Sunday, April 21, 2024


Jubilate – April 21, 2024
Psalm 66; Isaiah 40:25-31; 1 Peter 2:11-20
St. John 16:16-22

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

From the very beginning, sin has been a rejection of God’s order; a questioning of His authority, and an assertion that we know better than He does. Satan’s temptation of Eve centered on the question, “Did God really say?” Sometimes we use that phrase as shorthand for the tendency of the sinful mind to subvert God’s wisdom, authority, and knowledge. God set all of creation in order and since that first bite of the forbidden fruit, man has gone about setting the world into disorder.

The twentieth century and on to today has fully embraced this type of thinking. Whether you agree with the statement or not, the idea that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has dominated all western thought for over a hundred years now. It suggests that my taste is more important than something objective, something that exists outside of myself. This applies to the visual arts – paintings, sculptures, architecture – as well as music, dance, hymnody, and the worship of the Triune God. If something is pleasing to the eye, then it is valid. If you like it, then it must be beneficial, if not true.

This is the foolishness of the world, and it is sin. It is sinful to think that you know better than God. If God has said that the Body and Blood of Christ are bodily present in the Lord’s Supper, who are you to deny Him? As the Bride of Christ, we are often the object of such ridicule. The world laughs at our worship, our faith, and our suffering because it is not pleasing to the eye. At the same time, the world rejoices in sinfulness. The world rejoices because there is nothing else. There is nothing to look forward to. The world says, “Eat, drink, and make merry, for tonight we die!”

It is always amazing when we insist on something because it is the only thing we know. According to God, the only thing we know is sin. Faith is a radical departure from what we know of our own experience and the desires born in our hearts. The entire Christian life must be one of seeking the wisdom, authority, and knowledge of God while putting our own inbred thoughts to death.

The desire to seek God is born within you in Holy Baptism. It is born in you by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. But this desire does not spontaneously give you holy thoughts and liver shivers, provable only because it is something you like. Holy thoughts are born by the indoctrination of the Word of God, being steeped in the eternal truths given to Abraham, Moses, Peter, and Paul, then carried forth by Augustine, Luther, Chemnitz, Walther and more.

Such wisdom of the saints is recorded in our text as weeping and lament. How is that wisdom? It is wisdom in weeping and lamenting our sins. We cannot escape sinful desires. The Old Adam was drowned in Holy Baptism but he is a strong swimmer. We must continually put him to death by lamenting our sins. 

What does that look like? It looks like confessing. It looks like confessing before God Almighty, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities…” And then trusting in the Word of the Almighty God that the absolution spoken by your Pastor is the very same as though God were speaking it directly from heaven.

It also looks like taking the things of God seriously. When was the last time that you obeyed the words of Saint Paul, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup,”[1] by coming to confession before receiving the Lord’s Supper, reviewing the Christian Questions and their Answers in your catechism, or simply reciting the Ten Commandments and determining where you have fallen short and where you need the shed Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of those sins?

These are not laws in the sense that you must dot your Is and cross your Ts before you may commune. They are an admonition of God to take His gifts seriously. This is wisdom. This is the lamentation of the Christian in this time.

And this lamentation leads to joy. It leads to joy here in time and there in eternity. It leads to joy here as your sins are forgiven and you are unburdened. If you take the forgiveness of sins lightly, then your burden will only be lightly relieved. Given great weight, the forgiveness of sins will move the mountain of sins that weigh you down.

This joy, this true joy, will then lead to the enjoyment of the right ordering of God’s creation. Weighed down by sexual sin, you cannot enjoy the bliss of the marital union. Weighed down by the sin of wrath, you cannot enjoy the bliss of company, activity, or competition. Weighed down by the sin of anxiety, you cannot enjoy the bliss of determination, purpose, and direction.

That doesn’t mean that coming to hear private absolution will make everything joyful for you. It will relieve the burden of sin, but it may not “fix” your life. That is the sorrow of a world bent out of order by sin. The whole world fell in Adam’s fall and you still live in the world. You are still effected by this disordered world.

So long as you live on this side of glory, in one way or another, you are still the woman in labor. You will have moments of joy, when you see beyond the sorrow of this world and glimpse the glory of heaven, but the labor persists. Still, the promise of Christ stands, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”[2]

The labor will come to completion and then you will have such joy that the danger, pain, and sorrow of labor will be forgotten. It will be forgotten in the joy that you now behold the Son of Man in your arms. You will see the face of Christ and rejoice. You will forget the sorrow and weeping that marks this life. Your lamentation of sin will come to an end. You will no longer seek the absolution because your absolution will be made complete, made whole, in the direct presence of Christ, now enjoyed by all the faithful.

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 11:28.

[2] St. Luke 6:21.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Feast of the Resurrection

The Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord – March 31, 2024
Psalm 8; Job 19:23-27; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8
St. Mark 16:1-20

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

Very early in the morning, just about sunrise, three women made their way to the tomb of Jesus. They brought spices to anoint His body, showing how much they loved their Lord. Perhaps it was the grief, sorrow over the death of Jesus, that distracted them from the fact that a large stone had been placed over the entrance to the tomb. Along the way, they realized this problem and grew concerned over how they would get into the tomb to tend to Jesus’ body.

But when they arrived at the tomb, they discovered the stone had been rolled away. The door to the tomb stood open. Inside the tomb, the women did not see the body of Jesus. They saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting where they expected to see Jesus. This man was an angel, sent by God, to inform the women of Jesus’ resurrection.

The women were afraid of the man, but he quickly gave them the reassurance commonly heard from holy angels, “Be not afraid.” The angel knows they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified One, and he boldly proclaims, “He is risen! He is not here.” The angel then gives them a job—go tell the disciples, including Peter, to seek the Lord in Galilee as He told you before His death.”

These women quickly fled from the tomb, trembling and afraid. It is somewhat suspicious that our text tells us the women were afraid but not what they are afraid of. We know the Apostles will gather that first Easter evening behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Perhaps the women are also afraid to tell anyone about the resurrection for fear of the Jews. Or, perhaps they are afraid of the angel. This particular angel appeared in the form of a young man, so his appearance would not have been supernaturally frightening. Maybe he spoke with such authority that the women were afraid of his confidence.

Or maybe, the women were afraid of Jesus. Jesus had taught all His disciples very clearly about the necessity of the crucifixion and the resurrection. He even told them that they would scatter. These women, like almost all the disciples, didn’t really understand or truly believe what Jesus had said. Again, maybe their grief was blinding them to reality. So maybe they were afraid that Jesus really had risen and here they are, carrying spices to anoint His dead body—evidence of their lack of faith in Jesus’ words. Whatever the reason, these women choose to disobey the word of the angel by telling no one what they had seen.

But Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb and encountered our Lord. She was the first person to whom Jesus revealed Himself in His resurrected and glorified state. After seeing Jesus, she ran quickly to tell the disciples what she had seen.

Then our Lord appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, walking with them until evening. They did not recognize Him until He agreed to stay with them for a meal. When He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it before them, the eyes of these disciples were opened and they saw the glorified Lord. Immediately, Jesus departed from them. These two disciples then ran quickly to tell the others that they had seen Jesus.

Forty days later and after revealing Himself to many disciples, Jesus gathered with the Eleven on the Mount of the Ascension. He offered to His disciples His final teachings before being received into heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”[1]

What wonderful words to hear from our risen Savior! Imagine if you truly believed them. Because there are many in error who have taken to dancing with venomous snakes and drinking poison, we are quick to dismiss these words. Those who do such foolish things are tempting God—something Satan tried to get Jesus to do but Jesus refused. Rather than take these things as necessary requirements for faith, something to test out to see if you really have faith, we should see them as flowing naturally from faith.

I said, “Imagine if you truly believed these words.” What I mean is, imagine what it would be like not to be afraid of the Jews, the harsh words of Jesus, your neighbors, your coworkers, your children? What if you believed the words of Scripture to say exactly what they say and lived according to them? What if the next time somebody asked, “Any plans this weekend?” you responded, “Yeah, I’m going to go to church and learn more about Jesus”? They might look at you like you’re crazy. They might laugh at you. So what? It’s true. It should be true.

The Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Almighty Word by which creation came to be, took your sins upon Himself; died the death you deserve so that your sins would be buried deep in the earth; and then rose again to new life so that you would receive eternal life with Him in heaven. Why be ashamed of that? Why be afraid to tell someone about that? Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Rather, revel in the resurrection of Christ. Enjoy the feast of the resurrection. Celebrate the death of Jesus for you, knowing that because of it, you will see Him with your own two eyes, just as Job proclaimed.

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] St. Mark 16:15-18.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter – March 30, 2024
Genesis 1:1-3:24; Genesis 7:1-9:17; Exodus 14:10-15:1; Daniel 3:1-30
St. Matthew 28:1-7

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

Why put in the effort tonight? Why all the ceremonies, long readings, and prayers? It is because tonight we celebrate the heart of our faith. Each prayer is an earnest plea to God for rescue from temptation, sin, and death. Each ceremony is a physical manifestation of that faith, handed down from our forefathers to teach our bodies what it means to confess Jesus Christ as Savior. Each reading focuses our hearts and minds on the singular focus of all Scripture – the salvation of man found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There is no room this night for nostalgia, theatrics, or performance. On this most Holy Night, we celebrate the victory of our King. We celebrate His bursting from the bonds of death. We celebrate His victory because it is our victory. It is our victory over temptation, sin, and death.

It is too easy to let phrases like “He is risen!” or “Christ is King” become statements of historic fact or expressions of joyous sentiment unconnected to the Person of Jesus Christ and without impact on your person. The proclamation that Christ is risen means that He was dead. It means that He died for the sins of the world but more importantly, for your sins. Yes, He died for original sin but He also died for the sins you committed this morning, this afternoon, even those you’ve committed since the beginning of this service.

It is a historic fact that Jesus rose from the grave 2000 years ago, but it is far more important that this resurrection brought life to you. He is risen and that means that your sins, which He carried into the grave, remain buried in the tomb. It means that your sins are buried in the earth, never to rise. He is risen and that means that you, too, will rise with Him. You have already risen with Him in the waters of Holy Baptism. You have arisen a new Creation, a new creature, born from above and made in the image of Christ’s righteousness.

It is also a fact that Jesus Christ is King. St. John’s Gospel, especially the Passion as read yesterday in the Chief Service, emphasizes this fact. Again and again, Pilate questions Jesus’ regarding His kingship and never once does Jesus deny being King. But as a historic fact, this is little more important than the fact that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, or Washington crossed the Delaware. These events matter in the course of the world but mean nothing in heaven. When the world is destroyed on the last day, these events will lose all meaning.

It is an entirely different statement to say that Christ is your king. A king is not elected or chosen by his subjects. A king is not under constant threat of deposition by the will of the people. A King is sovereign. A King governs by His will and by His right. Christ is King because He holds all creation in His hands. He is King because He is the very Word by which Creation came to be. And He is your King.

He is your King because He is on your side. He is your King because He has chosen you to be His subject. He is not a King who leads from the rear. He is a King who commands His people to stand in safety while He faces our foes. He is like David, who marches by himself to fight Goliath, the terror of the Israelites and soldier of Satan. Unlike David, your King must lose His life to win the war. Unlike David, your King faced not just the soldiers and power of Satan, but the Adversary himself. And your King won.

The implication for you is that Satan has no power over you. You belong to the King of kings, not to the Ancient Dragon. Temptation, sin, and death constantly seek your life, but your King has ensured victory over them. Should you fall for their lies, you have a King who is strong to save, who has already, before you could fall to sin, devoured your sin in the grave. You are His and He will never leave you, nor forsake you. You are His and His is the victory.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed.

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday – March 28, 2024
Psalm 67; Exodus 24:3-11; 1 Corinthians 11:20-32
St. John 13:1-15, 34-35

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

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples and said, “Take, eat; This is My Body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”

In the same way also, He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you; This Cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

With these sacred words, Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. Everything we need to know about the Sacrament is found in these Words of our Lord, namely, what the Sacrament is, what its benefits are, and who is to receive it.

What is the Sacrament of the Altar? “It is the true body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.”[1]This simple answer is entirely derived from the Word of our Lord when He instituted the Supper. Plain, physical elements are combined with God’s Word and become a Sacrament, a gift of God to man. It is the Word of God which elevates these physical elements to become a Sacrament. Without the Word of God, they are nothing more than bread or wine that you might enjoy with a meal at home. With the Word of God, they become the true body and blood of Jesus Christ.

However, in this Sacramental Union, the physical elements of bread and wine are not lost. Christ joins His Holy Body and Precious Blood to the physical elements of bread and wine through His Word. The result is His Body in, with, and under the bread; His Blood in, with, and under the wine. In the Holy Supper, you therefore receive four things: Body, bread, Blood, and wine.

Since it is God’s Word which effects this Sacramental Union, you can be certain that what you receive at this altar is the Body and Blood of Jesus. His presence in the Sacrament does not depend upon your faith or the faith of the man administering the Sacrament. “The Word by which it was constituted a Sacrament is not rendered false because of an individual’s unworthiness or unbelief. Christ does not say, ‘If you believe or if you are worthy, you have my body and blood,’ but rather, ‘Take, eat and drink, this is my body and blood.’”[2]

Our Lord also commands that we “do this.” In the first place, He is referring to “take, eat and drink.” This is what we are to do with His Supper. The command to “do this” also refers to the administration of His Supper. We are to administer the Supper in the same way that Christ did. We are to take bread, give thanks for it, break it, and give it to His people to eat. We are to take wine in a cup, give thanks, and give it to His people to drink.

This is why pastors recite the Word of Institution, the Verba, at every celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is not a magical formula that changes the substance of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. If that were the case, then a single misspoken syllable would give reason for doubt. Rather, pastors recite the Verba according to Christ’s own words, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Reciting the Verba is how the elements are blessed and it marks them as partaking of the very blessing Christ gave on the night when He was betrayed. It is as though I am saying, “These elements gathered here are what Jesus was referring to on the night when He was betrayed. Christ, who is not bound by time, has marked this very bread and this very cup to be His Body and Blood, as His own words and promises declare.”

What, then, is the benefit of the Lord’s Supper? “In the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given” to you.[3] We go to the Sacrament to receive the forgiveness of sins and where the forgiveness of sins is found, there also is life and salvation. The whole council of God, the entirety of the Scriptures could be used to point to this truth, that life is in the blood, that by the Wounds of Jesus’ own body you are set free, etc., but for this evening, you need only to trust in the Words of Jesus. He has said, “Take, eat and drink, for the forgiveness of sins.” That is enough to be confident of what benefit you receive in the Lord’s Supper.

Put in another light, if the Sacrament gives the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, then it is also the weapon against sin, death, and the devil. In the Large Catechism, Dr. Luther says it this way,

Therefore, it is appropriately called food of the soul, for it nourishes and strengthens the new creature. For in the first instance, we are born anew through baptism. However, our human flesh and blood, as I have said, have not lost their old skin. There are so many hindrances and attacks of the devil and the world that we often grow weary and faint and at times even stumble. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is give as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may be refreshed and strengthened and that it may not succumb in the struggle but become stronger and stronger. For the new life should be one that continually develops and progresses. But it has to suffer a great deal of opposition. The devil is a furious enemy; when he sees that we resist him and attack the old creature, and when he cannot rout us by force, he sneaks and skulks about at every turn, trying all kinds of tricks, and does not stop until he has finally worn us out so that we either renounce our faith or lose heart and become indifferent or impatient. For times like these, when our heart feels too sorely pressed, this comfort of the Lord’s Supper is given to bring us new strength and refreshment.[4]

Knowing what the Sacrament is and when benefit it provides, we must necessarily ask, who is to receive it. “He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.’”[5] The fundamental requirement for receiving the Sacrament, according to Jesus, is faith.

Now, we need to expand our understanding a little, also according to the Words of Jesus. This faith must be in Jesus and in what He has given and shed for you, that is, this faith must be in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. That also means that you must believe that you are a sinner. Believing you are a sinner means that you believe there is nothing you can do to save yourself. You are a sinner who is in need of a Savior. Who is that Savior? Jesus Christ. What did He do for you? He died for your sins. Where do you receive that forgiveness? In His Word and Sacraments, which are His Word combined with physical elements—water, bread, and wine. This is what it is to have faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you, for the remission of sins.’

This ought to be enough for our entire understanding of the Sacrament of the Altar—what it is, what benefits it gives, and who should receive it—but the Old Adam clinging to our flesh is an expert at deceiving us. He and his father the devil, would either have us fling the Sacrament to all open mouths, knowing them all to be sinners, or restrict the Sacrament according to manmade laws, ceremonies, or customs, until no one receives it. For this reason, we will need to turn to another passage of Scripture.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Therefore, whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason, many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.”[6]

 One must examine himself in order to receive Holy Communion. Since ancient times, this examination has involved knowing the fundamental texts of the Christian faith as a way of expressing the faith within. These fundamental texts are the 10 Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They summarize the content of Holy Scripture while fulfilling the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

In the shorter preface to his Large Catechism, Martin Luther says, “For the common people we are satisfied if they know the three ‘parts’…These are the most necessary parts of Christian teaching that one should first learn to repeat word for word…Now, when these three parts are understood, a person must also know what to say about our Sacraments, which Christ Himself instituted: Baptism and the holy body and blood of Christ.”[7]

All Christians, no matter how long since you first received the Sacrament of the Altar or if you have yet to receive it for the first time, must examine himself before communing. The standard of knowing the primary texts of the catechism and being able to define the Sacraments and what you receive applies to all Christians.

Unfortunately, somewhere in history, admission to the Lord’s Supper became tied exclusively to the rite of confirmation, a rite that has no basis in the Scriptures and is itself strictly a man-made ceremony. The rite of confirmation then became associated with “graduating” from something. It was a sign you had accomplished learning a certain amount of information and then, sadly for many, you no longer needed to study God’s Word, the Catechism, or even attend the Divine Service.

One reason for this is that the examination which typically follows catechetical instruction has sometimes been understood as a one-time event. If someone can pass this test, then they are prepared to receive the Sacrament on a continual basis. Another reason is that the rite of confirmation became associated with a particular age, a transition into High School; almost a rite of passage into adulthood.

Scripture knows of no such singular examination, just as it knows nothing of confirmation. Every Christian is to examine himself each time he desires to receive the Sacrament. Again, Luther says, “It is the duty of every father of a family to question and examine his children and servants at least once a week and see what they know or are learning from the catechism.”[8] Luther’s “Christian Questions and Their Answers,” found at the back of the small catechism, are a guide for all Christians to use in preparation to receive the Sacrament.

To this end, we ought to evaluate what it means to examine oneself before receiving Holy Communion. Should the youth be held to a higher standard than the rest of the congregation? That is, should a baptized child who can recite the basic texts, express a basic understanding of the Sacraments, and has been examined accordingly, be prevented from receiving the Sacrament of the Altar based on age? Or, should all members of the congregation be required to recite the entire catechism from memory, or at least undergo the thorough examination found at the end of most catechetical instruction each time they desire to commune?

The witness of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions answer both questions negatively. St. Paul admonishes us to examine ourselves before receiving the Lord’s Supper. To examine oneself is to know the primary texts of the faith, to know what the Sacraments are, and to know what you receive in the Sacraments. Then, to him who is given much, much is expected.[9] That is, an adult ought to be able to show a more thorough understanding than a youth. “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”[10]

Should a Christian find himself believing false doctrine or living in manifest sin, when he examines himself, he will find himself unworthy to receive the Sacrament. This Christian should repent and seek the counsel of his Pastor, who can help guide him back into the way of truth. Then, when such a one has a right understanding of the faith and can examine himself according to these texts of Scripture, he is truly worthy and prepared to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

Is faith an expression of academic knowledge? Is faith a physical ability, perhaps to speak something word-for-word? Neither, since the former excludes children, and the latter excludes the mentally and physically infirm. Faith is trust in Christ, trust in things unseen. The reason to require catechumens to recite memory work is that the servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries—that is to say, pastors—cannot peer into their hearts. It is necessary that catechumens of any age make a confession of their faith such that the pastor can, according to his office, admit them to the Supper without danger to their bodies and souls. This admission is according to faith in these words, “Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Small Catechism VI 1; Large Catechism V 8.

[2] LC V 17-18.

[3] SC VI 2.

[4] LC V 23-27.

[5] SC VI 4.

[6] 1 Corinthians 11:27-32.

[7] “Short Preface of Dr. Martin Luther,” Large Catechism, 6, 15, 20.

[8] “Short Preface,” 4.

[9] St. Luke 12:48.

[10] Hebrews 5:13-14.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2)

Quasimodo Geniti (Easter 2) – April 16, 2023
Psalm 8; Ezekiel 37:1-14; 1 John 5:4-10
St. John 20:19-31

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

Thomas knows and understands that the forgiveness of sins flows from the wounds of Jesus. He desires to put his fingers in the wounds of the Risen Jesus and his hand into Christ’s riven side because he knows that without these wounds, the Resurrection would mean nothing. If Jesus hadn’t died on the cross, Thomas would still be in his sins and accountable to God. He would be under the Law and knows that he would face eternal damnation. In this way, Thomas is a skilled theologian.

But like many skilled theologians, Thomas misses the forest for the trees. There were many sins committed that first Easter. All the disciples failed to trust the teachings of Jesus. Our Lord was very clear, teaching multiple times that He would be betrayed, executed, and then rise again.[1] He taught this was necessary for the salvation of the world. He even commanded the disciples to meet Him in Galilee after He is raised from the dead.[2]

Despite these teachings, the disciples act very confusedly when the tomb is found to be empty. They gather in the upper room behind locked doors. They fear the Jewish leadership will come for them next, forgetting that Jesus promised them that all who believe in Him shall never die, and at the same time, if the Master is persecuted, so shall the disciples be.[3] The disciples did not go to Galilee. They did not expect the Word of God to be fulfilled.

The difference between the high theology of Thomas and the simple theology of the disciples is the remembrance of another of our Lord’s teachings. “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them.”[4] The other disciples continued together. They may not have gone to Galilee, but they remained united with the Church. Thomas may be looking for the sign of the atonement, namely the wounds of Jesus, but he has abandoned the church while on his quest.

It is inevitable that there are fewer people in attendance today than last week. Thanks be to God so many gathered last week to hear of the Crucified Lord who has won their victory over sin and death. Where are they now? Thanks be to God you are here this week. Where will you be next week? It was not just a coincidence that Thomas missed the appearance of Jesus. He did not just happen to be on a snack run to the corner store and miss his Lord by a few minutes. Thomas specifically chose not to gather with the other disciples.

By not gathering with the disciples, Thomas missed our Lord’s Institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry. On that first night of the Resurrection, Jesus breathed on the Apostles and explained the chief duty of the church on this side of glory, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”[5]

Certainly, the Scriptures contain many commands for those born again of water and the Spirit – we are to care for the orphaned and the widowed, submit to our rulers, pray diligently, attend the gathering of the saints in worship, tell others about Jesus, and so on. But the chief duty of the Church is the forgiveness of sins. We are the people who are to be abhorred by our own sins. We are to point out the sins of the world not for the sake of derision, but so that the world would repent of idolatry, blasphemy, and other forms of degeneracy. The purpose of God’s commands is always to point us toward the forgiveness of sins.

When the disciples confronted Thomas about his absence, he made it clear that if Jesus did not prove His resurrection on Thomas’s terms and according to Thomas’s timeline, he would never believe. This is a blasphemous statement. Who is Thomas to give such orders to his Lord and God? Who are you to demand that God obey your wants and desires, giving Him boundaries in which to work or else you will not be satisfied? Thomas clearly says that if God doesn’t do what Thomas demands, he will never believe in the resurrection.

Thomas is tempting God exactly as Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. He is pretending to have the authority that belongs to God alone. Thomas is tempting God exactly as Satan tempted Adam and Eve. ‘Did God really show you His wounds? I didn’t see it, so I don’t believe.’ Thomas is tempting God just as the Jews tempted Jesus on the cross. ‘If He really is the Son of God, let Him show me by doing as I command.’

The other ten Apostles loved Thomas such that they would show him his sin. They were worried about his eternal salvation. When he responded defensively, as one might have expected, they did not give up on him. They did not exclude him from the gathering of the saints. Instead, they kept a place at the table for him. Thanks be to God, Thomas returned to the church with the Apostles, eight days later.

The written word does not always effectively communicate tone. When Jesus appears in the midst of the Apostles the second time, the tone of His comments is not recorded. I cannot say with certainty but let me offer a suggestion.

Perhaps our Lord’s words to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing,” were not as kindly sounding as most of us would like to think. Perhaps, these words were spoken harshly. Perhaps they are not an invitation so much as a rebuke.

Jesus is certainly not giving Thomas what he wanted. When the rich man cries out from hell that Father Abraham would send someone back from the dead to warn his living brothers, Abraham responds, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”[6] In other words, the rich man’s brothers have the words of Scripture, the commandments and the promises, but if those will not turn their hearts, nothing they might see will grant them faith. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

Therefore, it is not fitting that Jesus would be giving Thomas exactly what he wanted. In that case, Jesus would be rewarding the blasphemy of Thomas. Rather, it seems almost like Jesus is intimidating Thomas. “You think you know how to strengthen faith? You think you know what you need? I’ll tell you what you need. You need faith. You need to trust Me for I am your Lord and God!”

It is also for this reason that I don’t think Thomas ever touches Christ’s wounds. I think the rebuke of our Lord is sufficient to crush his prideful heart. Thomas wants forgiveness according to his terms and on his timeline. Jesus rebukes his pride and calls him to repentance. Thanks be to God, the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God and turns Thomas’s heart. He immediately falls to his knees and repents. “My Lord and my God!”

The same is true in the Church today. When Jesus instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry, He did so for the sake of the forgiveness of sins. The called and ordained ministers of Christ are called chiefly to bear the keys of the kingdom of God. These two keys, the binding key and the loosing key, are closely related. They both pertain to the forgiveness of sins.

On the one hand, he who is penitent, recognizes his sin, knows his sin is worthy of the wrath of God, is disgusted by his own sin, and desires to be free from it, it is the duty of the called and ordained ministers of Christ to loose this man from his sins. It is not a judgment to be made by the Pastor. He does not forgive sins according to his own will or his desires. He forgives sins according to the Word of God. Just as whosoever’s sins he forgives on earth are forgiven in heaven, so too is it his duty to forgive those sins which the Father in heaven would forgive.

On the other hand, he who is impenitent, who refuses to acknowledge his sin as sin, who denies God’s ability to judge him, or who recognizes his sin but desires to remain in that sin, it is the solemn duty of the called and ordained ministers of Christ to bind him in his sin. The gates to the kingdom of heaven are to be closed to this man. The blood of Christ was still shed for him and forgiveness flows from this blood, but he has chosen to ignore this grace and mercy of God. He is bound in his sin not because of the nature or severity of his sin, but because of impenitence.

Do not overlook that last point. The nature or severity of sin is not the grounds for excommunication or church discipline. The only grounds for the use of the binding key is impenitence. One sad example is those who are impenitent regarding their violation of the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.” Thomas failed to gather with the Apostles on Easter evening. When our Lord sees him, He commands Thomas to stop unbelieving, but be believing. This tells us that while he was absent from the gathering of the Church, Thomas was in a state of unbelief. He was impenitent concerning his breaking of the Third Commandment.

Those who are physically able to attend the gathering of the saints but refuse to are breaking the Third Commandment. They might be otherwise pious people. They might be very kind and loving. They might read their Bibles every day. They may even send money to the church. But they are still breaking a commandment of God. What is worse, if the Church is able to reach out to these people and they still do not return to the gathering of the saints, they are bearing the fruits of impenitence. If they continue in impenitence, then it is the duty of the church to excommunicate them.  

Do not fear the word, “excommunicate.” The purpose of excommunication is never punishment. The purpose of excommunication is to show someone his sin. It is to bring his sin to the forefront of his mind so that he would know the consequences thereof. If a man does not know that he is sinning but continues in that sin, he is still liable to judgment. The loving thing to do is to call his sin to his attention so that he might repent and be welcomed back into the Church.

Such was the case with Thomas. Had he died during that week between Easter and the following Sunday, Thomas would certainly have found himself in hell. He was an unbeliever. Jesus stood before him and showed him his sin. What’s more, Jesus showed him the consequences of his sin. Jesus also showed him the God who was willing to take on his sin and die for it. Jesus showed Thomas His wounds so that Thomas would receive the forgiveness which flows from them.

Jesus showed Thomas the way of salvation and in so doing, pronounced a blessing upon you. Jesus said, “Thomas, it took me appearing a second time and forcing your eyes upon the bloody wounds caused by your sins for you to repent. Blessed are those who come after you, who receive My Word upon your lips, because they have not seen and yet have believed.”

Blessed are you today for in hearing the Word of God, you have received the forgiveness of your sins. Blessed are you who hear the Word of God, and your heart is turned away from sin and toward the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Jesus. Blessed are you who hear the Word of God and believe it without seeing.

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] St. Matthew 16:21-23; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 26:1-2; St. Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34; St. Luke 9:21-22; 9:43-45; 18:31-34. See also the “lifted up” statements according to St. John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32.

[2] St. Matthew 26:32.

[3] St. John 11:26; 15:20.

[4] St. Matthew 18:20.

[5] St. John 20:23.

[6] St. Luke 16:31.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Good Friday

Good Friday – April 7, 2023
Hosea 6:1-6; Habakkuk 3:2-4; Exodus 12:1-11; Psalm 140
St. John 18-19

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

It is profitable for one man to die on behalf of the people.[1]

The term “Passion” as we use it to describe the “Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ” refers to something that is experienced, something that happens to someone from the outside, and it usually carries a sense of something evil that is happening. For this reason, “passion” is sometimes equated to “suffering.” In fact, older uses of the term “to suffer” meant “to experience something happening to you,” without the expectation that the experience is evil.

Caiaphas, the illegitimate high priest, declares that it is profitable for one man to die on behalf of the people. In this statement, he is correct. Despite his unbelief, his blasphemy, his hatred of God, Caiaphas speaks the truth. It is profitable for mankind for one man, Jesus Christ, to die on behalf of the people.

It is profitable because only this man, only Jesus Christ, could bear the sins of the world and make atonement for them. Only the blood of this man, Jesus Christ, could appease the Father, who has rightfully judged mankind to be wicked and evil in all his thoughts and ways.[2] Only this man, Jesus Christ, could submit Himself to the bitter scorn, abuse, torture, and death delivered by Judas, Pilate, Caiaphas, and the Jews when at any moment, He could have called five legions of angels to deliver Himself.

The suffering and death of Jesus is profitable because He is God in human flesh. His suffering and death are profitable to you because His holy blood is more precious to the Father than all the blood of beasts. His suffering and death fulfills the debt of every sin from the first taste of the fruit in the garden to the sin born in the flesh of the last child conceived in the womb. And only the body and blood of Jesus is never ending. The blood of a human eventually runs dry. The body of a human eventually returns to dust. The Blood of Jesus is life giving Blood. It never runs dry. It is the source of life for all creation. The Body of Jesus never returns to dust. In Him is life. His living Body encompasses all who believe in Him and this number continues to grow with each passing generation.

Yet if the suffering and death of Jesus has fulfilled your debt to God why is it that you still suffer? The idea that Jesus has taken away the sting of death is commonly heard from Christian pulpits. The thought that death is now a portal for Christians because the death of Jesus has ended eternal death for all who believe is a comforting thought but it is something far off. It is the end of this mortal life and something that we do not necessarily face every day. But every day that we wake up in this life we have some sort of suffering. Much worse is the great suffering which marks life on this side of glory.

The daily suffering we all endure is simply the result of the fall. Aches and pains, annoyances, fits of anger, lust, or greed. All of creation experiences these. They are not unique to Christians. But what of the great sufferings. What of the serious threat of poverty? What of the serious threat of bodily harm? Or significant illness? Or threats of prison, persecution, or execution? What of terrible wrestling with conscience in a world that requires you to participate in your own demise? What of the struggle to raise children in a world that will call you a bigot, racist, or Nazi for choosing to protect your children from degeneracy?

This great suffering is caused by the devil and his ungodly minions because you Christians hold to the Word of God. You hear it, read it, learn it, and practice it. For this, our Ancient Foe would have you scorned, abused, tortured, and killed. Satan is pleased enough if you are killed for your faith but he is far more elated when he can destroy your faith for the sake of his pleasure. You are hated because of the Word of God. Sometimes this hatred is explicit, as in the murder of children and teachers at a Christian school in Tennessee.

Far more common is an implicit hatred for you who love the Word of God. From birth, you are trained to view Christianity as evil and the teachings of Scripture as false. Satan and his ungodly followers love to abuse the truth by giving you only part of it. For example, we have all been taught in school and constantly throughout our lives that slavery is evil. We’ve even been taught that slavery is sinful. And yet, how does St. Paul treat slavery when he writes to Philemon, concerning the runaway slave, Onesimus? Not once does he rebuke Philemon for sinning by having slaves. In fact, he encourages Onesimus to return to his master as a dutiful slave. St. Paul does encourage Philemon to free Onesimus and treat him as a brother in Christ and pay him a wage as a laborer, but he does not rebuke him for the supposed sin of slavery.

Is it possible to commit grievous sins in the name of slavery? Absolutely. It is possible to establish a sinful form of slavery in which man is treated as sub-human, beaten and abused for the pleasure of the master? Of course. It is also possible to establish a marriage in which a man abuses his wife but that doesn’t make marriage sinful.

This digression into the supposed sin of slavery is not the topic of today’s sermon nor the purpose for our gathering today. But it is illustrative of just how skilled Satan is at teaching you to ignore the Scriptures. Take a little truth and spread it thin over a great lie and suddenly you can deceive the masses. Caiaphas said, “It is profitable for one man to die for the people,” by which he either meant, “Killing this one man will return power to me and my fellow Jews, by which the people will be easier to control and have a manufactured peace,” or he was speaking blasphemously and sarcastically. Either way, Caiaphas used a thin veneer of truth to hide his wicked desires.

The suffering caused by the devil and the world is certainly something which we experience, and which comes to us from the outside. However, the suffering of Christians is also caused by God. It is caused by God on account of our own sins.

It would be more fitting to say that such suffering is allowed by God and is caused by our own sins. Again, I am not speaking of the aches and pains of age or the minor frustrations of the world. I speak of the serious suffering which occurs throughout life. This suffering is experienced by Christians on account of our sin. God allows this suffering not just to punish, but to drive us toward Him. Such grievous suffering will produce one of two reactions within man: either we will spurn God and turn away from Him, in which case we are choosing our own damnation, or it will drive us ever more firmly to God and the promise of salvation won by Jesus Christ.

“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”[3] What is our strength? “Thee I will love, my Strength, my Tower; Thee will I love, my Hope, my Joy; Thee will I love with all my power, With ardor time shall ne’er destroy. Thee will I love, O Light Divine, So long as life is mine…for Thou my Redeemer art.”[4] God certainly is faithful and will not let you be tempted beyond your strength because your strength is in Jesus Christ your Lord!

When you are tempted, when you are enduring the greatest suffering you have yet known, the only source of strength you have left is to look to Christ and the promise of salvation. Where do you find this strength? Where do you find this promise? In the Word of God. In your Holy Baptism.

When you are enduring this terrible suffering on account of the devil and the world or on account of your own sin, the only refuge you have in this world is to remember that you are a baptized child of God. The blood that Jesus Christ shed on Calvary has been sprinkled upon you and God has promised never to leave you or forsake you.

What then? Should you stand up in your suffering and say, “This isn’t so bad. Jesus died for me so I can do whatever I want and sure, there will be consequences, but they don’t matter. I can do what I want!” Of course not. You repent. You repent of your sins and cry out to your Father, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned! Forgive me for the shed blood of Jesus! Strengthen me to endure the suffering of this world and grant that Your Holy Spirit would strengthen me to hold on to the promise of salvation!”

In this spirit, in the spirit of repentance and endurance, you can then face your suffering and say, “Come what may, I am baptized into Christ. Should all things fall down around me, I am baptized into Christ.” It is in this spirit of repentance and endurance that we can suffer boldly. We can suffer boldly because we know that such suffering is only for a time. Should that suffering result in our earthly death, then we know we have eternity with Christ to look forward to.

God is faithful and has given you the suffering and death of His only begotten Son to bless your suffering, to bless you in your suffering. By the suffering and death of Jesus, the suffering of all Christians has in fact been sanctified. It is not as though your suffering somehow atones for sins. Rather, your suffering is a participation in the suffering of Jesus. Your suffering is following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. His suffering and death not only atoned for your sins but also set forth the example of a Godly life.

This sanctified suffering is not the suffering of your own choosing. This is the error of the papists and fanatics alike. The papists believe that by forcing themselves to suffer, by inducing a sense of suffering, they can make themselves more holy. They fast and beat their bodies believing this self-chosen suffering will please the Father. They have fallen prey to the deceits of the devil. By inflicting their own pains, they are not suffering. Suffering comes from outside and is experienced. They are doing it to themselves; therefore, it is not suffering.

Christians fast and endure physical disciplines to train the body. Christ expects that Christians would fast not to induce a sense of suffering but to prepare the body for a time when eating the food given to idols might be sinful or when food might be so scarce that feeding your children is more important than satiating your belly.

The fanatics choose all sorts of manmade suffering but worst is the suffering they induce in their own consciences. They believe that God has so ordered their lives that they must work to retain their faith or that they must make all decisions according to some secret plan of God. Their false doctrines concerning the will of God induce unnecessary suffering that does nothing but drive them away from the comfort of the promise of salvation.

The Christian, however, endures the suffering of this world as he walks in the way of Jesus. Christ has promised to do something remarkable with our suffering and thus we have trust that God is faithful.[5] It is among the highest arts in the life of a Christian, which we must all learn, to look to the Word and away from the trouble and suffering that lies upon us and weighs us down. “Even though it hurts, so be it, you have to go through some suffering anyhow; things cannot always go smoothly. It is just as well, nay, a thousand times better, to have suffered for the sake of Christ, who promised us comfort and help in suffering, than to suffer and despair and perish without comfort and help for the sake of the devil.

“You should also accustom yourself to distinguish carefully between the suffering of Christ and all other suffering and know that his is a heavenly suffering and ours is worlds, that His suffering accomplishes everything, while ours does nothing except that we become conformed to Christ, and that therefore the suffering of Christ is the suffering of a lord, whereas our is the suffering of a servant.”[6]

It is truly profitable that this one man, Jesus Christ, True Son of God and True Son of Man, should die on behalf of man, on behalf of Christians, on behalf of you. It is truly profitable that this day we should share in His suffering and death not by our own choosing or by evoking some emotion of suffering, but by receiving His suffering and death in His holy Word and Sacrament.

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] St. John 18:14.

[2] Genesis 6:5.

[3] 1 Corinthians 10:13.

[4] Thee Will I Love, My Strength, My Tower, TLH 399, text: Johann Scheffler, 1657, trans: Catherine Winkworth, 1865, alt.

[5] St. John 16:33; 1 Corinthians 10:113.

[6] Martin Luther, “Sermon at Coburg on Cross and Suffering,” (1530), AE 51:197-208, edited and translated by John W. Doberstein, general editor Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1959), 208.


Jubilate – April 21, 2024 Psalm 66; Isaiah 40:25-31; 1 Peter 2:11-20 St. John 16:16-22 In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of ...