Sunday, June 26, 2011

Homily for The First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 1)


Luke 16:19-31; 1 John 4:16-21; Genesis 15:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Lazarus was literally living proof of who Jesus was and what He could do. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. The man who had been dead four days so that he stinketh, Jesus raised him up by speaking His life-bestowing Word. Without a doubt, Jesus was the Messiah, God’s anointed one. He was the resurrection and the life, both on the Last Day, and now.

Why did they not rejoice? Why did they not receive Him with joy, and praise, and thanksgiving? The religious leadership of Israel did not rejoice, they could not praise Him, because they, long ago, had given up true hope and true belief in God’s promised Messiah, because they, long ago, had given up true hope and true belief in God’s Holy Word, and because the only law that mattered to them was the law which they themselves bound men with when they taught the children of Israel that they could please God by their own works and merit, and that material wealth and prosperity was God’s blessing upon them for their faithfulness. This horrible doctrine enabled the religious leadership of Israel to self-righteously establish a sort of spiritual caste system, consigning the poor, the ill, widows, and children to the lowest caste, while they enjoyed the privileges and the luxuries of the upper caste.

For them, the Law of God was a law of the do-able, and they believed that they obeyed the Law very well, so well, in fact, that it seemed easy for them, as natural as breathing. Such is the pride and the arrogance of self-righteousness that Satan breeds in the hearts of those who hearken to his tempting voice. So, the religious leaders added to the Law of God their own laws and commandments; in fact, there are 613 Mitzvoth, or commandments, which are drawn from the Tanakh (the Old Testament), and there are thousands of other laws recorded in the Jewish oral law called the Talmud. The religious leadership of Israel used all these commandments to keep the people enslaved by a law of works that could never release them from their sins, while God Himself had given only Ten Commandments, and those ten can be whittled down to but only one: Love.

Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is ultimately about love. It is a warning about how misplaced love – love for riches and power and reputation, which is idolatry – inhibits the true of love of God and the neighbor, which is the fulfilling of the Law of God, fulfilled and made perfect in God’s love for the world in sending His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross. The Rich Man is the self-righteous man who believes that he fulfills the Law of God by his good works and merit. He perceives that his riches, power, and reputation are blessings from God and rewards for his faithfulness. As Jesus tells the story, however, the Rich Man showed no love for his neighbor, particularly for poor Lazarus who begged for crumbs from the Rich Man’s table. Amazingly, as Jesus tells it, even in death, the Rich Man considered Lazarus to be in a servant caste beneath him and he showed him no love at all. But Lazarus, reclining at Abraham’s side, was loved by God, and, the Rich Man too was loved by God as is indicated by Abraham calling him “child”.

The problem for the Rich Man is the problem for all who trust in their works and merits according to the Law of God: If you believe that you keep the Law and so are righteous, then you will be judged according to the Law. The law of works is diametrically opposed to the Law of Love that Jesus calls us to. The one who believes that his works are righteous, and merit him righteousness before God, cannot love God; firstmost, he is deceiving himself by believing that his works are meritorious, and second, he must necessarily see God as a severe and unjust master who takes what he did not deposit and reaps what he did not sow.

The Rich Man believed that his riches, power, and reputation were his rightly earned and merited blessings from God, therefore he felt no guilt in feasting sumptuously and dressing in the most expensive of clothes. Likewise, he felt no guilt in walking past and ignoring poor Lazarus who laid at his gate, for he felt no love for anyone that he deemed to be beneath him, and further, he believed that Lazarus’ suffering was God’s curse upon him because he was unrighteous.

In His story, Jesus describes a great chasm that separates those who dwell in hell from those in heaven. While we should resist the temptation to interpret too literally the detailed descriptions Jesus offers of the afterlife, the general concept of a chasm between heaven and hell serves to illustrate the great separation from God that unbelievers experience after death. Jesus experienced this separation from God His Father according to His human nature when He cried out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” The concept of a chasm that separates unbelievers from God is truly remarkable considering that God fills all things and is everywhere at all times. As David sings, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” This only serves to emphasize how serious a problem is sin, that it separates a person from God’s gracious, merciful, and loving presence.

Interestingly, it seems that after the discussion about the chasm of separation between heaven and hell, the Rich Man finally begins to think of someone else other than himself. The Rich Man appealed to Father Abraham to send poor, servant-class Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his five brothers so that they would not also come to the place of his torment. Abraham’s response to the Rich Man is really the crux of Jesus’ story: They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.

Moses and the Prophets are the Word of God, both Law of Gospel. God gave the Law, the Ten Commandments and the ceremonial laws, through Moses so that men would see their sin and repent. God gave the Gospel in the promise that He would not look upon their sin because of the innocent blood of animals they shed in sacrifice. Even though not a single drop of all that blood of bulls, goats, and lambs ever took away a single sin, God accepted it as a covering for sin and, even more, it served to point to the blood sacrifice that God Himself would provide in sending His Son Jesus to die as the one sacrifice that has secured an eternal atonement for all people of all times in all places.

The Rich Man and his brothers in Jesus’ story represent the religious leadership of Israel and all who have been poisoned by their false teaching to believe in a false religion of works and self-righteousness. They had Moses and the Prophets, the Law and the Gospel of God, and they rejected it for themselves, and they added to it their own laws so that no one could know the sweetness and the gift of the Gospel.

Lazarus died. Jesus said that He was glad that He wasn’t there; He was glad that His friend had died, so that His disciples would believe, for He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. The man had been dead four days so that he stinketh, but Jesus raised him up by speaking His life-bestowing Word. Without a doubt, Jesus was the Messiah, God’s anointed one. He was the resurrection and the life, both on the Last Day, and now. His disciples and many others believed in Him. Even the religious leadership of Israel believed in Him. They believed in Him so much that they plotted to kill Him. Their words in John’s Gospel are telling: What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let Him go one like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. The religious leadership of Israel believed that Jesus was the anointed one of God, the Messiah, and they decided that they loved their riches, power, and reputation, which they now ascribe to the Romans rather than to the blessing of God, they loved these more than they loved God or His Messiah. These same religious leaders sought to kill Lazarus, to get rid of the evidence, and, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, they denied that He had been raised from the dead and they attempted to convince the people that His body had been stolen and that it had all been a hoax. If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.

Jesus’ story about the Rich Man and Lazarus is ultimately about love, for God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. We obey the Law of God because He loves us and has forgiven us in His perfect gift of love, Jesus. We fear God because of His boundless love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And, because of God’s love for us in Jesus, we love one another. We are not compelled to obey God’s Law because of fear that He is a severe master who takes what he did not deposit and reaps what he did not sow, but we freely obey because of God’s love for us and because His Law and His will are love for us, for our brother and neighbor, and for all the world. We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

God the Father has called you in His Son by His Holy Spirit to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. You do not need to fear losing anything that you have or not being loved in return or anything in this life at all, for there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For, you are loved with the perfect love of God in Christ Jesus and you will stand in confidence before Him on the day of judgment.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Trinity


John 3:1-17; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 6:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Just wait until your father gets home. How many of you, as children, have heard those frightful words? How many of you, as mothers, have uttered those frightful words? But, are fathers really as bad as all that, causing the hearts of their children to melt with fear and foreboding at the very mention of their father’s presence? Yes, that is, if fear is understood in the proper way. That is to say that a child should not fear being abused by his or her father physically, verbally, or emotionally. And, neither should a child fear that his or her father is against them or that he is their enemy in any way. But, indeed, a child should fear his or her father so that they revere him, honor him with their lives, and avoid what displeases him.

For, the proper fear of our earthly fathers serves to teach us children of God the proper fear of our heavenly Father. And, this is not to suggest that our earthly fathers are perfect – perfectly loving, perfectly good, and perfectly holy like our heavenly Father – for fatherhood, just as motherhood, just as marriage, and just as every other human relationship known to mankind, is tainted and corrupted by sin so that these institutions and relationships are but dim, murky reflections of their God-created ideals. Still, they are reflections none the less. For, even though tainted and corrupted by sin, the heart and the will of most fathers is still for the good of their children in that they desire to give them things that are good for them and to provide for them with what they need to support their bodies and their lives. And, this is a reflection, even if a dim and murky one, of our perfect, loving, good, and holy God and Father in heaven. To fear and to love our earthly fathers is to fear and to love God. This we confess in the Explanation to the Fourth commandment in the Small Catechism. In both Proverbs and Psalms, the Holy Scriptures equate the fear of the LORD with true wisdom. Consequently, the LORD promises that blessing comes in honoring and obeying our earthly fathers, for, when we fear, love, honor, and obey our earthly fathers, we fear and love God our Father in heaven.

Indeed, the presence of God our Father is a fearful thing. God the Father is to be feared for His measureless mercy and grace, compassion, and love. But, God the Father is also to be feared because He is righteous and holy and perfectly just. He is to be feared because, in contrast, as St. Paul has written, we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Thus, when Isaiah beheld the LORD in His glory, seated upon His throne, he feared for his life saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Isaiah’s fear of the LORD was a confession. It was a confession, at once, of the LORD’s holiness and righteousness, but also of Isaiah’s own sinfulness and uncleanness. Therefore, Isaiah stood in the LORD’s presence in humility, with no claim of merit and with no offering in hand, in the full knowledge that he had no right to be there, but that by all right he should be destroyed, yet also believing and knowing that God is merciful and gracious, compassionate, and loving. Such humility and repentance are the signifiers of true fear, honor, love, reverence, and trust.

Upon Isaiah’s confession, the LORD remedied his problem; He forgave Isaiah and cleansed him of his sinful uncleanness as Isaiah recounts, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’.” Isaiah did nothing to merit or to deserve this merciful and gracious action of the LORD, rather, instead, he confessed his inability to make himself clean. But, the LORD had mercy upon Isaiah and graciously cleansed him and forgave him by means of the Sacrifice that He had prepared for Isaiah, and for you, and for all mankind before the foundation of the world. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!

For, the only altar in the temple of God from whence come the removal of guilt and the atonement of sins is the altar of sacrifice. And, the coals upon this altar were already burning, indicating that they had been used for sacrifice, and, upon touching Isaiah’s lips, his guilt was indeed removed and his sin atoned for, confirming the validity of the sacrifice. For, the High Priest who serves in the temple of God is Jesus the Christ who is both Priest and Sacrifice as the writer to the Hebrews states, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Thus, for the same reason that God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and to raise it up on a pole, that all who had been bitten by poisonous serpents, when they looked upon the bronze serpent raised up on the pole, would be healed and live, for the same reason, God sent forth His Son as a sacrificial victim to be raised up in death upon the cross, that all who have been bitten by the poisonous serpent Satan, when they look to Jesus will find that they are cleansed of their guilt and that their sins have been atoned for. For in this way did God so love the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish abut have eternal life.

Jesus Christ, God’s sacrifice which has removed your guilt and which has atoned for your sin, is your heavenly Father’s gift to you by grace. You did not merit it or deserve it, but it is the truest and most perfect gift there could be, the gift of true and perfect and holy love, for no greater love is possible than this, that a man should lay down His life for His friends. For God did not just have love for the world, but God acted in love for the world in this way, He sent His only-begotten Son into your flesh, to live your life, to be tempted with your temptations, to be obedient to the Father’s will and command for you, to die in your place, and to be raised and returned to God as a guarantee that you have been redeemed, forgiven, and restored to God your Father.

This is what your God and Father in heaven has done for you. And, now you receive the benefit of His love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness by the working of His Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism. Jesus taught Nicodemus, “You must be born again of water and the Spirit,” for, just as your natural birth was not of your own will or work, and in conception and birth you received the guilt of Original Sin, so your spiritual re-birth was not of your own will or work, and in Holy Baptism you received cleansing of your guilt and atonement for your sin through Jesus Christ, God’s sacrifice and gift of love for you and the entire world.

Your God and Father in heaven is continually pointing you outside of yourself to Him and His gifts. He would have you confess Him as your Creator, your Redeemer, and your Sanctifier, and these three as persons in the one Triune Godhead, the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, in this Holy Trinity there is unity even as there is trinity, three persons, yet one God, with each of the persons being equally God. And, these three persons work together at all times in creation, redemption, and sanctification, for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

On this blessed Feast of the Holy Trinity, that just happens to occur on this civic holiday of Father’s Day, we are thankful for the many and various ways in which our Holy and Triune God reveals Himself in love and mercy to sinners such as us. In our loving fathers we see an image of our loving God and Father who provides for us all that we need for our bodies and lives. In our spouses we see an image of our loving God and Savior as husband and wife sacrifice of themselves each for the other becoming one flesh. In our families we see an image of our God and sanctifier as the family is a sanctuary of love set apart from the world while in the world.

Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Homily for the Feast of Pentecost (Confirmation)


John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21; Genesis 11:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The great city of Babylon was but the end result of what our First Parents, Adam and Eve, set out to build for themselves when they succumbed to the serpent’s temptation and rebelled against God, taking and eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden – they sought to make for themselves a name in the world and they sought to elevate themselves as gods unto themselves. Indeed, God Himself acknowledged this saying, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” So, the LORD drove the man and the woman out of the Garden of Eden and placed an angel there as a sentry with a flaming sword that turned every way to keep the man and the woman from entering the Garden and from eating from the Tree of Life.

The serpent, Satan, did what Satan always does, he lied. Yes, true enough, he told Adam and Eve the truth in part, saying that their eyes would be opened and that they would know good and evil, but he lied to them in saying that they would be like God, for, the tragic irony here lies in the fact that they were already like God, created in His image of holiness and righteousness. But, when they ate of the forbidden fruit they sinned and they lost that image, they ceased to be like God. And, from then on they began to die, not just physically, but they died spiritually right then and there. Thus, it was in mercy that God barred our first parents from the Tree of Life, so that they would not eat of its fruit and live in eternal separation from God and His eternal life.

However, God’s will for man was still that he would be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over every living thing on the earth, for, in that way, God would be glorified in His creation as all living things recognized Him as their benevolent and loving Creator and God. But, man failed to disperse throughout the earth and instead, gathered together in one land as one people having one language and there began to finish what Adam and Eve had started, saying altogether, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Too often man’s endeavors have in mind only man’s self-glorification and not the glorification of God. Consider the towers we build for ourselves of pride and self-sufficiency, how we imagine them to be untoppleable, reaching into the heavens, that is, of course, until our co-worker gets a promotion, our neighbor gets a more fashionable car or a sexier wife, or until another takes aim at your towers to advance his own, and then they come crumbling down in a pile of rubble and shame leaving us angry, defeated, hopeless, and despairing.

In what may be a bit of Mosaic humor, God had to come down from the heavens to find the tower that represented the ultimate achievement of man’s intellect, strength, prowess, and talent. I am reminded of God’s words to Job,

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone...? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?

The problem is that man wants to worship the creature rather than the Creator, and that is idolatry and a sin against the First Commandment of God. Ultimately, however, idolatry is the only sin, for, if you break any of the Commandments numbered two through ten, you always break the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” and you place your fear, your love, and your trust in something or someone, even in yourself, more than, above, or in opposition to God. All sin is idolatry; all sin is a failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That was Adam’s sin. That was the sin of the Babylonians. And, that is your sin as well. Repent. Confess yours sins and your towering idolatries to God and receive the forgiveness He has provided for you in the sacrificial suffering and death of His Son, Jesus the Christ.

Truly it was in mercy that the LORD confused the language of the Babylonians and dispersed them over all the face of the earth. Sometimes God frustrates and thwarts your plans and activities when they will lead you into idolatry, for, when you stop trusting in your own strength, wisdom, and works, when you are empty handed and on your knees, or your back, with nothing to offer, then you are in the best possible position to receive fully and freely from God by grace.

It was by grace that Jesus died to give you peace, not the fleeting and false peace that the world gives which is here today and gone tomorrow, but true, lasting, and unchanging peace, peace with your Creator, peace with God. Jesus won and secured that peace for you in His death on the cross. Then, on Pentecost, He sent the Holy Spirit, just as He promised, to seal you in this peace. In Holy Baptism you died to this world and to the ways of sin, death, and the devil, and you rose a new man who knows, loves, and wills the will and the commandments of God. You were united with Christ in the Holy Spirit, sealed in the Name of God, and given peace with God in Christ Jesus, your Lord and Savior.

That is what our young Confirmands will confess this day. They will confess with their mouths what they believe in their hearts about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They will confess the faith they received as a gift when they were baptized, confirming that faith today after having been instructed in the doctrines and confession of the Christian faith. Additionally, today is an opportunity for each of you also to re-confirm the faith you received in Holy Baptism however long ago you received the blessing of that Divine Sacrament.

And so it is that, in an unique way, Pentecost is the undoing of Babylon, the undoing even of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden, as all mankind is now drawn together from the ends of the earth as one body in Christ Jesus, with one head, one faith, one baptism, and one voice and confession saying,

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

This is the Christian faith, and this is the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith. For, that is what faith is, a confession, a speaking with the mouth of what is believed in the heart. The Lutheran faith is a confessional faith that does not merely say that it believes but always says what it believes. And, what the Lutheran faith believes is confessed, not only in words from the mouth, but in actions and deeds. Thus, everything the Church does in word or in deed is a confession of what the Church believes and of what Her members believe in their hearts. How we worship is a confession. What we sing is a confession. What liturgical actions we perform is a confession. How we dress and carry ourselves both in worship and in the world is a confession. How we treat our bodies is a confession. What we do with and how we care for our possessions is a confession. How we use our money is a confession. And how we love our spouses and children is an outward confession of what we believe in our hearts.

Anything that interferes with your confession of faith, anything that gets between you and your Creator God, is an idol and a false god, it is a Babylonic tower that must be abandoned or destroyed. Jesus taught that if you have the faith of the very tiny mustard seed that you can say to a mountain, “‘Move from here to there’, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Well, have you moved any mountains, O you of little faith? Ah, but what about the towering, mountainous idols you can uproot, displace, and destroy if only you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead?

The promise and the blessing of Pentecost is that the Lord has not left you as orphans to fend for yourselves or to get along by your own reason, wisdom, or strength, but He has sent you the Helper, the Counselor, and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, just as He promised. And, the promise of the Holy Spirit is that you will confess in word and deed what you believe in your heart about God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost quoting the Prophet Joel,

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Exaudi–The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Easter 7)


John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Incarnation of the Son of God was much more than the Word becoming flesh and making His dwelling amongst us, it was the beginning of the resurrection and the eternal life of men, a resurrection and life that the resurrection of Lazarus was but a shadow and type of and that the resurrection of Jesus was the guarantee of. When Gabriel proclaimed that the Holy Spirit would come upon the young virgin Mary and that the Spirit of the Most High would overshadow her, the Word of God became flesh and true and eternal life came into man for the first time since God breathed His life-giving Spirit-breath into Adam’s nostrils and he became a living being.

In Jesus, God’s salvation came to men. In Emmanuel, God had visited His people. But there was nothing showy or spectacular about Jesus, He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. But, in this humble, common way, as a boy, as a man, He honored His father and His mother, He loved God with all His heart, soul, and mind, and He loved His neighbor as Himself. He fulfilled the Law of God for us who were corrupted by the sin of our fathers before we took our first breath or committed our first of countless transgressions of thought, word, and deed thereafter.

At twelve years of age, Jesus learned under the Rabbis and amazed them with His faith and knowledge. He Himself became a respected Rabbi enjoying the favor of both God and men. Even the Pharisees counted Him as one of them and sought to have table fellowship with Him and listen to His teaching. Though the Scriptures are silent about the intervening years of Jesus’ adulthood, we can assume that they transpired in much this same way as Jesus experienced life as a human man, eating, drinking, working, sleeping, praying and worshipping God, teaching and learning, growing, experiencing joy and sorrow, growing in faith, love, and trust, while experiencing temptation yet without sinning.

Then the day came when He submitted to be baptized by His cousin John in the Jordan River. For some time John had been teaching his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, but when Jesus was baptized, miraculous and powerful signs occurred indicating both the truth and the fulfillment of John’s prophecy: The heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." The voice from heaven was that of God the Father. Not only did the Father reveal that Jesus was His Son, but He proclaimed that with Jesus He was well pleased. This was remarkable and wondrous, for not since the creation of Adam and Eve was it possible for God to look upon man and proclaim that He was well pleased.

There in the waters of the Jordan stood the sinless, obedient, humble, and holy Son of God incarnated as a man. Where sinful men came to wash themselves as a sign of their repentance, the one who knew no sin came to become sin for us that we might become the righteous of God. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus anointed Him, christened Him the Christ of God, the Messiah. Just as King David was chrismated for a reign of humble, sacrificial service, even death for God’s people, so Jesus the Christ, the Son of David and the Son of God began that day His reign of humble sacrificial service, even death for all men. But, where David succumbed to temptation and was no shepherd to God’s people, even, at times, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Jesus was the Good Shepherd who willingly laid down His life for His sheep.

Jesus showed the world what it truly meant to love God and to love the neighbor. He showed mercy, love, and forgiveness to tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners and had table fellowship with them. He would allow lepers and the unclean to enter His presence and He healed them by proclaiming the forgiveness of their sins. It came to pass that the Pharisees were not so enamored with Jesus any longer. They were offended and scandalized that Jesus showed love and compassion to such people, but that is what it truly means to love God. The Pharisees showed themselves to be not only unloving of the people that they were appointed to shepherd and to lovingly teach and comfort, but they showed themselves to be truly unloving and resentful of God.

So, they began to plot, with other like-minded accomplices, to get rid of Jesus and to secure their own power and influence. They even colluded with the ungodly, pagan Romans, who enslaved them, to crucify the Christ of God, the Messiah, because He showed and taught love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness to people that the Pharisees refused to love, because they did not truly love God. One of His closest disciples betrayed Him, and they all, even Peter, deserted Him. He was arrested, tried, and convicted as a criminal. He was scourged, beaten, whipped, and mocked. At last, they nailed Him to the tree of the cross and He died, the sinless one for sinners, because He was the LORD’s Christ, His anointed one, the Messiah, and this is how God so loved the world.

The Incarnation of the Son of God was the beginning of the resurrection and the eternal life of men, but the resurrection of Jesus was the guarantee of that for all who would believe. And yet, that is not where it all ends, but still there is more! Our resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ continued to experience life as a human man, eating, drinking, working, sleeping, praying and worshipping God, teaching, experiencing joy, in perfect faith, love, and trust, but now, glorified in human flesh no longer experiencing suffering, sorrow, or temptation. Jesus lives, the firstfruits of all who will be raised from death to eternal life through faith in Him.

I think that many Christians are content to end the story with Jesus’ resurrection – And, they lived happily ever after – but, there was a reason that Jesus lovingly taught Mary saying, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Jesus’ ascension to the Father is every bit as important as is His incarnation, His fulfilling of the Law, His suffering, death, burial, and resurrection from the dead. In Jesus’ incarnation, human flesh could live once again. In His obedience to the Law, Jesus fulfilled the Law for all men. In His innocent suffering and death, Jesus became the curse of man’s sin and men, in exchange, became His righteousness. In His resurrection, the final bonds of death were broken for all men so that, on the Last Day, all the dead will be raised. But in His ascension to the Father, we have the guarantee that we will live in the presence of our holy Triune God forever, for a flesh and blood man, Jesus, the Christ of God, has ascended there as a human man in resurrected and glorified flesh. He now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, reigning over all things, working all things, even the bad things, for the good of those who love Him. And, on the day which only the Father knows, He will return in the same manner in which He was seen to go, in human flesh, as a man, the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. That is a guarantee! And yet, still there is more to celebrate! Jesus promised His disciples, His Church, that if He left them, He would send to them a Helper, a Counselor, a Comforter to comfort, guide, and keep them in the little while during which the Church must wait for His return. As is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Even now we are in that little while, witnessing the self-giving love of Jesus to our congregation, community, and the world while we wait in confidence for the return of our King. Satan, the world, and our own flesh conspire against us to deceive us, to tempt us to not believe that Jesus will return, but that the world will continue on as it has so that it is wisest to live for one’s self and do what pleases each one. But, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit who guides us in the truth, and the Truth is Jesus Christ. We have the gift of forgiveness and comfort and the strengthening of our faith through the Means of the Spirit, the Means of Grace, in the preaching of the Gospel, in the Holy Supper, in Holy Baptism, and in Holy Absolution. And, we have the gift of faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the certainty of things unseen, that our Holy Triune God, the Father who has created us and who sustains us, the Son who has redeemed us in His holy innocent shed blood, and the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps us in the one true faith are always working for us and for our good so that no matter what may happen, nothing can snatch us out of the Father’s hand and nothing can separate us from the love of the Father through Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.