4th Sunday after the Epiphany – A LSB #’s 852, 783, 848
Text – Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good; & what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, & to love kindness, & to walk humbly with your God?
WALKING HUMBLY WITH THE LORD
Parents included their four-year-old son while they were planting an apple tree in the backyard. As soon as it was planted, the boy called his grandparents & explained, “Pop-Pop, we just planted an apple tree & now we’re going to put apples on it.” So, his parents tried to attach apples to the sapling with duct tape, staplers & glue guns.
As humorous as that was, it occurred to the parents that it’s a good illustration of how we at times approach bearing fruit in a spiritual sense. It’s not uncommon to experience a nagging suspicion that we are not producing as much spiritual fruit as God gives us opportunity to yield.
Because of that sense of guilt, yet faced with our usual time crunch, Satan tempts us to artificially ‘tack on’ spiritual fruit to our lives. For example, we tell people that we’ll pray for them, when we don’t really mean it, or do it.
There are millions of lonely people in this country. Certainly, we can’t visit them all, yet we tell some of them we’ll stop by, at their house, in the hospital or nursing homes. Then, the time gets away from us, or more interesting opportunities come along, & we fail to actually produce real fruit.
We tell people we’ll write, or give them a call, but all we’re doing is attempting to “tack on” spiritual fruit to our lives. In a moment of spiritual optimism, we vow to begin reading the Bible, or volunteer at the church & school, maybe even attend Bible study. A few weeks later the fruit that we “attached” to our tree with duct tape begins to fall off the branches.
Yahweh has seen this going on for thousands of years, with literally billions of His
people. He saw it in the days of Micah the prophet & in verse 2, his listeners are surprised when he reveals that Yahweh’s dispute is not with the unbelievers, or pagan nations of the world, but with His own children. Given that God is holy & His people are sinful, we’d expect to hear an accusation against the people.
However, instead of chastising them, instead of hammering them with the Law, He takes a more grace filled approach: “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? …For I brought you up from the land of Egypt & redeemed you from the house of slavery…” (Micah 6:3-4 ESV)
And God could take the same approach with His people today. How has He wearied us that we no longer live like children of God? If we come to His house, we are bored with hearing His Word. We tire of confessing our sins. We want the sermons & the songs to be entertaining & awe inspiring, yet we certainly do not come here to walk humbly with our God.
On any given Sunday, the majority of members of the church are not in the house of the Lord. This very morning, somewhere around two thirds of all church members are not submitting their time to God’s will. They claim to be Christians, but they’re just “tacking on” spiritual fruit with duct tape & glue guns.
In other words, (Matthew 15:8) they worship God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. Being in their heavenly Father’s house every Sunday is just plain unreasonable & inconvenient. However, the problem is not confined only to this place. In our daily lives, out there, how often do we “love” being kind to others?
Being nice to others, & complaining about it after they are gone, is not what Micah is writing about. We are to emulate God as He takes on human flesh & enters our world to die for the sins of everyone. His kindness has nothing to do with repentance & it covers each of the sins from Adam & Eve all the way down to the youngest child here this morning, & everyone in between. Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “…Jesus, the founder & perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…” (ESV) That is the love of kindness.
As for justice, how often do our daily lives reflect the justice of God who never slacks off in doing what is pure, right & holy? This morning, it’s easy to point to Memphis, & the five police officers there, & say that what they did is not justice in any way, shape or form. Yet our own lives are filled with times where we too look out for number one.
Justice is something we strive for in the circumstances of our lives so that we get what is right. We spend little time advocating for others, like the widow & the orphan or the unborn. Justice is seeing to it that, even if it costs us, we do right by our neighbor. Martin Luther wrote in his explanation of the 7th commandment for example:
“We should fear & love God so that we… help our [neighbor] to improve & protect his possessions & income.” That is true justice. It’s not enough that we do not steal from him. We are still stealing if we don’t help our [neighbor] to improve & protect his possessions & income.
Ultimately, we should walk humbly with our God because He is the source of all good things, whether that’s justice or kindness, whether it’s salvation & everlasting life. Justice & kindness reflect the character of our heavenly Father & we cannot do that unless we walk humbly with Him. Jesus pictured it so well in John 15:4,
“Abide in me, & 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 came across this in an old calendar, it’s a Nigerian proverb: “It is the heart that does the giving; the fingers only let go.”
We do bear fruit as we remain in the Vine, Jesus Christ. And as such, we never have to “tack it on” to make ourselves look good. Amen.
Take my life & let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee; take my moments & my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my voice & let me sing always, only for my King; take my lips & let them be filled with messages from Thee. Take my will & make it Thine, it shall be no longer mine; take my heart, it is Thine own, it shall be Thy royal throne. Amen. LSB 783:1, 3, 5.
3rd Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #’s 496, 419, 832
Text – Matthew 4:17
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the reign of heaven is at hand.”
THE REIGN OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND
Queen Elizabeth reigned over the United Kingdom for a little over 70 years. She was the longest reigning monarch in its history. Her death last year made news around the world. The reign of every other king or queen previous to her in world history has ended in the same way – death. There is only one monarch who reigns forever – the King of the Jews.
As Christians, we know & long for the day when Jesus returns to end the weakness, the misery & the suffering caused by sin. We anticipate the day when God’s will shall truly be done on earth as it is in heaven. Perfection, glory & beauty for ever & ever without end – that is what God’s children are waiting for.
We’re tired of hearing about the Covid pandemic. We’re powerless to fix all the things that are wrong with our government. We feel pity & sorrow for the people in the nation of Ukraine as their tragic battle for freedom keeps claiming more & more lives. Inflation continues to make our lives more difficult & expensive than they were just two years ago.
Crime is running rampant in many of our cities & no one seems able to put forth any kind of solution. Atlanta is burning right now. Lives are destroyed by racism. Lives are destroyed by greed. Human beings are nothing more than pawns to be manipulated & controlled in the name of power & politics. We stumble along from one election to the next & nothing changes.
The rich get richer & the well-connected get off the hook. Meanwhile, drug abuse & homelessness continue to grow in the wealthiest nation on earth. The educational system in our country spends more money per child than any other nation, yet the majority of Americans can not read above an 8th grade level. And, in the skilled trades, where reading is not as necessary as in white collar jobs, 83% of the companies surveyed last year said they were having a difficult time finding workers. In 1937, Gallup began polling Americans about church membership. That year, 73% of our citizens said they were members of a church. That number remained near 70% for the following 6 decades.
By the year 2000 a steady decline began & by 2020, only 47% of Americans claimed to belong to a church. Among the millennial generation, only 36% claimed church membership. Given all the depressing news in our world, it’s easy to see why Christians are looking for Jesus to return & take charge of His new creation.
However, there’s a very large problem with that attitude. Jesus is already in charge of His new creation – right here, right now. That’s the point of the sermon text: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the reign of heaven is at hand.’” It arrived & began with Jesus’ ministry on earth. The miracles He would perform proved it.
And the miracles Jesus performed were not only the obvious things – changing water into wine, calming the storm on the sea, or raising people from death back to physical life. He also drew people back into relationship with their heavenly Father, from spiritual death to spiritual life. That’s what St. Paul was writing of in 2 Corinthians 5:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (5:17 ESV) No matter how depraved the culture appears to our physical eyes, the truth is Jesus has already taken charge of His new creation.
Given what we hear & see around our nation, & the fear we are tempted to feel because of the circumstances in our own lives, it’s difficult to accept that Jesus is in charge right here, right now. It’s difficult to feel hopeful & rejoice that the reign of heaven is at hand. What our nation & our world looks like today, is not what we’d expect with Jesus in charge. That’s where the OT reading sheds some light: “In the former time He brought into contempt the land of Zebulun & the land of Naphtali…” (Isaiah 9:1b ESV) In our day, those are not exactly household words. They were cities in the Northern Kingdom of Israel & their people had rejected God to worship idols instead.
After years of patient guidance & mercy, Yahweh finally punished them so that now the Northern Kingdom of Israel is known as the Ten Lost Tribes. There is no record of what became of them. That is Zebulun & Naphtali, which Yahweh brought into contempt because of their utter lack of faith in Him. Yet, even of those cities, Isaiah prophesies:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (9:2 ESV) It’s that verse which Matthew refers to in regard to the travels of Jesus:
“And leaving Nazareth He went & lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun & Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: …the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, & for those dwelling in the region & shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (4:13-14, 16 ESV)
Yahweh is remembering His people, even 800 years later, & now in Jesus, the reign of heaven has arrived. Not that God wasn’t in control prior to this, but now He is sending His Son to actively go about the work of saving His people. And because Jesus has brought that great light into the world, that great Good News, a life of repentance is in order.
Today, Yahweh has sent the Ark of His Church to save His people. Getting in the boat is living a life of repentance. Getting in the boat means your faith is in Jesus. Getting in the boat is seen by others as you teach your children the Christian faith. All of those things, & many more, are a life of repentance. Getting in the boat does not mean you will have no struggles in this broken world. It does mean you continue to see the great light & believe that it is real – that Jesus still loves you & cares for you in all the easy things of life, but certainly through all the difficult things as well.
Because of our sinful nature, repentance has kind of a bad reputation. We see it as confessing the wrong & evil things we have done. There are also pleasant aspects to it, pleasant to the saintly nature. Repentance means to assume a different mind & feeling, to change from one state of mind to another, to adopt a different spirit.
Jesus empowers repentance & through it leads us to discipleship & obedience. St. Paul describes repentance this way, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good & acceptable & perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Repentance is empowered not by fear but by the gift of forgiveness in Jesus’ crucifixion. Repentance includes a longing for & a love of righteousness. That is what we miss so dearly here on earth, the righteousness that we will experience fully in heaven. However, the lack of that in this life does not mean that God’s reign here is ineffective or cruel.
What it does mean is that our sinfulness has corrupted our ability to see the reign of heaven at work in our day to day living. We see a glimpse of God’s reign as people pray for us in our struggles. We saw a glimpse of God’s reign on national TV when the Buffalo Bills’ player, Damar Hamlin, had a heart attack on the field & his teammates kneeled to pray.
That was the reign of heaven right in front of our eyes, but it took the darkness of near death to make us see. When Jesus returns on the Last Day the reign of heaven will be far more obvious than that & it will always be so, without the heart attacks, or any of the other negative effects sin has brought into this world. Yet, for now, the negative effects of sin do provide us with opportunities to recognize our rebellious mind & heart. We need the power of God’s Spirit then to change us from one state of mind to another, to assume a God pleasing mind & feeling. Those changes are what the reign of heaven often looks like right here, right now.
Jesus begins His public ministry by calling people to repent & to follow Him. However, you & I prefer to be personally in charge of the major aspects of our lives, & minor ones too.
In Jesus’ day, the spiritual condition of the nation was essentially one of “lostness.” It is the condition of our nation today. Yet, the reign of heaven is not some fallible, broken rule like that of all earthly kingdoms ruled by sinful human beings.
This very morning the reign of heaven is breaking in to your history through the preaching of His Word & the administration of Holy Communion. Maybe this question can help you discern how well you recognize God’s reign. Do you see your life predominantly in terms of endings, or do you see your life in terms of beginnings?
There are those who linger regretfully over the ashes of the past. There are those who look hopefully for God’s reign each day, no matter how dark the night nor how bitter the circumstances of the present. Matthew well understood the struggles of people who are saints & sinners. For us he wrote,
“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, & for those dwelling in the region & shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (4:16 ESV) Acknowledging our sin & despair, Matthew then quotes Jesus, “Repent, for the reign of heaven is at hand.” Yahweh has a solution for our sin & despair. He calls us & empowers us to assume a change of mind.
Repent, because Jesus is offering us new life, a new creation, a new heart & mind. The reign of God is at hand. The dawn of a new day has begun. It was only a few weeks ago, so you may remember these words from the end of our Christmas Eve service: Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light radiant beams from Thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth. (LSB 363:3) Though it may feel to us like the darkness is winning, God’s Word reveals the darkness is waning. The Light of the world has come. The Great Dawn is now closer than it has ever been.
We wait for it as watchmen wait for the morning, confident that even now, even on us who dwell in the shadow of death, a Light has dawned. The reign of heaven is at hand; a reign that will never end. Lord, enable us by the power of Your Spirit, to receive the new & repentant heart that You create for us each & every day. Amen.
Savior, when in dust to Thee low we bow the adoring knee; when, repentant, to the skies scarce we lift our weeping eyes; O, by all Thy pains & woe suffered once for us below, bending from Thy throne on high, hear our penitential cry! By Thy deep expiring groan, by the sad sepulchral stone, by the vault whose dark abode held in vain the rising God, O, from earth to heaven restored, mighty reascended Lord, bending from Thy throne on high, hear our penitential cry! Amen. LSB 419:1, 4.
2nd Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #’s 434, 547, 550
Text – John 1:29
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, & said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
THE LAMB OF GOD
Last Sunday, we learned from St. Paul that as you & I were baptized, we were baptized along with Jesus, & we were baptized into His death. At baptism, we effectively died to sin. Death no longer rules over our lives. There is for us, a life after death that is far more glorious than anyone here can imagine. That will be life as the heavenly Father created it to be.
In the Gospel reading today, we learn more about the death of Jesus that you & I were baptized into. It was not simply a happenstance event & God made the best of it. Jesus’ death was not a random, senseless act like so many murders are. The sacrifice of God’s Son was planned, prophesied & foreshadowed across the entire OT.
We run into the fulfillment of OT prophesies in the very 1st verse of the Gospel reading: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, & said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” John had baptized Jesus & now fulfills his calling by pointing out Jesus as the One who saves us from our sins, as Isaiah predicted 800 years before:
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone & her sins are pardoned. Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over for all her sins.” Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, & level the mountains & hills. Straighten the curves, & smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, & all people will see it together.” (40:1-5a NLT)
Already before he reports the baptism of Jesus, Matthew writes this in his Gospel: “The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, ‘He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for Him!”’” (3:3 NLT) And that is exactly what John the Baptist was doing as he said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Still, the prophesy from Isaiah is far from the only one Jesus fulfilled. Think about the title, “Lamb of God!” Most of us are totally unfamiliar with the creature. In Jesus’ day, lambs were everywhere, & were killed for sacrifice on God’s altar.
In fact, that practice had been going on for thousands of years, & millions of lambs. If you had sinned, or if you wanted to make a special offering to God – even a thank offering – you brought a lamb with you to the temple. You would hand it over to the priests. Though it was innocent, it would be killed, on your behalf, for the forgiveness of your sins.
It’s easy for human beings to ignore the cost of their sins, to make light business of our repentance. As the life of the lamb was taken, its sacrifice was meant to remind you of the harm that your sin had caused. It’s more difficult to take lightly the damage that our sins do as we personally hand over an innocent lamb that it might give its life for the wrongs we have done.
“O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, grant us Thy peace.” (LSB p. 198) We sing those words today, just before we receive the body & blood of Christ, for the remission of our sins. Holy Communion was given to us by Jesus Himself, the night before He was sacrificed, specifically to grant us His peace. Our Savior knew that we would need it.
John the Baptist was sent as a voice in the wilderness to point out Messiah, to reveal Him as the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed so that we do not have to pay for our own sins. John pointed out Messiah that you & I might receive comfort from Him & be assured that our sins have been pardoned.
However, what happens if we refuse to exercise the repentant heart that God’s Spirit created in us when we first believed? Many churches today no longer practice confessing sins during their public worship services. They claim to stand before God in His holiness, yet even in light of Jesus’ sacrifice for them, they consider confessing their sins to be too depressing. What does that say about the importance of not taking lightly the sacrifice of the Lamb that God would provide? Isaac understood its importance:
And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire & the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there & laid the wood in order & bound Isaac his son & laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. (Genesis 22:7-9 ESV)
If I concentrate on hearing those words, they always give me chills. That is faith in God’s goodness. Hopefully you know that the next verses describe how God does provide a ram to take the place of Isaac in the sacrifice. That ram points ahead thousands of years to the day when God will sacrifice His own Son for the forgiveness of all the sins of the whole world.
Yahweh does not distinguish between races or genders or nationalities. The Lamb of God was crucified for all, & that is what you & I are baptized into. That is where true equality & equity are being created, gifts that last for all of eternity. But yes, they are still hidden in this life which is still scarred & corrupted by sin.
Yahweh is patiently waiting for more of His people to be born & brought to faith that they too might enjoy the perfect world to come. He wants all to be saved. He predicted & then put into action the plan that was able to save everyone, but He will not force anyone to receive the equity & the equality that He is creating.
God allows those who wish to deny His gifts to continue in their denial. They will get their wish. With these words of St. Luke, Jesus models for us the setting of healthy boundaries: “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34b ESV)
It is not God’s fault, nor is it ours, that some refuse to repent of their sins. Still, if you
concentrate on hearing those words, “…& you were not willing!” it should give you chills. Real human beings are attempting to choose on their own broken & sinful terms. What a horror awaits them in eternity. The heavenly Father sacrificed His own Lamb that it might not be so. John the Baptist has the purpose & the privilege of pointing out that Lamb of God.
On the night of the Exodus, the people of God were to sacrifice a lamb & paint its blood on the doorposts & lintel to mark their home as a house of God. The sacrifice of that lamb caused the angel of death to pass over that house so no one inside would die.
From then on, at Passover, God’s people were to sacrifice a lamb in order to remember what Yahweh had done to set them free from slavery to the Egyptians. Over thousands of years & millions of lambs, however, God was also pointing ahead with their sacrifices to the One great sacrifice to come. Today, we remember that sacrifice as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
The sacrifice of the Lamb of God has not only set His people free from slavery to the Egyptians. It has set us free from slavery to sin, even our own sins. It has set us free from all the inequities of this life. It has set us free from slavery to boredom & from slavery to injustice. It has set us free from slavery to illness & suffering.
As we come to the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded that the joy of having our sins washed away can never be taken from us. We may choose to forget. We may be distracted by the temptations of Satan & our own sinful flesh. Illness & financial inequities may lead us down the road of worry & despair, yet the sacrifice of the Lamb of God remains forever true.
Jesus has carried our sins, & we are forgiven. He laid down His life for us, & we will live forever. Because of God’s great love for us, He would not stand by & see us destroy ourselves with our own evil. There is no danger of Him suddenly deciding He doesn’t want to offer Himself for our salvation. That makes Jesus different from all the other lambs. The Lamb of God goes willingly to the altar of the cross. He knows what is coming, & it is His own free choice. Father, Son, Holy Spirit – this Three & yet One God chose the path to the cross. God Himself came into the world as Jesus, to be that sacrificed Lamb. It was willing, joyful mercy – Jesus giving Himself for you & me.
That is God’s glory, the Lamb hanging on the cross in death to save us from the twisted madness of this world. In heaven you will see that glory with perfect vision. There, no more innocent lambs will die. No more innocent children will be aborted. Perfect eyesight & a perfect vision, with no more illness or sorrow, no more evil or lack of gratitude.
Truth will reign supreme & all of us will know it. No more deception, no more lies, no more hatred or prejudice, only peace & harmony. Until then, we are, like John the Baptist, here on earth for a purpose, or many purposes. But the chief one is to point others to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Jesus has come to undo the curse of Genesis 3:19, “Dust you are & to dust you shall return.” Evolutionists like to celebrate that we are made of stardust, but even stardust is still dust. Jesus will return one day to recreate our bodies, to make them new again, where sin has made them old. After the resurrection, we will never return to the dust. Amen.
The Lamb, the Lamb, O Father, where’s the sacrifice? Faith sees, believes God will provide the Lamb of price! He sighs, He dies, He takes my sin & wretchedness. He lives, forgives, He gives me His own righteousness. He rose, He rose, my heart with thanks now overflows. His song, prolong till every heart to Him belong. Worthy is the Lamb whose death makes me His own! The Lamb is reigning on His throne! Amen. LSB 547:1, 4-5.
Baptism of Our Lord – A LSB #’s 594, 601, 685
Text – Romans 6:3
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
BAPTIZED INTO DEATH
It’s that time again for New Year’s resolutions. It seems that people just want to believe they can change their lives with a simple resolution & the commitment to keep it. History shows that the majority of those people are delusional.
Over & over again we make resolutions & almost immediately fail to keep them, no matter how earnestly we commit to them. News Year’s resolutions have become the butt of many a joke. Yet, somehow, when it comes to the spiritual realm, people just cannot seem to get past the idea that drawing closer to Jesus requires concentrated effort on our part.
Sinful creatures cannot accomplish spiritual renewal through resolutions, nor can they do so through effort. Drawing closer to God is accomplished as His Spirit works in us & through us when we surrender to our Lord & Savior. That’s how we draw closer, through allowing the Holy Spirit to draw us closer to Himself. Yet, what do we usually do instead? We run away.
People describe it so nicely, saying, “I don’t have to be in church to be close to Jesus. I feel closer to Him in the forest, among the trees.” Except that Jesus did not come to earth to be the head of the forest, but of the church, which is called the body of Christ. We draw nearer to Jesus by surrendering & allowing Him to draw us here, to God’s house – the church.
Then here, the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the death of Christ Jesus. What kind of crazy religion is that? For starters it is not a religion of human design. No sinful human being would draw that up because it doesn’t attention to what we do. And of what use is a religion that does not instantly make you feel good? New Year’s resolutions fail because there’s no instant success & we’re just not very successful at long term commitments that require significant changes in our lifestyle. And truly following Jesus requires a huge change in lifestyle. It’s such a monumental change that St. Paul describes it as death, & our Creator is the One who does it to us. That’s the only way it can possibly work, even though you & I can still totally walk away.
If that sounds like a struggle, you’re right on! The entire 6th chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the congregation at Rome is about struggle. Verse 6 highlights that: “We know that our old self was crucified with [Jesus] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (ESV)
You’ve heard the saying, “What you see is what you get!” When it comes to the old self that was crucified – this is it! It’s what you see, & for some of us that old self is older than for others. And the older it gets, the worse things get. Arthritis, loss of hearing, loss of eyesight, there is no doctor & there are no drugs that can cure the old self.
Many people have tried & everyone has failed. It’s why we bury people in cemeteries. It’s why we cremate them too. Once they are dead, there’s nothing more we can do with them. We have no way to fix them. In spite of what the song lyrics say, it just is not practical to, “Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die.” (Writers: Kerry Kurt Phillips, Howard Perdew, Rick Blaylock)
Nevertheless, that’s what all manmade religions end up doing – propping you up beside the jukebox when you die. Those religions all leave you hanging & wondering if you really did enough to get to the other side. On the other hand, Jesus Christ takes care of everything for us. He does it all for you no matter what sin has done to your old self.
When God created Adam, Adam had nothing to do with it, no choice to be made. In salvation, the situation is the same. We have nothing to do with being saved. Jesus never demands that our old self make a choice to ask Him into our heart. Instead, Jesus lets Himself in. He is family after all. Where & when I grew up, out in the farm country, if you were family or friend, you did not have to ring the doorbell or knock. If you went to the back door you just let yourself in. Of course, it was polite to announce yourself when you arrived. For Christian families, Jesus announces Himself with these words:
“I baptize you in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” That’s how our Lord & Savior lets Himself in. The choice Jesus does allow us to make is that of throwing Him out, & many people do. I was counseling someone at their request, yet during the conversation they made it very clear, “I want nothing to do with your Jesus.”
Their Lord & Savior had let Himself in through Baptism & they tossed Him out. Life on this earth is a constant struggle. Every single one of us has experienced its pain & heartache. All of us have searched for a solution. Absolutely no one faces the struggles of life & just says, “Whatever!” Whether it’s religion, drugs, sex or rock n roll, each of us has tried something.
In all of human history, only one person has ever risen from the dead to stay alive forever. His name is Jesus, & some people who tried to prove it wasn’t true, have ended up following Him. The evidence of Jesus’ resurrection is that strong. However, when Jesus lets Himself into your heart, that’s when a cosmic struggle begins.
“The rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, & the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Romans 6:12 ESV) do not & will not let go easily. We wish for this life to be easy. We work hard at trying to make this life easy, but as those who follow Jesus, we have too much working against us, our own sinful nature included.
Case in point, Covid 19. Our national economy was humming along at a beautiful clip. Employment was growing by leaps & bounds across all classes of people. Then the virus arrived, but even they are not immune to problems. If a virus is too deadly, & kills its host then the virus can no longer thrive. Once the host dies, the virus cannot reproduce, until it finds another host. It cannot use a dead body to reproduce, & sin is like a virus. The wages of sin is death, but once we are dead, sin can no longer reproduce in us. Heaven is the ultimate fulfillment of that, but 1st we have to die before we can be raised from the dead.
In God’s plan for saving us from sin, first He baptizes us into the death of Jesus Christ. After that death sin still infects us, but it no longer has control over us. Faith in Jesus as Savior from sin is sort of like an antivirus. Sin still infects us, but its eternal results are in quarantine. Sin no longer defines who we are. Jesus does.
Then, at our physical death, the virus no longer infects us, even though its effects – our dead body – are still obvious & painful to those who miss us. Finally, at the resurrection from the dead, all the effects of sin will be gone, forever! Until our physical death, however, though sin no longer controls our destiny, it still very much brings anguish, frustration & sorrow.
That’s where you & I are right now. Some people deal with it by willingly continuing to sin. They deny that their sins are sin. Or, they say that God just forgives everything, & in a sense, He does. His grace does abound. That’s the dilemma posed to Paul at verse one: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1 ESV)
Paul’s answer to them, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4 ESV)
Jesus didn’t die on the cross for our sins so that we could remain on the path to hell. He wants us to live by faith already now, even though we don’t normally see all the miracles He is accomplishing in us & through us. As children of God, His followers already walk in newness of life, not in the oldness of death. Yes, we still sin, daily & much, but sin no longer controls our destiny, nor does it define who we are. In Christianity, there is always a struggle between the fact that our sins are completely forgiven & the fact that we are not free to sin. Once forgiven, a problem arises in that our sinful nature still wants to sin.
Watered down Christianity wants to ease our struggle by telling us it is okay to sin again & again & again. Watered down Christianity seeks no change of heart, no desire to drown the old sinful nature. Watered down Christianity seeks to ease our conscience regarding sin by downplaying its significance & its offence to God.
Watered down Christianity doesn’t really seek forgiveness at all. In fact, it lives in sin rather than in Christ.
In Paul’s way of thinking, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, Baptism is not merely a sign pointing back to something that happened to us, once upon a time. Baptism is the present-day point of contact between you & the Word of God that justifies you & recreates you every moment of every day of your life in Christ.
When God baptized you, He brought you into life, into His kingdom, now & forever. God does not change His mind about you. He doesn’t see your sin. It is all covered in the blood of Christ. Your saintly nature, created in you by God, never wants to leave that place. Amen.
All who believe & are baptized shall see the Lord’s salvation; baptized into the death of Christ, they are a new creation. Through Christ’s redemption they shall stand among the glorious, heavenly band of every tribe & nation. With one accord, O God, we pray: Grant us Your Holy Spirit. Help us in our infirmity through Jesus’ blood & merit. Grant us to grow in grace each day that by the sacrament we may eternal life inherit. Amen. LSB 601.
1st Sunday after Christmas – A LSB #’s 342, 716, 666
Text – Matthew 2:13-15
ACCORDING TO PLAN
It all happened so quickly! The trip to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, the angels, the shepherds & the star; then after a time, the Wise Men. Like the shepherds before them, they fell on their faces to worship the baby Jesus, the Lord of all creation, the promised King. But as they say, all good things must come to an end.
The angel of the Lord appeared in a dream & this time warned the Wise Men to return to their homes without going back to king Herod.
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream & said, ‘Rise, take the child & His mother, & flee to Egypt, & remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him.’ And he rose & took the child & His mother by night & departed to Egypt & remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:13-15 ESV)
Any Jew hearing Matthew’s account of Jesus’ flight into Egypt would instantly have thought of the Book of Exodus & an earlier flight out of Egypt. It wasn’t so long ago that the Lord came to a different Joseph in his dreams; it wasn’t so long ago that a powerful king Pharaoh sought to kill all the baby boys of a nation because he feared they would challenge him someday.
It wasn’t so long ago that the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses & sent him to lead a nation out of their slavery in Egypt toward the Promised Land. This time, the Joseph receiving dreams in the night was a righteous man wed to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The powerful king who sent an edict to kill all the baby boys who might later threaten his reign was the violent & insecure king Herod, who reigned in name only as the King of the Jews. And now, the Angel of the Lord – Christ Jesus Himself – had come to lead His people out of their slavery to sin, death & the Devil. It’s no wonder that Jesus is often called the new Moses. Just as Moses’ life was threatened at a tender age & he had to be hidden in a reed basket to be protected, so, too, Jesus’ life was in danger before he was two years old. He also had to be hidden away so His life would be spared until His time had come. Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt; now Jesus had come to lead all people out of spiritual slavery to sin.
There was about to be another exodus, but this time only one firstborn Son would die. Instead of plagues, there would be a cross & thorns & nails. This time it was not going to be one nation freed from slavery, but every nation, every tribe & all people.
The exodus from Egypt prefigured for us the coming of our Savior & freedom from sin, death & the Devil. With an outstretched arm & a mighty hand, God had delivered His people out of slavery & in to the Promised Land. With an outstretched arm & a mighty hand, God is still bringing salvation to His people through the 2nd person of the Trinity in the flesh.
No one can alter God’s plan of salvation, but many fight against it. They end up rejecting His plan for themselves. The Israelites of old did just that. They did not want to leave Egypt, especially with Moses. They preferred to remain in bondage, where at least they had food & shelter, rather than trust what their Lord was providing through the man He had sent.
After they had left, after God had worked amazing miracles to make it happen, time & again they wanted to go back – back into slavery! The Jews of Jesus’ day also rejected God’s plan of salvation. They didn’t want to leave their comfortable traditions or man-made laws, especially by following the man Jesus.
They preferred to remain in bondage to the Law, where they were comfortable in their sin, rather than trust that God had sent Messiah to free & deliver them. They didn’t trust that what Jesus was offering was far greater than anything they could earn or provide for themselves. Today, people are still rejecting God’s plan of salvation & the means by which He accomplishes that. Many Christian denominations no longer believe that Baptism is a means by which God creates faith & gives eternal life. Many Christian denominations no longer believe that Christ’s body & blood are present in the Supper He instituted before His death for the forgiveness of sins.
Having set themselves free of these blessed means of grace, they want to go back to a system that requires something more of us. Many don’t believe that a man whom God has called & ordained to be a pastor in His church can say, “In the stead & by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.” (LSB p. 293)
But those are the means by which God creates faith in Jesus Christ, forgives sins, strengthens faith & accomplishes His salvation in us. Rejection of these means given by God is no different from the Israelites’ rejection of Moses or the Jews’ rejection of Jesus Himself!
It is easy for sinners to doubt God’s plan of salvation & to question why God allows things that are unpleasant or evil to happen in our world. We never have to look far to find an example of something unpleasant or evil, & the world is always quick to ask, “Where was God in all this?” The text before us is an example of an event that is difficult to take in.
Only one week after celebrating Christmas, we hear about all these boys whom king Herod murdered for no reason at all:
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, & he sent & killed all the male children in Bethlehem & in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.” (Matthew 2:16-17)
In the midst of the commercialization of Christmas, it is easy to forget that the child Jesus came to establish peace between God & man, but He also said that His Word & Sacraments would create divisions among people; that many would stumble because of Him. In the very region where OT Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin, other children of the promise lost their lives to wicked king Herod. Their mothers wept & could not be consoled. But we cannot blame God for the death of these “innocents”; it was the wicked king who caused the anguish & death.
God was there, saw what happened, & even in the midst of Herod’s wickedness, Yahweh was working to bring about His plan of salvation for the world. God is not the author of evil – mankind is – but the Creator is always working to turn what is meant for evil into good.
Once Herod heard the words “King of the Jews” from the lips of the Wise Men, he realized that his reign might be threatened & knew that this baby Jesus had to die. The irony is - Herod was right. Jesus did have to die, but not because Herod willed it. Jesus had to die, yet not on Herod’s schedule, not until the fullness of God’s time had come.
Messiah had to die for Herod’s sins. He had to die because of our sins. He had to die because of our doubt & our fear & our unbelief. Jesus had to die because God knew we could never turn back to Him, keep His commands, or love Him on our own. St. Paul explained, we “were dead in our trespasses & sins” (Ephesians 2:1), enemies of God by our very nature!
Since it was not yet His time, the baby Jesus was protected from Herod by God’s divine intervention. Following the angel’s word, Joseph led his family to Egypt for safety. God was accomplishing His plan of salvation in Christ Jesus in spite of king Herod’s wickedness, & in so doing Jesus paid the price for Herod’s sins, our sins, the sins of the whole world.
Of course, that isn’t where God exits the picture. He’s still active in human history – still in control. He continues to lead little children & adults into the safety of His Church through the waters of Holy Baptism. God continues to feed & nourish His Church with His Holy Word & the precious body & blood of His Son.
Our Lord continues to announce & grant His forgiveness to all who confess their sins &
seek His mercy. His plan began when He created the heavens & the earth. At the perfect time, He entered His creation as flesh & blood to redeem & save His creation with His blood.
Paul wrote in the Epistle lesson, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5)
That salvation has been accomplished. As Jesus said, “It is finished!” One day soon He will come again, calling all believers to Himself, to be with Him in paradise forever! God has promised it, & like all His other promises, such as the birth of Jesus, He will do it! Amen.
I pass through trials all the way, with sin & ills contending; in patience I must bear each day the cross of God’s own sending. When in adversity I know not where to flee, when storms of woe my soul dismay, I pass through trials all the way. I walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails me; within His wounds I find a stay when Satan’s power assails me; & by His footsteps led, my path I safely tread. No evil leads my soul astray; I walk with Jesus all the way. My walk is heavenward all the way; await, my soul, the morrow, when God’s good healing shall allay all suff’ring, sin & sorrow. Then, worldly pomp, begone! To heaven I now press on. For all the world I would not stay; my walk is heavenward all the way. Amen. LSB 716:2, 5-6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet