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Thomas the Twin

Eve of St. Thomas
December 20

John 11:1-16
John 14:1-16

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    If Advent is the pregnancy before the delivery at Christmas, then we’ve just about come full term.  In only a few days the celebration of our Lord’s birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary will take place.  In talking about our Lord’s nativity, it would be blasphemous, of course, for me to say that Jesus had a twin.  For Jesus alone is the holy Son of God who took on our flesh and blood to redeem us from sin and death.  There is none other like Jesus.  And yet, on this Eve of St. Thomas, I would suggest to you that there is a sense in which we can speak of our Lord having a twin.  The life of Thomas teaches us of that.

    Most of us know St. Thomas only as doubting Thomas.  He was the one who wouldn’t believe the other disciples when they told him that Jesus was raised from the dead.  He said the only way he would believe was if he touched the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his hand to Jesus’ side where the spear had pierced Him.  He just wasn’t going to be hurt further after he had seen his Lord dead by believing what he thought was some desperate tale about a resurrection.

    And so we usually think of Thomas only as a skeptic and a doubter.  But the fact of the matter is that he could also show great loyalty and devotion.  We heard an example of that in today’s first reading.  Word had just come to Jesus that one His friends, Lazarus, was deathly ill in Bethany.  In the course of events Jesus told His disciples that they were going to Bethany to see Lazarus.

    But the disciples balked at this idea.  For Bethany was in Judea, and it was only a short time before that the religious leaders in Judea had tried to stone Jesus and kill him.  Jesus had made the claim to them not only that He existed before Abraham but that He Himself was the Lord God, the great I AM.  The Jews took this to be blasphemy and desired to stone Him.  But He hid Himself from them and eluded them.  Therefore, to go back to Judea would be to risk life and limb, both for Jesus and His disciples.

    But after their discussion, Thomas said these words, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”  Despite the risk, Thomas was willing to go with Jesus.  Even in the face of death, Thomas did not want to depart from Jesus’ side.  Though Thomas, like the rest of the disciples, would not be so bold later on, His courage and faithfulness here is to be praised.

    The name Thomas literally means “twin.”  In fact sometimes he was called “Didymus” which is the Greek word for “twin.”  This is a good name for him to have.  For it is a fitting description of all who would be disciples of Jesus.  Remember, Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”  This is precisely what Jesus calls us to do, to be like Him and to have twin lives that look just like His, dying with Him in order that we may live with Him.  Jesus said, “If any one would come after Me, He must deny himself and take up His cross and follow Me.”  To be a Christian is to be Christ’s twin, to be crucified with Him, which means to drown the old Adam with all sins and evil lusts, to repent.  It is to lay down your life for others in your daily callings and to be willing to suffer.

    However, you are also given to be Christ’s twin not only in His death but also in His resurrection.  For through your baptism into His body and your faith in His name, you now share in His risen identity.  You are little Christ’s before the throne of heaven, brothers and sisters of Christ bearing His very image before the Father.  You are as pure and holy as Jesus Himself by His grace.  Sharing His identity and image, you also share in His life.  Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though He dies.  And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”  Jesus is the firstborn twin who leads the way for you second born twins out of the womb of death into new and everlasting life.

    This is the way about which Thomas asked in the second reading.  Jesus said,  “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father, except through Me.”  Jesus has prepared a place for you in the Father’s house by His cross and empty tomb.  And Jesus alone is the doorway into that house.  Participating in His cross and empty tomb by faith, counting yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, you are given entry to your heavenly home.  

    Thomas would certainly participate in Jesus’ cross.  According to tradition Thomas went on a missionary journey to preach the Gospel in India.  There is to this day a Christian community in India that claims descent from Christians first converted by the preaching of Thomas.  

    The tradition states that Thomas suffered a martyr’s death, and that he was speared to death for what he preached.  What a wonderful irony that is!  For even as Thomas wouldn’t believe until he had touched the spear mark in Jesus’ side, so it was a spear that Thomas would take in His own body for the name of Jesus.  Because of His faith in Christ the very symbol that is now identified with Thomas is a spear.  He truly was Christ’s twin.  He shared in Christ’s death, and He will also share in Christ’s resurrection, even as He now dwells according to his soul with Christ His Savior in heaven.

    So it is also for you.  Like Thomas, you have been marked as Christ’s twin.  You have received the sign of the holy cross both on your forehead and on your heart to mark you as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified.  Wearing the sign of His death, you shall also wear the crown of life which He has won for you.

    This is the sure hope that Christmas brings to you.  God has come in the flesh for you.  And as Thomas would later see and believe, God is raised in the flesh for you. Our Lord became just like you, so that you might become just like Him.  Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have believed.  

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

St. Lucia Points Us to Christ

Revelation 7:9-17                                                    
Matthew 19:23-30

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    St. Lucia was born in Sicily in the year 283 A.D. to rich parents, members of the nobility.  However, her father died when she was still very small, and so she and her mother Eutychia were left alone.  Eutychia taught and raised her in the faith, and Lucia was a very devout and pious young woman.  In fact even though they still had much wealth, she desired to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor.  Her mother, though, did not permit her to do this.  

    But then something occurred that changed her mother’s mind.  Eutychia had been suffering for several years from a hemorrhage, a chronic flow of blood.  Lucia prayed for her mother’s healing.  Evidently, her prayer was answered.  Her mother was restored to health; the hemorrhage stopped.  In response to this wonderful gift of healing from God, Eutychia allowed Lucia to have her wish and to distribute the vast majority of her share of the family wealth to the poor.null

    There was just one problem.  Lucia had been betrothed to a deceitful young man who was not a Christian.  He loved Lucia’s riches more than her.  When she gave away her wealth, he was furious.  His greediness moved him to get revenge.  He went to the governor of Sicily and  exposed the fact to him that Lucia was a Christian.  This was during the year 303 when Christianity was still illegal and Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the church was taking place.  All that someone had to do was denounce a person publicly to the authorities, and that person would be arrested.  If they didn’t deny or recant their faith by cursing Christ and offering incense to Caesar, then they could be killed.

    Lucia did not recant or deny her faith in Christ even under this threat.  As a result she was tortured, her eyes were put out, and she was executed, perhaps having been burned at the stake.  Her martyr’s death immediately made her famous in Sicily, and the story of her life and death, with some embellishments, lives on to this day.  

    Particularly in Sweden, Lucia is remembered on December 13th by having one of the daughters of the house dress in a white robe with a crown of lighted candles and go singing from room to room early in the morning while it is still dark to awaken the other family members and to offer them cakes of saffron bread.  There are several reasons for this tradition.  First of all, Lucia is said to have once brought bread to needy people who were living in a cave.  This gift also reminds us of Lucia’s faith that Jesus is the Bread of Life.

    The other aspects of this tradition are also important.  The white robe is a reminder of the holiness of the saints who have died in Christ, and indeed of all those buried with Christ in baptism.  It is written of Christians in the book of Revelation, “These are they who come out of the great tribulation and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” Jesus Christ.  St. Lucia’s holiness arose not from her own goodness or her virginity but from the cleansing forgiveness of Christ.  

    The crown of candles is also significant for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it indicates that even when Lucia no longer had her eyes, she still had the light of Christ to walk by.  She could yet “see” by faith, far better than any of her persecutors could ever see.  Though physically blind, she had better vision than any unbeliever.  For she was enlightened with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as we say in the catechism.  Furthermore, the fact that these candles are worn as a crown is a reminder of the crown of glory that all believers shall inherit through Christ in heaven.  Though her life in this world ended in darkness and death, her eternal existence is one of light and life, even as it is for all the faithful.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.”  

    Jesus entered our world of darkness by literally becoming one of us.  He was born at midnight in the cold that He might warm us with the light of His presence.  It is fitting that Jesus’ birth is celebrated on December 25th when the days are just beginning to grow lighter again. For He is the Light who wins out over the powers of darkness.  Though Jesus suffered on the cross under a dark shroud as the sacrifice for our sin, on the third day He came forth from the gloom of death in resurrection light.  He is the Sun of righteousness who has risen with healing in His wings, as we heard this past Sunday, and through faith in Him, Romans 8 says, we too are conquerors, victors over death and the devil.  

    St. Lucia bore witness to that fact in her life and in her death.  In fact the word “martyr” literally means “witness.”  In giving away much of her goods and wealth to help the poor, she bore witness to the love of Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich.  She bore witness to a belief in God as the Creator who can and will provide for all of our daily needs.  And in death she bore witness to God as the Recreator, who is more powerful than death.  She testified that she loved the Lord and His salvation even more than life itself in this world.  Like Abraham, she was looking for a better country, a heavenly one.  She knew that the only way to have life in the world to come is to lay down your life in the world that is.

    So it is also for you, especially in this Advent tide as you set your hearts on the coming of the Lord.  You may not be called to be a martyr, but you are given to testify to Christ in word and deed and to take up your cross and follow Him.  Jesus said, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Baptized into Christ, you are given to live the pattern of His life–humility before glory, death before resurrection, crucifying your old Adam that Christ may be pre-eminent and that His life may show forth in and through you.  

    This life of repentance and faith is not easy.  It is truly a narrow road on which you are called to run.  But along this road, Hebrews says, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses–Abraham and Joseph and Moses, Gideon and David and Samuel, prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs like Lucia.  And above all, you are upheld by Him who laid this path and ran it for you, Jesus.  Consider Him, Hebrews says, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Your road will end up where Christ’s ended up, for you are in Him.  What is now only a candle in the darkness will soon be the dawning of the everlasting Day of resurrection at Jesus’ return.  Let that joy set before you give you endurance in the faith.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

St. Nicholas Points Us to Christ

St. Nicholas Day
December 6, 2017
1 John 4:7-14
Luke 18:15-17

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    One of the complaints that Christians often voice at this time of year is that Christmas has become too commercialized and too secularized.  It’s actually become a big deal just for a public official or business to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy holidays.”  Far too many people observe the holy day of the Christ mass without any acknowledgment of the Christ at all.  Everything’s about parties and presents and family time without any meditation on the main focus of Christmas, namely, the incarnation of our Lord, His taking on of our flesh to save us.  Santa Claus gets more attention than Jesus.

    Perhaps, however, this problem can begin to be corrected by understanding where the legend of Santa Claus comes from and the actual historical basis of who he is.  Most of us have heard of Santa Claus referred to as St. Nick or St. Nicholas.  And in fact that’s where the name comes from–Santa is the word for Saint and Claus is a shortened form in Dutch of the word Nicholas.  Santa Claus, St. Nicholas.

     Now Santa Claus has become the stuff of fairy tales and has been influenced in many ways by pagan notions.  (And I think we devote way too much effort trying to convince the children that the fairy tale is real.)  But St. Nicholas was an actual person who lived in the early 300's A.D.  Since December 6th is the day on which Nicholas is recognized in the church, we will focus a bit on his life this evening and meditate on what it has to teach us about Christ and Christmas.null

    Nicholas was born into a wealthy family in Asia Minor, what is now Turkey.  Having become a Christian, Nicholas chose not to pursue a life of riches but instead devoted himself to the church.  He eventually became bishop of a city called Myra.  Myra was a decadent and corrupt city, and Nicholas became well known for transforming it by his pious hard work and preaching of the Word of Christ.  

    St. Nicholas was also known for his love for those in need, such as poor widows and orphaned children.  As bishop he saw to it that the church worked to care for the needy.  Perhaps his giving of gifts, especially to impoverished children, is part of what formed the Santa Claus tradition.

    And there is one story in particular about Nicholas that stands out above the rest and is the most famous.  There was a very poor man in the city of Myra who had three daughters.  This man did not have any money to provide his daughters with suitable dowries necessary for them to get married.  Without being able to marry, it was likely that their aging father would not be able to keep them from being sold into slavery or prostitution.  Nicholas was deeply troubled about this, and he decided to help.  But he chose to do so in a way that wouldn’t draw attention to himself.  Evidently taking from his own resources, Nicholas prepared three bags of gold.  On three successive nights St. Nicholas went to this man’s house and threw a bag of gold into one of the open windows–one bag of gold each night for each of the three daughters, sufficient to provide each of them with the necessary dowry.  Later on when this story was told in colder regions, Nicholas was portrayed dropping the bags of gold down the chimney.  Still to this day three golden bags or golden spheres are the sign of a pawnbroker, in remembrance of how Nicholas bought these three daughters out of hock, you might say, redeeming and rescuing them from the fate that awaited them.

    There are many more accounts of Nicholas helping others, too.  For instance, once there were three men who were falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to death.  But Nicholas stepped in and spoke in their defense and was able to secure their release and give them their lives back.  

    It’s interesting that in all the stories of St. Nicholas that I’ve seen, the number three keeps popping up–three daughters without dowries, three falsely accused men, three sailors whom he rescued from drowning.  And this is fitting.  For Nicholas was one who was a defender of the Trinitarian faith, someone who proclaimed belief in the one and only true God who is threefold, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

    In fact, it is almost certain that St. Nicholas was one of the bishops present at the Council of Nicea which defended and confirmed the teaching that Jesus is both true God and true man.  It is from this council in 325 A.D. that we get the Nicene Creed which we confess here each week.  A certain false preacher named Arius was teaching that Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father, that the Son of God was a created being, god-like but not true God.  The Council of Nicea roundly rejected that heresy and reaffirmed the Scriptural position that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human in one undivided person, true God from all eternity.  In fact, there is a story that at the Nicene Council Nicholas became so upset with Arius’s heresy that he slapped him in the face.  The main way to get on the naughty list with St. Nicholas, it seems, is to believe or proclaim false teaching.

    This is how we should remember St. Nicholas, as a defender of the Christian faith, faith in Christ the Son of God as the only Savior from sin and death and the devil.  Nicholas preached Jesus, baptized people into Jesus’ body, absolved people of their sins in Jesus’ name, fed them with the life-giving body and blood of Jesus.  That’s the real St. Nicholas.  He wasn’t a Santa Claus taking attention away from Jesus.  He was a preacher drawing everyone’s attention to Jesus.  He wasn’t one making a list and checking it twice to see who was naughty and who was nice.  For he knew that his people were both sinners and saints at the same time and that all desperately needed Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.  

    By God’s grace the love of Christ was shown forth both in St. Nicholas’ preaching and also in his life.  We give attention to the generous deeds of Nicholas because that ultimately draws our attention to the infinitely generous love that he himself first received from God.  It was that love of God that was working through Nicholas in his life.  

    After all, just consider his deeds.  Nicholas sacrifices and gives of his own resources to save the three daughters.  Is that not what Jesus did for us?  He sacrificed and gave Himself for us to rescue us from being eternally violated by death and the devil.  He redeemed us not with bags of gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  So it is that we are now worthy and prepared to be His holy bride.

    Likewise, Nicholas stood in to defend those facing death, risking his own name and reputation.  Is that not what Jesus did and still does for us?  He stood between us and eternal death on the cross and thereby kept us from having to suffer that most capital of all punishments.  Furthermore, the Scriptures say that even now Jesus is standing before the Father as our advocate, speaking in our defense, responding to every charge laid against us with the merits of His own blood and righteousness.  Through Him we are set free to be people of God.

    The same love of Christ that was at work in St. Nicholas is at work also in you.  For in your baptism you were crucified with Christ; and you no longer live, but Christ lives in you and through you.  The Lord is working in you so that His boundless love which has been shown to you might spill over to others, in the giving of yourself, in the giving of gifts–not so that you can feel good about yourself or draw attention to yourself, but giving that is anonymous and entirely for the good of others, like a bag of gold through an open window at night.  That’s why I think it is a fine tradition for someone who gives an anonymous gift to say that it’s from Santa Claus, St. Nicholas.  For such a gift is given in a spirit that reflects the love of Christ as Nicholas did, and ultimately it seeks to give glory not to ourselves but to God who is the true Giver of every good and perfect gift.  

    Indeed every present that we give is a sign of that Greatest Gift of all, the Christ child in the manger–given to us almost anonymously, noticed only by shepherds on that night, recognized and received only by few throughout His life.  But hidden within the wrapping of His lowly humanity dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily full of grace and mercy.  Jesus is Love in the flesh for you.  There is no greater present than that.  That is the ultimate gift St. Nicholas sought to give.

    So is there such a person as Santa Claus?  Of course there is.  If you don’t believe in the existence of St. Nicholas, you might as well not believe in the existence of Mary or Joseph or the shepherds or the wise men.  Sure you’re not going to find him sliding down your chimney.  But he is with us whenever we gather for divine service.  For in Christ’s presence dwell angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, all the saints and believers who have gone before us.  Thank God that St. Nicholas lives.  He lives forever because, just like you, he was baptized and believed in Jesus, who was born, and died, and rose for us all.  

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

Together With the Bridegroom

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Matthew 25:1-13
Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 27)

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Why do you want to go to heaven?  Seriously.  You might say, “Well, obviously, I don’t want to go to hell, so heaven is clearly the better option.”  But what is it about heaven that makes you want to go there and to be there?  Far too many aren’t really sure about how to answer that.  There is this notion that it will be good and happy.  So that’s nice.  On the other hand, there’s also this notion that it may not be as exciting as some of the things we enjoy on this earth.  “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now.”  Or as another song sings, “In heaven there is no beer,” so you better have your fun now while you’re still here.  Even if songs like that are meant to be lighthearted and a little bit tongue-in-cheek, they do provide a helpful way to do a little spiritual self-diagnosis.  Whatever it is that makes you want to put off heaven or especially the second coming of Jesus, whatever it is that you think you’d enjoy more or that would make you want to tell God to wait a little bit–that’s an idol in your heart and a false god in your life.

    But still, what’s going to make heaven so great?  Actually, the Bible never really talks about “going to heaven” as the primary goal of the Christian.  To be sure, God’s Word clearly teaches that the souls of those who die in the faith go to be with the Lord.  But there is still much more that God has prepared and planned.  The truth of Scripture is expressed in the Creed, when we say that we look for the “resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.”  Our real hope is tangible, fleshly, and focused on the Last Day.  On that final day, we won’t be going to heaven, heaven will be coming to us.  With the return of Christ, heaven and earth will be rejoined and all creation will be made new through Him.  What we set our hearts on is bodily resurrection.

    It is as the Old Testament reading said, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth  . . .  No more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. . .  The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”  Notice there that eternity is described in physical terms, a new creation.  It will be a world where no family is ever gathered around a coffin again, a world where even in the animal kingdom there will be no more blood-red teeth or claws.  God’s plan for this creation will not be delayed forever.  It will become what He intended it to be in the beginning: a world without fear, without sin, without death. null

    But is even that really our ultimate goal, simply to have a pleasant place to exist for eternity?  No, this is what truly makes the life of the world to come so good–and this is what we often forget–that there we will be in communion with God Himself, living forever in the overflow of His lovingkindness.   It is written in Revelation, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men. . .  God Himself will be with them and be their God.”  Why do we want to have our share in the resurrection of the body to eternal life?  To be with Jesus, that’s why.  Being together with Him, sharing in the life of our Redeemer makes all the difference.  Only through Him is anything truly good and right.  Just beholding the glory of God face to face will far surpass any earthly experience.  In Him is perfect peace and contentment and gladness.  If your idea of heaven isn’t centered in life with Christ, if it’s primarily about a place that fulfills all your own personal pleasures and dreams, you’re missing the point.  What makes eternal life to be real life is the presence of your Creator and Savior and Lord.

      So it’s no wonder, then, that the final prayer in the Bible and the constant prayer of the church is “Come, Lord Jesus!”  That is our faith’s greatest desire, to be with Him, in an even greater way than we desire to be with loved ones for the holidays that we haven’t seen for a long time.  When the sorrows and the fears of this world press hard against us, and we don’t know if we can hold up much longer, we pray: “Come, Lord Jesus!” When change and decay in all around we see, and it seems as if the very foundations are being shaken, we pray: “Come, Lord Jesus!” When we feel the devastating effects of our own sinful flesh, we pray: “Come, Lord Jesus!  Come quickly to deliver us!”  Or as the Psalmist prayed, “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Psalm 84:2)

    By faith we long for that Day, but we know that it will not be a day of joy for everyone. There are those who are unprepared for it, who really don’t welcome it.  Many would see Jesus’ return as an unwelcome disturbance of their plans, who love this world and don’t want to let go of it.  For them that Day will come like a thief in the night bringing sudden destruction, and there will be no escape. To meet that day without faith in the Savior and love for being with Him is to meet it as the Day of Doom.

    What makes the wise virgins truly wise in this parable is that nothing was more important to them than being with the Bridegroom.  Everything else was secondary.  It was all about Him.  For the foolish, being with the Bridegroom was just another thing to squeeze in with the other priorities of life, if possible.  And so the wise were well prepared, while the foolish were unprepared.

    Having faith in the Savior and wanting to be with Him is the main point of today’s Gospel parable.  Those who were wise staked everything on Him.  The lamp’s flame represents faith.  The lamp itself is the Word of God, as Psalm 119 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet.”  The oil in the lamp is the Holy Spirit who works through the Word and the Sacraments to create faith in Christ and keep the flame of faith burning brightly.  Because the foolish virgins gave little attention to the Word of God and the Sacraments, their flames went out.  And they ended up being shut of the wedding feast, shut out of life in the new creation forever, even hearing the Lord say those awful words, “I do not know you.”  That’s a description of hell right there–hearing Jesus say that He doesn’t know you and that you can’t be with Him; all that’s left is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    The five foolish ones did not endure in the faith to the end. They thought the bare minimum was enough; but tragically, it wasn’t.  It didn’t have to be that way.  For God eagerly and gladly supplies everything necessary–oil in abundance, free of charge, no strings attached, all paid for and provided by Christ.  After all, there is not one soul for whom God’s Son did not shed His blood.  There is not one human life whose sins were not atoned for on Golgotha’s wood.  There is not one human being whose death wasn’t destroyed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  All of you are forgiven and redeemed entirely for the sake of Christ.  

    Your heavenly Father longs to be with you.  Much more than our desire for God is His desire for us.  That’s really the whole point of being at church, isn’t it?–to be with God and He with you, concretely, tangibly, in the flesh.  He delights in you through Jesus and wants you to be with Him.  Christ shares in your humanity so that you may share in His divine glory.  By His external, preached Word, God keeps you in the faith, lamps burning brightly all the way through to the end.

    To the foolish it may seem unnecessary and even silly to have so much oil, but in other matters this is exactly how the world would expect you to behave.  When taking an SAT test, you bring extra pencils just in case.  When going on a big cruise or a trip, you make sure that you arrive at the airport early.  Young brides-to-be will spend countless hours shopping for dresses, trying on make-up, consulting with their hairstylist, deciding on menus and flowers preparing for a wedding.  Doesn’t it make perfect sense then to be even better prepared for the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom?  
    
    The extra oil of the wise is a reminder that faith never thinks in the way of having the bare minimum, any more than you would want to spend the least amount of time possible with someone you love.  Why wouldn’t you want to receive communion every week?  Being with Christ in divine service and being with Christ in eternity go together, and the cause of joy is the same in both cases–His presence, His mercy.  This is what makes the wise so single-minded:  You know that the One who is coming is the true, heavenly Groom who is perfect love in the flesh, the One who “gave Himself up for His beloved church, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water and the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, . . . holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26-27).   

    We eagerly watch for the Last Day, for when St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he told them that God did not destine them for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we might live with Him.  That holds true for you too who believe and are baptized.  You are not destined for wrath, but for life with Christ.  The Introit proclaims, “The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads . . . and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”  And Christ declares in the Old Testament reading, “I will joy in My people.”  That’s heaven, the Lord rejoicing in you.  Anyone who thinks that’s going to be boring, or that something else might be more important or exciting simply doesn’t have a clue.  The Lord’s passion and desire for you is that you may live with Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

    “Behold the Bridegroom is coming; go out to meet Him!”  Go out with the brightly burning lamps of faith in the present darkness of this world.  Be filled by the Holy Spirit with Jesus’ words and body and blood.  Possess these life-giving gifts in abundance from the Lord.  And as you go out to meet Jesus here in divine service week by week, then it will be no surprise at all but a most natural and joyous thing when you go out to meet Him on the Last Day.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

The Kingdom Prepared For You

Matthew 25:31-46
Second Last Sunday in the Church Year (Trinity 26)

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Why should you do good works?  There are two very simple reasons: God has commanded them, and your neighbor is served by them.  You shouldn’t do good works, though, as if God needed your service.  He’s perfectly fine and complete without anything that you do.  In fact, any good that you have the ability to do came from Him in the first place, right?  What a foolish thing it is, then, to try to shove your good works into His face thinking that you can earn your way into heaven, as if He somehow owes you for what you’ve done.  The Lord doesn’t owe anyone anything.  

    God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.  All you have to do is look around for two seconds to see that this world is full of need that is to be met with works of love–and not just charity, but the ordinary, day to day fulfilling of your callings.  Today’s Gospel reading shows us where our good works are to be directed–not up to God as if to earn a merit badge, but down and out toward your neighbor, even toward “the least of these My brethren.”

    All that is needed for heaven is faith–the empty hands of faith that receive the works of Jesus for you and that cling to Him and His cross alone.  But then, with hands filled with the mercy and goodness of Christ, all that is needed for the neighbor is love which passes along Christ’s mercy and serves the neighbor in need.  And those two things are connected and go together.  Faith in Christ gives birth to deeds of love.null

    Though faith is unseen, and love often goes unnoticed, all will be revealed for what it is on the Last Day.  When Jesus comes in glory with all His angels, He will judge both the living and the dead.  And His judgment will reveal who are the sheep and who are the goats, who are the believers and who are the unbelievers.  What is now hidden will be uncovered.  That’s actually what the word “apocalypse” means, the uncovering.  The private will be made public.  Everyone, on the Last Day, will be revealed for who they are: either a sheep of Jesus’ flock or a goat.  Everyone will be seen for how they stand in God’s sight, the faithful or the faithless.  And it will be a day no one can avoid.  “All nations” will be gathered.  Everyone.  No one left out.    

    Your life as a baptized believer prior to the Last Day is hidden before the world.  Colossians 3 says, “You died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  That passage also describes the end, too:  “When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  And Romans 8 says that “the entire creation groans and eagerly waits for the sons of God to be revealed.”  So that’s a good way to think about what’s going to happen on the Last Day–it will be a revelation, the curtains and the covers will be pulled back; everyone and everything will be seen for what it is.

    In some ways we’re already getting a taste of the ugly side of that with all the recent media-fed scandals involving politicians and celebrities and actors.  It seems no one is as good they would like to appear.  And we have to admit that if everything were reported about our lives, if every thought, word, and deed were made known before all, we would not look so good ourselves.  The old Adam in a Harvey Weinstein or a Kevin Spacey or a Roy Moore or an Al Franken is fundamentally the same that inhabits each one of us, and gives birth to our particular sins.  The only difference is that their old Adam was more fully unleashed by power and fame and wealth.  Our only hope of being able to stand unashamed on the Last Day, then, is if our sinful nature has already been dealt with before then.  And it has!  That’s what the cross is all about.  That’s what your baptism is all about.  It is written in Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life . . . For we know that our old self [the old Adam] was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”  We have been crucified with Christ by water and the Word; our sin has been answered for and done away with.  And so there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom.8:1).

    That’s the first thing that will be revealed and uncovered on the Last Day.  Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats.  Sheep on His right.  Goats on His left.   To the sheep:  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.”   To the goats:  “Depart from me, you who are cursed.”   To the sheep:  “Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”  To the goats:  “Depart … into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

    Notice that the separation of the sheep from the goats comes before any talk of their works. The sheep are not at the Lord’s right hand because of the works they have done, but because of who and what they are in Christ by His grace.  All this had been prepared long before their works, from the very foundation of the world, it says.  Salvation is by God’s election and doing, not ours, as Ephesians 1 says, “(The Father) chose us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.”

    On the Last Day, once the sheep and goats are divided up, then their works will be judged and evaluated by the Lord.  And the works of the sheep give evidence of the fact that they are indeed the blessed children of God through faith in Jesus.  The Last Day judgment simply makes that fact plain.  Works are counted as good before the Lord only when they flow from faith in Jesus.  No work is good in God’s sight without faith in Jesus, for it is written, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6).  And it is also written, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).  You see, not only does Jesus’ blood cleanse us, it cleanses our works, too, and makes them holy.  Such good works provide evidence of our faith in Jesus.

    And yet even that will not be fully revealed until the Last Day. This is a very important point.  Even this evidence of our faith, the evidence of good works, is something that finally only Jesus the Judge can see right now as we live before Judgment Day.  So, while we live before the Last Day, we should not look to ourselves and our good works as proof that we are sheep.  It is a dangerous thing to look to yourself for the assurance that you are saved.  After all, unbelievers do humanly good works and acts of charity, too.  It’s faith in Jesus that makes all the difference.  Always, remember, the life of the believer is hidden and creation eagerly awaits the revelation of who God’s people are!

    So, in the meantime, Christians live in this world side by side with unbelievers.  And most of the time you can’t tell a huge difference, especially if you only look at what they do in the world.  There is no “Christian” way to deliver the mail, fix a flat tire, or plow a field.  You would hope Christians would be more ethical and hard-working and loving; but pagans can be ethical and hard-working and loving, too–though the ultimate motivation for that will be different.  The difference is internal, and it is the difference between faith in Jesus or unbelief in Jesus.  On the Last Day, Jesus, who judges the heart, will reveal the faith or the unbelief.   And the only works that will be judged good before Jesus are the ones that flow from faith in Him.

    Faith in Jesus is a divine work in us.  It transforms us and gives us a new birth brought about by the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel.  Faith in Jesus slays the old Adam and gives us the life of Christ, making us new people in heart, spirit, and mind.  Such faith by its very nature is active in good works.  Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done.  Before the question is even asked, faith is already doing them.  Jesus, the Word made flesh who dwells within us through faith, shows love to the neighbor in word and deed.  

    In fact, good works come so naturally to faith that the Christian most often does them without even recognizing them.  Notice that the sheep are surprised to find out that the food and drink they served to the hungry and thirsty was actually a meal served to the King of kings and Lord of lords.  That the sick neighbor they helped was actually Jesus Himself hidden in that neighbor.  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers you did it to me.”  Plus, they likely forgot all the instances where they did these things in the first place.  It's just what they did.

    Good works are done best when we become forgetful of having done them. Our works become a problem when we want to drag them with us into heaven, when we’ve got the score sheets and the tabulations, as if they are a bargaining chip to use in a salvation poker game.  No, the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus is all that is needed for heaven.  All our good works are to be left down here, for our neighbor in need.  In our neighbor who is sick or hungry or in prison, we learn to see Jesus, who fasted for us, who was arrested and afflicted and stripped of his clothing for us to fully redeem us.  The eyes of our faith are always and fully on Christ the crucified, whose works alone save us.  Living in that faith, we see Jesus also in our neighbor and show our love for Him by loving them.

    On the Last Day our faith will give way to sight.  We will see Jesus as He is, the crucified and risen Savior of the world.  To Him every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the everlasting joy of the sheep, to the everlasting shame of the goats.  On the Last Day, it will be revealed who you are.  But, of course, you don’t have to wait until the Last Day to know.  After all, the Son of Man and Judge of all, Jesus comes here every Sunday in the divine service as His Word is proclaimed.  And He speaks His Word to you, saying, “All your sin is forgiven!  I put my Name on you in your Baptism!  You are my sheep.  Have no fear little flock.  I am your Good Shepherd.  I laid down my life for you.  I was raised from the dead.  And I live and reign to give you life and peace and joy forever.

    Jesus and His cross is always the dividing line between the sheep and the goats.  The same Jesus who was crucified between a believing sheep and an unbelieving goat on Good Friday feeds you with His own body and blood at the foot of the cross, setting you apart here from the unbelieving world.  He joins Himself to you so that you will live eternally with Him in His kingdom, the one prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  And even the good works you do were prepared for you by the Lord.  For Ephesians 2 says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Do you see?  It’s all God’s grace; it’s all what He has done for you and given to you in His Son Jesus.

    Every divine service is a little judgment day where Jesus judges you to be forgiven.  Every week He is here with all His holy angels as we gather around His altar to receive His gifts of grace.  On the Last Day you surely will hear Him declare:  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to the Rev. Brent Kuhlman for some of the above)

Death, Our Enemy and Our Salvation

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Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 5:1-12

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Death is our enemy.  The Scriptures make that very clear.  In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul writes that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  As I have often preached to you before, God did not create us to die.  It’s our fall into sin that brought the curse of death.  The new agers like to talk about how death can be a beautiful thing, just another step in the journey of life.  But those who talk that way are ignorant.  Death is ugly; death is painful; death is a destruction of the body and the life God created.  

    However, Jesus has brought a new reality to our death.  Though it remains the enemy, now that Jesus has embraced our death by His cross, there is something good about it as well.  A church father named Ambrose once said, “We should have a daily familiarity with death, a daily desire for death.” What he meant was not that we should be morbid or suicidal—that we should look for ways to die, or be careless with our health, or simply give up on life.  What Ambrose meant is like the words of St. Paul in Philippians, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

    What that means is that we should not be so tied to the things of this life, to living in the here and now, that we think death is the worst thing that could happen to us.  Instead, we should always remember that in Christ death is a deliverance for us—a deliverance from the ravages of sin, a deliverance from being run by our passions, a deliverance from all sorrow, grief, and heartache.  What’s good about death is that our sinful nature will be finally and forever gone from us, and so also will all of the effects of sin’s curse as we await the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day.

    This is what the cross of Jesus has done for us–by it He has turned our enemy, death, against itself into something that works good for us in the end.  For in Him, death is now the doorway to life.  So let us be careful to get this right.  Death is not just an escape from the harsh realities of this world.  Much more it is an escape to the comfort of life in God’s presence.  You often hear at funerals people say how the deceased “is in a better place.”  And that’s fine–though I’m not a fan of cliches like that, since most non-Christians could agree with that statement.  I’d rather say something like  the deceased is with a better Person, with the Redeemer Jesus.  He’s the One who makes heaven what it is. A heaven without Jesus at the center is just a fairy tale.  That’s how St. Paul could speak of being hard pressed between wanting to live and wanting to die, for his desire was to depart and be with Christ, which is far benulltter.

    Today’s reading from Revelation gives us a beautiful picture of what we are escaping to, in contrast to where we are now.  It is written that those who have died trusting in the Lord will live with the Lord.  He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.  They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not scorch them; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  No more sorrow or crying or pain.  

    That is what we must learn to long for and set our hearts on.  And that vision should govern how we live.  When it does, then our eyes will not be captivated by what we desire that really doesn’t last that long.  And our minds will not controlled by how much or how little we have.  And our hearts will not be lusting after whatever feeds our appetites.  Instead, when we live with the vision of Revelation, with the mindset of Paul, then we will live for others and for the things of the world to come.  And then we will live fearing nothing, except losing life with God and the kingdom of heaven.

    God saves us from death through the death of Jesus.  His death is so good, so strong, so effective that it converts and transforms our death to be like His.  We are baptized into Christ’s death, and so we are also baptized into His life and resurrection.  Death no longer gets the last word, because we are in Him who conquered death and the grave.  So even though death still causes us to mourn–for it is still the enemy that tears away our loved ones from us–yet we do not mourn as those who have no hope.  We also rejoice at the death of those who are in Christ.  We celebrate their victory.  We look forward in hope to their resurrection.  Those who worship Jesus are not gone forever.  They have just gone before us.  So death is no longer something to be avoided at all costs, for the Son of God Himself did not think of it as being beneath His dignity; nor did He seek to escape it.  Like our Lord, then, we also can embrace it when it comes.  For He is the One who brings good out of evil, joy out of pain, life out of death.

    The saints know this.  And by the way, when I refer to saints, I am referring to all Christians.  A saint simply means “a holy one,” one who has been forgiven and made holy in Christ.  Saints are not only those who have died who are with the Lord, but also us who are still alive, who believe in the Lord.  All Saints Day refers to the saints in heaven and the saints on earth, all Christians Day.

    However, usually when we talk about the saints, we do mean those who have died, and especially those whose lives were illustrations of God’s grace and who gave us an example of faith to follow.  In particular there are two kinds of heroes of the faith whom we usually refer to as saints. The first are those who were put to death because of what they believed and taught, because they clung to their Lord more than to this life.  These we call “martyrs,” a word which literally means “witnesses.”  The second group are those who were not put to death, but who still suffered ridicule or persecution for righteousness’ sake.  These we call “confessors” because they confessed the faith. Like the martyrs, the confessors also suffered much for the Faith. The martyrs gave testimony by how they died, and what they died for; while the confessors gave testimony by how they lived and what they lived for. The martyrs witnessed to the Faith with their blood; the confessors witnessed to the Faith with the purity and steadfastness of their confession. And so, because of their blood, the martyrs are commemorated with the color red; and because of their pure confession and steadfastness, the confessors are commemorated with the color white, as we have on the altar today.

    Yet the colors red and white are both the same in the end, aren’t they.  For what does it say of the saints in Revelation? “These are the ones who washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  Do you see the colors? Red makes everything white.  Robes are made white because they’ve been washed in red blood.  But not just any red blood. It must be the red blood of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed to take away the sin of the world; the same Lamb of God who will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.

    That is what the martyrs and confessors and indeed all Christians have in common—the red blood of the Lamb which makes them, which makes you white and pure, cleansed from all sin, before God our Father.  So it is this blood of Christ, poured over you in Holy Baptism and poured into you in the Lord’s Supper; it is this blood, which was shed and poured out for the salvation of all men, and even the whole creation; it is this blood that binds all saints together in the one true faith, and which gives us courage to follow in the train of those who have gone before us.  The red blood clothes us in white, as it is written in Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.”  The Lamb’s wool, his robe of righteousness, covers us.

    That is how we are blessed, according to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel.  We are blessed because we are wrapped up in Him who is the fulfillment of all of these beatitudes.  For wasn’t Jesus poor in spirit—by giving His riches to take on the poverty of our sin and death? Didn’t He mourn—especially when He wept over His people who turned away from Him?  Isn’t He the meekest of all men, and did He not continually hunger and thirst after true righteousness?  Isn’t He the very definition of mercifulness and purity in heart? Is He not the peacemaker, who reconciles God and man in Himself? And finally, of all men who ever lived, wasn’t He the most persecuted and reviled for the sake of righteousness?
    
    To be blessed, then, is to live in Christ by faith, to have your life look like Christ’s–to be poor and humble in spirit, to mourn the sad state of this world, to be merciful even to those who don’t deserve it, to be persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, and ultimately to die.  Even death is a blessing now in Christ.  For through Him, yours is the kingdom of heaven.  

    And that kingdom of heaven is here for you now in the blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  For Christ is here with you and for you with His true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  And so by partaking of the supper, you are with Him.  And that is heaven on earth.  Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven are joined with us.

    So, fellow saints of God, let us endure in the faith in this time of tribulation.  For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.  Let us embrace death in Christ, that we may also embrace His life forever.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(Much of the above was adapted from a sermon by John Fenton.)

Not a Political Messiah

Trinity 18

Matthew 22:34-46

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    One of the sad realities of life in America these days is that everything has become political.  There aren’t many areas of life left where you aren’t pressured to take up sides with this cause or that group.  Relationships with co-workers or friends or family are full of land mines if certain topics or current events come up, and you’ve got to be very careful about what you say.  Entertainers seem to be focused less on entertaining and instead are obsessed with political mocking and virtue signaling. The military and the boy scouts have become the battlegrounds where debates about gender and sexuality are fought.  Even in the once fairly politics-free realm of sports, political causes have become the focus, and everyone feels compelled to take up sides.  Everything we do now is seen through the political lens of privilege or race or gender or class.  Everyone is categorized in terms of the tribe they belong to and their identity group.  In an era where objective truth has largely been abandoned, all that’s left is power.  Have you ever noticed how often that term is used, how people feel they need to be “empowered?”  Power is the realm of politics and control and one group defeating another.

    But this is not the way of Jesus, and we’re reminded of that in the Gospel reading from Matthew 22.  Jesus is not one who was after political power.  He was not merely trying to win a victory for some group or some cause, and so He can’t really be categorized politically.  Was He a conservative or a libertarian or a progressive or a moderate?  The answer is, “None of the above.”  And just when one group or another thought that He was their man, Jesus would say something to prove that He wasn’t.null

    So for instance, just before today’s Gospel Jesus said something that the conservative Pharisees didn’t like.  They had asked him about whether or not they should be paying taxes to the foreign occupiers, the Roman government.  And Jesus famously said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”  Jesus sounded a little bit pro-establishment.

    So then the establishment Sadducees came to Him, perhaps perceiving that they had an opening.  The Sadducees were more like the liberal theologians of our day.  They accepted the books of Moses, but they didn’t believe in the existence of angels or life after death or the resurrection of the body.  And so they presented a hypothetical case about a woman who had had seven different husbands during her lifetime because each of the first six had died prematurely.  They asked Jesus, “In the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be?”  I’m sure they thought they had Him cornered into their position.  But Jesus answered them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.  For in the resurrection they do not marry, but are like the angels of God in heaven.”  The Sadducees falsely assumed that the resurrection would be a restoration of things merely to how they are now in this fallen world.  But at the close of this age, all things will be brought to their completion and fulfillment in Christ in the new creation.  Believers will dwell in the glorious presence of God, just like the angels do.  We will not be married, for the Church will live forever in the perfect love of her heavenly Groom.  And Jesus gave decisive evidence for His case of resurrected life after death by quoting from the books of Moses.  500 years after the days of Abraham God had told Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive with God, their bodies awaiting the day of the resurrection.  So Jesus was no friend of these establishment leaders, either.  He wouldn’t have been a delegate at any of these groups' political conventions.

    Like the people in His day, we too naturally want to label Jesus and fit Him into our categories so that we can handle Him and manage Him.  But Jesus defies our attempts to do that, whether it’s a political categorizing, or whether it’s any other attempt to make His Word fit our agendas and support our ideologies. For as soon as we try to do that, we are making ourselves to be Lord and Master, and Jesus becomes merely the means to achieve our goals.  And that’s not how it works.  Jesus remains the Lord, and His Word is sent to accomplish His purposes, not ours.

    “Teacher,” the Pharisees asked, “which is the great commandment in the law?”  It was a question intended to categorize Jesus and to bring the Scriptures down to the mere level of talking points rather than the Spirit-filled words of God that they are.  It is written that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword.  The Law cuts; it is always meant to lead us to repentance and to Christ for mercy and deliverance.

    Our Lord’s wisdom would not play the Pharisees’ game or submit to their litmus test.  So instead of choosing a single commandment, He summarized them all.  Love is the fulfillment of the law.  So Jesus answers in two parts.  First, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  That’s not something you can reduce down to a few do’s and don’ts.  For that Law commands you to love God with every fiber of your being, all that you are, with nothing held back from Him.  He wants the entire devotion of your heart.  Even more than your family or your country or the flag or any group you belong to, He wants all of your allegiance to be with Him.

    And in case someone thinks that loving God means leaving ordinary life and your fellow man, He goes on, “And the second (great commandment) is like (the first): ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  These two go hand in hand.  The love of God and the love of the neighbor are inseparable.  For God seeks to be loved in your neighbor.  The Lord Jesus–who took up our nature and truly shares in our humanity–He is present therefore in all those around us, particularly those in need, to receive our acts of kindness and self-giving.  As the proverb says, “He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord.”  That’s why Jesus says that the commands are alike: Because God is served both in love for Him and in love for the neighbor.

    And this is where the living voice of the Law nails us.  It exposes our lovelessness.  It lays bare how we sometimes use the Law lawlessly to justify ourselves and promote our own causes.  It brings nothing but judgment and death.  It calls you all to repent and to turn to Christ.

    For Jesus then gets us back on the track that leads to salvation and life.  The Pharisees had asked a manipulative Law question, but now Jesus asks a freeing Gospel question, not one that focuses on us, but one that focuses on who He is.  Jesus gets us away from religious philosophy and political debates between this or that group, and instead He leads us to meditate on the personhood of the Messiah Redeemer.  Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah?  Whose Son is He?”  They said to Him, “The Son of David.”  And that was correct.  God had promised King David in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be one of His descendants.

    Jesus then asks them this question, “How then does David in the Spirit call the Messiah ‘Lord’ in one of the Psalms?”  You see, under ordinary circumstances in Jewish culture it would be the son who refers to the father as lord or master, not the other way around.  And yet here David, the father and the great ancestor of the Christ, refers to his descendant as Lord.  Jesus asks them, “Why is that?”  Just as the Pharisees had tried to trap Jesus into a debate with a Law question, Jesus here tries to “trap” them into thinking about the truth of the Gospel with this question, to get them to see the saving reality of who He is.

    The Jews had been conceiving of the Messiah as being a combination of a great prophet and a powerful political leader, but always in the end only a man.  But Jesus here leads us to see that while He is truly human, He is more than just a man.  David calls Him lord and master because Jesus, his literal descendant, is also truly and fully God.  The Son of David is the everlasting Son of God.

    Here, then, is where the good news is for us.  Jesus, thankfully, does not come in a way that fits into our political or social categories or according to the expectations of whatever groups we align ourselves with.  He isn’t a liberal or a conservative or a moderate.  His ways are infinitely higher and better than all such categories.  He comes not in the way of fallen man but in the way of His perfect humanity.  Jesus is the only man in whom God’s love is perfectly embodied.  Jesus kept the Law perfectly, and He did so for us and in our place.  He loved His heavenly Father with all His heart, with all His soul, and with all His mind, devoting Himself entirely to doing His Father’s will.  And Jesus loved His neighbor as Himself.  He gave Himself completely to those around Him, healing them, helping them, teaching them saving truth.  In the end He gave His life away, laying it down for us on the cross.  There is no greater love than that a man lay down His life for His friends; and you are His friends whom He died for.  Through that perfect act of love and self-giving, Jesus won for you the full forgiveness of your sins.  

    Jesus said that on these two commandments of love hang all the Law and the prophets.  Jesus, who is love in the flesh, hangs on the cross for you to fulfill the Law of love perfectly.  Baptized into Him, the Law’s condemnation is taken away from you, as Romans 8 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  You are free, released, forgiven, right with God in Christ.  His self-sacrifice has rescued you from judgment and has brought you everlasting life.  For Jesus has made your enemies to be His enemies–sin and death and the devil–and by rising from the grave He has made them His footstool.  The grave is conquered; sin is taken away; Satan’s head is crushed.  All of this that you now know by faith you will see with your own eyes at Jesus’ return–when He who is at God’s right hand is revealed in all His glory, and all things that are under His feet will be put under your feet with Him.  

    So remember that our Lord Jesus works not in the way of power politics but in the way of sacrificial self-giving.  He doesn’t tell people what they want to hear in order to gain a larger following than the other side has and more power for Himself.  He tells us the truth of our sin and the truth of His blood-bought forgiveness, so that He might draw us to Himself, that we might be His own special, chosen, and beloved people and live with Him in His kingdom.  He’s not in the business of labeling people based on some worldly identity of race or sex or privilege or economic status.  Rather, He gives us all our true and eternal identity as the baptized, as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified.  That's our real group, the Church.  Those are our people, baptized believers, whoever they are.  For it is written in Revelation of those in heaven that they are from every tribe and nation and people and language.  We all are given to stand before the throne of God saying, “Worthy is Christ the Lamb who was slain whose blood set us free to be people of God!”  

    This Jesus, the Lamb of God, is present here now–not to rally a political following but to be pure love in the flesh for you, giving you His true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  Here is living theology, where the love of God and love of the neighbor all come together in Christ, love’s flesh and blood.  You are sanctified and cleansed in Christ Jesus.  You are saints before God as the epistle said–not because of the Law and what you have done, but because of the Gospel and what Jesus has done.  Continue, therefore, to believe in Him and cling to Him, eagerly waiting for His return.  For He will confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful; He will do it.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

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