Sunday, May 28, 2023

Sermon for Pentecost - Acts 2:1-21



                                                                                      Acts 2:1-21



          We have become very spoiled by the expectations our technology brings.  Young people today can’t believe there was a time when you had to wait for a letter to arrive in order to learn information about what a person was doing.  They can hardly fathom there was a time when long distance phone calls were a relatively expensive luxury that was not to be used all the time.

          Instead, we have instantaneous communication through our cell phones, texting, social media, and email.  There is no waiting.  Hit some buttons and you can share information with another person or with thousands of people. Today we think nothing of picking up our cell phone and calling a person no matter where they live.

          Now technology can’t remove all waiting.  In fact in some ways it has increased the waiting.  Online shopping is a huge part of our lives.  We order, and then we have to wait for the items to arrive.  But here too our technology spoils us.  While we may have to wait, we often do so knowing where the item is and when it going to arrive.  Online services often provide tracking for the shipment.  They send you a link and you can click on it and know exactly where it is the course of transit, and when it is out for delivery.

          The disciples of Jesus were in a very different situation as we meet them at beginning of our text.  The risen Lord had been with the disciples for forty days.  During that time he had left no doubt that he had indeed risen from the dead as he ate and drank with them, and taught them about the kingdom of God.  We learn that 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.”

          “Not many days from now” is not a very specific reference.  How many days would it be?  How long would they be waiting?  Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven.  Then a whole week passed and nothing happened. The disciples had no way of knowing when they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We probably would have started to get impateient.

          They obeyed our Lord’s word and remained in Jerusalem. Ten days after Jesus’ ascension the Jewish festival of Pentecost arrived.  On that day the waiting ended in a dramatic fashion.  Luke tells us that the disciples were gathered together.  Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

          Faithful Jews from all over the Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds had chosen to live in Jerusalem because it was the place where the temple was located.  Drawn by the sound of the rushing wind they came to the place where the disciples were.  They were astounded to find the disciples speaking in their own native languages about the mighty things of God.  It was clear that these were not sophisticated people – the sort of people you would expect to have these skills.  Instead, the fact that they were speaking in these languages was amazing.

          However, not all were so positive.  Instead, some said that the disciple were just drunk.  Peter took the lead as he stood up and declared that this was not the case.  After all, it was too early in the morning.  Instead, they were witnessing God’s dramatic action as he fulfilled his word.

          Peter declared, But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.’”

          God had poured forth the Holy Spirit – an act that demonstrated the last days were present. Yet while this was dramatic, Peter immediately went on to explain why the Spirit had been poured forth. It was because of Jesus Christ. 

Peter declared: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” 

Jesus had been crucified, but he had not stayed dead. Instead, Peter explained how King David had prophesied in Psalm 16 that the Christ’s flesh would not see corruption.  Then Peter announced, “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.”

Peter teaches us that on Pentecost, the risen Lord poured forth the Holy Spirit on his Church. Exalted at God’s right hand, he has not left us alone.  Instead, he has sent the Spirit as the presence of Christ with us.  He has given the Spirit whose job it is to empower the Church in sharing the good news about Jesus with others.

Those who were listening to Peter did not initially hear his message as good news.  Peter concluded his sermon by saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  We learn that those who heard it were cut to the heart, and asked Peter and the apostles, “What should be do.”

Peter’s preaching confronts us as well.  After all, we are the ones who crucified Jesus. It was our sin that prompted God to send his Son to be numbered with transgressors and to die in our place.  Jesus was crucified because of us. He gave himself in obedience to the Father and because of love for us, but make no mistake, our sin caused Jesus to be crucified.

Peter replied to the crowd, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

          Peter calls us to repent.  We consider the sin in our lives and confess it before God. We admit where we have sinned in thought, word, and deed.  And then we return in faith to our baptism, for there we receive the forgiveness of sins.  Paul says in Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”  We shared in Jesus’ death through baptism, and therefore we receive the forgiveness of sins that he won.   Through faith in God’s promise about baptism we continue to receive forgiveness for every sin.

          Our baptism is also the guarantee that we have received the Spirit. In baptism you received “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.”  You have received the Spirit, and so the power of the Spirit is present and at work in you.  This power helps you speak about Jesus to others.  Consider the people you know in your life. Who doesn’t believe in Jesus?  What opportunities do you have to speak about Jesus’ death and resurrection to them? How can you look for opportunities to do so?

          The Spirit is also the power for living in ways the are true to Christ.  Paul went on to say in Romans about baptism, “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.”  It is the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. The presence of the Spirit in you means that the power that raised Christ is at work in our life.   The Spirit enables you to love your neighbor and to serve.  The Spirit empowers you to forgive just as God has forgiven you in Christ.

          Through the work of the Spirit, God has called you to himself.  He has made you his child. He has worked faith in Jesus Christ.  This is the Spirit’s work.  We confess in the Small Catechism that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

          Called by the work of the Spirit, we now call upon Jesus Christ in faith.  In our text, Peter quotes Joel as he says, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  We call on the name of the Lord in the confidence that Jesus is the crucified and risen Lord.  In him we find the assurance that our sins are forgiven, and that resurrection and eternal life await us.

          On Pentecost, the risen and exalted Lord poured forth the Spirt on his Church.  The event of Pentecost occurred because we live in the Last Days that began with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Spirit is now present with us to empower us in speaking about Jesus Christ to others.  You know that you have received the Spirit because you have been baptized.  As you daily repent of your sins, you return to your baptism and receive forgiveness.  The Spirit who gave you faith will continue to strengthen you in the knowledge that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”


Sunday, May 21, 2023

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


Easter 7

                                                                                      Jn 15:26-16:4



          The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity at the Surburg house.  Matthew and Abigail graduated from high school on Thursday.  The weeks that preceded have been filled with various award ceremonies, soccer games, a final band concert, and Baccalaureate.  There was the preparation to have our whole family in town, and then the graduation celebration that we held here at church yesterday.

          All of these events have brought the realization that it is time for them to go away.  Now don’t get me wrong, we love having Matthew and Abigail around. They are a pleasure to have at home.  I look forward to having them with us this summer, as well as Timothy when he is not at Army training.

          However, as they finish high school and are about to turn eighteen, the time has come for them to go.  They have reached the point in life when they need to leave home and begin to create their own lives.  They need to go away to college so that they can start to grow as individuals who will have the jobs to which they aspire, and will be able to live on their own.

          If you have been listening to the Gospel lessons during the past two Sundays, you know that Jesus has announced that it is time for him to go. Two weeks ago Jesus said, “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.”  Last Sunday he said, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

          Jesus announced that he was leaving, and this past Thursday we celebrated that he did this.  We celebrated the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, as Jesus was taken up into heaven.  The ascension of Christ was the exaltation of the risen Lord as he returned to the Father and was seated at his right hand.

          In our text, Jesus prepares the disciples – and us – for what we can expect. He declares, “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.”

          Our Lord prepares us for the fact that we will experience hardship because of faith in him.  He tells us that the world will reject us because we believe in Jesus.  Now thankfully we don’t face the threat of imprisonment and death as do Christians in other parts of the world.  But the social ostracism of being put out of the synagogue is something that we do understand.  We recognize that our culture is opposed to faith in Christ and mocks those who believe in him.  To speak about Jesus in many settings is to invite rebuke or disdain.

          In the previous chapter, Jesus has explained that this should not be surprising.  He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

          Jesus says that the world hates him. The world hates Jesus because he confronts sin.  He confronts the darkness that holds the world. Jesus told the Jews who claimed they were free, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” The world does not want to hear that it is not free. It does not want to be told that there is sin.  Instead, it wants to be free to do as it pleases.  It does not want a God who declares what is right and what is wrong.  Instead, the world wants to be its own god.

          The question we must face is whether the world recognizes that we are different.  Are we trying to fit in with the world? Does our life look just like world around us? Do we keep our faith hidden to avoid the world’s rejection?

          Jesus announced, “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.”  The Father sent forth the Son in order to free us from sin.  John the Baptist declared about Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

          Jesus took away our sin by being lifted up on the cross.  He 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.”  Jesus was crucified for us as the Lamb of God – as the sacrifice offered in our place. 

But Christ could not be the source of eternal life if he had stayed dead.  And so, on the third day God raised Jesus up.  In this chapter Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” The disciples sorrow did turn to joy because on the evening of Easter the risen Lord appeared in the locked room and showed them his hands and his side.  We are told that the disciples rejoiced when they saw the risen Lord.

Jesus has risen, and Jesus has ascended.  Now we are left facing a world that hates Jesus and scorns those who believe in him.  That doesn’t sound like a very good situation.  But Jesus assures us that he has not left us alone. 

In the very first verse of our text Jesus 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.”  Jesus says that he will send the Helper – the Spirit of truth. The Helper will bear witness about Jesus, and we learn that the disciples will bear witness as well because they have been with Jesus from the beginning.

This is not the first time Jesus has spoken about the Spirit as the Helper, or the work he will do. In chapter fourteen Jesus said, “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.”

The Holy Spirit would have an important work to carry out.  But we learn immediately after our text that this can only happen if Jesus returns to the Father.  Our Lord says, “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.”

Jesus has been saying it is time for him to go.  Christ would not leave until he had cried “It is finished” as he died on the cross for our sins.  He would not leave until he said, “Peace to you” to the disciples on the evening of Easter. But after completing his mission of death and resurrection, it would be time to leave.  It would be time to return to the Father so that the Holy Spirit could be sent.

Scripture does not explain why things work this way. It only tells us that things do work this way. The Father sends forth the Son to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. The Son returns to the Father.  The Son then sends the Spirit.  Certainly, we can understand that whereas the incarnate Lord during his ministry was located in one time and place, the Spirit now is at work in the entire Church all over the world.

Jesus recognizes the challenge that we face. In fact he states, “I have said all these things to keep you from falling away.”  Our Lord wants us to know that he has not left us alone.  Instead, he has given us the Spirit. 

The Spirit is the One who gives insight and understanding about Christ.  A little later in chapter sixteen Jesus says, I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The disciples could not bear them.  Yet the reason for this was more than just the fact that Christ has not yet risen from the dead.  What they needed was the Spirit.

Our Lord went on to say, “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 Spirit guides the disciples into all truth in order to understand who Jesus is.  The Spirit always works to take what belongs to Jesus and to make it known to us.  In sharing with us Jesus, he also shares with us the Father whose work Jesus accomplished.  It is this work that enables us to avoid falling way.  It is this work that strengthens us to face the opposition of the world.

          It should be noted that the Spirit does not talk about himself.  Jesus says in our text, “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.”

The work of the Spirit is to bear witness about Jesus. The Spirit always points us to Christ and helps us to understand him.

          This he now does through the inspired Scriptures. Christ promises in our text that the Spirit will bear witness and that the disciples will also bear witness.  We have heard how our Lord had already 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.” We receive the Spirit borne witness through the Scriptures – the witness of the disciples.

          Through the Scriptures the Spirit calls us to faith and sustains us in faith.  John says about the Scripture he has written, 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.” 

This morning we hear the words of the Spirit that bear witness about Jesus.  Through them the Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and makes it known to us.  This witness enables us to confess Christ before the world and to live in ways that show this faith.  This witness strengthens us to believe in our risen Lord.  And because we believe in the Christ who rose from the dead we have what we need to bring us through every challenge.  Jesus declared at the end of this chapter: “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.”





Thursday, May 18, 2023

Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord - Acts 1:1-11



                                                                                      Acts 1:1-11



          On May 6, twenty million people watched an event that was filled with tradition and ceremony.  They watched the coronation and enthronement of Charles III as king of England.  A little over two thousand people were present at Westminster Abbey for the event.  Guests had been invited from 203 countries around the world.

           Charles reused coronation vestments that already existed, rather than having new ones made as traditionally has been done.  I guess that was a nice cost cutting gesture for an event that is estimated to have cost between sixty and one hundred twenty million dollars.

          Charles III is seventy four years old.  As first in the line to the throne, he had waited his whole life to become king because his mother, Elizabeth II lived to the age of 96.  His time had finally come, and the event was filled with pomp and circumstance that few can do like the British.

          Twenty million people watched the ceremony.  Tremendous expense and planning went into it.  A whose who of world representatives were invited.  Yet the irony is that after the coronation Charles was really no different than before.  As king he has no real political power.  He is a figurehead – a symbol that somehow represents continuity with the past.

          Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord.  This is not a day that garners worldwide attention.  Even many in the Church largely ignore it as churches fail to have services on this day.  But while this day receives far less attention than the coronation of the English king, its real importance far outstrips anything that can be said about him or any other human leader.

          Our text this evening is from the first chapter of Acts.  The ascension of Jesus serves as the “hinge” that joins together the two works of Luke – his Gospel and the Book of Acts.  We hear a brief account of the ascension at the end of Luke, and then a more extended account in Acts.

          In our text, Luke tells us about the timing of the ascension as he states about Jesus, “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.”  For forty days Jesus was with the disciples.  Why were they so sure that Jesus had risen from the dead?  Why were they willing to suffer and die to proclaim the message about Jesus?  It was because they had experienced the risen Lord in an absolutely unmistakable fashion.  As Peter told Cornelius, the disciples ate and drank with the Lord. They had conversations with him as Jesus taught the disciples and prepared them for their upcoming mission.

          The disciples weren’t expecting Jesus to leave.  Instead, they asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Now based on what the Old Testament says, this was really quite understandable.  It was only natural to think that the end time event of Christ’s resurrection would inaugurate the beginning of Israel’s restoration. 

          Yet what the disciples failed to understand was that Israel was always meant to be a light to the nations. God had promised Abraham, “In you all families of the earth will be blessed.”  Israel was not an end in itself, but a means by which God would bring salvation to all people.  Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of Israel, and now God’s saving work was extending out from Israel to include all nations.

          Jesus answered, “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.”  Christ had already commanded his disciples not to depart from Jerusalem because they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit in not many days. Now he told them what the Spirit would do – he would give them power to be witnesses in a work that would reach to the end of the earth.

          We learn that after he had said these things, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.  Jesus withdrew his visible presence in the ascension.  While the disciples were gazing into heaven, two angels stood by them 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.”

          Perhaps it is not surprising that the ascension is overlooked in the life of the church.  It seems anticlimactic.  God sends his Son into the world as he is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He carries out a miraculous ministry as he heals and casts out demons.  Then he dies on the cross – numbered with the transgressors for us. And on the third day God raises Jesus from the dead.  He defeats death and begins the resurrection of the Last Day.

          That’s where we want the story to end.  We want the risen Lord visibly present with us.  But the ascension is about more than just no longer seeing Jesus.  In ten days we will celebrate Pentecost.  On that day Jesus kept his word as the disciples received the Holy Spirit.  Peter proclaimed about this remarkable event, “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.”

          The ascension is the exaltation of Jesus.  It is the enthronement of the risen Lord who had humbled himself in order to carry out the Father’s will.  Peter went on to say, “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.’”  The apostle says in his first letter that Christ “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

          We must remember that Jesus did not lay his humanity aside in his resurrection.  Instead, his resurrection was the renewal of humanity – a transformation to the status of being immortal and imperishable.  The Son returned to the Father different than when he was sent.  He returned as the One who is true God and true man.  The incarnate Son has been exalted as Lord over all. God has demonstrated this by the ascension.

          This leads us to reflect on three important truths. First, Jesus the exalted Lord has poured forth the Spirit.  The Spirit is the presence of Christ with us. The Lord has not left us. Instead, he has given us his Spirit so that he can be with us in all places and times.  He has given his Spirit to empower us to bear witness to his death and resurrection in a work that circles the earth.

          Second, the ascension of the Lord is a great comfort to us.  Christ has taken risen humanity into the presence of the Father in heaven.  Because he has, we know that we too will one day dwell in risen bodies with God.  We know that we will live in God’s presence because Christ does now.

          What is more, we know what the ascended and exalted Lord now does for us.  Paul told the Romans, “Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  Enthroned at God’s right hand, Jesus Christ speaks on our behalf.  We have an advocate with Father in the exalted Lord.

          Finally, the ascension of Jesus gives us the proper orientation.  The angels said after the ascension, “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.” The ascension of Jesus points us towards his return on the Last Day.  It is a reminder that we need to live in ways that are ready for Christ. 

Jesus said, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.”  We need to live lives of faith. We need to be focused on receiving the Means of Grace as we make Christ’s Word and Sacraments the center of our life.  We need to be striving to live in ways that share Christ’s love.

          We don’t want to be caught unprepared. Jesus said, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  Jesus’ ascension serves as a powerful reminder that the Lord will return on the Last Day.

          On this Feast of the Ascension, we rejoice in the knowledge that the incarnate Son of God has been exalted.  He has been enthroned at the right hand of God. Through his Spirit he continues to be with us as he creates and sustains faith.  Present with the Father, he intercedes for us and guarantees that we will live dwell bodily in his presence as well.  And in the ascension, we find the reminder that we must live as those who are ready for the return of the ascended Lord.











Sunday, May 14, 2023

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter - Rogate - 1 Tim 2:1-6


Easter 6

                                                                                      1 Tim 2:1-6



          On February 24 last year, Russia invaded Ukraine.  Russia expected a quick victory. They thought the “special military operation” would last less than two weeks.  After replacing the ruling government with one more friendly to Russia everything would be done.

          Of course, as we know, the Russians were very wrong.  The Ukrainians have put a up a fierce and determined resistance.  Much to Russia’s surprise, western nations have provided large scale military assistance to Ukraine.  Not only was Russia’s advance on Kyiv blunted, but a Ukrainian counteroffensive recaptured significant amounts of territory.

          During the war, the Russians have shown little concern about Ukrainian civilian casualties.  In fact, such casualties seem to be part of their goal as they seek to demoralize their opponent.  The Russians have carried out large scale atrocities against the civilian population.  Now in its second year, the war drags on as Russia continues to occupy the eastern portion of Ukraine.

          Considering what has happened during the last year, it does not seem that any peaceful settlement is possible.  However, one nation emerged in February of this year who tried to play the role of mediator. China suggested a set of principles that could help end the conflict.

          Now we hardly expect China to be a fair mediator between the two nations. After all, China is an authoritarian regime, just like Russia.  It has no interest in assisting democratic nations against other authoritarian nations.  China also wants Russia as an energy source.  So, they are not exactly neutral.

          Sure enough, their plan gave Russia all the advantages.  It called for a cease fire and peace talks.  It also called for the lifting of all economic sanctions.  Russia would have been left controlling Ukrainian territory and would have been freed from any economic hindrance. Ukraine would have had nothing more than the hope that Putin would give back what he had taken – land that he has already declared is now part of Russia.

          In our epistle lesson this morning, the apostle Paul describes how Jesus is the mediator between God and man.  When we consider his mediation, we find that it is not fair either.  Yet rather than the case of China which was unfair by favoring one side over the other, Jesus Christ was unfair in that he favored us over himself.

          The apostle begins our text by saying, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  Paul says that prayer is to be offered for all people, and then he notes in particular that this prayer should include leaders in the government.

          This is something that we do every Sunday in the Prayer of the Church.  Our prayer here reaches beyond the just the Church to include the needs of others in the world.  We pray for our leaders each week just as Paul instructs. This is the same thing that we also do in Learn by Heart each Wednesday.  Paul’s words are a reminder that our personal prayers also need to extend out beyond that narrow circle of people that we know. 

          The apostle then goes on to explain why this should be done.  He says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  We learn that such prayer pleases God.  Why does God want prayer offered on behalf of all people?  He does because his desire to save extends to everyone.

          God wants all people to be saved.  Our text removes any ideas that God has elected some people to be damned, as John Calvin taught.  God wants no one to perish.  He told Ezekiel, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”

          After making the blanket statement that God wants all people to be saved, Paul goes on to explain this further.  He adds, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  He describes Jesus Christ as the mediator between God and man. 

Now you don’t need a mediator when there are no problems.  For example, there is no need for a mediator between the United States and Great Britain.  After fighting each other in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the two nations established the closest of relationships during the twentieth century.  We have fought together as allies in World War I, World War II, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan.  The two nations share the closest ties with one another in diplomatic, military and intelligence matters.

Instead, you need a mediator when there is conflict and antagonism between two parties.  In the case of God and humanity, the problem is not God.  Rather, we learn that God created man in his own image.  He gave us a very good creation in which to live. He blessed us as his highest creation. We could not have asked for anything more.

However, the devil deceived Adam and Eve into thinking that they could be more.  He tempted them with the possibility that they could be like God – that they could be God.  They disobeyed  God and in so doing brought sin into the world.  They brought the sin that now afflicts every one of us.  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.”

On our own, we are under sin’s power.  Paul said, “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin”.  The result is the sin that we see in our lives.  This sin shows up in our relation to God as he takes second place.  It shows up in our personal relationships as we speak angry words and share gossip that harms the reputation of others.  The apostle told the Romans, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Sin is the breaking of God’s law. Yet sin is not just offense against some abstract set of rules.  Sin is always sin against the holy God.  David brought this out when he confessed his sin of adultery.  He said in Psalm 51, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what it evil in your sight.”

We were hostile to God and completely alienated from him.  Yet God willed to save us, and so he sent a mediator.  Paul says in our text, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” God sent Jesus as the mediator who is both God and man.  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.”

God sent forth his Son as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  Jesus was a real man who lived in first century Palestine.  Yet he was more than just a man.  As Paul told the Colossians, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”

Jesus Christ could serve as the mediator between God and man, because he was both true God and true man.  Yet this is where things get surprising.  Mediators seek to bring two sides together.  They work out negotiations in which one or both sides have to yield and grant certain concessions.  But no one expects a mediator to be the solution.  A mediator is expected to be fair.  Yet no one expects the solution to include the mediator being treated unfairly.

However that is what Jesus Christ has done for us.  Paul says in our text about Jesus that he “gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”  The ransom was the price needed to redeem us from slavery to sin.

God is loving and wants to save.  God is also holy and just. Neither side of God’s nature could be denied.  In order to save use, Jesus died on the cross and received the judgment against sin.  He took all of the ways that we have sinned against God and made them his own.  Christ himself was sinless. But Paul told the Corinthians, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The wages of sin is death.  Jesus died in order to defeat sin and death for all of us.  He did so as God raised him up on the third day.  On Easter God gave us victory over death through Jesus. Unless Christ returns, we will still die because of sin.  But Jesus Christ is the firstborn from the dead.  He is the firstfruits of the resurrection.  Because he has risen, we will too. 

This coming Thursday, we will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord.  The risen and ascended Lord has been exalted to the right hand of God.  But he will return in glory on the Last Day.  On that day he will raise and transform our bodies to be like his own.

Through baptism you have shared in Jesus’ saving death.  Paul told the Romans, “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.”  In baptism we died with Christ.  His saving death became ours.  Because of this we are forgiven and freed from sin.

But baptism means more than just forgiveness.  The Holy Spirit is the one who raised Jesus from the dead.  It is the Spirit who gave us new life in baptism. This life is the resurrection power of Christ that is already at work in us so that we can walk in newness of life.

What does this look like?  Later in this letter Paul tells Timothy, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  Christ gave himself as the ransom for your sin. So love and forgive your neighbor.  Christ gave himself as the mediator for you.  Hold steadfast to God’s will as you face the world around you.

We were alienated and hostile to God as sinners.  But God loved us.  He desires all people to be saved.  So he sent his Son into our world in the incarnation as the mediator between God and man.  Unlike any other mediator, Jesus himself was the solution.  He gave himself as the ransom for all to free us from sin.  By his resurrection he has defeated death and begun the life that will be ours.  Already now through baptism this resurrection power is at work in us through the Spirit so that we can live in faith and love.