Thursday, March 31, 2022

Commemoration of Joseph, Patriarch


Today we remember and give thanks for Joseph, Patriarch.  Joseph was the son of the patriarch Jacob and Rachel. The favorite son of his father, he incurred the jealousy of his older brothers, who sold him into slavery in Egypt and told their father he was dead (Genesis 37). In Egypt he became the chief servant in the home of Potiphar, a military official.  Because Joseph refused to commit adultery with his master's wife, he was unjustly accused of attempted rape and thrown into jail (Genesis 39). Years later, he interpreted dreams for Pharoah, who then freed him from prison and placed him in charge of the entire country. When his brothers came from Canaan to Egypt in search of food, they did not recognize him. He eventually revealed his identity to them, forgave them, and invited both them and his father to live in Egypt. He is especially remembered and honored for his moral uprightness (Genesis 39) and for his willingness to forgive his brothers (Genesis 45 and 50).

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, You have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of Your servant Joseph, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to Your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Sermon for fourth mid-week Lent sermon - Third Article - 1 Cor 2:6-16


Mid-Lent 4

                                                                           Third Article

                                                                           1 Cor 2:6-16



“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  That’s what the apostle Paul has said just before our text as he describes his work in sharing the Gospel with the Corinthians.

Humanly speaking, there was no reason to expect that Paul would succeed. First of all, he did not have the rhetorical training that the Greco-Roman world expected. Rhetoric – the accepted rules for constructing speeches – was the focus of education.  This provided the standard against which people evaluated a speaker.  St. Paul did not possess this kind of training, and he readily admitted it.

          And then not only was Paul’s speech unskilled in this way, but the content of his message was Christ crucified.  In the previous chapter he wrote, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Quite simply, to the world the message of the crucified Christ was moronic.  Paul was proclaiming that a crucified Jew was the Christ and Lord of all. 

During Lent we are preparing to remember the death of our Lord on the cross.  But to the first century world, proclamation of a crucified Lord was simply laughable.  Jews knew that according to God’s word, anyone hung on a tree – anyone crucified – was cursed by God.  Gentiles knew that Jesus had died the death of a criminal.  What is more, he had not just been executed.  He had been crucified.  This was the most shameful and humiliating way a person could die.  It was the ultimate demonstration of weakness and helplessness.  Crucifixion was so terrible that people didn’t even mention the cross in polite conversation.  But Paul proclaimed that Jesus who had been crucified was the Christ and Lord of all.

Paul acknowledged how the Gospel – the message of the crucified Christ sounded to the world. But he goes on to say in our text, “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”  This wisdom was the wisdom of what God had done in Christ.  Paul had just written, “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.” 

This wisdom of God in Christ was something that was revealed by the Spirit of God.  It was something that could only be shared by the Spirit of God.  Paul says in our text, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

In fact, Paul says in our text that apart from the work of the Spirit, a person is completely incapable of believing and understanding the Gospel.  He writes, “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

           This is the truth that is the confessed in the first part of the Small Catechism’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed as it says, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.”  In the sin of Adam and Eve – the Fall – humanity lost the image of God.  We are no longer able to know God as he wants to be known or live according to his will.  We became sinful, fallen nature, which simply produces more sinful, fallen nature.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

          Only the Spirit of God can change this. Later in this letter, Paul declares “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” And so the explanation in the Small Catechism continues, “but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, elightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” 

          The Spirit calls us to faith through the Gospel – the good news about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul told the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  He informed the Thessalonians “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

          The Spirit calls us to faith through the Gospel as it is proclaimed.  And he works this rebirth to new spiritual life in baptism.  Jesus said that we are “born of water and the Spirit” and Paul called baptism “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

          By calling us to faith in Jesus Christ, the Spirit sanctifies us.  He makes us holy in God’s eyes because of Jesus. In chapter six of this letter Paul says that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.  He reminds the Corinthians about their sinful past.  Yet then he adds: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  For this very reason he can begin this letter by writing: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”

          This is what the Holy Spirit has done for you.  He has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with his gifts, and kept you in the truth faith.  He does this through the Means of Grace. Through the Word of God, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar he has not only called you to faith in Jesus Christ, but he also sustains you in that faith.

          The Holy Spirit creates the faith that receives Jesus’ saving work.  He makes us a new creation in Christ. And by doing so he leads and enables us to live in ways that reflect God’s will.  Paul told the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

          We are God’s workmanship – his creation by the Spirit – who have been created in Christ to carry out good works.  Unfortunately, we also know that the old Adam – the remnants of the fallen nature – continue to be present.  Paul told the Galatians, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

          The apostle acknowledges that there is a struggle.  But he also asserts that the Spirit is the One makes it possible for us to live in ways that are true to God’s will.  He adds: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” 

          We are no longer the “natural man.” We are no longer flesh – fallen sinful nature.  Instead, the Holy Spirit has called us through the Gospel and enlightened us with his gifts.  He has called us to faith.  He has given us regeneration so that now we are a new creation in Christ. And therefore we approach Holy Week knowing that the crucified Christ is not folly – it is not moronic.  Instead, because of the resurrection, Jesus Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God for our salvation.  Jesus is our Lord, and with Paul we are not ashamed of the Gospel because by the work of the Spirit we know that it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. 













Sunday, March 27, 2022

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent - Laetare - Ex 16:2-21


Lent 4

                                                                                      Ex 16:2-21



          Research has shown that people eat more food when offered larger portions. If it’s there, we are inclined to eat it. Do this on a regular basis, and you will, of course, gain weight.  Now avoiding putting on extra weight – and seeking to lose some – is something that many of us are concerned about.

          One of the most basic things that can be done in working toward this is portion control.  You don’t deny yourself what’s being served, but instead, watch how much you actually put on your plate.  There are various methods that have been suggested to gauge how much food you are taking.  The Mayo Clinic even suggests that using smaller dinnerware can be helpful since there is evidence that the size of the plate unconsciously influences how much food we eat.  Naturally, going back for seconds is not helpful. And when it comes to snacking, we are told not to each straight from the container.  Instead eating a prepackaged amount, or putting it in an appropriately sized bowl helps to avoid overeating.

          In our Old Testament lesson for today, we learn that “portion control” is not a new idea.  In fact, that is exactly how God dealt with Israel as he gave them manna.  However, in the case of Israel the portion control was not tied to concerns about weight.  Instead, it was about trusting in Yahweh to provide each day.

          Our text tells us of events that took place immediately after the exodus.  Yahweh had sent the ten plagues on Egypt. In the final one, the Passover, he had killed the firstborn of Egypt while sparing the Israelites.  Pharoah told them to leave.  However when he changed his mind and sent his army after them, God had parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could pass through it on dry ground. The Egyptians went in after them in pursuit, and Yahweh drowned the Egyptians as he returned the waters to their normal place.  In the previous chapter, Moses and the people sang a song of praise about Yahweh: "I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.” 

          The verse before our text says that it was the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.  After a month and a half, any food the people had brought with them was gone.  They were now in the wilderness where there was no ready supply of food.  And we learn in our text that the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron saying, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

          The people grumbled.  They grumbled against Moses and Aaron. But Moses told them, “Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.”  The grumbling of the people found its source in a lack of trust in Yahweh. After all, he was the One who had just rescued them from slavery in Egypt by mighty acts of power.

          Israel is not the only one who grumbles.  We do too. We grumble because we don’t think what God has given to us is enough or good enough.  We covet what others have.  We look at the size of their house, the car they drive, the gadgets they own, the time when they were able to retire, the trips they take, and wonder why we don’t have that.  God promises daily bread – the things that we need to support this body and life. And we think that he should be doing better than that.

          In response to the people’s grumbling, Yahweh said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you.” Then Moses and Aaron announced to the people: “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?”

          Then the glory of Yahweh appeared in a cloud in the wilderness and he said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” That evening quail came upon the camp, and the people were able to catch them for meat.  In the morning when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people asked what it was Moses said, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”

          The people called it manna, and God gave Moses instructions about how they were to gather and eat it. They were to gather one omer per person each day.  They were not to save it overnight.  On the sixth day they were to gather twice as much, because they were to rest on the sabbath and there would be no manna. These commands were to lead Israel in trusting that God would provide them with daily bread – that he would provide what they needed day by day.

          God fed Israel with manna – the bread from heaven – all during their journey in the wilderness until they entered into the promised land.  In our Gospel lesson, we see Jesus perform a miracle with bread as he shows that he is the presence of God who delivers his people.  He uses five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a crowd that numbers more than five thousand people.  In fact, he provides such an abundance that twelves baskets of left overs remain.

          Yahweh provides manna to the people.  But the real purpose of this was so that Israel would know that Yahweh was their God who had rescued them.  Jesus provides a miraculous feeding.  But the real purpose of this was to make known that he was God in the flesh bringing salvation to the world.

          The day after Jesus performed the miracle, people sought him out.  Jesus told them that the work of God was to believe in him whom God had sent. Incredibly, after Jesus had just performed the miraculous feeding, they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

          Jesus corrected them as he said that it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven. Instead, the Father gives the true bread from heaven.  Jesus said, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” When the people asked for this bread, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

          Our Lord describes himself as the bread of life. He is the bread of God who came down from heaven in the incarnation as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Our Lord, the Son of God, came into the world to give us life.  He came to give us life that overcomes sin and death.  He came to give us eternal life.

          Jesus went on to say, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

          The Son of God became flesh in order for that flesh to be nailed to a cross. He came as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  We prepare during Lent to remember the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, for by his death he has given us the forgiveness of sins. 

          On Friday of Holy Week, the dead flesh of Christ was buried in a tomb. Yet Holy Week leads us to the first day of a new week – to the beginning of the new creation.  On the first day of the week – on Easter – God raised Jesus from the dead. That is why Jesus could say, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

          In the Old Testament lesson, the glory of Yahweh appeared to Israel in a cloud out in the wilderness.  But before that happened, Moses told Israel, “and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD.” He was, of course, referring to the manna that they were about to receive – the bread from heaven. In the gift of the manna, Israel would see God’s glory.

          We continue to see God’s glory in bread.  Like the manna, this bread is no ordinary bread.  In the Sacrament of the Altar, the risen Lord uses bread and wine to give us his true body and blood, given and shed for us.  Jesus said, “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  He went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

          In the Sacrament of the Altar Jesus gives us the forgiveness and life that he won through his death and resurrection.  He puts into your mouth the very price he paid for your salvation. He applies it to you as an individual. He leaves no doubt that his body and blood were given and shed for you.

          And at the same time, it is the body and blood of the risen Lord that you receive into your body.  He gives you what the early Church called the “medicine of immortality.”  As our Lord has promised, bodies that receive the body and blood of the risen Lord will be raised on the Last Day. The Lord who comes to you in his body and blood in the miracle of the Sacrament is the same Lord who will come in glory on the Last Day.

          In the Old Testament lesson, God gives manna to Israel. He gives them this food to keep them alive as they journey to the promised land.  Our Lord Jesus does the same thing with the Sacrament of the Altar.  He gives us this food for the new man to sustain us in faith during our pilgrimage of life. 

We believe in our crucified and risen Lord, and so we know that we have life that will never end.  Jesus the bread of life feeds us through his Word.  He feeds us through his Sacrament.  Our Lord said, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." 























Friday, March 25, 2022

Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord


Today is the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord, in which we celebrate the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that the Holy Spirit would conceive within her the Son of God. We observe this feast of the incarnation on March 25, nine months before celebrating Christ’s birth on Christmas Day, December 25.

Gospel reading:

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Collect of the Day:

O Lord, as we have known the incarnation of Your Son, Jesus Christ, by the message of the angel to the virgin Mary, so by the message of His cross and passion bring us to the glory of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.




Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Sermon for the third mid-week Lent service - Second Article - 1 Pet 1:13-21


Mid-Lent 3

                                                                                      Second Article

                                                                                      1 Pet 1:13-21



          Not doubt, you have noticed that things have gotten more expensive recently.  The inflation rate in February 2021 was 1.7%.  The inflation rate last month was 7.9%, the highest it has been in four decades.  We are all experiencing the pain of having to pay more at the gas pump and grocery store.

          In our text tonight, the apostle Peter also describes a kind of inflationary reality.  He says “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.” The apostle tells us that our salvation was more costly than any amount of money.  Instead, it cost the very highest price – the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus.

          In our text, Peter is urging his readers to leave behind the ways they lived in the past.  Instead, we need to live as those who live in the holiness that reflects our holy God. He says, Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

          The reason that Christians will seek to live in this way is because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  Last week as we considered the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed, we focused on the person of Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches us that our Lord is “true God, begotten of his Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary.” Tonight we focus on the work that Jesus has carried out for us.  The events of this work are the very things that Lent prepares us to remember.

          Peter says that “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.”  People are ransomed because they are held captive.  They are ransomed so that they may be free.  This is the truth that the Small Catechism expresses in its explanation of the Second Article when it says that Jesus Christ “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.”

          If there was only the First Article in the Creed, then life would be great – it would be very good.  But it is not that way because the sin of Adam and Eve brought sin and death, and subjected us to the devil. Apart from Christ, we are lost and condemned people. It’s not just that we sin and die.  Apart from Christ, the devil is our lord.  We belong to him from the moment of our conception as sinful people.  We are powerless against him.  In fact, his power is so insidious that apart from God’s action we don’t even recognize that he rules us, even as he drags us down the path that leads to eternal damnation.

          But God sent his Son into the world through the incarnation as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  He came to ransom us – to redeem us – to free us from sin, death and the power of the devil. That meant winning the forgiveness of sins.  Peter says in our text 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.”

          The apostle describes Jesus as a sacrifice. Those animals offered in sacrifices to God in the Old Testament had to be without blemish.  We mentioned last Wednesday that the Son of God took on a human nature that is like us in all ways except one – he had no sin. Jesus Christ was the holy and sinless one, who was then sacrificed on the cross bearing the sins of all people.

          At the beginning of the season of Epiphany we saw how Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River as he took on the role of the Servant of the Lord – the suffering Servant sent to bear our sins.  Peter picks up this idea in the next chapter when he writes: 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.”

          Jesus redeemed us with “His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”  He was the sacrifice that freed us as he received God’s wrath and judgement against our sin.  During Lent we prepare to follow Jesus on his way to the cross. He goes to drink the cup of God’s wrath against us.  He goes because it is Father’s will by which God’s love saves us.

          It makes no sense from our perspective.  St. Paul told the Romans, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

          The obedient suffering and death of Jesus was the revelation of God’s saving love. By his precious blood shed on the cross, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot, he won forgiveness for all our sins.  With the sacrifice offered, his dead body was take down from the cross and buried in a tomb before sundown on Friday.

          Yet Christ’s work did not end in winning the forgiveness of sins.  He was also the One through whom God defeated death itself.  Peter began this letter by writing, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  On Easter - on the third day - God raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus defeated death by passing through it.  Now by his resurrection he has given us a living hope.

          The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead has called you to faith.  Peter says in this letter that “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”  Forgiven and born again you have been redeemed from the power of the devil and you now belong to Jesus – he is your Lord.

          In the Second Article we confess: “The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”  Having conquered death, the risen Lord ascended.  As Peter says in chapter three, Jesus is the One “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

          When Jesus ascended, the angels said to his disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  Our expectation  - our hope – is now fixed on the return of Jesus Christ on the Last Day.  Peter says in our text, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

          The grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ on the Last Day is that he will raise and transform our bodies to be like his.  St. Paul told the Philippians that “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

          Everything Jesus did was directed towards the events of Holy Week. It was all aimed at the cross where he ransomed us with his precious blood – by his suffering and death in our place.  But the cross was not the end of his saving work, for in his resurrection he has defeated death.  Ascended into heaven as the exalted Lord, we now belong to him.  He is our Lord. And so we set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ on the Last Day.


Sunday, March 20, 2022

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent - Oculi - Ex 8:16-24


Lent 3

                                                                                      Ex 8:16-24



          Last weekend was the end of Timothy’s time at home during his college Spring Break. It was also the weekend closest to Timothy’s and Michael’s birthdays which are both in March.  So my parents came over from Indiana for a joint birthday celebration. 

          Unfortunately, last weekend was also the drill for his National Guard unit. We knew that Timothy would have to leave Friday night to get to the armory and be ready for his six mile ruck march the next morning that would begin a little after 7:00 a.m. So rather than doing the birthday meal on Saturday night as we normally would, we did it on Friday night before he had to leave.

          Timothy had requested steak for his birthday meal.  You may recall how on that Friday, we had snow arrive.  It was cold and windy.  Amy contacted me during the day to see if I still wanted to grill steaks in the snow.  I responded that it was Timothy’s birthday celebration, so of course I was going to grill.

          Thankfully the snow had stopped falling by the time I was grilling.  But it was cold, and there was snow on everything out on the deck. Conditions were not exactly ideal for an enjoyable grilling experience.  However, the thought crossed my mind that in the cold, at least there were no flies.

          Having flies all over the place is annoying and gross.  It is one thing that can persuade us not to eat outside on the deck. So I have trouble imagining what the fourth plague God sent upon Egypt, that we hear about in the second half of our Old Testament lesson, must have been like.  The flies and six more plagues would follow.  Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened and he would harden his heart.  But by the time the plague of flies arrived, his wise men, sorcerers, and magicians already knew that they were dealing with someone who was completely out of their league.

          The people of Israel had gone from being welcomed guests in Egypt to being forced labor for Pharaoh’s building projects. We learn from Exodus, “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel--and God knew.” 

          So God called Moses and sent him to Pharaoh with this message: “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’”  In the first meeting between Moses and Pharaoh, Yahweh told Moses’ brother Aaron to throw down his staff so that it would become a serpent.  Not to be outdone, Pharaoh summoned his wise men and sorcerers.  These magicians who worked with the demonic were also able make their staffs become serpents.  However, Aaron’s serpent ate theirs.

          Next, in the first plague, Yahweh turned the water of the Nile and of all water sources, into blood. However, the magicians of Egypt were also able to turn water into blood, and so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened.  In the second plague, God sent swarms of frogs upon the land. But again, the magicians of Egypt were also able to use their secret arts to make frogs come up from the land of Egypt. And so even after God caused all the frogs to die, Pharaoh hardened his heart.

          In our text we hear about the third plague.  We read: “Then the LORD said to Moses, Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’ And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt.”

          Once again the magicians of Egypt came and tried to duplicate this action.  However, though the magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, they could not. It was then that the magicians realized that they were totally outclassed. They knew that they were dealing with someone completely beyond them. They said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them.

          Yahweh’s actions against Pharaoh and Egypt were not only about rescuing Israel.  They were also intended to show that he was the true and only God.  Yahweh had told Moses when he first sent him to Pharaoh, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Finally, when he acted in the Passover God said, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.”

          Yahweh defeated all the false gods of Egypt – including Pharaoh who was considered to be a god – as he rescued Israel from slavery.  After Yawheh had brought Israel through the Red Sea and drowned the Egyptian army, Moses and the people sang a song of praise to God in which they said, “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed.”  Yahweh had redeemed his people – he had freed them from slavery.

          The ministry of Jesus Christ was also an act of redemption. The New Testament describes it in relation to what Yahweh had done for Israel in the exodus.  Christ had come to free people from slavery, and like the events in our Old Testament lesson this was a battle between the true God and all false gods.

          In the Gospel lesson we learn that Jesus cast out a demon that caused a man to be mute. As the man was now able to speak, the people marveled. However, we learn that some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” They said that Jesus was able cast out demons because he was in fact working with the devil.

          Jesus rejected this by pointing out how absurd the idea was.  He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”  No one fights against himself. That would just be dumb.

          Instead, in the person of Jesus, God was acting to bring complete and total redemption.  Our Lord said, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Just as it had been the finger of God – the power of God – at work in the plagues brought upon Egypt, so now the same power of God was at work in the ministry of Jesus. In the person of Jesus, the kingdom of God – the reign of God – had come into the world. God was at work to free Israel and all people.

          The focus of both the Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today is helpful because it reminds us that life is a battle of God against the devil.  Through the sin of Adam and Eve in the Fall, the devil plunged all people into sin.  He became their lord.  He became your lord, because you were sinful and under his power.

          But God sent his Son into the world in the incarnation in order to redeem you – in order to free you from the devil, sin and death.  In his ministry as the Messiah – the one anointed by the Holy Spirit – Jesus demonstrated his power as he cast out demons.  He left no doubt that he was the stronger One when he cast out demons from those afflicted by them. 

          Sin was the root cause and source of the devil’s power over us.  Although as the Son of God, Jesus had all power and demonstrated this in his miracles, the answer to sin was not one of power.  Sin is the violation of God’s law.  Because God is the holy and just God, sin must receive God’s judgment. Sinners must receive God’s judgment. Only in this way can God be true to his very nature.

          This is true.  But God is also the One who is gracious, merciful, and loving. As he said through the prophet Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”  And so he sent his Son into our world as true God and true man in order to take our place. There had to be judgment against sin. God would execute that judgment and wrath against Jesus instead of against us. Our Lord said at the Last Supper, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’” 

          We prepare during Lent to remember again the Passion of our Lord.  The ultimate act by Jesus to bring the kingdom of God was not some mighty miracle that drew the wonder of all.  Instead, it occurred as Jesus hung on the cross in weakness and shame, mocked by those below.  Bearing our sins, there he received the wrath of God we deserved as he suffered and died. It was in this way that he redeemed us from sin – that he won forgiveness.

          Yet God was working though Christ to bring us complete and total redemption – total freedom.  Sin brings death.  On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead through the work of the Spirit.  In the resurrection of Jesus Christ God defeated death, and began the resurrection life that will be ours as well.

          By this death and resurrection Jesus has brought the kingdom of God to us.  The Spirit who anointed Jesus at his baptism and raised him from the dead, is the Spirit of Christ who has called you to faith through the word and baptism.  You have received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. No longer are you enslaved to sin, death, and the devil. You are a child of God. You are able to call upon God as Father.  Paul told the Galatians, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

          By his death and resurrection Christ has redeemed you. Through the work of the Spirit he has called you to faith.  Jesus Christ is your Lord.  God has won this victory over the devil in Christ for you.  Yet the devil is not merely a sore loser. He is a cunning and determined opponent who will stop at nothing to take control of you once again.  For good reason, St. Peter warned, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

          Until you die or Christ returns, he continues to have a basis from which to operate because while you are a new creation in Christ, in yourself you continue struggle with the old Adam – the remnants of your fallen nature.  He tempts you to place money and material things, hobbies and sports ahead of God.  He tempts you with a worldview that says there is no objective truth, and so you just need to decide what is true for you.   He tempts you with a world that says you can do anything you want with sex.

          We must recognize all of these things for what they really are – the devil trying to retake what he has lost, even as he seeks to hold on to those who still belong to him.  But you have been redeemed.  You have been freed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You have been born again of water and the Spirit.  You are God’s child.

          And so as Christians we do two things. First, we go to the source where the kingdom of God – the reign of God – continues to be present for us.  We go to the Means of Grace by which Christ gives us forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit strengthens us to grow and mature in faith. 

And second, we take up the struggle against the flesh – against the old Adam.  We confess our sin and turn away from it.  We listen to God’s word which speaks about what it means to live as God’s people.  We hear in this word what we want to do because of what Christ has made us to be.  And through this word the Spirit restrains and suppresses the old Adam, so that new man led by the Spirit can direct what we actually do.

The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, and you were slaves of the devil.  But just as God redeemed Israel from slavery and in so doing conquered all the false gods of Egypt, so God has redeemed you through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – he has freed you from sin, death and the devil. The kingdom of God – the reign of God – has come upon you in Jesus Christ through his Means of Grace. Those Means of Grace are the way that Christ keeps you as his own and enables you to live as his people as we look toward the day of his return and our own resurrection.