Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
January 28, 2018
Text: Mark 1:21-28
            “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets.  But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (LSB 238; Heb. 1:1-2a).  When Moses was about to die, the Children of Israel were faced with a crisis.  Who, now, would speak to them for God.  Moses, remember, had received spectacular and direct revelation from God on Mount Sinai.  It was Moses who received the Covenant.  It was Moses who twice brought down the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.  It was Moses whose face used to shine with the radiance of God’s glory, so that he had to wear a veil lest the people be overawed by the reflection of divine radiance and view its fading brightness in between meetings.  It was Moses who spoke with God in the Tent of Meeting like a familiar friend.  Moses is the prophet of the Old Testament par excellence.  But Moses cannot enter the Promised Land.  For he sinned at the waters of Meribah, not just speaking to the rock, as the LORD had commanded him, but striking it and taking credit for giving water to the people.  The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).  Moses will see the Land from a distance.  And Moses will die.  And who now will speak the Word of the LORD?  Perhaps we don’t quite understand the desperation of the question.  The Holy Scriptures have just begun to be recorded.  Moses is the only author of them at this point.  How will the Israelites know where to go and what to do and how to proceed with the conquest of the Promised Land?  How will they know how to be faithful to YHWH?  Who will speak for God, and so speak faith into their minds and hearts and souls? 
            The crisis demands a Divine Promise, and God does not disappoint.  Another Prophet is coming to Israel, from Israel, One like unto Moses, but greater than Moses.  It is to Him you shall listen.  God’s Word will be in His mouth.  As it happens, He will be the Word of God in the flesh.  He will be the incarnate speech of the Father, the revelation of God to sinful man.  And so it is that when our Lord Jesus begins His earthly ministry, we find Him in the synagogue teaching… teaching the Word of God.  Jesus is THE Preacher, as we heard last week.  And Jesus is THE Prophet.  He is the Teacher of Israel and of the Church.  And He is the content of the preaching, the prophecy, and the teaching.  Jesus teaches the Word of God, and when He does so, He does so with authority.  He does not speculate or cite other authorities, as the Scribes of the people do.  He speaks the Word with a directness that can only come from the mouth of its Author.  The people are astonished, for in the teaching of Jesus they come face to face with Divine Truth, Truth with a capital T.  This must have been what it was like to sit at the feet of Moses in his day.  Indeed, even better than sitting at the feet of Moses.  For Moses spoke the Word of God as God’s familiar friend.  Jesus speaks the Word of God as God.
            And when He speaks, stuff happens.  The hidden demons are exposed and scatter.  It’s like the old game where you go to the dump at night and flip on the flood lights.  The rats scatter every which way.  Jesus speaks, and suddenly unclean spirits are crying out.  Don’t you wonder whether anyone had any idea this good, synagogue going man had an unclean spirit?  This may help explain to us why we don’t see physical demon-possession on any sort of grand scale here in the 21st Century West.  Of course, it’s true, as C. S. Lewis said, the devil works best among us super-enlightened moderns by convincing us he doesn’t exist.  But he’s there.  Oh, he’s there.  And so are his minions.  Just because we don’t see them, that doesn’t mean they are not very, very real.  What happens, though, when Jesus comes into the synagogue and opens His mouth, is that the flood light of God’s Word exposes the spiritual pests.  They have nowhere to hide. 
            The man with the unclean spirit cries out, and now there is this strange dialog wherein the demon actually confesses the truth about Jesus, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24; ESV), and Jesus shuts him up.  What is going on with that?  A couple of things, at least.  For one, when a demon speaks, even when he speaks the truth, he is speaking it in order to deceive.  The Gospel spoken by demons is not the Gospel.  It is a coopting of the Gospel in service to the lie.
            So also (and this may sound strange upon first hearing), Jesus does not want His fame to spread too quickly at this critical point in His ministry, nor does He want it to spread for the wrong reasons.  There is a danger with every miracle, every healing, every exorcism, that Jesus will be seen as a magician or miracle peddler, rather than what He is, the Son of God.  The news that spreads about Him tends to quite miss the point of what it is He’s doing.  The miracles are signs of who He is and the salvation He comes to bring.  And if His fame spreads too fast, He will quickly attract the attention of the Jewish and Roman leaders.  He has come to die just the right death at just the right moment under just the right circumstances and for just the right reason.  All things must work according to God’s plan.  The demon’s confession is actually an attempt to hinder or thwart the saving mission of Jesus.
            But he can’t do it.  And that is because when Jesus speaks, He speaks with all the authority of God, for He is God.  And that means that when Jesus speaks, stuff happens.  Jesus commands the unclean spirit to “Be silent, and come out of him!” (v. 25).  And that is just what happens.  Oh, the demon doesn’t leave without putting on a good show.  One thing you should know about demons is that if they can’t actually harm you, they’ll do their best to scare you.  So the demon convulses the man and comes out with a shriek.  But there will be no more demonic preaching of Jesus from that spirit.  And he will no longer have that poor man as his mouthpiece.  Where Jesus goes and when Jesus speaks, the demons are silenced and put to flight.  You see, our God is the God of the devil and the demons, too… much to their horror. 
            Now, it is true that here in the modern West we don’t see a lot of physical demon possession.  We don’t see it… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  Remember the rats hidden at the dump.  The fact that they are hidden necessarily means they are there.  And just as we know the rats are there by the droppings and the damage they leave behind, so we know the demons are there by the satanic sewage and brokenness they leave in their wake.  Now let’s all get uncomfortable and name some specifics, shall we?  The power certain substances have over an addict… there’s something more than just chemistry going on there, isn’t there?  It may not be physical possession (although it may be), but it is certainly demonic oppression.  Depression certainly results from internal brain chemistry and external circumstance, but don’t think that excludes spiritual causes, whispers of hopelessness in your ear, reminders of guilt and temptations to despair.  I know those quite intimately.  So do some of you.  And we know it took the life of a local hero just last week.  Like a robber in the woods, the devil falls upon the vulnerable, even Christians, and drives them to do themselves harm (Luther).  Men, I’m going to level with you: Pornography is a portal for demons whose aim is to enslave you.  If you’re struggling with that, come see me.  Come, be absolved, and let’s work together to free you from these chains.  Women can also be caught up in it, though more often than not, bawdy novels like Fifty Shades of Objectification and Exploitation are the culprit.  As a pastor who has walked with several couples through the wasteland of divorce, let me tell you, no matter what the circumstances, the level of brokenness that results is nothing short of demonic.  What is this mass denial of any meaning in gender or marriage but one great big demonic deception?  What is abortion but a sacrament of the devil?  What is this deranged hatred and, in many cases, persecution of Christians but the infernal raging of the dragon?  We could go on, but the point is, if you open your eyes, the evidence of the evil one and his drones are all around us, and even in us.  Luther famously said, “If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible.”[1]
            And there you have the solution to the crisis of the devil’s attacks.  This is important.  We’re all covered in the detritus left behind by unclean spirits.  What’s the answer to this?  How do you get clean?  Jesus.  Be where Jesus is speaking and the demons are silenced and put to flight.  Be where Jesus bathes His own, washing away your impurity.  Be where Jesus imparts His Spirit, who takes possession of you whole.  Where the Holy Spirit is, there is no room for evil spirits.  Be where Jesus feeds you with His body and blood.  This is the heavenly manna that sustains you during your pilgrimage in this demonic wasteland.  This is the bodily presence of Jesus that drives out the devil and his stooges.  What is the answer to your depression or addiction or the sins that leave you unclean and broken?  It is Jesus.  It is Jesus here, in His Word and Sacraments, here in His Church, here for you. 
            Christians are not immune from the devil’s attacks, but he cannot take possession of us, for we are in Jesus, and we belong to our Father in heaven.  Beloved, when you are afflicted (and you will be, because you have a big baptismal target painted on your back), remember this: Jesus still speaks.  He speaks for God, and He is God, and He speaks right here and now in His Church.  And when He speaks, stuff happens.  The evil one is silenced, and he must flee.  Your sins are forgiven.  For Jesus speaks it so.  And you… you have eternal life.  For this is the Word of the LORD.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Large Catechism V:82 (McCain).

March for Life, Moscow, Idaho

March for Life
January 20, 2018
Friendship Square, Moscow, Idaho

Text: Matt. 2:16-18 (ESV): Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and 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: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
            The great sacrament of idolatry is the bloody sacrifice of children.  It was not enough for Herod to be King.  He wanted to be god.  His idol was power.  He would keep it at any cost.  And if there was any possibility that the old prophecies were right, that they had been fulfilled, that a newborn King, the Messiah of God, had arrived on the scene in Bethlehem, well… the slaughter of a few babies was a small price to pay.  Joseph, as we know, was warned in a dream to flee with Jesus and Mary to Egypt.  That’s the thing about God.  You can never actually win the battle to displace Him.  But you can do a lot of damage to your neighbor, to society, to yourself.  And so the streets of Bethlehem ran red that night.  And Rachel weeps.
            It had happened before.  Pharaoh slaughtered the baby boys of Israel in a bid to prevent the emancipation of his slaves.  Moses escaped, as he was wont to do, by means of water: a basket in the Nile, a highway through the Red Sea.  But even established in the Promised Land hundreds of years later, Israel was not immune to the temptation.  Pagan gods like Molech demanded their little ones pass through the fire. 
            What is common in every one of these examples is the hell-bent, demonic determination to annihilate our children.  For the serpent knows the Seed of the woman, a Child, will crush his head.  So he hates children.  That is his tell.  That is how we can always recognize the print our enemy’s claw.  He always targets the little ones.  He always deceives men into sacrificing their own on the altar of the self.
            And what of us?  Here you are marching, peacefully and in love, demonstrating on behalf of the defenseless and precious unborn who cannot speak for themselves, praying God to spare them, admonishing and pleading with society and our community in hope of changing hearts and saving lives.  For the same demonic deception has descended upon our people, here and now.  And it will cost you, my friends, your walking with us this afternoon and standing here today.  They will call you haters, though you are here on a mission of love.  They will say you are at war with women, though you are here to save the lives of women yet to be born, and out of compassion for women who believe they have no other choice but to terminate their children.  They will say you are against women’s rights, though you are here in defense of the first right named in the Declaration of Independence: The right to Life.  And it happens, and you know this, that those you love will be angry with you for speaking the truth about this issue.  Abortion is not a topic one brings up in polite company. 
            But we must not and cannot be silent.  Make no mistake, this is THE issue of our time.  Among all the great and terrible challenges that confront our nation and plague our world, this is the one that must claim all of our energy and effort.  This is the crisis that eclipses all the rest.  Rachel weeps in the silence of over 60 million dead children in the United States alone since 1973, billions worldwide.  A nuclear holocaust will not claim more lives than the genocide that is abortion.
            And now a word particularly for the Church, though I believe it is applicable to every person here today.  Christians, you can’t be silent on this.  We don’t have the luxury.  This is not simply a political issue, this is moral issue, and if the Church is not the moral conscience of the nation, who will be?  Many don’t want the Church to influence politics, but the truth is, their politics are influencing their view of the Church and her preaching.  Churches have waffled on this.  None of us have done enough.  Many Churches are weak on life issues, and some have sold out completely.  God have mercy on us all.  We must talk about life.  We must teach about it with boldness and clarity.  And the other thing we must do as a Church is help women and men and babies in difficult circumstances due to unplanned pregnancies.  We must help them with our time and our money and all our resources, and especially with our love and compassion and prayers.  This is not an option for Christians.  Let’s get to work. 
            To my fellow preachers, you must preach on this.  You must teach the sanctity of human life in your Bible studies.  If people get mad and say mean things to you, or leave your Church… if there are personal or financial ramifications, that’s just the cost of being faithful.  Don’t let that stop you.  Rejoice!  “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:12).  When the Apostles were beaten for their faithfulness to Christ, “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).  If Christ calls you to suffer, suffer.  Man up and do what God has commanded you to do.
            To the world watching us today, let me simply say, we come to you in peace and love.  Say what you want about us, we bear no hatred for anyone.  Our message is very simple: It’s wrong to murder babies, whether they’re inside the womb or outside of it.  We appeal to your conscience and to your heart.  Join us in the cause of life.
            Finally, a word to any and every one of you who have suffered as a result of an abortion.  Perhaps you had an abortion yourself, encouraged an abortion, or paid for one.  Maybe you knew what you were doing, or maybe you didn’t.  Maybe you didn’t think you had any other choice. The so-called “pro-choice” crowd is very good at convincing women in crisis that there are no other options.  Let me say to every one of you: You are loved and you are valued by every pro-life person here.  No one is here to condemn you.  We are all here to love you.  And speaking on behalf of the holy Christian Church here in Moscow and throughout the world, there is a place for you with us, a home, where there is hope, forgiveness, peace, and joy… yes, for you. 
            For God’s Son also suffered death, and for this very reason, that you be forgiven all your sins, every last one of them, and that you and your child have life, real and abundant and eternal.  Jesus Christ died on the cross for you and for your baby, and Jesus Christ is risen from the dead for you and for your baby and for all, to give life to all who believe in Him.  Let Satan not deceive you.  His head has been crushed.  In the end, life wins, for Jesus, who is the Life, has already won. 
            Thank you all for being here today.  God bless you in your efforts.  Stay strong and do not lose heart.  The One who is our Life is greater than the demonic hordes of death.  He will finally wipe away Rachel’s tears and our own.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz
Augustana Lutheran Church

Messiah Lutheran + Moscow Mission        

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
January 14, 2018
Text: John 1:43-51

            First, there is the call of Jesus: “Follow me” (John 1:43; ESV).  He takes the initiative.  He seeks His disciples.  He chooses you.  You did not choose Him.  He chooses you, and He seeks you, and He calls you.  A disciple is one who follows in the discipline, the teaching, of the Teacher.  You follow Jesus, and the reason you do that isn’t because you decided to do it, but because of His call.  His call is nothing less than the speech of God that does what it says.  And so here is the point: Jesus’ call to follow Him creates the faith in Him that does just that.  And where does this happen for you?  It’s easy to see how it happened for Philip at the beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry.  Philip could see Jesus with his eyes and hear His Middle-Eastern voice, probably calling in Aramaic.  We don’t have that benefit.  But we do hear the voice of Jesus in His call.  For many of us, that happened when we were babies, when our parents brought us to Holy Baptism.  There Jesus called us as He was in the water, with the Spirit descending upon us and remaining with us and the Father declaring to each one of us, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11), as we heard last week.  Others of you came to faith later in life, which is to say that Jesus called you to faith by His Word, by preaching, by evangelism efforts of a Christian God placed in your life to confess Christ to you, to invite you to Church.  So you came to faith by Jesus’ call to follow Him, just like Philip, and then you were baptized into Christ after coming to faith.  But notice that in either case, Jesus takes the initiative.  He does it.  Not you.  You don’t get the credit.  Jesus does, through His Word, by His Spirit.  Believing in Christ is the work of God. 
            And now as one called to faith, faith bubbles over into your daily life and conversation.  You can’t help it.  You don’t even realize you’re doing it most of the time.  This is why I hate it when pastors and Synodical bureaucrats guilt you for not witnessing enough.  How do they know?  You don’t even know.  But I’ll bet you people know you’re a Christian.  And how do they know it?  You’ve undoubtedly said something somewhere along the line about Jesus, about Church, about the Bible.  And they’ve seen evidence of the hope that is within you.  Now, do you do it enough?  Of course you don’t.  None of us do.  We should all do it more often and more intentionally.  God open our eyes to the opportunities to speak the truth of Jesus in love to our neighbor, and the courage to take advantage of those opportunities.  Repent of the missed or ignored opportunities, and actively look for occasions to confess Christ.  But don’t sit around worrying about it.  God will put people in your path.  God will put you in the paths of others.  He already has.  Your family.  Your friends.  Your coworkers or school chums.  They all need Jesus.  And this is a vocational thing.  God has placed you in a specific context, a specific time and a specific place with specific people.  There is your mission field.  Go do it.  And let God worry about the results.  You aren’t called to convert people.  You’re called to speak Jesus to people.  The results are up to God.   The Holy Spirit works faith where and when He pleases in those who hear the Gospel (AC V), those who hear the call of Jesus, “Follow me.”
            Actually, you do what Philip does after he is called to faith.  Philip immediately goes to find Nathanael to tell him the good news that Messiah has arrived.  And there are at least two important things to note about the way Philip does evangelism.  First, he isn’t all that creative.  He doesn’t try to be clever and there’s not much of a program to follow.  No, what does he do?  He points to Jesus through the Scriptures.  “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45).  Remember all those Scriptures we learned and memorized in Hebrew school?  About the Prophet, Abraham’s Offspring, the Son of David, the Seed of the Woman?  Yeah, we found Him!  He’s here!  And then Philip does a second very important thing.  He invites Nathanael to come and see.  So there’s your evangelism method.  First you speak what God gives to speak from the Scriptures, that Jesus is the one God promised from the beginning would come and save us from our sins.  And then you invite the person to come and see, which for you means you invite them to Church.  It’s so easy that we miss it.  Here’s how you do it: “Jesus is your Savior.  Come to Church and hear Him for yourself.”  That’s it.  And then you let God do the rest.  The worst that can happen is they say no.  But they might just come.  Because the Word of the Lord never returns to Him empty.  It always accomplishes His purpose (Is. 55:11).  He’s in the driver’s seat on this.  Trust Him to do what He says. 
            The key is the encounter with Jesus.  That is why you speak God’s Word from Scripture and invite the person to Church.  Because in the living Word of God, you meet Jesus Christ.  Nathanael didn’t believe Philip’s witness right off the bat.  Philip rightly says, “Come and see” (John 1:46).  And it is in the encounter with Jesus Christ that Nathanael comes to faith in Him and confesses, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!” (v. 49).  So in evangelism, we always want to connect the person to a congregation where Jesus is speaking His Word and giving His Baptism and Supper, the means of grace.  Preferably, we want them to come to our own Church, but if we’re talking to someone far away or who cannot come to our congregation for some reason, we want to help them find a congregation where God’s Word is taught in all its truth and purity and the sacraments are rightly administered (AC VII).  Because in that way, they meet Jesus.  They hear the voice of Jesus in the preaching and teaching of His Word.  And through Baptism and teaching, they come to the Supper to be fed with Jesus, by Jesus Himself, His very body and blood, given and shed for them and for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus gives you the marvelous privilege of facilitating this as one who is called to follow Him.  He gives you His Word to speak and His house to come to and invite your neighbor to. 
            Do you see how He’s the One actually doing all of this, though?  And that takes all the pressure off.  And so also does another precious article of doctrine we learn about through our text.  That is the teaching of eternal election to salvation.  This is, by all accounts, the most difficult doctrine to teach or understand.  Because you can’t entirely grasp it.  It’s on the edge of God’s hidden will.  But this is it, in a nutshell: God, from all eternity, before the foundation of the world, chose you in Christ to be His own forever, to come to faith in Christ and be saved.  Wow!  That is an incredible comfort.  Because it means that God has accomplished your salvation from start to finish.  He chose you.  He sent His Son for you.  He sought you and called you to faith.  He gave you the faith to believe His Word, to believe in His Son.  And He will keep you in the faith to the end.  That’s what it means that salvation is by grace alone, apart from any effort or merit on your part.  Jesus demonstrates this in what He says to Nathanael: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (v. 48).  Now, Philip wasn’t just over there, down the way a few yards when Jesus saw Him.  Jesus is talking about something much more significant.  He is first of all demonstrating His divine omniscience.  He knows all and sees all, including Nathanael under the fig tree, though Jesus was not physically in his proximity.  But then this, too: He sees Nathanael because He has His eye on him.  He’s chosen him.  From all eternity the plan has been to call Nathanael, to bring Nathanael to faith, to make Nathanael an Apostle, so that Nathanael will do what Philip did in calling others to faith.  It’s marvelous.  By human standards, Philip failed in his evangelizing Nathanael.  Can anything good come from Nazareth?  But then the miracle.  Nathanael meets Jesus.  Jesus speaks.  Jesus calls the one He’s chosen from before the foundation of the world.  And Nathanael believes, and so Nathanael confesses.
            The doctrine of election is so hard because we very quickly come to the end of our ability to know it, and we want to know so much more, particularly the nagging question, “Why are some saved and not others?”  We don’t know.  We aren’t given to know.  We know from the Scriptures that God wants everyone to be saved, but not all are saved.  We know from the Scriptures that many are called, but few are chosen.  We know the Gospel is for everyone, but not everyone believes it.  We know that not everyone is elect to salvation, but God elects no one to damnation.  If you are saved, God gets all the credit start to finish.  There is the comfort.  But if you are lost, that is entirely your own fault.  There is the warning.  There is a logical conundrum in this that we find intellectually unsatisfying.  But God’s logic is infinitely higher than our own.  Let’s do Him the favor of acknowledging He knows what He is doing, and He doesn’t owe us any answers.  Let us not try to guess beyond what He has told us in the Scriptures, but put a finger to our lips and confess with Moses, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29).

            And here is what is revealed: God loved the world in this manner, that He gave His only-begotten Son into the death of the cross, that whoever hears His call and believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).  Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (1:51).  What’s he talking about?  He’s talking about the cross.  The cross is Jacob’s ladder.  The cross opens heaven.  The cross brings the angels of God to your aid.  The cross is the revelation that God is for you and not against you.  The cross is our theology, as Luther says, because the cross is our salvation.  And so, with St. Paul, we preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), and invite others here to the Church, where together we encounter our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.  Beloved in the Lord, Jesus says to you this morning, “Follow me,” and you do, through the Red Sea of Baptism, through the valley of the shadow of death, into the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.  Take up your cross.  Let’s go.  Jesus leads us.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (B)
January 7, 2018
Text: Mark 1:4-11

            Christian Baptism is a declaration of war against the devil and his minions. Christian Baptism enlists the baptized in spiritual warfare, the raging battle against the old sinful flesh, against the temptations and allurements of the unbelieving world, and against the old wily serpent, the devil, and his demons. And it’s dangerous, because it makes the baptized child of God a target of the evil one. Martin Luther wrote in his Baptismal Booklet: “Therefore, you have to realize that it is no joke at all to take action against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child but also to hang around the child’s neck such a mighty, lifelong enemy. Thus it is extremely necessary to stand by the poor child with all your heart and with a strong faith and to plead with great devotion that God, in accordance with these prayers, would not only free the child from the devil’s power but also strengthen the child, so that the child might resist him valiantly in life and in death. I fear that people turn out so badly after baptism because we have dealt with them in such a cold and casual way and have prayed for them at their baptism without any zeal at all.”[1]
            Serious business, Baptism. No joke, no trifling tradition. War is what it is. But necessary. A matter of life and death, in fact… eternal life and death. Because in Baptism you become God’s own child. You are snatched from the yawning jaws of death and the tenacious claws of the devil. You are given the Holy Spirit, and all your sins are washed away as you are covered by the blood of Christ. You are Baptized, as we heard in the Epistle (Romans 6:1-11), into the death and resurrection of Christ, so that they become your own. And everything that Christ has done, beloved, He has done for you. He became a man for you. He was obedient to His parents and grew in wisdom and favor with God and men for you. He learned the Scriptures for you. He fulfilled God’s whole Law for you. He suffered for you. He died for you. He is risen from the dead for you. He ascended into heaven and sits at God’s right hand for you. And He comes to you in His blessed Word and Sacraments, for you, to forgive your sins and to give you eternal life. He has done and does all of this for you and for your salvation. He does it in your place. You are baptized into Him. And this is so powerful, to deliver all these great gifts, because He is first baptized into you… into your sin, into your death, by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River, where He is anointed by the Holy Spirit to undertake His divine mission (warfare!), where the Father says to Him, and to us who are baptized into Him, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; ESV).
            The Good News for us who have been enlisted in the battle by virtue of our Baptism is that the LORD goes before us, the LORD fights for us, Jesus, God in the flesh. And though the battle rages, the victory has been won. It was won on the cross and in the empty tomb. The devil is defeated. So we know the outcome. Our Lord steps into the waters of the Jordan, and as John baptizes Him with a baptism He does not need, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, like a sponge He soaks up all the sins of the whole world. Your sin, all of it, the sinless Son of God took upon Himself, so that He could give you His righteousness in exchange. “For our sake” God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). It is a great exchange. Jesus gets our sin, we get His righteousness. He dies, we live. He takes hell, and heaven itself has been rent open for us. He is baptized into us, that we might be baptized into Him. In the Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan, He “sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”[2] A great gift, Baptism is. It is not our action. It is God’s action for us and upon us. It is the source of all our confidence and all our joy. But it does mean war. No doubt about it. Baptism makes you a marked man, a marked woman.
            How can it be that the battle still rages if the victory has already been won by our Lord Jesus? We encounter here the distinction between the objective justification of all people by our Lord’s sin-atoning work on the one hand, and how that objective justification is applied to each one of us subjectively on the other. Now, defining our terms is important here. The word “justification” means “righteousness,” which is precisely what unrighteous sinners do not have and desperately need. Jesus wins the objective justification of the whole world (the outside of us, reality whether we know or believe it or not justification of the world) of all people, in His life, death, and resurrection. The war is won. The devil is defeated. The sins of all people have been paid in full by the suffering and death of Jesus, and God has declared that payment sufficient by raising Jesus from the dead.
            But the battle still rages for each one of us in the subjective application of this victory, or in other words, how this victory is made our own and how we are kept in our Lord’s victory. You see, the victory of our Savior is received subjectively by faith. And faith is itself a gift of God. Yet faith can be prevented and faith can be lost, which is the aim of our enemy, the devil. He seeks to rob us of faith in Jesus Christ at every turn. He seeks to kill our faith so that he can claim us once again for his own. In Baptism, God grants faith in Jesus Christ His Son by imparting the Holy Spirit. But the devil never tires in seeking to rob us of that gift. And we are weak. We still have the old sinful flesh hanging around our necks. We easily fall prey to Satan’s lies. Like our first parents in the garden. We listen to the serpent. We see that what he offers is pleasing to the eye, and we think it will satisfy our lustful appetites. We’re dead meat on our own. If Adam and Eve, who were created without sin, could fall prey to the devil, we, their sinful progeny, don’t stand a chance. If we are to be kept in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, kept in our Baptism, kept for eternal life, God must do it. God must do it, and God alone. If we are to persevere in the faith, if we are to survive this war, it must be by grace, it must be His work. And it is. We are faithless, but He is faithful. He does it. He brings it to completion.
            That is why He’s given us the means of grace: His holy Word, Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood. Many of these are mentioned right here in our text. John appears baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the people respond to John’s preaching by confessing their sins, being baptized and absolved. And those are the same means of grace we have here in the New Testament Church. John’s baptism is the forerunner of our Christian Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism leads directly to our Baptism, for Jesus receives John’s baptism, in order that we may be baptized into Christ. And our Baptism into Christ, too, is a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And now we live each day in our Baptism, which means we repent daily and we daily receive and rejoice in the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus.
            What makes these gifts so powerful – words, water, bread and wine – is not that they are anything spectacular in and of themselves. But it’s this: Jesus comes in these means. He comes to you. He comes for you. He comes to make you one with Him, and so to make you God’s own child. “In those days,” namely, the days when John was baptizing and preaching in wilderness, “Jesus came,” says our text (Mark 1:9). And in Jesus’ coming, John’s baptism receives all its power. For Jesus comes to use John and his baptism and his preaching as His means of saving humanity. So also our Baptism, preaching, Scripture reading, Absolution, Communion… What makes these gifts so powerful is that Jesus comes and uses them as His means to save us… to make what is objectively true for all people on account of Jesus’ saving work, subjectively true for you, for me, for each one of us individually.
            And that is what happens when you are baptized into Christ. All that Jesus is and does is made yours. Heaven is torn open for you. The Spirit descends upon you. And the very voice of the Father speaks in the Word that has been joined to the water: “You… You… You… are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Because now, being baptized into Christ, when God looks at you, He sees Christ.  He sees His Son.  And our Lord Christ, who has won the war already, will bring you through the battle to the Day of Resurrection. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] SC: Baptismal Booklet, Kolb/Wengert, p. 372.
[2] Luther’s “Flood Prayer,” LSB p. 269.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

First Sunday after Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas (B)
December 31, 2017
Text: Luke 2:21-40

            I broke a rule.  Well, it’s not really a rule, so much, as perhaps a protocol.  I confess to you, my brothers and sisters, that I added a verse to the Holy Gospel assigned for the First Sunday after Christmas.  Now, you can do this, though it isn’t usually done and I’m normally against playing around with the assigned lectionary.  I’m one of those odd ducks who believe our fathers in the faith may have had some wisdom when they figured all this out, more wisdom than I possess, and this pericope has a very long pedigree in the Church.  But you can add to a reading, and while today is the First Sunday after Christmas, it is also one of those years where this Sunday falls on New Year’s Eve, which in the Church Year also happens to be the Eve of a significant Church Feast commemorating a very important event in the life of our Lord.  This evening is the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus.
            This is why many of you remember having Church on New Year’s Eve, and more likely, New Year’s Day.  We won’t be this year, for a number of reasons.  But there are good reasons for having it.  It is certainly appropriate to end the outgoing year and start the incoming year with Confession and Absolution, the hearing of the Holy Gospel, and the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood.  New Year’s, insofar as it corresponds to ancient traditions going back to the Old Testament New Year Festival, always has about it a sense of commending the Old Year to God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ, giving thanks for His gifts, reconciling with one another and forgiving one another, and commending the New Year to God’s grace, praying for His blessing.  That is all very important, and I urge you to think of the New Year in just that way.  But that’s not the only reason, or even the main reason, you had Church.  You had Church because this Feast commemorates our Lord’s fulfilling the Law of Circumcision for all of us, for all time, bringing it to a conclusion in His first shedding of His holy precious blood for our salvation.  This is the circumcision to which all the circumcisions that went before point, and they all find their fulfillment in it.  And now we don’t have to circumcise for religious reasons.  We can circumcise for other reasons, but we shouldn’t attach any religious significance to it whatsoever.  St. Paul has a lot to say about that.  Now we have Holy Baptism, which is so much more than circumcision, and it’s for boys and girls, young and old, all people.  And on this day when our Lord was circumcised, He received His Name: Jesus, as the angel commanded.  Jesus (Joshua, Yehoshua in Hebrew), which means, YHWH saves.  For that is what He comes to do, and what He does as He sheds those first tiny drops of blood for you.  That’s why I added the verse.  “At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21; ESV). 
            Happily, the texts that actually are assigned for this First Sunday after Christmas emphasize time…  St. Paul writes, “When the fullness of time had come…” (Gal. 4:4).  Our Holy Gospel begins (in the real beginning of it at v. 22), “When the time came…” (Luke 2:22).  The verse I added says, “At the end of eight days…”  Now, that time stamp gives us the clue about what these references to time being fulfilled and coming are all about.  The Eighth Day.  The Day of New Creation.  Sunday.  The Creation of the world started on a Sunday.  It took six days for God to complete it (not that He couldn’t have done it faster, but look what care He has for His creation, that He took His time).  And on the seventh Day He rests.  Not that He’s tired.  He’s giving us a pattern.  We need rest.  Our workers and our animals need rest.  And we need a day set aside for God’s Word and gifts and prayer.  But then the Eighth Day!  Sunday again.  Creations gets going, back to work, back to living in the gifts received on the seventh day!  Or at least that was how it was supposed to be.  We all know how that ended, with Adam and Eve naked and broken in sin, expelled from the Garden, East of Eden, where there are thorns and thistles and sweat and pain.
            What does God do about it?  He gives us Holy Week.  He gives us His Son, Jesus, into death, for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Jesus dies on Friday, the sixth day.  The shedding of His blood in circumcision pointed to this event upon which all of human history and our eternal salvation hinges.  On the seventh day, He fulfills the Sabbath, even as He fulfilled circumcision for us.  He brings it to its conclusion, to its goal.  He rests in the tomb.  And then?  Sunday!  The Eighth Day!  He rises from the dead!  And creation is redeemed, restored, better than ever, better even than the Garden!  We can’t see it yet with our bodily eyes, but we know it.  It will be apparent when Jesus, who is risen from the dead, raises us from the dead.  Then we’ll see it.  The Eighth Day is the Day of Resurrection!  It is Easter!  It is the New Creation!  It is the fulfillment of all time.  It is the goal of everything.  It is your life in Baptism, where you died and were raised with Christ and in Christ.  That is why often times baptismal fonts are eight sided.  Baptism is where the New Creation takes possession of you.  There were eight souls in Noah’s ark during the Flood, a prefiguring of Baptism which now saves you (1 Peter 3:20-21).  Now every day is our Sabbath rest in Jesus, in His forgiving our sins and justifying us before the Father.  We don’t have to work for our salvation.  We can rest knowing that Jesus has done the work.  And we come together every Sunday, every Eighth Day, not because it’s the new Sabbath, but because it is the Lord’s Day, the Day of Resurrection and New Creation, and here the New Creation bursts in by the preaching of the Gospel and the Supper of our Lord’s crucified and risen body and blood!
            Old Simeon perceived prophetically that this earthshaking change had occurred.  He held the little Lord Jesus there in His arms, and He said to Him, prayed to Him, “Lord, YHWH, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace” (cf. Luke 2:29).  Let me die now that I’ve beheld the You with my own eyes, You, the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the nations.  You sing that song, the Nunc Dimittis, after you have held Jesus, YHWH, in your mouth.  And Anna, too, a widow after only seven years of marriage, worshipping night and day in the temple and waiting for the appearing of our Savior.  Waiting, waiting.  Time.  Now the time has come.  Here He is.  She cannot contain her joy.  New Creation has burst in.  God has come to His temple in the flesh of the little Babe.  She praises and thanks God and tells everyone around about Him.  That’s just like you when Jesus comes to you in His Supper.  We call it the Eucharist, the Thanksgiving.  And we sing praise and we go and tell others.
            On this occasion where we encounter Simeon and Anna, there is another Old Testament ceremony being fulfilled for our sake.  Mary and Joseph are giving the sacrifice for redemption of the first born and the purification of a mother who has given birth.  They give the sacrifice of the poor, “a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons” (v. 24).  The sacrifices point to THE Sacrifice for whom they are given.  They shed their blood as a type of our Lord’s shedding His blood on the altar of the cross.  That’s when Simeon sees it.  That is when he realizes that this is not just any mother and child.  This is the One. 
            And it’s strange, what He says to Joseph, and Mary in particular.  He blesses them both.  (Fatherhood and motherhood are blessed of the Lord.  Don’t forget that in our culture of death and anti-marriage, anti-childbirth, anti-parenthood worldview).  But then he turns his attention to Mary in particular, and he makes a prophecy about this Child.  First, the Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign to be opposed.  That is to say, those who reject Him will fall, many of them from great heights, the religious and political leaders, the elite.  Those who reject Him will be condemned.  But those who receive Him will be lifted up.  They will be raised, many of them from great depths.  These are the sinners: The tax collectors, the prostitutes, the unclean, you.  He will raise you quite literally, spiritually by faith, and bodily forevermore on the Last Day.  The thoughts of many hearts will be revealed in this way.  He is the standard of Judgment.  And He will be opposed.  He will be raised as a sign.  He will be lifted up on the cross.  And that leads to His second point.  A sword will pierce Mary’s soul, too.  She will stand at the foot of His cross.  She will watch her Son, her own beloved Son, die for the sins of the world, for her, for you.  Notice how this Child, this Son, given us at Christmas, is marked by blood from the beginning.  He is marked by the blood of His circumcision.  He is marked by Simeon’s prophecy of the cross.  And in this way, in the shedding of His blood, He is Jesus.  YHWH saves you.
            And that redeems all your time.  Your sins of the past are forgiven, covered in the blood of Jesus.  Your future is assured, baptized in the blood of Jesus.  For you, every day is the Eighth Day!  You live in the New Creation.  The time is fulfilled in Jesus.  It has fully come.  Our Lord has been born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem us who are under the Law, so that we receive adoption as sons of the Father, and call upon Him as our own, Our Father, Our Abba, Dad.

            This night we will make merry.  Some of us will stay up late and raise a glass to the year now past and toast the year to come.  Others of us will go so sleep, which is probably a better decision.  But whichever we do, we will do it with joy and confidence because, in the fullness of time, God the Son was born in the flesh, and eight days later He shed His blood for us.  More than that, on the Eighth Day, the Day of days, He rose from the dead.  And our times are in His pierced hand.  Happy New Year, beloved, and blessed Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus!  He really does Jesus us.  YHWH saves us.  He saves you.  We’ll raise a toast, the cup of salvation (Psalm 116:13), to that, and call upon His Name.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.