4th Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #’s 400, 849, 398
Text – Mark 1:24c
I know who you are – the Holy One of God.
DO YOU KNOW JESUS?
To know Jesus & to let Him be known! Do those words sound at all familiar? They’re the vision statement of this congregation, & they tie in well with the Gospel reading for today. Do you know Jesus? The unclean spirit that Jesus cast out certainly knew Him. Hopefully you are not an unclean spirit, but if you are one of God’s children you should know Jesus well.
He is your brother & your Creator. He is rescuing you from the unclean spirits & from the destruction they bring to God’s creation. In the Gospel reading last Sunday, of Mark 1:14-20, Jesus stated that the time is fulfilled & the reign of God is at hand. In the reading for today the word of Jesus gave direct audio & visual evidence of His reign:
“Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, & come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him & crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” (Mark 1:25-26 ESV) Mind you, this is already in chapter one of Mark’s gospel. Yet, by chapter 8, the people still do not know Jesus:
“[Jesus] asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; & others say, Elijah; & others, one of the prophets.’” (Mark 8:27b-28 ESV) Apparently, none of the people were saying that Jesus is the Holy One of God. By chapters nine & ten His own disciples reveal their lack of understanding of Jesus.
Those chapters are well over half way through the 3 year ministry of Christ. Finally, in chapter 14, a woman appears with an alabaster flask of very costly ointment & she pours it over Jesus’ head. It seems that finally someone realizes Jesus is going to die, & she’s anointing Him for burial. As Jesus said in verses 8 & 9, “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Then, Judas conspired to betray Jesus, while the other disciples prepared for Jesus to eat His last Passover meal with them.
Do you know Jesus? His disciples & the people of His day did not seem to know Him. If we were to evaluate Jesus’ ministry by today’s standards of success, He’d be a failure. Yet, one lonely woman anoints Him for burial & Jesus commends her for her understanding. Do you know Jesus? It’s not as easy to answer that question as you first thought.
When Peter made his famous confession, “You are the Christ,” Jesus responded with the revelation that they needed. He tells them who He is – the Son of Man who will be rejected by the Jewish leaders, suffer, die & rise again. However, Peter rejects that description of who Jesus is. “But turning & seeing His disciples, [Jesus] rebuked Peter & said, ‘Get behind me Satan.’”
Peter was trying to be a disciple yet Satan himself was using him. You & I have been in Peter’s shoes far more times than we care to know, even when we thought we were following the Son of God! Though Satan & his demons are invisible to us we do live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we truly cannot stand upright.
Do you remember the prayer I read before the OT lesson: “Almighty God, You know we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright. Grant strength & protection to support us in all dangers & carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives & reigns with You & the Holy Spirit…”
Jesus came not only to rescue us but to rescue His disciples & everyone else who would trust in Him. To trust Jesus is to know Him, but trusting Him means to surrender your will to His. It means to believe & to follow everything Jesus taught – when it makes no sense to you, & even when it brings sacrifice & suffering into your life. Without faith in Jesus as Savior all we have is a sinful nature. Like the unclean spirit, our sinful nature rightly fears that Jesus has come to destroy us. The demon’s cry of terror, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God,” reveals that the presence of Jesus brings the danger of judgment for everyone present.
The people in the synagogue do not fully understand who Jesus is or what His presence means, but they cannot evade the impression of having been confronted by a word invested with power to which there were no comparisons in their experience.
“And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, & they obey Him.’ And at once His fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” Note it is Jesus’ fame that spreads not faith & trust in Him as Messiah.
Since knowing Jesus includes accepting His authority, then our vision statement is not simply about spreading the fame of Jesus as a miracle worker. ‘To know Jesus & to let Him be known’ means to let others know of Jesus’ authority as the Author & Savior of all creation. Our mission statement then includes the means by which we’ve agreed to do that:
“By reflecting God’s love, teaching our children & serving the community” we carry out the vision statement. However, we cannot carry it out unless we first know Jesus as our Lord & Savior. Do you know Jesus’ authority? As children of God our sinful nature makes that a lifelong struggle, but the struggle shows that faith does live within.
The unclean spirit is consciously aware of his uncleanness. No compromise is possible between the holy & the unclean. He doesn’t deny it or try to make excuses for it. He knows that Jesus is truth incarnate & cannot be deceived.
Adam & Eve, on the other hand, tried to cover their nakedness & ran away from God. Of our sinful nature, mankind has been doing the same thing ever since. Part of knowing Jesus as Savior is realizing & accepting that you & I need to be saved. What are some of the things you do which reflect your rejection of the authority of Jesus in your life? Prior to receiving the Lord’s Supper it should be our practice to examine ourselves & confess those sins.
What are some of the things you do because you recognize the authority of Jesus in your life? Those things are not to our credit because they’re done by the grace of God, but we should be thanking the Holy Spirit for preparing & working those good deeds in & through us.
The Epiphany season highlights the revelation of Jesus as Savior to the world. The Gospel reading today continues the identification of Jesus as God’s own Son & the promised Messiah. It focused on Jesus as one who speaks & acts with divine authority. At the same time His authority also points to what He has come to accomplish.
The 1st miracle of Jesus recorded in Mark’s Gospel is an exorcism, making clear that Jesus has come to destroy sin & the power of the devil. In a sense, Jesus has invaded the devil’s territory, & the demon responds to the threat that Jesus represents. Christ’s teaching in the synagogue & His exorcism are testimonies of His authority & both are connected to His word.
Jesus speaks, He teaches, He commands. His words are authoritative in a manifest way. That is the Jesus you & I, & the whole world, are called to know. And that call comes from a personal love for each one of God’s creatures. Yahweh knows each of us personally in all our faults & failures yet loves us enough to die in our place.
In His death & resurrection Jesus was victorious for us, & He also gives us victory now through His powerful word – in our Baptism, in Absolution, in Holy Communion & in the Gospel itself. That Gospel is the means of destruction of the power of the devil just as at the same time it is indeed “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Do you know Jesus? I pray that you do, & that you accept His authority in & over
your life. And yet, our salvation does not depend upon our actions, or our knowing. Our salvation depends upon God’s knowing of us. If we reject that we are in grave danger. If we accept His knowing there is eternal hope & joy. Amen.
Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light; praise the One who frees the prisoners, turning blindness into sight. Praise the One who preached the Gospel, healing every dread disease, calming storms & feeding thousands with the very Bread of peace. Praise the One who blessed the children with a strong, yet gentle, word; praise the One who drove out demons with the piercing, two-edged sword. Praise the One who brings cool water to the desert’s burning sand; from this well comes living water, quenching thirst in every land. Let us praise the Word Incarnate, Christ who suffered in our place. Jesus died & rose victorious that we may know God by grace. Let us sing for joy & gladness, seeing what our God has done; let us praise the true Redeemer, praise the One who makes us one. Amen. LSB 849.
 Mark 8:33a
 Mark 1:27-28
3rd Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #’s 394, 412, 570
Text – Mark 1:14-15
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, & saying, “The time is fulfilled, & the reign of God is at hand; repent & believe in the good news.”
REPENT AND BELIEVE
If I, as your pastor, command you to repent of your sins what’s the first thing that would come to mind? Would you sense a knee jerk reaction, a resistance & fighting against the command? “Repent!” It’s an uncomfortable word. It’s hard & uncompromising. It accuses. It’s painful. It’s like a noose, tightening around the neck. Say you’re sorry! Repent!
It’s not the kind of word we enjoy hearing. It evokes rebellion, yet our Savior spoke it in a phrase along with the word Believe. Repent and Believe! In English, they’re translated as a command. That does not leave another option, because in reality hell is not an option. It’s the road that everyone of us was already on, before the moment when Jesus called us.
Before the Holy Spirit calls you to faith, hell is the guaranteed destination. To repent & believe is the option, an option that our Lord & Savior died for. Have you been obedient? Two verses later, Jesus issues another command, “Follow Me, & I will make you become fishers of men!” (Mark 1:17 ESV) Are you obeying that command? PAUSE
In the OT reading we heard about Jonah. Isn’t it ironic how he was called to be a “fisher” of men, but when he refused, was swallowed up by a fish? The tables were turned.
Seems to me that God has a sense of humor, & I appreciate that sense in how He inspired the author to write, “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, & call out against it the message that I tell you.” (Jonah 3:1-2 ESV) Now for the punch line, ‘Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord.’
Isn’t that an understatement? Jonah got the point. If you & I are not obedient to God’s
call, our lives can become as messy as if we were swallowed up by a fish. So what will it take for you to be obedient to your Lord’s calling? How often does God have to discipline you before you get the point? Repent! & Believe the good news!
Do you understand why Yahweh is speaking to you? It’s not simply because you are guilty. It is also because the time has come! The reign of God is near! It’s near. Don’t you see it? Are you that blind? Must you also, like Jonah, run away from your Savior? Repent & believe the good news. There is nothing to fear. Come, follow Me!
The decisive time has arrived. The great moment foretold by the OT prophets is here. God has invaded history. Christ has not only entered our world, He has entered time. He’s brought with Him God’s final offer of grace, & His final summons to accept it & live by it. Repent & Believe. PAUSE
Is that knee jerk reaction still bothering you? Maybe this will help. When Mark writes that the reign of God is near, he is emphasizing God’s initiative & God’s action.
That Kingdom belongs to the God who invades history in order to secure man’s redemption. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against our Savior’s invasion. Not even Satan can hold onto those who belong to Christ.
Our repentance & belief is a gift from God. It’s not something we have to do of our own merit, or strength or wisdom. God did not enter time & conquer death only to leave the rest of the work up to us poor helpless sinners.
Mark’s emphasis on the fullness of time focuses attention upon a God who takes action, whose past choosing & redemption of Israel provided the pledge of His activity in the future. That future is ours. God’s promises are ours. His call to repent & believe, is merely the message that the time has come for us to receive our promised inheritance. We have that knee jerk reaction against the command to repent & believe, because instinctively we recognize that we cannot. As Luther taught, we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, or come to Him. God must bring us to Himself. El Shaddai must work repentance & belief in our heart & mind & soul.
Thus, when Jesus commands us to Repent, His desire is to encourage us. And since His very words have the power to bring into being that which is not, He is able to create repentance in the hearts of the unrepentant by His mere speaking of the word. Jesus is able to create belief in the hearts of the unbelieving by that same speaking of the word.
We hear much from some Protestant religious denominations about the end times, about times of fear & tribulation. That preaching uses fear as a tool to scare people into coming to church, to frighten them into accepting Jesus into their heart. They use that word Repent as a fearful, threatening club, in order to drive people into the arms of God.
But that is not the picture Jesus uses to draw us to Himself. You don’t beat & frighten a dog into loving you. Why would God do that to His children? If He wanted to frighten us into submission, why did He send His only begotten Son to be crucified in our place? PAUSE
In next Sunday’s gospel lesson Jesus commands an evil spirit to come out of a man, & the spirit obeys. Evil spirits have no choice, but to obey God. However, out of love for us, Yahweh does not compel us to obedience. Rather, He allows us to reject Him, so that our love for Him is neither artificial, nor forced.
Terror can play no part in our love for a Heavenly Father. Obedience out of fear of punishment, is only self-serving, & never God pleasing. The time has come; the reign of God is near, because through Christ, our Father begins to act in a new & decisive way, bringing His promise of ultimate redemption to the point of fulfillment. Now the concluding drama can begin, & it has begun. The time has come, the reign of God is near, & Jesus is enacting that reign by His call to discipleship: “Come, follow me, & I will make you become fishers of men.” Those words were spoken to Simon & Andrew, to James & John. As we read & hear them, they are also spoken to you & me.
We are called to follow Christ, first, so that we ourselves might not be lost – might not be led astray by false teachers. In the book of Acts, Paul warns, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” He’s talking about those who would lead us astray with false teaching.
Then, Christ also calls us for the work of sharing the good news with others, fishing for men. Now that phrase “fishers of men” isn’t simply a cute play on words. It has a long tradition dating back to the OT prophets, & was kept alive by the community living at Qumran, the people who originally hid the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The tradition surrounding “fishers of men” was associated with divine judgment. It was spoken of as a commissioning to do God’s fishing among one’s contemporaries. It’s in light of this “End Times” theme that we are to understand the urgency of Jesus’ call to “Follow Me.” The time has come; the reign of God is near. Repent & believe the good news.
The ultimate function of God’s fishermen is to confront people with God’s decisive action. To unbelief, that action has the character of damnation. To faith, God’s action has the character of salvation. Through the belief & repentance that God has created in our hearts, He has enabled us to follow Him.
That ability to follow is a fruit, or a result, of the repentant attitude that exists in the heart of every believer. That ability to follow is only there as a result of God’s gift to His children, the gift of faith, repentance & belief. We don’t earn it & we do not deserve it. The anointed One, God’s chosen One, is already present among His covenant people, & through Him the royal act of God, in redeeming His people, has begun. The kingdom has drawn near spatially in Jesus Christ, & temporally because Messiah’s 1st appearance on earth was the only salvation event left prior to the end of the old heaven & earth.
Going back to the OT lesson, it says that the Ninevites believed God. And when He saw how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion on them & did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened. That is God’s desire for you as well. The Son of God has already borne, upon the cross, the destruction intended for you & me.
There’s no reason to fear repentance. There’s no reason for you to bear the destruction that God threatens for unbelievers. Christ has already been cursed for our sins. His blood has already been shed. Won’t you believe Him? Won’t you place your trust in the God who would sacrifice His own Son in your place? Won’t you stop refusing God’s grace? PAUSE
The season of Epiphany is about the revelation of God’s plan as seen in His Son, Jesus. Today, the light of God’s call to you has been revealed through His Word. The same Word that spoke, “Let there be light,” & created light, has spoken to you today, & it is the power of salvation unto you. That Word has the power to create & sustain faith, belief & repentance.
Yes, there is a definite relationship between God’s call to repentance & belief, & God’s call to follow Him. Only God’s children have received the gift of repentant hearts, & only His children have been enabled to follow Him. You are those children, & that is good news. Amen.
The people that in darkness sat a glorious light have seen; the light has shined on them who long in shades of death have been. To us a child of hope is born, to us a Son is given, & on His shoulder ever rests all power in earth & heaven. Lord, Jesus, reign in us, we pray, & make us Thine alone, who with the Father ever art & Holy Spirit one. Amen. LSB 412:1, 3, 6.
Life Sunday – 2021 LSB #’s 847 (tune 924), 842, 849
Text – 1 Corinthians 12:22
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.
FROM INVISIBLE TO INDISPENSABLE
There are a thousand different reasons that something can be invisible. It may be hidden from sight by some barrier or across a vast distance. Sometimes things are just too tiny. An atom or molecule, even most living cells, cannot be seen with the naked eye. Sometimes things are invisible because they are camouflaged. They blend into the background.
Other things are hiding in plain sight. We look at it & see it, but not really, because our eyes are expecting it to look different than it does. Then, there is the mental block that has nothing to do with its size, location, or unexpected form. There are just some things we do not want to see.
The proverb goes: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” All the other kinds of invisibility can be cured. This one cannot – not without a change of heart.
On Sanctity of Life Sunday, all these forms of invisibility are in view. At the very beginning of life, size is the issue. Your first moment was as a single cell – a zygote one tenth of a millimeter across. Barriers were also an issue. Layers deep in the body of your mother you were hidden.
Thirdly, there was your unfamiliar form. Even if we could peer through skin & into the womb, even if we could magnify your size, your shape was not at all like it is today. You would not look at all like our typical image of a human being.
As you grew in size, your form changed. From a round sphere, you came to resemble a mulberry. By the 5th day, you had a few hundred cells that looked like a balloon filled with water. It took five weeks of growing before the first hint of an eye or any protrusions that could be identified as arms or legs were visible. It took two more weeks before you had fingers & toes. By worldly standards, you were not recognizably human until this 7th week of life. But from your own point of view, through all these different appearances, you were still you. You could always say to God, along with Psalm 139:
“You knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (139:13). Invisible, yes – to the world, but not to God. And not invisible to your brothers & sisters who know Him – & you – by faith. In the Bible, to be seen is to be saved.
The Psalmist says, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15). When Isaiah prays for God’s mercy, he says, “Look down from heaven & see” (Isaiah 65:15). God told Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people…” (Exodus 3:7). And so, He worked His salvation.
This is not only true of God; it is also true of our neighbors. When people do not see us, we are in grave danger. And when we do not see other people, we can accidentally hurt them or blindly withhold our love & care from them. That’s why, throughout our lives, we do things to make ourselves visible to one another.
We put orange flags on tricycles & bikes to make kids safer. Safety cones & strobe lights multiply all around. You & I do things to be noticed. Hair, clothing, achievements – even mis-achievements – are all motivated by a desire to be seen by our peers, by our parents, & by people that we value.
It should go without saying – but we must remind ourselves – that it is not only the small & young who can suffer from invisibility. The elderly, the poor, those who don’t speak our language, those struggling with sin right before our eyes can all be out of sight & out of mind. We see them, but we don’t see them – sometimes because they are good at hiding; sometimes because we do not want to see. That’s why King David began Psalm 41 with the words, “Blessed is the one who considers the poor!” (41:1).
To be a For Life people is to be a congregation that notices the smallest, the oldest, the weakest, & the neediest. We are called to notice physical needs as well as spiritual needs – the need to be protected from spiritual harm & physical harm. We should consider our neighbor’s need to be healed in body, mind & spirit – to be forgiven & restored.
The flip side of our obligation to “consider the poor” is that when we are blind to any person’s existence or need, we are sinning against that person & against Jesus who created them.
Whether she is a snowflake baby only two tenths of a millimeter across, frozen in liquid nitrogen, or a grown woman suffering the pain of a sin she cannot even admit to herself, God’s people see, & God’s people care.
Whether she is bereft of family & alone in a nursing home, or a young mother surrounded by children & struggling with depression, God’s people see, & God’s people care. And that means consciously taking off the blinders. Examine your own heart to find those sins that are preventing you from seeing your neighbor.
Are you self-absorbed & unwilling to be bothered? Our nation is filled with philosophies that deny the value of human life at its weakest stages – both old & young. It is easy to use empty rhetoric as a cover for disengagement from the struggle. We can shrug our shoulders & pretend that the question is just too complicated to come to a conclusion.
Does desire for the praise of men keep you from defending the lives of others? It’s a powerful temptation. We are well-acquainted with the social shaming that happens when we stand up for life & marriage. Many a Christian is drawn away from the faith through stifling his public confession of the truth of God. He thinks he can hold it secretly without getting into public controversy. Yet, bit by bit the truth is driven out until he no longer believes it, even in his heart. Unbelief seldom appears overnight, but grows slowly in the shadows & the darkness of fear. Maybe it is unconfessed sin in your own life that holds you back from speaking up to warn your neighbor against the same sin.
Maybe, your own dark episode that is too painful to confront keeps you from being a voice for those without a voice. God does not want you to live with that pain. Jesus earnestly desires for you to give it wholly to Him so that your guilt & shame are completely washed away, & you are healed. That’s why God’s Spirit empowers & enables us to repent.
Repentance is not a work of self-harm, but an opportunity for deep cleansing & transformative healing. Repentance seeks the blood of Christ to heal us from all sins. Jesus’ blood not only takes away guilt, it also takes away the shame of sin. Jesus heals everything about us, including blinded eyes that keep us from seeing our neighbor.
That’s why seeing your own sin is the first step in having your eyes opened to see your neighbor. When we frankly repent of ourselves, we recognize what St. John the apostle wrote about all of us: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, & what we will be has not yet appeared” (1 John 3:2). It’s true! We are not, yet, what we will be.
We are small, immature, twisted & broken. But we are also children of God! What an incredibly beautiful passage! We are God’s children even now! Even while we are so far from full maturity. God does not wait until you have reached full maturity as a Christian before He acknowledges you as His own child.
There is no threshold of Christian size or maturity before you have the full rights of the sons of God. There is no vague & fuzzy line between a “baby Christian” & a “real Christian.” Through Baptism God’s Spirit gave you life from heaven (John 3:3). That makes you a full member of the family of God immediately & without qualification, no matter what your struggles are. There is a direct analogy to members of the human family. Becoming human is not a matter of size, strength, place, or usefulness. People don’t grow from baby human beings into real ones. Nor do they gradually weaken into non-human “vegetables.”
People are created whole & entire by being born from above, & they remain people, created in the image of God, for eternity. When we look at zygotes or a blastocysts, we have a difficult time seeing the humanity of our neighbor. They are so extremely immature in comparison to our own body that their value is known only by faith in God.
But when we consider our elder brother, Jesus, so perfect & mature in comparison to us, our value can look awfully small as well. As wildly different as a zygote is from an adult, even more wildly different are we from Jesus. Yet, He sees you & cares for you as a full-fledged child of God. He does not devalue your worth because you haven’t appeared in full maturity.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; & so we are” (1 John 3:1). So we are! Let that sink in. Though you are spiritually tiny & invisible by comparison to your older brother, Jesus sees you & recognizes you as His own. He gives you His full attention. He values you so highly that He gave His life for yours.
The Savior of the world knows that His Father knitted each of us together for a specific purpose out of “fatherly, divine goodness & mercy” (SC II.1). He gladly gives you His mercy & grace. He does not see you, nor anyone, as a life to be tossed aside. He nurtures you, protects you, heals you & attends to your every need. He sees you as utterly indispensable.
You are indispensable to the Father, therefore you are indispensable to His only begotten Son. If you had been the one sinner in the entire world, still Jesus would have seen you. Still Jesus would die for you. When you could do absolutely nothing to protect yourself from the evil assaults of the devil, Jesus offered Himself in your stead & died in your place. That is the foundation of your life in God, & it changes everything about how you see the world. Now that Jesus Christ is your true brother & you are a true Child of God, through the eyes of faith you are given to see the world as Jesus sees the world.
Every person who is alive, from the oldest to the youngest, is living for one reason & one reason only. God Himself wills that life. The Great I Am decided to bring that person into existence. Yahweh alone decides to give one more heartbeat, one more breath, one more day, one more opportunity for true joy. And whatever God wills is the best & greatest gift.
However, life is not only a gift to the one who lives. That person’s life is also God’s gift to you & God’s gift to the entire world. Just as you have gone from invisible to indispensable, God the Holy Spirit has given you new eyes to see your every neighbor. And when you see them as God sees them, they are no longer invisible but indispensable.
Satan is always trying to blind us to the manifold gifts of God. But the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see. On Easter Sunday, “As they sat down to eat, [Jesus] took the bread & blessed it. Then He broke it & gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened & they recognized Him.” (Luke 24:30-31a NLT)
So, also, are your eyes opened in the breaking of the bread. To partake of the Holy Body of Christ is to be given Jesus’ eyes. When God opens our eyes to see the world as it truly is, we no longer see our brothers & sisters as burdens & responsibilities. We see them as gifts – precious & indispensable.
Every time you see your neighbor in this way, you are reminded that God so sees you. You have moved from invisible to indispensable. From worthless to invaluable. From unseen to seen. God sees you. He sees you in your immaturity. He sees you in sickness & sin. He sees you in your guilt & shame & He does not avert His eyes from you but turns His heart toward you. He spends everything He is & everything that He has to protect you, to heal you, to forgive you. God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit gave you life & existence in the 1st place. He wants you to live. He made you to live. He is the one keeping you alive even today.
He sent His only begotten Son into the flesh to suffer, to die, & to rise again for your redemption, forgiveness & healing. He does so because He wants you to live with Him. The prophet Ezekiel wrote, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way & live” (33:11). Jesus died that you might live!
In Baptism Christ Jesus gave you His Holy Spirit & placed you into the Church because He wants you to live forever with His entire family. Life is holy because God is holy. So every life He gives, both now & in eternity, is a gift of the Holy God, the Lord & giver of Life. Amen.
Son of God, eternal Savior, source of life & truth & grace, word made flesh, whose birth among us hallows all our human race, You our Head, who, throned in glory, for Your own will ever plead: Fill us with Your love & pity, heal our wrongs, & help our need. As You, Lord, have lived for others, so may we for others live. Freely have Your gifts been granted; freely may Your servants give. Yours the gold & Yours the silver, Yours the wealth of land & sea; we but stewards of Your bounty held in solemn trust will be. Amen. LSB 842:1-2.
New Year’s Eve – 2020 LSB #’s 672, 673, 680
Text – Revelation 21:1
Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the first heaven & the first earth had passed away, & the sea was no more.
ONE DAY WE TOO SHALL SEE
It’s a common practice at the end of milestones to look back over the past & reflect upon the joy & the success we experienced leading up to that milestone. Often the challenges & struggles have already faded by then into the distance. For this past year – not so much. It seems like, more than in the recent past, the struggles & challenges are ongoing…
In our limited experience, of around 90 years or less, if there has ever been a year that people were looking forward to leave behind it is this year – 2020. No doubt there’ve been far worse years in human history, but the vast majority of us were not alive then, or they’re so long in our past we’ve mostly forgotten what they were like.
For as proud & arrogant as the human spirit can be, this year has been a global wake-up call about the fragile & uncertain nature of life. The intrusion of death into the lives of people around the world highlights the greatest problem that humanity faces. As much as people have tried, in every age of history, no one has eliminated the power of death.
No politician has been able to outlaw death & none of them has been able to protect their citizens from its ability to come & take us whenever & wherever it wills. Death is known as the great equalizer, because even the wealthy & politically well-connected are not able to buy their way out of dying.
People who pride themselves on their ability to control the circumstances of their lives are unable to control death. The young & healthy can be swallowed up by it just as surely as the old & frail. Thousands of years ago, a man named Job was inspired by the Holy Spirit to put the truth into words, & nothing has changed since: “How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! We blossom like a flower & then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear. You [Lord] have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, & we are not given a minute longer.” (Job 14:1-2, 5 NLT)
Those who believe that human beings are ultimately good vainly imagine that by means of better education, a better environment, better legislation & a more equitable distribution of wealth they are going to usher in a new era, a golden age, the Utopia of man’s ardent desire.
Their dream remains a dream! Neither economic nor disarmament conferences, neither better schools nor share-the-wealth programs are going to bring about a truly golden age, a new heaven & earth or a new order. It is only God who, through His Spirit, makes things new.
Man tried that at the tower of Babel & God confused their language to break up their human centered dreams of glory. Contrary to human ideas, our hope is NOT in getting to 2021, or faster distribution of the vaccine, or to larger stimulus checks. Free health care & lower taxes are not going to save the human race, nor will they even make life better here on earth.
Even during Christmas, in spite of all the beautiful light decorations, or the quality of family get-togethers, the good news sung during Silent Night is founded only on the empty tomb. If Jesus was merely born to die & stay dead, then His birth would be meaningless. He would be just one more grave in the planet we call earth.
But graves are of the old heaven & earth, the one that itself is in the process of passing away. Out of the death of the 1st heaven & earth a new heaven & a new earth will be raised.
Tomorrow will bring about an entirely new year, & many people are looking forward to it, but it’s going to be the same old same old. When the ball hits the ground at midnight not a single thing that matters will have changed! “The earth mourns & withers; the world languishes & withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, & its inhabitants suffer for their guilt…” (Isaiah 24:4-6 ESV)
As Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789, “Our new Constitution is now established, & has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death & taxes.” In the new heaven & the new earth there will be neither!
The good news of Christmas, & of the coming new year, is the same. Immanuel has overcome death & has shared His eternal life with you. That is the gift of Christmas which truly matters. In 2020 & through the pandemic, the intrusion of death into the lives of people of all ages highlighted the singular & central significance of Jesus’ resurrection.
Easter morning brought about the new era of which St. John writes in the book of Revelation. To the seers of God, time & eternity, the era of the NT & the eternal heaven, are not sharply distinguished & believers are already now in the heavenlies. We just can’t see it yet.
In principle, that promise runs through Scripture from beginning to end like a golden thread. It is realized even in this life. In perfection it is fulfilled in the next, especially in the new heaven & earth. It is the greatest promise, for it includes all the other promises.
There is a beautiful connection, or golden thread, between Genesis & Revelation that resembles a flower. We find the seed in Genesis, the growing plant in the books lying between, & the fully developed flower in Revelation.
Genesis tells us that God created heaven & earth. Revelation describes the new heaven & earth. In Genesis the sun, moon & stars are called into being. In Revelation we read that the city has no need of the sun nor the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God enlightens it & its lamp is the Lamb. Genesis describes a paradise which was lost. Revelation pictures a paradise restored. Genesis describes the cunning & power of Lucifer. Revelation informs us that the devil was bound & hurled into the lake of fire & brimstone.
Genesis pictures the awful scene of Adam & Eve fleeing from their Creator & hiding themselves from the presence of the Almighty. Revelation gives us the most wonderful communion between God & redeemed mankind: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be His people…” (Revelation 21:3 ESV)
Finally, where Genesis shows us the tree of life, with an angel to keep man away from it, Revelation rejoices that mankind once again will have the right to eat from the tree of life & live forever. In stark & terrible contrast to that, the last verse of the Epistle reading states:
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters & all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire & sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 ESV)
As the year 2020 involved massive changes in what we thought was normal, & as 2021 appears it will continue with much the same, God’s plan, though for a while seemingly defeated, in the end will be seen to triumph completely. For now, our eyesight is too corrupted by sin to actually see what God is doing. Only occasionally does He give us miraculous insight.
Revelation 21 portrays the result of God’s redeeming grace & mercy, whether in the present here on earth, or in the future there in heaven. This redeeming grace & transforming power of God must never be viewed as pertaining only to the future – when we die & go to heaven – as Christians even often think of it.
No, here & now, in this present era, even with Covid 19, God’s grace & transforming power are already working. It’s just that we seldom are allowed to see it. So Revelation 21 is not simply speaking of when we die & go to heaven. It is a description of the redeemed universe of the future, yet it is also a description of the redeemed church of today – a church that foreshadows the church, called the New Jerusalem, of the eternal paradise. As poorly as 2020 seems to have gone, Yahweh was still with us, forgiving us, renewing us & leading us so that we may delight in His will & walk in His ways to the glory of His holy name.
The creation of the new heaven & the new earth has in a very real way already begun in the hearts & souls & minds of all who trust in Jesus as their Savior from their sins. As we follow the Lord, this new creation finds expression in our daily lives. Yes, now we see that but dimly. On the Last Day we shall see it with a clarity that for now is incomprehensible.
For now, you & I, & all God’s children on earth, live by faith. In this world of sin that is a serious challenge, filled with dangers all the way. However, because our salvation is entirely dependent upon our Creator & Savior, what truly matters is not what you & I see, but what the heavenly Father sees. And He already sees you & I beautifully:
“…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2 ESV) And He promises that, “One day we too shall see!” As St. John was inspired to write:
“Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the first heaven & the first earth had passed away, & the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be His people, & God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, & death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV) Amen.
Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee? When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see? O happy harbor of the saints, O sweet & pleasant soil! In the no sorrow may be found, no grief, no care, no toil. O Christ, do Thou my soul prepare for that bright home of love that I may see Thee & adore with all Thy saints above. Amen. LSB 673:1-2, 6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet