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He Spoke Rightly

Mark 7:31-37

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

Ordinarily when I preach on today’s Gospel reading, I like to focus on the miracle and the things that lead up to it.  Today, though, I’d like to focus more on the results of the miracle and what follows after it.  The Gospel reading tells us that after the deaf-mute’s ears were opened and his tongue was loosed, the man spoke plainly. More precisely Mark tells us that the man spoke rightly.  The Greek word is orthos.  It means to act in conformity with a norm or standard–rightly, correctly.  Our words Orthopedic (right feet), Orthodontics (right teeth), and orthodoxy (right teaching or right praise) all come from this word.  And so the deaf and mute man spoke orthos; he spoke rightly.

Applying this to ourselves, we are reminded that there is a right way and a wrong way to talk, and not only when it comes to your ability to form words but especially when it comes to what you say.  Even if we have perfect pronunciation, we can still fail to speak orthos, rightly–if we don’t honor our Lord’s name with our lips, if we speak with words of self-serving pride, if we gossip about our neighbor and put the worst construction on his actions.  And so we also need the Lord to heal our tongues so that we speak orthos, rightly and correctly. 

When the deaf mute had his speech restored to what is straight and right, the people knew  that the healing was good.  It was miraculous.  They wanted to tell others about it.  What they didn’t understand was why Jesus told them to be quiet about it. And since they could not understand that, they ignored Him.  Because they couldn’t understand the reason, they chose to do what they wanted and what they thought best.  What harm could come from telling others about the compassionate power of God in Jesus?  Such a thing seemed not only victimless but good and even necessary despite the Lord’s command.  But don’t ever let not understanding God’s words and commands be the reason for you to do something against them. The person who does not know why the pin is in the grenade should not be the one to pull it.

And here was the problem. They weren’t telling people that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the one who has come to redeem and restore creation.  They were telling people that He was a miracle worker.  Now that wasn’t incorrect; it wasn’t heresy.  But it was misleading since it wasn’t the whole story  (sort of like most of our evening news).  This confusion about who Jesus is, what His mission and purpose are, ended up making His ministry more difficult.  You may recall that when Jesus was brought in front of Herod at His trial, Herod wanted to see what he had heard about.  The news was that Jesus performs miracles.  And so Herod wanted to see a trick; he didn’t care what Jesus had to say or teach or who He was.

The real miracle Jesus came to perform, though, is the atonement of the world.  He came to reconcile all of humanity back to His Father through His death and resurrection.  He came to give His life as a sacrifice and ransom and to rescue us out of Hell.  He came to make all creation orthos again.  But Herod doesn’t get that.  And that might well be partially the fault of these people who couldn’t stop themselves from blabbing about this miracle when Jesus told them not to.  And so you could say that the people who brought the deaf mute to be healed also did not speak orthos, rightly.

These things are a warning to us. God’s Word is never arbitrary. When He says don’t tell people, He means it, even if it seems counterintuitive.  The history of sin is the history of thinking we know better than God’s Word what is good.  Eve didn’t understand the reason for God’s command not to eat the fruit.  She couldn’t see why God would command this since it was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and capable of making her wise.  Why then not do what she thought to be good, since God’s Word and command didn’t make any sense.  She didn’t think she would bring pain, sorrow, and death upon herself and her children. She thought God was wrong about what was good, or that God didn’t really understand. So she took matters in her own hands. And her husband who was with her let her do it.

That is what you do every time you sin.  We refuse God’s Word for our own wisdom. “Sure,” we say, “gluttony is a sin, but what’s wrong with overindulging in a little food or drink?  Doesn’t God want me to enjoy myself?”  “What’s wrong with skipping church for a few weeks when the kids have sports or when we’re on vacation?  Sure, God commands us to remember the Sabbath Day each week, but these other things are good, too.”  “What’s wrong with living together and having sex before marriage if we intend to get married eventually?  Sure, there’s that 6th Commandment, but doesn’t God support our love?”  “What’s wrong with conceiving a child outside of the womb with in vitro fertilization?  Sure that’s not how God created it to happen, and IVF almost always kills multiple embryonic children, but doesn’t God want us to try to be fruitful and multiply?”  And I could go on and on with examples of how we justify and rationalize our departure from God’s words.

God’s Law is always good.  His Word is always trustworthy.  Sometimes, to our fallen reason, it seems contrary to what is good.  But that is only because we are ignorant.  Don’t pull the pin on the grenade.  Don’t be like the friends of the healed man who ignored Jesus’ words and did what they wanted to.  When God’s Law seems contrary to what is good, we do best simply to repent and submit to God’s Word.  When we don’t, when we insist upon our way, we hurt ourselves and we hurt others. We pull the pin. There are no victimless sins.

But here is comfort for sinners. Despite the glaring imperfections of these people, the Lord had compassion.  He listened to the prayers of the people.  He healed the man.  He didn’t put them off as if helping them was beneath Him.  He came with real compassion.  For He came to restore our bodies as well as our souls.  He cares about people when they are suffering physically.  He sees you and cares about you.  His sigh to heaven comes from His heart. The sorrow and pain of the deaf man moves Him to act even though it will result in making His ministry and mission harder. The fact that they don’t listen to His Word, that they take the miracle and run, that they don’t fully understand who He is, does not stop Him or lessen His compassion.

Jesus is the friend of sinners. He has compassion on all who suffer.  He groans in sorrow and grief over our predicament; He literally feels our pain.  He groans, too, over what has been done to us by the devil, by our neighbors, by our loved ones, and of course also by our own foolish decisions and actions.  Getting involved with us means that He will have to suffer, that we will complicate things–but it doesn’t matter to Him.  He gets involved anyway.  He sticks His fingers in our ears.  He is dirtied by the gunk of our fallen nature.  He takes our sorrow, our sin, our blame into Himself in order to heal and save us.  He groans all the way unto death on the cross and overcomes the curse for you, that you might be made new, that your entire selves might be orthos and right again forever.

This flesh and blood Jesus bears with you; He does not turn away from you but gets up close and personal with you.  He puts the finger of His Holy Spirit into your ears in the preaching of the Gospel, so that you can hear rightly and believe and be saved.  He spits and touches you in baptism, where by water and the Word of His mouth He regenerates you and gives you new birth.  He places His true and real body and blood on your tongue for the forgiveness of your sins.  He opens your lips, and your mouth declares His praise.  He is faithful to you even unto death and has risen from the dead in order to bring you to Himself alive and healed on the last day.  Truly then, He has done all things well–for you.

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

(with thanks to Jason Braaten and David Petersen)

Bad Company

Luke 15:1-3,11-32

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

If your parents were anything like mine, they didn’t want you hanging out with the wrong crowd.  They knew that if you spent too much time with those who were troublemakers, disobedient, kids who experimented with drugs, that you might well go down a dangerous and destructive path.  The Bible says this explicitly in 1 Corinthians 15, “Bad company ruins good morals.”  Even as adults you know that this is true.  If you hang out with people whose talk is foul-mouthed, you tend to start talking like they do.  If you spend a lot of time with those who are worldly and secular in their lifestyle, you’ll tend to start thinking and behaving like they do.  If pop culture is your daily company, with all of its mocking humor that scoffs at what is decent and true, with all of its shallow, mind-numbing silliness, that will certainly affect your faith and life negatively.

So it seems understandable, at least on the surface, why the Pharisees and scribes complained about the company that Jesus was keeping in today’s Gospel.  “This man receives sinners and eats with them!”  He wasn’t just keeping company with thieving tax collectors and conspicuous sinners; He was actually sharing a meal and fellowship with them.  How could this man dirty Himself and His reputation like that?  Was He lowering the standards of His teaching?  Was He condoning their sin?  It all just seemed wrong to the religious leaders.

To show what He was doing, Jesus told three parables–the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.  The first two reveal Jesus’ searching love, how He has come to seek out and save the lost, to call sinners to repentance, back to Himself–not to condone sin but to forgive sin.  Bad company may ruin good morals, but the good company of Jesus redeems and gives new life.  What brings joy to heaven is not the self-righteous model citizen, but the one who repents and trusts in God’s mercy.

Today’s parable of the lost son highlights that mercy of God.  A certain man had two sons.  The younger son tells his father that he wants his share of the inheritance.  He’s tired of waiting around for his dad to keel over.  He wants to move on with life and have some fun.  And so in his impatience and audacity, he makes this self-serving request of his father.  

The father could have rebuked him for his insolent attitude, but instead, he grants his request.  The father knows that he can’t coerce and force love from his son, and so he takes the hurt and lets him go, knowing that the son will likely have some very hard lessons to learn as a result.

God also deals with us in the same way.  For we too have sometimes tried to use Him for our own ends, praying selfishly or using a religion as a cloak to justify our behavior.  In fact you could describe sin as the wish that God were dead, so that we could then live our lives the way we please.  God could sternly enforce obedience from us if He so chose.  But He doesn’t want slaves cowering in submission; He wants children who receive and return His love.  And so He sometimes lets us go our own way; He lets us mess up so that we can see how barren our life is apart from Him.

And indeed the younger son’s life turned out about as barren as it could be.  He may have had fun partying with his friends and living the good life for a time.  But when his money ran out, so did his friends.  In the end he was left all alone, and the best job he could find was feeding pigs–the bottom of the barrel for a Jewish boy.  That’s the way sin always works.  It gives short term happiness and long term pain.  It lives for the moment and sacrifices eternity.

When the younger son was so hungry that the pig food started to look good, he finally came to his senses.  He realized what he had lost by leaving his father.  He realized that even his father’s servants were doing better than him.  He was sorry for what he did.  But notice that sorrow isn’t what brought him back.  It was the memory of his father’s goodness that moved him to turn and head toward home.  In the same way, we are made able to truly repent only in the certainty that we have a merciful heavenly Father.  Being sorry is only the beginning; Judas was sorry, too, you recall.  Believing that your heavenly Father will receive you back for the sake of Christ in spite of your unworthiness is the heart of the matter.  True repentance includes faith.  Romans 2 says that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repent.

Even with his repentance, the younger son underestimated his father by thinking that he could only be allowed back as a servant.  But the father hadn’t written him off like that.  He’s waiting, looking down the road, hoping that his lost son will return.  It says here, “But when (the younger son) was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”  Dignified men don’t run, but the father was compelled to by his love, hurrying to welcome his son back.  

The father goes out to the son, even as God is always reaching out to us with His mercy.   And notice that the father embraces the son even before the son can say a word, even before he can make his confession!  In this we see that God doesn’t receive us back and forgive us based on how well we repent or because we formulate the right words.  God forgives us and receives us to Himself because of His grace and mercy toward us in Christ.  His very nature is love.  It’s all based on His undeserved and unmerited kindness.  There is the saying that confession is good for the soul, and that is true.  But we learn here that absolution is even better for the soul, for the mercy of God is what restores and saves us.  That’s what the father is doing here–forgiving and welcoming his son back to the family.

And it’s not just a conditional or probationary status that he’s given until he proves himself.  Rather, the Father treats him in a way that only a full, honored son would be.  He puts a distinguished robe on him.  He gives him the family ring.  He puts sandals on his feet, for only the servants would be barefoot.  And the father throws a party, to celebrate that his son who was “dead” is alive again.

This is the picture of God’s compassionate love for you.  God’s servants, the holy angels, rejoice over the sinner who repents.  You don’t have to prove yourself first.  Rather God embraces us fully as His children with all the blessings that brings, so great is His joy to have us home.  

In fact so much does God want to have us with Himself that He made His own Son to be like the younger son.  When it comes right down to it, Jesus is the real prodigal son in this parable.  It says here that the father gave to the younger son of his livelihood, or literally his “substance”– just as we confess in the Creed that Jesus is of one substance with the Father.  Then the Son of the Father goes to a far country, which is to say, the Son descends to earth and becomes man for us.  Here He blows His wealth and His substance consorting with tax collectors and sinners and the likes of us.  He is prodigal and beautifully excessive in the way He dishes out His grace and mercy toward us.  He loses it all for you, dying in your place as if He were the rebellious sinner, to win your forgiveness.  Then Jesus arises and returns to His Father, who exalts Him to His right hand, and gives Him the name that is above every name, rejoicing that He who was dead is alive again, that He who was lost for a time to the grave has been found triumphant over sin, death, and the devil.  

Once you were dead and lost.  But God raised you to life in His Son Jesus.  The Father now says to you, “Your brother, My Son was dead, and is alive again.  Repent and find your life in Him.  No matter how low it has gotten for you, Jesus has gone to the lowest depths on your behalf in order to become the way back for you. You’re not an outcast stepchild here.  You are robed in Jesus’ righteousness at the font and the family ring is put on your finger.  The banquet table of the supper is laid before you, the body and blood of Christ given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  You’re a full-fledged child in My house through Jesus.  There is great joy in heaven for each one of you who are here in penitent faith.  Welcome home.”

Now before we finish, we unfortunately need to talk about the older son.  Notice that the father has to go out to him, too.  He too had left home in a sense, forsaking the father’s love by thinking He had to earn it, that his father’s favor was a reward for his good behavior.  “All these years I’ve served you” he says, talking more like a servant than a son.  But here, too, the Father gives all.  He says, “All that I have is yours.  That’s the way it’s always been.”  And in the end the question is left unanswered: does the older brother believe that?  Do we?  Do you believe that the fullness of God’s mercy is yours apart from any merit or worthiness in you?  Do you believe that it’s all a free gift in Christ?

Jesus declares in today’s Gospel that it most certainly is.  Let us, then, never become like the older brother, whose legalism and self-righteousness kept him outside of the household and away from the joy of the feast.  Let us never think that there are certain sinners who aren’t worthy of God’s mercy, as if Jesus didn’t shed His blood for them, too.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–only sinners.  If we refuse to keep company with those who repent and trust in Him, we are refusing to keep company with Christ Himself, just like the Pharisees.  We are putting ourselves outside of the joy of the household.  Only as we repent can we rejoice in the repentance of another.  Only as we see ourselves as lost sinners can we rejoice that Jesus welcomes penitent sinners to His table.  “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  That’s good company.  So come in and make merry and celebrate the Lord’s mercy.  In Him the lost are found and the dead live.

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

Come, For All Things Are Now Ready

Luke 14:15-24

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

“A certain man gave a great supper and invited many.”  This certain man is God the Father.  The supper is the banquet of salvation, the heavenly meal of forgiveness and life which Christ His Son purchased by His death for sin and by His victory over the grave on Easter.  In fact Jesus is Himself the meal, the bread of life given in the Word and in the holy supper of His body and blood.  God has sent out His Holy Spirit to invite many through the preaching of the Gospel to come to the feast.  All things have been prepared by God; there is no cost or strings attached.  Jesus has won redemption fully and completely.  The Holy Spirit comes purely by grace to draw people to the divine banquet.  Those invited may freely dine on the finest of fare which God has to offer.

“But,” it is written, “they all with one accord began to make excuses.”  They all had other things they thought were more important than this invitation.  Being with the Giver of the feast and sharing in the joy of His meal was low on the priority list.  Maybe some other time.  

All demonstrate unbelief in the Gospel invitation.  The first said, “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it.  I ask you to have me excused.”  This man is caught up in his property and does not believe that in Christ the meek shall inherit the earth.  He seeks to gain the world and in the process forfeits his soul.  He sees the value of land but does not desire the priceless land of the new creation.  He elects to go and see his piece of ground, almost like a burial plot, showing his destiny to return to the ground in death.  Especially as the summer months begin, we feel the temptation to let the place up north or the vacation trip down south or out west take priority over the worship of the Lord and His invitation to the Gospel feast.  We dare not treasure what we have paid for above that which God has freely given in Christ.

The second said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them.  I ask you to have me excused.”  This man prefers his work to the work of Christ, who said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  This man is like those who want to produce their own righteousness before God, walking under the yoke of the five books of Moses’ Law, rather than trusting in the righteousness of Christ, walking in the freedom of the Gospel.  But in the end they will find no rest.  Their labor and struggle will be in vain.  The temptation for us is to value our efforts at good living over and above the grace of Christ.  Whenever we think we can do without the banquet of Jesus serving us His Word and Sacraments, we are by definition trusting in our own service and works.

The third said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”  This man prized his earthly marriage over the heavenly wedding of Christ and His Churchly Bride.  He loved union with his wife more than communion with his Creator.  When death parts him from his wife, there will be nothing to restore him to life.  So also, we must guard against turning the good blessings of marriage and sexuality against the God who created them, or putting our spouse or family before God.

In every stage of life we’re faced with diversions from the Gospel invitation.  “Hey, I’m just a young adult.  This is the time I’m supposed to have fun and party and sow my oats.  When I settle down, get married, have kids, then I’ll start to get serious about Church and God’s Word.  Please have me excused.”  “Hey, I’ve got responsibilities now with children to take care of.  I’m trying to keep my family financially secure.  The weekend’s my only time to rest or get anything done.  Besides, the kids have sports on the weekend; and we can’t skip that!  Please have me excused.”  “Hey, retirement’s just around the corner.  These are my prime earning years.  I’ve got to stay focused on that.  I’m so busy.  Once I’m retired I’ll have all sorts of time to hear God’s Word.  Please have me excused.”  “Hey, now that I’m in my golden years I can finally travel and do all those things I wanted to do.  I better now while I’ve still got my health.  You understand.  Please have me excused.”

The sad thing is that on the surface, all of these excuses seem pretty reasonable.  There’s nothing wrong with taking care of land or business concerns or participating in sports or being with your wife and family–or for that matter, trying to stay safe from COVID.  But when such things are  used as justifications for saying “no” to God’s invitation, then they have become idols to whom you are giving false worship.

And lest we who are here become self-righteous, what about when we come to the banquet of the Lord but don’t eat?  Which is to say, what about those who hear the Word of the Lord that is read and preached in this place but refuse to believe and receive it?  They’re at the table, so to speak, but refuse to trust in the Gospel and partake of God’s free gifts of mercy and life in Christ.  The food is in front of them, but they’re not hungry.  They’re just going through the motions.  They don’t have any desire or see any need for Jesus and what He has to give.

That’s what happened with the Jews in Jesus’ day.  They had Him in their midst.  They heard Him preach and teach.  But most of Israel rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the Savior.  They felt no need for the salvation He came to bring.  Often it was only the lowly and the outcast of society who believed in Jesus and trusted His words of life.  This is what Jesus is referring to in the parable, “Then the master of the house, being angry [at those who rejected the invitation], said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’” “If you people are too good to come to My feast, fine.  Then I’ll fill my house with those whom you self-righteous look down upon, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  And they shall be filled with eternally satisfying food.”

It was the same way later with the apostle Paul.  In his missionary work it was his custom to begin by going to the Jewish synagogues in whatever land he was in and preach Jesus as the Messiah.  But the message would often be disdained by the Jewish leaders and embraced rather by the Gentiles.  Once in the city of Antioch, when the Jews were opposing the things spoken by Paul, he said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.”  This is what Jesus is referring to in the parable, “The servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’  Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.’”

God will have a full house on the Last Day for His feast.  And if those who should come don’t, then many whom you might not expect will–not only the poor and the lame and the blind, but also even many from among the pagan nations will be brought to believe and be saved.  For this meal is given not on the credentials of the ones invited but on the graciousness of the Host.

This parable is given by Jesus, then, as a warning to us against being complacent in our own spirituality and trusting in our own merits and qualifications to insure that we will receive eternal life.  To the Jews who thought they had heaven wrapped up by virtue of their genealogy and good deeds, Jesus said, “None of those who were invited shall taste my supper.”  Let us also be on guard against putting our faith in our religious pedigree or our good living.  For when we do that, we will lose our hunger for the feast.  We’ll stop taking the things of God seriously as we should.

In the end the only ones taking part in the feast are beggars and foreigners.  For only they  were given to see their need for what the Master had to give.  This is what you also must become before God: a hungry beggar, a needy foreigner, like a starving man in a third world country.  You must be brought by God to see that of yourself you are spiritually empty, wasting away, with nowhere else to turn but to Him.  The divine Law must expose your desperate need so that you will crave the Bread of Life.  Only then will the great supper be not just one of many other more important things to do.  It will be the One Thing that you cannot do without, the very source of your life.  For the meal is Christ, who is the Life.

Our Lord Jesus offered up His body on the cross to be “roasted” in the fire of judgment.  He literally suffered hell in our place at Calvary.  Having rescued us from sin and Satan by His holy death, and being now raised from the dead, Jesus offers Himself to the whole world as heavenly food that we might receive His saving gifts and be nourished by them.  This holy food is served up and offered wherever the gospel is preached.  When you believe the gospel, you partake of Christ, and this nourishes and strengthens your soul.  It tastes of forgiveness of sins, eternal life and blessedness.  When you are surrounded by death, sin, disease, and hard times, let this be your hunger and thirst.  Especially those who are under great affliction are the ones who find this food so delicious.  When terrified and fearful hearts and consciences hear in the gospel that Christ suffered and died for their sins, allowed himself to be prepared and served up as food for all hungry and thirsty souls, and believe this without doubting, then their fragile hearts, distressed consciences, and troubled souls are comforted and revived.  (Martin Luther)

And so the Spirit’s call goes out to you again this day, “Come, for all things are now ready.”  Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.”  The banquet table is laid before you in the Word and the Supper.  Partake of this holy, life-giving food.  Believe in Christ and be saved.  Receive the foretaste of the feast to come, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which will have no end.

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

A Blessed Surprise

Luke 16:19-31

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

If there’s one thing that Scripture makes very clear, it’s that many people who think that they have eternal life with God are going to be surprised to find out that they actually don’t.  Matthew 7 gives one of the starkest examples of that.  Jesus says, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me...”  Or in the parable of the 10 virgins, 5 are left wanting to enter the heavenly wedding feast and thinking they should be let in, but they’re locked out.  

And in today’s Gospel reading, I am sure that the rich man thought that his status before God was in good shape.  We shouldn’t turn the rich man into a caricature–some sort of heartless greedy monster.  He was likely respected and looked up to by the people.  He would have been seen by the average person as having been blessed and favored by God.  The rich man’s money and business may well have provided jobs or built synagogues.  The fact that he didn’t pay attention to the miserable beggar at his gate probably wouldn’t have seemed terribly strange.  Beggars like Lazarus were ones that most people would have wanted to avoid, like a homeless man that we might scurry past and avoid eye contact with on the street.

To this day most people believe that as long as they do their best trying to live a good life, as long as they do more good than bad, they’ll go to heaven.  They may not be 100% sure of it, but one thing most people are sure of is that they don’t deserve to be cut off from God forever in hell.  What funeral have you ever gone to, even of someone who never went to church, where people didn’t say, “Oh, they’re in a better place now; they’re looking down on us from above,” and other such cliches.  What eulogy didn’t make the deceased sound like a good person at heart, even if they were a bit of a jerk.  Almost everyone thinks they’ll eventually end up in heaven.  And most people, sadly, are in for a rude awakening.

The rich man in hell knew that his brothers were under the same delusion that he was.  That’s why he wants to warn them.  He realizes that they think they’re fine with God, when they’re not.  They, too, might refer to Abraham as their father and think they’re among the people of God, but they are deceived.  They don’t share Abraham’s faith.  And so they aren’t true children of Abraham.  Let this warning, then, also come to you and me today, so that we don’t end up like the rich man, complacent and falsely secure, putting our faith in the wrong place.  

That’s really the key difference between the rich man and Lazarus–their faith.  It wasn’t so much about what they possessed, but what possessed them, what had a hold of their hearts.  Even though he may have been a religious person, the rich man’s real confidence was in his own abilities and smarts, his own resources, his own power and standing as a pillar of the community.  Even in the fires of hell, the rich man rejected Moses and the prophets.  Did you notice that?  When the rich man wants to use Lazarus to go back to his brothers from the dead and warn them, Abraham says that Moses and the prophets are more than enough; that Word of God is all that his brothers need.  But the rich man doesn’t think that’s good enough.  He thinks that Scripture is empty, that it doesn’t have the power to bring them to repentance or to save them.  He wants a miracle.  Even in hell his trust is in something else than God’s Word.  Just because he sees heaven and hell doesn’t mean that he’s become a believer.  Death does not change someone from being an unbeliever to a believer.  The hard-heartedness of the unbelieving goats perseveres into eternity.  In fact his unbelief actually becomes a part of his eternal torment, as his hard heart grows increasingly more frustrated and angry at the ways of God.

Lazarus, on the other hand, clung to Moses and the prophets.  The Word of God was his hope.  For you may remember that the name “Lazarus” literally means “God is My Helper” or “My God is Help.”  Even though Lazarus longed for mere crumbs from the table, even though the street dogs licked his wounds, even though in this world Lazarus had nothing–not even his health–in truth, and perhaps surprisingly, Lazarus found what he was seeking.  He found mercy that endures forever.  He received Living Water and Bread from Heaven. He obtained perfect satisfaction and health.  It was all there for him in Moses and the prophets.  For there in Moses and the prophets was the Messiah, Jesus, his Help and his Savior.  

You recall that when Jesus was walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is written that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”  Moses and the Prophets are all about Jesus.  So Lazarus went to heaven not because he suffered or because he was poor but because he believed Moses and the prophets.  Or to put it more precisely, he believed in the Messiah Jesus whom they prophesied, who would take the sins of the world upon Himself and earn for him God’s favor and a place in heaven.

Lazarus found there in the Scriptures a man much like himself.  Isaiah prophesies that the Christ is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by men, one without any attractiveness that we should desire to be near Him.  Jesus Himself said in the Psalms that He was surrounded by unbelieving dogs who mocked Him in His pain, who pierced His hands and His feet.  And yet, Isaiah says, “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses. . .  And by His wounds we are healed.”  The blood that flowed from those wounds cleansed us of our sin and bought our eternal healing, the restoration and resurrection of our bodies to glory on the Last Day.

Truly Jesus made Himself to be just like Lazarus for us.  For notice how Lazarus is comforted there in the bosom of father Abraham, laying on his chest.  That is a clear picture for us of the first two persons of the Trinity, the eternal Father and Son, as John 1 states, “No one has seen God at any time.”  But, “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.”  Jesus is the very heart of the Father; and He has made the love of the Father known to us by coming down from heaven into our poverty and affliction in order to raise us up and bring us back with Himself to the riches of heaven.

Lazarus was a true son of Abraham, not only by blood, but also because he had the same faith as Abraham.  You recall how the elderly, childless Abraham was told by God that he would be the father of many nations, that his descendants would be as countless as the stars.  And even though Abraham had no evidence or experience to go on, he believed God’s promise, and God credited it to him as righteousness.  Abraham was righteous by faith alone.  And so was Lazarus, too.  Lazarus trusted in God’s promise that He would not forsake the lowly, that no one who puts his trust in Him would be put to shame, that the Lord saves those who have a humble and contrite and penitent heart.  Even when all of the evidence and experience of Lazarus’ life said that God had forsaken him, he still clung to God’s promise.  By that faith he was accounted righteous before God.  He was saved.

And so it is, then, also for you.  The evidence and experience of your life may seem to suggest that God doesn’t like you, that He’s forgotten you.  Unlike the rich man, you may have this nagging feeling that you’re not going to heaven, that there’s no way to escape hell because of what you’ve done or because of the things that have happened to you.  But don’t judge God by what you see or feel.  Instead, go on His Word and His promises.  Trust that what He says is true and real.  For God does not lie; He does not break His Word.  He will come through for you–maybe not the way you want right now; maybe not even in this life.  But most assuredly He will do so in the life to come.  For He has conquered your sin and death by His own death and resurrection.  By faith in Him, you are accounted righteous before God.  You are holy in His sight, flawless.  The comfort and happiness of heaven is yours, entirely by the grace of God.  You don’t have to earn it by your works.  It’s all a gift of Christ’s love for you.  So while the rich man was unexpectedly surprised by his eternal torment, you will be blessedly surprised by the boundless goodness and joy of everlasting fellowship with God.  What He has prepared for you will be an unanticipated marvel and wonder.

Those who are like the rich man refuse to believe this.  They want a god who rewards people based on merit, and so they get what they deserve, the fire of hell.  Abraham reminds us that even if someone like Lazarus were to rise from the dead, that wouldn’t cause anyone to believe who didn’t already believe Moses and the prophets.  For Jesus did in fact raise Lazarus from the dead right before Holy Week.  And yet that miracle didn’t cause the rich Pharisees and chief priests to believe; they only plotted Jesus’ death even more fervently.  So beware of desiring miracles and signs, needing to see such things before you’ll believe.  Miracles don’t create faith.  For faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ.  If God gives signs, they only confirm the faith that He has already worked through His Word and Spirit alone.

Let us, rather, be like Lazarus in spirit–helpless, weak, dependent on the Lord, satisfied with no other food than what comes from His table, eating the crumbs of the Bread of Life that satisfy completely.  And yes, let us be confident of heaven, but not because we think we deserve it or that we’ve earned it by our efforts–if you’re putting your faith in something inside of you, well, good luck with that.  No let us be confident of heaven because of Christ alone and what He has done for us, how He has claimed each of us poor, miserable Lazaruses as His own by water and the word.  And let us set our hearts on that Day when the angels will bear us home and we will be drawn to the Father’s side in Christ, there to bask forever in His goodness and love.

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

Every Tribe and Race and People and Language

Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-27

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

Technology of itself is neither good nor bad.  But the way we use technology is not neutral, either morally or spiritually.  Scientific advancements bring new problems, as the tools we use end up using and changing us. The invention of the automobile, the airplane, the telephone, and now mobile technologies have changed how and where people live, how we view the world and interact with each other. You’ve seen others–and perhaps even yourself–become chained like a slave to screens–televisions, computers, and handheld and wearable devices.

The account of the Tower of Babel is about certain technological advancements that occurred among the people of that day.  Without good stone for building, they learned to mold clay into bricks, bake them, and bind them together with asphalt. This was, no doubt, a good thing. But they employed their technology in a manner serving their own desires and their own pride. They sought to build a tower that would be to their own name, to their own glory.  That is why St. Jerome referred to the Tower of Babel as the “Tower of Pride.”

“Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language,” God said. “Us” shows already here that there is One God in Three Persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In the counsel of the Holy Trinity it was determined to bring judgement on these builders who used their language and their technology for evil.

Now clearly we live in a far more technologically advanced age than the one in Genesis 11. While this presents opportunities for greater good, there is also the opportunity for greater rebellion and pride and the sense that we are the ones who run the show.  As an example: In the church we see the benefit of technology in being able to stream our services as a temporary solution for those who are physically unable come to church.  However, even this good thing can become an evil if people begin to think that watching church on their computer screen is enough or just as good as physical attendance.  Biblically speaking, there’s no such thing as a virtual church that exists somewhere in cyberspace.  For we believe in the incarnate Jesus who calls us to gather in the flesh with one another, to hear His words face to face and to receive His true and literal body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Our God is an in-person kind of God.  We should be willing to risk all the treasures of this world in order to have these treasures of heaven.

Likewise also out in the world, we benefit from great and wonderful medical advances and treatments.  And yet at the same time we see human life being manipulated and destroyed in the name of research or choice–millions of human embryos in the IVF lab and unborn babies in the womb are killed.  In the midst of the wonders of global communication and instant contact through the internet, there is a vast wasteland of pornography, voyeurism, and just plain idiocy.  And, of course, in our age we also construct great and tall buildings and monuments, which is fine and good. But is this to God’s glory or our own?  We advance technologically and decline morally.

This decline is reflected in our language and the way we talk.  Not only do we sometimes engage in spin and the manipulation of words to deceive or to push our own agendas, but our culture uses euphemisms to try to pretty up and justify sin: marriage equality, reproductive rights, non-binary, gender fluid.  The elites of society actually cowtow to the person who insists on being referred to as an individual with the pronouns “they” and “them,” or even nonsense words like “ze” and “zir.”  It’s no wonder that the judgment God pronounces on fallen mankind who abuses language is to confuse the languages.

So let us be on guard against the desire to find our security in the wisdom of the world, it’s achievements and advancements.  Let us not pridefully stake our lives on things that pass away, on wisdom that is really just prettied-up foolishness.  God’s judgment will not be thwarted.   He scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  It is written, “The Lord came down,” which is a human way of saying that the Lord, who is slow to anger, finally said, “Enough!” and began to punish.  Let us be warned, repenting in our minds and hearts and behavior, and turning to Christ for mercy and help.

For in the glorious events of Pentecost that we are celebrating today, the LORD came down in a new and different way. When the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the gift of speaking in other languages that they had not studied or learned, the judgement at the Tower of Babel was reversed.  Pride caused the languages of the world to be divided; Christ’s humility caused the good news of God’s forgiveness to be preached in a united way to every language. What the Tower of Pride split apart, God has put back together in the holy Christian Church.  Pride caused one language to become many. In the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, those many languages and peoples are made one.

The Church is not German or Roman or Greek or Jewish or any other ethnicity. The Church is Christ’s, and the day of Pentecost reveals that the Gospel is for everyone.  The Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, the hope of our own resurrection and life in God’s kingdom is for every tribe and nation and people and language.  It is a tremendous thing when a people are welcomed into the Church not because of the color of their skin or common cultural background, but because they are fellow sons and daughters of Adam, who in Holy Baptism are made to be fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

We, who come from different places and have different talents and gifts–we have in Jesus a common inheritance. Today’s Gospel declares Jesus’ farewell gift to you, the inheritance He leaves with His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”

“Not as the world gives.” The world does have a certain kind of peace–but it’s a fake peace, a temporary truce.  What Jesus gives is real, lasting, deep and true.  Isaiah prophesied, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.”  You have been reconciled to the Father in Christ.  You are at peace with God through the cross of Jesus.  This is the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes through the blood of Christ that has atoned for your sins, that calms your consciences.  God is not your enemy.  He comes down to you in Christ with mercy and pours out His Holy Spirit upon you through the Gospel and the Sacraments.  So it is that Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Neither let them be afraid.”  There is no reason to fear any more, not even when you’re confronting the grave.   If you are right with God, then you can face whatever is going on in your day to day life with His strength and with the confidence that He is with you and will guide you through His Word.  This is not worldly peace which fails; this is peace given by the Spirit of God which never fails and which endures forever.

If you want to know what the Holy Spirit does, look at what Jesus does. Note how the Son and the Spirit are both sent by the Father. “The Father sent Me,” Jesus declares, and then He says, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will … bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” The Father who sent the Son sends the Spirit to deliver the work of the Son. The Son wins forgiveness for us sinners, and the Spirit delivers that forgiveness, so that we are reconciled to the forgiving Father. The Spirit is poured out to unite us with the Son in Baptism, and so we are made children of the heavenly Father.  The Holy Spirit is not off doing His own strange and bizarre thing, but is always connected with Jesus and delivering His Gospel.

The Holy Spirit comes to make you holy in Christ.  And if you doubt this about yourself, if you know your own unholiness all too well and wonder if because of your sin you may not have the Holy Spirit, consider these words from Martin Luther: “To be sure, the Holy Spirit sometimes lets His Christians fall, err, stumble, and sin. This is to forestall any complacency, as though we were holy of ourselves, and to teach us to know ourselves and the source of our holiness. Otherwise we would become arrogant and overweening.”

When we sin, we are not sure if God really accepts us.   But our Lord says, “You must not look at yourself; you must fix your eyes on what I have done for you and what I give you–the forgiveness of sins, Baptism, the Sacrament, and the Gospel.  These are the tokens of My grace and peace.”  That is where the Holy Spirit is present for you in rich measure with all of His gifts.  That is how Pentecost continues for you each and every day:  through the words of Jesus, who is the Word made flesh.  Remember, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, who puts language to its proper use, who doesn’t use words to spin or manipulate or deceive, but to preach Him who is Truth Incarnate, so that you may call on the name of the Lord Jesus and be saved.

So even though God would be completely just in coming down as He did at Babel and visiting you with wrath and destruction, yet once again God has given you opportunity to repent, and the Holy Spirit has been poured out on you generously. By His holy inspiration, you have heard the words of Jesus repeated to you, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.”  Do not take not this gift lightly, nor wonder if it is truly yours. This consolation is for you.  Say to yourself on this feast of Pentecost, “I am baptized.  I, an unholy sinner, have been declared holy, and have received the Holy Spirit. The Father has made peace with me through His Son, and my home will forever be with Him.”

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

(With thanks to the Rev. Christopher Esget)

Praying in Jesus' Name

John 16:23-33
Easter 5

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

Jesus says, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.”  So what do you want to ask for from God?  What is it that you think that you need?  What do you lack that would make you happy?  And if you had it, would it really make you content?  “Whatever you ask,” Jesus says.  So what do you want?

What we want is sometimes far removed from what we need and what we were made for.  Sometimes the very worst judgment that God can bring upon a person is to let them have what they want, to give them over to their heart’s desires, and then to let them suffer the consequences that those idols bring–emptiness and bitterness and isolation.  Why else would it be that so many lottery winners feel cursed and the lives of so many famous celebrities are ruined or cut short by their own doing?  Beware of fixing your eyes on worldly things and pleasures, for then minds become anxious, mouths grumble, and hearts fail to trust in God to supply all things that are needful for us.

That’s how it was with the children of Israel.  They had seen great miracles of God in the Passover, at the parting of the Red Sea, and with the manna from heaven.  And yet now they are discontented.  They complain.  “Why have you brought us out … to die in the wilderness?”  “Our soul loathes this worthless bread.”  They did not trust God.  They did not appreciate the great gifts He had given them.

Let us learn from that today as we hear Jesus’ words urging us to pray.  Prayer begins with a humble and penitent heart, as it did for the children of Israel.  Only when they had been laid low did they finally confess the truth and seek God’s help, saying to Moses: “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD.”

And so we should start by admitting that, like the Israelites, we have a tendency to be spiritually fickle, often neglecting any serious praying until we’re desperate.  That is one reason why the Lord allows tribulation to come upon us, even as He sent the fiery serpents into the Israelite camp, so that we might be called back to Him, turning us from double-mindedness to single-minded repentant faith.  The Israelites were turned to the bronze serpent lifted up on the pole.  We are turned to Him who was lifted up for us on the cross.  “In the world you will have tribulation,” says our Lord; “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

I know of only some of the tribulations you endure.  But the Lord knows them all.  He knows the conflicts you have in your family; He knows your problems at work; He knows your despair and your addictions; He knows your loneliness and your ailing body; He knows the sins you struggle with.  He has redeemed you out of them all.  The troubles of this life are an invitation from God to pray, to call upon Him in our need.  In this way the very things that plague and afflict us bring us nearer to our Lord, driving us to look where true joy may be found–in Christ’s victory over the world.  Hear His words again: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

When Christ invites us to pray to the Father “in His name,” that means first of all that He invites us to pray not based upon our own merits but upon His redeeming work, His cross which has opened the way for us to the Father.  The words “in the name of Jesus” are not a magic formula.  They mean that we have access to God the Father, and He hears our prayers, only because of what His Son Jesus has accomplished for us.  Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel call to mind His entire Person and work.  “I came forth from the Father” means that He is the Son of God the Father, eternally begotten, but not made; very God of very God.  “I have come into the world,” means “I was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of My mother Mary as a true man; and I have come into the world to give My life for the world.”  Then He says, “Again, I leave the world and go the Father,” which means that He will ascend to the right hand of God 40 days following His resurrection from the dead.

Secondly, to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray as those who have been baptized in His name.  To pray in Jesus’ name is to stand in His shoes and ask as if you were the Son of God Himself!  Remember that in His baptism, Jesus stood in your place as a sinner, taking on Himself and taking away the sins of the world.  Now through your baptism into Him, you stand in His place as righteous and pray as dear children ask their dear Father.  That’s why you now have the privilege of saying, “Our Father who art in heaven . . .”  For you are truly children of God, holy, righteous, royal members of God’s family through faith in Christ your Savior, your Brother.  Even when you pray alone, you are always praying side by side with Jesus–to His Father, and therefore also to yours.  You pray with Jesus, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  You pray with all Christians.

So, what do you want, Christian?  “Ask,” says our Lord.  “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”  Does this mean we can ask for anything our flesh desires?  Obviously not.  Otherwise we wouldn’t be taught to pray “Thy will be done,” which means the breaking and hindering of every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature which stand against God’s will.  No, we are to ask for that which is given within the Name and the will of God–whatever aids us in our life as disciples of Christ and children of God.  If we ask for something that hinders our salvation, if we ask for something that does not help us lead a holy life in the callings God has given us, then we have not asked in the Name of Jesus our Savior, no matter what words we have used.  The name of Jesus is not a formula that guarantees a “yes” to your prayer–unlike those who think that if you just have enough faith when you pray, God will give you whatever you ask for.  No, to pray in the name of Jesus means that Jesus Himself is present in our prayers.  It is to pray the way He prayed, the way that brings real life, forgiveness, salvation, and joy.

In our prayers, then, we begin by acknowledging that we have no right to pray, no right to ask for anything.  For as the catechism says, we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.  We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray nor have we deserved them, but we ask that God would give them all to us by grace.  In Jesus’ name all answer to prayer comes by grace, as a gift through what He has done for us.  

So when you pray, do not provoke the Lord by asking for what you shouldn’t–worldly honor and power and pleasure.  It’s certainly OK to pray for bodily and material needs for ourselves or others.  That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  But He also teaches us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

King Solomon in the Old Testament is a good example of how we should pray.  When he first became king after his father David, Solomon was overwhelmed with the burden of his responsibilities.  And so when God told him to ask for whatever he wanted, Solomon didn’t ask for riches or long life or the death of his enemies.  Instead he asked for wisdom and a discerning heart, so that he could rule God’s people well.  And the Lord not only gave him great wisdom, so that there was none like him in all the world, the Lord also gave him what he did not ask for–riches and long life and honor among the nations.  In Solomon we see a good way to pray, not merely for our own interests, but for the things we need to carry out our callings well and for the good of our neighbor.

So when you pray, ask for the things that God has promised you in Christ.  Ask that the mercies of God may never be turned away from you, that you and the ones you love may endure in the faith unto the end.  In fact, if you think about it, the Lord’s Prayer tells us exactly what it is that God desires to give us. What comfort and certainty there is in that!  So ask that the name of God may be hallowed among us by what we teach and how we live.  Pray for the coming of the kingdom and all the spiritual graces that Holy Spirit would bestow through the Word.  Pray that not ours but God’s good and gracious will may be done.  Ask for the daily bread that you need and receive it with thanksgiving.  Pray that your selfish heart may be taken away, that you may be kept unspotted from the world’s pollutions and temptations and evils, that you may be cleansed from all your sins, that you may love your neighbor.  Give thanks to God for redeeming you by the blood of Jesus.  Seek that blood and that body here; for by these He overcame the world.  They are given and shed for you for your forgiveness.  

In your praying, know that Christ Jesus is on your side.  He is your mediator, who gave His own life as a ransom for you.  You’ve been bought out of bondage to sin and Satan.  You’re released. You are free.  And when you don’t know what to pray for or what words to say, remember what the Scriptures say, that “the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).  He helps us in our weakness when we don’t know how to pray as we ought.  He formulates and gives voice to the petitions of our hearts.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our mediator, our prayers are brought to our loving heavenly Father, who answers them always according to His good and gracious will.  That is what it means to pray in the name of Jesus, in the reality of your being baptized into the name of the blessed Holy Trinity.  Never think of this as a small thing.  God Himself has invited you to pray.  He’s not joking around.  The Lord of all says to you once again, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  

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

(With thanks to the Rev. Christopher Esget)

A Little While

John 16:16-22

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

Sometimes in TV dramas and movies, part of the storytelling will involve flashbacks to an earlier time.  What happened in the past gives context and deeper meaning to what’s happening in the present.  And in a way that’s what is happening with the Gospel readings in this part of the Easter season.  Throughout the church year we recount the true story of Jesus, and now that we’re in the post-resurrection part of the year, we flash back to Jesus with his disciples in the upper room on Thursday of Holy Week–before His arrest, before His trial, before all the darkness of Good Friday.  During this Eastertide, we recall Jesus’ words from the night He was betrayed, and it deepens and enriches our present understanding of the Gospel and gives us hope for the future.

Jesus says, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.”  For a little while Jesus was humiliated–betrayed, beaten, killed, and buried in the tomb–and the disciples didn’t see him. And again a little while, on the third day, they saw him raised from the dead and alive again as he promised.  That’s why Jesus told his disciples, “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy.” If Jesus had only died, and the disciples didn’t see him alive again, then there would be no joy, no hope, no gift of the Holy Spirit to guide them into proclaiming the faith that we hold to today.  If Jesus had only died, then sin and Satan would win, because death would have defeated Jesus just as it has been defeating people ever since Genesis 3.

But Jesus did not only die. He laid down his life in order that he might take it up again, new and triumphant over Satan and the grave.  And so the disciples and the women did weep at Jesus’ death, while the unbelieving world rejoiced that the Son of God was crucified.  However, the disciples then saw the risen Jesus’ hands and side and heard his voice speaking “Peace be with you”, and they rejoiced.  Joy wasn’t to be found within the disciples, in their own wisdom and strength; it was found outside of themselves in the crucified and risen Jesus.  Easter alone turned their sorrow into joy.

So you might be thinking, “Well, OK, that’s great for them, but what does this have to do with us? What do Jesus’ words to his disciples back then mean for us today?”  Well, to begin with, just apply those words to yourself.  First, Jesus said, “You will be sorrowful.”  Christianity isn’t always about feeling happy and walking around with a cheery smile.  For we deal with this fallen world as it actually is.  So there are plenty of days where we don’t feel joyful. There are plenty of things to lament and weep over, plenty of times when we’re sick or depressed or stressed out.  We live in a world that hates God’s Word and opposes the Gospel of Christ. We live in a world that rejoices more in celebrity, wealth, and power than compassion, mercy, and love; that rejoices when Christians are falsely made to look stupid or prudish or hateful–a world that rejoices in its own achievements and power and rejects the power of the risen Jesus and the salvation He has achieved for us.

So there will be those little whiles when you can’t seem to see Jesus, when things seem to be falling apart.  We deal with worry and uncertainty for the future. We sorrow for family or friends who have fallen or drifted away from the faith, or who suffer inexplicably and seemingly without end.  And if all that’s not bad enough, we have to contend with our own sinful nature which so often messes things up and saps the joy from our lives.

But then comes the reality of Easter.  The resurrection of Jesus turns our sorrow into joy, too.  Our individual and congregational situation may be different than that of the disciples 2000 years ago.  But the solution to our sorrow and weeping is the same–the real presence of the risen Jesus. The bodily resurrection of Jesus means that everything that brings us grief and sadness has been overcome and will be undone.  God the Father has accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins by raising Him from the dead.  So you are surely and truly forgiven.  All that has gone wrong with you in body and in mind, your sicknesses, your depression and anxiety, the death you face–you have been redeemed from it all in the risen body of Christ.  The loneliness you experience and the sense you have that things just aren’t right–all things are made right again in Him who says to you, “Behold, I make all things new.”  The Word of Jesus gives you confidence that the stuff you’re going through now really is just temporary, just a little while, and it will be followed by an unending while of life with Christ and eternal joy.  And knowing that is true brings you joy and peace even now, even in the midst of the bad stuff.  

A helpful way to think of it is that right now, we’re living in the age of Holy Saturday, the day between Christ’s death and resurrection.  Salvation has been won.  Jesus has paid for our sins and said, “It is finished.”  The resurrection of the dead is surely coming.  But we can’t see it yet; we don’t yet see Jesus.  And so it’s like we’re living in two worlds at once, the world of sin and death, and the new world of mercy and life unending, all at the same time.  The troubles of this world seem to be the same as always, and yet we know change is coming when Jesus returns.  The old cursed age and the new blessed age overlap now, so that we experience both.  But the good news is that the old is passing away, and the new is being revealed as the permanent reality in Christ.  As 1 John 2 says, “The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.”

It’s like what the Epistle reading said, that we’re living both in the now and the not yet.  “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. . .”  We’re living in the in-between time, in the little while of salvation won–and it’s ours completely by faith– but not yet salvation fulfilled and consummated by sight.  However, we live in the sure confidence that the fulfillment is most certainly coming on the Last Day when Christ returns.  The Epistle reading goes on, “But we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 

Just a little while, and that’s how it’s going to be for you–sharing in Christ’s glory, freed from your old sinful nature, released from pain and heartache and sickness and death, living in perfect communion with God, beholding the beauty of Lord and sharing in the joyous fellowship of His people forever.  For you who believe and are baptized, that is all yours as surely as Jesus is risen from the dead.  And so He encourages you today, “It really is only a little while that you must endure.  Just keep hanging on to Me.  Trust in Me to pull you through it.  It may seem like an eternity, but only three days.  Your Easter is coming.  Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”  Just like Job, you will see your Redeemer with your own eyes, in your resurrected flesh.

So be sure in these days that you don’t engage in the wrong kind of flashback, living in the past, dwelling on traumas and mistakes and regrets.  You can obsess about sin and evil, but the truth is that Jesus has taken all that from you.  He literally suffered it do death–whatever you’ve done, whatever has been done to you–and it’s all buried in the tomb from which He arose forever; it’s dead and gone and overcome.  Flash back to that; fix your eyes on Jesus, crucified and risen for you to give you life.

And finally, there’s also a certain flashing forward that you’re given to do, too.  Already now, you’re given a foretaste of the Last Day.  Jesus takes the future and brings it here to the present.  Here in the Lord’s Supper, it’s as if a time portal is opened up at the altar to the joyous feasting to come.  We look forward to Jesus’ return, and yet in fact He’s already here, giving us His risen body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.  Already now you are given to see Him as He is and begin to share in His life and His glory.  In the midst of this little while of sorrow, you partake of the blessedness of eternity.  

So take to heart the words of today’s OT reading, “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.”  And remember what the Lord Himself has said to you, “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”

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