Touching the Unclean

The 5th Sunday after Pentecost [b]                              June 27, 2021

 

Mark 5:21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32And he looked around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Will the Lord allow himself to be touched by the unclean, by sinners, by you and me? Mark 5:30:

[Jesus] immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.

 

The woman was unclean. She had, Mark tells us, a discharge of blood.

 

With Moses, the Lord had given gave the Levitical law. This Law told who was to serve in the Tabernacle, who was to bring sacrifices, how the priests were to declare sinners clean, and of who was to not come to the Tabernacle.

 

Those who were not to come to the Tabernacle were the unclean—those with such things as skin diseases or leprosy, also those who had eaten unclean foods. And it included sicknesses such as this woman had.

 

Why did God call this unclean? Did he not love the lepers and those with unhealthy skin? Did God not want to show kindness to those who had a sickness? Is God trying to say that good people deserve life and bad people deserve death?

 

None of that. God loves all and wants all to be cleansed. The God of love and mercy, the God who created us and also who justifies us from our sin, he gave the Levitical law through Moses to draw a sharp distinction between the holy and the unholy, a clear line between the clean and the unclean, a distinction between that which is of life and that which is of death.

 

So when a person was unclean, whether by skin disease or food eaten, or the impurity of sin in the heart, God wanted to cleanse.

 

So he set the Tabernacle and the Altar of sacrifice and the Ark of the Covenant in the midst of Israel, so that every person, no matter what manner of uncleanness, no matter what stain of sin or what covering of shame—every Israelite would know where to come to receive God’s cleansing and purification by the declaration of the priest.

 

 

But, the distinction between the clean and the unclean, the holy and the profane, is not blurred. The unclean one is not to touch the Tabernacle until first being purified in the way God ordained. The unclean one is made clean by the priest making atonement.

 

But the holy is not to be touched by the unholy, clean not polluted by the unclean. Will Jesus let himself be touched by the unclean? Mark 5:24:

And a great crowd followed [Jesus] and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

 

Jesus will let himself be touched by the unclean. He came for just this purpose.

 

We think of the Incarnation, of God coming in the flesh as man, to be a great miracle. And it is. But it is more than just the miracle of God becoming Incarnate; it is God coming in human flesh in order to walk among sinners and be touched by them. In order for the holy to be touched by the unholy, without the unholy being consumed in the fire of judgement. In order for God in the flesh to take all our uncleanness, our impurity, all our shame upon himself, in order to then give himself over to death to atone for the unclean.

 

That’s what he was doing with that woman. He was letting the unclean touch the clean, and in that, her uncleanness belonged to him.

 

And his holiness belonged to her.

 

 

Jesus let that happen to himself. He let her touch him. He let himself be made unclean with her impurity.

 

Will he go out and touch the unclean himself? Not just let it happen to him as he places himself among sinners, but will he seek out the unclean and actively touch? Mark 5:41:

While [Jesus] was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

 

Nothing is more unclean than a corpse. The touching of a dead body put you outside the camp of Israel until you have been ritually cleansed.

 

Jesus goes up to the body and gripped the dead hand with his own.

 

Jesus will touch the unclean. He will make it his own. He takes the death upon himself. He takes upon himself the death of every sinner—that’s what we see his death on the cross.

 

Because he takes our death upon himself, our death is not death. It is, indeed, the death of our body, of our sinful flesh, but it is not the big death; it is not death before God.

 

Before God, when we die, we are only sleeping.

 

When the little girl died, she did not die, her personhood was not annihilated, she did not lose her personal existence. She belonged to the Lord. She belonged to life. Before the Lord, her earthly death was only sleeping, a waiting for the resurrection of the body.

 

Talitha cumi,” Jesus says to her. Stand up. You belong to life. For you, there is no death, only life.

 

 

Jesus in the midst of the unclean, of the sinners, of those covered in shame—Jesus does not shrink back. He touches us. His body and blood to our body and blood.

 

Take and eat, the unholy ones given to receive the holy one. Take and drink, the unclean ones receiving the holy one, and now themselves cleansed.

 

It is all for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus among sinners is always for the forgiveness of sins. For where sins are forgiven, the unclean are made clean, the unholy, holy, those belonging to sickness and death now belong to life.

 

You are clean. You belong to life. Jesus says no less.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

A Prayer to Him Who Cares

The 4th Sunday after Pentecost [b]                          June 20, 2021

 

Mark 4:35-41

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

We are given to pray for our world. Our world, so afraid of death, yet so willing to sacrifice to death even the most vulnerable to gain a few more advantages in life.

 

Our world filled with kings and queens, princes and lords, presidents and governors placed in office to protect the weak and the innocent, and bring justice to the evildoer, set in office to uphold the Lord’s institution of the marriage of man and woman, of family and home, of property and wealth, yet so willing to negate their offices by doing the opposite—we are given to pray for our world.

 

The Apostle says to the Church,

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

[1 Timothy 2:1]

 

So we intercede for all. For good kings and bad, for those presidents and governors who protect the innocent and vulnerable and for those who don’t.

 

We have a prayer for our world. But what prayer? We can start with the Apostles out on that violent lake in a sinking boat. Jesus was there. But he was sleeping. Mark 4:38:

[Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. [The disciples] woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

 

A small prayer. Just nine words: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” But we may start with that prayer.

 

Teacher. They address Jesus as their teacher. From him they learn the words of eternal life.

 

From him they learn the fulness of their own sin, a fulness they will see fully displayed when he hangs bleeding on the cross because of the weight of their sins which he willingly took upon himself.

 

Our sins too. Do we know the fulness of our own sin—not just the outward sins so easily seen, but our sin in its fulness, deeply seated in our hearts, the sin of who we are—will we know the fulness of our own sin, except that we see it displayed as Jesus hangs dying for it the cross?

 

They address Jesus as Teacher. So do we. By his death, we are taught the depth of our sin.

 

But, it’s “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” This is not a prayer to the Teacher who came just to show us the depth of our sin; this is prayer to him who cares for us.

 

Does he care that the disciples are being brought to their death on that sinking boat? Does he care that we are being daily enmeshed in death in our own world? Does he care for our world, so afraid of death yet so willing to sacrifice the vulnerable for just a little more supposed happiness in life?

 

 

[Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

[Mark 4:39]

 

What we chiefly must see in this sinking boat on a violent lake is not that Jesus has all power over wind and wave, over all creation—he does, he along with his Father created all things including the disciples, including us—but what we chiefly must see is not his power, but his care.

 

He cares that they are perishing. He cares that we are perishing. He cares that our world is perishing.

 

And he has a word for us. He is the one hearing our intercession, and as our teacher, he teaches us that all sin—of the disciples, of us, of our world—all this sin, no sin left out, he has taken upon himself.

 

He took it and put it to death in his own body on the cross.

 

He has taken it upon himself so that our sin—the sin we have already committed, the sin we wished we would not commit tomorrow but we find ourselves doing it anyway, the sin so deeply set in our heart we cannot even fathom its fulness except by looking to his death on the cross—he has taken it upon himself so that it belongs to him, not to us.

 

So what Jesus teaches the disciples in that boat to learn from him, what he teaches us to learn from him, is not chiefly that he has all power—though he does—but that he cares for us and forgives our sin.

 

 

Why not just learn the power of Jesus—learn the power he has over the waves, over the wind, even over death, is it not enough just to learn the power of Jesus?

 

No. Jesus is teaching us something much better.

 

When the disciples saw Jesus’ raw power, seeing him calm the waves and push back the wind, it brought them no comfort, it did not strengthen their faith—his display of power did not give them peace in their hearts.

[Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

[Mark 4:40]

 

Seeing Jesus’ power does not create faith, it brings fear.

 

And why not? What should be more fearful to a sinner that to know that you stand at the face of holy God and he has all power and you don’t?

 

But Jesus says, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

 

That’s what Jesus teaches us. Not chiefly his power. But his care, his forgiveness, his grace. And hearing Jesus’ word of grace and forgiveness bestows faith.

 

For that’s what a sinner must have faith in—a Lord who teaches grace, who forgives sin, a Lord who takes our death upon himself in order to bring us into his life.

 

 

So we pray for ourselves, for our families, even for our world: “[Jesus], do you not care that we are dying?”

 

He answers that prayer. He answers that he died for us, in our place, on our behalf, on the cross, because he cares for us.

 

His answer is that he continues to speak to us his Word of grace and life. He continues to gather us into his church. For he knows that we are in a perishing world, and he cares for us.

 

And his answer for our world, for any sinner in despair, for any person in fear, his answer is that he cares for you, he has mercy for you, and by his Word of Gospel, he has for you the gift of faith, and that is life.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Your New Reality: Jesus

Seventh Sunday of Easter [b]                                   May 16, 2021

 

John 17:11b-19

[Jesus said,] Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What is your reality?

 

There was once a story in the news—this was some years back—of a man diagnosed with a terminal disease; so he bought a yacht, threw expensive parties, and went gambling until his savings were no more. Why leave anything behind? Then he found out it was a misdiagnosis, his death was not imminent, but now his money was gone and he had nothing.

 

His problem was, he didn’t know his reality. He had a false reality. He thought he was a dead man walking, and he acted accordingly.

 

What is your reality? My reality? Our children’s? Perhaps we have a misdiagnosis? We do, actually, have a misdiagnosis. And because of that, we end up living like a man thinking he’s dying when he’s not.

 

 

Jesus prays to his Father for us:

[O Father,] they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

[John 17:19]

 

Jesus asks his Father to would sanctify us, to make us holy in the truth.

 

“Truth.” We all want truth. None of us wants to live by the lie. Jesus uses this word “truth” many times in John’s Gospel.

 

John 1:14:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

John 14:6:

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

 

And now in chapter 17, Jesus prays to his Father that he would make us holy by the truth.

 

What is this truth of which Jesus speaks? The word Jesus uses for truth is the Greek word aletheia.

 

We think of truth as the opposite of the lie. We teach our children to tell the truth and not lie. So truth and lie are opposite—it’s either one or the other.

 

But the Greek word has a more full meaning. Aletheia is not just the truth over against the lie, but it means “reality”—what is real over against falsity.

 

In misdiagnosing the man with a terminal disease, the doctors gave him a false reality. In his true reality, he was healthy with more years to live, and he should’ve held onto his savings for just that. But in the false reality handed him by the doctors, he was a dead-man walking, and he acted like it.

 

Jesus speaks to us of our aletheia, our reality.

 

He knows the reality we see around us. But Jesus wants us to know that what we see is a false reality. The reality we see around us is the façade put up by our enemies. Our enemies are, as the Catechism says, the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

 

By these three enemies, here is the reality we see:

 

We see our flesh subject to sickness and death, and we get afraid.

 

We see people who will hurt us, and we get afraid.

 

We see everything that can go wrong, and we get afraid.

 

We see the malice in our world, the willingness of those in authority to divide people against each other in order to gain their power, and we get afraid.

 

We see the guilt in our conscience, we see the shame covering us, for the devil and the demons keep pounding us with the Law so that we are kept under the accusation, and we stay afraid.

 

With this reality, who would not fear? Sin, death, sickness, the devil, who wouldn’t want to just hide in the house trying not to get hit by it all?

 

And Jesus says, “Fear not.” Do not be afraid.

 

How can we not be afraid?, we say to Jesus. Have you seen the threats, Jesus? Have you not seen our enemies of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, Jesus? Do you have no understanding, Jesus, of our reality?

 

 

That is not your reality, says Jesus. I am your reality. John 14:6:

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

 

I am your aletheia, your truth, your reality, says Jesus.

 

The devil? That great liar? He afflicts your conscience, using my Law to accuse and cover you in shame as long as you live in your life of flesh, but he’s a liar. I have defeated the devil, I have broken his power, I have—in my death on the cross to atone for you—I have ripped the Law out of his hands; he can no longer accuse you. I am your aletheia, your reality, says Jesus.

 

The world, its malice, its diseases, its setting up of false gods and false ways to make yourself acceptable, its temptations—all which the world throws at you as long as you live your life of flesh, this is not your reality. I am your aletheia, your reality, says Jesus.

 

Your flesh, says Jesus, that’s your problem. As long as you live in your life of flesh, you will see that reality which is, indeed, true to your flesh—the sickness, the death, the sin, the temptation, the guilt and shame belonging to all sinful flesh. That’s the reality you see in your flesh, says Jesus.

 

But that is not your reality, your aletheia. I am the truth, your aletheia, your reality, says Jesus.

 

When Jesus says, I am your truth, your reality, he is giving us our life of faith.

 

By our life of flesh, we will continue everyday to see that which we can perceive with our eyes. As we sang in the hymn, this is what Thomas saw,

The warmth of blood, the chill of steel,

the grain of wood,

the heft of stone,

The last frail twitch of flesh and bone.

 

But this is not your reality. It was not Thomas’s either. Not, anyway, when Jesus came to Thomas and rescued him from the reality he saw in his flesh.

 

Jesus spoke forgiveness to Thomas, he showed him his resurrected body, and he brought him into the new reality, the new aletheia.

 

I am your reality, says Jesus. My crucifixion, it atoned for your sin, that is reality. My blood, it covers all shame, you stand in honor, that is reality. My resurrection, it is your resurrection, it is the standing-up and breathing of your body on the Last Day, that is reality.

 

 

The old reality of the life of our sinful flesh, our life of fear, Jesus calls us out of that. This is the life of our old Adam, our old Man of sin and death, and we do not belong to it.

 

Jesus gives us our new reality, our new aletheia. It is the life of our new Adam, our new Man of faith, and Jesus calls us into it daily by speaking to us his Word of forgiveness and life.

 

 

After telling us that he is our truth, our reality, our aletheia, Jesus then turns to his Father and prays for us. John 17:17:

[Father, I pray for them,] “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

 

The Father hears the intercession of his Son, that is reality.

 

By the intercession of his Son’s blood and his Son’s prayer, the Father sanctifies you, makes you holy, in the truth.

 

What is this truth, this reality by which the Father makes you holy? Jesus is your truth, your reality, your aletheia. The Father makes you holy by his Son.

 

By the Blood of Jesus and his Word, you are holy. That is your life of faith. And that is your reality.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

The Blessings of Ascension

 

THE FEAST OF THE ASCENION OF OUR LORD [c]                May 13, 2021

 

EPHESIANS 1:15-23

15For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16I do not cease to give thanks for you, re­membering you in my prayers, 17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the know­ledge of him, 18having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and au­thority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

 

If we want to know what is the blessing of the Ascension of our Lord, we need not look far.

 

We see fear, despair, confusion.

 

We see angry faces, social media arguing, name-calling—even many in authority playing on divisions instead of instilling calm.

 

The confusion, the antagonism against even natural law and the gifts of creation, against what we are given to be as men and women, as families and neighbor. What does tomorrow bring in the economy, in rising costs, in a failing job market, in cultural decline?

 

In the uncertain times following World War I, William Yeats wrote a poem describing our world. He used the imagery of a falcon circling ever further and further from the falconer at the center, until, as Yeats wrote,

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

 

Yeats’s imagery works for our generation, we know that.

 

What does a Christian do in a world coming loose at the center where no one knows what comes tomorrow?

 

 

These are the times in which our Lord has placed us. He has us here. This is no accident. Paul gives us the prayer to pray. Paul told the Ephesians what he prayed for the church:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, re­membering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the know­ledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.

[Ephesians 1:18]

 

We are given our prayer. We pray, first of all, for each other, giving thanks to our Lord—I do not cease to give thanks for you, says Paul, remembering you in my prayers.

 

The thankfulness is prayed in confidence. The prayer recognizes that what we possess is not of our own making anyway, but is gift from the Lord.

 

The fellowship we have with each other, the joy we have together in hearing the word of Gospel and in addressing each other not according to our sin but according to the righteousness given us in Baptism, the honor we are given to care for each other, to speak encouragement, to see one another, each brother and sister, as unique gifts from the Lord—this is all by the Lord’s gift, so we give thanks.

 

[I pray,] says Paul,

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the know­ledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.

 

This is a prayer for our times!

 

In an unhinged world and uncertain tomorrow, in a world is shaken by fear, so that, at Yeats put it, Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, we may boldly say, But we belong to the Lord!

 

As his, we are given to pray for our brothers and sisters in the church that the Father give us wisdom that we may have the sureness that in every uncertainty, we belong to him—for his Son redeemed us with his own blood.

 

And we are given to pray that our eyes are enlightened, so that we are called back from what Yeats described as “things falling apart and a center that cannot hold,” and called into the certainty of knowing that Christ is raised from the dead, he is ascended to Heaven, and, despite all which we see in our unhinged world, he is seated upon the Throne, above all rule and authority and power and dominion.

 

All this, Paul says, so that you may know what is the hope to which your Lord has called you. [Ephesians 1:18]

 

Our Lord gives us the great reversal—the reversal of living fearful in our times, the reversal of malice we see around us, of the divisive language of those in authority, the reversal of all the despair of tomorrow, of things falling apart and a center which cannot hold—it is all reversed by the knowledge of the hope to which your Lord has called you.

 

For this hope is not an empty wish that things somehow start centering themselves again.

 

Rather, it is looking at tomorrow with a certainty.

 

It is the confidence of the resurrection of Christ Jesus—that it is your resurrection, no matter what comes tomorrow in our world.

 

It is the confidence in the Ascension of our Lord Jesus, the knowledge that he reigns upon the Throne, so that nothing comes to us outside of his knowledge and care. It is the faith that he is the One who has given us his Name and has promised us he will never depart it.

 

The hope is the sure and certain confidence, then, that we do know what comes tomorrow.

 

We don’t know what comes tomorrow in rising crime rates or riots in streets, nor with rising prices or anything else—our predictions are no better than anyone else’s, but we know what comes tomorrow.

 

For our tomorrow belongs to the hope to which our Lord has called us.

 

This hope is the sureness and certainty that our Lord hears our prayer and answers with his forgiveness; of knowing that he reigns in Heaven to intercede to his Father on our behalf and that on the last day he comes again, the day promised in our Baptism, the day of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

 

The center does not fly apart. He is ascended; he is upon the throne. Our tomorrow, our eternity, belongs to him.

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

God the Spirit Testifies to You

Sixth Sunday of Easter [b]                                          May 9, 2021

 

1 John 5:1–8

1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

        6This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

God bears witness to you: There are three that testify, says the Apostle John, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are of one. This is God bearing witness to you and me and our families.

 

To testify, to bear witness is to speak the truth in such a way that your name is at stake.

 

This isn’t me saying such as, “It sure is hot outside,” or you saying, “This apple tastes good.” In saying subjective things such as that, we don’t really put our name at stake; it’s not as if being wrong would bring dishonor.

 

Bearing witness is you or me stating a fact for which we want to be held accountable. It’s stating something in such a way that if we are lying, our name is dishonored.

 

God the Holy Spirit bears witness to you and me and our families. His puts his at stake. He bears witness to us by the water and the blood.

 

 

The water. Jesus walked down to the Jordan to be baptized by John. In that water, the One who had no sin was joined to all sinners. The author of life took death upon himself. The holy one was set into the office of bearing the sins of the unholy ones, to stand in for us to give the ransom. Mark 1:9:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, [Jesus] saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from Heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

 

The water bears witness. This one, Jesus of Nazareth—the testimony of the water of his Baptism is that he is God the Son sent by the Father to save sinners. By the mouth of the prophet John, the Holy Spirit bears witness to us that this Jesus, by his Baptism, is now bearing our sins.

 

The blood. Jesus’ Baptism took him to the cross. The water anointed him for this, that he would shed blood to atone for all sinners. The blood now bears witness that the price has been paid, the death has been exacted, the sinner is redeemed. This is the blood that cleanses us of all sin. [1 John 1:7]

 

The water and the blood—the water of Jesus being baptized to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and the blood poured out on the cross to atone for all sin and cleanse every sinner. All promised by the Holy Spirit through the prophets.

 

 

But this testimony is only good as God testifies it to the sinner. If the sinner doesn’t hear it, how does it help? So God speaks the testimony to the sinner, to you and me. 1 John 5:6:

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

 

The water and blood are to you and me, and this is by the Holy Spirit.

 

The water to you and me. Matthew 28:18:

Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded unto you; and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

This water testifies to you and me and our children, as God the Holy Spirit, by the water and the word, places the holy Name on us, so that in this Baptism given us, Jesus is with us always, even to the end of the age.

 

In this water of Baptism, Jesus testifies that he sanctifies you, cleansing you of all sin and gathering you into the Church. Ephesians 5:26:

Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.

 

This is the testimony Jesus gives to little Luke this morning. Publicly, in the midst of the Lord’s people, the Holy Spirit testifies, This one belongs to the Lord. This one bears the Name. This one belongs each day to the forgiveness of sins and life-everlasting. Hearing the testimony of the water of Baptism, along with little Luke the whole Church is brought into the rejoicing.

 

 

The blood to you and me. The blood shed on the cross, the blood ransoming sinners, it is given to you. Matthew 26:26:

After a blessing, [Jesus] broke [the bread] and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the [new] testament, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”

 

This is the ongoing testimony of Jesus in the Church as through all generations he continues distributing his blood of the cross to those who come after the cross.

 

This is all by gift given you by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is gathering the baptized to the Lord’s Name where they hear the testimony of Jesus.

 

Jesus is testifying to the them that his blood is for them, for their benefit and salvation, for the forgiveness of every sin. This blood is his Last Will and Testament. He spoke it right before his death, so that upon his death, the wealth and benefit of his blood would continually be distributed in his Church. The wealth and benefit of his blood is never to be left unknown. The wealth is this: the forgiveness of your sins, for where sins are forgiven, there is life and salvation.

 

The Spirit and the water and the blood, there are three that testify.

 

The testimony of the water: Jesus baptized, being clothed with all the sin of every sinner; the Holy Spirit baptizing you, clothing you with the righteousness of Christ Jesus.

 

The testimony of the blood: Jesus shedding the blood of the cross to atone for the sins of the world, those sins into which he, though he had no sin himself, had been baptized. And this testimony is the Holy Spirit gathering you into the Church to bring to you the holy blood for the forgiveness of sins.

 

God the Holy Spirit testifies to you. He is there in the Word. He testifies by the water and the blood. That testimony is the Gospel. By that testimony, you are saved.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

It’s Time to Live a Clean Life

Fifth Sunday of Easter [b]                                          May 2, 2021

 

John 15:1-8

[Jesus said,] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

To live a clean life, wouldn’t it be nice? A life minus all the pressures and anxiety of a busy life.

 

A clean, simple life, that would be nice. Especially for our consciences! To go to bed at night with no worry, no lingering doubt about shortcomings, even about malice in the heart, to be done with all of that, wouldn’t it be nice?

 

How do you get to the point of a clean, simple life? Especially of a conscience at peace?

 

This desire for cleanness and simplicity is nothing new. Four hundred years before Christ there was a school of Greek philosophers who taught to reject all desire for wealth and fame; they rejected all power; they would live a life free of possessions. This is the ascetic life. One of them, Diogenes, didn’t even have a house. He lived in a barrel on the street.

 

The simple, clean life, devoid of possessions, worries, pressures, and entanglements, wouldn’t it be nice?

 

The church has been tempted with it, too, at different times. Be done with all your possessions. Live a life free of worldly entanglements. If you’re a man, it’s the monastery. If a woman, the nun’s convent. Or, just go out and live the simple life in the desert. Some three hundred years after Jesus ascended, a Christian monk in Egypt named Anthony made himself famous by selling the property he inherited from his family; he left his sister with a group of virgins and headed off to be a hermit, living on only bread, salt, and water. He would touch no meat or wine.

 

He ended up holed up in an abandoned desert fort where people would throw food to him over the wall. But at least Anthony saved himself the trouble of worrying about farming or fishing or paying bills or attending to children or getting along with his neighbor!

 

Asceticism, a life devoid of sensual pleasures, a life pursuing spiritual cleanness. Fasting, celibacy, poverty, hunger, scratchy clothing, strict schedules, but at least you’re living a clean life.

 

How does our Lord give us to live a clean life?

 

Our society strives for this too. To live a clean life, you eat the right foods. Eat only vegetables and turn away from meat. When people want you to live a clean life, there is no end to the rules and controls they will put you under. Eat the right food, drink the approved drink, wear clothing made by the right company, listen to only approved voices, use only permitted speech and have only permitted thoughts, then you’ll be living the clean, accepted life.

 

People around us do listen to this, so obviously there’s some sort of desire to live a clean life.

 

How does our Lord give us to live a clean life?

 

 

All these attempts to live cleanly, is it perhaps nonsense? The Greek philosophers teaching simplicity, did they not have the same sinful thoughts as everyone else? The ascetic hermits, did they not have the same lusts and troubled consciences as everyone else? If not, then why flog themselves every night and rob their bodies of sensual pleasures, even of marriage itself? And those stone walls Anthony hid behind in the Egyptian desert, they protected him from approach by his neighbor, but did Anthony really think stone walls would stop the demons from getting to his conscience?

 

We know something here makes sense. No conscience will be cleansed by a diet out of the blender. No conscience troubled with guilt is brought into peace by eating no meat or drinking no wine. No Christian will be protected from the demons by hiding behind a wall and refusing to talk with neighbor.

 

How does our Lord give us to live a clean life?

 

 

Our Lord cleanses with a word. He wants no one left with an unclean conscience, no one troubled in their heart.

 

In the Old Testament, when the Lord gave Israel to build the Tabernacle, he told them how he would gather them to the Tabernacle to be cleansed of all sin. He gave instructions to the priests to give sacrifice and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice to cleanse the people. Leviticus 16:19:

[The priest] shall sprinkle some of the blood on [the altar] with his finger seven times, and he shall declare it clean and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the people of Israel.

 

When someone was unclean with leprosy, the Lord said he could go to the priest to be cleansed. Leviticus 14:7:

 [The priest] shall sprinkle [the blood] seven times on him who is to be cleansed … Then [the priest] will declare him clean.

 

How does our Lord make a person clean? By having the priest give the blood of the sacrifice to forgive sin and declare the person clean.

 

A sinner is made clean by the Lord speaking a word. Not by diet or regimen or soap for that matter, not by ascetism or denial of pleasure or refusal of marriage, not by hiding from other people behind a brick wall.

 

A sinner is made clean by the Lord speaking a word. If the Lord says you are clean, you are clean. John 15:3:

[Jesus said,] already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

 

Jesus is our priest. Those priests of the Old Testament? They were the Lord’s servants to deliver the cleansing word of the cross to those who lived before the cross.

 

Now Jesus, here in John 15, is on his way to the cross. After speaking to his disciples of cleansing them with his Word and giving them to abide in him, he will then pray to his Father for the Church, and then he will be betrayed and and taken before Caiaphas and then Pilate, where he is sent to the cross.

 

But on his way to the cross to shed his blood of sacrifice, he tells his disciples how he cleanses them:

You are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

 

 

How does our Lord give us a clean life?

 

Our Lord is no Greek philosopher rejecting possessions and worldly entanglements with your neighbor, no ascetic hermit hiding behind a brick wall, and no modern man eating only the approved diet and spouting only the permitted platitudes.

 

Our Lord drank wine, he even supplied it for a wedding party. He enjoyed meat, he loved getting together with his neighbors, he gathered large crowds, he was known as friend to tax-collectors and sinners.

 

How did Jesus live a clean life? By living from the gifts of his Father, by giving gifts to his neighbor, by forgiving sinners and releasing sins, by speaking grace to those who were unclean.

 

He gives us a clean life. By the Word he speaks to you, you are already clean.

 

How to remain clean?

 

By abiding in his Word. By holding on to his Word of grace. By daily hearing his Word of forgiveness, by commending yourself to him, especially when you are stung in your conscience by uncleanness, by knowing that there is no sin not forgiven, no guilt not pardoned, no shame not covered, for he is our Great High Priest standing before the Father to declare us clean.

 

How do we remain clean? By abiding in him, receiving every good gift from him, as a branch receiving life from the vine.

 

John 15:4:

[Jesus said,] already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Proclaiming the Gospel

St. Mark, Evangelist                                                                   April 25, 2021

 

Mark 16:14-20

14Afterward [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” 19So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into Heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

There are some things we assume, so we don’t need to talk about them.

 

The sun will come up in the morning. We don’t go around reminding everyone that the sun will come up, everyone knows it. If you drop a hotdog on the floor, the dog will eat it. Who needs to be told that? It’s assumed.

 

In the Church, maybe we assume something too. Because, we know it. We’ve learned it since childhood. It’s the proclamation of the Gospel.

 

Jesus Christ crucified is your Savior. Jesus forgives your sin and cleanses your conscience. Jesus is resurrected from the dead, and his resurrection is your resurrection. We’ve learned this from childhood. We’ve heard the proclamation of the Gospel in our family devotions. Our families repeat it each week in the Creed at the Lord’s Service.

 

It’s assumed, taken for granted—as sure as the dog eats the hotdog fallen to the floor. So we don’t need to keep saying it to one another, as if we didn’t already know it.

 

But we do need to.

 

 

In the Church, it is the Day of St. Mark, Evangelist, and we learn something of the proclamation of the Gospel in the account Mark left for the Church.

 

We know a little about Mark. He was a young man. He was not one of the twelve Apostles, but came along it would seem later in Jesus’ ministry.

 

Mark even seems to slip in a sly little reference to himself toward the end of his Gospel account. As Mark gives the account of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest at Gethsemane—that’s where Judas brings into the garden a group of thugs from the chief priest wielding swords and clubs to arrest Jesus, and where all the Apostles flee Jesus out of fear, leaving him alone in the grip of Judas and the thugs, Mark writes of a certain young man who was there. Mark 14:51:

And a young man followed [Jesus], and he had nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized the [young man], but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.

 

Not a very flattering story to tell of yourself. But maybe that was Mark’s way of keeping our eyes upon Jesus and his suffering, even as his disciples ran away and abandoned him.

 

These disciples who belonged to Jesus, the twelve Apostles but also some others such as young Mark, were not men of impressive faith.

 

They were sinners. They thought of themselves and their own safety. But they were cared for, and brought back and restored, and given the gift of faith again and again by the Lord who loved them and was on his way to the cross for them. But they were not men to impress us with their faith.

 

 

Now, in the text we have before us, in the last chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we hear again of their faith.

 

It is after his crucifixion, and after he has been raised from the dead, as Jesus is preparing them for his Ascension to Heaven, whereupon they will no longer see him in the flesh. The Apostles are gathered around a table, and Jesus appears. He’s giving them last instructions before he ascends. But first, he rebukes them for not having faith. They had disbelieved that he would be resurrected from the dead. Then, when he was resurrected, they disbelieved the reports of the witnesses who first saw Jesus resurrected.

 

With Jesus, it’s all about his Gospel for the sinner, it’s all about faith. He wants no one to be left living without the gift of faith in his forgiveness. He wants no one on their own, trusting in their own strength, or their own worthiness, or their own ability to justify themselves. So, he rebukes them for not having faith in him and his resurrection. Mark 16:14:

[Jesus] appeared to the eleven as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

 

Why did Jesus need to rebuke them? Had they not heard the Gospel enough times before? Did they not already know of his cross where he ransomed all sinners, of his resurrection from the dead?

 

With their own eyes they saw Jesus cleanse the lepers; with their own ears they heard him forgive sins; they heard him call Lazarus out of the grave. They sat at table with him as he was on his way to death; he gave his last will and testament, telling them to eat this bread and drink this wine in which he was giving them his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of their sins. They were there at the cross. They saw it all.

 

So what did they not know of forgiveness of the Gospel? They knew it all. Can this Gospel not be assumed? Do you need to tell a child that the family dog will eat a hotdog dropped to the floor?

 

We should think that the Gospel should be able to be taken for granted. But it’s not. The proclamation of the Gospel is never assumed.

 

For we still live in sinful flesh, and sinful flesh does not want the Gospel—sinful flesh wants to justify self by its own works and feelings and decisions.

 

And we are afflicted the demons. And the demons do not want us to live confident in the grace of Christ Jesus, so they daily tempt us to doubt that our Lord is faithful to his promise to us.

 

And we live in our sinful world. And our sinful world does not want to live by the free gift of the Gospel, but wants to control everyone with the Law.

 

 

So when Jesus appears to the eleven, he doesn’t assume the Gospel. He knows their sinful flesh. He knows the affliction of the demons. He knows the sinful world they live in. So he doesn’t assume their faith; he doesn’t assume the Gospel.

 

He rebukes them for unfaith, calling them back from unbelief in his promise. Then he again gives the Gospel, as he has done so many times before:

[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

[Mark 16:16]

 

The Gospel to be proclaimed is the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. The Gospel to be proclaimed is the promise given the sinner in Baptism. This Gospel is never assumed, but is given to the sinner again and again, daily, and at every Lord’s Service to dispel every doubt, as Jesus did again and again with his Apostles.

 

Whoever has faith and is baptized will be saved. Baptism begets faith. Faith clings to Baptism.

 

So it’s not the absence of Baptism which condemns a sinner, but the refusal of faith—whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

 

It’s unbelief, unfaith which condemns.

 

But Jesus desires always to bestow the gift of faith. How? By going to his Apostles who disbelieved, and giving to them once again the Gospel, and sending them out to baptize families.

 

How is Jesus bestowing the gift of faith? By never assuming the Gospel even for us and our families, but calling us again and again back to the promise of Baptism, and again and again to the table of his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

 

And he is bestowing the gift of faith among us as he gives us to never assume the Gospel among ourselves and in our families, but gives us to continually build up one another in his grace, and to daily speak to each other the compassion and mercy of his Gospel.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

This is Who You Are

Third Sunday of Easter [b]                                         April 18, 2021

 

1 John 3:1-7

1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

4Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The captain in the Los Angeles Police Department talked about a young man picked on gang charges. The captain said the young man “just needed something to belong to.” The gang gave him something to belong to.

 

We all need to belong.

 

On their webpage, the Los Angeles police department lists some of the reasons a young man joins a gang. One is “Identity or Recognition”; another is “Fellowship and Brotherhood.” “Being a part of a gang allows the gang member to achieve a status he feels impossible outside the gang,” says the website, and, “to the majority of gang members, the gang functions as an extension of the family and provides[s] companionship lacking in the gang member’s home.”

 

We all need to belong. And when we don’t, we find something to belong to.

 

This is hardly surprising. The Lord created us to belong to one another, to care for each other—he created us for companionship and friendship, to look at each other in the face and see each other’s tears and smiles.

 

It is not good for the man to be alone,” said God. (Genesis 2:8) When God created man, he didn’t create just male, as if a single person would have humanity on his own. He created male and female, and he gave the man and the woman to bring forth children, and families were formed up, and neighbors and communities.

 

Alone? We were never meant to be alone. “I and the Father are One,” said Jesus (John 10:30). “No One comes to the Father but through me,” said Jesus (John 14:6). The Father and the Son are One with each other, never alone. And with the Holy Spirit. They converse with one another, even saying in their Trinitarian conversation such things as, “Let us make man in our image,” (Genesis 1:26).

 

So when God made us in his image, he made us to be not alone—man and woman, families and communities to be with each other. He created us to belong. To be with each other, to see the faces and hear the voices of one another, to help and care for and show compassion.

 

So even now, when a brother or sister in Christ is single, he or she is not alone. We all belong to one another in the fellowship of Christ Jesus, bound together in the companionship and fellowship of the Church.

 

 

So it goes wrong when we don’t belong. It’s from sin. We know that. People broken off of each other because of pride or shame or hatred, or even broken from one another by false man-made categories such as race.

 

Do we belong? Do you belong? Using the most intimate, familial word of all, Jesus says you belong. 1 John 3:1:

What kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

 

To be a child of God is to belong. We were created for that, to belong to God, to be the recipients of his love, to receive gifts from him in every way. It is that “belonging” that we destroyed when we went our own way. Will we receive the gift of the tree in the Garden of Eden in the way God gives it to us, or will we take it according to our own desire?

 

By that sin, we destroyed our belonging. It’s not that we didn’t belong to something, we did—we now belonged to our own desire, to the demons who tempt, and to the world which shared in our sin. We did belong—but in belonging to our own sinful flesh, to the demons, and to our sinful world, we found ourselves belonging to that which has no love.

 

 

Jesus restores us. That’s what he did at the cross. He took our sin and crucified it in his own body. That’s what he did in Baptism. He put the Name of the Father on us, restoring us as children of the God of love. 1 John 3:1.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

 

Now, this is Jesus’ voice to our world.

 

Our world, filled with people who need to belong. Our world where a police department explains how a young man will join a gang from need to belong. Where we here of skyrocketing rates of depression and even suicides, as people are isolated from one another. Where people are tempted in the absence of love to replace it with lust. Jesus’ voice to each person in our world is, You belong. I have reconciled you to my Father. I cleanse you of your sin. I cover you in my honor. I call you into the fellowship of my Church. You belong to my Father, for I ransomed you with my own blood.

 

This is Jesus who came and stood in the midst of his disciples and said, “Peace to you” (Luke 24:36). Peace with the Father. Peace from the Son, by his gift. Peace delivered to you by the Holy Spirit, who keeps you in the Word of your Lord Jesus. Peace with one another, for those who belong to Christ Jesus belong to one another, joined in oneness in the fellowship of his Body and Blood. This is the peace of knowing your sin is daily forgiven and you stand before the Father justified by the Word of his Son.

 

So why are you troubled? Luke 24:38:

And [Jesus] said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

 

Jesus came to be with us in the most intimate way—he came as our brother, as human as we are in every way but without sin. He came not as a spirit, but with flesh and bone, even showing his hands and his feet to his disciples who were troubled. While they were still disbelieving, he ate fish with them.

 

He is as human as you and I, as our neighbor, as that young man who doesn’t know if he has a family or a friend to whom he can belong.

 

And Jesus says, Peace to you. And he calls us, Children of God. To be a child of God is to belong. And Jesus desires no one left out.

 

Jesus’ voice to our world is, Peace to you, I forgive you your sin. You are a child of God, you belong.

 

So that is the Church’s voice to our world. Our voice to the world is the proclamation of the cross. Our voice to the world is, Peace to you. By the blood of Jesus, you are a child of God. You belong.

 

Our voice to one another in the Church is, Peace to you. You are a child of God. By the Body and Blood of Jesus, our sin is forgiven, our sin against one another is forgiven, we are children of God, brothers and sisters in the fellowship of Christ Jesus. We belong even to one another.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Where There is Forgiveness Of Sin, There is Life & Salvation

Second Sunday of Easter [b]                      April 11, 2021

 

John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Everything of Jesus is ordered toward the forgiveness of sins.

 

When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, it was, he said, for “the fulfilling of all righteousness.” The fulfilling of all righteousness into Jesus was baptized means that he will make every sinner righteous, he will justify every sinner. So, after Jesus is Baptized, John the Baptist announces him as, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Matt. 3:15)

 

Everything of Jesus—his teaching, his miracles, his eating and drinking with sinners, his suffering and death—all is ordered toward the forgiveness of sins.

 

 

But in this morning’s text, we see Jesus entering a room where everything is ordered toward fear. The eleven Apostles have locked themselves in a room, our text says, for fear of the Jews. (John 20:19)

 

The word “Jews” here does not refer to race or ethnicity—after all, the Apostles are all Jews. Jesus is a Jew. The word “Jew” here refers to a doctrine or a theological party. It is the party of the teachers of the Law. It’s those who want to control people with the Law, make everyone act right. When you have people being put under the teaching of the Law, you do not have the forgiveness of sins.

 

So we see that the eleven have locked themselves in a room for fear of those who hold sinners under the Law.

 

But these Apostles in the locked room belong to the Lord. They bear his Name. They are already clean because of the word he  has spoken to them (John 15:3).

 

So, why are they in fear of the Law? For that matter, why do we find ourselves in fear of the Law, almost as if we would like to lock ourselves in a room so that others couldn’t hold our sins against us?

 

These Apostles belong to Jesus, they bear his Name, yet, at the same time, they live in their flesh. This is the doctrine that we are simultaneously sinner and saint, or sinner and justified. St. Paul gives us this when throughout his letters he speaks of the old man and the new man. This is each of us as we are righteous and a sinner at the same time, holy and profane. Sinful by our life of flesh, righteous by our life of faith, both at the same time.

 

The Apostles are in the locked room for fear of the Jews—the Jews, that is, who as a theological party are the teachers of the Law. The Law locks under fear. It exposes the sinful flesh. The Law accuses the Old Adam and brings guilt and shame.

 

Even in the Church now—since we are all living this life of flesh and at the same time faith—a terrible temptation comes to the Old Adam, the sinful flesh, to use the Law even against one other, holding onto sins, keeping people locked in fear.

 

Where we are living in our sinful flesh (which is at all times, until we are with our Lord), we are, according to our Old Adam, living in a locked room of fear. Fear which is worked by the teaching of the Law. The sinful flesh, the Old Adam, controls the room, and the doors are locked.

 

 

Jesus enters the room.

 

How he enters this room with the Apostles we need not speculate. All we need know is that the room is locked, it is filled with 11 scared men, and Jesus appears in the midst of them.

 

What will he do in a room ordered toward fear? When he enters, when he speaks, the room ordered toward fear is now being ordered toward the forgiveness of sins.

 

So what do we see in this room of fear when Jesus enters?

 

We see the gift of peace. This is peace which flows from the Throne in Heaven and the verdict of justification spoken there (cf. Zech. 3:1-5). Jesus brings this verdict of the justification of the sinner from Heaven down to Earth, for the sinner to hear. He brings peace.

 

When Jesus enters the room of fear, we see the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is he who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on Earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith,” as we learn in the Catechism.

 

We see, when Jesus enters the room, the forgiveness of sins. The forgiveness is delivered into the ears of the sinner. The sin is forgiven, released, it no longer belongs to the sinner.

 

Into this room of fear, Jesus brings the gift of faith. Faith is the negation of fear. The fear brought by the accusing Law is replaced by the faith worked by the Gospel which frees from sin.

 

It is not just in seeing Jesus in the resurrected flesh that chases away fear. For what if he comes in the flesh, resurrected, but he comes for retribution? The resurrection of Jesus is not good news simply by the fact that it demonstrates that God has this power of life. The good news, the Gospel, is that he came in the flesh for grace (John 1:16-17). He was resurrected for us. He came into the room to speak forgiveness. Faith receives that gift.

 

 

The room of everything ordered toward fear is now the room with Jesus in the midst. It is now a room ordered toward the forgiveness of sins.

 

Jesus spoke forgiveness in that room with the Apostles.

 

The Apostles did not stay in the room. Jesus sent them out: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) The gift of the forgiveness of sins (and thus the gift of the Holy Spirit and of faith) is sent out into the world of sinners.

 

The Word of the crucifixion and resurrection is proclaimed. Jesus is gathering sinners into the Church—the resurrected One building his Church by the Gospel.

 

For the sinner, the forgiveness of sins gives the resurrection of the body. As the Small Catechism gives it, “Where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (Small Catechism, The Benefit of the Sacrament of the Altar).

 

This is the Church, a room of sinners, living in fear according to their sinful flesh, but at the same time living in forgiveness and life according to their life of faith. The Church is a room full of sinners gathered to the Word of Jesus absolving them of all sin, justifying them before the heavenly throne.

 

The Church, then, is this family of sinners not only being forgiven by the Word of Jesus, but also, then, turning to one another with the conversation and consolation of the Gospel, building up one another in the gifts of Jesus.

 

Everything with Jesus is ordered toward the forgiveness of sins.

 

Therefore, everything in the Church is ordered toward the forgiveness of sins. As the Large Catechism gives it, “everything in the Christian Church is ordered toward this goal: we shall daily receive in the Church nothing but the forgiveness of sin … for we are in the Christian Church where there is nothing but continuous, uninterrupted forgiveness of sin.” (Large Catechism, II.55).

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

You Do Not Belong to the Tomb

The Resurrection of our Lord [b]                             April 4, 2021

 

Isaiah 25:6-9

And in this mountain
The Lord of hosts will make for all people
A feast of choice pieces,
A feast of wines on the lees,
Of fat things full of marrow,
Of well-refined wines on the lees.
And He will destroy on this mountain
The surface of the covering cast over all people,
And the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces;
The rebuke of His people
He will take away from all the Earth;
For the Lord has spoken.

And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the Lord;
We have waited for Him;
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What happened at that tomb?

 

It seemed, perhaps, a small thing at the time. At least on the world stage. A small thing in the great movements and history of the world.

 

A small thing, really. It was at a confined place, outside of Jerusalem, not up in Greece or in Rome. No world capitals or great cities would even know what happened at that tomb on that otherwise normal morning.

 

A confined location, a confined time. The crucified One on the first day of the week walks out of the tomb, alive! Death swallowed up in life in the person of Jesus.

 

But the particularity of it! It was done by a particular man, Jesus, on a particular day. It’s no normal event, to be sure, this resurrection of a dead man. But will it matter for others? Will it matter for you and me?

 

Will this single Name and life even be known by the philosopher in Athens or the politician in Rome? Will it help the sinner in Albuquerque?

 

 

This resurrection of this One man, it’s the defeat of death.

 

But death is not confined. Death isn’t limited to a particular place. To whom does death not belong? As Isaiah says, death is over all peoples, all nations, everyone. Isaiah 25:7:

 [The Lord] will destroy on this mountain
The surface of the covering cast over all people,
And the veil that is spread over all nations.

 

Death is so universal, so all-encompassing, it is sometimes referred to as a “natural process.” It’s part of being human. It happens to all. So our world, covered by the veil of death spread over all nations, tries to clean death up and act as if it’s acceptable. Death is like a leaf falling to the ground, we hear in our world, so that the leaf, in dying, gives life to the next generation.

 

But a man is not a leaf. Death is not good. No life comes from it. It can’t be cleaned up. It is the total negation of life. It is not part of being human. It’s part of being a sinner. To be human is to be alive. To be a sinner is to be under the veil of death. Death is the judgement, and this judgement knows no borders.

 

 

So what is the rescue from death? For the rescue to be true, it must be universal, all-encompassing, not confined to one small location on one particular day. For the rescue to be true, it must be a total swallowing up of the covering of death’s veil cast over all peoples, over all nations. Isaiah 25:8:

[The Lord] will destroy on this mountain
The surface of the covering cast over all people,
And the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces;
The rebuke of His people
He will take away from all the Earth.

 

This victory is full. No borders of place or time, no confinement of location or generation. Full victory over death, to all peoples, to all faces with tears of mourning, forever, for every day of every year of every generation—death taken away from all the Earth.

 

 

That’s what happened at that tomb on that particular day, when the Crucified One stood up and walked out.

 

The terror of death, the judgement of sin, the dead body on the cross, it came to one man, Christ Jesus. But he did it for all. For every person of every family of every nation of every generation, no one left out. He did it for all.

 

Our sin accounted to him—he took it upon himself, he was clothed in it, when John baptized him with all the sinners at the Jordan river.

 

His righteousness accounted to us—he clothed us in it when he baptized us into the Holy Name.

 

The judgement for all came to one Man.

 

Now the victory. The walking out of the tomb, the breaking the bonds of death. The victory is one man.

 

The victory is Jesus, the Lamb of God, atoning for the sin of the world by the shedding of his own blood, then, on the third day, raised up from the dead by the Father, never to be subject to death again (Romans 6:9).

 

The victory is Jesus making known his triumph over this death even in Hell itself. He descended into Hell to proclaim to the demons their defeat. Their defeat is the cross, where he redeemed all sinners. Their defeat is the open tomb, where he tore to shreds the veil death.

 

He descended to Hell to declare to the demons that it’s over, their defeat is complete, death no longer reigns over the sinner.

 

The victory, it is accomplished by the one Man. But the one who stood up out of the grave, he has a Name.

 

His Name is Jesus. And Jesus means, Yahweh saves. Yahweh is his Name he gave to Moses at the burning bush. Yahweh means, I am. He is the God who was, who is, who will be, and who brings all creatures to life.

 

He is the God not of the dead, but of the living.

 

With his Name, he gives you all that he is. With his Name he gives all that he promised. He has promised the atonement of sinners (Isaiah 53). He has promised the resurrection of the body (Job 19:25-26). He has promised that this salvation is a swallowing up of the shroud of death covering all peoples (Isaiah 25:7) and is an eternal feast of victory for all (Isaiah 25:6).

 

This salvation is universal. It is that the Redeemer has atoned for the sins of every sinner. Even those who walk away from this gift, they don’t negate the atonement—for Jesus, the Lord of life, did no deficient work—they only refuse the atonement for themselves, choosing instead to try to justify themselves in their rejection of the gift.

 

Now, the Redeemer is resurrected. Living and breathing. And his resurrection is for all. For every sinner. For every person fearing death. For you and me.

 

This salvation was accomplished at a particular time and location for all. But the Lord delivers it now not generally, not in a way that is unsure and uncertain to a particular sinner; he delivers this gift of life to a particular sinner at a certain time and place, by a manner of delivery he has designated.

 

The Name belonging to the cross and the resurrection, the Name who defeated death, standing up out of the tomb (Mark 16:6), is now the Name proclaimed to the sinner in the Gospel:

I declare to you the Gospel which I proclaimed to you, which you also received, and in which you stand, by which also you are saved.”

[1 Corinthians 15:1-2]

 

The Name is given us in the Gospel. The Name is given to. You bear the Name of crucifixion and resurrection.

 

In your Baptism, everything he accomplished on the cross, everything he did in breaking the bonds of death and walking out of the tomb, is now joined to you (Romans 6:3-10). Jesus’ crucifixion and his resurrection belong to you as surely as to him, or Baptism into his Name means nothing.

 

His victory over death, his righteous standing before the Father, his joy of the eternal feast, it is your victory over death, your righteous standing, your eternal joy—all by gift.

 

He is risen, he is risen indeed. He walked out of the tomb. You do not belong to the tomb. You belong to his resurrection. You are risen, you are risen indeed. You know it now by faith. You will know it then by sight.

 

In the Name of Jesus.