Sunday, May 29, 2022

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter - Jn 15:26-16:4


Easter 7

                                                                                      Jn 15:26-16:4



          “I am leaving you.  You will be socially ostracized, and people will kill you because of me.” How is that for a “pep talk”?  Would that inspire you to say, “Wow, this sounds like a great deal. Sign me up”?

          It probably wouldn’t.  Yet that is exactly what Jesus says in our text, and in this portion of John’s Gospel.  Our Lord says, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”  Then, in the next verse after our text he says, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”

          Like the last several Gospel readings, our text for today comes from the portion of John’s Gospel in which he is speaking with his disciples on the evening of Maundy Thursday as they made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus repeatedly tells the disciples that he is returning to the Father.  John’s Gospel does not narrate the ascension of our Lord that we celebrated this past Thursday.  But we learn in the Gospel with absolute certainty that it is going to take place.

          Interlaced with Jesus’ announcement that he will be leaving is his declaration that he will send the Holy Spirit – the Helper. In the course of chapters fourteen through sixteen he repeatedly mentions the Spirit and what he will do.  We learn that we are experiencing that work this morning, and because we do, we have life through Christ.

          Jesus begins our Gospel lesson by saying, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.  And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” Our Lord says that he will send the Helper – the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father. We then hear about two acts of witness that will take place. The Spirit will bear witness about Jesus, and the disciples themselves will bear witness because they have been with Jesus from the beginning. We will learn that the witness of the disciples is made possible by the Spirit.

            Our Lord has already spoken about his upcoming death. As we noted last Sunday, he had told Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  He had just said during Holy Week, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

          Jesus had also spoken of his resurrection.  He had said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”  And Jesus had declared that he would raise the dead on the last day when he said, “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.”

          Yet in these chapters we learn that Jesus is going to leave.  He is going to return to the Father. And while we may want to disagree, Jesus even says that this is a good thing for us. Right after our text Christ states, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

          In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes his glorification as one sweeping movement that passes down through the cross into death and the tomb, and then up again in resurrection and ascension.  He does this to free us from sin and give us life. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” He does this to free us from death.  Our Lord said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

          Our Lord says that he ascends and returns to the Father so that he can send the Holy Spirit.  Jesus says this is a good thing for us, and in these chapters we receive some insight into why this is so.  We have noted that in our text he parallels the witness of the Spirit and the disciples as he says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.  And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

          We learn in these chapters that the witness of the Spirit makes the witness of the disciples possible.  In the previous chapter our Lord has said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  Jesus says that the Spirit will teach the disciples and cause them to remember what he had said. 

            Just after our text our Lord again says that the Spirit will guide the disciples in their witness to Jesus. He declares, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

          The disciples could not bear it yet, because they had not yet experienced the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Yet once they had, the Spirit gave them insight into what this meant.  The Spirit helped them remember what Jesus had said. The Spirit took what belongs to Jesus and his saving work and made it known to them.  He would do this so that the disciples could bear witness about Jesus.

          Enabled by the Spirit, that is what they have done.  John said at the beginning of his first letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.”  Then John went on to add the purpose of this witness: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

          We receive the witness of the Spirit this morning. We receive the witness of the disciples made possible by the Spirit as we hear the Gospel of John. John says at the end of chapter twenty: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  The Spirit who caused us to be born again through the water of baptism continues to sustain that new life through the Gospel of John – through God’s Word.  He leads us to continue to believe so that we may have life in Christ’s name – the name of the Lord who died as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and who took up his life again in the resurrection as he defeated death.

            Our Lord does not seek to hide the realities of believing in him. He states in our text, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.”

          The world acts this way because it is in darkness.  It is blinded by the devil, the father of lies. It carries out his will without even knowing it. We have experienced this with ever greater intensity in recent years.  We now live in a world that says there is no truth – except for the “truths” the world embraces.  Many of these truths are denials of the Sixth Commandment.  The world says that sex and living together outside of marriage are normal and good.  It says that the homosexuality, same sex marriage, and the means by which same sex couples obtain children are normal and good. It says that a man deciding he is a woman, or a woman deciding she is a man are normal and good. It says that the proliferation of pornography and its use are normal and good.

          But God has revealed in his word that these are all perversions of his will. They are sinful and inherently destructive for men and women.  Yet to say this, and to live in ways that are true to what God has revealed in the Sixth Commandment, incurs the world’s anger and derision. And while we find this to be a great challenge, remember, no one is going to imprison or kill you for believing in Jesus Christ. Yet that is a reality for our brothers and sisters in Christ in countries like China, Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan.

          Jesus says in our text that those who believe in him will experience rejection and even death.  Yet the one who tells us this is the One who has conquered sin, death and the world by his death and resurrection.  At the end of chapter sixteen our Lord says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

          The risen Lord has overcome the world.  The disciples who were with him – who had been with him from the beginning – knew this to be true. That is why they bore witness to Jesus. That is why they did not fear death as they spread the Gospel. And beyond this they did so because the Spirit of the risen Lord enabled them to bear witness.  Indeed, we receive the witness of the Spirit through John’s Gospel this morning.  The Spirit sent forth by the ascended Lord has caused these things to be written so that may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we have life in his name. 









Thursday, May 26, 2022

Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord - Lk 24:44-53



                                                                                      Lk 24:44-53



          What does it say about a visit when there is joy after the guests have left?  Now we have all probably had visits that occurred at an inconvenient time or required a great deal of work.  Perhaps it would have been better if the visitors had not come at that time.  Perhaps we are a little worn out from providing hospitality while also taking care of our normal responsibilities.  We have probably been glad to have things get back to normal.  But I doubt that there have been very many times when we have had “great joy” that someone has left.

          Yet that is exactly how Luke describes the disciples after the ascension of Jesus Christ.  He says, “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”  Why did they feel joy at that moment after Jesus’ ascension?  And for that matter, why do we treat the ascension of Jesus Christ as a cause for joy?  This is what we need to consider tonight.

          Luke’s treatment of our Lord’s resurrection and ascension is different because he actually wrote a two part work.  The Gospel of Luke tells us about the conception, birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The Book of Acts tells us about the life of the early Church as the Gospel began to spread out into the world.  The resurrection of Jesus serves as a kind of “hinge” that links the two works.  The Gospel of Luke ends with a brief account of Jesus’ ascension as it focuses instead on the events of Easter itself.  The Book of Acts tells us about Jesus’ time with the disciple during the forty days before his ascension, and then gives more details about the ascension itself.

          The first portion of our text describes what happened on the evening of Easter.  Jesus had died by crucifixion on Friday.  He had been buried in a tomb before sundown that day.  Now it was the evening of Sunday, the first day of the week.  It had been a confusing day with women saying that the tomb was empty and that they had seen angels who said Jesus was alive.  Some of the disciples had gone and found that the tomb was indeed empty.

          Prior to our text, Peter had encountered Jesus and reported this to the disciples.  Then, the two disciples who had met the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus arrived and shared what they had witnessed.  This culminated in the moment when the risen Jesus appeared in the midst of the room and said, “Peace to you.”

          During the course of his ministry, Jesus had stated repeatedly that he was going to suffer, die, and rise on the third day. We learn in our text that he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Jesus had fulfilled the Old Testament by his death and resurrection.

          Now that the resurrection had occurred, the disciples were in a position to be able to understand this.  So Luke tells us: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”

          The Son of God entered into this world in the incarnation as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He pursued a ministry that was always headed towards one goal – his death on a cross in Jerusalem.  But as he had told the disciples, God had raised him up on the third day.

          He did this so that repentance and forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed in his name. This is the Gospel that you have heard.  Jesus was numbered with the transgressors for you.  He took your place as the suffering Servant who received God’s judgment against your sin as he died on the cross.  Yet on the third day – on Easter – God raised Jesus from the dead.  You know that because the apostles and those with them have been witnesses.  In the face our sin we repent – we confess it as sin, and know that through Jesus Christ we are forgiven.

          Jesus said that his disciples would be witnesses. Then he added, “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  Jesus said that he would be sending the promise of the Father.  The disciples were to stay in Jerusalem until Jesus did this and clothed them with power from on high.

          Finally, our text tells us, “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”  Jesus parted from them as he was carried up into heaven – as he ascended.

          The disciples worshipped Jesus and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  Why did they have great joy?  Well first, in the resurrection God had vindicated Jesus as the Christ.  He was not a failed messiah cursed by God on the tree.  Instead, he truly was the Christ – the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the Old Testament for salvation.  More than that, he was the Lord – the Son of God who had defeated sin and death. 

          Yes, Jesus had been taken up into heaven and was no longer seen by them. But this event was an action by God that demonstrated his exaltation.  God had shown him honor and glory in this way. And then, they had Jesus’ promise that he was not done. He was going to send the promise of the Father.  He was going to clothe them with power from on high.

          One of the challenges of preaching on the ascension in Luke’s writings is that you can’t understand what the ascension really means without also talking about Pentecost – an event that is still ten days down the road.  On that day the ascended Christ fulfilled his word that he would send the promise of the Father as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples.

          Peter confronted the people with the fact that Jesus had been crucified. But then he proclaimed the resurrection. He went on to say, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”

          Notice how Peter describes the ascended Lord as “exalted at the right hand of God.”  In the resurrection of Jesus God vindicated him.  In the ascension Christ has been exalted as the Lord who has carried out the Father’s will.  As the exalted Lord, he is the One who has poured out the Holy Spirit.

          The ascension of Jesus Christ is not his withdrawal from us.  Instead, it is the declaration that he the risen One is indeed Lord of all.  It is the demonstration that he reigns as the One who has conquered sin and death. 

          Jesus has not left us because by pouring out the Spirit he is with us in a new way.  The Lord poured forth his Spirit – the Spirit of Christ, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is the presence of the risen Lord with his Church everywhere. It is through the Spirit that the exalted Lord Jesus carries out the work of bringing the salvation that he won by his death and resurrection to us and every other individual who is called to faith.

          As we think about the ascension of Jesus, we also must remember what Jesus was like when he ascended.  At Christmas we celebrated the incarnation as the Son of God entered into the world when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He was true God and true man.

          Jesus did not cease to be this in his resurrection.  Just before our text, our Lord had said, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." Jesus showed them his hands and his feet, and even asked for something to eat and then ate broiled fish in front of them.  The risen Lord is still true God and true man. The difference is that now he has a resurrected body that can never die again.  In his ascension, Jesus Christ has taken redeemed and restored humanity into God’s presence in heaven.  By doing so, he has shown that we will also one day live in God’s presence.

          Jesus Christ has been exalted in his ascension as the Lord who has defeated sin and death.  He is present now through the work of his Spirit who creates and sustains faith through the Means of Grace. Yet inherent in the ascension is the message that Jesus Christ is not yet done with the work that he going to do.  On Pentecost, Peter pointed the crowd to Psalm 110 as he said: “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”

          In fulfillment of David’s word, the Lord Jesus has been exalted and seated at the right hand of God. But note that this takes place “until I make your enemies your footstool.”  The ascension of Jesus Christ points us to his return in glory on the Last Day.  

        Christ has many enemies in this world – enemies who attack his people the Church. But this will only occur until they become his footstool – a metaphor that conveys the total victory that will be his.  That will happen when Christ returns in glory on the Last Day.  At that time he will raise us with bodies transformed to be like his – bodies that will never die again.  Just as the Father vindicated Jesus in the resurrection, so by his return and act of resurrection, Jesus will vindicate us for trusting and believing in him before the world.  The world will learn that Jesus is the exalted Lord who holds all power. 

            St. Paul told the Philippians, that Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. But then he went on to say, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Because of the ascension of Jesus Christ, we know that day is coming.







Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord


Today is The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and was exalted as our incarnate Lord and took His place at the right hand of God.

Scripture reading:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “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” (Acts 1:1-11).


Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, as Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens, so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Commemoration of the Venerable Bede


Today we remember and give thanks for the Venerable Bede.  Bede (673-735) was the last of the early church fathers and the first to compile the history of the English church. Born in Northumbria, Bede was given by his parents to a monastery in Northern England at the age of seven. He rarely left the monastery and devoted the rest of his life to teaching and writing. The most learned man of his time, he was a prolific writer of history, whose careful use of sources provided a model for historians in the Middle Ages. Known best for his book, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he was also a profound interpreter of Scripture; his commentaries are still fresh today. His most famous disciple, Cuthbert, reported that Bede was working on a translation of John's Gospel into English when death came, and that he died with the words of the Gloria Patri on his lips. He received the title "Venerable" within two generations of his death and is buried in Durham Cathedral as one of England's greatest saints.

Collect of the Day:

Heavenly Father, when he was still a child You called Your servant Bede to devote his life to serve You in the venerable disciplines of theology and scholarship.  As he labored in the Spirit to bring the riches of Your truth to his generation, grant that we may also strive to make You known in all the world in our various vocations; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


(Treasury of Daily Prayer, 1299)


Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Commemoration of Esther


Today we remember and give thanks for Esther.  Esther is the heroine of the biblical book that bears her name. Her Jewish name was Hadassah, which means "myrtle." Her beauty, charm, and courage served her well as queen to King Ahasuerus. In that role she was able to save her people from the mass extermination that Haman, the king's chief advisor, had planned (2:19-4:17). Esther's efforts to uncover the plot resulted in the hanging of Haman on the very same gallows that he had built for Mordecai, her uncle and guardian. Then the king named Mordecai minister of state in Haman's place. This story is an example of how God intervenes on behalf of his people to deliver them from evil, as here through Esther he preserved the Old Testament people through whom the Messiah would come.

Collect of the Day:

O God, You graced Your servant Queen Esther not only with beauty and elegance but also with faith and wisdom.  Grant that we, too, might use the qualities that You have generously bestowed on us for the glory of Your mighty name and for the good of Your people, that through Your work in us, we may be advocates of the oppressed and defenders of the weak; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


(Treasury of Daily Prayer, 1298-1299)


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter - Rogate - Num 21:4-9


Easter 6

                                                                                      Num 21:4-9



          Amy will tell you that I am not in any way a picky eater.  As long as you don’t make lima beans – the one food I absolutely detest – I’m fine. Now too be sure, there are some things that I like more than others.  But I am perfectly content to eat whatever we have for dinner.  I am certainly not going to complain or express any kind of objections about what is served.

          There are two reasons for this. First, I am content to eat many different things. And second, I’m not stupid.  I may be the grill master at the Surburg house, and I help out in little ways like cutting up strawberries for dinner or other things.  But at the end of the day, Amy is the cook in our house. She does the shopping and makes the food, aided by us as we are able.

I greatly appreciate all the work that she does, and I am certainly not going to complain. That would be unappreciative … and very unwise.

          In the Old Testament lesson for today, the Israelites complain about what’s for dinner. But since it is God who is directly providing them with food, to complain about dinner is to speak against God.  It is to sin by rejecting God and his gifts. God acts in judgment against them, and after their repentance, God provides deliverance in their midst – deliverance that points us to the great deliverance that he has given to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Our text begins by telling us, “From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.”  The people became impatient on the way. Doesn’t that sound like us?  As God leads us through the pilgrimage of this life, we want things on our time table.

We know how we want things, and we want it now. And yet the Psalms are filled with the instruction and encouragement to wait on the Lord.  Psalm twenty seven ends by saying, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”  God’s way and God’s timing often do not match ours.  And you know who is right? God is. We need to trust in God’s love and care, and know that his way and timing is best.  He may take things in different directions than we expected. He may be preparing us for what is ahead.  He may be acting to draw us closer to himself. But his will and way for us is always one of steadfast love.

We learn further that not only did the Israelites become impatient, they spoke against God and Moses as they said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”  Now this statement is in itself, contradictory.   Notice how after saying there is no food – or bread as the Hebrew says literally, they then go on to say that they loathe this “worthless food” – once again using the Hebrew word for bread.

We heard in a previous Old Testament lesson from Exodus chapter sixteen that Yahweh was providing them with bread from heaven – with manna.  He was also sending them quail in the evening for meat.  Now maybe one could say there was a lack of variety, but certainly they were not without food.  God was providing them with all the food they needed.

It might seem that a lack of water could be an actual problem.  But the fact of the matter is that in the previous chapter, God had just given them water from a rock. And this was indeed the second time he had done this during their journey.  So there couldn’t possibly be any question about God’s ability to meet their need for water.

No, what Israel was complaining about was that they were not satisfied with the way God was providing for them.  They said it wasn’t good enough. Yes there was bread – bread from heaven – but as far as they were concerned this was worthless bread.

This temptation is always present in our lives too. Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread.”  God has promised to provide us with daily bread – with what we need to sustain this life. But we want more. We want it better than that.  We look around at what others have, and they sure seem to have it better than we do.  And so we covet what others have.  We resent God for not giving us those things.  We take for granted the immense blessings God has given to us – and remember, there are billions of people in the world who would trade places with you in a heartbeat.

Our text states that when the Israelites made this statement, they spoke against God. This is an important reminder for us.  Sin is not just the fact that we have done something that breaks some objective standard we call the Law.  Since it is God’s Law – since it is the way God has said life is to work – sin is always committed against God. To sin is to reject God.

The Israelites spoke against God. They sinned against God.  God is the just and holy God who punishes sin.  In this case he did it immediately.  We learn that Yahweh sent fiery serpents among the people. They bit the people and many of the Israelites died. God’s judgment against sinners is not something that the world wants to admit. Some Christians don’t even want to talk about the wrath of God against sinners.  But Scripture is very clear on this point. God punishes sinners. God judges sinners. God damns sinners who do not repent.

Israel did repent. We learn that “the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.’” The people confessed their sin. They asked Moses to pray for them – or as the Hebrew more literally means, to intercede for them.

Moses did and Yahweh told him, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”  Moses carried out God’s instruction as he made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. God attached his promise to the bronze serpent on the pole, that everyone who was bitten and looked at it would live. And God was true to his word. Those who were bitten and listened to God’s promise – who believed God’s promise – looked at the bronze serpent on the pole and lived.

          Israel sinned, and God sent judgement against them.  We have already described how we see our own sin reflected in what Israel does in our text. When the Israelites repented and confessed their sin, God provided deliverance as he had Moses raise up a bronze serpent on a pole.

          Our Lord Jesus teaches us that the bronze serpent raised up on a pole was a type – it was something in the Old Testament that pointed forward to the salvation that God would work in Christ.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

          Jesus was lifted up on the cross in order to rescue us from the eternal death of our sins. Our Lord said during Holy Week, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Then John adds, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”

          Jesus Christ died on the cross to rescue us from sin and death.  When he compared himself to the serpent on the pole he said, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  But merely being lifted up on the cross in death could not bring us life.  Our Lord said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

          Lifted up on a cross in death, Jesus was buried in a tomb.  Yet on Easter, he took up his life again as he rose from the dead.  Our Lord defeated death by his resurrection. He is as John says in Revelation, “the firstborn of the dead.”  His resurrection means that we have life with God now, and that we will experience resurrection life when Christ returns on the Last Day and raises our bodies.

          For the Israelites who were bitten by the serpents, they had to have faith in God’s promise that he had attached to the bronze serpent on the pole – they had to look at it.  For us to receive the eternal life that Jesus Christ describes, we must have faith in him – faith in our crucified and risen Lord who has carried out the Father’s saving will. We must believe and trust in Christ.

          In order to give us the forgiveness that Jesus has won, God works in the same ways that he did with Israel.  He attaches his promise to located means in our midst.  He does so because we are bodily creatures who live in this world.  He has attached the promise of his word to water in Holy Baptism, and to bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar.  He places these means in our midst to which we look in faith. 

          We have been born again of water and Spirit in baptism, and our sins have been washed away.  We receive the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, and through this Jesus gives us forgiveness and life.  Through these means – these Means of Grace – we receive the salvation that Jesus has won for us.  Like the serpent on the pole, God gives us something towards which we look in faith. For to have faith in God’s promise about them is to receive Jesus and all that he has done for us.

          Risen from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand in the ascension that we will celebrate on Thursday evening – you are planning on being here, right? – Jesus is the fulfillment of Moses in our text.  We learn that the people confessed their sin, and asked Moses to intercede for them with God.  John tells us in his first letter, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” The One who was lifted up on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins, is now the risen and ascended Lord who intercedes for us – who speaks on our behalf.  He declares that we are forgiven because he carried out the Father’s will by dying on the cross and rising from the dead.

          Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Our Lord loved us by giving himself into death in the suffering of the cross. He loved us by taking up his life again on Easter and giving us the assurance of eternal life and resurrection on the Last Day.

          We continue to receive this love through his Means of Grace that he has given to us in our midst – the located means by which he meets us where we are.  But Jesus said that this love does not stop with us. Instead at the Last Supper he said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  In word and especially in deed we love and support one another.  And this love is, of course, is not limited to those in the Church.  It extends to all who are around us – all whom God places in our life.

          In our text we find that the people complain and speak against God. God acts in judgment against their sin – their sin committed against him – as he send fiery serpents into their midst.  But in response to their repentance, God attaches his word of promise to the bronze serpent raised up on a pole and provides deliverance.  God has responded to our sin against him by sending his Son into the world to die on the cross and rise from the dead. Through Christ we have life, for Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  









Sunday, May 15, 2022

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter - Cantate - James 1:16-21


Easter 5

                                                                                      James 1:16-21



“In a word St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine.  Therefore St. James epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.”

Martin Luther wrote that in his Preface to the New Testament.  His comment that James is an “epistle of straw” has forever impacted the way many Lutherans have looked at James. Luther never denied that James’ epistle was Scripture – the word of God – but in this statement we see that he did not think it was a Gospel centered book.

Now first, we need to consider the context of Luther’s statement.  The Reformation was about reclaiming the Gospel – the good news that we are justified before God on account of Christ through faith alone. The death and resurrection of Jesus has won the forgiveness of sins for us.  This saving action of God is purely a matter of God’s grace – it is completely unmerited, and salvation is not in any way based on our works.  Instead, it is received purely by faith – trust and belief in Jesus Christ that has been worked by God’s Spirit.

In that setting, it is not surprising that Luther prized the books of the Bible that state this in a clear and unambiguous way.  When judged by that standard, it is true that James does not stand out.  The epistle only mentions Jesus Christ twice.  In the first verse of the letter James describes himself as “a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  At the beginning the second chapter he says, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”  James never actually mentions the death and resurrection of Jesus. He does refer to Christ’s coming on the Last Day when he writes, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.”

However, while James may say little about how God has saved us, our text leaves no doubt that it is God who has acted to save us.  And James tells us that this faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, is an incredibly powerful force that shapes the way we live our lives.

Immediately before our text James has written: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” As James speaks about the challenges that we face in life he adds, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”  Those words probably sound familiar, because in the explanation to the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “And lead us not into temptation,” Luther writes in the Small Catechism, “God tempts no one.”  So apparently Luther did find use for James. And in fact, this is by no means the only place where Luther quotes the epistle in order to teach.

God tempts no one.  Instead, James tells us: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James identifies the source of temptation in us.  He says we are lured and enticed by our own desire.  Later in chapter four James says: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”

Our fallen sinful nature continues to tempt us.  We yield to it, and it then gives birth to sin in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. And when sin is allowed to rule our lives it brings forth death. As sinners, unless our Lord returns first, all of us will die.  But sin that is not forgiven – sin that is fully grown – brings forth the eternal death of damnation by God.

Yet in our text, James declares the good news of the Gospel.  God did not leave you there.  James begins by saying, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” The source of your salvation is God who is the giver of every good gift.  He, the Creator, is the One who is steadfast and reliable.  He does not change. He is true to his promises. Then James tells us, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

We note first that our salvation has occurred because of God’s will.  And James is not speaking in a general way about God’s decision to send his Son into the world in the incarnation to die on the cross and rise from the dead.  Instead, he says that God “brought us forth by the word of truth.”  James is talking about the creation of saving faith.  It is important to note that earlier he uses the exact same Greek verb when he says that, “sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Sin brings forth death.  But now instead, God has “brought us forth by the word of truth.”  He has given us life through faith in his Son.  This word of the Gospel is what later in our text he calls, “the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

In the letter itself, James does not say much about the content of the Gospel – the word of truth.  He is, of course, writing to Christians who know it.  But when he refers to “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory,” and speaks of the expectation of the “coming of the Lord” we have all that is needed to know that he is talking about apostolic preaching of the Gospel.

After all, as we just remembered during Holy Week, Jesus is the One who died by crucifixion and was buried.  You don’t call a dead man “the Lord of glory.”  You don’t talk about the visible return of a dead man in a tomb.  James speaks this way because he speaks to Christians who have heard the apostolic Gospel.  They have heard the same message that Peter declared to the Sanhedrin in the book of Acts when he said: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Jesus Christ died on the cross. As it is stated multiple times in the book of Acts by the apostles, he was hung on a tree. To any Jew, like James, this meant that Jesus had been cursed by God just as Deuteronomy says.  Jesus had died cursed on the tree. ButPaul shared the teaching of the apostolic church when he told the Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” In this way, Jesus won forgiveness for us.

God demonstrated that he had been working through the crucifixion of Jesus – he vindicated Jesus – when he raised him from the dead on Easter.  More than that, in his ascension Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of the Father.  Jesus Christ is the Lord of glory who will return on the Last Day.

This is the “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” to which James refers.  This is the word of truth by which God brought you forth as a child of God.  And while in this letter James doesn’t say much about the actual content of the Gospel he leaves no doubt that the faith in Jesus produced by the Gospel is a mighty force.

In our text, immediately after stating that God has brought us forth by the word of truth, he goes on to say, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  James says that when we receive God’s love in Jesus Christ – when we have faith in him – it changes the way we live.  In the verse immediately after our text he goes on to say, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

So how does faith act?  It is quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  First, we need to listen to what others have to say. There may be wisdom in what is said. There may information the gives us a better understanding of a situation.  And then we need to be slow to speak – especially in situations of tension or conflict. We need to consider our words carefully, and not just send out the first thing that pops into our head.

Because of our faith in Jesus Christ we need to be slow to anger, for as James declares, the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  We like to claim that we have justification for anger – that we even have righteous anger.  But unless you are God, - and you are not - anger always gets wrapped up with sin. It is only by self deception that we can say that our anger is a good thing.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  There isn’t much room for anger there.  How can we possibly do this?  It occurs because of “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”  Our Lord Jesus received God’s anger against our sin as he suffered and died on the cross.  He did this so that we could receive God’s love and forgiveness.

Through faith in Jesus the risen Lord, this is what we have.  We have received it through baptism and continue to receive it there as we turn to our baptism in faith.  We receive it in the word of absolution spoken by Christ.  We receive it in the body and blood of Christ given and shed for you.

Through these Means of Grace the Spirit gives us forgiveness and strengthens us in faith. He leads us to reflect upon the love and forgiveness that God has given to us in Christ.  The more we focus on Christ and what he has done for us, the less we will feel that anger is the response we want to have.  This will always be an ongoing struggle because the old Adam wants to stir up anger. When there is anger, listen to James: be slow to speak.  And then turn to Jesus Christ in faith. Believe in his death and resurrection by which he has given you forgiveness – forgiveness that he calls us to share with others.

Instead of anger, turn to the gift God has given us – the gift of faith in Christ. As James says in our text: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”