Sunday, April 30, 2023

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Easter - 1 Pet 2:11-20


Easter 4

                                                                                      1 Pet 2:11-20



          “Man haters.” That is what unbelievers called Christians in the first several centuries.  Today we might phrase it as “haters of humanity.”  Pagans felt this way about Christians because they refused to take part in the sacrifices that were offered to the gods on behalf of the city, empire, and emperor

          In the Greco-Roman world civic and religious life were interwoven.  Sacrifices were offered to the gods in order to secure the well being of the city. They were offered for the Roman empire.  And they were also offered both to and for the emperor depending on where you lived.

          Christians, naturally, would not take part in offering sacrifices to false gods.  They would not break the First Commandment.  However, to pagans this was nearly impossible to understand.  After all they offered sacrifices to many different gods for many different reasons.

          In particular, the refusal to offer sacrifices for the city, empire, and emperor was offensive.  These sacrifices were believed to secure the well being of the civic life shared by all.  If Christians weren’t willing to support civic life in this way, then obviously they were “man haters” – they hated humanity and refused to do the things that helped all people as they lived together.

          Our text this morning emphasizes the challenges of living as a Christian in the world.  The challenges are again true today in ways that mirror the first century.  They have become true during many of our lifetimes in ways that we never could have imagined.  Yet Peter encourages us to be faithful because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, and what he has made us to be.

          Peter begins our text by saying, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”  Notice how Peter calls Christians “sojourners and exiles.”  These words describe people who live in a particular place, but they are not native to it. They are foreigners living in a land that is not theirs.

          Peter warns his readers to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against the soul.  The apostle had to say this because the Christian way of life was very different from the world around them.  In the Greco-Roman world, men were free to have sex with slaves and prostitutes.  This was considered completely normal.  But the Christians had learned instead that sexual intercourse was only to be shared between a husband and wife.  In particular, men were being told that they could no longer do things in the way that the world around them was doing things.

          Peter says that Christians are to keep their conduct honorable.  The Ten Commandments provide a description of how God has ordered his creation.  Christians now sought to live according to the Ten Commandments as explained by the Lord Jesus and his apostles.  But because this fulfilled the ordering of the creation that all people have had written on their heart, even pagan neighbors would recognize this behavior as being good.

          This wouldn’t change that fact that pagans would still speak against Christians.  Peter says Christian need to act in honorable ways so that when the pagans “speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”   Pagans may speak against Christians as evildoers.  But on the day of visitation – on the day when Jesus Christ returns in glory – they will have to glorify God because of the way Christians have acted.

          “Man haters.”  Haters of humanity.  Once again, Christians find themselves being charged with hate all the time.  If you publicly say that homosexuality is sinful and wrong, you will be called hateful.  If you say that men are men, women are women, and that any so called transgender individual is mentally ill, you will be called hateful. If you say that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder, you will be called hateful.

          There is no worse offense in our world today than to be called hateful and intolerant.  Not surprisingly, we can find ourselves shying away from publicly confessing what is true.  After all, the world has made it very clear what will happen if you dare to oppose the worldview that has now existed for a mere blip in human history.  Nobody wants to be called hateful and intolerant. And so we do not speak, or perhaps we even find our thought beginning to change so that we can fit in better.

          In this letter, Peter reminds us of what we are because of Jesus Christ.  In the verses immediately before our text he has said, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

          We might be exiles and strangers in this world – this culture that rules for the moment.  But through Jesus Christ God has made us his chosen race, his royal priesthood, his holy nation.  In the previous chapter Peter says, “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,

knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

          You have been ransomed from your sinful ways by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Peter writes: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”  Because of Christ’s death for you, you know stand forgiven before God.

          More than that, you have been born again.  Peter says in the previous chapter, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”  It is God’s Word applied to you in Holy Baptism and preached to you that has caused you to be born again.  You are different from your neighbors who do not believe.

          And this difference is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Peter opens the letter by saying, “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,

to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

          You have been born again to the living hope because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  When the women went to the tomb on the morning of Easter, the angels told them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,

that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

          Jesus Christ has won the forgiveness of your sins by the shedding of his blood.  He has defeated death by his resurrection from the dead.  Because of these facts, Peter assures us that we have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for υσ. He says that by God's power ωε are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

          We live in the now and the not yet. Already we have the forgiveness of sins.  Already we have been born again and have new life because of Jesus’ resurrection.  But we are awaiting the return of Jesus Christ when these facts will be recognized by all.  We are waiting φορ the day when Jesus will transform our bodies to be like his, as we live with our Lord in a life where there is no longer be any sin, or pain, or death.

          While we wait, we need encouragement.  In the battle against sin, we need exhortation. So in our text Peter says, “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”  He tells us to be good citizens by obeying the government as long as it does not tell us to act in ways that violate God’s will.  Within our own system of government, this means that we have the opportunity to be citizens by speaking to our representatives about issues that relate to sexuality and life. 

Peter urges us in our text: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”  You are free – free from sin; free from guilt; free from eternal death.  But this now means that you are servants of God – or as the Greek says literally, you are slaves of God.  You have been freed from sin so that you can serve God.

        What does this look like?  Peter says in our text, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Later he adds, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”  He urges, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

          You are sojourners and exiles in this world.  You don’t belong to this culture because you have been born again.  And so instead, you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.  You belong to God because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

          Living as God’s people in this world will mean receiving the world’s judgment.  You will be called hateful and intolerant because you confess the truth of God’s Word and refuse to listen to the devil’s lies.  We live in ways that are honorable and true to God’s will, and people will speak against us. Yet in the resurrection of Jesus Christ you have the living hope that points to the Last Day.  On that day you will share in Christ’s resurrection and share in life with him. And as Peter assures us, those who malign us now will have no choice but to glorify God on the day of visitation. 











Sunday, April 23, 2023

Sermon for Third Sunday of Easter - Misercordias Domini - Ez 34:11-16


Easter 3

                                                                                      Ez 34:11-16



          “Can you call my cell phone?”  When you are with someone and you ask them to do this, they know what it means.  They know that you have lost your cell phone and are now asking for help in finding it. 

It’s not hard to misplace a phone.  I am willing to bet that we have all done it.  After all, we carry them everywhere we go and look at them in all kinds of settings.  All that is required to lose the phone is to set it down some place and forget to pick it up.  Then, after some time has passed, we can’t remember where we put it. 

So the person calls our cell phone and we then go walking through the rooms of a house or building listening for the ringing.  Of course, we hope that we had not turned the ringer off on the phone.  For if we did, the whole process becomes much more challenging as we listen for the vibration of the phone.

In our Old Testament lesson, Yahweh speaks of how he will search for his people – his sheep - who have been scattered.  He will seek them out, and will not fail to find them.  He will bring them back to good grazing land.  Ultimately, just after our text he promises that he will set over them one shepherd, his servant David.  In these words, God promises deliverance for his people in exile.  And he speaks of what the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, has done for us.

Ezekiel wrote our text in the time after 587 B.C. The prophet himself was not in Judah. Instead, he was already in exile.  He had been taken into exile in Babylon in 597 B.C. when the Babylonians had taken away some of those who were in the upper levels of Judahite society.  Ezekiel was a priest, so the Babylonians took him away from Judah.

Ezekiel was in exile because Judah’s kings had been unfaithful to Yahweh.  They had worshipped other gods, and had even brought the images of false god’s into the temple in Jerusalem.  In Deuteronomy God had said that the king’s role was the study the Torah and be guided by it in his actions.

However, the kings of Judah had not done this.  It was common in the Near Eastern world for kings to be described as a shepherd of the people.  In our text, Yahweh uses this metaphor as he talks about how the kings of Judah had failed. Just before our text he said, “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.”

          The kings of Judah had led the people into unfaithfulness.  And God’s final judgment had just arrived.  In the previous chapter we learn that a person who had escaped the destruction of Jerusalem came to the Judahites in Babylon and told them, “The city had been struck down.”  In 587 B.C. the Babylonians responded to Judah’s rebellion by capturing Jerusalem, destroying the temple and tearing down the city’s walls.  Then, they took all but the very poorest of the people into exile in Babylon.

The Babylonians were the instrument of God’s judgment.  It was the kings – the shepherds of the people – who were responsible for what had happened.  And just before our text God had said, “My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.”

The book of Ezekiel is very interesting because it is structured exactly on the pattern of Law and Gospel.  In the first thirty three chapters leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem, Yahweh speaks nothing but condemnation. However, once the judgment falls upon Jerusalem, Yahweh speaks nothing but hope and restoration.

Our text is part of that encouraging word. The kings of Judah – the shepherds – had failed and Judah had been scattered in exile.  Yet we hear: “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”

          God himself would seek out his people who were scattered in exile. He would bring them back to their own land.  In our text he promises: “And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.

I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.”

          God acted in 538 B.C. to do this. The Persians unexpectedly defeated the Babylonians.  And then their king, Cyrus, issued a decree that the Judahites could return to their land and rebuild the temple. Cyrus was God’s instrument to provide deliverance for his people.

          But God’s promises in this chapter go beyond the mere return of Judah from exile.  Just after our text he goes on to say, “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.” 

          God promised that he would send the Messiah who would care for the people and be their shepherd.  This one would fulfill God’s promise in our text when he says, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.”

In our text God expresses how he himself is going to search for his sheep. He is going to seek the lost, bring back the strayed, and bind up the injured. In these words we learn about God’s merciful and loving character. Earlier God said, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”  God wants to save.  And he acted in Jesus Christ to do this.

The Son of David, Jesus, was the Messiah sent by God.  He came to be the opposite of what Judah’s kings had been. He came to heal the sick, and bind up the injured, and bring back those who had strayed. Rather than unfaithfully looking out for himself, he came to carry out the Father’s will to seek and to save the lost.

          The Father sent forth Jesus to do this because we were lost.  We were lost in our sin.  We do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Instead, we allow wealth, and sports, and hobbies to receive more attention than God.  We put our own interests before those of our neighbors, because we love ourselves more than we love them. Because of this we were exiled from God. We were lost and had no way of returning to the Father.

          But God sent forth his Son into the world.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, he was the son of David because Joseph took him as his son.  True God and true man, he came as the Messiah promised by God in Ezekiel.  He came as the shepherd who rescues and delivers us.

          We expect rescue and deliverance to take place through might and victory. But Jesus came as the shepherd who works in a very different way.  In our Gospel lesson Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This is not how things are supposed to work.  Shepherds don’t give their lives to save sheep. But Jesus is the One who gave his life on the cross order to rescue of us from sin.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

          Jesus lay down his life as received the judgment against our sin.  Yet death that ended in death could never break sin’s hold on us. And so during this Easter season we rejoice that on the third day Jesus rose from the dead.        

Just after the Gospel lesson Jesus says, “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.”  On Easter Jesus took up his life again as he began the resurrection that will be ours on the Last Day.

          Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lay down his life to save us.  His love now becomes the model and pattern by which we live.  At the Last Supper Jesus washed the disciples’ feet to illustrate what he was about to do by his death on the cross.  Then he told them, “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.”

          Love and sacrifice for others. That is the life that we now live because of Jesus.  We seek the lost, and bring back the strayed, and bind up the injured because this is what God had done for us in Christ.  This is not something that we are able to do on our own.  Instead, it is a life that God makes possible because he has given us new life.  We have been born again of water and the Spirit.  The Spirit of Christ who called us to faith is the One who leads and enables us to live in this way – to live in the way of Christ.

          In our Old Testament lesson we hear God promise to seek out his flock and bring them back.  God did this in the sixth century B.C. as he brought the people of Judah back from exile.  But in the promise of the Messiah - his shepherd David - God showed that he would do more than that.

          God has acted in Jesus Christ to seek the lost, bring back the strayed, and bind up the injured.  Jesus Christ did this for us because he is the Good Shepherd who lay down his life for us.  By his death he has won for the forgiveness of sins.  And in his resurrection he has defeated death and given us the living hope.  As we look for his return on the Last Day, we share his love with other by what we do and say.  







Sunday, April 16, 2023

Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter - Quasimodo Geniti - Jn 20:19-31


Easter 2

                                                                                      Jn 20:19-31



          What a difference a week makes. We experience this when we have been sick with the flu or a cold.  We look back a week ago and remember how bad we felt and are thankful that we finally feel like ourselves again.  Or we feel this way when we have been waiting for some news and finally receive what we hoped it would be.  Perhaps it is a medical test, or notification about a new job, or acceptance to a school. We look back and remember how things seemed up in the air.  Yet now things look very different.

          What a difference a week makes for the disciples in our Gospel lesson.  Our text begins by saying, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews.”  The disciples were gathered together on the evening of Easter.  The doors were locked because of “fear of the Jews.”

          The Gospel of John emphasizes the opposition that those who believed in Jesus could expect.  We learn earlier that “no was speaking openly of him for fear of the Jews.”  In the previous chapter, Joseph of Arimathea had come forward to ask for Jesus’ body in order to bury him.  However, we learn that he was secret disciple of Jesus “for fear of the Jews.”

          Now, the Jews had engineered the death of Jesus by out maneuvering Pontius Pilate. They had killed Jesus, just as they had wanted.  But who knew if they were going to stop there?  The disciples had traveled with Jesus during his whole ministry. Certainly they were recognizable as Jesus’ followers.  They would stand out as Galileans in Jerusalem.  There was every reason to have fear of the Jews.

          Yet then, Jesus changed everything.  Our text tells us, “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” The disciples felt fear, but Jesus spoke of peace. Then when he had said this, he showed them the reason they could have peace – he showed them his hands and his side.  He demonstrated that he was the same Jesus who had been crucified and buried on Friday. The marks in his hands from the nails, and in his side from the spear, proved that their Lord who had died was now risen from the dead.

Our text says, “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”  But this translation falls a little short. More literally, it says, “they rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”  The Lord in whom they believed – the Lord whom they had followed had been put to death.  But now he was risen from the dead. He was there with them again. He had conquered death and so they rejoiced.

Jesus then gave them – and us – more reason to rejoice about.  He said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then Jesus breathed on them said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  Jesus sent them forth to forgive sins.

Jesus had spoken about sin in chapter eight.  He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  On our own, that is what we were – slaves to sin. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are continually racking up ever more sin.  Again and again we sin against the holy God.  If the accounting that we deserve ever came in, there could be only one outcome.  We would receive God’s eternal judgment.

But John the Baptist had declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  On Good Friday, Jesus was sacrificed for us.  He was sacrificed for our sin. In this way he won forgiveness for us.  John says in his first letter, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Jesus’ death has made atonement for our sin – he removed the offense and gave us a righteous standing before God.

          Jesus now has given his Church the means by which he directly applies this forgiveness to us.  He has given Holy Absolution.  This requires that we confess our sin.  We must admit that we are sinners who have offended God.  But then Jesus speaks forgiveness directly to us through the voice of the pastor.  We confess in the Small Catechism that “Confession has two parts. First that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is forgiveness, from the pastor as from God himself, not doubting but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

          As our catechumens know, I like to describe absolution has “the Gospel in its purest form.”  The Gospel declares that the  Son of God died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead.  You can’t get a more direct application of the Gospel than when the risen Lord says to you, “I forgive you all your sins.”  And if that is true when we hear it in general confession at the beginning of the Divine Service, how much more it strikes one that way when it is spoken to me as an individual in private confession.

          Jesus, the risen Lord gives forgiveness. This means that we have peace with God.  We have the peace of knowing that sins are forgiven.  It also means that we have the peace of knowing that we have eternal life and resurrection on the Last Day.  Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,

and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

          Jesus gives us life now – life that not even death can end.  Jesus says that we will never die. 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.”  Jesus lives and therefore we have life that will never end.  Our eternal life has already begun and death cannot change this.

          Yet Jesus’ resurrection also means that we too will be raised.  Jesus is the firstborn of the dead.  The Lord who has risen from the dead will raise us as well.  Jesus said, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, I myself will raise him up on the Last Day.”

          Forgiveness, eternal life, and resurrection – that is what Jesus gives us.  That is why we have peace.  That is why the disciples had peace. What a difference a week made.  The disciples had encountered the risen Lord.  For some reason, Thomas has not been there.  He refused to believe, demanding the proof of actually touching the marks in Jesus’ body.  Then our text says, “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.” We learn that the doors were locked.  But notably, this time there is no mention of fear.  Jesus had driven it away for the other disciples, and he was about to do so for Thomas as well.

Once again, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he told Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas responded by confessing, “My Lord and my God!”  By his appearance Jesus had given Thomas peace – the peace of knowing the risen One as his Lord and God.

Then Jesus added, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Jesus speaks about us who have not seen, but believe in the risen Lord.  He says that we are blessed, which means that we enjoy God’s end time salvation.

Next John adds the statement, “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.” Literally the text says “Therefore” at the beginning of the statement.  This ties the signs written in John’s Gospel to the goal of giving us this blessing.

Jesus has given us the signs of the Gospel, and the greatest sign is the resurrection itself. He has given them to us through the Spirit.  On the night he was betrayed, Jesus talked about how he would return to the Father.  However, he would send the Holy Spirit.  He promised, “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.”  He told them, “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 receive the Spirit’s witness through the Gospel of John. Here we meet Christ as he sustains us in faith.  Through these Spirit given words we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and so have life in his name.

We receive life from the One who said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.”  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life because he has overcome sin and death.  In the risen Lord we know that we have forgiveness.  We know that we already have eternal life now, and that nothing can take this from us.  And we also know that Jesus will raise us from the dead on the Last Day.  Safe in this knowledge we are freed from fear. For we believe in the risen Lord who said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your heart be troubled, not let it be fearful.”










Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Mark's thoughts: Vindication of the cursed Messiah


Quoting Deuteronomy 27:26 Paul told the Galatians, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Galatians 3:10).  The apostle was making the point that doing the works of the law can never bring about justification.  Instead, this way of approaching God can only bring God’s curse because no one can ever do the law as God requires.

A little later in the same chapter, Paul went on to explain, “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’” (Galatians 3:13-14).  Here Paul quoted Deuteronomy 21:23 which said that anyone hung upon a tree was cursed.  In the first century A.D., the word “tree” was understood to be the cross commonly used by the Romans to execute people in the provinces.

Paul was saying that Christ was cursed for us – those who can’t do works of the law.  By being cursed in our place he freed us from the slavery of God’s curse.  We now have forgiveness and salvation.

We have read these verses so many times that it scarcely strikes us as strange to say that the Christ – the Messiah – was cursed by God.  However, to any Jew, Jesus’ crucifixion would have been proof that Jesus could not be the Messiah.  The most commonly quoted verses about the Messiah around the time of Jesus were Psalm 2:9 and Isaiah 11:4. The psalmist wrote about the Messiah, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.” The prophet said of him, “and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”  While there was a variety of expectation about the Messiah, the feature that ran through all of them was the fact that the Messiah would be mighty, powerful, and victorious.  Death at the hands of the Romans was proof that a person was not the Messiah.

Yet Jesus had not just been executed by the Romans.  He had been crucified.  Jesus had been hung on a tree, and so Jesus was not only a false Messiah.  He had, in fact, been cursed by God.

While the New Testament most commonly uses the word “cross” to describe the instrument of execution, there are a number of verses that use the word “tree” (such as in Galatians 3:13 above).  Peter proclaimed, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree” (Acts 5:30).  Later Peter told Cornelius, They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39-41).  Paul said to the listeners in Psidian Antioch, “And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people” (Acts 13:29-32).


The use of the word “tree” for cross bears this meaning that Jesus had been cursed by God.  Jesus was a cursed Messiah. When the disciples went to bed on the evening of Good Friday it appeared that there was nothing more to say.  However, you will notice that when the word is used in Acts to refer to the cross it is linked with the resurrection.  Jesus was cursed by God when he died on the cross.  But cursed in our place, he was vindicated as the Messiah when God raised him from the dead. 


To speak of a crucified Messiah was absurd to first century Jews.  Paul freely granted that the preaching of Christ crucified was “a stumbling block to Jews” (1 Corinthians 1:23).  Yet Paul and the apostles went forth and proclaimed this very thing.  They did so because they had met the risen Lord.  They now understood why Jesus had been cursed.  It was in order to bring forgiveness and salvation to us.  They also knew that Jesus had been vindicated as the Messiah. They knew this because God had raised him from the dead.







Sunday, April 9, 2023

Sermon for Easter - 1 Cor 15:1-11



                                                                                      1 Cor 15:1-11




          In 1 Corinthians chapter 6, the apostle Paul warns the Corinthians about sexual immorality.  In particular, he tells them that the men are not to have sex with prostitutes. Now this warning is not surprising.  Paul warns about the threat of sexual immorality in many of his letters.  The Greco-Roman world assumed that men had sex with slaves and prostitutes. This was considered normal.  It was a great challenge to convey to new Christians that now that they were in Christ, their way of life was going to be different from the world. They needed to live in ways that were true to God’s will.  In fact, Paul has just warned that the sexually immoral will not inherent the kingdom of God.

However, the language Paul uses to make this point is unusual.  He says, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.  He adds, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Throughout this section there is an emphasis on how a person uses the body.  The apostle makes the point that what a person does with the body matters.  After all the Lord has redeemed the body and will raise it up on the Last Day.

In this discussion, we get insight into the problem that Paul had encountered in Corinth – the problem that he addresses head on in our text from chapter 15.  The Corinthians had developed ideas which said that they were already saved. They already had salvation, yet this salvation was entirely spiritual and had nothing to do with the body. Since the body didn’t matter, they felt they were free to use their bodies in whatever way they wanted. After all, it was just the body. 

The Corinthians had pressed this idea all the way to its logical conclusion: they said there was no resurrection of the body.  Within the Greco-Roman world this thought made perfect sense.  It was a common belief that the spiritual – the non-physical – was good, while the body was a bad thing.  In fact, the body was often described as a prison from which the soul needed to escape. The goal was to escape the body forever, not to get the body back after death.

St. Paul had waited until the end of the letter to take on this very serious error.  In our text he begins to do so.  The fundamental error of the Corinthians was, of course, rejecting the resurrection of the body.  But this error showed they failed to understand how God had created them. And it meant they did not understand that sin can only be overcome when death has been defeated.

St. Paul begins our text by saying, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.” The apostle takes the Corinthians back to the beginning – back to the Gospel he preached to them.  And he reminds them what is at stake.  If they don’t still believe this Gospel, then they have believed in vain – they no longer have saving faith.

Paul continues by saying, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  The apostle states again the confession of the Church that he had received, and that he had handed on to the Corinthians.

The first thing to note is that Christ died for our sins. Literally, he died “on behalf of our sins,” and in this language we find a reference to our text from Good Friday – Isaiah chapter 53. Christ did this in accordance with the Scriptures, because God’s Word says: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

Jesus died to provide the answer to sin that separates us from God.  Our sins of thought, word, and deed would incur God’s eternal judgment.  But God chose not to leave us there.  Instead, he acted in his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.  He sent Jesus to die on behalf of our sins, just has he had foretold in Scripture.

Jesus had died and been buried. But he didn’t stay dead.  He was raised on the third day. Then he appeared at different times and places to a whole group of people: to Peter and the twelve; to more than five hundred Christians at one time; to James the brother of Christ; to the broader group of those called apostles; and finally, to Paul.  These had all been convinced to proclaim Jesus as Lord because they had met Christ risen from the dead.

The Gospel was about Christ crucified and risen from the dead.  So right after our text Paul asks, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”  You can’t have Christ as preached in the Gospel without the resurrection of the body. As Paul goes on to say, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”

God created us as a unity of body and soul. This was his intention for us.  When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the fall, it brought death. It brought the separation of body and soul. Their sin caused this in death for them, and sin has caused death for every person since then.  Paul told the Romans, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”   He went on to tell them, “The wages of sin is death.” Or as Paul says in this chapter, “The sting of death is sin.”

Sin brings death.  And the power of sin can’t be overcome unless death itself is defeated.  This means that the answer to sin must be a bodily answer.  God provided this by sending his Son into this world.  Paul told the Galatians, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, the Son of God lived in this world as true God and true man.  Paul told the Colossians about Christ: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”

Christ died on the cross to win forgiveness as he received God’s judgment against our sin.  But if Christ had not been raised, the power of sin would not have been broken.  The apostle says later in this chapter, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”

Yet the early Church’s confession about Jesus is true.  Christ rose from the dead!  He is risen!  As Paul says later, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  Adam had brought sin and death. But in Jesus God has given us forgiveness and resurrection.  Paul says, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

God sent the bodily answer of the incarnate Son of God. He accomplished both sides of defeating sin.  First, Christ won the forgiveness of sins by dying on the cross.  Then, he defeated death as he rose from the dead, body and soul.  Jesus’ resurrection has overcome death because he now lives bodily forever. 

Jesus was raised with a body that is incorruptible and imperishable – a body that can never die again. That is why he is the defeat of death. That is why he has provided final victory over sin.  Paul says in this chapter that Jesus is the firstfruits of the those who have died.  His resurrection is the first part that guarantees the rest will follow. And what will follow is a bodily resurrection.  On the Last Day, we will be raised with bodies like Jesus’ resurrection body – bodies that can never die.  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.”

          We live in the present knowing that we have peace with God.  Paul told the Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are forgiven because of Jesus’ death.  We also live knowing that Christ is the firstfruits of our resurrection.  Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and because he has, we will too.

          We know this because Christ has given us the Spirit. In baptism you received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Spirit.  Paul told the Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”  The Spirit dwells in you, and so he will raise up your body on the Last Day to be like that of Jesus.

          The presence of the Spirit means that the resurrection power of Christ is now present and at work in you. This speaks not only to your future, but also to your present.  Paul says in Romans 6, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  Notice how Paul sets in parallel God’s raising of Jesus and our walking in new life.

          The Spirit who raised Jesus from the now dead makes it possible for you to live this new life.  What does this look like? Well consider the beginning of this sermon. He helps us to turn away from sexual immorality – to avoid those situations where I will be tempted to have sex outside of marriage and to avoid going to those websites where I know there is pornography.  He also helps us to forgive those who wrong us.  He helps us to act in loving service as we put the needs of others before our own.  The Spirit is present to assist us in every way that we need, so that we can walk in new life – life that is made possible by Jesus.

          On this Easter Sunday, we rejoice that Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.  Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures in order to give us forgiveness. God raised him on the third day in a bodily resurrection.  In this way, God defeated sin’s power by conquering death forever.  Though the Spirit of Christ you already experience that power at work in your life now.  And on the Last Day when Jesus Christ returns in glory, you will receive the complete transformation that this power will work.  You will experience the resurrection of your body as it becomes like Jesus’ raised body, and you live forever with the Lord in the new creation.