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How Jesus is Seen. Exaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, 2019

martyrs.PNGExaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

June 2, 2019

How Jesus is Seen

 

Iesu Iuva

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Paschal candle is no longer burning.  Since Epiphany it has been by the altar, but at Ascension Day, Thursday, it moved to the Baptismal font.  After the Gospel reading its flame was put out.  That’s because, after the ascension of our Lord, we no longer see Him.  He is alive from the dead, but no longer visible to our eyes.

 

That is hard for us, but even harder for the world.  The world needs to see Jesus so that the people in the world may know God.  Apart from Jesus no one can know God or be saved.  But we have to come into contact with Jesus to know who He is.  We need to see Him, even if we don’t physically gaze upon Him with our eyes.  The world needs to see Jesus that it may come to know Him and be saved, but we Christians also need to go on seeing Jesus so that we may not fall away and lose heart.

 

Since Jesus has ascended to God’s right hand and we can no longer see Him, He has left behind a witness to Himself in this world.

 

In reality Jesus speaks of two witnesses to Him in this reading.  And in a certain sense you could say He even describes three witnesses to Himself.  The first witness Jesus calls, “the Helper” and “The Spirit of Truth.”  The second witness is the apostles themselves, who have been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry.  And the third “witness,” so to speak, is the suffering and persecution the apostles and those who believe after them endure because of their witness to Jesus.

 

First of all, the apostles.  They had been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry, and so Jesus says, “You will bear witness to Me.”  They would testify to all they had seen Jesus do and teach on earth.  They would show people who Jesus was by His actions and His teaching.  That He was the eternal Son of God, with the Father at the beginning, through whom the world was made.  That He had become a man, humbling Himself and taking on our weakness and mortality in order to be our servant.  How after preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the repentant, His enemies nailed Him to a cross, and He died for our sins, and how He was raised from the dead, showing that our sins were forgiven by God forever.  They would bear witness that they saw Jesus ascend into heaven and that He is returning to judge the living and the dead.

 

This witness of the apostles is not unfamiliar to you.  You hear it and say it in summary every week in the creed.  We hear the witness of the apostles about Jesus every time the Gospel is read.  They bear witness to us: this is who Jesus is.  This is what Jesus did.  He is the Savior of sinners.  He is your Savior.  Their witness guards us from being led astray to a false Jesus.

 

Yet Jesus doesn’t mention the apostles first when He talks about the witness to Him that will happen after His ascension.  He says, When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father…He will bear witness about Me.  (John 15:26) 

 

The apostles weren’t left to their own faulty memories to be witnesses of Jesus.  Otherwise no doubt they would have mixed up things Jesus taught, or misinterpreted things He did.

 

If all we had to go by was the apostles’ memory of Jesus—even as eyewitnesses—no doubt we could not rely on it with absolute assurance.  But Jesus promises that He will send them the Helper, who is also the Spirit of Truth from the Father.  He will ensure that the witness they bear of Jesus is accurate, that the picture they give the world of Jesus is true.

 

Jesus tells them that this Helper is going to bear witness with them.  He is not just any kind of helper, but one who helps you to speak, or who speaks on your behalf—an advocate.  He is able to convince people and to comfort people where the apostles by their own power of speech and personality will not be able to.  This Helper, the Holy Spirit, Jesus is going to pour out on the disciples when He ascends to heaven as His gift to them.  And the Holy Spirit will witness with them and convince people that what they say about Jesus is the truth.

 

This is comforting news for us.  We in the Church are witnesses to Jesus also.  We didn’t see Jesus first hand like the disciples, but we believe the witness of the apostles of Jesus.  And what if it depended on us to convince everyone that Jesus is the Son of God?  It doesn’t.  We are merely witnesses.  And in the Church we have a great helper who speaks to us and bears witness to Jesus so that we rest in Him.  But He also speaks through us and convinces the world that our witness to Jesus is true.

 

And this Helper also brings it about that the third time of witness can happen, which is when we endure persecution and hardship because we bear witness to Jesus, and yet we do not fall away.  Jesus said: I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.  They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God (John 16:1-2). 

 

The apostles and the Church bear witness to Christ.   The Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ.  And finally, the persecution and suffering of the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, bears witness to Christ.  Wherever a church believes in the real Jesus and bears witness to the real Jesus and holds to the real Jesus and His real teaching, there will be hostility from the world and the devil.  This is a necessary part of being a witness in this world.

 

What is it that Christianity wants to tell the world?  What is it that the Holy Spirit bears witness to among human beings, as long as the world remains?

 

Isn’t it that God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life?  (Jhn 3:16)  And what does the love of God the Son look like?  It looks like Him suffering for us, to impart this great gift to us—that our sins are taken away.  Suffering when people ignored Him and treated Him with contempt during all the years He taught.  Suffering when even His apostles didn’t listen to Him.  Suffering in the garden as He prayed and prepared to offer Himself up.  Suffering on the cross when He endured God’s fierce wrath against the world’s sins.

 

So when we suffer because we bear witness to Jesus, the world not only hears the church confess the faith and talk about Jesus and preach Jesus.  It not only hears the witness of the Spirit.  It also sees us following the one we preach.

 

Suffering for witness to Christ will happen, and when it does, the Holy Spirit enables us to witness to Jesus’ love for us not only with our lips but with our wealth, our good name, our sweat, our tears, and perhaps our own lives.

 

We haven’t endured a lot of this for our witness to Jesus.  Of course we have all suffered, because this is a world where everyone suffers.  Everyone loses loved ones.  Everyone gets sick.  Everyone dies.  But not everyone bears witness to Jesus and suffers for it.  Only faithful Christians and faithful churches do that, and not in the same degree.

 

If we faithfully learn Jesus’ Word and are serious about bearing faithful witness to Him, it will not become easier for us.  Not in a human sense.  Rather, we will gain enemies.  People will say we are intolerant, arrogant, and so on.  And much worse could happen, up to and including losing our very lives.  It’s strange to imagine such a thing happening in this town, at this church, but no longer impossible to imagine it.

 

But there is great joy in bearing this witness to Jesus.  First of all because of who Jesus is that we witness to.  He is not a hard taskmaster, an enemy of human beings.  He is the all gracious, all merciful Lord who died for our sins.

 

Secondly because Jesus has given us a great helper who comforts us beyond all telling as Luther’s hymn puts it.  He speaks to the world with power and helps us.  But He speaks to us in the still small voice that Elijah heard on the mountain and consoles us and tells us that when we suffer, we show ourselves to truly be Jesus’ disciples.

 

The paschal candle is put out because we can’t see Jesus.  We light it when we baptize someone, and then we light a little baptismal candle and give it to them.  It means—you have now become a participant in the life of Jesus.  And then when a Christian dies, we light the paschal candle and put it at the head of the casket.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.   (Colossians 3)  When we bear witness to Jesus, that hidden light of the life of Christ illuminates us.  We become the candle.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Boldness in Prayer and Preaching. Rogate 2019 The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Memorial Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:23-30

May 26, 2019

Boldness in Preaching and Prayer

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

In the temple in Jerusalem a curtain hung between the main part of the temple building and the Holy of Holies.

 

This curtain was there to protect the priests, not to protect God.  Externally the priests were clean and holy, and they had been given a high position among the people of God—to stand in the presence of God on behalf of the people.  But they could not look upon the glory of God, because no one can see God’s face and live—not even Moses, the greatest of the prophets in the Old Testament.  To see God’s face and live only belongs to those who are without any stain of sin, because God is holy, a jealous God.

 

But on Good Friday the layout of the temple changed.  Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His Spirit, and behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”  (Matt. 27:50-51)  The veil that was there to hide God’s glory from everyone but the High Priest—the protective covering—was torn open.  Why?  Because Jesus’ death had made it possible for those who believe in Him to go boldly into the presence of God’s glory.

 

In the 16th chapter of John Jesus tells His disciples that they will soon enter into the Father’s presence with this kind of boldness.  They will, so to speak, walk right up to God the Father on His throne, and ask Him for gifts.  And instead of destroying them for their brashness and boldness, the Father will give them whatever they ask in the name of Jesus.

 

If you think about this in light of the Scriptures, you will realize what a stupendous promise this is.  Consider how God appeared to the people of Israel when He brought them out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai.  He came in fire to the mountain and set it ablaze.  The mountain billowed with smoke.  And when God spoke the ten commandments out of the fire, the people were terrified and begged Moses to tell God not to speak to them anymore because His voice was so frightening.  Then Moses climbed up the mountain to meet God—into the fire and the deep darkness.

 

Do you think you would be bold to go up with Moses into the presence of God?  Imagine trying to be bold as the trumpet blared and you climbed into the fire and deep darkness where God was!

 

Who can be bold when they enter God’s presence, if this is what God is like?  You can’t come into God’s presence on your own initiative with boldness.  In fact, as a sinner, you really won’t come into God’s presence at all.  It is dangerous for sinners to come into God’s presence.  And even if you could be sure you could enter His presence safely, you can’t be sure in yourself whether you will pray in a way He will accept and listen to.

 

But in the Gospel reading Jesus tells the disciples: I have said these things to you in figures of speech.  The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly or boldly about the Father.  In that day you will ask in My Name… (John 16:25-26)

 

Jesus says the day is coming when He will take off the covering that is over God’s glory—not just the physical curtain in the temple, but the veil that lies over people’s hearts.  When that day comes, when He speaks boldly and plainly about the Father, then they will also pray boldly to the Father.  They will not go to Jesus with their prayers and then He will pray to the Father for them; but instead they will go with Jesus to the Father as sons of God who please the Father, with the same boldness with which Jesus enters His Father’s presence.

 

Now, this is risky on Jesus’ part, at least it seems so.  What happens if Jesus tells the disciples plainly about the Father, and doesn’t speak in figures of speech?  Won’t the disciples take this great treasure of the knowledge of God lightly?  Won’t they be tempted to misuse this knowledge for their own purposes?  And won’t many of the people they preach to misuse this bold preaching about the Father—either by ignoring it and treating it with contempt, or by using it as an excuse for sin?

 

Yes, these are all real possibilities.  This is why, in the Old Testament, the promise of Jesus was hidden under pictures—sacrifices, the worship of the temple.  The people were hard and wouldn’t listen, so God constantly had His law thundering in their ears, declaring their sin, and His requirement of a sacrifice to take their sin away.  Until a person is driven to despair of his own strength and goodness by the law, he can’t receive the plain and bold preaching that shows the grace of God the Father.

 

Nevertheless, Jesus made the Father known to His disciples with great boldness.  He made known the Father as the God who sent His Son into the world to fulfill all of God’s Law and to win the Father’s favor for us by suffering and dying for our sins on the cross.  He showed to His disciples how His Father lifted up His only Son on the pole of the cross and made Him to be sin for us, so that everyone who is bitten by the ancient serpent, and everyone who is suffering from the poison of sin, might do nothing else than look in faith to Jesus and have eternal life.  Jesus made it clear to the sinners in Israel that God the Father wanted them to come into His presence with boldness, like the prodigal son.  He has prepared everything.  The fatted calf has been slain, the prodigal has a ring on his finger and a robe placed on his back.  All there is for him to do is sit down as a son at the Father’s table.  Jesus revealed plainly that this is what the Father is like; then He sent His disciples to unveil the Father through their preaching.

 

When the grace and glory of the Father is preached with boldness and plainness, people believe that they are sons of God.  They don’t say, “I hope I’m good enough for God,” they say boldly, “I am God’s son and heir.  I am baptized into His Son.”

 

And with that same boldness we do what Jesus said we would do: we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name.

 

On our own initiative this would be totally impossible.  But Jesus brings us into the Father’s presence.  When we pray, we don’t come on our own.  We join Jesus in His prayer at the Father’s right hand.

 

We are already in the Father’s presence, wrapped up in Jesus’ righteousness in our Baptism.  Jesus brings us to the Father and Jesus joins our prayer to His.

 

This means: God receives you as a child and an heir.  He wants to hear you pray, just as a father wants his son to come to him.  And he wants to give you everything you ask in Christ.

 

And it means that, when you do not know how to pray correctly, your prayers are also wrapped up in Jesus’ prayers.  If you pray the wrong thing, if you fumble and don’t know what to say, Jesus is praying with you, and His prayer carries your prayer wrapped up in His into God’s ears, and He is pleased.

 

If you have tried to pray you may have noticed it isn’t easy for you.  Frankly, your flesh doesn’t want to pray at all.  And once you start praying, you often get tired of it pretty quickly (unless you have some huge problem weighing on you.)  You may feel awkward and don’t know what to say.  This is just like everything else in being a Christian.  It doesn’t come naturally to us to act like God’s sons and heir.

 

We have to learn to pray.  We have to grow in it, just as in every other part of being a Christian, from learning God’s Word to loving our neighbors, to faithful giving and service in the Church.  We learn to pray in Jesus’ name from learning His Word, and also from suffering and affliction.  There’s a reason why God keeps letting hardship come to us—it’s because without it, we often don’t pray.

 

But even while we are still learning to pray in Jesus’ name and to come with Him as sons into the presence of our Father, we know God hears us.  Jesus gives us the very words to pray in His prayer, beginning with the first words, where we call God the Father “Our Father.”

 

Since the covering is taken away, let us then with boldness draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Cantate 2019

paraclete.PNGCantate, the Fifth Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:5-15

May 19, 2019

The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Church

 

Iesu iuva!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

During the weeks of Easter, Jesus our Lord is continually teaching us about the Holy Christian Church.  We need this more than ever because we live in time in which people are confused about what the Church is and what it is supposed to be doing.

 

Jesus says in the Gospel reading that the Church is going to receive the Holy Spirit when He ascends into heaven, and His Church is going to be the place where the Holy Spirit does His work.  Jesus describes in this reading three parts to the work of the Holy Spirit: the work of conviction, the work of instructing the Church in all truth, and the work of revealing what is to come to the Church.

 

Today, increasingly, we find people saying that the church is unnecessary to being a Christian.  Even more you hear more and more people claiming to be believers in Jesus who say that it is actually harmful to salvation to be involved with most churches, because the churches are not serving Christ but their own agendas.

 

Sadly, it’s not hard at all to see the truth in this criticism.  We see pastors all the time who are driven by a desire to further their own careers and prestige.  And we see churches where the members treat the church as their own possession, set up to carry out their desires instead of the desire of Christ, where people are driven off when they get in the way of “the way we’ve always done things.”  This is such a common story about churches that it is proverbial.

 

But Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is not going to conform to the will of a pastor or of a congregation—the Holy Spirit is going to convict.  Where you have the Holy Christian Church you will find the Holy Spirit carrying out that work.

 

And Jesus says that His Church is not going to be a human organization gathered around what pleases this or that group of people.  He says His Church is going to be guided or instructed by the Holy Spirit in all truth.  Wherever you find people who deny that it is possible to have all the truth, or where there are people who completely refuse to be instructed in all the truth, you have people who are acting like they are not Christ’s Church.  And if they persist in this sin of denying the truth, despising the truth, the Holy Spirit will depart from them and leave them, as they desire, without the truth.

 

Christ’s Church is the assembly which is led by the Holy Spirit in all truth, and in which the Holy Spirit does the mighty work of convicting people, changing their minds from human wisdom to the truth of God.  This work of the Holy Spirit is what makes the church live.  When this is not happening, or when the work of the Holy Spirit is resisted, the Holy Christian Church dies in that place, even if the organization that is called church has many people in it.

In the reading today Jesus describes the work the Holy Spirit does through the Holy Christian Church and in the Holy Christian Church.

 

When He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.  This is the first work Jesus says the Holy Spirit will do through the true church.  He will convict, which means, He will convince us of things that we were wrong about and did not understand.  He will overturn the wisdom of the fallen nature of human beings.

 

First He will convict concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me (John 16:9)—that is, they do not believe in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit convinces unbelievers that they are guilty of sin.   His work is not to convince us that we have sinned here and there, when we chose to do things that we knew were wrong.  But that even when we are trying our best to be good people, decent and moral people, we are not good in the sight of God.  All over the world, in every culture, in every religion, there are many people trying to be good.  Paul describes in Romans 2 how pagans who do not even have the ten commandments live their lives trying to obey the law of God inscribed in their conscience: the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse… them (Rom. 2: 15).  By nature human beings with a wavering conscience that commends them when they do well and condemns them when they do what they know to be wrong.  But most people live with the nagging suspicion that they have not done good enough.  The Holy Spirit comes with an unwavering clear voice and convicts us with the firm, unmistakeable judgment of God.  He tells the world through the Law: You are condemned.  You are sinful and unclean in all that you do in the flesh, even when you try to keep the Law of God.  It is not enough.  You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.  This includes those who manifestly break the law: fornicators, blasphemers, liars, thieves.  And it includes those who live a blameless life before men.

 

Second, the Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer  (John 16:10).  Just as surely as the Holy Spirit convinces us that we are sinners and cannot stand before God on our own, He convinces us that we are righteous before God with a righteousness that comes from outside of us.  The Holy Spirit convinces us that Jesus has ascended to the Father where He appears before Him as our righteousness.  This is a beautiful conviction by the Holy Spirit. It is a firm and sure assurance that we are going to heaven because we have the righteousness that avails before God. It is sure and certain because it doesn’t concern your work or mine but Jesus’ work.  The Holy Spirit convicts believers through the preaching and sacraments of the Church that their righteousness is Jesus Christ and Him alone.  If you look in your heart you find sin, don’t you?  You don’t find a righteousness that can stand before God, not even if you are the most sanctified, holy Christian in the world.  But the Holy Spirit convicts us that we are righteous before God in heaven because we have one who stands before the Father for us—Jesus who died for our sins and rose with sin conquered, and ascended as our intercessor.

 

Third, the Holy Spirit convicts concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (John 16:11).  We might wonder whether the world believes in the last judgment anymore.  People don’t go to church anymore like they used to; they don’t learn to fear judgment day and hell like they once did.  So it would be easy to think that people don’t believe it anymore.  But according to a study by Baylor University, about half of Americans are convinced that there is a hell.  25 percent more are not convinced but think it might be possible.  And even more surprisingly, 13 percent of Americans think they themselves will go to hell!  (Lutheran Witness May 2019, p. 5).

 

The Holy Spirit comes to convict the world that the ruler of this world, the devil, has already been judged when Jesus died, rose again, and ascended to heaven. He has been cast out of the presence of God and can no longer accuse us before Him.  God has given His verdict—all who believe in Christ are righteous.  So if you believe in Christ, you have passed out of death into life and you do not come into judgment (John 5).

 

These are the wonderful things the Holy Spirit convicts the world of through His church.  They are so wonderful and amazing you would think that we would pray daily for Christ to send us His Holy Spirit—not only so that He may convince the world of these things, but also that He would continue to convince us!  Who would want to stand in the way of God convincing the world of this happy news?

 

Nevertheless, even without our prayers the Holy Spirit continues to do this work.  He does it even when the sinful flesh of Christians opposes it.  He does it even when, in stubbornness and unbelief, we oppose or ignore His conviction, or we allow things in the Church that interfere with the Holy Spirit’s work.

 

But we should not do this.  We should not allow the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting to be obstructed either by our own sinful flesh or by others in the church, because we fear offending them.  The church is not the place for people to pursue their own desires and agendas—it is the place where the Holy Spirit brings the conviction that saves people, and where He leads us in all the truth.

 

The way we do not obstruct the Holy Spirit’s work is first of all that we recognize that it is our fallen nature’s way to do so; and we allow ourselves to be turned to faith in Christ.  Then we pray that the Holy Spirit would, as Jesus promised, lead us in all the truth.  And we let Him lead us.  We let ourselves be taught the Word of God until we know it so thoroughly that we can teach others; and when we have gotten to that point, we keep letting the Holy Spirit lead us into God’s Word until we live in such a way that others, when they see us, say, “Whatever they believe must come from God, because they are so loving, generous, and joyful.”

 

Dear Lord Jesus, who sent your Holy Spirit to convict the world, to guide us into all truth, work in each member of this congregation such a heart, so that we may not fight against Your Spirit.  By your body and blood strengthen us in the conviction that you are our righteousness and in your love that enables us to testify to your blessed truth in this world.  Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Exaudi 2018 The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

jesus ascension cavedone.PNGExaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

May 13, 2018

The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Proverbs chapter 30: There are three things that are too wonderful for me, four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.  (18-19)

 

I’m not sure I understand the meaning of this proverb.  But I can think of another thing that is “too wonderful for me” and that I “do not understand”—the way of a mother with her child.

 

When the girl carries the little human being inside of her for months, and no one can see it, but she can feel her son or daughter moving inside of her.  She nurtures and cares for her child before anyone else has seen it.  For her the baby that has not seen the world yet is the center of her world.  Nobody else in the world will ever see that child the way she does.  This is too wonderful for me.

 

And then in pain and danger she labors to bring the baby into the world.  And then for months her baby is no longer within her, but almost as close.  She carries him or her on her own body,  feeds the baby from her own body.  This is too wonderful for me too.

 

But what amazes me even more is the love mothers have for their children not only when they are little but when they are grown.  Mother’s love is so tender toward their children, usually, but so fierce toward other people who appear to be a threat to their children.  Mothers are often blind to the faults of their children because their love is so intense.

 

Most of the time, love doesn’t come naturally to human beings.  Most people have to work at loving and showing love.  You seldom hear mothers say they are working on loving their children more.  For the most part God gives this love to mothers for their children.

 

So as we take today to honor our mothers and to show them our love, let us also consider our spiritual mother and the words of our Lord about her today.

 

We have a spiritual mother, and she loves us and cares for us like a mother loves her child.  She give us birth and nurses us like a mother does her child.

 

Learn, then, to understand this article [of the Creed] most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. 41] But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 42] For, in the first place, He has a [unique gathering of people] in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.

The Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, according to Martin Luther in the Large Catechism, is “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.”  The Holy Spirit works through the Holy Christian Church to give birth to Christians and then nurture them in faith, by which they are holy, set apart for God.

 

Human beings do not build up the Church the way a businessman builds a clientele, the way a politician builds a political party, the way a general conquers a city.  The Holy Christian Church is the mother that bears and gives birth to Christians, to sons of God.  The Holy Church of Christ doesn’t win friends and influence sinners to like her and join her cause.  She doesn’t “sell” herself to sinners like a prostitute.  She doesn’t convince sinners to like her.  What happens to girls that are desperate to have people like them?

 

The Holy Christian Church gives birth to new people.  She gives people “birth from above”, rebirth, new birth, as Jesus talks about in John chapter 3: No one can see the Kingdom of God unless He is born again or born from above.

 

She is involved in a work that no human being has the power to do.  Human beings can build followings.  Gifted leaders can do this and so can gifted salesman and talented liars.  No human being is able to make someone go from being dead in their sins to being alive to God.

 

Only God can do this.  And if He does not do it, a person remains in his sins, and an enemy of God, and perishes forever.  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5).

 

Jesus has been saying for the last few weeks that He was going to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples.  Forty days after His resurrection, His disciples saw Him ascend into heaven; we celebrated this on Thursday.  Before He ascended to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High, He told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until He had sent the promised Holy Spirit to them.  This Sunday, if we lived around the year of our Lord 31 and were with the disciples, we would be in a house in Jerusalem, praying and waiting for Jesus to pour out the gift of the Holy Spirit on us.

 

Jesus tells them (and us) in the Gospel today what the Holy Spirit will do when He comes—how He will give people new birth so that they become new creatures and sons of God.  The Holy Spirit will testify of Me or bear witness concerning Me. (John 15:26).  Then He says, “But you also will bear witness or testify, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:27). 

 

How does the Holy Spirit give people new birth, so that they enter the Kingdom of God and are saved from their sins and everlasting damnation?  He bears witness of Jesus.  He testifies to Jesus.  He tells who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

 

If a pastor preaches principles from the Bible that will give you a happy life, that is not the proper work of the Holy Spirit.  It will not make you a new creature.  If he is preaching the actual law of God, it will indeed show you what is righteous and pleasing to God, but it will not give you life.  It will bring death and condemnation, because what God commands, you cannot perform.  The Law of God (but not human principles) must be preached, but that preaching is not the special work of the Holy Spirit to give you new birth, and to nurture you as a mother does her child.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to Jesus.  He tells us what Jesus said and did; He tells us how Jesus suffered and died, descended into hell, and rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God.  And He testifies to the good news of God, that what Jesus did was for sinners and their salvation.  He testifies that Jesus has reconciled you to the Father, if you are a sinner who cannot make yourself righteous, that through Him alone you are forgiven and counted righteous.  That is how the Holy Spirit causes people to be born again as new creatures who love God, hold to His word, who are holy and growing in the image of Christ’s holiness.

 

But the Holy Spirit does not do this testifying alone.  He does it through the mother of Christians, the Church.  He testified with or through the disciples, who received the Holy Spirit.  Then after the apostles died, through the believers who followed them.

 

Now it should be clear to you how much harder this is than building the membership of an organization we call “church.”  It is much harder to give birth to a human being than to get one to join something.  But this is even harder.  To be a member of the Holy Christian Church, you have to be born again of God by the Holy Spirit, and we can’t make this happen for anyone.  We can’t make a person be sorry for their sins and want to be free of them, fear eternal judgment; we can’t make a person who has been brought to that state of contrition believe that their sins are forgiven without their works, solely through Jesus Christ.

 

But we aren’t called to do that.  The Church simply bears witness to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit is called in Greek “the paraclete”, which is translated “Helper,” and sometimes “Comforter.”  But the word implies “someone who speaks for you”.  An “advocate.”  It is hard to testify about Jesus—not because it is complicated, but because it encounters opposition.

 

Our flesh doesn’t want to talk about Jesus.  It wants to talk about ourselves and what we think.

 

But even more, the devil and the world do not want testimony to be given about Jesus.  Jesus warns the apostles: You will be put out of the synagogues.  Even worse, the time is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering God priestly, holy service.  They will do these things because they do not know the Father or Me.

 

To testify to Jesus and His free salvation is also testifying about human sin and helplessness in it.  We are telling the world, “There is nothing you can do to get right with God.  Everything you are by nature is sinful and unclean.  Only through faith in Jesus and His work are you saved.”  The world says, “Who are you to judge me?  Look at all your sins.”  And that is on a good day.  What the devil really wants is to kill us, if he can’t turn us away from Jesus.  Humanly speaking, it makes total sense that we want to find another way to “build our church” besides testifying to Jesus.  The stakes of testifying to Jesus are much higher than we want to believe.  Be sure—it comes with the price of death.  If the world doesn’t kill you outright, you will still have to die daily to remain in Christ and faithfully bear witness to Him.

 

Yet it is sinful for us to be afraid and to try to run away from this.  Jesus has not left us alone.  He sends us the Helper, the Advocate.  The third person of the Trinity lives in us, testifies to Jesus in us and through us.  That is why there is nothing better in the world than to have the Holy Christian Church as your mother.  In this Church that testifies to Jesus and holds to Him and His Word alone, the Spirit gives us new life, comforts and consoles us by pointing us to Jesus, who has made peace with God once and for all for us.

 

Our mother the church no doubt looks ugly and old fashioned to the world.  But in her the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit, is present with power to do what no power in the world can do—to give us new birth by testifying to Jesus who was crucified for you and did away your sins.

 

Now He comes and bears witness that you are members of Christ’s body, begotten of God, by nourishing You with the body and blood He gave for you that you may have life.

 

Come, Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Checks Jesus Signs. Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2018. John 16:23-30

jesus ascension.PNGRogate, the 6th Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:23-30

May 6, 2018

“Checks Jesus Signs”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

When I was maybe seven years old my mom took me and my sister down to Danville, Illinois to see my great grandmother.  She was about 90 years old, but she was still a lot of fun because she gave me a black book that looked like a check book to play with.  This is great, I thought.  I started writing checks—Pay to the order of Karl Hess, $1 with as man zeroes after as I could fit on the piece of paper.  Then I gave it to my mom.

 

But she explained to me that writing a check doesn’t magically create money.  Of course, you have to have money in the bank.  Then, when you sign your name on the check, the bank sees your name and sends the money in your name wherever you directed them to send it on the check.  So I couldn’t write checks for a billion dollars in my great grandmother’s name and then sign my name on the check.

 

When I found this out, I didn’t think checks were so great anymore.

 

And a lot of us, or most of us, think like this about prayer.  We find out that we can’t write ourselves big checks for whatever we want, and we lose interest in praying.

 

Amen, Amen, the Lord Jesus promises—It shall be so, it shall be so: whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you…Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  (John 16:23-24)

 

Listen to the promise again.  It is a huge promise that Jesus gives His disciples: Whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you.  (John 16:23)

 

Incredible.  Whatever I ask?  It sounds like Jesus has given us a book of blank checks to draw on God the Father’s account.

 

Maybe you have never listened closely and heard the promise Jesus made here, so you’ve never tried to cash one of these checks.

 

But if you have, you almost certainly have had this experience: You asked God the Father for something, and He didn’t give it to you.

 

You prayed for success in your work, but you were unsuccessful.  You prayed for peace in your house, and the turmoil seemed to get worse.  You prayed for someone you loved to recover from their illness or have less pain, and God appeared to say, “No.”  You prayed God would make your church grow, but it shrank.

 

So you found yourself thinking, “Maybe it isn’t such a privilege to carry / Ev’rything to God in prayer.”  And you began to rely less on praying to God and more on your own work or on human experts to make your home peaceful or your loved ones get well.

 

But if you felt this way—experienced something like this—and I have, as have most Christians, if not all—it is not because Jesus didn’t mean His promise.

 

It’s because we overlook an important phrase in His promise.  He says: Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give you.  Our Lord Jesus doesn’t promise that the Father will give us anything we ask, but only what we ask in His name.

 

If my great grandmother let me have her checkbook when I was seven years old, and write whatever checks I wanted, that would have been a big mistake.  Very quickly we would have ended up with a big pile of candy, and toy cars, plastic soldiers and guns, and no food, the gas and water shut off, and no money in the bank.  Instead, the bank only sent out money if her name was on the check.

 

It’s similar with God the Father.  All His treasure: power, His authority, His wisdom, His glory, He has entrusted to one man only.

 

He has entrusted everything to the man who doesn’t seek His own will and glory, but only the will and glory of God the Father.  God has put everything in the hand of this man, His Son, Jesus.

 

When God the Father gets a prayer that does not come in the name of Jesus, His Son, the righteous one, He rejects it—just as the bank would have rejected a check that I wrote on my grandmother’s account and signed with my name.

 

Yet Jesus promises His disciples who believe in Him: In that day, you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and I believed that I came from God.  (John 16:26-27)

 

He promises us: My Father Himself loves you because you believe in Me.  It’s not just that I will pray for you.  The Father will hear your own prayers because you believe in Me.

 

*That’s why being baptized, as Elliot is today, is so great a privilege that we constantly remind ourselves of it, everytime we invoke the Name “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” perhaps making the sign of the cross.  When we are baptized, God places His own name on us.  He gives us His name.  He covers us with the righteousness of Jesus so that we may approach God the Father in that righteousness and be received as God’s sons and heirs.  He cleanses us in our Baptism with the atoning blood Jesus shed on the cross for our sins.  And so we come to the Father as though we were Jesus Himself.

 

From this day forward Elliot may call on God as her own father and be assured God will hear her and not turn her away.  And it will be her parents’ task, along with her godparents and all of us, to teach and encourage her to come with confidence into God’s presence and call Him Father.

 

Those who don’t believe in Jesus can’t do this.  They can’t come to the Father because they do not know Him.  They certainly cannot call Him “Our Father.”  They can’t receive what they ask.  They are writing bad checks, signed with their own names instead of the name of the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

These prayers don’t please God.  They anger Him, because prayers offered without faith in Jesus are all aimed at getting what we want for our own sinful purposes.

 

That’s often the reason why our prayers, the prayers of Christians, receive no answer or are answered, “No.”  Not that God won’t hear us.  If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, God receives you.  He doesn’t look at your long track record of sins and failures.  He doesn’t look at the evil motives that fight in your heart with the Holy Spirit.  He looks at the righteousness of Jesus that covers your sins, the suffering and death that cancelled your sin, applied to you in Baptism.

 

But to ask the Father in Jesus’ name isn’t just to come in Jesus’ righteousness by faith.  It is also to ask for the things Jesus signs his name to.  Jesus doesn’t sign His name to all our desires.  It’s not always Jesus’ will that we escape difficulty, weakness, suffering, death.  Paul prayed that his physical weakness, his “thorn in the flesh”, would be taken away, so that he would be able to labor harder in the preaching of the Gospel.  But Jesus said, My grace is enough for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.  (2 Cor. 12:9) 

 

So how do we pray “in Jesus’ name,” according to His will?  How do we know what that is?

 

We receive His Word.  In His Word, we receive His Holy Spirit who comes into us and teaches us what to pray for.  Just like you eat every day, so you need to feed on Jesus’ word every day, so that the Holy Spirit can teach us to ask not what we will according to the flesh, but what Jesus would sign His name to.

 

Still, when you don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the Father.  He won’t cast you out, because He has already received you through the blood of Jesus and put His name on you in Baptism.

 

And He has given you the Holy Spirit, who prays within you according to God’s will when you don’t know how to pray.  He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God, Paul tells us in Romans chapter 8 (Rom. 8:27).

 

Jesus has also given us the very words to pray with Him to His Father in the prayer He gave us.  When you pray them, you are praying in the Name of Jesus, asking for things God will surely give you.  Look at the Small Catechism when you get home and remind yourself of the great things you are asking for when you pray that prayer together with Jesus.

 

When you pray it and other prayers that are in Jesus’ name—that are according to His will and offered in faith in Him, you have the assurance God the Father will not only listen, but will surely say “Yes” to them.  That is why we finish our prayers with “Amen”.  We are saying, “It shall be so.”

 

And Jesus gives another promise to us—that as you do this your joy will be full.

 

At St. Peter, we are a lot like the disciples of Jesus after He died.  We are full of anxiety, fear, distress.  Much like one of Jesus’ friends, Martha, to whom He said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and distressed about many things, but one thing is necessary.”  (Luke 10:41-42)

We need not be.  Jesus has given us His access to God the Father.

 

Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  Ask, and you will receive, that Your joy may be full.”  (John 16:24)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

He Will Convict the World. Cantate, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.

peter preachingCantate, The Fifth Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:5-15

April 28, 2018

He Will Convict the World

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Last week Pastor Chehab preached to us, and many of you were excited by his message.  Which is good.  It should be exciting to us to hear how the power of God rescued a man who did not know Jesus Christ from the worship of an idol, from the everlasting darkness that is the only future for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ.

 

There was another message in Pastor Chehab’s sermon too, though, for those with ears to hear.

 

He told about how in 20 years growing up in Lebanon, which he said was 50 percent Christian then, he had never heard the Gospel.  In his experience the Lebanese Christians had mostly kept Jesus locked up in their families and churches, as though He belonged to them only.

 

What a terrible indictment of the church in Lebanon when he was growing up there, don’t you think?  I think of myself with this: how sorry I would feel in front of my Lord, if someone were to say to Him about me, “I never heard Him talk about you, Jesus.  I never got the sense that Karl wanted to talk to me about You.”  I would grieve if that is the impression people got about Jesus from me: that they never sensed the greatness of His love for them, the joy of His salvation, the freedom He gives through freely giving Himself to pay for our sins.

 

Yet I have no doubt that there are people who would say this about me—that I was content to keep Jesus as though he were only for me and people like me, instead of the one who gave Himself for all people.

 

It would also cause me pain if people were to say about the congregation that I pastor, “They don’t really care about bringing Jesus to others.”  And yet people do say this; I’ve heard them say it.  Many times.
Are they totally wrong?  Aren’t we more scared to tell the gospel to others than we are joyful to do it?  Don’t we expect people to come to us rather than we go to them?  And when they do come, even then don’t we expect them to get on board with what we’re doing rather than going to them and showing them?

 

 

My prayer is that each one of you will take to heart what I am saying, and that I will also take it to heart.  Because Jesus, the Son of God, loves all men.  He loves sinners, even though their hearts are made of stone.  He loved Pastor Chehab and called him out of darkness.  Jesus loves the youth that have disappeared from our church and gone to follow the world and the devil.

 

He loves sinners, and He has the power to save them.

 

He has the power to save them even through the weakness of the people in His Church, even through you and me.

 

And He has sent this power of God that breaks stony hearts, that pierces the darkness of our hearts, to dwell among us.

 

This is what He told the disciples in the Gospel for this Sunday: But now I am going away to Him who sent Me, and none among you ask Me, “Where are You going?”  But because I have spoken these things to you, pain has filled your heart.  But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go away.  For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go away, I will send Him to you.  (John 16:5-7)

 

Jesus was sitting at the table of the last supper, talking to His disciples after the meal, before He went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  When He told them He was going away, they were so full of pain they didn’t even think to ask Him where He was going.  But we know where He was going.  He was going to ascend to the right hand of His Father.

 

But you might not know why He was going to ascend.  Paul tells us: He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things (Ephesians 4:10). 

 

Jesus was not going to the right hand of God to escape from us and the sin and suffering we have here.  It was to fill all things.  Listen to me.  It was to do the work He was doing in Galilee throughout creation.  To preach the gracious, free forgiveness of sins.  But He would do it through His disciples who received the Helper, the Holy Spirit.

 

All the disciples could see as they sat at the table with Jesus was their own pain that they wouldn’t have Jesus with them anymore.  They could not see that Jesus was going to spread His Kingdom of salvation throughout the whole world, to all people.  That He would bring salvation to many people, all over the earth, and that He would do it through them.

 

This is what Jesus is still doing at the right hand of God.  By sending the Holy Spirit on His believers, He spreads the good news of righteousness and a completed salvation.  People believe and are added to His Kingdom of righteousness.  And He will do this whether or not we try to help Him.  He doesn’t tell the disciples, “If you are obedient, the Holy Spirit will convict the world.”  He simply says, “When He comes, He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.”

 

This solves one of our problems, one of the reasons why we are afraid to speak about Jesus to others.  Many of us are afraid we will offend people and drive them away.  But Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will do the convicting.  We simply open our mouths and deliver Jesus’ Word.

 

It also answers another problem that we have, which comes from a false idea about how Jesus saves people.  Many of us think that people should just come to church because it’s part of what good people do.  The third commandment and the first commandment tell us that we are supposed to worship God and listen to His Word, so people need to just do it.  If they don’t, maybe we need to make worshipping God more appealing to them.  But Jesus doesn’t say people will be saved that way.

 

He says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world.   The word means “rebuke, convince someone of guilt, show someone or something for what it is.”  For a person to be saved and be a Christian, they must be convicted. 

 

They must be convicted of sin.  They must be convinced that they are not good in the eyes of God, but sinners on their way to everlasting damnation.  That in God’s eyes they are sinners even when they do what the world calls good.  That if they do not believe in Jesus they are sinful in the sight of God because they despise His beloved Son.

 

A person will not accept this because I say it or you say it.  The Holy Spirit must speak it to them with divine power and authority and drive it home into their hearts.  But Jesus tells us clearly that the Holy Spirit will do this—and He will do this not from heaven, but through the word of the apostles, through the apostles.

 

The apostles were not supermen, were they?  Moments after this supper they went with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane.  They fell asleep while He suffered.  When they woke up they all abandoned Him.  They were not glorious, holy men—not in themselves.  Jesus had to pick them up from their fall.  He had to bear their sins on the cross.  Then He had to convince them they were forgiven, they were righteous, so that they would be able to speak in His name.

 

That is the other thing that the Holy Spirit must do to the world through us.  After He has convinced the world of sin, He must convict the world of righteousness.  Think of how hard it must have been for the disciples to believe that they were righteous in God’s eyes after they denied Jesus.  How hard is it for you and I to believe that God’s verdict on you and me is, “Righteous?”  Today, tomorrow, every day of our lives?  It is very difficult to believe if you are conscious of the sins of your past, and if you look into God’s law and see the sins of your heart today.

 

In fact it’s impossible.  No one believes this by their own free choice.  It is a work of God’s power, a work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Yet it is a fact; Jesus has reconciled the whole world to God.  He has justified the entire world by His death.  The world does not believe in Jesus and so it pushes righteousness away and remains in its sins.

 

But this is what the Holy Spirit says to you and to everyone who hears the Gospel: You are righteous before God because Jesus, the Son of God, made fully payment for your sins on the cross.  Even your lack of zeal to see your neighbor saved, and your own weak faith.  They are not counted to you because they have been counted to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit convicts us that this is true.  That is why the preaching and speaking of God’s Word is the only way people are saved and His Church is built.

 

Pastor Chehab talked about “the dynamite”, the power of God in the Gospel.  It does not always happen that we see explosions.

 

But this power is present with us, no matter how big a bang it seems to make.

 

It convinces us that Satan has been judged and condemned, so that we go forward into the world confident of victory, even when it seems that the world and the darkness will swallow us whole.

 

And it is also what gives us love and zeal to tell the Gospel of Jesus to people around us.  There is no one whose heart is too strong, too hard for the Holy Spirit.  There is no one who has sinned too much, for whom the blood of Jesus will not atone.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to us in the word and sacraments and He convinces us that with all our ongoing weakness we are righteous in God’s eyes.  As often as we fall and as deep as the fall has scarred our hearts, the Holy Spirit proclaims the same Gospel, that we are righteous through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Since He does this for us, we cannot lock him in to stay with us only.  What He does for us, what He says to us, He wants to say to everyone around us.  That is why He ascended on high—to give this gift to men.

 

Not just in foreign mission fields, but also very near, where our neighbors and relatives are worshipping idols and are bound for hell.  That’s why He sends the Holy Spirit to you. He wants to use you—us—to speak this gracious, joyful news, and give the gift of righteousness.

 

And though that can be hard, it is also exciting.  Because the Holy Spirit will not only rescue Pastor Chehab and followers of Islam’s idol, but also those who are in just as deep a darkness in our own families and neighborhoods.

 

It will be so, because the prince of this world has been judged.

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The King of Love My Shepherd Is. Misericordias Domini 2018

jesus good shepherdMisericordias Domini—The Third Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 10:11-16

April 13, 2018

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

In the Old Testament, kings and other leaders were called “shepherds”.  Like a king, a shepherd guides, protects, leads.  But nobody thinks a shepherd is a king.  Kings sit on thrones, in palaces, exalted above their people.  Shepherds stay with their flock, in the cold, in the rain, in the danger from wolves.  Shepherds personally lead their sheep to places where they can eat and lie down in safety.  They personally care for the sick and weak sheep, and they go into dangerous places to seek the lost sheep.

 

Lots of people fear their king and the kings representatives—the police, judges.  But sheep do not fear their shepherd.  They know Him.  He is near to them; they come to him for help and protection.  They know his voice as it calls out to them over the fields because he is always in their midst.  He is their safety and their helper.

 

Jesus could have called Himself “the good King”, because He is our King.  He is more majestic, rich, noble, and powerful than any king on earth.  But He never calls Himself “king.”  He calls Himself “the good Shepherd.”

 

He does this so that we know who He is and what we can expect from Him in His Kingdom, and where we should look for Him.  We should expect Him to be good and kind so that we are not afraid to come to Him, no matter what we have done.  And we should expect Him to be found among His sheep who hear His voice.

 

Even now that He is risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father, we should expect to find Jesus among His sheep, shepherding them.

 

When we say people are “sheep”, we mean that they are dumb.  People who are sheep are easily led, naïve, easy to take advantage of.  They follow without thinking wherever they are led.

 

That is because sheep only have one quality that keeps them alive—they listen to the voice of their shepherd, stay close to him, follow him.

 

Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of sheep.  People who have nothing going for them spiritually at all, but they hear the voice of the good shepherd.  We should not expect to find Jesus among the people we think are spiritual masters, great saints.  If a person is a great saint, if he is holy and strong in faith and good works, it is only because that person knows that he is nothing.  About 1500 years ago there was a Christian hermit who lived in the desert.  When he grew very old, some people came out to him looking for wisdom, and he told them, “When I was young, I used to say to myself, ‘When I am old, I will finally be able to accomplish something good for God.  But now that I am old, I see that there is nothing good in me at all.’”

 

That is where Jesus is found.  He is not found among those who think they are something spiritually.  He is found among people who know that they have nothing.  They have nowhere to go and nothing to bring to God.  They have nowhere to go except to the sound of their shepherd’s voice.

 

What does His voice sound like?

 

To the self-sufficient who trust in themselves, His voice sounds like foolishness.  His voice sounds fanatical to the world when it says that unless our righteousness exceeds the spiritual giants of the earth, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

But to His sheep, who say with St. Peter, Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68), His voice has a different sound.  Peace be with you, he said to his terrified disciples on the evening of Easter.  I know my own, and my own know me, He says in the reading today, and I lay down my life for the sheep.  His voice proclaims that He Himself is our peace, the atonement for our sins, our wisdom….righteousness and holiness and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).  He defends us and answers for us before God and the devil and the world.

 

Shepherds do not abandon their sheep when they run off, or when they do something dumb and hurt themselves, or when they are weak and can’t keep up with the flock.  Shepherds on earth do this because their sheep are their livelihood.  They are worth money.

 

That’s not why Jesus is good to His sheep.  He doesn’t need anything we have.  Yet He chose to come down to earth and live among His sheep.  He wanted to camp out among us like a shepherd does with his sheep, and endure the storms and the wolves and lead us to safety and pasture.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10: 11, 10)

 

So He became a man and lived among us.  Then He laid down His life for us to protect us from the devil, who wanted to separate us from God forever by holding our sins over our heads.  But Jesus died for our sins so that he could not do it.  And that is what His voice says, when it echoes out from the Scriptures, when it is preached faithfully by faithful shepherds.  It tells us that however weak and helpless and dumb we are spiritually, however far we have strayed, we belong to the Good Shepherd.  He does not abandon us.  He does not chase us away.  When we stray, He goes after us until He finds us, even when everyone else has given us up for dead.  When we are sick and weak, He does not leave us behind, but tends to us until we become strong.

 

In the Old Testament reading, God has harsh words for the shepherds of Israel in the time of Ezekiel.  He is speaking to the leaders of God’s people, in particular the ones who were supposed to minister to them and teach them God’s Word, the priests and the prophets.

 

For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I , I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out…I will seek the lost, and bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…

 

Christians often fall into the trap of thinking that if they are injured or weak, they do not belong to Christ at all.  There are Christians who have a weak conscience, and they continually struggle to believe that their sins are really forgiven.  Then there are those who are injured and have sins that they keep struggling with—a bad temper, maybe, or a lack of zeal to hear God’s Word and seek the lost.  Christians struggling with sins like these, because they are weak, are often tempted to think that they do not belong to Christ at all because they are not strong.  And other Christians see their faults and say, “These people are no Christians at all.”

 

Then there are those who are strayed and lost.  Some people fall into open, grave sin and deny Christ.  They commit adultery, or they become addicted to alcohol, they abandon God’s house and no longer come to worship; or even like Peter, they openly deny Jesus.  They have strayed.  And often they think that they have fallen too far for Christ to receive them.  And Christians and churches and pastors often say and think, “It’s a waste of time to try to bring them back.”

 

But that is not the kind of shepherd that Jesus is.  He doesn’t abandon the weak and the sick.  He is with them.  That is what He calls His kingdom.  His church is not an army of spiritual giants but a flock of sheep who have nothing good spiritually except their shepherd.  He doesn’t abandon the weak and wounded.  He binds them up with the forgiveness of sins, and makes them strong by feeding them with His Word and His body and blood.

 

Nor does He give up on the lost, the strayed, and the fallen.  He seeks them out so that they may have life.

 

Where the shepherd is, there His sheep will be also.  We hear His voice that calls us to good pasture at the altar.  In His goodness He feeds us His body and bids us to drink His blood that we may have abundant life.  And when we become strong from this food, we also become patient with the weak and injured and eager to see those who are lost and strayed return to the flock.  We go out with Him to find them as He found us.

 

We think that we will find God among the strong and noble things of this world.  But the good shepherd is found among what is foolish, weak, and sinful.  We find Him when we hear His voice proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to sinners who seem to be beyond hope.  If you are such a sheep, strayed, lost, weak, injured, hear the voice of the good shepherd who has come to find you today.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10:14-15)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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