SERMONS - MARCH 2018
4 March 2018 - Lent 3 - Exodus 20:1-17
The moral law of God comes to us in two ways. The first way in which we can know what God requires and forbids, is through the “natural law” that is imprinted on the conscience of all human beings.
St. Paul compares this natural law to the written law of Moses in his Epistle to the Romans, where he writes that
“When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
But this natural law, while clear in itself, is not perceived clearly by the clouded mind of fallen man. Because of the sinfulness that we have inherited from our first parents, our consciences are often scarred and twisted, and our darkened minds are often blind to one or another aspect of the law written on the heart.
This inherited corruption runs so deep, and is so pervasive, that by nature we don’t even realize how much we tune-out the voice of God’s law within our conscience - as we lead self-justifying lives, and make self-serving decisions. In the Smalcald Articles, the Lutheran Church confesses and teaches from God’s Word that
“Sin originated from one man, Adam. By his disobedience, all people were made sinners and became subject to death and the devil. ... The fruit of this sin are the evil deeds that are forbidden in the Ten Commandments.”
“These include unbelief, false faith, idolatry, being without the fear of God, pride, despair, utter blindness, and, in short, not knowing or regarding God. Also lying, abusing God’s name, not praying, not calling on God, not regarding God’s Word, being disobedient to parents, murdering, being unchaste, stealing, deceiving, and such.”
“This hereditary sin is such a deep corruption of nature that no reason can understand it. Rather, it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture.”
This revelation concerning our deep sinfulness is made known to us in the Bible, not only in those passages that teach the doctrine of original sin per se, but also in the Ten Commandments themselves: as their clear and unambiguous demands bump up against the way we actually think, speak, and act; and force us to admit that we have failed to live up to what God requires of us in those commandments.
We cannot skirt around those divine words, chiseled permanently into the stone, and inscribed permanently onto the pages of Holy Writ. They can’t be fudged, as natural law can be fudged. They say what they say. They require what they require.
And God has the right to require our obedience to the two tables of this law - that is, the cluster of commandments that pertain to our duty toward him directly, and the cluster of commandments that pertain to our duty toward our fellow men.
The Ten Commandment are not, however, just a power-play by God, through which he is simply proving that he has authority over people, and is able to tell everyone what to do whether they like it or not. And God is not a spiteful killjoy who takes pleasure in depriving us of fun or happiness, by imposing arbitrary restrictions on us.
God’s law is a good thing, and it is good for us. To live according to God’s law, would be to live a life of happiness and freedom.
St. James writes that “the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” And if we all respected and treated each other in ways that were in harmony with the Ten Commandments, all of our relationships would be peaceful and harmonious.
But in this sad world of sin and death, that is unfortunately not what happens. In our short-sighted pride and arrogance, we refuse to see the goodness of God’s law. In our self-destructive impulsiveness, we continually set ourselves at odds with the wisdom of God’s law.
In our fallen condition, as ungrateful creatures of God, we are the proverbial dogs that bite the hand that feeds us. In our irrational rebellion against God’s love, we turn ourselves into enemies of all that is pure and decent, and hurl ourselves into hellish destruction and despair.
The Ten Commandments stand against all of that, and offer a better way than all of that. And the Ten Commandments are clear in what they say.
We are therefore without excuse in our disobedience. No murderer, adulterer, thief, or liar can ever say, “I didn’t know that this was a sin.” They knew. We know.
But disobedience is indeed our constant response to what God here tells us. Even if we restrain ourselves from literal, physical murder, literal robbery, and other forms of external criminality, we still disobey in our hearts and heads - in our corrupted desires and polluted thoughts.
We hate those whom God tells us to love. We lust for what God has not given us. We covet what God has given to someone else. And we lie about it.
And when we, in these and other ways, defy God’s morality for us, and ignore God’s warnings to us, the Ten Commandments then also accuse us, and rightly condemn us.
In view of the evil we have done, and the good we have left undone, when our lives are compared to, and measured by, the Ten Commandments, those commandments mark us as sinners. They mark us as alienated from God’s kingdom, as disinherited from God’s family, and as cut off from God’s fellowship.
This is not a good situation for us. This is not a good situation for the human race. St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans:
“We know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
This would not have been a good situation for Jesus of Nazareth, either, if Jesus of Nazareth had been like us, and like all other men. But he wasn’t like us. He was different.
When Jesus declared that he came into the world to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, that included a fulfilling of the Ten Commandments. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expounded upon, and applied, the Ten Commandments, in their full potency: especially emphasizing the need for the obedience of the heart and not just of the body; and the need for perfect obedience.
And he practiced what he preached. As God’s eternal Son in human flesh, Jesus perfectly obeyed his Father, and his own divine law.
All of his teenage years, and his relationship with Mary and Joseph as he grew to adulthood, are summarized by St. Luke in these simple yet profound words: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” That was a perfect obedience to the Fourth Commandment.
And in adulthood, at the beginning of his public ministry, when he approached John the Baptist in order to receive baptism from him - but when John hesitated, in view of Jesus’ Messianic mission and personal sinlessness - Jesus told him: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
This set the pace for everything he did, said, and thought. For Jesus, according to the opportunities to honor God and serve man that were at hand on any given occasion, he knew that it was always fitting for him “to fulfill all righteousness.”
It was always a time to do the right thing. And he always did the right thing. Jesus always obeyed the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” - the commandment from which, in a sense, all the other commandments flow.
He obeyed it in the ways that all of us are supposed to obey it. And He obeyed it also in the special way in which only he could obey it - by fulfilling the unique saving mission that God the Father had sent him into the world to fulfill.
We hear him pray in Gethsemane, just before his arrest, his trial, and his crucifixion: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
According to his humanity, Jesus did not look forward to the suffering that awaited him on Calvary - not just the physical agony, but also and especially the agony that would come to his soul, in his being forsaken by his Father on the cross.
But this suffering, even unto death, was necessary - and it was not possible for Jesus to avoid it - because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” And it was precisely for the forgiveness of sins - for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins, and your sins - that Jesus came into the world.
And this feeling of forsakenness - this experiencing of the anguish of hell, as humanity’s substitute - was also necessary, because God’s holy justice requires this. Because Jesus went through this for you, you need not go through this yourself, on the other side of death.
The Prophet Isaiah tells us:
“He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds 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.”
Jesus obeyed the First Commandment - and all the commandments - as our example, showing us what we, too, must do. But much more so, Jesus obeyed the First Commandment - and all the commandments - as our stand-in and representative.
In love he did for us what we needed to do, but could not do ourselves. And now, also in love, he gives to us what we need to have, but could never earn or achieve on our own.
He gives us his perfect obedience, and by God’s grace that obedience is credited to us, as if we had obeyed. In Christ, we have obeyed, by faith.
He gives us his pure righteousness, and by God’s mercy that righteousness covers us, and makes us acceptable to God, as if we were righteous. In Christ, we are righteous, by faith.
In repentance, we turn away from the sin and disobedience that causes us to need such a Savior. And in faith we turn to, and receive, the Savior whom we do have.
And then through that Savior, we begin a new life: a new life with God; and with God’s help and guidance, a new life in this world. The Epistle to the Hebrews encourages us:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
And St. Paul likewise encourages us in his Epistle to the Ephesians. He describes what we have now become in Christ, with the new status of saints that is ours, in the presence of God. He describes what we have now become in Christ, with the new spiritual life that is ours, through the indwelling of his Spirit.
And he describes what we have now become in Christ, in our new respect for the Ten Commandments, and in our new appreciation for the wholesome guidance they give us - as members of a Christian community that is continually sustained and renewed in faith and love, by Christ’s Word and Sacrament. The apostle writes:
“You have heard about [Christ] and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life, and is corrupt through deceitful desires; and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
So far St. Paul.
The Law of God is good and wise, And sets His will before our eyes;
Shows us the way of righteousness, And dooms to death when we transgress.
The Law is good; but since the Fall Its holiness condemns us all;
It dooms us, for our sin, to die And has no power to justify.
To those who, help in Christ, have found, And would in works of love abound,To Jesus we for refuge flee, Who from the curse has set us free,
It shows what deeds are His delight, And should be done as good and right.
And humbly worship at His throne, Saved by His grace through faith alone. Amen.
11 March 2018 - Lent 4 - John 3:14-21
The movie “The Poseidon Adventure” - both the original 1972 version and the 2005 remake - tells an interesting story. Most of you have probably seen one or both of these films.
As you recall, a large trans-Atlantic luxury liner called the Poseidon is hit by a monstrous rogue wave, which capsizes the ship. The survivors then find themselves basically at the bottom of the upside-down ship, standing on what used to be the ceiling of one of the main upper-deck rooms.
Most of the people decide to stay where they are - to wait and see what happens. They don’t sense themselves to be in imminent danger.
They aren’t sure what to do, so they decide to do nothing. They don’t want to make a mistake that would doom them to death by going to the wrong place, so they make what seems to be the neutral choice. They go nowhere.
But a small, adventurous, and wise group of passengers decides to leave the others, and to move toward the top of the capsized ship - that is, toward what used to be the bottom of the ship. They know that those who stay where they are now, are doomed already.
Remaining “neutral” is not an option. To do nothing would be to continue in the doomed condition in which everyone now finds himself. The water will eventually find its way in, and start drowning people, from the bottom of the ship on up.
The only way to be saved from this fate, and to live, will be to leave that location, and to move up - ahead of the rising water - toward that part of the ship that is still sticking up above the surface of the sea.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel from St. John: “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.”
This is good news to those of us who are aware of our sin, and who sense the distance that our sin creates between us and God. We rejoice to hear that God sent his Son into the world to save the world, because we know that we need this salvation.
There are many people in the world, however, who mistakenly feel themselves to be in a neutral state regarding God and the possibility of a relationship with God. They are not yet persuaded that they need salvation from sin.
At the same time, they don’t completely dismiss the possibility that there might be some advantage or benefit to cultivating a spiritual life, or to becoming religiously active in some way. But, they’re not yet ready to make such a commitment.
They’re still considering their options. They’re just waiting, perhaps, to see what happens.
Those who understand their spiritual or religious state in this way, or in a similar way, would no doubt be pleased to know that Jesus said: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.”
That’s good. It would seem to mean that they don’t have to make a decision about God, at least not right away. Jesus is not here to condemn them.
So, it would seem that everything will be O.K. while they get ready to decide what to do in regard to their souls - for however much time it takes them to decide. Until then - if that time ever comes - they’ll just stay neutral.
But the words that Jesus speaks today do not really give people that kind of latitude - or that kind of “breathing space,” as it were - in considering what their options might be, either for or against God and what he offers. Listen to the totality of what Jesus is saying:
“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.”
It’s very true that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world. There was no need for that, because the world is already condemned. And those in the world, who are still in their natural state of unbelief and rebellion against God, are already condemned.
There is no “neutral” state as far as God and a relationship with him are concerned. You are not born in a spiritually neutral condition, in which you get to take your time to decide what kind of spiritual pathway you may eventually take. You are born as a part of a condemned race.
We’re all a part of the same human race. We are connected to each other, across the generations, and across all ethnicities.
Among other things, that means that you were in Adam - in his genes, in his humanity - when he sinned against God in the garden of Eden. And it means that Adam is in you - in your genes, in your humanity - from the very moment of your conception, reliving his rejection of God’s Word, in you and through you.
St. Paul comments on this mystery - this frightening and sobering mystery - in his Epistle to the Romans: “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
Likewise in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “In Adam all die.”
And so, as the Epistle to the Ephesians states, we are “by nature children of wrath,” and are at enmity with God. We are, by nature, condemned.
It’s not as if God singled each of us out for condemnation, arbitrarily and heartlessly. No, it’s not like that at all. Rather, we are conceived and born into a circumstance, and into a condition, in which condemnation is what we are destined for, unless something would happen to change that trajectory.
Like the passengers who elected to remain where they were, in the bottom of the overturned Poseidon cruise ship, people may think they are remaining neutral by choosing to do nothing - to believe nothing. But they are not remaining neutral.
They are remaining under condemnation, because of sin: their inherited sinfulness in general, and the actual sins that they choose to commit every day. And in this condemnation, unless something changes, they will perish.
Jesus, with profound grief and disappointment, describes the state of those who reject God and what he offers, in today’s Gospel: “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light.”
For those of us who know Christ, this would have been our fate too, if there had not been a divine intervention in our lives, and a change in the direction in which we, together with everyone else, were being pushed and pulled by sin and unbelief.
We were conceived and born into the same moral muck and mire that covers and contaminates everyone else. With respect to our conversion and faith, there is no room for pride, or for self-congratulation, that we are not condemned any more.
The difference between us and those who remain under condemnation is this: we have been supernaturally rescued from the fate that otherwise would have been ours and theirs together.
The hand of divine forgiveness in Christ, extending down from heaven to this world, miraculously took hold of us, and pulled us out. God disrupted our downward journey to destruction, and drew the eyes of our faith up instead - up to the cross, on which Christ is lifted up as a sacrifice for all human sin.
Like those adventurous few in the movie - who did not remain in the circumstance of doom in which they and all the others found themselves after the capsizing of the ship - we, in Christ, have been led up and out of this situation, and have been shown a way of escape. We have been led up and out, to a new life with God.
We have, in a word, been saved. And that is indeed what Jesus was sent into the world to do. “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.”
St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to Timothy that “God our Savior...desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”
All human beings by nature are in a state of condemnation, not because of anything that God has done, but because of what they have done - collectively and individually. By the wicked things that we and all our ancestors have done, said, and thought, we have separated ourselves from a holy God - from his protection and fellowship. We have willfully hurled ourselves into condemnation.
When God involved himself in this human predicament, by sending his only begotten Son into the world and into human flesh, it was not for the purpose of heaping even more condemnation upon the already-condemned human race - although we would have no basis to complain if God had chosen to do that, since “we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment” - as we confess in the Small Catechism.
But what God did do in Christ, was to bring to those who are already condemned on account of their sins, a way out from under that condemnation. In Jesus, God came to earth on a rescue mission.
Apart from Christ - before we repent of our sins and trust in him - we are not neutral in regard to God and the things of God. Apart from Christ, the world is not neutral.
It is hostile and antagonistic toward God. We, deep down - in our sinful nature - are hostile and antagonistic toward God.
But in Christ, God brings reconciliation and regeneration to those who are by nature stuck in the deception of unbelief. In Christ God brings enlightenment and liberation to those who are by nature stuck in the slavery of sin.
He changes our hearts, and changes our way of thinking and living. By the working of his Holy Spirit in the gospel and in us, our heavenly Father draws us into a restored fellowship with him and with his Son.
As Jesus also says, with great joy and satisfaction: “Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.”
Dear friends, God does not want you to be condemned. He does not want you to remain in the condemned state in which you came into this world. He does not want you to exit this world - and to enter into the next world - still under this condemnation.
When you leave this world, and indeed while you yet live in it, God wants you to be saved from this condemnation. He wants you to live in the peace of his forgiveness, and in the hope of eternal life.
He wants your eyes to be opened to the reality of his unmeasurable love for you, and for all people. He wants you to be healed of the blindness of your unbelief, as you look to Christ.
By his grace, your heavenly Father has made his salvation available to you, and is even now offering and giving it to you, to be received by faith in his Son.
Believe the Lord’s certain pledge that in Christ you are not condemned. Believe the Lord’s trustworthy promise that he saves you from this condemnation, for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ.
“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.” Amen.
18 March 2018 - Lent 5 - Hebrews 5:1-10
There are different ways of learning. Sometimes we learn by sitting in a classroom, listening to a lecture, and taking notes for review at a later time. This kind of learning increases our intellectual knowledge.
At other times we learn by having someone show us in a “hands-on” way how to do something, as our teacher demonstrates how a certain task is to be performed, and leads us through the performance of that task, until we can perform that task on our own. This kind of learning increases our skills and abilities.
And then, there is the kind of learning that comes through suffering and hardship. Such trying experiences create a context for the development of personal character, and for the clarifying of convictions and values.
In times of trial and testing, we learn who we really are. We learn about what is truly important to us.
God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, during his time on earth, and according to his human nature, learned in all of these ways. The Gospel of Luke tells us, with respect to his teen years, that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
Together with the other boys of Nazareth, he learned the Scriptures from the village rabbi. The depth and breadth of his learning is evident from the ease with which he could quote from the Scriptures during his ministry.
And Jesus’ studies of the Scriptures gave him a perfect and fully accurate knowledge of God’s Word, since his mind and understanding were clear and untainted by any sin or intellectual laziness.
From Joseph, his step-father, Jesus learned the carpenter’s trade. Both in the carpenter’s shop and on construction sites, Joseph showed him how to use the tools of his craft to make furniture, to build a house or shed, and to do all the other things that carpenters and masons did in the first century.
And Jesus learned what he was taught, so that he, too, was understood not just to have been a carpenter’s son, but to have been a carpenter in his own right. St. Mark’s Gospel tells us that after he began to preach and perform miracles in his hometown, at the start of his public ministry, the townspeople of Nazareth asked:
“Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary...?”
And, as today’s text from the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, Jesus also experienced that third way of learning, during the time of his humiliation. We read:
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”
Jesus was the Son of God, and was himself God from all eternity - the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who took on human flesh. But he did not just take on human flesh.
God’s Son took on an entire human life. He lived as we live. He struggled as we struggle. He learned as we learn.
The Epistle to the Hebrews also reminds us that Jesus is not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” since he “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Jesus lived under the law, and he obeyed the law. He always loved the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength; and he always loved his neighbor as himself.
Jesus also lived faithfully within his own unique vocation, as humanity’s Redeemer. And he perfectly fulfilled that vocation.
St. Paul touches on both of these aspects of Jesus’ life on earth in his Epistle to the Galatians, where he writes that “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.”
As we recall in particular the Lord’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, we know that Jesus’ sacrificing of himself for our sins, under the curse of the law, cost him greatly. Humanly speaking, it was not a simple and easy thing for Jesus to submit to his Father’s will, and as humanity’s substitute to endure the physical and spiritual pain of the cross.
But Jesus did submit. According to his human nature he struggled, but he never turned away from his duty.
He did what was necessary, so that through his substitutionary death, sinful humanity could be reconciled to a God who is both holy and righteous, and gracious and forgiving. By what Jesus did and allowed to be done, he shows us, on the cross, the mystical intersection and overlapping of God’s wrath and God’s mercy.
Your sins are not ignored. They are punished. But they are punished in Christ. Or more precisely, in Christ, God absorbs his own punishment of all human sin into himself, and thereby deflects that punishment away from you.
Jesus’ love for his Father in heaven, and his love for us, carried him through that time of testing and trial. He did not fail or falter. In the words of today’s text, “he learned obedience through what he suffered.”
And as we watch him learn obedience in this way, and as we “take this in” and ponder it, we are taught that we, too, can learn obedience through what we suffer.
When you by faith know the reality of God’s grace and forgiveness in your life, you also know that God is always with you. Trials and testings that bring physical stress or emotional upheavals, and that stretch you to the limits of your endurance, are not signs that God has abandoned you.
They are, instead, signs that God is now giving you an opportunity to learn something important: something that will develop your character as his child; something that will clarify your convictions and values as a disciple of his Son; and something that will refocus and deepen your faith and reliance upon him. The Epistle to the Hebrews offers us this encouragement:
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
St. Paul talks about this in his Epistle to the Romans, where he writes that through our Lord Jesus Christ we have “obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
King David gives expression to his confidence that God has not abandoned him, and is always with him, in this beautiful prayer from Psalm 139:
“You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. ...”
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”
“If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”
In his life on earth, even during the darkest time of that life, this was also the conviction and comfort of Jesus. And this can be our conviction and comfort as well, as we cling to Christ and his promises.
But while Jesus never faltered and failed as he learned obedience through what he suffered, we do often falter and fail. When we are slammed by the tumults and troubles of life in this fallen world, we so often take our eyes off of Christ, and start to sink.
We so often neglect to pray, “lead us not into temptation.” And the devil, the world, and our own flesh then begin to pull us down into misbelief, despair, and other shameful sin and vice.
When this happens to you, or when it seems as if this might begin to happen, it is so important for you to hear and believe what today’s text goes on to say, after the section we have already quoted. With respect to Jesus, and the genuine human temptations that he faced, we are told:
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
He is the source of your eternal salvation, as you believe his announcement, and heed his invitation: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
He is the source of your forgiveness and life, as you in faith obey this wonderful and loving command: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus’ obedience in his suffering, in your place and as your substitute, covers over all the instances of disobedience in suffering - and of disobedience in general - that have marked your life.
His obedience covers over all of your doubts and all of your rebellions. His obedience brings forgiveness for all of your shortcomings and for all of your transgressions.
The Lord’s Supper very concretely hones in on our Savior’s obedience to his Father’s plan for your salvation, in his willingness to give his body into death, and to shed his blood, for you.
If you are a communicant in his church - as you today regret your disobediences, and repent of your lack of trust in him - you will have an opportunity today to obey him once again, and to trust in him once again. Jesus will give you this opportunity when he says to you:
“Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
“Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Obey this gracious command. Trust in this loving promise. Receive this precious gift.
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” Amen.
25 March 2018 - Palm Sunday - Mark 15:1-47
Today we begin our observance of Holy Week, and we begin our recollection of all the things that transpired during the last week of our Lord’s earthly life. One of those pivotal events - as today’s reading from St. Mark recounts it - was Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate.
In our American system of jurisprudence, a defendant has the right to remain silent. Someone who is accused of a crime cannot be forced to testify in his own trial.
But very often a defendant does not avail himself of that right - especially if it looks as if he is going to be convicted if he remains silent, without giving his side of the story. And when a defendant is actually innocent of what he is charged with, then he almost never remains silent. He does and says everything he can to persuade the jury and the judge that he is not guilty.
The kind of rights that we enjoy in our American courtrooms were not in place in the trial that Jesus endured before the Roman governor. But even so, it is very telling to see when, during the course of his trial, Jesus was willing to speak; and when he chose not to speak, but to remain silent.
We read in today’s Gospel: “Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ And he answered him, ‘You have said so.’”
In this somewhat oblique way, Jesus was willing to respond to Pilate’s question, and to admit that he was indeed a King. Other Gospel writers confirm this, in the way they recount these events.
Jesus was the King of the Jews, and he was willing to say so in open court. He did not hide this fact, or remain silent when he was questioned concerning his royal status.
But of course, Jesus was a different kind of king than what people like Pilate were used to. Jesus is quoted in St. John’s Gospel to say that his kingdom is “not of this world” - a mystery which neither Pilate nor the Lord’s Jewish opponents could truly grasp.
Today’s Old Testament lesson puts forth a contrast between the kind of powerful soldier king who rides in triumph in a magnificent chariot, or astride a tall battle stallion; and the kind of king Jesus was. Jesus, as a king, did not embody any of the boastful arrogance of a typical earthly king.
He did not ride in victory as a conquering ruler. But he entered the city on a donkey - an inglorious beast of burden - in order to do some rough and grueling work. Through Zechariah, God exclaims:
“Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem...”
And so Jesus was willing to admit that he was a king. But he was a king who had come among his people to bear the heaviest of burdens for them, and to lay down his life to save them.
He had not come in earthly glory and power. He had come, rather, in “the form of a servant,” as the Epistle to the Philippians expresses it. He was a king, but he was a servant-king.
But then we notice that immediately after this exchange between Pilate and Jesus, Jesus did not reply to Pilate’s next question. We read:
“The chief priests accused [Jesus] of many things. And Pilate again asked him, ‘Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.”
Pilate was amazed, because he knew that Jesus was not really guilty of the things he was being accused of. He knew that these were trumped-up charges.
He could not imagine why Jesus would not speak up in his own defense, and refute the false accusations that were being leveled against him. Pilate had never before seen anything like this, especially when the potential punishment could be death by crucifixion.
In such a circumstance Pilate would have expected even a guilty person to lie, and falsely to claim innocence. He certainly would have expected an innocent person to tell the truth, and rightly to claim innocence.
But he never would have expected an innocent person to say nothing, and to let false charges go unanswered. Jesus was acquiescing in his own frame-up.
By his silence, he was virtually guaranteeing his condemnation. Pilate could not understand why he would do this.
But we do understand why he would do this. Jesus in his own person had indeed not committed the many sins that he was being accused of. In fact, he had never committed any sins or wrongdoings of any kind.
The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that he was “without sin.” The Second Epistle to the Corinthians says that he “knew no sin.”
But, as the Second Epistle to the Corinthians also says, God made him who knew no sin “to be sin” for our sake. The sins of humanity were imputed to Jesus, and placed upon Jesus.
As humanity’s substitute under the judgment of God’s law, Christ took upon himself all the blame for all the wickedness of all men. The prophet Isaiah puts it this way:
“He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
“He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.”
“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.”
And that, my friends, is exactly what was going on when Jesus stood before Pilate in perfect, submissive silence, while every imaginable crime and offense was piled onto him by the accusing lips of the chief priests.
Jesus allowed himself to be accused of our sins. He allowed your sins and mine to be credited to him.
He did not deflect these charges and accusations by defending himself and proclaiming his innocence. Jesus permitted himself to be found guilty.
In this “great exchange” - because of his great love for all of us - he was willing to be declared guilty for our sake, so that we could be declared “not guilty,” before God, for his sake.
Jesus took our place before that Roman tribunal, which was really God’s tribunal, so that we can now take his place before the tribunal of God; and so that we can now be told by the Judge of all the universe that, for the sake of Christ, our sins will be forgotten - as if they had never been committed - and will not be held against us.
God says through the Prophet Jeremiah: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
These are the words that a penitent heart needs to hear. And these are the words that a penitent heart can and will hear, because of the silence of Christ before Pilate.
And it truly was God who was doing this. As the Book of Acts tells us, Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”
By means of the circumstances of history that were swirling around Jesus, God caused his own Son to be arrested and hauled in front of the Roman governor. And God is the one who caused the sins of the world to be placed upon his Son, and who caused Jesus to be condemned to death on account of those sins.
The chief priests - in spite of their personal unbelief, and the wicked intentions of their hearts - were, according to their external office, among the “called and ordained” ministers of Israel at that time in history. And Jesus had told Pilate that, according to his civil office as Roman governor, his authority to pass judgment in this case had been given to him “from above.”
The priests’ accusations were God’s accusations - through which the sins of the world were put upon Jesus by God. And Pilate’s judgment was God’s judgment - through which God’s own Son was sent to the cross, to become the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.
As is often the case with ministers and magistrates, none of these people really understood the deeper significance of what they were doing, or how they and their offices were being used by God on this occasion to fulfill his eternal plan for human redemption. But they were being used by God for his purposes nevertheless, in spite of themselves.
The sins that were placed upon Jesus stayed with him, all the way to the cross. And on the cross, he experienced the equivalent of hell itself, precisely because those sins were upon him, and because his Father saw those sins upon him.
“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?,” he cried. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
He was forsaken by his Father in that moment because, in God’s sight, he had become, by imputation, the embodiment of sin, and all sinners. He had become guilty of all sin. And he endured the punishment that all sin deserves.
If you ever wonder how offensive your various acts of disobedience toward God actually are, look at the cross. If you ever wonder how seriously God takes his threat to punish the transgressions against his holiness that you have perpetrated, look at what Jesus endured in your place. Look, and grieve.
Your sinfulness, with all the pain and misery that it brings to you and others, is not a small problem. It is a major problem. It is a humanly unsolvable problem.
But it is a problem that God can solve, and that God did solve in the person of his Son - the divine Lord in human flesh. Jesus died for your sins.
And now, because of this fact, you need not die for those sins. You are forgiven. You are free.
For the sake of Christ, God has released you from your unpayable debt to him. For the sake of Christ, he has turned his wrath and displeasure away from you, and has made known to you instead his loving, Fatherly heart.
Your guilt has been lifted from you, and the righteousness of Christ has been bestowed upon you in its place. Returning to a passage from Second Corinthians that we have already quoted in part: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In the gospel, you are embraced in Christ as a child of God. And as you believe the gospel, you are filled with the Spirit of adoption, by whom you cry out, “Abba, Father.” As God’s adopted sons and daughters, you are transformed ever more into the image of his only-begotten Son.
As the Holy Spirit does now indwell you, you begin to bear the fruit of that Spirit in the new life that he gives you. And your hearts and minds are set at peace.
At the time of Jesus’ trial, God used the accusing words of the high priests as a means of putting your sins upon Jesus. And God used the condemning words of Pontius Pilate as a means of setting in motion his divine judgment against those sins; and his divine judgment against his Son, as the one to whom those sins had been credited.
Today, God uses the absolving words of your pastor - spoken in the stead and by the command of Christ - as a means of putting the righteousness of the now risen Christ upon you. God uses your pastor’s announcement to you of God’s gracious pardon through his Son, as a means of taking away your fear and dread, and of filling you instead with faith, and with the hope of eternal life.
When Jesus stood before Pilate, and was accused of many crimes, he was silent, and said nothing. But Jesus is silent no more.
Through the called and ordained servant of the Word whom he has placed among you, Jesus now freely speaks. And he is speaking to you, when he pronounces God’s acquittal, and says: “I forgive you all your sins.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
29 March 2018 - Maundy Thursday - 1 Corinthians 10:16
St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to the Corinthians:
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”
Last year, many Christians commemorated the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses. Of course, we Lutherans mark this anniversary every year, on or near October 31st, as we remember what happened in Wittenberg on that day in 1517, and everything that resulted from it.
In our country, the anniversary of the vote of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to adopt the Declaration of Independence, in 1776, is commemorated every year on the 4th of July.
Within a family, wives and husbands remember their wedding anniversary every year - or at least husbands remember that date if they know what is good for them! We also recall and celebrate our birthdays on an annual basis.
In some ways Maundy Thursday is like this. We are observing the anniversary of an event - the Last Supper, and the first Lord’s Supper - that took place on the night in which Jesus was betrayed in the city of Jerusalem. It is important to recall this event as something that did really happen.
Many people today - even within the institutions of the church - dismiss the historicity of what was said and done on that evening: in the interest of their efforts to demythologize the Scriptures as a whole; and in the interest of their efforts to dismiss the authority of the Divine Author of the Scriptures over them.
Already in the 1980s, an influential seminary professor in a nominally Lutheran church body much more liberal than ours, could write something like this, with no fear of rebuke or correction from the leaders of his church body:
“Jesus himself, though he might have and quite possibly did reckon with a violent death at the hands of his adversaries, seems not to have understood or interpreted his own death as a sacrifice for others or ransom for sin. Such interpretation apparently came as the result of later reflection.”
“Even in their final redaction” - that is, their final edited form - “the synoptic Gospels contain little direct or explicit interpretation of Jesus’ work. Mark 10:45 has Jesus say that the Son of Man came to give his life ‘as a ransom for many,’ and the accounts of the Last Supper speak of Jesus’ blood as his ‘blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’ and ‘my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’”
“Such passages, in their present form at least, are usually regarded as having come not from Jesus himself but from later interpretative traditions. The same is true of the instances where Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection... They are interpretations attributed to Jesus after the fact.”
In contrast to this kind of unhistorical scepticism, we want everyone to know that the Lord’s Supper truly was instituted by Jesus, when and where the New Testament tells us it was instituted. We want everyone to know that Jesus really did say the words that Scripture reports him to have said, in the first observance of this sacrament.
Maundy Thursday, as an annual commemoration of what occurred during the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion, is, therefore, in some ways like an anniversary celebration. It is in some ways like Reformation Day or Independence Day; a wedding anniversary or a birthday.
Something worth remembering happened on or near this date, many years ago. And so we mark the occasion with an annual observance.
This yearly observance of the anniversary of the first Lord’s Supper does also cause us to pause and consider the significance of what Jesus set in motion that night. From this humble gathering of a dozen men around that modest Passover table, the Christian church has become the largest religion in the world.
Through the centuries, millions of Christians have been wiling to lay down their lives for the sake of their faith in the truthfulness of what Jesus said on that night; and for the sake of their acceptance of the validity of the claim that he makes on them and all men.
The sacramental meal that Jesus inaugurated has been celebrated, with great reverence and devotion, an uncountable number of times, on all inhabited continents, for almost 2,000 years. Truly, the day on which all of this began, is a day worth noting, and an historical event worth pondering.
But Our Savior’s institution of this sacrament, and our annual observance of the anniversary of this institution on Maundy Thursday, are in other ways very different from the national holidays and family anniversaries that we observe.
Only in our imagination, and not in any real way, can we be transported back to the day in history when Luther nailed his theses to the Castle Church door, or to the day in history when John Hancock signed the famous parchment that brought our country into existence.
And even in the case of our own wedding anniversary, or the birthdays of our children, we can return to the day that we are commemorating on those occasions only in our memories - memories that become ever fainter as the years and decades pass.
For the Lord’s Supper, however, it is possible for us to have a real connection to what Jesus did and said on that night so many centuries ago. This sacrament is a supernatural thing, and a divine thing, which transcends the limitations of time and space.
In the mystery and majesty of Holy Communion, we are at the table with the disciples, in the upper room, in Jerusalem. And Jesus is here, tonight, at our table.
He who is the true host of this Supper, brings his Supper to us here and now: whenever bread and wine are taken in hand, and his words are spoken or chanted over that bread and wine, according to his command.
He who is the true gift in this Supper, comes to us here and now: whenever penitent sinners who yearn for his forgiveness, and who know by faith that his forgiveness is available for them in his body and blood, humbly receive that body and blood in the eating and drinking of this sacrament.
When Jesus, in his Great Commission, told the disciples to teach all nations to observe everything that he had commanded; and when he promised in this context that he would be with them always even to the end of the age, this sacrament is certainly one of the things he had in mind. He is with us always, as we observe this sacrament.
It is a matter of public doctrine for our church that there is in fact only one Lord’s Supper. The Supper that Jesus instituted on the night in which he was betrayed, and the Supper that we experience here and now, is the same Supper.
That’s why we don’t say that we are having a Lord’s Supper. We say that we are having the Lord’s Supper.
The Formula of Concord - one of the official creedal statements of the Lutheran Church - confesses:
“Jesus Christ’s true and almighty words, which He spoke at the first institution, were effective not only at the first Supper. They endure, are valid, operate, and are still effective. So in all places where the Supper is celebrated according to Christ’s institution and His words are used, Christ’s body and blood are truly present, distributed, and received, because of the power and effectiveness of the words that Christ spoke at the first Supper.”
“Where His institution is observed and His words are spoken over the bread and cup, and the consecrated bread and cup are distributed, Christ Himself, through the spoken words, is still effective by virtue of the first institution, which He wants to be repeated there through His word.”
The Formula of Concord then quotes a couple things that Martin Luther said about this, which are accordingly also a part of our public doctrine:
“This command and institution of His have the power to accomplish this, that we offer and receive not simply bread and wine but His body and blood, as His words indicate: ‘This is My body, this is My blood.’ So it is not our work or speaking but the command and ordinance of Christ which make the bread the body and the wine the blood, beginning with the first Lord’s Supper and continuing to the end of the world, and it is administered daily through our ministry or office.”
“Here, too, if I were to say over all the bread there is, ‘This is the body of Christ,’ nothing would happen. But when we follow His institution and command in the Supper and say, ‘This is My body,’ then it is His body, not because of our speaking or our declarative word, but because of His command in which He has told us so to speak and to do, and has attached His own command and deed to our speaking.”
So, what is happening tonight, is that we are observing the anniversary of Jesus’ institution of his Holy Supper. But what is also happening tonight, is that Jesus is bringing his Holy Supper to us.
Jesus is speaking to us. Jesus is blessing the bread and wine that are before us on his altar. Jesus is offering an giving that bread and wine to us.
And as he offers and gives it, he is also declaring to us the miracle of this sacrament: that this bread is his true body, given into death as the atoning sacrifice for our sins; and that this wine is his true blood, shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus and his Supper are not historically distant and inaccessible to us, as Martin Luther or John Hancock are historically distant and inaccessible to us. And the impact that the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood has on our soul and conscience is not diminished over time - as we continually encounter Jesus, our Lord and our God, in this sacred meal.
For this sacrament, God requires of us tonight the same self-examination and repentance for sin that he has always required of communicants: as they and we measure ourselves against the Ten Commandments in general, and against the duties of our vocations in particular - and admit that we come up short.
For this sacrament, God expects from us the same discerning and attentive faith that he has always expected from communicants: as they and we are instructed and spiritually formed in mind and heart by the teaching of the Holy Scriptures - regarding the person and work of Christ in general; and regarding the character and purpose of this sacrament in particular.
And in this sacrament, God bestows upon us the same eternal life, and the same salvation from death and hell, that he has always bestowed on penitent and believing communicants, ever since the first celebration of this holy mystery: on the night in which our Savior was betrayed; on this night.
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”
Yes. It most certainly is. Amen.
30 March 2018 - Good Friday - Mark 15:29-32
We read in St. Mark’s Gospel:
“And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.’”
“Be careful what you wish for.” This oft-repeated maxim is spoken more often than it is followed.
People often overestimate their own wisdom, insight, knowledge, and judgment. And so they often wish for, and receive, things that they had concluded would be of benefit to them, only to find out that what they had wished for and received, turned out to be for their harm instead.
As Jesus hung dying on the cross, the chief priests and scribes mocked and taunted him, calling out, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” They said this in a spirit of derision, and were not serious.
They did not actually expect that Jesus might be able to come down from the cross, and in so doing prove to them that he was worthy of their faith after all. But what would have happened if their wish had been fulfilled? What would not have happened?
The chief priests and scribes were operating according to the assumption that “seeing is believing.” They weren’t seeing anything at Calvary that they thought was deserving of their faith, and so they did not believe in Jesus as the Christ.
But, hypothetically at least, they imagined that they would be willing to change their minds about him, and believe in him, if they were to see something impressive: something like Jesus coming down from the cross, bringing the process of his execution to an end, and walking away.
According to God’s Word, there certainly was something worth believing in at Calvary. But what God would have wanted the chief priests and the scribes to believe - together with everyone else who was there - was not something that they could have seen with their physical sight.
What they and everyone could see, was a bloody wretch of a man in utter agony, slowly gasping out his life under a Roman death sentence. If, however, the chief priests and scribes had recalled and pondered the words of Isaiah the Prophet - words with which they should have been familiar - then they would also have known that it was precisely in the suffering of Jesus that God was doing a most marvelous and gracious work, for them and for all people.
A few minutes ago we heard what Isaiah had written, by way of a very vivid prophecy concerning God’s Messiah:
“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.”
A little further on, Isaiah had also said: “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.”
Whatever God does and reveals, is worthy of our faith. Anyone would agree with that truism.
The important question, though, is how can we know what God is doing, so that we can believe in it? How can we know what God is revealing, so that we can put our confidence in him?
The chief priests and scribes assumed that if Jesus had come down from the cross, they would have considered that to have been a work of God. But in truth, if Jesus had come down from the cross, the work of God would thereby have been thwarted, reversed, and canceled out.
The Son of Eve would not have crushed the serpent’s head. The Son of Abraham would not have become a blessing to all nations.
The Prophet like Moses would not have delivered the world from its slavery to sin. The heir of David would not have established an eternal kingdom with an eternal throne.
The sins of the world would have remained on the world. And the human race - the entire human race - would have been deservedly damned, and separated from God forever.
With all of this in mind, we might say once again to the chief priests and the scribes: “Be careful what you wish for.” But, we might also say this to ourselves.
What are the little proofs of God’s presence in your life that you sometimes expect or even demand, as a condition for your continued faith in him? What kind of little bargains do you make with God, promising to give him what you think he wants - maybe regular attendance at church - in exchange for something you want - maybe a healing or a cure for you or for someone you love?
In what ways do you occasionally test God, by telling him what you want, and then waiting to see if he comes through for you? How often do you ask God to get you out of some kind of stressful or fearful circumstance: and when he seems to be delaying, or not complying at all, concluding that the time and energy you put into believing in him may not be worth the effort?
The extent to which you do these kinds of things, and think these kinds of thoughts, is the extent to which you are acting like the chief priests and scribes at Calvary. The extent to which you spend time and energy looking for this kind of evidence of God’s presence and activity, is the extent to which you will miss the real evidence of what God is really doing.
On Calvary, Jesus did not come down from the cross, but he stayed there - to the bitter end - in order to atone for your sins. That’s where God was accomplishing his purposes.
And now, Jesus is demonstrating that he truly is a part of your life, and is with you always, whenever he forgives your sins, and gives you a clear conscience before God.
When the Lord’s absolution is declared to you, and when you are mystically fed with the body and blood of Christ in his Holy Supper, these are things that God is doing now. And through the Scriptures, God reveals to you that this is what he is doing.
These things are, therefore, deserving of your faith. And there are wonderful and blessed eternal consequence to these saving works of God. These are things that really matter, and that will matter forever.
The comforts and pleasures of earthly life are good to have, when you can have them without sin. But eternal life in the mansions of our Father in heaven is much more important.
And as you humbly repent and turn away from your sins, and in faith cling to your Savior in the promises of his gospel, your eternal life is guaranteed by that Savior.
He died for you. And by his cross, he reconciled you to your Creator for time and eternity.
The chief priests and scribes taunted Jesus, and expressed to him their wish that he would step down from the cross, so that they could believe in him. But if Jesus had done this, there would really be nothing to believe in.
Today you may be tempted to doubt Jesus, and to express to him your wish that he would, as it were, step out from the means of grace: to make himself visibly present, and practically useful in solving all the problems and perceived problems of your life.
You might be tempted to think if he did this, then you could with greater confidence believe in him. But again, if Jesus were to do this, there would really be nothing to believe in.
The Savior who remained on the cross, and who there gave his very life as a ransom for many, is a Savior who is worthy of our faith. And the Savior who remains in his Word and Sacraments today, and who through them continues to offer forgiveness, life, and salvation to his people, is a Savior in whom we can trust and believe with all our hearts.
“Be careful what you wish for.” Amen.
O Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, and grant us your peace. Amen.