The Promises of God Are Kept on the Cross

John 19: 31 – 37
“The Promises of God are Kept on the Cross”
           So our Lenten journey is coming to an end. Tonight we will remember more clearly that the Son of Man must - and did - die. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must also be lifted up. It must happen this way because God has promised it to happen this way. John’s phrase is so familiar, so vital to understanding Good Friday: “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled.” Yes, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” Yes, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” The Scriptures speak of so many promises. Jesus fulfills every one of those promises by dying on the cross for our sins.
1. The promises he made are the ones that hurt him; while helping us.
           Ponder the entire picture for a few moments. Since we were small most of us were repeatedly told the truths of Genesis. God created the world in six days. The devil rebelled. Adam and Eve were soon to follow in his rebellion. Sin and death came to world through one man. God spoke in the Garden of Eden about the seed of the woman that would crush the serpent’s head, and his heel would be struck.
           Four months ago we sang of the beginning of those promises fulfilled. A baby was born. It all happened the way it was foretold. To a virgin, in Bethlehem, in humble circumstances, Isaiah said there was no beauty or majesty to attract us to him. Christ the savior is born. Christ the Savior is born! Scan Matthew’s account to hear the repeated theme: “This happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled.” Hear the voice of David’s Psalm speak the Savior’s words: “My God my God why have you forsaken me … I can count all my bones, my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” Then see Isaiah’s pictures become clearer and clearer. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed … It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.”
           The prophet made it clear. The promises that God made are the promises that would break his own heart. This Good Friday was God’s idea. The Father designed a plan that would sacrifice his only Son. The Son agrees that this is what must happen. “Your will not mine, be done.” To make promises and keep them is not foreign to us. But to make promises that are filled with self-sacrifice, ridicule, suffering, and pain; this is what is so foreign to our human understanding. Christ made certain that not one ounce of hurt was left unfelt. He made certain that not one promise was left un-kept. He made certain that not on jot of the law was left undone.
           All of eternity is staged on that cross. Heaven and hell are brought together in one sweep. All the promises made, all the prophecies foretold, every song to be sung hinges on what happens on the cross on Good Friday. Can we begin to fathom the IT in it is finished. What is finished? All of IT. Those promises have to do with you and me.
          It would be foolish to purchase a coat and leave it in the store. We wouldn’t think of it. Jesus paid a high price for us. It would be foolish for him to go through all this trouble and pain to fulfill every prophecy to leave the coat in the store. He takes your redemption with him to his Father’s home. He pleads to the Father on our behalf. He has the receipt in his hand and says, “See, I have paid in full for their souls’ salvation.”
2. With those promises, all others are fulfilled.
           All through the Bible God makes promises. One after the other he promises beautiful promises. He promises to robe you in Baptism with his perfect righteousness. He promises to kill and bury your sins with his Son. He promises to raise you to newness of faith and life with his Son. He promises to never leave you nor forsake you. To the very end of the age he will be with you. Though a mother may forget the baby she nursed, he will not forget you or leave you orphaned.
           We recognize that we deserve to be forsaken. We realize that we often fall away and run away and sin against our Holy God. We have been happy to stumble and fall into rebellion with Adam and Eve. Even then our God is still waiting and calling. Even then, like the father of the prodigal son, he is looking for us, watching for us to come home to roost, running to embrace us with his pardoning grace and love. Even then he is willing to kill the fattened calf and have the angels in heaven rejoice over the sinner who repents.
           When it is our turn to endure the cross; when we are scoffed and jeered because of Christ; when sickness and strife plague our temporal lives; when every one else would run and hide from our problems, he is still there. He writes our names in the palm of his hand. Mountains could fall into the heart of the sea; God is still our God and bids us be calm and at peace. He promised that all things would work together for your ultimate good. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, promises to give all the things the scriptures have to say to you. He promised it all and on the cross he paid for the truth of all those promises.
           Tonight our sanctuary is black and dark. Tonight we remember the sorrow. Short of hearing the whispering and clanging of Romans soldiers, we can sense the somberness of what today means. We leave tonight knowing the serious nature of sin and death. We leave tonight knowing the depths of Christ’s perfect love. We may even shed a few tears before the night is over. But this Jesus keeps every promise. He says, “Because I live, you also will live.” We leave tonight with the certainty the Resurrection. We thirst to sing “I Know that my Redeemer lives and hear again the great news “HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! We leave tonight knowing that all this happened so that the scriptures should be fulfilled. It is finished! On the cross God has kept his promises, every one of them! Amen.

The Gift of Fellowship with Christ Is Precious

1 Corinthians 10: 16 – 17 (Maundy Thursday)
“The Gift of Fellowship with Christ is Precious”
           What it must have been like! To sit down in a small quiet room, having their feet washed by the Savior, hearing firsthand the lengthy prayer to the Father, the introduction of the Holy Supper into the Christian Church. What a great evening of fellowship it must have been! Maundy Thursday we recall the night before our Savior was crucified. Those events are mostly the events of that upper room, where 12 men sat one more time at the feet of the Son of God made flesh. What a precious fellowship they must have had after three years of ministry together!
           Paul speaks about the continuation of that fellowship in our lesson from his letter to the Corinthians Christians. He calls it participation. The English word is a translation of koinonia. It is a word that pictures the closest fellowships, a relationship of sharing and becoming responsible for each other. Tonight we are reminded that this precious gift came at a great cost, presents a great mystery, and provides a great fellowship.
  1. What a Great Cost!
            We are clearly reminded each day of our sinfulness. This Lenten season we can identify with the personalities of the passion history. We can see ourselves in Peter’s sheepish denial of Christ in the face of persecution and mockery. We can see ourselves in the greed and selfishness of Judas who was willing to trade his relationship with Jesus for earthly gain. We can see ourselves in the anger and hypocrisy of the crowds that condemned him. And when we review our own sinful lives it is fitting for us to remember that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6: 23) and that sin takes us out of a relationship with God and each other. Sin divides and separates from God (Isaiah 59:2) and each other. The only way to patch up that shattered fellowship is death. Â
            In the next chapter, Paul writes, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” This fellowship comes at a great price. When we I say “great price” I obviously don’t mean bargain. It is a costly fellowship that God gives us. It cost him his Son. It cost his Son his life. You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that those he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich (2Corinthians 8: 9). The costly gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus his Son our Lord.
2. What Great Mystery!
            In Holy Communion Jesus promises us his very body and blood together with the bread and the wine. In our Gospel lesson tonight we heard him say, “Take and eat this is my body … Drink from is all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26: 26-28). What a great mystery and miracle. The God who made the world in six days, the God who sent his Son to be both God and Man in one Person, the God who has no beginning and no end, promises us one of many other great mysteries – to participate together in the receiving of his very body and blood, full assurance that our sins are paid for, a vivid reminder of his sacrifice on Calvary! With the hymn writer we stand in awe and sing:
Human reason though ponders,
Cannot fathom these great wonders,
That Christ’s body must be boundless
Since the souls it feeds are countless,
And that he his blood is giving
With the wine we are receiving.
These great mysteries unsounded
Are by God alone expounded. (CW 311: 5)
3. What Great Participation!
           No wonder we are so careful to make the Lord’s Supper a special part of our fellowship! No wonder we are so careful about our personal preparation and administration of this Holy Supper! Here God encourages, even commands of us to be united in every way. Here he brings us into unity with himself, through his Son’s body and blood. Here he says we proclaim that death and that fellowship, every time we participate in this Communion.
           This is why we are so careful teach and prepare each other for this participation with Christ. This is why we are encouraged by Paul, “to examine oneself before eating of the bread and drinking of this cup” (1 Corinthians 11: 28). Here God makes something that is otherwise invisible, visible. He provides a special way for us to confess the faith of the invisible Church through our visible and audible confession of faith.
           Without this participation we easily fall back into the sins that divide us from God and each other. Without this spiritual strength we easily slip into jealousy and doubt. The cost of this great mystery removes those divisions and partners us in the gospel with Christ.
In communion we enjoy koinonia. In our participation with Christ we are united to each other. Upon receiving it our faith in Christ is strengthened, our love for God and his word is strengthened, our sins are forgiven, our expression of love and fellowship to each other is clarified. It moves us to enjoy that fellowship when we leave this unity at the table to live our lives of faith among each other. Our many differing lives of faith - united at the Table - is a foretaste of the perfect fellowship we will one day know fully.
What a precious treasure and at a priceless cost! What a great and meaningful fellowship! What a great participation!
He who craves a precious treasure
Niether cost nor pain will measure,
But the priceless gifts of heaven
God to us has freely given.
Though the wealth of earth were proffered
Naught would buy the gifts here offered:
Christ’s true body for you riven,
And his blood for you once given. (CW 311: 3) Amen.

The Savior Is Coming

Psalm 118: 22 – 27
(Palm Sunday – April 5, 2009)
“The Savior is Coming!”
His Name Means Salvation!
The words that the people shouted on that first Palm Sunday were familiar words. They were drawn from the Psalm that is before us today. During the time of the kings, especially King David, the people were accustomed to using various worship psalms for different occasions. David had taught the people to worship this way. Familiar songs at certain festivals reinforced truths of God’s saving plan for his people. Psalm 118 would have been sung as a procession for several occasions:
  • The return of the King and his army from a victory in war.
  • The beginning of the high festivals of the worship calendar.
  • In thanksgiving for the harvest at the Feast of Pentecost.
  • A special bookend procession to the Festival of Tabernacles.
Today they were moved to sing this appropriate song for the procession of all processions. The king of all kings, the fulfillment of all the festival services, the giver of all good gifts, was coming into Jerusalem. Did you notice what was missing? There were no bulletin announcements. There were no email reminders. There were no trumpet calls from the town crier. There were no billboards announcing his arrival. As Jesus himself reminds us, this is a miraculous reception. Designed by God himself, the praises of these lips were drawn by his Holy Spirit. If the Pharisees could have clothed the mouths of the children the stones would have been ordered to cry out in honor of the Lord of salvation.
But their song is not drawn from thin air. It is not mindless babblings, void of meaning. They were moved to speak the time tested truths of the Psalm of the Church: “LORD, Save us! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.” The Savior is coming! His very name means salvation. HOSANNA means “save us.” Jesus means “the one who saves” as the angel instructed his parents “because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:22). Our Psalm carries one of the Old Testament verses often referred to in the New Testament Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” Peter referred to this verse when questioned about his authority to heal the lame man. He concludes about the name of Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4: 12).
Contrary to popular opinion there are not many roads to heaven. There are not many ways to be saved. There are not many valid religions. There is only one way to be saved. All others lead to eternal punishment in hell. The Bible reminds us that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). All the ways that mankind has created to be saved have to do with mankind earning God’s salvation. All of those ways deny Jesus his glory. All of those ways fail because of original sin.
The “Pharisees” of each generation hope to be saved by what they do, who they are, or what they can accomplish. Sin that is bred into each embraces self righteous religion. The Gentile wisdom that scoffs at the foolishness of the cross struggles to see why Jesus is so special (1 Corinthians 2). The popular notion that we are so much more enlightened than the last generation sniffs its nose at such an archaic religion. The sinful nature just doesn’t want to be saved. Like a stubborn man who refuses to ask for help or directions, our sinful nature pushes Jesus aside and sadly stumbles on the stone the builders rejected.
“Lord, save us?” That confession is God-given. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord?” That confession is Spirit born and kept alive. “Salvation is found in no one else!” That truth is made clear by the Scriptures of God himself. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17). The King comes. His name is Jesus. His name means salvation.
His Work is Salvation!
His name means salvation because his name reveals what he does. What are you going to do this week? Among other things you will dutifully live out your lives of sanctification. No doubt you will carry out responsibilities at work. You will go to school. You will have chores at home. You will find time to rest. You will find time for the Word of God. You will find time for each other. Of course, you are anticipating the highlight of the Christian Church calendar.
Have you contemplated where you will fall into sin next? Does it cross our minds how inevitable it is? Do you realize that you won’t make it through the next few moments without a sinful thought? Do we consciously bear the thought that none of us will make it through the rest of today without falling into one of Satan’s traps? We cannot accomplish this week what Jesus will do for us. Do you perceive how finicky the crowds of Jerusalem were? They are sinful followers. We are finicky, too. We are sinners. Sin is what we do.
Do you know what Jesus accomplished this Holy Week? Just to list the events recorded by Mark:
  • He will cleanse the temple of its greed and idolatry.
  • He will teach several parables in the temple courts. He will give clear and perfect answers to several evil minded questions.
  • He will teach his disciples Godly stewardship by pointing out the gift of the widow.
  • He will explain the important truths of the end of the world and Judgment Day.
  • He will spend a great deal of time fostering his Christian fellowship with the Bethany Christians.
  • He will institute the Lord’s Supper and wash the feet of his disciples.
  • He will grieve in Gethsemane, be treated unjustly during several trials. He will be pinned by nails to a cross and be suffocated to death. He will be laid out lifeless in a cave.
  • He will overcome the sting and power of death. He will triumph over sin and hell. He will accomplish salvation.
Unlike you and me, Jesus lived out his entire life, day by day, week by week without ever sinning against God. “He was tempted in every way, just as we are yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The perfect Lamb of God took on the weight of the sins of the whole world. He suffered separation from his Heavenly Father. He faced the very powers of hell. Like a true King should and would, our Savior led the way into the fiercest of battles and won salvation on our behalf. He is the Savior. That is what he does!
With each generation who has been blessed to sing this triumphant Psalm, the Spirit leads us to sing: “The LORD has done this; it is marvelous in our eyes … Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD … he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”
Imagine the crowds of people welcoming David home from battles that saved them from their enemies! Imagine the crowds who cried out “Hosanna” to the Son of David, Jesus himself! This festal week, we gladly bring our fruits of faith to his altar. We sing his praise. We let his light shine in our lives of spiritual maturity. We reflect his Name in our words of truth. We humbly bow before the one who saves. Prepare this Holy Week! The Savior is Coming! Jesus is Coming! Your eternal life has been accomplished! Amen.

Jesus Lives to Serve You as a Priest

Hebrews 5: 7-9 (Lent 5 2012)

“Jesus Lives to Serve You as a Priest”

            The original purpose of the book of Hebrews was to help the fist century Jews to see how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. In particular the letter draws out the things related to the office of the priesthood. There were three major vocations in Israel’s history that pointed directly to Jesus as the Messiah: the prophets, priests and kings. Jesus is our Great High Priest, but not in the limited sense of the Levite priests. He is the Great High Priest because he was clearly all three: a Prophet of God’s Word, a Priest who mediated between God and all people, and King who is the ruler of heaven and earth.

The writer to the Hebrews focused on the Old Testament Priesthood as a clear image of Jesus as Savior. The priests offered prayers on behalf of the people. The priests offered sacrifices for atonement of their sins. Jesus lives to serve you as priest. With his willing obedience and prayers he serves you. By his perfectly royal sacrifice he served you and the whole world “becoming the source of salvation for all who obey him.”

With His Willing Obedience and Prayers

Our verses begin with an important phrase: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth.” Literally is says: in the time of his life in the flesh. The writer explains the important fact that Jesus came to this earth in human form. From the time he was conceived by the Spirit in his earthly mother to the day he rose from the dead, he accomplished over 30 years of absolute willing obedience to his Father. His perfect under the law is the foundation he laid for our salvation. Everything he did while on earth was to serve you.

Paul explained to the Galatians: “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a women, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4: 4-5) In this book of Hebrews, the writer said in chapters 2 and 4 that Jesus was the perfect high priest because he had become like the children in every way, sharing in our humanity, was tempted in every way, as we are, yet was without sin.”

He came to be one of us. He knew sorrow and pain. He knew physical limitations. He felt human emotion “¦ what makes us cry, and what makes us laugh. He knew the strength of the devil’s lies. He knew the cruelty of unbelievers. He knew the high responsibility of doing everything his Father commanded him to do. All of that was done in the flesh, under God’s expectations. He was responsible for doing what we could not do: willingly and perfectly obey his Father’s law on all accounts.

We have an example in the verses: “He offered prayers and petitions with loud cries of tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because his reverent submission.” Recall in the gospel lesson today (John 12). Jesus was teaching the Greeks that Philip brought to him. As he explained the kind of death he would suffer, he offered up a heartfelt prayer to the glory of his Father. A voice from heaven confirmed for them that his prayers were heard. His willing obedience was pleasing to his Father. Jesus explained that day that “this was for your benefit!”

            Think also of his prayers in Gethsemane. To the point of grief and pain, sweating like drops of blood, his prayer was one of willingness to concede to the Father’s will to crush him on the cross for the sake of all people: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” His tearful prayer is for your benefit, not his. His willing obedience is for you, not for himself. He is the perfect high priest because his willing obedience and his heartfelt prayers continue to reach the ears of his heavenly Father.

Jesus is praying for you every day! Imagine that! Jesus, who hears and answers all prayers, repeats yours to his Father personally. When we confess our sins, Jesus asks his Father for our forgiveness. When we ask Jesus to join us at our tables as a guest, he invites his Father to join us too. When we ask Jesus to help us when are faced with temptation he points his Father to his own perfect obedience as our power to flee from sin. When we ask him about the troubling circumstance that seem to plague our daily lives Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also (with the Holy Spirit) interceding for us!” (Romans 8: 27, 34). Jesus, who was willingly obedient to the point of crucifixion, prays to his Father every day for every one of your needs. He lives to serve you as a great high priest.

By His Perfectly Royal Sacrifice

The verses surrounding our lesson for today mention this mysterious character, Melchizedek. His name in Hebrew means the king of righteousness. You may recall that, in time of Abraham the city of Salem (ancient Jerusalem) was ruled by a king named Melchizedeck. Melchizedeck was not only king but he served the people of Salem as a priest of God Most High. This was before Israel’s Temple life included the tribe of Levi as the designated tribe for the priesthood. People were worshipping the true God at the priestly leadership of this faithful king of righteousness.

When kings from the Northern countries attacked Sodom and Gomorra they captured Lot and his family and took them back with them. Abraham found out and took a band of men from his household to go and rescue Lot and his family. The LORD helped Abraham to succeed in battle against the Northern kings. Not only was he able to bring back Lot and his family, but the victory produced a great deal of wealth. When Melchizedeck heard the news, he met Abraham and spoke a blessing from the Lord on Abraham and his family (Genesis 14).

That is the extent of what we know about this King of Salem. He is mentioned briefly by David in Psalm 110 and then the writer to the Hebrews picks up on that a few times in this letter to the Hebrews. Jesus is the Son of the Creator which makes him King of heaven and earth. In both places, the Psalms and the Hebrews, the point is that Melchizedek is a picture of the true Messiah. “In the order of Melchizedeck refers to the special way that Jesus is our priestly servant. Remember that Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, from which the priests came. He was from the tribe of Judah which was the royal blood line of King David. Jesus was not only a priest, he was also a king, in the same way that Melchizedeck, who blessed Abraham’s family, was both and priest and a king.

Jesus lives to serve you by his perfectly royal sacrifice. “And once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and he was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedeck.” The Levite priests had to offer sacrifices for sin over and over again. Jesus was perfect. He was from royal blood. He was from divine origins. His sacrifice was perfect and therefore powerful.

Not all the blood of beasts on Israel’s altars slain

Could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain.

But Christ the heav’nly Lamb takes all our sins away,

A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they. (CW 128: 1,2)

We were slaves to sin and born enemies of God. No better than the generations of Israel, we could not have offered to God anything but our condemning guilt. There was never any sacrifice we could have made to wash away our guilt before God Most High. Like the priests of Levi who had to offer sacrifices over and over, we could never wash the stains of sins away.

Jesus, the Son of God traded places with us. He became our servant so that we would have the full rights of sons, the children of God. The prince of heaven gave his life for us the paupers of hell. It was not a simple plan. He carried out his service with loud cries and tears. He faced the wrath of God for each sin that you have ever committed. He suffered every blow. He experienced every ounce of pain. He endured the mockery and shame. He did it all for you. Jesus lived, and died, and lives again to serve as your Great High Priest. Listen to his loud cries from Golgotha: “It is finished!” Our Priest, our King, our Servant has become the source of eternal salvation.

What is our response? Our willing obedience, our faithfulness to his word, our selfless sacrifices, our shouts of prayers and petitions; they are now offered up in faith. Our acts of kindness, our resistance to temptation, our gifts and abilities to his spiritual kingdom; they are cheerfully given as children who appreciate the One who humbled himself to be our Servant. Go in peace to serve Jesus today and always, knowing that he lives to serve you, with his willing obedience and prayers, and by his one time, perfectly royal sacrifice for sin. He truly is our Melchizedek, our priestly king of righteousness, “the source of our eternal salvation Amen.

When God Says: "Trust Me"

Numbers 21: 4-9 (Lent 4, 2012)
“When God Says: ‘Trust Me’ ”
           God is always best at seeing the Big Picture. We are often fixed on a smaller piece of the puzzle. Mostly we are focused on “right now.” When “right now” is not so great from our perspective we tend to complain and sink into our poor me complexes. The Big Picture for Israel was that God had preserved generations of his people from the call of Abraham to the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. There were many rough stretches in that historical road. But the Lord knew his plans of continued blessings. Even in the rough stretches of their history, God was proving his love for his people. When they rebelled against him, he loved them dearly enough to call them to repentance through suffering. When they turned to him for help and forgiveness, he was gracious. He was consistently willing to comply with his grace.
           In our lesson today, the Israelites were on a leg of their path to the Promised Land. Granted, to get there they would go through wastelands. They would face warring enemies. They would face the natural conflicts of life among sinners who were prone to disobedience against God. God had simply asked each generation to trust him. “Trust me!” God says. He knows what he is doing. He knows how he will direct our lives for our good. When he tells us to trust him: he means for us to obey him; and he means to prove his grace to us.
He Means for Us to Obey
          God had placed many laws before Israel. Many of them had to do with preserving them as the unique nation of the Saving Lord. Many of them helped to instruct them regarding the Savior Messiah he had promised to Adam and Eve. Many of them were designed to teach them that he knew what was best for them; that he loved be their God at the center of their trust. Even in the wilderness he provided a traveling worship space as a daily reminder that he was to be the center of their attention and trust. He wanted them to obey those laws so that they would benefit from the things which they taught.
          When Israel began to see the small picture – desolate wilderness, boring food, no Promised Land in clear sight – they dishonored God by speaking out against him. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no food and no water! And we detest this miserable food.” This was not obedience. This was not trust and worship. This was rebellion. This was disobedience. This was sinfulness. This was not the first time. They had grumble in their impatience several times before. They bickered to Moses about food and water in the past. They rejected God, forsook the tabernacle and turned to idolatry of gold. How quickly they repeatedly fell from trust to disobedience!
           Lack of trust is at the heart of our disobedience. The first command to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things” is foundational to our obedience of all of God’s laws. When we fail to trust in God we disobey him. When God is not at center focus other things replace him: self worthiness, the finer things in life, financial security, pride and prestige. When we do not like the small picture we easily develop the same attitude: “I detest the way things are, I blame the God who made them this way; I chose to live in disobedience to that God. I chose to find happiness my way!”
           God answered: with deadly serpents. These venomous snakes were killing people. The Israelites realized their guilt and asked for help. God knows how to turn us around. When we replace trust in him for trust in something else, he will likely take away that idol. He tests us where we most need testing. Israel complained about the sustenance of their lives. God responded by taking away their lives entirely. Have you noticed how God often rips out from under you the very things to which you have turned in place of him?
           But, oh, how he loves us even and especially then! Even then, he desires to be our God. Even then, he desires our spiritual and physical wellbeing. Even then, he desires our obedience and trust. Even then, he desires to heal and forgive us through his grace for the sake of his Son Jesus. Even then, he is showing how resilient he is to our sinful condition and our pathetic rebellions. Even then, he calls us to see the Big Picture together with him. Even then, he loves to help us see, not only the blessings he will bring about through difficulty, but also to appreciate the blessings that we had the whole while we failed to notice them.
He Means to Prove His Grace
           Did you notice the prayer request the Israelites made? They asked for the snakes to go away. In their limited understanding that seemed like the best solution. “Snakes are killing us. We have sinned. Please take away the snakes.” Did you notice how the LORD responded to their request? He did not take the snakes away. He had a better idea. He had a better way of helping these people learn how to trust fully in Him. His solution was another call to obedience. His solution was another invitation to trust in his grace. God made Moses make a bronze snake and place it on a pole. Anyone who trusted God’s promise by looking up to the bronze snake would be healed.
           This is a great Bible Story to illustrate an important truth about the cross. You recall the familiar request of Paul: three times he asked the Lord to remove a personal difficulty from his life. Paul confessed that he realized the Lord had put that difficulty in his life for good reason. The Lord did not want Paul to think too highly of himself, but rather to rely completely on God for his grace as he preached the gospel to the world. Jesus said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul learned to rejoice in the difficulties of the cross because they were specific reminders of God’s power and grace to sustain us in life.
           Some crosses that we bear are meant to remain as blessings from our God. In a society that seems to driven to solve every problem and find human solutions to divinely given struggles, God reminds us that not every problem is solved by making it go away. God chose to answer the repentant request of Israel, not by taking away the snakes and venom, but by providing a way for them to trust in God’s grace for help in the face of adversity. The Lord does both: he supplies adversities which will keep us focused on our need for him and he supplies his grace in times of need.
           Thankfully we have a beautiful commentary on this lesson from Jesus himself in our Gospel lesson (John 3). As he spoke with Nicodemus in the night Jesus clearly defined God’s plan for salvation. He spoke of the need and blessings of baptism and faith in Christ. He spoke those familiar words in verse 16 about God loving the world so much that he gave his Son. In that lesson he explains: “just as Moses lifted up the snake in the dessert, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3:15).
           Once again Israel was taught a valuable lesson in trusting the Lord. He even tangibly gave them a prefigured vision of Calvary. He pictured for them the plan of the rescue, not from Egypt’s slavery, but from their slavery to disobedience against their God. He refocused them on the Land of the Promise, and in doing so prepared them for the eternal Jerusalem he had prepared for them. Once again he restored the truth of the faithful few.
           So also he points us to his Son, who was lifted up another pole, where he crushed the serpent’s head and destroyed our disobedience in his crucifixion. He points us to the Big Picture which reminds us of his eternal purposes for our lives in this world. These lives will end and new one the Promised Land of Heave will for all eternity.
           When God says “Trust Me” he means it. In doing so he means for us to obey that command and all others. In doing so he proves his grace. He develops in his people, in you, a trust that sings with the hymn writer:
What God ordains is always good;
His will is just and holy.
As he directs my life for me
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed In every need
Knows well he will shield me;
To him then I will yield me. (CW 429: 1) Amen.

Shed No Tears for Jesus

Luke 23: 26 - 31 (See His Cross Series #4)

“Shed No Tears for Jesus”

When my youngest brother and I were very young, I recall my brother horsing around in the living room. His carelessness tipped over one of my mother’s plants and spilled top soil over a large portion of the living room carpet. My Father scolded my brother. My brother felt awful and begin to cry. I felt bad for my brother and began to comfort him with words of sympathy -- to which my father responded: “Don’t feel sorry for him! He is being punished!”

Jesus redirected the tears of sympathy that were falling on the cheeks of the mourners who followed the procession to Golgotha. “Do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Daughters of Jerusalem --”

  • They saw him as a kind helper, healing and mending, giving and sharing.
  • They saw him as a powerful teacher, a master of honesty and heavenly wisdom.
  • They saw his just wrath, but only against the very people they despised anyway. He was their hero!
  • Many cared about him and cared what happened to him. His cruel punishment seemed tragic to them.

Daughters of Jerusalem --”

  • How many came to his defenses when the teachers of the law approached him with their threats and trapping questions?
  • How many of them stormed Caiaphas’ house to cry “foul” at his unjust kangaroo court against Jesus?
  • How many attempted to scream the name “Jesus while the unruly mob around them shouted for Pilate to “Release Barabbas?
  • How many ran in to put a stop to the ruthless scourging Jesus took from those brutal soldiers?
  • How many refrained from the blood-thirsty cries: “Crucify him! Crucify Him?”
  • Even now, as they shed their tears, only Simon from Cyrene, wishing to be a face in the crowd, took the physical weight of the cross, but only because he was forced to do so.
  • Did they really have a right to feel sympathy for Him now? Did they really think they could ease His suffering now?

Jesus did not need their sympathy. Jesus did not want their sympathy. Jesus did not want his suffering buffered by their pity. He wanted to carry the load of our guilt completely on his own back. He needed to suffer the full measure of God’s wrath in our place, and theirs. Only the perfect Lamb of God could carry that load. He needed to bear this weight alone. He wanted them to understand their own responsibility and see the need for tears of repentance. They could not help him. We could not help him.

What about us? Dare we pass that cross unheeding breathing no repentant vow? Do we somehow wish we could have lightened his load by feeling sorry for him? Do we wish we could make his pain a little less bitter by crying out with Peter’s devilish rebuke: “Never Lord this shall never happen to you!?” What natural emotions go through our minds on Good Friday when we face the remembrance of that awful day? Are we not, like the daughters of Jerusalem, tempted to feel sorry for him -- in a pathetic attempt to forget that we caused the whole thing by our dreadful sins against his Father? True! Caiaphas, Pilate, and many others, did many unjust things in the carrying out of God’s will. But we must never forget the truth: “˜Tis I who should be smitten; my doom should here be written!

We could not help him ... and yet we try. We try and help him when we attempt to atone for our own evil by making up for it with tireless efforts at martyrdom. Look how busy we are for you, Lord. Look how tired we are for you, Lord. Look how much we do, say, give, offer -- in your name -- in many cases not as a “thank you’s” but as a masked attempt to say, “Lord, ignore the dreadful deed I did last Tuesday, or the foot-in-mouth disease I can’t seem to shake, or the jealous thought I had this morning.

Our efforts to weep for Him rather than ourselves are sometimes so familiar that we do not even recognize them as self righteousness:

Lord, heavenly Father, let me help you with your promise to provide by squirreling a padded nest egg aside just in case you have trouble supplying my needs.

Lord, Holy Spirit, let me assist you by making your Word a little less offensive to unbelievers, in case you lose a few souls to the realities of the true Word of the Cross.

Lord Jesus, let me help you rescue you me from my guilt by pointing out to you how much midnight oil I have been burning for you! That should help ease your load of staring at the rotten things I have done.

Lord, let me help you forgive me by reminding you how at least I am not as bad other sinners.

Jesus answers, “Don’t weep for me; weep for yourselves.” You cannot shed tears that will help me save you. He willingly stays on the path to Golgotha. He bears up under his cross. He carries all of our guilt. He bears the wrath of his Father for our sins. He does expect us to lighten the load with misplaced sympathy. He wants us to know and to see that sin must be paid for this way. His innocent death canceled our debt with God. He rejected our sympathetic tears so that he could pay the full price for our sins. He rejected our self-righteous efforts so that his perfect righteousness would be placed before his Father’s throne. His perfect ransom made a complete rescue of our souls from guilt, eternal grief and the devil’s grip.

Jesus then explained that things will be getting worse for Israel and they won’t get better for their children. “If men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry.” In other words, if Israel was so bold as to reject Jesus during the generation of his appearing, it would stand to reason that many would reject him after he was no longer a part of this world. That particular generation of Israel had received centuries of prophecy and temple worship which pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. They had been taught that forgiveness comes through the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). Yet, they failed to realize that the perfect Lamb was now going to fulfill that prophecy before their very eyes. What would happen to the generations to follow? More rejection.

Jesus was pointing out the reality of God’s Judgment on unbelief. Women would wish they had never bore children because they could only be responsible for themselves on that Day. They would then realize that on Judgment Day we are all alone, responsible for no one but ourselves, not even our own children. Rejecting Israel, together with the unbelieving world, would sooner be buried under the Judean hillsides than to face God’s judgment without faith in Jesus as Savior.

We need not perceive Judgment with such dread. We know and we believe Jesus to be the prophesied Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Tonight we are reminded of his resolute drive to give up his life on our behalf. Tonight we are reminded of his willingness to bear this completely alone. Exempt from all compassion from anyone, including his own Father, Jesus bears our guilt completely. He refuses any tears we might shed for him. He is being punished. “He was pierced for our transgression; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53: 5).

My brother and I learned a basic lesson in godly sorrow the day the plant tipped over. As the Psalm writer put it: “No man can redeem the life of another, the ransom for a life is costly ...” (Psalm 49:7-8). Repentance is not feeling bad for Jesus or anyone else. Repentance is a godly weeping for the fact that we have sinned against God and needed our Savior to do something about it. His life was the costly ransom which was paid in full for us. That life was received with the full approval of our Heavenly Father. To prove it he brought Jesus back to life and seated him on the throne of heaven. The Psalm goes on to say “that he should live on forever and not see decay” (Psalm 49:9).

So when Judgment does come, we will not be searching for mountains to fall on us. We will not be hiding from our Savior. We will not be feeling sorry for Jesus. We will not be shedding tears. We will lift our eyes and know that our help is in the name of the Lord. Jesus, who asked for no mercy while facing the cruel punishment of a cross, has endless mercy for those who fear him. The One, who all our lives announced the grace and forgiveness of God, will bring us to our eternal home. There God will wipe away every tear from our eyes! Amen.

How Awesome Is the House of God

Genesis 28: 10-17 (Lent Two - March 4, 2012)

“How Awesome is the House of God!”

Jacob was running away for his life. He had tricked his brother and father out of the family birthright. His brother wanted to kill him. His father was ashamed. His mother, who had helped him scheme the whole thing, sent him away to her brother about 400 miles away. On the journey he stopped for a night of sleep. He certainly felt the loneliness of the night. He certainly thought about the hurt he caused his family. Long term, spiritual concepts would have been easily pushed aside from his thoughts.

The Lord appeared to Jacob in a dream that. There was a staircase on which angels were traveling back and forth between heaven and earth. During the vision God spoke to Jacob with words of comfort and promise. He identified himself as the LORD, the God of his father and grandfather. He spoke of the future. He repeated the list of time-tested promised he made to Abraham and Isaac.

When Jacob awoke he was awestruck. He realized that he had been in the presence of the Mighty God. He wasn’t in a temple or sanctuary. He wasn’t even in a familiar town. God is was present and revealed himself to Jacob. In fearful awe he renamed the place “House of God.” How awesome it is to know that God is with always with his people. So it is with us who are gathered in his name today. Here we are reminded that the LORD is with his people always. Here the LORD keeps the promises his makes to his people. Here the LORD reveals the way to our eternal home in heaven.

Where the LORD is With his People

Jacob had every reason to feel lonely. He was far away from family. He was not in the company of any human beings. He had a long journey ahead at the end of which were distant relatives he barely knew. Jacob was alone - but he was not alone. The LORD had always been with him. Even in these lonely circumstances, the LORD remained with him. When the time was right, the LORD appeared to Jacob to remind him of that very truth.

The Lord’s presence attends to our loneliness, too. Loneliness is a natural part of our sinful life. When we remain focused on the guilt of our past sins the only company that seems helpful is misery. Being ashamed of something we did - to hurt someone or take something important from someone - has a way of cutting us off from the people we would normally love have around us. We feel as though we have become a disappointment to them. In a sad irony we tend to avoid the very people who help us most. Many of those who stray from the fellowship of the Church do so because they are wrestling with some kind of guilt. They feel they don’t deserve to be in the House of God with him and his people.

That is not how the LORD wanted Jacob to feel. Nor is it the way he wants us to perceive things. He is like the Father of the prodigal son. He is the Savior who sat with sinners and tax collectors. Our God chooses to be our only company when no one else can or will. He may not descend on us in miraculous dreams and ladders, but he did descend to us through Bethlehem’s manger. He did take on our human likeness. He did bear our guilt upon himself and in the deepest loneliness of a cross was forsaken by his Father for our guilt. Because of that lonely afternoon on Golgotha our relationship with our LORD is renewed. Because he took all guilt away, we will never have to be alone. The LORD’s loving presence embraces us even in our darkest moments. Jesus promised on Maundy Thursday he and his father make their home in the hearts of his believers.

The LORD is with his people. Jacob was lying in the dark of night on a rock. The LORD was there too. Our Savior attends to our loneliness. He comes to us in Baptism. He comes to us in his Holy Supper. When we are gathered with fellow believers in his House he announces the forgiving message of the cross. He is with us through our personal devotional life. He is with our missionaries around the world. He is in prison cells. He is on college campuses. He is with troops of soldiers in dangerous places. He is in our schools. He is in waiting rooms and hospices. The House of God is where the Lord reveals himself through his Word. He is with his people and never slumbers on his watch over lives. He is also a God who keeps his promises.

Where the LORD Keeps his Promises

The promises of the LORD to Jacob were vitally important to the history of Israel and to the central truths of the Bible. Abraham had been promised countless descendants and a land of providence. He had been promised that these descendants would bring about the eternal blessing of God’s grace to all nations of the earth. The Redeeming Messiah was to be born from this family. Jacob was the third generation of those promises. The LORD wanted him to know that he had not forsaken those promises.

God makes and keeps a list of promises to us. Those promises flow out of the eternal purpose of Jacob’s family. We are a part of the nations that were blessed through his offspring. We are ones who benefit directly from the God who carried Jacob safely to his uncle’s house and back again to Beersheba. Check your catechisms and you will be reminded of the slew of blessings in each article of the creed.

He promises to keep you warm and fed, loved and sheltered. He keeps those promises. He promises to rescue you from harm and to send his angels concerning you. He keeps those promises. He promises to discipline you when you stray and to use difficult situations to bring about spiritual good for your life. That promise he keeps. He promised to offer his one and only Son to redeem you from sin and the power of the devil. That promise he kept. He promised to give life and immortality through his Son’s rising from the dead. That promise he has kept. He promises that his Word accomplishes his purpose, including the changing of hearts of those we seek to reach with the Gospel. He promises to prosper the work of his Church in every corner of the earth. He promised to not let his Word fade away from being proclaimed. He promises to be with you always even to the ends of the earth. Those promises he keeps. He promises that there is an eternal room of joy waiting just for you in his Father’s house. That promise he has kept for those who have gone ahead of us and will one day keep for us as well.

Where the LORD Shows the Way to Heaven

The Lord shows us the way that leads to heaven. The stairway in the Jacob’s dream reminds us of Christ. Jesus proclaimed in the upper room “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life “¦ no one comes to the Father except through me.” That is why this lesson fits so well with the Passion Story this Lenten season. Many people sadly imagine that there are all sorts of pathways to heaven. The fallen world attempts to recreate God and Eternal concepts to fit into godless lifestyles and selfish beliefs. There is a constant pull to the subtle but dangerous thought that the path to heaven is something I do or make on my own efforts of goodness.

God reminded Jacob and us that he is the one who comes to us. Jacob was awestruck with presence of God. He was reminded in a vivid way that the LORD provides the staircase to heaven. The only way is revealed by God in his saving truths. All those truths point to Christ. He is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins and the sins of the world. He is the Resurrection and the Life. He is the Staircase that leads his believers to our eternal Home in Heaven.

That is especial awe inspiring for us here. With the Psalmist we joyfully confess “I rejoiced with those who said to me “˜Let us go to the house of the LORD!’ “ He God tends to our loneliness and guilt. Here God renews and keeps his promises. Here God gathers us around each other and his Word and Sacraments. Here he moves us to worship and praise and proclamation of his marvelous deeds. How awesome is the House of God! Amen.

Christ Wins the War on Temptation

Mark 1: 12 - 15 (First Sunday in Lent)
"Christ Wins the War on Temptation"
The book of Revelation tells us "And there was a war in heaven. Michael and all his angels fought against the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him" (Revelation 12: 7 - 9).
You and I know that the devil did not give up there. He picked a fight with God by picking a fight with Adam and Eve. God did not give up either. He sent his Son as our champion. He sent his Son as our King to defend his kingdom of heaven. This first Sunday in Lent we are comforted to see his victory over the Devil in the wilderness. He fights, and wins, for us! He goes anointed with the Spirit's power. He goes with the sword of the Spirit in his hand.
1. Anointed with the Spirit's Power
Mark tells us that it was the "Spirit's command that sent him into the desert" (verse 12). In verses 9-10 he had recorded the Baptism of Jesus, at which the Spirit is also active. In the book of Acts Luke tells us about Peter's instruction class at the house of Cornelius. Peter was explaining that the good news was to be preached to all people. In that explanation he says, "You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached - how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him."
His first order of business, assigned by the Holy Spirit, was a forty day battle with the devil. Here is the picture: desert wasteland; wild animals; angels - likened to the ones that went ahead of Israel in the battles on their way to Canaan (Exodus 23: 20-33); the full-throated efforts of Satan - Matthew tells us about three temptation, all of which cut at the heart of Christ and what he came to do. As Paul reminds us: "Our struggle is not against flesh blood, but against the rulers . . . of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6: 12). Remember: the war began in heaven (Revelation 12:7).
The Holy Spirit anointed Christ with power upon his baptism. He was given the right and authority to battle Satan and defeat temptation. The almighty Son of God, attended by angels from Michael's Holy Army, commanded by the Holy Spirit, went into the fray. Our King, like a good king should, goes ahead of us into war.
We are not far behind. When the devil is too much of a coward to face Jesus, he attacks the ones Jesus loves. He gets into our head and hearts. He lies to us. He creates doubts in our minds. He makes promises that he does not intend to keep. He seeks to devour the flock of the shepherd he despises. And we fall for it. We either fall into sin, or fall into the dreadful pride that thinks we can take him on ourselves. We go into the fray unarmed and without Christ. The writer to the Hebrews tells us this "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God"s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4: 13).
The writer goes on to say: "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4: 14 - 16). Two chapters before he put it this way: "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2: 18). The power which the Spirit gave him to defeat temptation is the same power he gives to us in our Baptisms. Christ's victory in the war is our power for each battle against temptation.
2. With the Sword of the Spirit in his Hand
We know that Jesus faced the three temptations with one important weapon: the Word of God - the Sword of the Spirit. When tempted to fall into physical temptation, he said "It is written, 'Man does not live on bread alone but un every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4: 4). When faced with the temptation to twist the Word of God into false teachings, he said: "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test' " (Matthew 4:7) When faced with the temptation to commit idolatry against his Father by bowing to Satan, he said: "Away from me Satan! For it is written: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' "(Matthew 4:10).
There is good reason why Paul calls the Word of God the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6: 17). It is the one weapon that Christ needed to defeat temptation in his war on Satan. It is the one weapon we need to go into battle with Christ our King.
The same Word of God that he used to defeat the devil's power is the Word of God which he taught and shared in his ministry. Today in these few verses we have all three offices of Christ as work in one Christ. He is the Prophet, preaching and teaching his gospel to others. He is the Priest sacrificing his life for us, acting as our substitute and mediator. He is our King, going to battle for us, ruling our hearts, ruling the heavenly realms by his mighty power. In each case he holds a scepter - the Word of God - His Gospel.
It is the Word that forces Satan to the ground. It is the Word of God that calls us to repent and believe. It is the Word that is connected with the water in our Baptism. It is the Word that announces the good news of God. It is the Word that unites Christ' body and blood to bread and wine. It is the Word that changes hearts from unbelief to faith in Jesus. It is the Word that gives us peace that the world cannot give. It is the Word that is at the heart of our teaching and confessions of faith. It is the Word reaches out to the lost souls of an unbelieving world. It is the Word that is the back bone of every Christian song, hymn, prayer, or worship service. It is the Word that validates any method of education, method of outreach, purpose, plan, or goal of the Church.
Paul urges us to put it on, as we would put on armor for battle (Ephesians 6: 13). As Christ took up the Sword of the Spirit in the desert and on the hills of Galilee, we take up that same Sword. We use it to say "Away from me Satan!" We use it to speak a word of gladness to the lonely and guilty. "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" - including the struggle against the devil's schemes! (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Even though our battles continue daily, our King has won the war on temptation.
But for us fights the Valiant One who God himself elected.
You ask, "Who is this?" Jesus Christ it is, The Almighty Lord
And there's no other God; He holds the fields forever! (CW 200: 2)
With the power of the Holy Spirit and a Sword in his hand our King, our Savior, went into the fray. He defeated the Devil. He defeated temptation. He defeated sin. He defeated hell.
Though devils all the world should fill they shall not over power us.
He's by our side upon the plain with his good gifts and Spirit (CW 200:3)
The war was won in eternity already. The battles go on. Life under the cross of Christ is a spiritual struggle. But take heart. On the cross forgiveness is yours. Jesus preached "the good news of God." All is well. The devil lost and Christ our King has gained the victory - a victory he shares gladly with you, a victory we will fully celebrate where all battles will come to an end, and where peace and love will have no end. To Christ our King be the glory forever! Amen.

See His Cross! Put Your Sword Away!

See His Cross! Put Your Sword Away!

Text: John 18:4-11 Ash Wednesday/Midweek 1

They broke bread, they discussed the Scriptures. They prayed. Jesus led his close friends out to Gethsemane. He asks the mob: ”Who is it you want?”  We are invited to ask the same question. Why do you break your routine for Ash Wednesday today? Did you come here seeking something other than Jesus crucified? The church is many things, but at its center is the cross (1 Co 1:22-24). That cross is foolishness to some. It is offensive to others. It is God’s wisdom for our salvation. This first day of Lent sets that tone. We need to see the cross. Put all other notions away and Jesus helps us see the cross clearly.

I. Jesus clearly saw his path to the cross.

The group that came to arrest Jesus included a detachment of soldiers and some minor officials of the Pharisees and chief priests. Of course, Judas was there; he was their guide. Because Jesus had often come to the garden with his disciples, Judas expected Jesus and his disciples to be there. The men Judas led were not friendly. They were armed with weapons, torches, and lanterns. They were more like a disorderly gang as they came to arrest Jesus. It appears they came ready for anything. If there was to be a fight with the disciples over the arrest, they were ready. They had the strength of numbers to do what was necessary, and they had weapons to subdue those without weapons.

Their mission was to arrest Jesus. They came at night so Jesus and the disciples could not expect help from the crowds. That’s just as the Jewish leaders had planned it. If we had encountered such a group at night, we would have done everything to avoid them, perhaps even run away. But when they arrived, Jesus did not hide from them or run away. Jesus did the unexpected. He advanced to meet them. From the garden, he could have seen them coming. The mob would have come from Jerusalem, and the torches and lanterns would have been visible coming from the city in the night.

Jesus knew they were coming, and he knew what they wanted. He had told his disciples before these events took place. On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus had taken his disciples aside and said, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18, 19). There was no question that Jesus knew why he had come to earth. He saw his cross clearly and willingly embraced his mission.

So Jesus willingly submitted to the mob. But he wanted his disciples and us to know that he submitted to the arrest and was not a helpless victim of injustice. Jesus asked, “Who is it you want?€ When they responded, “Jesus of Nazareth,€ and Jesus announced, “I am he,€ they drew back and fell to the ground. Why? Jesus had the power to resist. Against his power, their torches and weapons were useless. He chose to go along with this gang of thugs to meet death on the cross.

We have come to this place in order to seek Jesus of Nazareth. We should understand the reason we have come into God’s house today. It is to see clearly the cross of Jesus. Without the cross of Jesus, we are without hope, forgiveness, and life. Sadly, our situation without the cross is as clear as the apostle Paul wrote: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God€ (Ro 3:23). And there is no one who can be excluded, “There is no one righteous, not even one (Ro 3:10). Even Isaiah, seven hundred years before the events in the garden, understood our natural situation, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa 53:6). We cannot find a way out of our situation.

We cannot forge a solution to avoid sin, death, and judgment. Our dedication, our zeal to do good, even a lifetime of service, are ineffectual. We needed someone to come and do what we could not do. We needed a substitute. We needed Jesus. We needed his death on a cross. Isaiah went on to write, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Paul also wrote that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Ro 3:24).

Jesus knew what he had to do. He came willingly for that moment in the garden and for the moments that followed. He came because neither you nor I could appease God and gain peace and forgiveness. His cross has achieved it for us. Jesus saw it clearly. Let us also see his cross and understand what it means. Without the cross we have no forgiveness and no hope.

Jesus had tried to tell his disciples the necessity of his cross, but they had been slow to grasp its importance. Perhaps they thought they did not need the cross. Perhaps they were more concerned with just being disciples of this great man. Whatever the reason, Peter and the others did not see the cross.

II. We need to see his cross clearly.

Peter stood there with the other disciples in the garden that night. He was confused about what was happening. Peter had been confused about Jesus’ mission before. When Jesus told his disciples about the cross and the coming ordeal in Jerusalem, Peter rebuked him. Peter said, “Never, Lord! . . . This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22). Peter wasn’t alone either. The disciples had resolved to come to Jerusalem with Jesus so that they might die with him (Jn 11:16). They did not understand. They did not see the importance of the cross.

Peter, of course, had boasted of his devotion to Jesus, claiming that he would rather die with Jesus than deny him. Then in the garden, faced with the reality of those armed with weapons and lighting their way with torches and lanterns, Peter wanted to defend Jesus. Remember that Jesus had spoken that evening about selling their cloaks for swords. He was moved to action in an attempt to prevent the arrest and crucifixion, which Jesus had told him and the others was coming.

Peter wanted to save Jesus. With sword in hand, he lashed out and struck one of the thugs sent to arrest Jesus. For Peter it was an act of courage against formidable odds. He had drawn blood for his Lord! The ear of Malchus proved Peter’s brave resolve to die with Jesus rather than deny him.

But Peter had it all wrong. Jesus commanded Peter not to resist, “Put away your sword!” Salvation would not come by brave human effort in the face of overwhelming odds. Peter could not save Jesus. He couldn’t even save himself. “Put away your sword!” made it as clear as it could be. Salvation would come only by the cross. Peter needed to see the Savior’s cross and understand its significance.

Jesus didn’t need force, one sword, a thousand swords, or any human effort to save humanity. He certainly didn’t need anything Peter might do. If he had he could have called on heaven and legions of angels. And he doesn’t need anything we might do either. It is his cross, and only his cross, that provides salvation. Peter could not achieve it even by his brave effort. Salvation does not come by any human effort, no matter how noble and brave.

We draw our own swords when we think that the church depends on us and our efforts. We see how the church is abused and battered in this world, and we want to improve its image. We want to strike a blow to save the church and the image of our Savior. Then instead of proclaiming the message of the cross, we’re tempted to proclaim another message we think will appeal to people and draw them in. Perhaps they will come if we just alter the message a little and give people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear. We lose our focus on the cross of Jesus. Sometimes we want to hide the crucified Jesus and proclaim a more friendly and upbeat message. But then we rob the church of its essential message.

Answer Jesus’ “Who is it you want?” Did you come here seeking something other than Jesus crucified? The image of a bloody Savior crucified is not attractive to the world or even to our own sinful nature. The message of Christ crucified is foolishness to some. It is offensive to others. But it is God’s wisdom to those who are saved. See his cross. Seek the blessings of that cross and put aside all your human effort. Put your sword away! See his cross! See at the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. See it as the central focus of the church. See it as your secure salvation for eternity”-- in Jesus Name. Amen.

The Lord Gives Grace for Each Day

“The LORD Gives Grace for Each Day”
           Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple was a pile of rubble. Dead bodies were strewn across the city. Babylon’s armies had come and gone. God’s long patience had come to an end. His warnings through the prophet Jeremiah had come true. Israel was carried off as slaves of King Nebuchadnezzar. Many of the golden treasures of the temple were either stolen or destroyed. The prophet – most people believe that it was Jeremiah himself who wrote these words – lamented: “Her foes have become her masters; her enemies are at ease. The Lord has brought grief because of her many sins. Her children have gone into exile, captive before the foe. All the splendor has departed from the Daughter of Zion. Her princes are like deer that find no pasture; in weakness they have fled before the pursuer” (Lam. 1: 5-6).
           Like a fresh young flower blooming underneath a forest fire – the verses of chapter three offer a glimpse of hope. Out from the deadly picture of Jerusalem’s destruction, the prophet speaks of God’s unending mercy. In the face of death and sadness, he speaks of hope and love. In spite of sin and slavery, he speaks of compassion and faithfulness. In the midst of fear and darkness, he speaks of salvation and mercy.
           “Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” The LORD gives us grace for each day. We confess that each day holds grief for the sinner. We also rejoice that each day the LORD’S saving grace is new.
Each Day Holds Grief for the Sinner
           Adam and Eve fell into sin. Because sin is a reality this world, it is no longer the perfect world God created it to be. It reflects the sins of sinful mankind. Life in this world is filled with grief and trouble. This world has its ups and its downs.
           Many of the troubles that the people of Israel experienced were the direct result of their own sinfulness. Idolatry led them away from God and his blessings. Unfaithfulness, poor attitudes toward worship and temple, adultery, greed, a readiness to be like the rest of the world – these were all sinful attitudes and actions that were tied up in a ungodly web that led to God’s wrath being poured out on the city of Jerusalem. But these sinful thoughts and actions also led to sickness, war, divorce, and many other forms of earthly grief. Sin does not ever come without its consequences.
           Like Israel, we too, are sinful people. Many of our struggles each day are brought upon ourselves; by our own sinful thoughts and actions. Who of us has not woken up in the morning with the physical and emotional results of sin? Guilty feelings, regret for the things we have done in our youth, or even the things we had done the day or night before. Sinful actions always come with earthly, and often painful, consequences. Each day of the sinner’s life holds grief and pain. Consider the hurt and pain that result from strings of lies and gossip. Consider the physical pain which results from over indulgences in worldly pleasures. Consider the emotional and spiritual strain that occurs in our own hearts when wrestling with secret sins.
           How true it is that God rightly brings us to repentance, humility, and quiet respect for God’s perfect justice and truth! And so the prophet speaks wisely when he says “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust – there may yet be hope.”
Each Day the LORD’s Saving Grace is New
And there is hope! “Because of the Lord’s great mercy we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness … The LORD is my portion; The LORD is good to those whose hop is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”
There are several colorful words in this lesson regarding God’s grace. Loving kindness, mercy, compassion, hope, faithfulness, and salvation are just a few of the many words that the prophet chimes out in these verses. He is giving light and hope to himself and his hearers. He is recalling, in the middle of death and destruction, that God has not changed. He calls the Lord his PORTION. This was a common Old Testament word, especially in the Psalms: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The basic root of the word means smoothness. In reference to land it can mean a specific amount of land, or even and inheritance. When building an altar the Old Testament believer usually tried to find a smooth piece of ground for worship.
The prophet had a bright ray of light in the darkness of destruction. Out of the ruins, God promises still rang true. Out of the rubble and lack of ceremony, God’s Word was still very much alive. God’s grace had not been snuffed out. “His compassions never fail; they are new every morning.”
History tells us that Francis Scott Key was detained on a ship outside of Baltimore in Chesapeake Bay during the night that forts on the mainland were shelled. It was that morning that he saw the flag still standing and rejoiced that out of the ashes and smoke, the symbol of freedom still flew.
The prophet who wrote Lamentations - most likely Jeremiah – looked out upon the deadly destruction of Jerusalem. God’s grace and mercy allowed him a silent moment of humble joy. The Bible reminds us that God’s “banner over me is love.” (Song of Solomon 2: 4). That banner of love that shines out of gloom and sadness is the cross of Christ. Like no other banner the sacrificial death of Christ unfurls God’s grace to the world. Out of the darkness of Good Friday God’s wrath against sin is satisfied once and for all. On the cross God gives grace for each day. On the cross God has forgiveness for each sin; joy in every sorrow; peace for every conflict; purpose for each moment of life; reason to rejoice in spite of trouble.
“For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will also show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.” God kept his remnant of believers safe in Babylon. He rescued the three men from the fires of Nebuchadnezzar. He kept Daniel safe from the mouths of lions. He brought Israel back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. He kept the blood line of his Son safe through every earthly conflict. He allowed his people to rebuild Jerusalem once again. He brought his Son into this world to redeem the world through him. He raised his Son from death so that we too, may have life and the certain hope of eternity in heaven.
Until then, he gives us grace for each day. He never slumbers. He is at our side with every waking moment. The Church is beacon of those mercies as it proclaims the gospel through preaching, teaching, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Though the days of this life is filled with grief for the sinner; for the believers His mercies never fail; they are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness and salvation! Amen.

The Imposition of Ashes and Ash Wednesday

The Imposition of Ashes and Ash Wednesday
For several years now it has been our practice to include the Imposition of Ashes as a part of our Ash Wednesday worship. If you are new to our congregation, or have been around for a life time, it is helpful to be clear about the Biblical and Historical background of such a practice. Please take a moment to peruse this brief explanation and feel free to ask any questions.Â
  • The application of ashes in the Bible reminded God’s people of their mortality because of our fall into sin. Consider Genesis 2: 4-8; Genesis 18: 27; Psalm 103: 14; Ecclesiastes 3:20; 12:7
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  • The application of ashes in the Bible were an ancient symbol for repentance. Consider Job 42: 6; Jeremiah 6: 26; Daniel 9: 3; Jonah 3: 6Â
  • Our Savior in his death and burial became lifeless dust for us. Consider Psalm 22: 15; Luke 23: 50-56; John 19: 40-4Â
  • The use of ashes can serve as a visual reminder of our need for Christ’s Death and Resurrection. Consider Matthew 11: 21; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 (esp. verse 47).
Ash Wednesday has Deep Historical Roots in the Christian Church
Tertullian - AD 160-215 was one of the earliest church fathers to introduce and write about the use of ashes on the first day of Lent. By then Lent was intended to be a 40 journey of quiet contemplation of the Passion History of our Lord. The Sundays during Lent remain a celebration of the Resurrected Christ, while the remaining day until Easter lead us to humbly bow in repentance and faith. This concept of a 40 day Lent began in Western Europe in the first and second century of Christianity. Worship leaders in Rome received it from others, introduced the shaping of the cross, and passed it on to many generations.
When the Reformation went into full swing, Martin Luther held to a main measuring stick for what to “keep” and what to “throw away.” That measuring stick was the doctrine of Justification by Faith in Christ Jesus. If the practices of his mother church in Rome reflected false teachings they were dismissed. If they were supportive of teaching Christ and Grace they were ultimately held as heritages of the Church’s past. Church historians are not clear how the practice fell from Lutheran practices. It simply faded out of Liturgy Texts and was buried much deeper under the age of Lutheran Pietism in America.
Using ashes and referring to their Biblical symbolism continues to be more prevalent in our Liturgical culture than we tend to remember. It has been, and still is, called ASH Wednesday for a reason. When Lutheran Pastors hold Committal services they still refer to the passages above which speak of “ashes to ashes … dust to dust” as an appropriate reminder of our immortality. The sign of the cross (upon the head and heart) also call us to remember our Baptisms through which we were made children of God. Many Lutheran congregations, even in our WELS church body, have relearned the beauty that is there with careful study and teaching. Instructions for this service are included the Occasional Services Book, a worship leaders’ manual connected Christian Worship: a Lutheran Hymnal.
According to ancient customs the ashes are achieved by burning dried palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday services. They are mixed with some olive oil and carefully applied to the forehead or hand in the shape of cross.
The Ash Wednesday Service
When we gather for Ash Wednesday, we will begin our 40 day journey to the cross and empty tomb. We will hear the first of six historical lessons that review the events of Holy Week and Jesus’ sufferings. The service will include the first of a series of 6 sermons based on sections from those reading. We will sing familiar hymns of the Lenten Season, pray familiar prayers and join in the fellowship of the history the Church.
At the close of that service those who are gathered will be invited, but not compelled to receive the ashes in the sign of the cross, upon their forehead or on the back of their hand. The pastor will repeat the words “Remember that you are dust; and to dust you will return.”
The worshippers will be invited to leave in quiet reflection: the Law reminding us of our sin and mortality; the Gospel reminding of our Savior’s death and resurrection for our salvation.
From the prophecy of the Psalms our Savior Jesus calls:
“My Strength is dried up like a potsherd and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22: 15)

Jesus Has Powerful Authority

Mark 1: 21-28 (Epiphany 4 - 2012)

“Jesus Has Powerful Authority”

Jesus eventually made Capernaum his hometown -- and the synagogue there a regular place to teach. Capernaum was a true refuge for him when he was not around the bustle of Jerusalem. The townspeople in this fishing village welcomed him into their homes and lives. It was a refuge for them, as well. Many were anxious for the Messiah; but many had grown weary of the atmosphere in Jerusalem. They longed for good teaching, from leaders who showed concern people. They longed for religious leaders who would tell the truth and care for those who learned it.

The leaders in Jerusalem had become a band of belly servers. Their authority was not carried out in the interest of the common folk. They burdened people with a self-imposed piety that had nothing to do with a Savior from sin. They imposed legalism, spiritual bullying and manipulation with outward appearance. The scrolls of the Old Testament were covered in the dust of human authority and work righteousness.

Then came Jesus. “Is this a new teaching -- and with authority?” Jesus not only knew the stories, but he explained their true meanings. He not only recited the Ten Commandments, he brought their meaning to hearts of people in real life applications. He not only knew the prophecies about the Messiah, he explained every one of them and lived them out perfectly before their very eyes. Jesus warned the Pharisees: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me (John 5: 39).

While he was in Galilee he explained the Scriptures to hearts who gladly learned their true wisdom. Town to town Jesus traveled, preaching in synagogues, on hillsides, from fishing boats, touching peoples’ hearts with a personal ministry. One village at a time, one person at a time he taught them live-saving wisdom. These folks had not seen this from the leaders in Jerusalem. This was new to them: someone who cared, and someone who knew what the Bible meant for them. Many of them loved it!

The Power to Teach Your Hearts True Wisdom

We love it, as well! We have come to know the Bible as the double-edged Sword, “which penetrates the thoughts and attitude of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). We are glad to know that the “Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes(Romans 1:16). Jesus holds the power to teach your hearts true wisdom. He is honest with us. His Word portrays to us a Savior who truly cares about us.

When Jesus explained the heart and core of the Law on the mountain side, he spoke to the heart. Look at the Sermon on the Mount and you will hear him touch hearts with the truth: blessed are you when men hate you because of me; let your light shine; murder begins with hatred in the heart; adultery begins with lust; lies are the result of promises we never meant to keep; love is not complete if it excludes our enemies from our prayers; trusting in God is shattered if we hoard his blessings as if they we ours too keep; trusting in God is shallow if we worry about tomorrow’s needs today. (Matthew 5-6)

The Words of Jesus hold authority to lead us to repent of sins, even the ones we only know and feel in our hearts (Confession). Many times pastors have received the complement on a sermon: “Pastor, do you have a camera in my house?” When a sermon is faithful to the Word, the Word shows its authority to reach hearts. We know that we are sinful to our core. The Word speaks to the heart. That is what Jesus did for these people. The people could recite the Commandments. Now they knew what they meant in their hearts.

Continue your search of Jesus’ ministry and you will see his good news lift those same hearts with the power of forgiveness. See in the synagogues and marketplaces, fields and hillsides, the Jesus who binds up the wounds of the broken hearted. See the One who raises a little girl from the dead. See the One who gives blind people their sight back. See the One who lifted cripple from his mats and sent him away with joy. Most importantly see the One who announced the forgiveness of sins to that same man. See the One who speaks acquittal to a prostitute, redemption to a tax collector, and peace to crowds of people burdened with guilt placed on them by belly serving teachers of Jerusalem. See the One who forgives sinners from his heart.

See in Jesus the one who laid his life down for you. See the One who holds the power over sin by placing it on his back and carry them all to the cross. See the One who holds the power of the Keys to heaven and announces his Father’s grace to you. See the One who declares you innocent before his Father in heaven. See the One who has the power to teach your hearts true wisdom. See the One who has the power to rid your hearts of the evil that lies there!

The Power to Rid Your Hearts of Evil

Jesus met a man in our story who was plagued by a demonic spirit. This spirit spoke through the man and acknowledged Jesus as being the Holy one of God. That should not surprise us. The devil and all his minions acknowledge the true God. The Devil knew in the wilderness that his true battle was with the Son of God. James reminds us that God is no secret to them: They believe that God exists and shutter at the fact! (James 2:19).

These demons were no different. They were afraid, yet daring enough to speak up. They knew they had met their match in Jesus: “have you come to destroy us? -- the Holy one of God Jesus demonstrated his power. With a few commanding words, the demon “came out of the man with a shriek.” The eyewitnesses confessed: “He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him!” Jesus has the authority to rid hearts of evil.

We are plagued by our demons too. We may not be possessed by evil spirits. But we are often consumed by impure thoughts and devilish desires. Call them pet sins, call them addictions, call them lapses of judgment, call them irrational mistakes, call them what you want; they are evil and they are real. You know what yours are and how often they plague you. You know the symptoms and warning signs. You understand the consequences of their actions. We have all allowed them to get comfortable places in our daily lives. As evil spirits had control of this man’s own voice, evil can very easily be in the driver’s seat of our emotions and actions. With Paul we confess “There is nothing good living in me; that is in my sinful nature (Romans 7: 18). You and I do not have the power to withstand such evil.

But Jesus does! With the Sword of the Word he defeats Satan in the wilderness. With a few words he commands evil to leave this man alone. “Be Quiet! And Come out of Him.” The demons are forced to shutter and obey. He commanded heaven and earth into being. He commands the wind and waves. With that same voice he holds the power over every evil force that would attack his people.

So it is with our demons. We ought to never deny their existence. But we certainly do not despair. The Word of Christ is mightier than any evil. The power of Jesus trumps the lies of the Evil One. The strength of forgiveness overshadows guilt. Jesus for you and in you holds real power over all your personal evils. “He who was tempted in every way, is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2: 18: 4:14).

Those devils all the world should fill all eager to devour us

We tremble not we fear no ill they shall not over power us

This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will

He can harm us none. He’s judged the deed is done; One little word can fell him! (CW 200:3) Amen.

Jesus' Name Means Salvation

Luke 2: 21

(The Name of Jesus - Jan. 1, 2011)

On the eighth day when it was time to circumcise him, he was given the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.”

“Jesus’ Name Means Salvation”

“What are you going to name him?” New parents poured over baby name books, searched into family history, and avoid negative connotations (I married a teacher and there were certain names we just could never have used). Eventually the new parents are certain of the answer to the question in the hospital: “What’s his name?” Mom is shedding tears of joy as she wipes the sweat of pain away. Proud Papa holds the little guy and says “His name is --” Mary and Joseph needed no such searching. They were instructed from the throne of heaven on what their baby should be called: “You will give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” [Matthew 1: 21; Luke 1:31]

“On the eighth day when it was time to circumcise him --” God does all things well. There is an order to his plan and it goes accordingly. The Laws of Israel had many requirements, but one purpose: point the people to Jesus! Circumcision on the eighth day was no exception. From the time that the Lord established circumcision for Abraham’s descendants it remained a physical reminder for God’s people. They were set apart for a special plan until a special child would be born and brought to that very Temple. It is fitting that the fulfillment of the plan completes every expectation to the fullest. (Later upon his own Baptism Jesus would remind John that it was necessary to fulfill ALL righteousness[Matthew 3:15]).

Jesus’ name means salvation. He will save his people from their sins. Thousands upon thousands of baby boys were circumcised from the time of Abraham to the time of Joseph. Only a few are mentioned to us and none of them have the significance the Boy in the Temple with Mary and Joseph that day. Generations of sinners had been brought to temple, were given a name, and sent on their way with one less piece of flesh; but they all returned to Mom and Dad just as sinful as the day they were born. Not one of those circumcisions earned a place in heaven or purchased any of God’s forgiveness.

Today we remember what we learned a week ago: this is God’s Son. This is the Word of God who became flesh. He was given the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.” That small phrase speaks volumes! It was not Joseph’s right to name the boy. God the Father named his earthen Son before he came. This is Immanuel - God with us. This is the Son begotten of the Father before all worlds began. This is the perfectly pure Messiah. He was born to save sinners. He was born under law to redeem those under law [Galatians 4:4]. He was born with human body to be given as the atoning sacrifice for sin. Eight days after his birth, the Son of God gives his first drop of blood! Jesus’ name means salvation!

His name means our salvation. As in the days of Israel’s prophecies, generations of children continue to be born. Together with them, we are born nameless, guilty recipients of Adam’s disobedience. As with all mankind we are born into this world with a deep-seated need - rescue from sin; rescue from death; rescue hell’s fierce powers! We know those enemies well. We battle their lingering attacks every moment of each day. We allow a sense of guilt to turn into our sense of namelessness. Satan loves to place us into pits of despair believing that are too sinful to have value before a righteous God. We certainly do not deserve anything from him but eternal destruction.

Instead, this is how our Father speaks to us. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the sons of God, and that is what we are! [1 John 3:1] God has placed his name upon us -- as certain as he had Aaron place the blessing of his Name on his people Israel [Numbers 6: 22-27 is the Old Testament lesson for today and reminds us of that special blessing we receive to this day!]. Recall the value of your Baptism day when God placed his Spirit into your hearts to call him Abba Father. Far more significant than our own names, is the label God gave us at the Font: Sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus[Galatians 3:26].

Paul reminded the Philippians of the importance of Christ’s humble entrance to earth in order to receive that Name, Jesus: “being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross [Philippians 2: 8]” It is that act of selfless love for us which moves Paul to concludeTherefore God -- gave him the name that is above every name -- that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow! [Philippians 2:9-10] “

As new parents welcome a new child, they wonder what this life will bring. They wonder what will become of their child. Again, Mary and Joseph had plenty of instruction the distinct purpose of their Son. That very day the Lord provided Simeon and Anna as voice pieces, not only to Mary and Joseph, but to the rest of the Lord. Simeon rejoiced to know that this was the glory of God to his people Israel and is the Light of Salvation to all nations of people. He specifically reminded Mary of the “sword that would pierce her soul[Luke 2:35] referring to the cruel death she would see him suffer.

We now begin our week to week review of the many events of Jesus. From Epiphany to Lent; from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, from the cross to grave, from the grave to the sky, the boy Jesus will live the life of God’ servant. He will grow to manhood with the focus of his Name in full view: Jesus’ Name means Salvation for you and me and for the world of sinners he came to rescue! He will carry that salvation out in his holy innocence. He will carry out the meaning of that name on Golgotha. He stands in glory now to receive rightful honor and glory above every name!

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear

It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, and drives away all fear

Dear name! The Rock on which I build, My shield and hiding place,

My never-failing treasury filled, With boundless stores of grace! (CW 358: 1, 3) Amen.