Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lent 4 Sermon April 2-3, 2011

April 2 – 3, 2011
Lent 4 - Laetare
John 6:1-15

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

The Lord said, “You shall not eat of the tree of knowledge.” But we did. We sought to be our own ethics committee, to discern for ourselves what is good and what is evil. And as is the case with almost all ethics committees, the first thing we failed to notice was our own evil. Instead we twisted in on ourselves and on our rights. We thought God was evil. God had told us that the fruit of the tree of knowledge was not fit for food. But we thought that we could see for ourselves that it was. Was it not pleasing to the eye, good for food, and capable of making us wise? Look at us now. How wise we have become!

The devil always lies. He never delivers. His promise of wisdom and being like God was a lie. We don’t get what we expected. We were misled, deceived. The wisdom he gave was simply the painful knowledge of the devil, Hell, and death. The Lord said you shall not eat of it. But we did. Now the ground is cursed for our sake. We ate of the tree of our own accord, with lust and greed, so now we eat of the cursed ground, by toil and sweat, all the days of our lives.

All our food comes from the earth and can be traced back to the sun. The sun energizes the grass. The cows eat the grass. We eat the grass and the cows. We are omnivores, so selfish that we consume everything. But our consumption comes always by toil, and not only that, it is not only in toil that we eat of the earth, but also all the days of our lives. We cannot live without constant food. In just a few hours our stomachs start to grumble. The children come home from school, just 3 or 4 hours after lunch, and declare: I am starving. They are not starving. But they are hungry. And they will be hungry all the days of their lives. This is the lot of fallen men, of those who toil upon the cursed earth and eat of it.

But even in the curse, there is mercy. Adam and Eve do not starve or go naked. More significantly, they do not die. Death has entered into the world. But death passes over them. The serpent is sent to eat the dust of the earth and to wait for the time when he will collect his ransom and bruise the Heel of God. And thus does the Lord multiply bread in the wilderness, to feed the hungry, without their toil. He has compassion on fallen men, on Adam and Eve in their sin, on us in all our troubles, self-afflicted and otherwise. He feeds them, and us, because they, and we, need it.

After the miraculous feeding, the crowd knew that He was the Prophet who to come. They sought to seize him and make Him King. They missed the point.

Their perception was not completely false. They did not substitute something evil for good. They substituted a lesser good, the prophet like Moses, for the greater good, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They took one piece of the Messiah, his power for miracles, and decided that was the chief thing. They felt His compassion, but failed to recognize its depth. It is as though they walked into a symphony hall with a full orchestra and heard only a single flute, and for the sake of that flute denied all other music.

They tried to make Him their king. This gives irony to the trumped-up charge brought to Pilate. Jesus resisted all efforts to make Him a king. He was after all King without their approval or vote. But the people who yelled crucify had tried to make Him king. They yelled crucify and pledged their allegiance to Caesar. “We have no king but Caesar,” they said. It is crass resentment on their part, like the fox declaring the grapes he could not reach to be sour. Jesus refused to be their King. So they charge Him with trying to be King. Yet He refused only because His compassion ran deeper than their desire. Thus they delivered Him to His destiny and mission, to His desire for them. Pilate plays his part by placing the title “King of the Jews” over His head. Then the Lord is lifted up from the earth to reconcile all men to His Father and to draw them to Himself.

The crowd’s perception was not completely false. The problem was that they failed to realize that this is only one part of His role. He did not come so much to heal diseases and multiply bread and fish. He came to be a Sacrifice, to lay down His life as a ransom, to pay the price required for sin. His miracles are like ripples in the water. They are like the twilight that precedes the dawn. The Creator is present in His creation. It falls back into place, re-orders itself, around Him. It does this because of the Blood He will shed, because creation is also redeemed. But the people see only the miracles, only the ripples. They don’t see the Blood. They are like children playing with empty boxes on Christmas morning or filling up with store-bought cookies before the meat is brought to the table.

St. Peter makes this mistake when he tries to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem. That is why he is so harshly rebuked: “Get behind Me, Satan. You have not in mind the things of God, but of men.” Peter’s motives weren’t evil. He wanted Jesus to teach. He wanted to be His disciple. He wanted Him to live. Those were good things, but they were lesser goods. This is the way of all heresy that arises in the Church. For it never says “God is evil.” But it always chooses a minor note instead of the symphony. It always emphasizes and applies what is good or true but it twists the good like unto the crowd that was fed by Jesus demanding He be their king.

Of course, this did not stop Jesus. He fed the crowd even though He knew they would turn on Him. He was not moved by their worthiness but by true compassion. He enriched their lives. The boy gave Jesus five loaves and two fish. That was faith. And it was risky. He might have lost it all, gotten nothing in return. He gave up what he had and Jesus multiplied it. Everyone ate and was satisfied by this boy’s gift. And twelve baskets overflowing, perhaps even going to waste, were left at the end. The boy did not go home empty-handed. He himself was fed and satisfied, as were those with him.

This is how our lives are lived in Christ. We often call it stewardship. The Lord provides for us through our neighbors. We bring our imperfect and risky offerings. They are sanctified and used for the Kingdom. They are pleasing to God. We do not go home empty-handed. We are fed and satisfied, so are those with us. Our lives in Christ are centered in the Sacrament of the Altar, where Christ, Our Lord, feeds our bodies and souls with His Body and Blood. This is our strongest connection to the Lord. It is where He forgives our sins by physical means and joins us to Himself, the holy angels and the saints. In this Sacrament we proclaim His death and are joined to the cross and raised in the resurrection. The Sacrament of the Altar is the epitome and the source of our life in Christ. We live from Sunday to Sunday, from Altar to Altar. But there is more to our lives in Christ than the Sacrament. There is more to our lives than the forgiveness of sins or the holy liturgy. Our lives in Christ include the good works we perform at home and in the world. He gives us a share in His kingdom. He used the boy’s bread and fish to feed the crowd. He uses your offerings and good works for His Kingdom.

Our Messiah, Jesus Christ, is the Prophet who is to come. He has compassion on the physical ailments and distresses of this world. He leads us out of slavery. He is the Son of David who rules in perfect justice, but by mercy. Yet His compassion is still deeper. He is also the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, who was bruised by Satan and laid to rest in the earth, who gave up His life to have us. He is our own High Priest who ushers us into the inner counsels of the Holy Trinity so that we boldly pray, “Our Father,” and also know that the Holy Spirit Himself prays for us. He gives us a share in His kingdom according to grace. He is the Way of Salvation, the Truth of God’s love for us, and the Life of those who love Him. Rejoice, O Christian: Jesus loves you.

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

Lent Midweek 4 Sermon

Midweek 4
Sermon March 30, 2011
The Lowly Lamb of God
Philippians 2:5–11

“Ever patient and lowly” is the way the hymn “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy” (LSB 434) describes Jesus, and that sums things up. Last week we considered Jesus, the patient Lamb of God, the suffering Lamb. And we discovered that Jesus covers our sufferings in His sufferings. Tonight we focus on Jesus, the lowly Lamb of God. And once again, we find out that His lowliness is more than an example; it is a gift in which we find humility ourselves.

And that’s a good thing, because we don’t have much humility to spare. Humility is in pretty short supply. Several generations have grown up believing that the cardinal sin is not pride, but low self-esteem. Our world is populated by many people who pay no attention to the needs of others, much less to the will of God. They worship at the shrine of the unholy trinity: Me, Myself, and I.

Now don’t be mistaken—this is not just a problem ungodly people have. We cannot assume that we have escaped this trap ourselves. You and I daily are bombarded with a steady stream of messages that tell us we have an inherent right to be in control, that things should be just the way we want them to be, that our opinion is the only one that counts. Christians don’t walk away from such strong and unrelenting temptation untouched, especially when you consider that this message is extremely popular with the sinful flesh within. In league with the devil and the fallen world, our sinful flesh simply does not want to hallow God’s name nor let His kingdom come.

The Bible lists humility, along with kindness and meekness, among the Christian virtues (Colossians 3:12). Yet in many circles today any one of the three would be considered a sign of weakness. Lowliness doesn’t go over so well. We are told that to get ahead, we have to promote ourselves—humility is for sissies.

Not so in the kingdom of God. To put yourself ahead of God and other people is not a mark of independence and initiative; instead, it is the sure sign of an idolatrous heart. Christ tells us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30–31). That’s the sum total of the Law of God. And that Law still holds. St. Paul writes in the verses immediately before our text: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Unfortunately, all too often that is not the way it is among us. When it comes to humility, we are sadly lacking. Instead of counting others more significant than ourselves, it is just the other way around: we consider ourselves most important of all.

This puts our text in an entirely different light. When the apostle writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), we are struck immediately by two things. First, the sad fact is that our natural attitude is not very Christlike when it comes to humility. What should be is not what actually is. Second, what we do not have in ourselves we are given by faith in Jesus—the humble attitude of Jesus is one of the gifts He gives to those who love and trust in Him. When you have Jesus by faith, you also have all His gifts. “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,” He said, “and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:28–29a).

As we watch Jesus throughout this Lenten season suffering the consequences of our sin, we are struck again by His deep and profound humility. He never once complained of injustice or returned violence for violence. As Isaiah wrote: “Like a lamb [that is led] to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Yet that clear and evident humility of Jesus was not weakness, but strength. “No man takes [My life] from Me,” Jesus said, “but I lay it down of My own accord” (John 10:18).

Jesus is not a helpless victim in His suffering and death. He remained perfectly in charge throughout the whole ordeal. It looked for the entire world as though He was defeated that day they flogged Him nearly senseless and then nailed Him on the cross to die, a beaten and bloody pulp of a man. Yet Jesus was and remained God throughout His torment; for the only way captive humanity could be rescued and released would be if God Himself became the ransom price.

That, of course, is exactly what happened. St. Paul paints the scene in vivid detail in our text: “being in very nature God, [He] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing” (Philippians 2:6). Jesus was indeed equal with God, being the eternal Son of the Father, with whom He had existed from all eternity as one with the Father and the Spirit, three individual persons yet eternally one undivided God. Jesus was always in the form of God, yet when the time came for Him to ransom mankind; He surrendered His equality with the Father and emptied Himself of His divine glory, exchanging the form of God for the form of a servant, being born in human likeness.

With three hammer blows the apostle drives home the deep mystery of the incarnation and the profound wonder of our redemption: taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, being found in human appearance. God of God and Light of Light, true God from all eternity, Jesus Christ is also true man, freely sacrificing His divine majesty to come down here among us to be suckled and diapered like any other infant. Only thus could He rescue and save the whole rebellious world. Now, that’s humility for you—but that’s not the totality of Christ’s humility.

The apostle continues: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). Now I dare say we have heard so much about the cross in this church that we have almost become numb to it. Yet there is a shocking frankness about these words that likely doesn’t come across in plain English. Every faithful Jew who knew his Bible knew that there was a unique horror to the cross—and it wasn’t what you think. Our thoughts likely turn to the macabre—the gruesome horror and physical agony of nails being driven through human flesh. Although that was bad enough—and struck terror in the hearts of the bravest of men, even in the morbid world of the first century—there was a special horror to death by crucifixion among the people of God. All victims of the cross were automatically under the wrath of God. In the Book of Deuteronomy, the Lord had explicitly warned Israel: “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23).

So the lowest point in the humiliation of Jesus was exactly this: that He willingly placed Himself under the judgment of God in His death. Yet again note how Jesus was in complete control even in this: “He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:8). The Son of God deliberately and freely chose to relinquish His divine glory, to empty Himself and come among us as a man, then to lower Himself still further all the way to death in obedience to the Father’s will. He suffered no ordinary death, but the superordinary death of the cross, there to be cursed for us in order to bursting the bonds of the curse that held all mankind captive.

Talk about lowly. Is there anyone here who would go to such great lengths for the benefit of someone else? If you know your own heart, you know the answer is no. Humility may be fine for other people, lowliness may be well and good, but the sinful heart just doesn’t want to go there. Who would want to take a back seat to somebody else? So everybody around us pays the price.

When our stubborn pride gets in the way, it causes more than enough hurt to go around. No wonder, then, that a lot of those nearest and dearest to us are injured in the process. No wonder that many of our friends and family go begging for sympathy and love because our self-inflated ego doesn’t leave them room to breathe.

It’s not a pretty picture. But that is what happens when selfish pride takes over. Lowliness goes out the door, and humility doesn’t even show up on our radar screen. That is when people get hurt. And make no mistake about it, we injure ourselves as well. When pride runs amok, it not only affects other people, it also cuts us off from God.

To the walking wounded, then, the message of the lowly Lamb of God this night comes as healing medicine for the soul. For our Lord Jesus walked the lowly, lonely road that led to the cross precisely to remove the injury and hurt that you and I have done in our sinful pride. The death He died on His cross in abject lowliness and humility was our death. The curse He bore in that shameful death was our curse. Now the power of that curse is broken. The warfare between God and mankind is over and done. We have received from the Lord’s own hand double for our sin. The miserable record of our sin, all the hurt and shame of it, is blotted out in Jesus’ blood.

In exchange for the misery of our sin, we receive the very life of Christ, the lowly Lamb of God. What you see now is only partial. The life of humility and lowly service we now live is only part of the picture. First, comes the cross, and then the crown. Because our Lord Jesus, the lowly Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, humbled Himself and obeyed His Father’s will all the way to the death of the cross, “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).

Daily Readings for April 3-9, 2011

Daily Bible Readings 
April 3 Genesis 41:28-57; Mark 11:20-33 

April 4 Genesis 42:1-34, 38; Mark 12:1-12
April 5 Genesis 43:1-28; Mark 12:13-27
April 6 Genesis 44:1-18, 32-34; Mark 12:28-44
April 7 Genesis 45:1-20, 24-28; Mark 13:1-23
April 8 Genesis 47:1-31; Mark 13:24-37
April 9 Looking Forward to next Sunday: Genesis 22:1–14; Hebrews 9:11–15; John 8:(42–45) 46–59



Genesis 22:1–14; Hebrews 9:11–15; John 8:(42–45) 46–59
Jesus Is Our Redemption
In the temple Jesus said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). For Jesus came to taste death for us—to drink the cup of suffering to the dregs in order that we might be released from its power. Clinging to His life-giving words, we are delivered from death’s sting and its eternal judgment. Christ is our High Priest, who entered the Most Holy Place and with His own blood obtained everlasting redemption for His people (Hebrews 9:11–15). He is the One who was before Abraham was, and yet is his descendant. He is the promised Son who carries the wood up the mountain for the sacrifice, who is bound and laid upon the altar of the cross. He is the ram who is offered in our place, who is willingly caught in the thicket of our sin, and who wears the crown of thorns upon His head (Genesis 22:1–14). Though Jesus is dishonored by the sons of the devil, He is vindicated by the Father through the cross.