April 9, 2006 - Palm Sunday - Mark 15:1-39

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Over the past several years we have been privy to quite a few sensational and intriguing court trials in our country. Several years ago now, there was a famous trial of a former football player in California. He was accused of having murdered his wife and another person, and the evidence seemed overwhelming to most people that he had done it, but yet he said that he was innocent. He claimed that he was not guilty. Or at least his lawyers made this claim on his behalf.

More recently there was a trial in Florida in which a schoolteacher was accused of inappropriate behavior. She admitted that she had done what she was accused of, but yet she put forth an excuse that she had mental illness, so as to minimize her culpability and guilt.

And, in a trial that is currently going on, involving a terrorist, he admits that he did what he is accused of doing, that he participating in plotting the destruction of the Twin Towers. But instead of claiming some excuse, he is proud that he did it. He is boasting of it. He is justifying it.

In these various examples of trials that we all are aware of, because they have been so public, we can see the different reactions that people have in a courtroom setting when they are accused of various crimes.

And knowing this, therefore, it makes our Lord’s trial before the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate, to be very unusual. When the charges were put forth against Him, and when He was accused of a whole assortment of crimes and sins, He said absolutely nothing. Pilate was amazed. And perhaps we are amazed as well.

In His preliminary trial before the Sanhedrin, which is report in the section of Mark’s Gospel that precedes the portion that we read today, Jesus was asked point-blank whether or not He was the Son of God. And, without hesitation, He said that He was. In response to this, of course, the Jewish leaders claimed that they were outraged and offended by this blasphemy, tearing their garments and saying to one another, “What further evidence do we need?”

They knew, of course, what Jesus was claiming. He was willing to say before them, in that trial, that He was God’s own Son. He wasn’t speaking in a more general or metaphorical way, as we might say, “We are all children of God” or something like this. But He was identifying Himself as a Divine Person. As we confess in the Nicene Creed, He was acknowledging that He was “of one substance with the Father”. That’s why the Jewish leaders considered this to be blasphemy. And that’s why they reacted in the way they did.

So, He was willing, in His trial, to acknowledge who He was as God in the flesh.

And then, when He was brought before Pilate, and when Pilate asked Him whether or not He was the King of the Jews, He was willing to acknowledge that too, without any hesitation. He said, “Yes! I am the King of the Jews!”

In St. John’s account of this, He elaborates and gives us a little more detail of how our Lord’s conversation with Pilate then progressed. And that’s where we learn that Jesus told Pilate on this occasion that His Kingdom is not of this world. But nevertheless, that he is truly the King over God’s people.

And so, in His trial, Jesus was willing to speak about His sacred office as King and ruler and protector and governor of those who believe in the Lord. But then, when Pilate asked Him to respond to the various accusations that were being made against Him, Jesus said nothing.

He did not respond at all.

He was charged with a whole assortment of sins and crimes that can be divided into two basic categories. He was charged with sins and crimes against God. Blasphemy, threatening to destroy the Temple of God in Jerusalem, and so forth, and no doubt many other charges that are not recorded for us in Scriptures, were also hurled at Him on this occasion.

And He was also charged with sins and crimes against the civil authority, supposedly telling people that they did not have to obey Caesar, or pay taxes to Caesar, and who knows what else was made up about Him and what other false charges were thrown at Him.

But none of the things Jesus was charged with are things that He ever did. He was not guilty of any of these sins or crimes against God within the spiritual realm, or against the governing authorities within the civil realm. Jesus was not guilty of these sins and crimes, but we are.

And by standing silently, when all of these accusations were made against Him, He was, in this way, allowing the sins and the crimes of all humanity to be imputed to Him and to be placed upon Him. Your sins and my sins were hurled at Jesus that day, and through His silence, He allowed those sins to stick to Him.

If He had said in response that He did actually do these things, then He would be lying, because He didn’t! He never committed any sins of any kind. But yet, if He had said that He was innocent and that He not committed these things, if He had in some way tried to push back these accusations, so that they would not cling to Him, then those sins and those crimes would have been pushed back onto us.

They would have been laid upon us once again. We who have, in fact, committed these sins. We who have broken the first table of the Law, not fulfilling our proper duty to God. We who have, in fact, broken the second table of the Law, not fulfilling our proper duty to other people within the civil society in which we live.

And so Jesus said nothing.

He did not defend Himself, but instead He allowed our crimes and our sins to be put upon Him.

God’s Word had, in fact, spoken about this, and had described this, and had explained the saving benefit of this, many centuries before these things occurred. Please listen with me to a reading from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Isaiah knew what the Lord had revealed to him about Christ, and about all the things that would be necessary for Christ to do in order to accomplish our salvation. And one of the things that was necessary, and that Jesus did in fact accomplish, was to remain silent when He was put on trial and was accused of all the sins and crimes that we have actually done. He allowed that to happen. He allowed our sins to be placed onto Himself, so that we would not carry our own sins to our own just judgment.

If you wonder how offensive your sins actually are to a Holy God, if you wonder sometimes how serious God is when He tells us that He demands perfection, and that He expects us to be righteous as He is righteous, look at what happened to Jesus in His crucifixion, because what happened to Him did happen to Him because He was carrying your sins to His cross.

Your sins are not an insignificant matter. My sins are not an insignificant matter. They are acts of rebellion against a good and holy God, and they invite His just and fair wrath and judgment.

In Christ, however, and His suffering on our behalf, God absorbed into Himself the judgment of His Law against our sins. And remember that is was God Himself in the person of Christ who was doing this. And in His act of saving us and redeeming us in this way, Jesus was exercising His loving kingship over us. He was protecting us. He was taking care of us. He was saving us.

Jesus was silent when the accusations of sins and crimes were hurled against Him, but He was not silent when He was asked to declare whether or not He was the Son of God. And He was not silent when He was asked to declare whether or not He was the true King over God’s people.

Our Lord’s lack of silence when those questions were put to Him demonstrates that He wants us to know that everything which then happened to Him happened to Him because He was the Son of God, who came into the world to save us from our sins, and because He was the King over His people, who does take care of us, who does provide for us, all of the things we need, for this life, and for the next.

If Jesus had not been silent, if He had not taken our sins upon Himself, then our sins would remain on us, and we would need to carry them to our own judgment. But because He was silent, because He allowed our sins to be transferred to Him, we now, in repentance and faith, can be, and are, set free from the judgment of our sins.

When Pilate saw that Jesus was silent and did not respond to those who were accusing Him of all of these misdeeds, he was amazed. Utterly amazed. In any trial over which he had presided, he had never seen anything like this. And we, in our experience, have probably never seen anything like this either. In the trials that we see or hear about on television, the defendant, or at least his lawyer, always will say something in response to the accusations.

And so, we too, like Pilate, are amazed. And yet, in faith, we are amazed in a different way and for a different reason. We, in Christ’s trial and in Christ’s silence, are amazed, because we see God’s amazing grace, and because we see God’s amazing love for each one of us.

In Christ, God took our sins upon Himself. In Christ, God forgives us our sins. He gives us new life. He brings to us peace and reconciliation.

Everything that Jesus did throughout His earthly ministry He did for our salvation. Everything He did in His trial He did for our salvation. And when these many accusations were hurled at Him, accusations of all the various sins and crimes that we have actually committed, and when He remained silent in the face of those accusations, He did that for our salvation. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

14 April 2006 - Good Friday - John 12:23-33

And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. [24] 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. [25] Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. [26] If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. [27] "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. [28] Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." [29] The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." [30] Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine. [31] Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. [32] And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." [33] He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:23-33, ESV)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In the suffering and death of Christ we see a horrible judgment. The spiritually corrupt Jewish leaders had rendered their judgment that Jesus of Nazareth was a dangerous person. He was dangerous because he threatened to upset the delicate balance of power between themselves and the Romans. He was dangerous because his preaching reached to the hearts of his listeners - unlike their preaching - and it had the power to move and stir the masses in who knows what direction. He was dangerous because he was accepting of Gentiles and Samaritans, thereby betraying the normal standards of national purity. And ultimately he was dangerous because he challenged the traditional interpretation of the Jewish faith, of which they were the jealous guardians. He identified himself as the Son of God, and allowed himself to be worshiped and confessed as such. And so, the judgment of the Jewish leadership against him was as severe as it could be. He was a blasphemer, and was deserving of nothing short of death.

But in the political circumstances in which they lived, the Jewish leaders were not able to execute this judgment. And so, if they were serious about their condemnations of Jesus, they would need to bring the Romans into the equation. They would need to persuade the occupying powers to pronounce and execute the severest of Roman judgments against Jesus, in addition to the judgment that they had pronounced against him. When they made their case to Pontius Pilate, the Roman military governor, he knew that Jesus had done nothing worthy of death according to Roman law. But Pilate was not a principled man. He was an unethical pragmatist, willing to inflict a horrible judgment against an innocent man just to keep the political peace.

And so it went. The corrupt Jewish leadership and the corrupt Roman governor - representatives of a corrupt world - joined forces to pour out on Jesus a cruel, revolting, and decisive judgment. He who was the embodiment of purity and holiness experienced the worse torture that the impure and sinful world could inflict on him. He who stood for nothing but goodness and righteousness was physically snuffed out by the forces of evil and wickedness in their vilest form.

The world that did this to Jesus still exists, and it still behaves in this way. And we don’t even need to turn back in the pages of history, to the inhumanities of people of the recent past like Hitler and Stalin, to be reminded of this. Almost daily the newspapers tell us about terrorists who set off bombs in public places, or who take and shoot hostages, with no regard for the value of human life. And the number of people in the world who are killed and maimed in these ways does not even begin to compare with the number of babies whose lives are snuffed out by elective abortion, performed for economic reasons, or to prevent public embarrassment, or simply because these children’s existence is inconvenient. Their muted cries for justice, and for a chance to live and love, go unheeded by the millions. The world that killed Jesus is the same world in which we live, and of which we are a part. We partake in its corruptions. We witness its injustices with relative indifference. And, God forgive us, we are also responsible, directly or indirectly, for the evil that it perpetrates on others. If you are not a part of the solution, then you are a part of the problem.

The events of Christ’s suffering and death happened almost 2,000 years ago. But let us not so easily relieve ourselves of responsibility for these events because of this historical distance. The unjust judgment that was brought to bear against Christ could have happened yesterday or today. Horrible and unfair judgments like the one that our Lord experienced are, at this moment, being poured out on the victims of our contemporary world’s brutality and inhumanity. To the extent that we let this happen, or even help to cause it to happen, we are the Jewish leadership of Christ’s day. We are Pontius Pilate.

But on the cross of Calvary almost 2,000 years ago, another judgment was rendered. Through the suffering and death of God’s Son, the sinful world that had put him on the cross was itself judged by God, decisively and irrevocably. The devil - the prince of this world - was displaced from his seemingly unconquerable reign over its people. As Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” Satan had enslaved the human race through his lies. He lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden, and he has lied ever since: “God is not just and loving. He is not powerful. And besides, he won’t forgive you anyway, because your sins are too great. Your life is too offensive to him. So forget about God. Live for yourself. Live for me.”

These are Satan’s lies, and there are many more like them. With these lies, he had kept the human race in ignorance of God’s Word, and in ignorance of what God really thought about humanity. With these lies he hid from most people the knowledge of God’s promise that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, and provide forgiveness and freedom for all. With these lies he kept humanity in darkness, so that it either ignored God or was afraid of God, but did not hope and trust in God.

Humanity didn’t know that God himself, in the person of the divine Messiah, had always planned to become our ransom. Humanity didn’t know that God had always planned to place himself under the judgment of his own law, on our behalf and as our substitute. Humanity didn’t know that through the Savior’s entrance into the realm of death and the grave, where Satan held sway, he would accomplish and proclaim his victory over the devil, and set us free from the fear of death.

Satan’s kingdom, powerful though it may have been, was built on lies. But in his suffering and death Jesus pronounced and executed God’s judgment against Satan and his kingdom. In his suffering and death Jesus showed the truth of God’s love, and fulfilled God’s promises to our fallen race. In his suffering and death Jesus saved us, forgave us, and set us free. And in his Word of invitation - in his holy Gospel - the crucified King continually draws us to himself and to his new, eternal kingdom. He transports us out of this wicked world, extracting us from it, and extracting its tentacles from us. And he transplants us into his kingdom, his spiritual family, his holy church.

The sinful and corrupt world has been judged, and it is perishing. The prince of this world has been vanquished, and he will in the end be cast into the lake of fire, nevermore to tempt or torment God’s people. Christ’s judgment against this world’s corruption is decisive and will not be turned back. His death on the cross - for you and for your salvation - will not be undone. God has redeemed us, and the price of our salvation has been paid.

Of course, each of you has the option of rejecting or ignoring what God has done for you. Each of you has the option of clinging to the world of sin and death that has been judged by God, so that you, contrary to God’s gracious will, would perish with that world. The Holy Spirit won’t coerce you to believe in your Savior. That’s not how God creates faith in his saints. Instead, as Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He draws you, whenever his Gospel is proclaimed and whenever his Holy Sacrament is administered. He draws you away from the perishing world of corruption that he has judged, and he draws you into his new world - a new kingdom - that will last forever, filled with the light and life of God.

The suffering and death of Jesus Christ was a great judgment. The sinful world, through the instrumentality of the Jewish leaders and Pontius Pilate, judged the Son of God. But hidden within this unjust judgment was something of deep and saving significance. For you and for your salvation, the Son of God judged the sinful world. And through that just and righteous judgment against the old sinful world, he invites you to enter into a new world and into a new life. “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.” Amen.

Oh Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, and grant us your peace. Amen.

April 16, 2006 - Easter Sunday - Mark 16:1-8

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Easter Gospel that we heard read just a few moments ago was taken from the Gospel according to St. Mark. Now, St. Mark was not one of the twelve apostles. However, we recognize that his Gospel is written by apostolic and inspired authority because of his close and intimate association with St. Peter. St. Mark served as St. Peter’s translator and companion. And therefore, in his Gospel, he tells us the message of Christ as it would have been preached by St. Peter.

That also means that sometimes there are some small details in Mark’s Gospel that are not found in the other Gospels, details which come from Peter, and from Peter’s unique way of explaining the message of Christ.

For example, in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we read that the angel told the women who had come to the tomb that they should go and tell His disciples that He is going before them into Galilee and that there they will see Him.

Mark, however, based on his more intimate knowledge of Peter, and of the details that Peter knew, tells us a little something more. Mark tells us that the angel said to the women that they should go and tell His disciples, and Peter, that He is going before them into Galilee and that there they will see Him.

The effect of this would be, “Go and tell His disciples, and especially Peter, about the resurrection of their Lord.”

Peter was singled out! Now, he would have been included among the disciples in general, because he was one of the disciples. Why, therefore, was there this special emphasis, that the women were to make a special point of going to Peter, to tell him in a more personal and intimate way, that Christ had risen, and that he was alive?

We get the impression that the women went to the place where the disciples were gathered, and that they announced to the disciples what they had seen and heard. And then, perhaps, they took Peter off to the side, and said to him more privately, “For some reason, the angel told us to make a special point of telling you, by name, that Jesus has risen from the dead.”

Why was Peter singled out?

In general, we like to be singled out for things, don’t we? We like to receive special praise for our efforts. We like to receive a special award for our achievements. We like to be applauded when we have done something extraordinary. Usually when people are singled out, we think of it as a good thing, and we like being singled out for good and happy announcements like this.

Was Peter singled out, because during the previous few days he had shown extraordinary bravery, and fortitude, and faithfulness? Was he singled out for a special announcement of the resurrection as a reward, or as some way of vindication of his faithfulness and bravery in the face of all the trouble and turmoil that had been swirling around Christ and His disciples?

Well, I think we know the answer. Peter had not been extraordinarily brave or faithful. He had been a coward, and he had denied his Lord because of his fear and weakness. He had boasted that he would never deny Christ, that he would be willing to die rather than to deny his Lord. But instead, he denied Him three times, even blasphemously, with an oath.

This was not an insignificant sin. Remember what our Lord had said. “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven.” He had also said, “He who loves his life in this world will lose it.”

Well, Peter had loved his life in this world. And when he thought perhaps that he might be arrested and put to the same fate that Jesus was experiencing, he denied his Lord. He lied and said that he did not know him.

Now, Peter could not have made an excuse by saying, “Well, because of what was going on, everybody denied Christ. Everybody abandoned Him. So what I did was really not that bad.” He couldn’t make that excuse because everybody did not deny and abandon Christ. The apostle John, Peter’s younger colleague, had remained faithful to Christ, and had stayed with Him right up to the bitter end.

But of course, Peter didn’t try to make excuses for his sin. Instead, as the sacred text tells us, he went out and wept bitterly over it. He was deeply penitent, deeply sorry, and deeply ashamed over what he had done. He knew, he sensed very strongly, that he deserved Divine judgment for what he had done, that he deserved to be rejected by God and cast out from fellowship with Him forever.

But when the angel, on behalf of God, singled out a particular disciple for a special, personal, announcement of the resurrection, he did not single out John. The announcement of the resurrection was not to be a reward for faithfulness, and courage, and fortitude. Instead, the angel singled out Peter. Of all the disciples, he said, “This message is especially for Peter.”

Of course, the message of Christ’s victory over sin and death was, and is, for all of the disciples. But it was especially for the one who was cowering in the deepest shame over what he had done, and who regretted most bitterly his failure to be steadfast when his Lord had the right to be able to count on him. He was the disciple who had the deepest sense of his unworthiness before God, his unworthiness of God’s love, his unworthiness of God’s acceptance.

That was Peter. And Peter was the one who was singled out. “Go and tell his disciples, and especially Peter.”

Today, as you look at your life, do you feel more or less like John? Do feel as if you have been faithful, true, and reliable? That you have not let the Lord down? That you have done the right thing, the proper thing, when you were called upon to do it?

Or, like me, do you feel more like Peter, with his deep regret over his sin, and in his shame?

How many times in the recent past, or in the distant past, have you let God down by doing things that you had pledged you would not do, things that you knew were wrong, but you did them anyway? How many times have you been ashamed of Christ, and of the name of Christ, so that you were silent when you should have spoken in defense of what you believe? Or, how many times have you spoken hurtful and unkind words to others when you should have been silent? Three times? Well, probably more than three times.

Do you, therefore, sense yourself to be unworthy of the announcement of the resurrection on this day? Well, whether or not you sense things like that, and whether of not you feel that way, we are all unworthy of this announcement. We are all unworthy to join in the celebration of this event, because we have sinned. We have not been faithful to God’s law and will. Instead, we have been like Peter, each of us in his, or her, own way.

And yet, the message of the resurrection of Christ today, and every day, is for us. It is for everyone. But if we are like Peter, then we can be assured that it is especially for us.

It is especially for you.

The message of the resurrection of Christ is a message of God’s victory over sin and death for you. It is a message of your victory over sin and death in Christ. Christ is risen! Satan is defeated! You are saved! You are forgiven by a God who is a God of new beginnings and of second chances.

The message of the resurrection of Christ for you today is a message of a new beginning for you, and a message of a second chance for you.

Furthermore, the angel told the women to tell the disciples, and especially Peter, that the Lord was going before them to Galilee, and that they would see Him there. Now, we know that he actually revealed himself to them even before they got to Galilee, but yet, there was a special pledge that when they did go to Galilee, He would be there waiting for them, and they would see Him there.

Today, the message of the resurrection is for us. But yet, this particular aspect of the announcement is not for us. The Lord does not want us to go to Galilee. That’s not where the angel tells us to go in order to see Christ and have an encounter with Him.

But today, the Lord’s Word does tell us where we should go in order to be united to Christ, to see Him, and to have an encounter with Him. We, as forgiven sinners, are told that we, today, will meet Jesus in His Holy Supper. The risen Christ will meet us there. And, with the eyes of faith, we will see Him in the consecrated bread and wine, which He tells us is His true body and blood, given unto death and shed for the forgiveness of all our sins.

And when we go to the place where we will have the chance to meet and see Jesus, He, as our resurrected Lord, will embrace us. He will draw us close to Himself. He will assure us that all of our sins are forgiven. And He will fill us with the hope and life of His resurrection.

“Don’t be alarmed,” the angel said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go. Tell His disciples, and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There, there you will see Him, just as He told you.” Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

April 23, 2006 - Easter 2 - John 20:19-31

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

We continue our celebration of our Lord’s victory over sin and death today. As you noticed, our hymns are still celebrating the wonders of Christ’s resurrection. And our Gospel text is also telling us about some things that happened later in the day, the day when our Lord rose triumphantly and appeared first to the women, and then to His other disciples.

Last Sunday we especially marveled at the resurrection itself. This man who had been killed was now alive. But he was not simply resuscitated. He was living a glorious life, a divine life, a life-giving life.

But in today’s lesson, something similarly marvelous and astounding is described. Let’s listen again to the words of our Lord. He said to His disciples, ”Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Just think for a moment about the significance of the comparison that our Lord is here making. He reminds us of the fact that the Father sent Him into the world to be the world’s Savior from sin. And then He tells us that what He is now doing with His disciples is similar to this. Of course, it is not identical. The incarnation of the eternal Son of God into human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary is a unique and unrepeatable event. But yet, our Lord’s sending forth of His disciples into the world, and his bestowal upon them of the gift of the Holy Spirit is, in some significant ways, similar to what happened when the incarnation took place.

Let’s remember some of the things that our Lord said, as recorded earlier in the Gospel of John. ”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

When God the Father sent His Eternal Son into the flesh in order to be our Savior, He was, in this way, accomplishing our salvation for us. And as Jesus said elsewhere, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.

It is conceivable that God might have chosen any number of ways to restore His fellowship with sinful humanity. It is conceivable that God, in His infinite mind, would have been able to devise any number of ways of forgiving us, and giving us eternal life.

But yet, the way that He chose, the one and only way that He chose, was the way of the incarnation. God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, became one of us. He bore in His own flesh the judgment of His law against our sin. And in this way He won for us forgiveness and salvation.

This is the way that God saved humanity. This is the way in which God has reconciled Himself to the world. And now Jesus says, in similar terms, “I am sending you,” my disciples, out into the world.

The work that our Lord accomplished on the cross, and in His resurrection, is work that is completed. When He cried out from the cross, “It is finished!”, He meant it. All the sins of the world are now paid for, and through our Lord’s resurrection, the way to everlasting life is opened to humanity. But yet, there must be a way through which individual people come to know of this historical reality, a way through which individual people are brought to a saving faith in it. And this is what our Lord is addressing when He speaks these words to His disciples. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The church of Jesus Christ, the assembly of His disciples, is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. And it is the entity through which the Holy Spirit speaks and works to bring the message of Christ to the world. It is not exactly like the incarnation. The indwelling of our Lord’s divine nature within His human nature, according to His personal union, is not the same as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the fellowship of the church. But again, it is similar enough for our Lord to be willing to make this comparison.

The Holy Spirit could, I suppose, bring the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection to people in any number of ways, through any number of methods. But He brings this reality to the world through the disciples of Christ, and not through angels, or visions, or other means that He could conceivably use. Just as our Lord accomplished our salvation through His incarnation in Jesus Christ, so also our Lord brings to us the power and reality of our salvation through the ministry of the Holy Spirit operating in and through the disciples of the Lord. God could send angels. God could make billboards miraculously appear in the sky. God could do a whole lot of things. But what God has decided to do is what our Lord here describes.

And then we continue on with the some words that are quite marvelous, and even shocking to some people. And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Actually, there are two “imprecisions”, we might say, in the way that this phrase is translated in the translation that is before us. For those who do not repent, the word that is used in Greek is a little bit stronger than simply the idea that they are not forgiven. Instead, for those who do not repent of their sins, their sins are retained and bound to them. Their sins are tied fast to them. By a solemn Spirit-led declaration, the disciples of the Lord are here said to have the right and the authority to bind sins to those who do not repent - to declare to them authoritatively a foretaste of what will be declared to them on Judgment Day: “Your sins are not forgiven. Your sins are retained. Your sins will result in your judgment.”

And then also, another thing that is not reflected in the translation in the way it could be, is the fact that what our Lord is really saying is this: If you forgive anyone his sins, they have been forgiven. If you retain them, they have been retained. There is an objectivity about the forgiveness of sins and an objectivity about the retention of sins that does not depend on the pronouncement of retention or forgiveness. But instead, the pronouncement of retention or forgiveness depends on the objective reality.

Another thing that’s important for us to think about as we ponder the significance of these words, is the persons to whom they are addressed. They are addressed to the disciples of the Lord. In St. John’s Gospel, the category of “disciples” is a broader category than the category of apostles. Indeed, later on in the Gospel lesson that was read a few moments ago, we see a reference to Thomas, and he is described as “one of the twelve”. A reference to “the twelve” is a technical reference to the apostles. But the words of our Lord here were spoken not only to the apostles, but all who could properly and accurately be defined as disciples of Christ.

And if we want to know what a disciple of Christ is, so that we can know the category of people to whom these words are spoken, and to whom this authority is entrusted, then we need look no farther than our Lord’s own words as recorded earlier in this same Gospel. He said, on one occasion, to some Jews who had believed in Him, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

A disciple of Christ is one who abides in the word of Christ, and in whom the word of Christ abides. To abide in the word of Christ means a lot of things. One of the things it means is that we accept and acknowledge the judgments of the Lord’s word of condemnation against our sin. To abide in the word of Christ means that you admit that, when the word of Christ accuses you and points out your misdeeds and wrongdoings, that this is correct, and that you have, in fact, sinned against God. Abiding in the word of Christ means that you repent when the law of God is brought to bear against your conscience, making you honest about your misdeeds. And abiding in the word of Christ means that you embrace and believe His word of promise and pardon. When the Lord tells those who repent of their sins that their sins are forgiven, abiding in the word of Christ means believing those words - allowing those words to embrace us, to permeate us and to fill us with God’s loving and pardoning grace.

It is, of course, a very sad fact, that in the history of Christendom, many who have claimed the name of Christ have not really abided in the word of Christ. There have been many examples in history in which people have added to the word of Christ, identifying certain behaviors as sins which are actually not sins, or adding on additional conditions for forgiveness and salvation. That is not being a true disciple of Christ.

Another tendency, however - one that perhaps we see around us more often today - is the tendency to subtract from the word of Christ, so that certain things that Jesus does identify as sins are dismissed by us today as things that are simply lifestyle choices about which we will not be judgmental. Or, we also will dismiss our Lord’s call for people to repent and put their faith in Him, and only in that way to know the certainty of eternal life. We dismiss this today often with the idea that everybody who is sincere in what he believes will go to heaven. It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.

These are examples of subtracting from the word of Christ. But to be a disciple of Christ, to be the kind of person to whom the words in today’s text are addressed, means that we neither add to the word of Christ nor subtract from the word of Christ, but instead, abide in the word of Christ as it speaks Christ’s own message to us: His word of judgment against our sin, and most especially, His word of life and of pardon because of His finished work on the cross and in the empty grave.

This is what a disciple of Christ is. And therefore, this is the category of people to whom these words are spoken, and to whom this authority is given. He said to His disciples, that is, to those who abide in His word, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you retain them, they are retained.”

Jesus has sent His disciples into the world with a mission, a mission of proclaiming His word in law and gospel. Not a mission of making things up as we go; not a mission of deciding on the basis of our own human judgment whether or not a sin should be condemned, or whether or not the Gospel should be offered to a repentant sinner. But instead, we are sent forth as disciples of Christ to speak with Christ’s own authority the word of Christ.

And when this word is spoken, the Holy Spirit is actually the one who is doing the speaking, doing the condemning, and doing the forgiving.

One of the very specific ways in which our Lord fulfills this text is when he sends a pastor to a congregation. We may look at the external mechanisms that are involved in the calling of a pastor. We may look at the seminary training that a pastor must receive. We may look at the deliberative process by which a congregation considers prayerfully to whom to issue a call. And we may look at the deliberative process by which a pastor, or would-be pastor, would consider whether he should accept a call.

But yet, in, with, and under these external processes, what’s happening is that Jesus is sending a disciple to a congregation so that he can proclaim to them God’s authoritative word.

Sometimes visitors come to our worship services. And when we use the order of service on page 15, they are kind of startled when they hear the pastor say, “On the basis of this your confession, I, by virtue of my office as a called and ordained servant of the word, announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.”

Some visitors find this quite startling. They wonder, “How can that man standing up there forgive sins?”

Well, this is how he can do it. Because of the authority that our Lord has given to His disciples, as He sends the Holy Spirit into them, and as He speaks these words to them. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you retain them, they are retained.

When a pastor speaks a word of forgiveness to those who repent, it is the word of Christ. If a pastor truly abides in the word of Christ as he carries out his ministry, then he will always speak a word of forgiveness to those who repent - not because, in his own judgment, it’s what he wants to do, but because it’s what Christ wants him to do.

But there’s also another side to this coin. When a pastor who abides in the word of Christ speaks a word of judgment to those who do not repent, this also is an authoritative word from Christ, backed by the power of Christ’s Spirit, and it is a word that must be believed.

Sometimes when religious people involve themselves in things that are wrong, they will begin doing some church-shopping, looking for a church that will not speak a word of condemnation against their sin. But remember, as disciples of Christ, when the word of Christ condemns a sin, then we must condemn it, or we are not being true disciples of Him.

And so, when your pastor speaks a word of condemnation against a sin that you are committing, recognize that, if he is doing this as a disciple of Christ, on the basis of the word of Christ, then you had better listen to this. Because this is the Lord’s own pronouncement of judgment against you. And, as our Lord warns, if His disciples retain such sins, they are retained. They will cling to you like glue and they will drag you down to hell forever if you do not repent of them.

It is not, however, only pastors who have this authority, and who carry out this kind of work in the fellowship of the church. Pastors, by virtue of their unique public office, carry out this ministry in a unique and public way. But if you are able to count yourself as a disciple of Christ, then you too are a recipient, at least in an indirect way, of what our Lord is saying here today.

God has given you the power and the ability to speak His word of law against sin, and His word of Gospel to bring comfort to those who repent. And as you speak these words of Christ to the people among whom you associate within your callings in life, then these words are also powerful and effective. If you know that a fellow church member is veering off into a sinful behavior that is destructive of faith, and if you approach that person and warn him about it, but he does not respond with humility and repentance, and instead becomes arrogant and defensive, you have the authority as a Christian, as a disciple of Christ, to say to that person, “Your sins are not forgiven, and you are going to hurl yourself into damnation if you do not repent.”

As a layman, you have the authority to rebuke and admonish a fellow church member in this way. But also, if you become aware of the fact that someone is deeply sorry for sin, and deeply ashamed and deeply troubled because of things that have been done in the past, and he is wondering, “Will God forgive me? Will God accept me? Will God give me a second chance?, then you, even as a layman, have the right and the authority to say privately to that person, “Because Jesus died for your sins, therefore your sins are forgiven.”

And when you, as a disciple of Christ, even if you are not a pastor, speak words like this in circumstances like this, then your words have divine power. They have the power of the Holy Spirit within and behind them, in order to accomplish what God wants them to accomplish.

It truly is an amazing thing that our Lord rose from the dead on Easter morning. It’s an amazing thing that He thereby won for all of us forgiveness and eternal salvation. And it is also an amazing thing that, on Easter evening, Jesus bestowed unto His disciples the gift of His Spirit, and gave to His disciples - to those who abide in His word - the authority to speak His word of judgment against sin, and the authority to speak His word of peace and pardon to those who repent and believe. It’s an amazing thing that the risen Christ still lives, and that He lives with us, and among us, speaking His word through us: through the public ministry of the pastor, and through the private words of warning and encouragement among laymen.

As Jesus said to His disciples on that first Easter, so He also says to us today, ”Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you retain them, they are retained.” Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

30 April 2006 - Easter 3 - Luke 24:36-49

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Today we are continuing our celebration of Easter. There is so much joyful information that we want to share with each other, and reflect on, regarding the day of our Lord’s resurrection, when He achieved victory over the grave, that it takes the Church a while to cover all of it.

The Gospel text for today is describing events, once again, that happened on the day of our Lord’s resurrection. Indeed, today’s Gospel text is telling us about some of the same events that happened in the text that was read last Sunday, as taken from St. John’s Gospel. St. Luke reports some of the same things St. John says Jesus did on the evening of Easter Day, but he also tells us about some additional things that were said and done.

And as we look at some of the unique contributions that St. Luke makes to our knowledge of the events that happened on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, I would invite you to think with me about three specific reactions that the disciples of Christ had when they encountered Him, and about the three specific responses that our Lord made to those reactions.

We read, While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.

Their first reaction to their encounter with the risen Christ was that they were frightened. It seemed as if Jesus was a ghost. And their innate fear of the supernatural, their fear of the unknown, came out. I think there’s something inside all of us that is afraid of ghosts, or things like ghosts. We are afraid of things that seem to come from the other side of reality - a shadowy and mysterious side of reality that we’re not a part of - and so, because we don’t understand these things, we are afraid of them.

The disciples thought that perhaps they were seeing a ghost. Jesus’ response to this was to demonstrate, in every conceivable way, that it was really Him - not just His spirit, but Him in the flesh, with His body, standing before them in a resurrected and glorified state. He wanted them to know that, in every single sense of the word, He was now alive.

He said, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

The disciples had this unique experience - this unique kind of encounter with Christ and with the divine power and authority of Christ. And they were persuaded, by the incontrovertible evidence of their senses, that Jesus was truly alive, that He had risen from the dead, that He was the victor over death and the grave.

We will more than likely never have that kind of an encounter with Christ. But we don’t need to have that kind of an encounter, because the twelve apostles, as our representatives, have had it, and have witnessed it, on our behalf.

In the Old Testament there is a standard for civil law, which says that something can be established in a “court” setting on the basis of the testimony of two witnesses. Well, our Lord’s appointment of twelve apostles - including also Matthias, who later replaced Judas Iscariot - gives us six times more witnesses than we need in order to know that these things really happened. So, while we do not have this kind of an encounter with Christ, the apostles did. And on the basis of their testimony, we know that these things happened.

But now we come to another reaction of the disciples on this occasion, which, perhaps, is the kind of reaction that we would have when we are confronted with divine and holy things.

Jesus said to them, Why are you troubled?

They were troubled. They were churned up. They were unsettled. The word that’s used in the Greek here is the same word that’s used to describe a situation in which a pool of water would get churned up, bubbly, and with lots of movement. They were troubled in this way. They could not longer be complaisant. Things were no longer going according to the way that they had always gone before. Some changes had happened, changes that were unsettling. They were now needing to deal with some new, inescapable divine realities.

According to our human psychology, we like to have things be the way they have always been. We like things to stay the same. We are creatures of habit. We are most comfortable assuming, and hoping, that things will always be the way they have been.

I look out at the congregation today, and I see just about all of you sitting in the same pew where you sit every Sunday. What would happen if you came to church one Sunday and somebody else was sitting in your pew? And let’s say that this happened to all of you at the same time. It would be unsettling. It would cause you to pause, and would force you to take account of the fact that things are now different. Things are not the same as they were.

Well, at a deeper level, and in a more significant way, that’s what happened to the disciples when they had an inescapable encounter with the power and authority of God, as their Divine Savior stood before them, risen from the dead.

There are many times in the lives of human beings today when this sort of thing happens. God brings to us a revelation of the reality of who He is, the reality of His claims on our life, and things are never going to be the same after that. The way that we had been used to living is now over. All the things that we are used to are stirred up and unsettled. But yet, that is the way that the Lord works. He does stir us up from our complaisancy. He does stir us up from being satisfied with things being something less than the way they are supposed to be.

But indeed, Christ also gives us some comfort and assurance during times when we feel unsettled by all of these strange and frightening things that happen during times of turmoil. As He said to the disciples on this occasion, the Holy Scriptures are the absolute truth. They don’t change. Even though other things do change, contrary to what we might like, God’s Word never changes. Everything that it promises will be fulfilled. Everything that it tells us, and predicts, is true and will happen.

For believers, therefore, who trust in God, and in His truthfulness, and reliability, we are not shocked and jarred by those tumultuous experiences that we have in life, but instead, we know that God’s steady and even hand is in our life always, guiding us and keeping us calm and at peace in His truth.

Jesus said to His disciples on Easter evening, and He says to us, as we are unsettled by whatever it is that is disturbing our life, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures.

When you are unsettled by your encounter with the Divine, or by anything else that stirs you up, our Lord Jesus Christ sends you His Spirit, through His Word, so that your minds can be open to understand His Word. Our Lord Jesus Christ sends His Spirit to us through His Word so that we can know that, in the midst of all these frightening and unusual things that may be happening, God’s steadiness and God’s stability is still there. He can be counted on, and trusted to see us through, whatever it might be.

And then, the third reaction is another one that we often will have when we have an encounter with the unavoidable realities of God and of His claims on our life. Jesus asked, and why do doubts rise in your minds?

The word that’s translated here as “doubts” is a different word than the word St. John uses when he describes the doubts of Doubting Thomas. St. John used a word that described a lack of faith. St. Thomas had a lack of faith when his colleagues reported to him that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen this, as we heard in last week’s Gospel lesson.

But the word that Luke uses here is a different one. It has a more intriguing meaning. It is the word dialogosmoi. And you’re right. It sounds an awful lot like our English word “dialogs.” Elsewhere, this word is translated as “reasonings,” or we might think of it as “rationalizations.”

The disciples were having internal dialogs when they saw something that seemed to be impossible. They were going back and forth in their mind. They were saying, “Well, this certainly seems to be Jesus, but yet, we saw Jesus die! But then again, He’s here, showing us His hands and His feet, and yet, can we really believe that somebody can be risen from the dead?” And so, in their mind, they were going back and forth. They were dialoging with themselves. And Jesus said, “Why are you doing this? Why don’t you just believe that what is happening in front of you is true? And why don’t you just submit your human reasonings, and all of your assumptions about what may or may not be possible, to the reality of what is going on right now for your salvation?”

We often do this kind of dialoging within ourselves when we are confronted by things that we’re not ready to accept, things that we’re not ready to submit to.

And there’s another place in the New Testament also, where this word is used, in a context that, I think, illustrates how we often will be involved in these dialogs in our mind when we are confronted by uncomfortable realities of God. From Romans, chapter 1, St. Paul says, men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking (their dialoging in their minds) became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts

In this chapter, St. Paul is talking specifically about the sins of idolatry and homosexuality. But what he is saying here would apply to any situation in which we are confronted by the demands of God’s law, and by the moral standards to which we are held accountable, but yet we are not willing to accept.

And so, we dialog in our mind. We try to rationalize away our behavior and talk ourselves into thinking that we’re not actually violating God’s law. Or, we try to rationalize away the prescripts of God’s law, talking ourselves into the idea that God really doesn’t demand of us the things that He demands.

And so, yes, we, as with all human beings, will very often carry out this kind of dialoging process in our minds when we are confronted by strange, and uncomfortable, and unwelcome demands and expectations of God. Just as the disciples were dialoging in their mind when they were confronted by the reality of Christ’s victory over sin and death. They knew that, if they embraced this, and that if they allowed this to embrace them, their lives would be different from then on. Their lives would be changed. There lives would never again be their own.

And so they were dialoging. They were trying to rationalize this away, to help themselves to escape from the inevitability of God’s claim on them. But Jesus said, “Why do these dialogs, these doubts, rise in your minds? You have to accept the reality of what is being revealed to you.”

And indeed, whenever you would try to talk yourself into or out of something, in a way that is contrary to what God reveals, Jesus would tell you, “You have to accept it. You have to acknowledge that what God says and does is real, and that He has the right to make a claim on your life, and He has the right to change your life and make your life to be something difference, as it never was before.

Our Lord’s response to this human tendency to dialog about such things - His response to His disciples doing this, and His response to us whenever we do it - is to speak to us a straight, direct, and pointed message that cuts through all of that obfuscation, that cuts through all of that rationalization, that cuts through all of that excuse-making and pierces right through to the deepest level of our heart, mind, and conscience.

Jesus said, This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

When the reality of God’s law confronts you, as St. Paul would describe it in Romans 1, don’t have these dialogs within your mind to try to wiggle out from underneath these demands, but acknowledge that Jesus died for your sins, and that the preaching of repentance is a preaching that is directed to you. And, when you are in this way humbled by the straight, direct, and pointed message of God’s judgment against your sin, then also listen to our Lord’s words when He tells you that He is risen from the dead! He has achieved victory for you over sin and the grave, and therefore, that the forgiveness of sins is, and always will be, proclaimed to you. Instead of these dialogs and rationalizations, listen to what God is telling you. He’s cutting through all of that in order to speak a word of judgment against your sin, but more importantly, to speak the word of pardon and life and restoration that will last forever.

And so, the disciples had three reactions to their encounter with Christ, reactions that we can understand, reactions that we would probably have had if we were in their circumstance, and reactions that we do, in fact, have when we have similar encounters with the reality of God, the reality of His just law, and the reality of His claims on our life. But the Lord also responds to those reactions in the way that He responded on that first Easter evening. He draws us to the certainty and unchangeableness of His Word, so that it can be a source of stability in the midst of all upheavals in our life, whatever they may be. And He speaks to us pointedly, calling us to repentance, and bestowing upon us the forgiveness of sins, to change us, to make us different than the way we were before, and to put the reality of His life into us - for this life in this world, and for the world to come. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.