5th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #611
Text – John 15:5
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me & I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION
The title is a catchy phrase. It sounded like something from a motivational speaker, words meant to gear up people for getting their job done. As I researched it I discovered that it comes from the movie Apollo 13. Shortly after the explosion on board the spacecraft, NASA’s lead flight director, regarding the rescue plans, forcefully stated, “Failure is not an option!”
It was a stirring event in the history of our nation & it’s one that I was old enough to be fully aware of as the drama unfolded. I clearly remember the tension of wondering whether or not the crew would make it back to earth alive.
In a sense, the same could be said for our guardian angels in heaven. They are wondering if we will make it back to God alive! In Luke 15, Jesus tells us, “In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” (v. 10 NLT)
The reason there can be joy in the presence of God’s angels is because of what God’s Son did here on earth. In the Gospel reading, Jesus & His disciples are on the way to Gethsemane to pray. While there, Judas would arrive with the chief priests & temple guard in order to betray Jesus to them. Then Jesus would suffer, die & rise again, bringing hope into the world’s history.
Without Jesus taking our place in suffering, death & hell, there was no such thing as hope, & therefore no tension, no uncertain outcome. Instead, it was a foregone conclusion that mankind was doomed & damned. Failure was the only option. Jesus made that clear in the sermon text when He stated, “For apart from me you can do nothing.”
That Jesus truly meant it, & was not merely speaking in a figurative way, is made
perfectly clear in the very next verse: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch & withers; & the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, & burned.” It would be kind of harsh to throw fruit bearing branches into the fire to be burned unless Jesus meant what He said: “...apart from me you can do nothing.”
The 1st ever human beings, Adam & Eve, felt that nothingness to the core of their being the moment they sinned. When God came looking for them: “…the man & his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8 ESV)
Having experienced holiness, they knew far better than any of us can imagine the utter despair which their failure brought upon them. That failure was driven home again when their 1st born son murdered their 2nd born, & Adam lived through 930 years of sin & death. With a history like that it takes far more than a motivational speaker to bring true hope & joy.
In the world of sinful man failure is not an option. It is reality. The Apostle Paul made it very clear that failure was his reality, in the book of Romans 7: “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (7:18-19 NLT)
Someone recognized as the greatest missionary ever understood that failure is not an option. It is reality, & that drove him to ask: “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin & death?” To which Paul gives us the solution, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24-25b NLT)
Interestingly, Jesus gives the same answer in the Gospel of John, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me & I in him, he it is that bears much fruit…” (15:5 ESV) The Word of God urges us to cling to Jesus, to remain in Jesus, to abide in Jesus. How we do that has always been answered clearly in Holy Scripture. For children born to Christian families it begins early in the waters of Baptism. There, God’s Holy Spirit creates faith. Then, the child is fed through the Words of God, as Deuteronomy says, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, & shall talk of them when you sit in your house, & when you walk by the way, & when you lie down, & when you rise.” (6:7 ESV)
Then, after a child begins to mature & is taught to exercise the gift of repentance, Holy Communion is the 3rd means by which we abide in Jesus & He in us. It is the most personal of the three as the Words of Jesus make it so, “Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood, of the new covenant.” By these three means of grace we abide in Jesus & He in us.
By these three means of grace, the forgiveness Jesus earned for you on the cross is delivered to you, as a grape vine delivers nutrients & sustenance to the branch. Furthermore, the branch does not come into being on its own, but only sprouts forth on the initiative of the Vine.
As we abide in Christ we will bear much fruit – failure is not an option – because Jesus cannot fail. That is where children of God get their motivation, from the fact that Jesus has already taken our place & covered our sins. He has done right where we have done wrong. He has done good where we have done evil. He has succeeded everywhere you & I have failed.
Where we get into trouble is when we begin to believe that we can receive the blessings of Jesus through a vacuum. Believing that I can be a Christian without entering God’s house is like a bunch of grape branches believing they can produce grapes without being connected to the vine. Apart from Christ we can do nothing & Christ has promised to give us life in God’s house.
You have to know that God’s house is the last place on earth Satan wants you to be. If you’ve been avoiding God’s house, think of who’s in agreement with you on that. On the other hand, no matter how often any of us have failed, whether that is failure to be in God’s house, or whether it is failure to love our neighbor as ourselves even when we are in God’s house, Jesus has succeeded wherever & whenever we have failed. Jesus has taken our sins away. Jesus has caused us, the branch, to grow that we might bear fruit. He is supplying us with the nutrients to love our neighbor as ourselves. God is even preparing in advance the good works He wants us to do. It’s totally irrational for a branch to cut itself off from the vine, but irrational is what sin is.
God is not irrational. Instead, God is love. Rather than gathering us as dead branches to be burned in the fire, Jesus longs to gather us as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings for protection & for life; life that is abundant & full. It’s not the abundant & full life that this world holds up to us. It is a life abundantly full of peace, & of a clear conscience in spite of our sins.
God’s plan has no failure in it, except that which we cause through our rebellion against Him. Abiding or remaining in Jesus often looks like failure to us. Yet, connected to the Vine, we cannot fail! It’s not an option, or a possibility. Jesus’ disciples hear His Word & do bear much fruit, even if we’re not aware of it.
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry & you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV) Amen.
Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me, died that I might live on high, lives that I might never die. As the branch is to the vine, I am His, & He is mine. Only Jesus can impart balm to heal the wounded heart, peace that flows from sin forgiven, joy that lifts the soul to heaven, faith & hope to walk with God in the way that Enoch trod. O my Savior, help afford by Your Spirit & Your Word! When my wayward heart would stray, keep me in the narrow way; grace in time of need supply while I live & when I die. Amen. LSB 611:1, 3, 5.
4th Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 421:1-2, 5, 465, 672
Text – Acts 4:1-2
As they were speaking to the people, the priests & the captain of the temple & the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people & proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
WHOLENESS IN BODY & SOUL
About two months ago this headline was popping up on the internet: Want to live forever? You just have to make it to [the year] 2050. The tag line said, “If you’re under 40 reading this article, you’re probably not going to die unless you get a nasty disease.” How many of you out there are under 40? I’m already 58 years old so I guess I won’t be joining you.
Dr. Ian Pearson, an esteemed futurologist, told The Sun, which is a tabloid newspaper published in the United Kingdom, that humans are very close to achieving immortality. Here’s his list of the ways you could live forever:
#1: Renewing your body parts
#2: Living in android bodies
#3: Living in a virtual world
Regarding #1, he says: “No one wants to live forever at 95 years old, but if you could rejuvenate the body to 29 or 30, you might want to do that. Many scientists around the world are working on creating human organs using 3D printers loaded with living cells, which could one day make human organ donors redundant.”
Regarding #2 – living in android bodies – Dr. Pearson remarks, “Before we get to fix our body & rejuvenate it, every time we feel like, we’ll be able to link our mind to the machine world so well, we will effectively be living in the cloud, & be able to use any android we feel like to inhabit the real world.
You’d still be able to use your digital mind – stored on a computer – & live in the world
using highly realistic robot bodies. If you wanted to spend the evening in Australia, going to the Sydney opera house, you could use an android. He explains that we’ll have to wait until "2045, 2050" before we’ll be able to create these strong brain-to-machine links. The cost will be very high initially, but the price will gradually come down.”
Regarding #3 – living in a virtual world – Dr. Pearson asked, “But if our minds are online, do we even need robot bodies? We could all just live in a computer simulation quite happily. You could spend most of your time online in the virtual world, of course anywhere in the world on any computer, even in multiple places at once.”
He summarizes by saying, “The tricky bit is surviving until the technology becomes widely available. By 2050, it will only really be for the rich & famous. Most people on middle-class incomes & reasonable working-class incomes can probably afford this in the 2060s.”
The point of that whole introduction is to highlight the best that mankind has to offer today as a solution for death. Going back to the year 1969, an American pop-rock duo, by the name of Zager & Evans, came up with these ideas. They sound eerily similar to the predictions of Dr. Ian Pearson, yet in a catchy lyrical form.
In the year 2525 If man is still alive If woman can survive They may find-
In the year 3535 Ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lies Everything you think, do, & say Is in the pill you took today
In the year 4545 Ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes You won’t find a thing to chew Nobody’s gonna look at you
In the year 5555 Your arms are hanging limp at your side Your legs got nothing to do Some machine’s doing that for you
In the year 6565 Ain’t gonna need no husband, won’t need no wife You’ll pick
your sons, pick your daughters too From the bottom of a long glass tube Whoa-oh-oh
In the year 7510 If God’s a-coming, he ought to make it by then Maybe he’ll look around himself & say “Guess it’s time for the judgement day!”
In the year 8510 God is gonna shake his mighty head He’ll either say, “I’m pleased, where man has been” Or tear it down & start again Whoa-oh-oh
In the year 9595 I’m kinda wondering, if man is gonna be alive He’s taken everything this old Earth can give And he ain’t put back nothing Whoa-oh-oh
Now it’s been ten thousand years Man has cried a billion tears For what he never knew Now man’s reign is through But through the eternal night The twinkling of starlight So very far away Maybe it’s only yesterday…
Those lyrics were written way back in 1969 when medical technology was still in the dark ages, relative to our time, but they don’t sound nearly as optimistic as the words of Dr. Pearson, the esteemed futurologist. The words of Zager & Evans sound eerily similar to the predictions of Dr. Pearson, but without the ‘rose-colored glasses’ tone.
Dr. Pearson sounds a bit like a quack, with his conclusion regarding what happens when everyone’s brain is downloaded to a computer, “We could all just live in a computer simulation quite happily.” Have you seen anywhere that all people just live together happily? Zager & Evans seem to have a much more realistic appreciation for mankind’s potential.
In the reading from the 4th chapter in the book of Acts, we find the same contrasting attitudes concerning mankind’s future potential. One is a very hopeful response to a medical miracle & the other is quite the opposite:
“As [Peter & John] were speaking to the people, the priests & the captain of the temple & the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people & proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them & put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.” (Acts 4:1-3 ESV) Now, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection from the dead, for anyone, so they had to shut down this kind of hopeful & optimistic preaching. Here, children of God find that the tables have turned.
Christian teaching often is more in line with the pessimism of Zager & Evans than it is with the optimism of Dr. Pearson, but when it comes to the resurrection from the dead the followers of Jesus come down squarely on the side of optimism, even if it appears to be a ‘rose-colored glasses’ viewpoint. The difference is Jesus!
When God became a human being He took on the dust of His own creation & once He rose from the dead that dust would never be the same. In spite of all the brokenness, suffering & death that we see or experience, there is a glorious hope awaiting each one of us who trusts in the God of dust. When Jesus became human He became the God of dust.
We began the season of Lent with the phrase, “From dust you came & to dust you shall return” but that dust is no longer the same. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He did so in order to rule over heaven & earth, & one of the things He’s doing there is restoring the dust of His creation. When the Last Day arrives that process will be finished, completed & perfected.
All who believe in Jesus as Savior from sin will receive complete wholeness in body & soul. In the book of Acts our heavenly Father gives us a preview of this when He uses Peter to heal a man who’d been lame from birth. “And leaping up he stood & began to walk, & entered the temple with [Peter & John], walking & leaping & praising God.” (Acts 3:8 ESV)
And that man was still infected with sin. Imagine how you will feel when you enter heaven for the 1st time. You see, the resurrection is so much more than just being raised from the dead. It is being raised to an entirely new life that you have never known before… and we are only in the barest of the beginning stages. Christians frequently have a narrow understanding of “salvation.” Often, it consists of no more than “forgiveness of sins” right now & “eternal life” after we die. Moreover, sometimes these are understood as spiritual, but not physical blessings. From today’s reading in Acts 4, we learn that salvation is a matter of both body & soul.
All the dust of God’s creation is being recreated, except for that particular dust that rejects Him, those being the unbelievers. Their bodies will be raised, but they will never be whole, not in body or soul. Jesus came as the Good Shepherd that He might herd His sheep away from the cliff & toward the still waters.
Jesus came because He knew of our weakness. He came because He knew that one day death would take each one of us. Jesus took on the dust of His creation in human flesh that He might Himself shepherd us through the valley of the shadow of death. His purpose for us is that one day we will be whole in body & soul, for all of eternity. Amen.
Eternal is the gift He brings, therefore our heart with rapture sings: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!” Now still He comes to give us life & by His presence stills all strife. O fill us, Lord, with dauntless love; set heart & will on things above that we conquer through Your triumph; grant grace sufficient for life’s day that by our lives we truly say: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!” Alleluia! Amen. LSB 465:2-3.
3rd Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 463, 770, 702 Text – Luke 24:36-38
While they were still talking about this, Jesus Himself stood among them & said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled & frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, & why do doubts rise in your minds?” (NIV)
SEEN ANY GHOSTS LATELY?
To many Lutherans just mentioning the phrase ‘confirmation class’ brings back all kinds of memories. Everyone who’s been through it has something come to mind, & a story or two to share. Sermon notes & memory work, they’re often looked upon unfavorably by students & teachers alike. Many churches have given up requiring them because of it.
To a lot of people in our culture today there’s no point in actually listening to a sermon, & even less point to memorizing Bible verses. They don’t get anything out of it. It’s an exercise in busy work, & those attitudes reveal just how little those people use spiritual faith to deal with the struggles in their lives.
For people of that mindset, religion is sort of like a ghost. It may or may not be there, but in any event there’s no real substance to it. It might be an intriguing subject, if you’re into that sort of thing, but there’s no real purpose for it. Religion is like a figment of the imagination. At best it’s nothing more than a hobby.
Others, they believe in religion, but can’t find the ability to make it a priority in their schedule. They will faithfully go to practices for football or volleyball, they’ll show up for every quilting class, they’ll make each meeting of the county board of commissioners, but when it comes to Bible study it just doesn’t seem as necessary.
Those practice sessions, those classes & those meetings can be just as boring & tedious as memory work or sermon notes, but somehow they rate higher. With so many opportunities crying for our attention these days, a person’s faith increasingly takes a back seat. Faith in Christ has become sort of like a ghost. People aren’t sure anymore if they’ve seen it or not. Have you seen any ghosts lately? Is your faith in Christ something too uncertain to rely upon when troubles arise? PAUSE
If learning a foreign language, we take for granted it will involve a lot of work, time & commitment. When I was learning Greek we had to read out loud in class, & it sounded like kindergarten all over again. Young men & old men were sounding out each word syllable-by-syllable, & stumbling over many of them. It was humorous, & it was humbling.
But for some reason when it comes to learning what God teaches in His Holy Word, we don’t want to, or don’t feel a need to, put in time, effort or commitment. Other things take precedence. Spiritual education & maturity take a back seat. Religion just doesn’t appear substantial enough for our attention. Seen any ghosts lately? PAUSE
Of course suffering, trials & struggles come along as well. We lose our jobs & we feel worthless & depressed, not knowing where to turn. We get injured in an accident or an illness attacks our body & mind. We get angry with God for allowing it to happen, & we don’t know where to turn.
We fail a class or don’t get accepted at the college we want to attend. We feel that life is unfair & we end up not knowing where to turn. The church is something shadowy & uncertain. It’s vague, unfamiliar, & we have no idea how to use our spiritual abilities for coping. Have you seen any ghosts lately? PAUSE
You’ll be tempted an endless number of times in life. Do you know how to use your spiritual blessings to find relief & strength? Do you know how to approach God for peace & renewal? Or, does Jesus Christ appear to have been nothing more than a ghost? The sinful nature does think of Jesus as nothing more than a ghost, something fleeting & unreliable. The devil wants you to look at Jesus as some kind of Easter bunny – cute & cuddly, but not really cut out for the times in life when the going gets tough. And yet, the crucifixion of Christ was anything but cute & cuddly. It was terrifying & excruciating. It hurt like hell, because on the cross Jesus endured hell.
Nevertheless, Jesus is God & can handle any of the problems that come into our lives no matter how they tear us apart. For that reason, Satan tries to deceive us concerning what happened there. We still get tricked into thinking, “I can handle life on my own terms.” Pride causes us to resist seeking help, because we don’t want to reveal our weakness.
Gradually then, Satan fools us into obsessive behaviors in order to deal with our problems. Things like sexual promiscuity, drugs & money become crutches that people lean upon with all their might. But the only begotten Son of God does not have to remain a ghost story in your life. He is real, & He is risen.
The end of confirmation class is actually the beginning of a lifelong process of learning how to lean on Christ for strength, rather than on substitutes like mind altering chemicals. At confirmation you’ve only just begun learning how to shelter yourself in Jesus rather than in anger or defiance.
When others hurt us, anger is the natural reaction but it’s nothing more than a defense mechanism. We use anger to protect ourselves from further hurt & pain, but the anger only spreads the pain & hurt to others. Jesus Christ can remove that anger, that pain & that hurt.
Jesus said to His disciples, “Why are you troubled, & why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands & my feet. It is I myself! Touch me & see; a ghost does not have flesh & bones, as you see I have.” (Luke 24:38-39 NIV) Jesus’ point here is that He’s real, & not a ghost. When you’re troubled & struggling with doubt you can rely on Jesus. He is real. That is difficult to comprehend, but as you grow in your faith, you do become more & more certain of the reality of Jesus Christ, & of what He’s done for you. Our faith grows through the very struggles we endure, as long as we are connected to His Word & to His church.
Certainty of faith comes from exercising one’s faith, from growth in it. Spiritual maturity is a blessing but you don’t attain it by avoiding church or Bible study. If you aren’t connected to God’s Word & His church, it’s like trying to grow muscle without eating. Without food you can exercise all you want, & it’ll do you not one bit of good.
In the sermon text from St. Luke the disciples of Jesus were startled & frightened, thinking they’d seen a ghost. Jesus responds by opening their minds so they would understand Scripture. The understanding of God’s Word is the answer to the fear of the disciples, & it is also the power to change them.
Without God’s Word we are frail & ghostly children of God. Our faith is but an apparition that comes & goes at whim. The Word of God changes us into bold & courageous followers of Jesus. God can transform us from people who dread memorizing His Holy Word, into people who treasure what His Word does for us. Ending the Gospel reading, Jesus said:
“I’m going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you’ve been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 10:49 NIV) The power He’s talking of is the Holy Spirit, & the disciples received it on Pentecost. You & I received that power at baptism, as the Triune God washed us clean & bestowed the Holy Spirit upon us.
However, the old sinful man lives on inside, & he’s unable to perceive that Jesus is the Christ, or that He has accomplished our salvation. Human eyes are blind to the reality of Jesus’ presence even when He stands directly in our sight. Human ears are deaf to His word when He speaks, unless Jesus Himself heals that spiritual deafness. When our faith is weak, Jesus can appear as nothing more than a ghost. Our eyes & mind must be opened. Faith must be created & sustained by God in order to understand the mystery of the crucified & risen Son. As we grow in our understanding of that mystery, we should keep in mind that the disciples spent 3 years learning from Jesus, & still at this time did not understand.
Our course of study never ends in this life. It ends only with our death, as God retrieves us for life in our eternal home. As long as we don’t reject Him, as long as we don’t live our lives apart from God, He will constantly be working in your heart, drawing you closer to Him, strengthening you, & upholding you through thick & thin, even unto death.
At confirmation, young Christians make what can seem to be a very forbidding promise, that of being faithful unto death. Today, right after the sermon, Sherrie will be making the same promises. Yet, in the words of their response, “I do so intend by the grace of God,” we find almighty strength, power & love.
It’s in that grace, that undeserved love, that resides all the fullness & power of the almighty God. It’s that undeserved & unconditional love which transforms us, releasing us from the fear of being hurt by our failures & sin. Instead of being Christians in theory only, God changes us into Christians with flesh & bones.
That grace of God changes us from ghosts of Christians, into children that live a life of substance & service to our heavenly Father. As He opens your heart & mind to Scripture you increasingly understand the blessing of being able to listen to His Word as it is proclaimed.
Without that understanding, we see only ritual & drudgery. Without that understanding we see only memory work & sermon notes. However, with the eyes of faith created in our baptism, we see the miraculous power of God’s Word at work, transforming our very heart & mind into holy, pure & faithful instruments of God’s will. Those faithful hearts are no ghost & neither are God’s blessings. Your heavenly Father has in store for you a lifetime of blessing here on this earth, & an eternity of blessings in the life hereafter. All of our earthly doubts & fears, pains & struggles will vanish on the day we rest completely in the arms of God. Never again will we be troubled by ghosts & goblins. Amen.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear – all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Are we weak & heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge – take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer. In His arms He’ll take & shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there. Amen. LSB 770:1 & 3.
2nd Sunday of Easter – B LSB #’s 687, 584, 526
Text – 1 John 1:6
If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie & do not practice the truth.
PRACTICING THE TRUTH
A bishop once said to a friend: “Albert, you tell so many unnecessary truths.” He was not challenging the truth of his utterances. He was saying that their truth was not welcome. That attitude does not fairly represent the NT idea of morality, but it is all too prevalent. It’s why people want to believe that each of us can have our own truth, or even create our own truth.
You & I are not living morally unless we welcome, in fact, run out to meet truth whatever its source, or the changes it demands in our thinking & practice. Faith that lives in fear of truth is not faith at all, but lack of faith. If Jesus says, “I am the truth,” how can it possibly hurt us? You will never hear the devil whispering those words in your ear. He is the father of lies.
As John 3:16 boils down to a nutshell, the Good News about Christ Jesus, the sermon text boils down the essence of unbelief. Saying that we have fellowship with God, while walking in darkness, reveals that we are liars who do not practice the truth. And to top it off, if we deny our sins we are actually calling God a liar.
Let me remind you, what the sermon text told us about God: “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie & do not practice the truth.” What does St. John mean when he writes of practicing the truth? Can you give me an example from your life story? If you’re a child of God you should have at least one story ready to go at all times!
I say that because the Apostle Peter wrote, “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV) He’s telling you that having a story ready to go at all times is how we honor Christ the Lord as holy. Having a story ready to go at all times is one way to reveal the hope that is in you. It is one way of practicing the truth. If you’re not ready to share the hope you have, it might be that you are walking too much in the darkness. Could it be that you need more light in your life? Have you been avoiding the Son, I mean your Lord & Savior?
Specifically, what St. John is driving at is this: children of God will practice the truth through confessing their sins. Any time we speak these words we are speaking truth, “…we confess that we are by nature sinful & unclean.” To deny those words is the same thing as calling your heavenly Father a liar.
For the purposes of St. John’s letter it does not matter what the particulars are of your sins, just confess them. Don’t allow the world to deceive you into thinking you can be like God. You & I are not the truth as Christ is. Our lives prove that deficit every single day. The brokenness we experience simply confirms what St. Paul wrote in Romans 3:
“For all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God.” (3:23 ESV) We experience that deficit, that falling short, every time we lose our balance & stumble. We experience that deficit, that falling short, every time we cough, or pull a muscle, or hit a pothole while driving down the road. Our lives prove that deficit each time we have a disagreement with someone we love.
And if those circumstances prove the deficits of our lives, what about cancer or heart disease or Alzheimer’s? You & I are not the truth as Christ is. Our lives are not truth, but corruption instead. All of us are in need of healing. You & I are in need of peace & harmony. For all of those things our Lord has given us the waters of baptism.
As St. Paul wrote in his letter to Titus: “But when the goodness & loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration & renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (3:4-5 ESV) Gracie Lynn received that regeneration this morning. Now, it’s true, you can’t see the effects of it today. You won’t see those effects tomorrow either. You & I do not have the eyesight needed to see the inner workings of her heart. Yet, as long as she continues to receive the Words & promises of Yahweh Elohim, the Holy Spirit will renew her day by day.
Every moment she chooses to walk in darkness she will be walking away from the Words & promises of her Creator. As Adam & Eve found out, through their firstborn son, there is no life at the end of that road. For that reason, God the Father sent another firstborn Son, this one to bear the judgment upon sin.
This firstborn Son would eliminate the deficit from our existence. He would make up for all the ways in which we, & our lives, fall short of the glory of God. Jesus would make this regeneration available to everyone who puts their trust in Him. Right after the sermon text, St. John goes on to explain:
“But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, & the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, & the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful & just to forgive us our sins & to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1:7-9 ESV)
Maybe you noticed another ‘word’ being shared in those verses, besides confession. We call that ‘word’ absolution. It is the unconditional declaration that for the sake of Jesus’ death each & every & all of our sins are forgiven & paid for.
Like the word confession, we only speak absolution by the power of God’s Spirit working in us. They are foreign words to our sinful nature, yet, as the Holy Spirit creates the saintly nature in us, those words become our native tongue. Once God has converted us from unbelief, to being one of His children, we practice the truth speaking words of confession & through words of forgiveness. If you want to know how to be a godly parent you practice the truth through following the Ten Commandments. If you want to know how to be a godly employee, or employer, you practice the truth through following the Ten Commandments. If you’re wondering how to be a good Christian – confess your sin & believe the absolution.
The letter of First John was written to Christians whose faith was being endangered by heresy. This letter was written to take direct aim at false teachers who, by definition, are not practicing the truth, but walking in darkness instead. There are many, many false teachers with loud voices in our culture today.
This letter leaves the church no possibility of doubt as to where she must stand. The Truth is the Life & the Way. Yes, the truth can & often does hurt because we live in the sinful, broken world. That pain & brokenness is not the fault of truth, however, but the fault of sin & the men, women & children who commit those sins.
Like rubbing alcohol on a wound, truth brings cleanliness, which then promotes healing. When we hear the truth we should run to it, not from it. In running to the truth we are practicing the truth. This letter from St. John also is a help to us in our culture which is filled with false teaching today. Fake news is not the only problem. So are fake religion & fake gods.
For that reason 1 John is useful in our lives, as it says, “that which we have seen & heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; & indeed our fellowship is with the Father & with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1:3 ESV) Amen.
Faith & truth & life bestowing, open now the Scriptures, Lord, seed to life eternal sowing, scattered on the wind abroad. Let not hearts, Your Word receiving, like a barren field be found, choked with thorns & unbelieving, shallow earth or stony ground. May the Spirit’s power unceasing bring to life the hidden grain, daily in our hearts increasing, bearing fruit that will remain. So in Scripture, song & story, Savior, may Your voice be heard. Till our eyes behold Your glory give us ears to hear Your Word. Amen. LSB 584:1-2.
Easter Sunday – B LSB #’s 457, 470 v1-4, 461 v1-4, 469
Text – Mark 16:8
And they went out & fled from the tomb, for trembling & astonishment had seized them, & they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
BECAUSE THEY WERE AFRAID
Have you said nothing because there is fear in your life as well? Of course, that’s a good excuse right? How can you go wrong if you’re no worse than those 3 women who knew Jesus in person? How can you go wrong, if you’re no worse than those women who loved Him enough to go back into the tomb, to anoint what they thought was His rotting flesh?
How can we go wrong? If I go into detail, there are a million ways. Every sin we ever commit is an instance of going wrong. But it would take far too long to look at all our sins in detail. Today we’ll be looking at our failure to tell the news that Jesus is risen. We’ll be examining times when we, like those three women, said nothing to anyone.
All of us have been hurt by someone we love. As we love them, & are enabled by the Holy Spirit, we forgive them & move on. The relationship may even grow stronger after that sort of forgiveness.
Yet, we also know there are many more occasions when we choose not to forgive. We choose not to tell that person about the forgiveness of sins Jesus guaranteed through His resurrection. Instead, we make the conscious decision to hold a grudge, to scheme for revenge, or simply to ignore them because they’ve hurt us.
As children of God, we’re aware that isn’t the proper attitude, but living out our calling as disciples of Christ is never easy. Constantly, we have the devil & our sinful nature battling against that new man created in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our old Adam prefers that we say nothing to anyone, especially when it comes to the message of forgiveness. Satan wants us to have nothing to do with the healing of another person’s soul. It’s easy enough to say, “Christ is Risen.” Even, “He is Risen Indeed.” It’s easy enough to live out our Easter calling by celebrating this Sunday with going to church & enjoying the fellowship of a family meal.
It’s way more difficult to live out our Easter calling through forgiving that wretch who hurt me, especially if he or she is unrepentant. We’re afraid to tell them they are forgiven, because we’re afraid they’ll take advantage. It’s a legitimate fear, yet our Savior’s death on the cross calls us to resist that fear & to forgive in spite of it.
Jesus died so we might have the Holy Spirit living in us, & it’s that Spirit of God which empowers us to do what is impossible – forgive someone who does not deserve to be forgiven. As Christ hung on the cross, dying, He forgave those who crucified Him. Still, after they were forgiven no one helped Him down from the cross.
They did not deserve their forgiveness, but the Son of God gave up His life for them anyway. In our struggle to forgive, God doesn’t call us to give up our lives, but He does call us to sacrifice our pride. That can be a more difficult sacrifice to make. Giving up our lives is a one-time decision, but actually living for someone, may involve years of suffering with them.
Time & time again, you’ll be called to swallow your pride & share forgiveness with that person. You can easily tire of it, & your sinful nature will all the while encourage you to say nothing: “They made their bed, let them lie in it. They deserve it.” Thank God our Savior did not take that attitude, & that’s the message we have been given to tell the world!
Christ did not leave us to die in our sins. He’s destroyed sin & death. We’re no longer captive to them. We’ve been set free, & that message of release is what brings spiritual life out of death. In Christ’s resurrection, life was brought forth from the grave. That news removes fear from our lives, because as Scripture says, “Perfect love drives out fear.” And we have a Father who loves perfectly. We have a Savior who loves perfectly. The fears in our lives will be driven out as God works in us through the power of His means of Grace.
Have you been telling anyone that news? I assume all of you know someone who’s hurting & struggling, someone living in fear with little hope for tomorrow. Our world is filled with such people. We know that with certainty because we too are such people. Our personal lives also have known fear, pain & struggle.
Yet, as Christ’s resurrection brought Him from death to life, so can those hurting friends & neighbors of ours be brought from death to life. The Gospel alone has that power, & you have that Gospel. Even we ourselves can be brought to life once again, from our fear, from our pain, & from our doubts.
There’s no need to live in slavery to sin any longer. The chains between death & sin were broken when death could not hold our Savior in the grave. Christ broke the grip that death had on Him & on us. Our sin no longer matters because it has been paid for.
Since Christ became sin for us, there’s no reason to fear telling Him of our sin. In the very telling of those sins to Jesus, He removes them from us. He lifts the burden of guilt & fear from our shoulders. That is the greatest news that you have the privilege to tell, the news of your own forgiveness. Whoever believes that shall be saved.
Jesus asks us to tell Him the news of our sin; then He cleanses & renews our conscience. What joy it is to receive that cleansing. Have you been telling your Savior about your sins? Have you been receiving His cleansing? Let go of your fear. Sin, death & the devil have been conquered. There’s nothing left to be afraid of. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Amen.
But the pains which He endured, our salvation have procured. Now above the sky He’s King, where the angels ever sing. Alleluia. Amen. LSB 457:3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet