christ is coming soon. Our redemption is drawing near. Come Lord Jesus. Hallelujah. Amen.

Sermon on Luke 21:25-38

Sermon on Luke 21:25-38

Text

                25. And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations in perplexity at the sound and tossing of the sea, 26. while men are fainting from fear and expectations of those things coming upon the inhabited earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and much glory. 28. But when these things begin to happen, straighten up and lift your heads, because your redemption draws near.

29. And he said a parable to them, “See the fig tree and all the trees. 30. When they already put out leaves, seeing, by yourselves you know that already the summer is near. 31. So also you, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near! 32. Truly I say to you that this generation will surely not pass away until all things happen. 33. The heaven and the earth will pass away, but my words will surely not pass away.

34. Beware for yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down by dissipation and drunkenness and anxieties of daily life and that day come upon you suddenly 35. as a snare; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36. And be watchful in every season, praying in order that you have the strength to flee all these things that are about to happen and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man.

37. And (during the) days he was in the temple, teaching and (during the) nights, going out, he passed the night on the mount, the one called of Olives. 38. And all the people were rising early (to go) toward him in the temple in order to hear him.

Sermon

Santa Clause is coming to town

                You had better not shout. You had better not cry. You had better not pout. I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you are awake. He knows when you have been bad, or good – so be good for goodness sake.

With these words the coming of Santa Clause is foretold. His knowledge of your every move is described. Children are encouraged to be good because Santa Clause is coming.

In today’s Gospel text we are not told of the coming of Santa Claus, but of the glorious return of Christ. We are told that Jesus, the Son of Man, the one who truly knows who we are, what we do and what we think is coming. We are commanded to be ready when he comes. And we are comforted that His coming is for our good and for the good of all who love Him.

The Son of Man is coming (25-28)

                Every year, winter gives way to spring. The pattern of snow falling, accumulating and blowing around endlessly gives way to thawing. White gives way to green. Frost gives way to growth. The fields that lie barren bloom with life. Changing of the season abound with signs.

Jesus is coming again. He will return in power and in great glory. Just as the changing of the seasons are marked with signs, so the second coming will be preceded by signs. And for the people of the world these signs will fill them with fear and foreboding. Just as the coming of summer brings doom to snowmen, so the second coming of Christ brings doom for a sinful world. But we are called not to tremble with fear. We are not called to fretfully worry about the end of the world or discern when Christ will come. Instead, Jesus tells us, “Stand up. Raise your heads. Your redemption is near.”

The coming of Jesus is Good News for us. His coming will usher in the day when sin and death will be no more.

His coming is Good News for us, because of what He did for us in first coming. In His first coming, Jesus took on flesh, dwelt among us, bore our sin and made atonement for us. In His first coming, on the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus took bread and broke it saying “This is my body given for you.” In his first coming, Jesus said, “Take, drink, this is my blood given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In His first coming Jesus breathed on his disciples and sent them into all the nations to baptize, to preach, and to forgive sin.

Today we receive the benefits of what Christ won for us on the cross in his first coming.

We are given baptism in which we are joined to the death and resurrection of Christ, clothed with Christ, saved, justified, and sanctified. We are given God’s Holy Word which convicts us of sin and says, “I forgive you.” And we are given the holy body and blood of our Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of our sin. Because of all this, the return of Christ means redemption, life, and salvation for all those who trust in Him.

 The Kingdom of God is near (29-36)

                Jesus also teaches, “the Kingdom of God is near.”

Jesus calls us to be ready.

From the time of the resurrection until the day the Lord returns, we are called to live in anticipation of his coming. Jesus tells us, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipations and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” He says also, “Pray so that you may have the strength to stand when the Son of Man returns.” It is easy to lose sight of the fact that Jesus is coming back. Our time on earth is limited. Even if the end of the world does not come soon, our time on it may. We are to live ever mindful that Christ is coming back. We are not called to satisfy all the sinful desires of the flesh but instead to be people of prayer.

For those who trust in Christ this is a source of great hope, joy, and encouragement. Evil will not have the lost word.  Death will not ultimately triumph over us. In Jesus we have one who has overcome death. In our baptisms we have been joined with the death of Christ so that just as Christ rose from the dead we too might walk in newness of life.

 

And “Here and now” Christ prepares us to stand when he comes again to judge the living and the dead.

                Our pericope text skips the end of the passage but in these verses Luke gives us a description of what Christ did in the week between his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and his death on the cross. Every day, Luke writes, Jesus taught in the temple and early in the morning all the people came to hear him. Although Christ would soon be crucified, rise again and ascend into Heaven, He would not leave us without His Word. As He has promised, His Word has not passed away. We have it with us. Today may we follow the pattern set during this last week of Jesus’ walk on earth. May we gather to hear Christ’s Word, to pray as Christ prayed, and to partake of His body and blood in the Holy Supper. For it is through these that we will be able to stand when the Son of Man returns. And it is through these means that we are able to live our lives today with faith and confidence.

Christ is coming. Hallelujah. Amen.

“Faith is…

a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times.  This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all creatures.  And this is the work that the Holy Spirit performs in faith.  Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace.  Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.”

–  Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord IV

Sermon: Jonah

Imagine you lived in San Francisco and God told you to go to New York, but instead of hopping into your car for a long drive, you jumped onboard a big boat headed for Japan – that is what Jonah did.  God told Jonah to rise up and go to Nineveh, a wicked city and enemy to the Jews.  Jonah did rise up and he did go, but not to Nineveh as God commanded.  Instead Jonah went to Tarshish.  He fled in the exact opposite direction.  Jonah intentionally ran away from God’s call and presence.

Not only did Jonah clearly head in the opposite direction geographically of where God called him, but the writer describes Jonah’s escape as a descent.

Our NRSV starts verse two by saying, “Go at once…”, but the text actually has God telling Jonah to arise or ascend.  But instead of arising, the writer tells us that Jonah descended and went lower.  He went down to Joppa, he descended down onto the ship, and finally Jonah went even further down into the inner hold of the ship.  Down, down, down.  Descending, not arising like God called him to do.  God was not pleased.

As the ship struggled against a mighty wind hurled upon her by God, Jonah was once again summoned to rise up, this time by the captain of the ship, in order to pray for the ship’s salvation.  Even though Jonah told them shortly afterwards to throw him into the sea in order to calm it down, the crew still tried to row.  Reluctantly, the crew finally heeded Jonah’s request and threw him into the sea and the sea calmed, but only when they found that rowing would not work.

Of course we know the story, Jonah was saved from drowning in the sea by the great fish God provided for him.  For three days and nights he wallowed around in the fish’s belly.  Then Jonah finally decided to pray.  After his meager and somewhat questionable prayer from the belly of the fish, Jonah was vomited up onto dry land and once again called to rise up and go to Nineveh.  This time, Jonah did what was asked of him.  He went to Nineveh, traveled in towards the center of the city and delivered what has been called the most successful sermon ever.

“Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  It’s a sermon seven words long in our translation and only five in Hebrew, but everyone believed God.  Immediately, the people of Nineveh started fasting and mourning.  When the king heard the message he also declared a fast as well for everyone and every animal!  None were not to eat or drink.  They were all to be covered in sackcloth and turn from their evil ways in the hopes that God would not overthrow the country.  Every preacher would love to have such a response to their sermons, but did Jonah?

For being a prophet, Jonah wasn’t exactly a great model of godliness.  In fact, twice in this story pagan act more nobly than Jonah.  The captain and his crew did everything they could to do their job and to fulfill their obligations as ship men.  These pagan men risked their lives and business to save one man’s life while Jonah ran away.  It was the pagan sailors who turned to prayer and recognized the power and authority of God giving God sacrifice and the making vows, not Jonah.

Later, the king of Nineveh and all the people of the city believed the most basic sermon imaginable.  The sermon didn’t even mention God or the possibility of God being merciful.  In reading Jonah’s words to the people one gets the feeling that he wasn’t really trying to win them over yet the Spirit of God worked and the wicked people of Nineveh believed God and sought repentance.

But it is in chapter 4 where we finally see the fullness of Jonah’s character revealed.  When God decided not to punish the people of Nineveh Jonah became angry and declared to God, “This is why I fled to Tarshish.  This is why I didn’t want to go to Nineveh; because I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”

The snake!  A whole city of people – God’s creation – doomed for destruction and Jonah knew they would be given mercy if he went and proclaimed God’s word to them and that is why he didn’t go?!  The scoundrel!  Here is a man clearly at odds with God Almighty.  He stood opposed to what God would have for the people of Nineveh.  I think it is fair to say, Jonah was an enemy of God.

Jonah isn’t alone though.  Humanity stands opposed to God.  Jonah is a good representation of us.  Daily we offer many offenses against the LORD and against our neighbors and the rest of creation.  We are like Jonah.  We are selfish people who think only of ourselves and of the things that benefit us.  We are scoundrels and snakes – enemies of God selfishly seeking our own good to the detriment of others.

Jonah fled because he knew God’s character.  He did not want God’s graciousness and mercy to reach the people of Nineveh.  But it happened anyway.  God had a plan and for some reason it involved Jonah and there was nothing that was going to be able to stop the mercy of God from being unleashed upon the repentant people of Nineveh.

Throughout the story of Jonah we were given insight into Jonah’s character and really our character as well.  But throughout the story we are also able to see the character of God played out in his determination.  God had a purpose in mind – to bring the people of Nineveh to repentance.

At the very end of the story, God asked Jonah, “should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”  The answer?  Of course God should be concerned.  The Ninevites were his children just as much as Jonah was.

God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  His desire is not to punish, but to give life and he would not let Jonah thwart his plan nor prevent his character from showing itself upon the people of Nineveh.  Nor would he allow us to destroy ourselves completely.

When Jonah fled, it was God who hurled the great wind upon the sea causing the storm to crash against the ship.  But did you notice the boat didn’t sink?  Did you also notice that God didn’t request that Jonah be thrown overboard?  I suspect that Jonah could have just turned around.  Going overboard was simply Jonah’s last ditch effort toward escaping God’s will.  And even then God would not be deterred from God’s desire to show mercy.

It was God who appointed the great fish to swallow up Jonah and, reading between the lines a bit, slowed its digestive process down and made the belly of a fish into livable quarters – the true miracle of the story.  Three days later, God spoke again to the fish and by the power of God’s word it vomited Jonah up onto dry land.  It was the LORD who gave power to Jonah’s feeble sermon and the Holy Spirit who wrought conviction and repentance in the Ninevites.

Time and time again, God showed himself to be the active agent of compassion and mercy in this story.  The people of Nineveh were ripe and God was ready to relent from punishing them.  A little twerp like Jonah was not going to stand in the way.

God’s mercy was and is unrelenting and God did what needed to be done to bring deliverance to the people of Nineveh just as God did what needed to be done to bring salvation to the world years later through Jesus Christ.

In Christ, God looked upon the world and saw his creation groaning under the weight of its sin and rebellion against its Creator and did something about it.  In Jesus Christ, God came down and dwelt among us – rebels and criminals all – and willingly chose to die.  Seeing that we couldn’t be anything other than enemies of God, he did this for us – for you.  Nothing could deter Christ from his mission because Christ defines God’s grace and mercy.

Just as Jonah’s journey was described as a descent, the Gospel of Luke describes Christ’s life as a journey toward the Golgotha where he would be lifted up and ascend upon the cross.  Christ’s death on the cross is how God shows us that he abounds in steadfast love, is extremely slow to anger and does not desire to punish.  Rather, God’s desire is to give life.

As children of God, we can place ourselves in multiple characters in this story.  In our sinful nature we are Jonah, enemy of God.  But thankfully we sinners are can also be found in the Ninevites for whom nothing could stop God’s grace and mercy from reaching.

We are also new creations and in a way we are a new Jonahs.  As new creations made righteous through the blood of Christ, God calls us to be ambassadors and representatives of Christ.  In this calling we are blessed with the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.  Through Christ no longer are we enemies of God, rather we are friends of God.

In Christ, God looks upon you and says, “I love you.  You are mine and I rend heaven and earth for you.  You are my child because my mercy and grace could not be held back.  I give you a new heart and make you a new creation.”

 

A Gospel Sandwich

                “Let the children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God (Luke 18:16).” These sweet words are like the fillings of a delicious sandwich, or like the cream of an Oreo. It is in fact a Gospel sandwich. Let me explain. On both sides of the little narrative in which Jesus speaks these words to his disciples concerning the children who were being brought to him, we have passages which serve as the bread for the sandwich and the crusts of the Oreo.

Slice One. Luke 18:9-14.

                In the passage on the front end of this little narrative Jesus speaks to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. He says to them, “Two men went to the temple to pray.  The first describes his goodness to God. The other does not even dare to lift his head but instead prays, ‘Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.’” The second man Jesus says, rather than the first, goes home justified. That is to say, the second receives mercy, forgiveness and life from God while the first remains in his sin.

Slice Two: Luke 18:18-31.

                 In the passage on the back end of this little narrative a man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus points this man back to the law and the man’s inability to keep it (especially concerning the first commandment). Jesus then says concerning our ability to be saved, to keep God’s law, and be righteous in God’s sight, “With men this is impossible.” Then Jesus goes on to say, “But what is impossible with men is possible with God.” And almost as soon as he speaks these words, he speaks of what he will do for us through his suffering, death and resurrection.

The Sweet Center of the Gospel Sandwich: Luke 18:15-17

                So, why does Jesus call out, “Let the children come to me?” He does not say them because children are naturally good, sweet, innocent, or humble. He says these words because none of us by our own power or goodness can save ourselves. We cannot earn or merit God’s gifts – we must simply receive them as gifts won for us by another- namely Jesus. We are all alike in need of Christ. We must, like little children, receive the gifts God graciously gives to us through his Son Jesus. This is why Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you; whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Luke 18:17).”

                The Good News is that the gifts of God are for you. Jesus came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance. He gives forgiveness, life, and salvation to us who receive it not based on our own righteousness but by faith in His name. In our baptisms God has joined us with the death and resurrection of his Son, poured out his Holy Spirit upon us, and clothed us with Christ. In Holy Communion God gives to us his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sin. In the absolution spoken by the ministers sent to proclaim the Gospel we receive forgiveness of sin. All this we receive by the mercy of God who says, “Let the children come to me” so that He might give us his blessings. This Gospel sandwich is for you.

Sermon: John 8:31-36

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  And the Jews who had believed in him answered against him.  It’s what the Greek text actually says, that they spoke against Jesus.  They didn’t like or agree with what he said, but why?  Why were they so offended?  Did they not want to be free, to be liberated?

Actually their response against Jesus indicates that they felt they already were free.  The question of whether or not they wanted to be free didn’t even enter in to it.  “How dare you imply that we aren’t free people!  We are the descendants of Abraham,” they told Jesus.  “We have never been enslaved to anyone!”

There’s nothing like dropping a big-time name down on the table to spice up your credentials, is there?  Abraham’s name was the biggest name of all.  “You think we need to be set free, Jesus?  We are Abraham’s descendants.  We are his children.”

Their response was soaked with pride and saturated with an air of superiority.  Leaning on their ethnic heritage, they believed themselves to already be free.  If it is the truth that will set them free, they will ride the truth of who they are.

After all, God’s relationship to Abraham is legendary.  Abraham was a man of great faith, chosen and promised by God to be the father of many nations.  He is the very progenitor of the Jewish people.  Abraham actually conversed with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah and when God tested Abraham, Abraham passed with flying colors – he was willing to sacrifice his own son at God’s command!  Can anyone else claim as much?  In the end it could even be said that Abraham was a friend of God.  And Jesus had the gall to suggest that they were not free?  These are Abraham’s children!

Pride doesn’t really sit well with Jesus so their reasoning didn’t take.  So, he did what he had to do – he crushed their identity altogether.  “Everyone who commits sin,” said Jesus “is a slave to sin.”  Earlier in chapter eight, a host of the leaders brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus asking if they should indeed stone the woman as the law commanded.  It’s one of the classic stories in the Gospels.  Seemingly unconcerned, Jesus knelt down to scribble something in the dirt and then told those condemning the girl, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Of course Jesus had them there.  One by one they all dropped their stones because not one of them was without sin.  They knew it then and they know it now.  When Jesus told them that everyone and anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin he accused them of being slaves to sin.

They aren’t children of Abraham.  They are all slaves – we are all slaves – held in bondage to sin and as the confession states, we cannot free ourselves.  Just look at yourself, look at the world around you, this is a world held captive by sin and evil.  Injustice, abuse, deceit, corruption, it’s all there – and that is just what’s in the mirror, not to mention the rest of the world!

What does it mean to be a slave?  Jesus tells us in a very simple way.  “The slave does not have a permanent place in the household.”  In other words, the slave can be sold, dismissed and left alone with nothing.  The slave has no stability, no security and no future.  A slave’s life is not their own.  It belongs to their master and their master is sin.

We are all slaves to sin.  The only thing secure about our future is that we have no future.  It is as Jesus says, “the son has a place in the household forever,” but we are just slaves, who, looking from the outside in, long to be treated as sons and daughters in the household.

Fortunately, Jesus didn’t continued.  “The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; however, the son has a place there forever.  So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

As a member of the household the son has all the security the slave craves and as heir, all the future the slave desires.  So if the Son, especially the firstborn son, proclaims freedom upon the slave then that slave is most certainly made free.  The implication Jesus makes about himself are just as strong as his implication that everyone is a slave to sin.

Jesus is the firstborn overall creation, the Son of God.  All authority is his and is given to him by God the Father.  And through the merit earned by his brutal death on the cross he declares us to be most certainly free.  The truth that will set us free is grounded firmly in Christ.

And this is the truth that will set you free: that Christ was betrayed for you, that Christ was beaten for you, that Christ died for you, that Christ was raised for you.  It isn’t an abstract truth.  Rather it is a truth rooted in human history and given to us in the present by our baptism where we are crucified with Christ and raised to new life with him.  In the promise of his word attached to the water we are washed of our sin and guilt and proclaimed to be children of God.

When we strive to rest on the truth of who we are as determined by our own merit and our own goodness or by the merit of our ancestry – as the Jews in our passage did – we will find that we can only be slaves to the sin that entangles us.  We cannot be free of it.

But when we abide in the promise of God’s word bestowed upon us in baptism we can know with all certainty that we are children of our heavenly Father set free from the captivity of sin.  And not only are we declared to be God’s children, we are also called brother and sister of Christ, adopted into the household of God and made joint heirs with Christ.  That’s a long way from being a slave, isn’t it?  This is the fullness of our emancipation bought for us by the blood of Jesus.

In the cross, in the waters of baptism, in the proclamation of God’s word your heavenly Father tells you, “I love you.  You are no longer a slave to sin.  You no longer need to stand on your own merit, your own goodness or your own efforts.  I forgive you and through my Son I free you from the guilt and bondage of sin.  You are mine.  You are a lasting member of my household.  You are my child.  You are free.”