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The Seed Is Christ

Luke 8:4-15

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

    We are right now in the midst of the three “gesima” Sundays in the church year.  “Sexagesima” has to do with the fact that we are approximately 60 days away from Easter.  As we prepare for Lent and Easter, these gesima days fit in very nicely with the three solas of the Lutheran Reformation, namely, that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ’s Word alone.  Last week we heard about grace alone in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard who were paid not by works but solely on the basis of the generosity of the landowner.  Next week we will hear about faith alone in the account of the healing of the blind man.  And today we focus on the Word, how the Word of Christ alone implants life and salvation in us.

    It is hard for us to believe that the Word of Christ is all that we need.  We are so easily tempted to think that the Word is not enough, that in addition we need something more to make it effective–good packaging and a marketing strategy with a fancy logo, dynamic presentations and music and speakers that will really draw a crowd, a set of programs that meets the “felt needs” of the people.  Some of that can be fine, but the great danger is that the Word of Christ will end up taking second place to what we do and what we want.  We must never forget the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, “When I came to you, I did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God  (lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power) . . . I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.  And my preaching was not with persuasive words of human wisdom . . .  that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

    In today’s parable it is abundantly clear that our Lord does not conduct a demographic study before determining how He’s going to scatter the seed of His Word.  Instead, He casts it anywhere and everywhere, on good ground and bad, on those who seem receptive and those who don’t, on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  His technique does not seem to be very wise or effective.  But it is the way of His lavish love.   He sows His seed in foolish, weak, and impossible places, with no thought of gain or loss, only conscious that the seed is good and that all are in need of the life and the mercy it brings.  

    As Jesus preaches and sows the seed of His Word, great crowds are coming out to hear Him.  But having big numbers is not necessarily the same thing as having many believers.  Some of the people were just coming out of curiosity or hoping to see a miracle.  And so Jesus tells a parable which describes how, though many hear the Word, not many grasp it and continue in believing it.  

    Some are like the seed that fell on the path, the hard, foot-worn soil. The Word of Christ is heard.  But it is not received or planted home where it can take root and sprout.  It can’t penetrate the hardened, impenitent heart.  We are reminded by this of the importance of not just knowing the faith outwardly, mentally, but of receiving the Word into heart, clinging to it, relying on it.  Jesus said that the seed is trampled down.  It is slandered by so-called scholars as being untrustworthy; or in the popular culture it is made fun of so that it’s not taken seriously.  Seed that falls on the hardened path is gobbled up by the birds.  Satan slithers in and with his forked tongue snatches away the Gospel.

    Some are like the stony, rocky ground on which the seed was sown.  These are the ones who have an impulsive faith, who haven’t counted the cost of what it means to follow Christ.  Initially they seem to have a great deal of enthusiasm for the faith.  But then something happens in their personal life or in the life of the church that changes all of that.  When things start to get too difficult, when life becomes a mess, then the doubts and questions creep in.  Their once seemingly strong faith is now shown to be only a surface faith, easily scorched by the heat of testing and temptation.  It is based on feelings and emotions.  Their faith is not deeply rooted in God’s words and promises but on how well He’s coming through for them right now.  In the end when it becomes clear that following Christ means real repentance and change and taking up the cross, they become offended; they stumble and fall away.  They wither spiritually, never having been firmly rooted in the faith.

    In the third instance, the seed lands among the thorns that choke out the young seedlings. Christ is preached and heard and believed, but there are so many other voices clamoring for your attention that faith in the Word of Christ gets choked off, like weeds crowding out a garden plant.  That’s the big temptation that our consumeristic, entertainment-oriented culture places before you.  Sometimes it’s not as if we purposely ignore the daily practice of our Christian faith.  It’s just that there are so many pleasures and distractions and diversions offered to you that you don’t have time for the one thing needful.  The thorns crowd out God’s Word.  You may desire within yourself to pray more regularly and read the Bible and have devotions more often; but then you hardly ever seem to have the time, there’s so many other obligations and things you supposedly have to do first.  Even here in church the thorns try to crowd your mind and divert your attention to other things so that you can’t dwell on God’s Word as you should.

    It’s interesting to note here that Jesus refers to the thorns as the “riches, cares, and pleasures of life.”  That’s odd because usually when you think of thorns, you think of something that’s painful, something that hurts.  And yet the thorns Jesus mentions include riches and pleasures, things which seem to be the opposite of pain!  And yet experience teaches that Jesus’ words are true.  For, in fact, the things that often promise us the most pleasure bring us the most pain.  The things of this world  give a temporary happiness but leave us with a lasting sadness and emptiness if they are what we set out hearts on.  St. Paul says in 1 Timothy, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. . .  For the love of money some have strayed from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”  Riches and pleasures are indeed thorns which can very easily ensnare and entangle us in all sorts of worries and cares and anxieties which bring us only pain.

    Well, if you’re anything like me, you can probably see yourself being described in more than one of those first three soils.  We must confess that even as Adam was created from the dust of the ground, we are that dirt full of hardness and rocks and thistles, dirt that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh want to make unfruitful, so that we will remain nothing more than dust.  Who here can claim to be that fourth good and perfect soil?  Who here can claim that they always act from a noble and good heart with patience?  This parable cuts through us all like the sharp blade of a plow, calling us to acknowledge our condition and repent.  

    The good news is that the Father sent forth His Word from heaven precisely to rescue you from what has infested you.  Christ Himself is the seed.  He is the Word made flesh and the substance of all true preaching.  The Father sends forth His Word from heaven; and Christ does not return to Him void but accomplishes the purpose for which He was sent.  Though the seed, the preaching of Christ, outwardly appears to be powerless and ordinary, yet it contains within it the power of God to save.  For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.  

    Christ Jesus has cleared away the debris in your soil through the power of His suffering and death.  Since Christ literally is the Word, the seed that is cast, whatever that seed experienced–on the path, on the rock, in the thistles–Christ has experienced for you.  Thorns were placed on the head of Christ, the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world.  Jesus was crucified in some hardened and rocky soil called Golgotha, the place of the skull, in order to deliver us.  There, He bore the withering heat of the day and the fire of our judgment.  There, people trampled on His Name with their insults, and Satan and his demons, like scavenging birds, gobbled Him up in death.  Do you see?  All that happened to the seed in the first three instances happened to Jesus.  But because Christ suffered all of that in your place, the devil and the world, sin and death are now conquered for you.  Christ has destroyed the power of the raven and the hard clay, the thorn and the rock from the inside out.  For on the third day our Lord rose from the depths of the earth, bringing with Him the abundance of His mercy and the fruitfulness of His new life, for you.

    The truth is that it is Christ Himself and Christ alone who is that fourth good soil.  For only Christ is without the stain of sin; only He is not overcome by the devil or the world.  He is the divine Word of the Father who was cast like seed from heaven into the good soil of His perfect humanity, which He received in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary.  He alone is the One with the noble and good heart who received His Father’s will and patiently carried out His Father’s Word, growing up and producing a bountiful harvest of those who believe and are saved.

    Our Lord Jesus is that promised Seed of Eve, planted in the tomb in order that abundant life might spring up through His bodily resurrection.  And you share in that life.  For you are one in whom the Seed has been planted.  In Christ alone, by the working of His Word alone, you become the fourth soil.  The seed of the Word was planted in you by the Holy Spirit with the water of your baptism.  It is sown still in the absolution and the preaching of the Gospel.   And the seed of Christ will be scattered on the soil once again today as the very body and blood of Christ are placed into your mouth for the forgiveness of your sins.  The Word of Christ is at work in you now, that you may bear fruit one hundred fold–the fruit of faith toward God and fervent love toward one another.  The Sower is still sowing His seed, that you may have His life and live His life forever.

    To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.  Treasure these mysteries, dwell upon them, believe in them, so that you may remain deeply rooted in the Word of Christ, and so that you may share in Christ’s resurrection in the final harvest on the Last Day.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

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

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty

Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21

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

    The scholars and the cultural elites and the intellectuals of our time think that much of the Bible is merely myth or fable or even fraud.  The virgin birth, the miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus to them are more or less fairy tales. And certainly they would think of today’s Gospel in the same way.  Jesus’ face transfigured and shining?  Ancient Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus on the mountaintop?  A thundering voice from a brilliant cloud of glory?  It’s all just a little too fantastical for them.

    But why would Peter, James, and John ever invent such a story and then stand by it their whole lives?  All it earned for them was persecution, and martyrdom for two of these three.  Well, the so-called scholars would say that perhaps the story was made up later on somehow, and Jesus went from being merely a popular rabbi to the Son of God.  Power-hungry bishops supposedly invented or embellished these stories for the purpose of setting themselves up as the only source of salvation.  Today’s “smart” unbelievers clearly want to put forth the idea that the Bible is mostly a work of fiction, that there were no eyewitnesses of the birth, miracles, or resurrection of Jesus, and that the Christian Church perpetuates lies in order to maintain control over people.  

    And because we are so often like the disciples in the Gospel, spiritually sluggish and lethargic in the faith, not giving proper attention to the Word of God and prayer, even we can begin to be wonder about these things ourselves; doubts can begin to creep in.  Is this for real or just a grand hoax?  I myself wondered that as a teenager. We forget that not only are the Scriptures historically reliable, verifiably and faithfully transmitted to us from the days of the apostles; but even more importantly, the Scriptures are self-authenticating.  They show themselves to be true as the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and brings us to repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  The Scriptures have the ring of truth, for they give us Him who is the truth, who can only be received in faith or rejected in unbelief.  When it comes right down to it, the real story for those who have turned away from trusting the Bible is that they’ve turned away from repentance and Jesus as Savior.

    It is often the so-called “experts” and “smart” people who are actually the ones promoting falsehoods and fables and frauds, taking 2nd-century religious writings by people who weren’t eyewitnesses and giving them equal respect and weight with the Gospels and the letters of the Apostles who knew Jesus directly.  The New Testament wasn’t concocted after the days of the Apostles.  Documentary evidence of the Gospels and Epistles can be reliably traced back to when they were still alive and facing hardship for proclaiming the Gospel.  And also remember this: Christianity was not a legal religion in the Roman Empire until the 300's A.D.  The bishops at the Council of Nicea in 325 who confessed Jesus to be God in the flesh were not power-hungry monsters but men who in many cases had suffered horribly for what they believed.  A few of them were missing an eye or an arm or a leg or were disfigured because of the torture they endured for being Christian.  Far from being some secretive cover-up or conspiracy, the confession of the Church at Nicea, which produced the Creed that we still confess today, is what has been believed and taught by the Church from the beginning.  If you’re going to doubt someone, be skeptical of those who are skeptical of the Bible.

    The truth is, there were in fact eyewitnesses who recorded what they heard Jesus say and what they saw Him do.  One of those eyewitnesses was Peter.  And He says today very clearly, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”  And the Apostle John says in his first epistle, “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life...” (1 John 1:1).  Those are both statements which everyone must wrestle with: Are they telling the truth? Were Peter, James, and John and the other apostles writing cleverly devised myths?  Or later on, did Paul give up his career as a rising star among the Pharisees for a lifetime of poverty, being hated, stoned, beaten?  Their lives were turned upside-down by their encounters with Jesus, and they shed their blood as testimony that their writings were true and not cleverly devised stories.  Peter, James, and John are telling the truth, that they really were on the mountain with Jesus, that they heard the voice of the Majestic Glory, that they saw something so extraordinary that they could only come to one conclusion, no matter how amazing it seems: Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the Lord, God in the Flesh, the Son of the Living God. “For we were with Him on the holy mountain.”

    And what they saw could only be likened to something that Moses saw: God’s appearance in the burning bush.  Just as that bush burned but was not consumed, so the divinity of Christ dwelt in His humanity but did not destroy it. You and I are mortal and sinful; if we would come into direct contact with God, we’d be instantly destroyed.  But the divinity, the Godhead, dwelt in Jesus, and He was not destroyed.  The fire burned in Him but He was not consumed.  God came to us in this way, into our humanity, that we may come into contact with God through Him and live.

    But why does this transfiguration happen now, before Jesus is crucified?  Well, when they go down from the mountain, they are going to begin the journey to Jerusalem for the last time. Jesus will be handed over to the chief priests, and will be executed.  By showing Peter, James, and John His divinity, Jesus is showing them that His divinity is not something that comes later, a reward for His crucifixion, but something He always had, from the very moment of His conception.  They will understand then who it is that died for them: not just a man, but God made man, God in the flesh.  This is of the utmost importance for you.  If Jesus were just a man, His death would not save you.  But since it was the blood of God Himself that was shed on the cross, it is sufficient to cover and pay for the sins of the whole world, including yours and mine.  Your sins are forgiven in this Jesus, and in Him alone.

    That’s why they could not stay on the mountain. Peter wanted to build three tabernacles and hold on to the moment and the glory.  But it is only Jesus who is given to build a new tabernacle in Himself, the resurrected body and the new creation. That won’t happen on this mountain, but on another, Mt. Calvary.

    The only way to glory is through the cross.  That’s why it is written in Luke that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus of His exodus, His departure which He was about to accomplish.  They knew very well what He had come to do.  There is no new creation without first breaking the curse of sin on the old one.  There is no eternal resurrection without there first being suffering and death.  And that’s why Jesus spoke these words to His disciples and also to us just before this event.  He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

    The Transfiguration is a true story.  It is no myth or fable or fraud.  The glory of God shines in the flesh of Jesus for you.  And Peter reminds us what this means: we now have the prophetic word confirmed, the promises of God made all the more sure.  Moses and Elijah testify that this Jesus is the One whom they spoke of; He’s the Messiah and the Savior.  That’s where you are to focus your attention–not on seeking after supernatural signs and spiritual mountaintop experiences, but seeking after the prophetic Word of God, which points us to the Word made flesh.  That is the one sure thing you can rely upon, the one thing that is certain in this world of uncertainty, chaos, and death.  After all, what did the voice of the Father say from the cloud?  “Hear Him!”  Listen and pay attention to His Word.  And what happened at the end of the Gospel?  “When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”  Jesus only.  Let us fix our eyes on Him.

    For in the end, this story of the Transfiguration is your story.  When you see Jesus on the mountain in glory, you are seeing your own future.  You are baptized into Christ’s body, right?  You are joined to Him by faith.  Therefore what is true for Him is true for you, too.  Though now you must bear the cross and deal with all the troubles and afflictions of this life, that is only a temporary thing, since Jesus bore the cross for you.  You will be like the risen Christ, for you will see Him as He is.  You will behold and reflect His awesome majesty forever.

    And even now, this is already beginning to happen with you.  It is written in 2 Corinthians 3, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord–we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”  After all, we have the presence of Jesus here, don’t we?  We may not have the shining glory–which the non-denominational churches like to try to replicate and replace with their light shows and big screens.  But we do have the very body and blood of the Son of God–the very same Jesus who was on the mountain, now giving Himself to us for our forgiveness, to transfigure us into His likeness through faith.  And we have the Benediction, given by God, which bestows what the words say, “The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.”  Peter may not have known what to say on the mountain, but he was right about this much–it is good for us to be here with Christ and with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, including Moses and Elijah.  The Lord’s Word is reliable and trustworthy and true.  He will be with you in all the valleys of your life until He comes again to give you to share in His divine and eternal glory.

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

(With thanks to Christopher Esget)

The Perfect Humanity of Jesus

Luke 2:41-52
Epiphany 1

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

    It’s easy to misunderstand what is going on in today’s Gospel.  We think that the 12 year old Jesus was able to amaze the teachers with His understanding because He was (and is) God.  As the only-begotten Son of the Father, He is omniscient and therefore He knows all the answers.  It’s a piece of cake for Him to do this.  Except that is actually not what is going on here.  For notice how it says that the 12 year old Jesus was listening to them and asking them questions.  And it’s not that Jesus is just playing along; He’s truly learning.  For it is written here that He increased in wisdom as well as stature.  Just as Jesus was growing up in body, so also He was growing up in mind as a true human being.  So Jesus doesn’t impress the teachers here by pulling out His divinity card.  Rather, right there before them is perfect humanity, a boy who loves His heavenly Father and who is absolutely enthralled with pondering the Scriptures, who has no sin to cloud His understanding and insight.  

    The way that the Scriptures speak of this is that the Son of God emptied Himself of His divine powers for us.  We call this Jesus’ state of humiliation, that period of time where our Lord did not always or fully use His divine knowledge and might.  Only after His death on the cross and burial did Jesus then enter His state of exaltation, as He bodily rose from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand.  Certainly now He does always and fully exercise the powers of His divine nature as both God and man.  But here in today’s Gospel, Jesus has emptied Himself for us in order to redeem us.  It is written in Philippians 2: “[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

    So consider what is going on here.  Having been raised in a pious household with Joseph and His mother, Jesus had been hearing and learning the Scriptures all His life and was growing up with a clear-minded, innocent, accurate grasp of them as a fully human boy.  Now here He is in the temple, and He is just reveling in talking about the things of God, demonstrating marvelous insight, growing in the holy words of the Scriptures, which all are fulfilled in Him.  Would that all tweenagers and teenagers would be like that, right?  Imagine such a 12-year-old boy in Sunday School or Bible class.  Here is Jesus doing that, all without making use of His divine powers.  Here in Jesus, perfect 12-year old humanity is being revealed.  That is what is bringing amazement to the teachers.

    We also are given to marvel and to be amazed at all this.  For Jesus our Savior was doing this for us and for our children and our grandchildren.  He was living a perfectly human life in our place, unstained by sin from beginning to end, so that He might cleanse us of our sin, so that we might be given to share in His love of the Word, and so that we might be made perfectly human again through faith in Him.

    This is so important for you to remember and cling to, especially in those times when you seem to have lost track of Jesus like Joseph and His mother did.  All too often we can become complacent in our faith, thinking that we’ve got the religion stuff all figured out; and then we take our eyes off of Jesus to focus our attention on the things and the people and the honors of this world.  Everything seems to be going along fine until we get a rude awakening of some kind, when we’re confronted with the truth about ourselves.  And suddenly Jesus seems to have become far, far away from us, we’ve been walking without Him for so long.  That’s when the fear strikes you that perhaps you’re the one who is lost, and you don’t know how to get back to Him.  Thankfully, the good news of today’s Gospel is that Jesus in the temple is already at work to bring you back into God’s holy presence–just as Mary and Joseph were brought back–to find you and reconcile you to the Father in Himself.  That is His Father’s business.

    As Joseph and Mary were anxious at being separated from Jesus, so all Christians should have care and concern that their children and family and friends not be separated from Jesus in this ungodly world.  That’s the business we should be about.  Instead of focusing primarily on our children and grandchildren being smart or popular or athletic or earning lots of money, much more important is their spiritual welfare.  For there is nothing worse that can happen to anyone than that they wander from Jesus and are cut off from Him and the life He alone can give.  And so our fears in particular are for our loved ones who have strayed away from the Lord and who may not even seem to care, who have loved this world and their own philosophy of life instead of the wisdom of Christ.  We shouldn’t just give up and say “Oh well, it’s not my business.”  We shouldn’t just pretend that they’re not acting like unbelievers when they have no time for the preaching of Christ or His holy supper.   We should care and be anxious for them and pray for them and speak to them about Christ.  

    For Jesus lives through these growing up years, including adolescence and early adulthood–those times when people often stray away from the faith–Jesus lives through all the stages of our life to sanctify them for us, and to make the way back for those who have strayed, so that His life might be theirs again, so that the words of the Psalmist might be in their mouths, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.  According to your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.”  Our Lord fills up this and every phase of our life with His perfect life so that we might never lose hope for those who have lost track of Jesus.  He lives to restore our humanity and to reclaim us and draw us back to Himself.

    For what is clear here is that while Joseph and Mary lost track of Jesus, Jesus Himself was never lost.  He was always right where He was supposed to be.  He was in His Father’s house and about His Father’s business.  Jesus would not only learn and do the carpentry work of His guardian-father Joseph, but also and especially the work of His heavenly Father, where wood and hammer and nails would be to be put to a different use.   Jesus will continue His work until it perfected 21 years later outside Jerusalem as He says, “It finished.”  This is, after all, the Passover feast, and the Lamb of God is in the holy temple.  His shed blood causes death to pass over you.  By His holy cross He takes away your sins.  You are redeemed; you are forgiven.

    For three days Mary felt the loss of her Son here, when He had to be about His Father’s business.  All these things that happened she would keep in her heart, even though she didn’t understand them yet.  Mary may well have recalled this day in the temple as she stood at the foot of her Son’s cross, and lost Him again, this time to death and the grave, only to receive Him back once more on the third day, risen from the dead.  Here Jesus said, “Why did you seek me?”  Later angels would announce to the women at the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  The temple was destroyed and in three days it was raised up again.  Jesus had to be about His Father’s business like this to deliver Mary and Joseph and the whole world from the curse.

    On this day we are given to see that the Son of God empties Himself so that we might be emptied of our sin.  In Jesus we are being restored to who we really are, not the identities we try to create for ourselves, but our true selves.  By the Holy Spirit, we are being made to be all that we were first created to be–not in the way of the world, which thinks you are becoming all you can be by pursuing self-fulfillment and achieving your dreams–no, you are being recreated in the way of Christ, increasing in godly wisdom, in love for the Lord, in kindness and compassion for others.

    So remember this:  You may sometimes lose track of Jesus, but He never loses track of you.  He has inscribed you on the palms of His fully human hands.  The Lord has given you His saving name, and He has not withdrawn it.  His words and promises always remain true; you can count on them.  Trust in them.  For Jesus increased in wisdom and stature in order to give you stature and standing before God, to bring you back into the Father’s favor, to make you wise for salvation through faith in Him.  Here is your lost humanity restored.  You can count on this Jesus, who already as a Boy is applying Himself to His saving work for you.  It is written in Colossians 2, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him” (Colossians 2:9-10).

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

The Enfleshment of God

John 1:14

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

    It’s always curious to me that even in the secular and entertainment world, everyone feels compelled to point out what they think the “true meaning” of Christmas is.  And then you’ll usually hear something about giving or world peace or being together with family or the warm glow in our hearts.  Those are all certainly good things.  But today’s Gospel from John 1 draws our attention to the real heart of this festival, the truth of what this Christ Mass is all about.  It says very simply but very profoundly, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The center of Christmas is the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God, the historic fact that some 2000 years ago in a village called Bethlehem God visibly entered this world by being born as a true human being.  

    God became Man.  The Creator of all things became a creature.  The Lord of the universe sets aside His royal robes and exchanges them for a set of diapers and strips of cloth.  The One who perfectly reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, takes on human flesh and blood.  The Eternal breaks into time.  The Son of God was given birth by the mother He had created,  delivered by the one He would later deliver by His death on the cross. The Bread of life now humbles Himself to receive nourishment from her.  St. Paul speaks of the marvel of this Child, “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

    In the Old Testament, God’s dwelling place was a tent, and later a more permanent temple in Jerusalem.  That was where the glory and the name of God dwelt among men.  But now, in these last days, God has come to dwell with us in a far more intimate way.  His dwelling place is now our flesh and blood.  His temple is His human body and soul which He inseparably united with His divinity at His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.

    This Incarnation is a strange concept to us.  In fact it is an offensive thing to our fallen human reasoning that the infinite God and finite man can be brought together like this.  Almost all religions have nice things to say about Jesus–that He’s a great prophet or teacher or guru.  But other than Christianity, they all reject the incarnation, that God became flesh.  And even for us, it can be a troublesome thing to ponder God’s lowering and emptying of Himself when we are usually thinking about how we can fulfill ourselves and raise ourselves up.  Just like our first parents, we human beings all try to be like God.  Not content to be creatures made in His image, we try to be independent creators of our own identity.  We become competitors with God, wanting to be the masters of our own lives, to assert our self-exalting philosophies over God’s Word.  Apart from His image, there is no inherent desire in us to become servants, nothing in us that would stoop down to the level of the manger, to lay down our lives and deny ourselves for the sake of another, particularly our enemies.

    But that is precisely what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  He has reached down to us deeply, to be with us who continually strive to take His place.  To save us who wanted to become like God, He became like us.  He became the least among us, a poor and helpless infant.  He came without our invitation, without our preparation, without our decision, without our welcome, without our help.  This is entirely God’s doing, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

    In so doing God has brought honor back to our dishonored humanity.  Luther once said that the angels of heaven are not so blessed as we are, even though they are greater and stronger than we are.  For the Son of God did not come as an angel, but as a man.  This is the ultimate honor that God can bestow, to take up our human nature and become one of us.  God dignifies our flesh and blood by taking it as His own.  He didn’t simply take possession of a man.  He became man, fully human.  His body is not just some avatar that he inhabits and controls.  God actually is man, with a human body and soul; divine and human natures, yet one undivided person.  “The Word became flesh.”

    And the Son of God did this without sin.  That is the one difference between Jesus and us.  Jesus has no earthly father.  God is His Father.  He bears our humanity without the inherited stain of Adam.

    This too is cause for great rejoicing on our part today.  For in this we see that our sin is something foreign to our humanity.  The Word became flesh without sin.  We often make excuses for our sins and imperfections by saying, “Well, I’m only human,”  as if to say that what God made wasn’t really “very good” as He said, as if to say that our sin is somehow God’s fault.  But the Word become flesh tells us that is not so!  Our sin is not human, it is inhuman and subhuman.  Sin dehumanizes us and makes us less than human.  It is a foreign object, a cancer, a toxin that has seeped into our human nature and polluted it.  It robs us of our dignity.  It drives us to despair and a miserable death.

    But the Word made Flesh recovers our humanity.  He reclaims the dignity we once had as God’s foremost visible creatures.  He restores the image of God to our flesh and blood.  In Christ, God in His fullness is pleased to dwell with us bodily.  We can boast before all creation that our flesh and blood sits enthroned at God’s right hand and rules over all things.  Not just our souls but also our bodies, therefore, are sanctified and holy in God’s sight.  Even the angels bow in adoration before this man Jesus Christ.  

    It used to be the custom to bow the head or even bend the knee in Church at the words of the Creed, “and was made man.”  That is a good custom.  We sometimes rattle through the words of the Creed as if we were in a hurry to get it over with.  And we end up gliding right over the greatest wonder in this world: God became Man in His Son Jesus Christ.  This is our God, the God who can be our substitute in death because He’s one of us, whose divine blood is sufficient payment to cover your sins and the sins of the whole world, the God who has taken up your suffering and death into His own person, who shared in your sorrows completely in order that you might share in His joy and His glory and His life.

    The Word made flesh dwells among us still.  Though He is enthroned in glory at the right hand of His Father, the Father extends His right hand into our midst.  Jesus is still God with us.  He dwells among us incarnate in the Word of the preached Gospel, in the Word of Baptism, in the Word of the Supper.  His manger is now the baptismal water, the words of Scripture, the Bread and Wine.  Here He continues to dwell among us kindly and gently, as humbly as when He was a nursing infant.

    So do not look for God anywhere else except in His Incarnation, His real bodily presence among us.  Don’t seek Him in His majesty but in His humility.  Seek the glory of God in His flesh.  For God has revealed Himself to us in a meek and humble way, a way in which we may look on Him and live.  Here is the glory of God, full of grace and truth, our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal God in touchable, tangible skin.  Hear it one more time, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  That is the real meaning of Christmas.

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

The Christ Child and the Dragon

Luke 2:1-20; Revelation 12
Eve of the Nativity of our Lord, 2023

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

    Right from the very beginning, our Lord was not afraid to get His hands dirty for us.  He forms Adam from the dirt, the dust of the ground, and into that hand-formed clay God breathes the breath of life.  Then, He takes from Adam’s side and creates Eve, giving male and female to become one flesh.  God is not above interacting with the physical stuff of His creation.  He declares it all to be very good.  He’s not afraid to get down in the dirt for us and for our blessing.

    Now what do you think Lucifer thought when he saw all of this?  He was a great and glorious angel whom God had created, and yet it wasn’t to any angelic spirit but to bodily human beings that God said, “You are the ones created in my image.  To you I give dominion over all creation.  Carry on my creating and ordering work.  Fill the earth and subdue it; be fruitful and multiply.”  Lucifer was moved to jealousy over this.  In rebellious pride, he led a mutiny against God together with 1/3 of the rest of the angels, and in the end he was cast out of heaven.  We of course know him as Satan, meaning “adversary,” and the devil, meaning “accuser.”

    After the devil succeeded in deceiving our first parents into joining his mutiny, luring them to forsake the Creator’s Word and follow their own deathly wisdom, God spoke this curse on Satan, which is the first Gospel prophecy in the Bible.  The Lord said to the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”  (Perhaps God was taking a jab at prideful Satan there, since the devil has no seed; he can’t be fruitful and multiply in the way that human beings can.)  Then God goes on to describe what this Seed of the Woman will do, “He will crush your head, Satan, and you will crush His heel.”  

    So the promise of our being saved from the curse of sin and death is tied to the Seed, the Offspring, the birth of the Child.  That’s why it is that, ever since the beginning, the devil has hated children and has sought to devour babies.  Remember how Pharaoh sought to kill the Israelite baby boys in Egypt, or how Herod slaughtered all the male children 2 years old and under in Bethlehem.  Consider all the pagan religions with their child sacrifices.  Consider our own pagan practice of abortion, more than 900,000 a year in this country–not to mention the willful practice of rejecting God’s gift of children and pregnancy even within marriage.  The devil hates children and babies, because he hates the promise of the Gospel, the promised Seed of Eve, the One whose birth we are celebrating this holy night, Christ the Lord.

    So while it may seem strange on Christmas Eve to hear talk of warfare in the readings–battle and garments rolled in blood and a dragon trying to consume the Child–this helps us to see what is actually going on in the narrative of Christ’s birth.  This is combat that is being engaged in.  The Son of God has infiltrated enemy territory in and through the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary.  The devil knows He’s here.  The dragon is just waiting for the right moment to strike.  

    Sometimes you’ll find that children have put some strange toys or action figures into a nativity scene in the house.  Not something I would necessarily encourage–although it actually would not be inappropriate to include a dragon lurking in the background behind the ox and the donkey and the shepherds.  For the incarnation of Jesus is an act of war against the evil one.  It is written, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).

    Think about what a wondrous thing it is that we’re observing and celebrating tonight: God the Son, through whom all things were created, both visible and invisible–He Himself is now entering into and joining Himself to His creation.  True God becomes true man.  The Lord shares in our flesh and becomes our blood brother.  Just like in the beginning, He is not afraid to get His hands dirty for our benefit.  He is born where there is a dirt floor.  He is laid in a cattle feeder.  He becomes like us so that we might become like Him.  He shares in our human nature so that we might be partakers of His divine nature.

    And already here we are seeing the victory being won.  For remember that with the fall into sin, we were cut off from God’s presence, separated from Him and bound for the emptiness of unending death–that’s what we deserve.  But now God and man are brought back together again in Christ, who is both God and man in one undivided Person.  By becoming human, Jesus has sanctified your humanity and made it good and holy again.  By believing and being baptized into Christ, you get your humanity back that Satan stole away from you through sin.  You are no longer cut off from God; Jesus brings you back into fellowship with Him again in His flesh and blood.  He is the Way back for you, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.

    That joyous reality is what we are witnessing with the angels appearing to the shepherds.  It’s as if heaven and earth are no longer separated.  The angels spill over heaven’s edge and fill the air with the reflected light of God’s glory.  The barrier is broken down as the song of heaven is heard on earth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  There is truly peace now between God and man in this divine and human Child Jesus.  God and sinners are reconciled; you are reconciled to your Creator.  “There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

    This isn’t some namby-pamby Savior.  You have a Savior who fights for you.  Just consider what His taking on of our human flesh means.  It means that whatever the devil did to us human beings, he’s now done it to the Son of God, too; and that’s simply not going to stand.  Jesus is here to do something about it.  The devil is a prideful, narcissistic bully, who taunts us and knocks us around and tries to belittle and demean and disgrace us with various sins and afflictions and troubles.  But we have an older brother who can stand up to the bully now, One who is without sin.  

    And so Jesus faces the temptations we face; he endures the taunts and the mocking and the mistreatment in our place.  He makes Himself to be such a tempting target that the devil cannot help Himself.  Jesus lures the dragon in and allows him to do his worst to Him.  Our Lord stands in for us.  For He has real human hands that can get dirty and can be nailed to a cross, a real human head that can be pierced with thorns, a real human side that can be thrust into with a spear, real human blood to shed.  But because this is the Son of God we’re talking about here, it is also divine blood, powerful blood that cleanses us of our sin, that destroys death, that conquers the evil one.  Having drawn the bully Satan in, Jesus lets the devil punch himself out on Him and use up all his ammunition until he has nothing left.  And then Jesus takes him down to the depths of death and crushes his ugly head with His bruised and bloody heel.  And our Lord rises again victorious, having reasserted man’s dominion over creation.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to this Jesus.  

    And it all starts here in Bethlehem, this battle for humanity, this war for your soul.  Revelation 12 indicates how the dragon, unsuccessful in his attempts to devour the Christ Child, persecutes the woman and makes war with the rest of her offspring.  This woman is both a picture of the blessed Virgin Mary and also of the Holy Christian Church.  All of you who hold to the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus are her offspring.  The final skirmishes of this battle will carry on until our Lord Jesus returns.  So be vigilant; because your adversary the devil is still walking about like a prideful, roaring beast, seeking whom he may devour.

    But then remember especially what the Scriptures say, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).  For those who take refuge in Christ, not even the devil can separate us from the love of God.  The dragon is defanged and declawed; he breathes no more fire for those who believe and are baptized.  Together with our Lord, we also crush Satan under our feet, as it is written, “They overcame (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”  Confessing our faith in Jesus the Lamb of God, we share in His victory.  He was born as one of us so that we would be born again in Him to eternal life.  He was laid in a lowly manger so that the lowly would reign with Him on high.  He was willing to get His hands dirty in order to rescue you and re-create you and breathe new life into you.

      So if you are suffering some bodily affliction, know that Jesus shares in your bodily humanity to restore you to wholeness.  If you are feeling isolated or are broken-hearted this holiday season, know that Jesus has come to bring you the light of His fellowship to comfort you.  He’s not a God far away;  He is Immanuel, God with us.  If you are struggling with sin, if you’ve drifted away from being in the Lord’s house and at the Lord’s table each week, know that Jesus doesn’t give up on you but longs to have you back with Himself.  Come home into the refuge of Christ, the only place where you are safe from the onslaughts of the evil one.  In Jesus you have the forgiveness that brings victory over sin and Satan and even death itself.  

    Come today, and kneel before this nativity scene–not just the one below the altar, but the one on the altar.  For Jesus is humbly mangered there for you in the consecrated bread and wine.  Bow before Him and receive Him.  Let your humanity be restored by receiving His true body and blood, born for you of Mary, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  A blessed and merry Christmas to you all.

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

Not Comfortable, But Comforted

Matthew 3:1-12
Advent 3

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

    By nature we all want our Christianity to be comfortable.  We don’t mind if it makes some demands on us–we expect that.  But we don’t want it to rock the boat too much or get in the way of our dreams and desires.  Our old Adam inevitably tries to domesticate the faith, to make it something manageable and under our control, something that fits into our designs rather than something that places us into God’s greater design.  And so we go to church (at least somewhat regularly), we know the right answers, but we grow numb to the sin in our life, resistant to our need to change.  The Christian faith just becomes just one part of our lives rather than life itself.    

    But in today’s Gospel John the Baptizer teaches us that Christianity cannot be domesticated like that.  He calls out to us with uncompromising words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  He won’t let us settle in to this world and be comfortable with our lives.  He’s always calling us to turn away from our sins and worldly loves, to prepare for the coming kingdom of Christ and to have no other allegiance than to Jesus.  If you are to be a Christian, you can never be entirely settled or comfortable in this world.  For repentance is not just a one-time action but a way of life, daily dying to sin and self and living the new life of Christ.

    John calls us out of our comfort zones into the wilderness, away from the supposedly civilized world with its illusions and lies.  It is written that the people went out to be baptized by John in the Jordan, “confessing their sins.”  We do something like that here each week, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess to you all my sins and iniquities.”  And yet, it’s not exactly the same, is it?  For they were confessing specific things.  The problem with general confession is that we then become generic sinners.  Generalities are safe.  What’s the threat in admitting you’re a sinner, just like everyone else in the world?  Big deal.  But what is it specifically that you do that is wrong?  And perhaps more importantly, what is it that you don’t do that you should be doing toward God and others?  In what ways do you try to justify and make excuses for yourself?  The Law John preaches leaves no room to escape our need to repent.

    This is no small matter; this is no game.  For John says, “Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  You are to bear fruits worthy of repentance, humble deeds of love which demonstrate that you are relying not on yourself and your own spiritual pedigree but on Christ alone and His coming salvation.

    “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  The Lord seeks to push down anything that stands between you and Him.  The terrain of your life will not be left the same after the bulldozers of God’s Law have plowed their path.  Everyone must become different and new.  For it is written, “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades.”  Everything we are, everything we do and accomplish is only temporary.  All this talk from John may sound a bit Scrooge-like.  But it's for our good; he doesn’t want us to count on things that don’t last.  Only the Word of our God stands forever.  And it is upon His Word, and not anything in us, that our eternal life rests.  Only what comes from the mouth of the Lord is sure and lasting.

    Hear, then, today what the Word says, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  The King is coming!  Jesus is near!  He’s about to arrive!  And that’s good news!  For He comes to save every penitent heart and to help those who have been humbled and laid low.

    From the Lord’s mouth now comes a Word of Gospel, a Word of consolation, “Comfort, comfort my people!” says your God.  “Cry out to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  Christianity is not comfortable, but it is comforting.  The Lord tells His preachers, “Speak tenderly and lovingly to the Church, speak to the heart of my bride, and preach kind words to her.  Tell her that she is forgiven.”  

    Do you see how the Lord comforts us?  He reveals that His hand is not a closed iron fist waiting to pound you, but an open hand giving you the free gift of mercy.  For while every tree that does not bear good fruit is indeed cut down and thrown into the fire, there is another tree that stands in the place of our own, the tree of the cross.  Though that wood was dry and lifeless, yet it yielded the most precious fruit on its limbs, the very body of Christ sacrificed for the sins of the whole world.  Though He was entirely without sin, yet Jesus was chopped down in death for us.  He was thrown into the fiery judgment we deserved so that we would be spared and forgiven.  We are not worthy even to carry his sandals, yet He stooped down and carried us out of death through His resurrection.  He has arisen from the earth as a fruitful Vine, and we have been grafted into Him so that we may share in His life forever and bear fruit by His Spirit.

    So hear the prophet’s message:  Your warfare is over.  The battle against sin and Satan and the grave is won by Christ.  You can rest; you are at peace.  In the midst of all that would weary you, in the midst of all that stands against you, the victory is already yours in Christ.  The Lord is for you.  Nothing can separate you from His love.  You have received from Him double forgiveness for your sins, twice as much as you need, and then some.  God has given you everything He’s got, without limit, all of Jesus, so that you may never doubt that you have truly been made right with Him.  All of your sins have been answered for and taken away.  As John said of Jesus at Jordan’s baptismal waters, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  

    That’s how Jesus is mightier even than the mighty preacher, John the Baptist.  Jesus baptizes you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Though fire means judgment, now in Christ it is a cleansing, enlightening fire.  For the Holy Spirit and fire were poured out by Christ on Pentecost.  Peter would declare that Pentecost day,“Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  And also note that John says this: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  That means that Jesus is the one who baptized you, regardless of who the pastor was.  He has given you His mighty salvation by the fire of His Spirit.

    And so you are called today, then, to live in that light of your baptism.  Die with Christ to your stubborn self will.  And rise with Him to a new life in His good and sacrificial and perfect will.  Learn to live a life in this world that is not comfortable, but that is comforted and comforting.  Trust in Christ, the incarnate Son of God, and find your real life in Him.  

    For the tree of the cross does bear good fruit for you to partake of–the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for your forgiveness and healing and comfort.  It is toward this great Feast of Christ that you repent; it is to this Food and Drink that you are turned.  For here at His Altar, the very Kingdom of heaven, the Lord Himself is at hand: not with a heavy hand, but with the right hand of fellowship–peace with Him and with each other through His mercy.

    This is your true Christmas preparation.  For here we humbly kneel before the Lord as before the manger.  Here the glory of the Lord is revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.  For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.

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

The God of Hope

Romans 15:4-13
Midweek Advent 2

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning. . .”  The Apostle Paul is referring there to the Old Testament Scriptures.  They were written for our instruction in this New Testament age.  So what are we to learn from them?  To begin with, we can learn what not to do.  We can learn from what happened to the children of Israel, who grew impatient waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain, and turned instead to the immediate gratification and pleasures of the worship of the golden calf.  As a result 3000 men were killed, and a plague came upon the people.  We can learn from what happened to Israel when they were afraid to enter the promised land because of the strength of its inhabitants.  They walked by sight and didn’t trust in the Lord or His words.  Only Joshua and Caleb believed that the Lord would be with them to give them victory.  The Lord had done great wonders for them in bringing them out Egypt, but because of Israel’s fearful unbelief, they had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  None of those who were 20 or older would enter the promised land, except for Joshua and Caleb.  The carcasses of the rest would be scattered in the wilderness.  We can learn from what happened to individuals, too–like greedy Gehazi, the servant of Elisha.  When the prophet refused to receive any money or gifts for healing Naaman of his leprosy, Gehazi went after Naaman to get silver and clothing for himself.  As a result, Gehazi himself was struck with leprosy.  “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning.”

    However, Paul goes on to say, “that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”  So the Apostle is not primarily directing us to learn moral lessons about how not to behave.  He’s especially encouraging us to learn from the faithful in the Old Testament and to follow their example.  He wants to encourage us to hope in Lord, to persevere and endure in clinging to God’s words, and to set our hearts on their fulfillment. Consider, for instance, childless Abraham, who trusted in the promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and that through his seed all nations on the earth would be blessed.  Abraham believed God, even though the fulfillment of the promise was afar off, and it was counted to him as righteousness.  Or consider faithful Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers because of envy.  He did not turn away from the Lord but continued to look to him for help and mercy.  He would not engage in adultery with Potiphar’s wife, but remained faithful to the Lord.  And after many years, he was exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh and finally restored to his father and his family.  Consider righteous Job, who suffered for reasons he could not understand, and who was vindicated and restored in the end.  Or consider Gideon, who trusted that, even though he had inferior strength compared to the enemy, if the Lord was with him he would have the victory; and he did.  

    Let these true narratives, these words of the Scriptures comfort you and encourage you and work perseverance in you–especially if you are growing weary, if you are facing multiple uphill battles, if it’s hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel, if it appears that there’s no relief in sight.  Learn from the Scriptures that the Lord is true to His Word, that He does not forsake those who trust in Him and call on His name for help.  It’s hard to be patient; it’s hard to wait.  But consider what these Old Testament Scriptures say, “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart.”  “Wait on the Lord, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you.”  “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

    Note the key word that Paul repeats in Romans 15: “. . .That we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”  Hope is the great gift that God gives to you in Advent–that there is a future for you, that there is something marvelous for you to look forward to with the Lord.  He is returning.  The Day is coming.  “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.”  

    It’s nearly impossible to live without hope.  So much of the troubles and upheaval we see in our culture can be traced to a growing hopelessness and uncertainty and foreboding about what the future holds.  Perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself, or with people in your life who have sort of given up and feel like they’re just existing.  More than once I’ve had a shut-in mention to me that they wonder why they’re still around and alive, what their purpose is.  I always respond that if they’re still alive, God most certainly has a purpose for them, not the least of which is that they have been given time and opportunity to pray, to intercede on behalf of the church and individuals they know that are in need.  And God is always at work through our afflictions to accomplish His good and gracious will, both for ourselves and for others.  We may not always be able to see what His will is, but we can always trust in its goodness.  “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.”  

    Baptized believers always live in this hope, in the confidence that our redemption is coming, that our deliverance is near.  Because of God’s faithfulness in the past, we look with confidence to the future.  There is always hope.  And if we can be motivated by and get excited about a coming birthday or Christmas gathering or wedding or vacation trip, if those things can give us something to look forward to, how much more can we find strength by looking forward to the return of our Savior, to the new creation, and the life of the world to come with Him!  This is not fairy tale stuff.  It’s more real and substantive even than this fallen and hollowed out life we are experiencing right now.

    “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning.”  Let us then learn to hope in God confidently.  As it is written, “O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption.”  We have a sure hope as Christians because those things that were written before in the Old Testament all point us to Christ and His sure salvation.  Jesus is our faithful Joseph, who was handed over by His Jewish brothers because of envy, who was laid low and mistreated, but who was raised up in the end to the right hand of the Father as Lord of all.  Jesus is our faithful Joshua who leads us across the Jordan, through death, to new life in the promised land of the new creation.  He is our righteous Job, who suffers faithfully for us in the flesh in order that He might vindicate us together with Himself and exalt us to His side.  He is our faithful Gideon who, though appearing to be weak, overcame the hordes of darkness by the light of His resurrection and who will return in power with the sound of trumpets.

    This is your sure hope.  And it’s a hope that we share together as we receive one another–whatever our background or ethnicity or economic status–young or old, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile.  We are given with one mind and one mouth to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for His great goodness to us.  

    Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠