Cantate—5th Sunday of Easter
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 16:5-15
April 24, 2016
“Not of This World”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Now to my Father I depart
From earth to heav’n ascending
And heav’nly wisdom to impart
The Holy Spirit sending;
In trouble He will comfort you
And teach you always to be true
And into truth shall guide you. –Martin Luther (LSB 556, st. 9)
“I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away,” Jesus says. It is to the advantage of the disciples and it is to our advantage. First, because when Jesus goes to the Father He is taking human nature, our nature, to the highest place, to the throne of God. When Jesus does this, it is not for Himself only. He does it so that everyone who shares His nature, human nature, will also sit with Him at the right hand of the Father. When Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, the One who has taken away our sins will be present before the Father continually. When we see our sins and fear God’s wrath, we should remember that our righteousness is before the face of the Father. Jesus is “the Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6?). He stands before God as the One who has atoned for our sins and made us righteous before Him. And He stands before the Father and daily speaks to Him on our behalf.
Secondly, when Jesus goes to the Father, He will also send the Helper to dwell in His disciples. He will send His Holy Spirit to live in us. The Helper is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the third person of the Godhead. When creation began, the Helper was “hovering over the waters” (Gen. 1). In the Old Testament, the Helper came upon the prophets and opened their mouth to speak the words of the living God. He dwelt among the people of Israel in the tabernacle and then the temple. When Jesus ascends to God’s throne, He sends this all-powerful Helper to all of His disciples. We become a new creation. We become prophets who know and speak the words of the living God. We become temples in which God lives.
Jesus sends this Helper as a down payment on our future redemption. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the testimony that our sins have been blotted out before God—because the Holy God will not live in an unholy place. The Holy Spirit is also the Helper who will lead us into the truth and bring us where Jesus is.
Jesus is not of this world. That’s why, after appearing for a little while in it, He returned to the Father.
Christians are also not of this world. We live in this world, but we do not belong to it. We look and feel like ordinary people, but we are not. We were not baptized in order to live an ordinary life, where you do what you have to do and enjoy what you can, and then die and hope that God will reward you for your good works. We were baptized into a new life; we died with Christ in Baptism and were raised with Him to live, as He does, in freedom, in the favor of God, in His presence.
But many who are baptized do not live this new life. Some resist the Spirit of God and set their hearts on this world, and the bodies that were baptized to be temples of the Holy Spirit become desolate. This may happen through obvious sins against the ten commandments, when a person does them knowingly, lives in them, and doesn’t repent. Or it may be a hidden sin instead of an obvious moral transgression. They desire honor in the world and seek it instead of the glory of sitting at the right hand of God, to which Jesus calls us. Then the Holy Spirit departs, and wicked spirits enter in, and they become worse than if they had never been baptized. And if they continue to resist the Holy Spirit who convicts them of sin in the preaching of the Word of God, they will perish with the world.
Others of us are like the disciples. We believe in Christ, and yet even while we believe in Him our hearts are weighed down by the desires and cares of this life. The wisdom of the flesh fights against the wisdom of God. And while the Holy Spirit leads us out of this world, we continue to hope for the glory of God to appear for us in this present age. That’s the reason why even true Christians are so often worried, anxious, and fearful when earthly troubles come, or when the Church is rejected, mocked, or threatened.
But dear Christians, you are not of this world. You have been separated from this world and made holy to God by Jesus. He paid for your transgressions and blotted out the record of them with His red blood. You were cleansed from them when You were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then He sent you the Helper, the Holy Spirit. The Helper is the pledge that you are a new creation and a dwelling place for God Himself, that you belong to Christ and your home is where He is, with His Father at the right hand of glory.
Since we are not of this world, we have received the Spirit who is not of this world. He created the world and gave it life. But He does not dwell in those who belong to the world because they are unholy and unclean. They remain in their sins and do not receive the testimony of Jesus, that He alone takes away the sins of the world.
The Holy Spirit does not dwell in the people who belong to the world, but the Holy Spirit still remains in the world and speaks to it. He will do this until the world ends, because it is the will of God that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But the Holy Spirit bears witness to the world through the Church—that is, through you who are baptized into Christ and continue to trust in Him.
We are in the world for the same reason that Jesus was in the world, even though He did not belong to it. He was in the world to bring people to His Father. He did that by dying for our sins and rising from the dead, but also by preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
You are in the world for the same reason. Your home is at the Father’s right hand, with Jesus your Savior, exalted above all the angels. But the same Helper who assures you of that through the preaching of the Gospel also bears witness to the world through you. Through you He confesses the true faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through you He calls men to proclaim the word of Christ, to baptize and administer the Lord’s body and blood. And through you He also speaks to the world and convicts it. He convicts the world that everyone who does not believe in Jesus is dead in sin, that Jesus alone gives righteousness before God, and that the prince of this world, the devil, is condemned along with all who belong to him, and his kingdom is awaiting its final destruction.
This is not a popular message. Who wants to be convicted of sin and damnation? But Jesus’ message was not received well either. The world hated Him. So we should not be surprised if the world hates the witness of the Holy Spirit through us, or simply doesn’t respond to it.
But the Helper does the work. He convicts the world and pierces their hearts with the knowledge that the Word we preach is the truth, even when they resist it. He also strengthens us so that we don’t run away and give up our confession when we receive trouble because of it.
He also remains with us. If we fall into sin, He convicts us until we return with humble repentance and believe in the Gospel that saves us. If we are weak, He sighs to the Father from within us that He would not let us fall. He keeps us in the faith until we come into the glory that Jesus came into after He had suffered a little while—the glory of being seated at the Father’s right hand and reigning with Him. The Helper testifies that that glory is already ours, and that in a little while we and all the world will see it.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
Wednesday after Misericordias Domini
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 10:11-16
April 14, 2016
Hirelings and Pastors
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
How many sermons that you’ve heard in your life can you actually remember? I heard lots of sermons and lots of preachers at seminary. I thought some of them were very good preachers, but I can’t remember what any of them said in any of their sermons. In the time I spent thinking about it, I could remember something that was said in about six sermons. Six. Out of however many hundred I’ve heard in my life—and of these I remembered maybe a sentence or a phrase, or even a couple of words.
But as I sat down to write, bits of two sermons immediately came to mind. They were both, I think, from sermons on Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
One was from the pastor who confirmed me. I thought very highly of him, but I don’t remember anything he preached, except one time he told an interesting fact about shepherds, which may or may not be true.
He said that when a sheep would wander away too much, the shepherd would break its leg. Then he would carry it around on his shoulders until its leg healed. Then the sheep would grow attached to the shepherd from being carried around on his shoulders for so long and not wander away anymore.
The other sermon I remembered right away—and this one I probably remember better than any of the others I mentioned. It was preached in Marseilles, Illinois sometime in the last ten years.
All I remember was that the preacher said very bluntly to us, “You are the hirelings!”
The preacher was saying we were hirelings because we all, in various ways, run away and seek to save our own lives instead of giving them up for Christ’s holy flock, the Church.
It was interesting to me that both of the sermons I remembered most readily were about Jesus the Good Shepherd, and also that they were preached by men who are no longer in the office of shepherd.
(How I wandered, and Christ carried me on his shoulders. How the pastor’s catechesis stayed with me. And how I found the book he gave me when my conscience was troubled. And the book said:)
Things like this: “Anyone who is troubled on account of his sins is a fool for not promptly taking refuge with Christ and for imagining that his evil conscience is proof that he may not come to God. No, this is what the evil conscience indicates: You should come to Jesus; He will give you a cheerful conscience, causing you to praise God with a joyful heart…For what does it mean that Christ died for you? Accordingly, when you have committed this, that, or the other sin and are perplexed about a way out of your sin, do not try to make a way yourself. Go to Him who alone knows a way—go to Christ.—It is a remarkable statement of Luther, but certainly true, that we are to find peace by wholly despairing of our own works. When a poor sinner regards himself, he does despair; when He looks at Jesus, he is made confident.” (Walther, Law and Gospel, p.111)
Then, one day, talking to my mother about him, she said, “You know what happened to him, right?” I did not. He had been called to another congregation across the country. A few years later he resigned when his adultery became public.
And the preacher of the other sermon on the Good Shepherd and hirelings now lives in another state after resigning his call at his second congregation. He has kids and a wife and, last I heard, no job. In both of his congregations he had made too many enemies; how much he was to blame I can’t say, though whenever a pastor is deposed other pastors usually form opinions. Maybe that’s because we want to assure ourselves that it was really his fault and that it will never happen to us.
Why do I bring these men up—to drag up their pain to make a homiletical flourish?
No. First to testify that the Lord worked through them, whatever may have happened to them later, whatever people say about them now.
Second, to remind myself and you that nobody remembers your preaching, except in very rare cases that have nothing to do with how great a pastor or preacher you are.
Yet you really want them to, don’t you? To remember your sermon, to think you’re a good—shepherd. Just like a hireling, as Pastor Anderson said, or rather, as the Lord said through him? Harsh or not, it was true. Admit it or don’t. I know it’s true of me.
And isn’t that the mark of a hireling? The hireling seeks himself, his reputation, his honor. Yet if the sheep are shepherded through you, it isn’t your skill as a writer or an orator, nor your reputation as a theologian, nor your compassionate, gentle nature, your “pastoral-ness”, nor really anything about you. All the glory belongs to the Good Shepherd, who shepherds his sheep through the office of shepherd. We always say this, but I for one seldom get it.
If our ministry appears successful we may rejoice in what we think we see for the sake of the Good Shepherd and His sheep. And if it appears to fail, we may rightly recognize our sins and failings by which we have deserved to be rejected as unfaithful hirelings. But at the same time we shouldn’t doubt that the Good Shepherd is quite capable of gathering His sheep with shepherds who are weak and who fall into sin. Shepherds who whether deservedly or not, are later removed from the ministry. Even shepherds who on judgment day Christ will reject as hirelings.
This is a great consolation when we think our labor in the Lord is in vain.
But by itself it’s no cause for rejoicing. Balaam’s ass spoke, and God spoke through Balaam. What good did being a prophet do Balaam? Saul prophesied too.
We have all sinned and sought our own profit at the expense of the Good Shepherd’s sheep. Some of you are sanctified men of whom Paul perhaps could say, like he did of Timothy, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for [the] welfare [of the Church]” (Phil. 2:20), and not what he said of most other pastors: “For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 2:21) Regardless, there are plenty of times when Jesus could have said of you, “He flees” and seeks his own well-being “because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:13)
But Jesus doesn’t say that about you. An honest appraisal of yourself may tell you this: you care for yourself a great deal, but it’s hard to find real, unselfish love for Christ’s sheep in yourself. Wasn’t it the same with St. Peter? Jesus forgave him and sent him to feed His sheep, and then said, “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (John 21: 18) We know Peter didn’t want to die on the cross on Thursday night. But even after Jesus rose he still lacked that love for Jesus and His Church. And unless God miraculously expunged all Peter’s self-love sometime before his martyrdom, he went to the upside-down cross with his flesh still desiring something other than the glory of God and the good of Christ’s sheep. Neither you nor I nor Peter can save the sheep from the wolf by our death, but our deaths can benefit the sheep if nothing else in providing an example of faith in Christ.
But the Good Shepherd’s death does save the sheep from the wolf. It saves them because it silences his accusations. Christ does not accuse Peter of being a hireling. All Peter’s unfaithfulness disappears under the red blood of the Good Shepherd. Joseph’s coat of many colors became one color when it was dipped in the ram’s blood—red. Joseph wasn’t dead, but his father thought he was. And so in God’s eyes you look like the Good Shepherd who died and not like the hireling who ran away. What He sees is the blood of His Son in which you were dipped in Baptism.
That blood takes away condemnation from you. You are not condemned for your sins before God. The blood of Jesus speaks for you. Listen to the voice of the blood of the Good Shepherd. It pleads to God for you. You hear it speak in your own voice when you preach the Gospel. It declares you a righteous man, and also a faithful shepherd, not a hireling. If Satan or your conscience disputes that, let them argue with the blood of the Shepherd in which He drenched you in Baptism and which will soon be poured into your throat to cleanse your insides as well as your outsides.
Only faith in this blood of the Shepherd allows us to go on preaching and not despair over our sins or the unthankfulness of the world. We go on preaching and, despite our failures, we go on dying until our dying is perfect.
As long as Jesus sees fit to keep us in this office that is called after the name of the Good Shepherd, the office of pastor, we should rejoice not only that He works through us, but also in us. To believe that when He carried the cross He carried us and that when He died He saved us from the accuser. Not only to preach Him, but to believe in Him, and believing in Him, to die with Him until we are perfect.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
Quasimodogeniti (2nd Sunday of Easter)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 20:19-31
April 3, 2016
“The Joyful Mission”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
It is the evening of the first Easter Sunday. St. John pictures the eleven disciples of Jesus sitting inside a house with the doors locked “for fear of the Jews.”
Why were the disciples afraid? It’s simple. Outside was death. Jesus had been murdered days before, and Jesus’ disciples were nowhere near as strong as He.
But then, says John, this miserable handful of scared men begins to rejoice. “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:19-20)
Our flesh might expect the story to end here, happily ever after, with the disciples basking in the peace of God.
But it is not the end of the story.
Jesus doesn’t stop at proclaiming forgiveness of sins and peace with God to His beleaguered disciples in that room. His reign of salvation and life extends to the ends of the earth, to all people and throughout time. “And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’” (John 20:22-23)
Jesus empowers and sends the disciples to be the risen Christ, so to speak, to the world. They aren’t Him, but they are given His power and authority, so that when they say, “Peace be with you,” it is the peace of the Lord and conqueror of death.
He’s sending them out of those doors that they have locked to try to keep out death. He’s sending them out into the world that killed Him and which will also kill them. But they are no longer to fear death. They are to reign over it.
He’s sending them out to reign with Him as King.
They will go out into the world and exercise Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and to hold sins unforgiven. They will go out into the world like little Lord Christs, and in His name they will forgive some sinners and they will hold some sinners bound in their sins until the day of judgment.
But why would Jesus give this prerogative of God to eleven men who were unable to stand by Him when He suffered?
That is a good question. But it’s not simply a question about the disciples then; it also concerns us, who have been made Jesus’ disciples by Baptism and catechesis.
All Christians are called to reign as little Lord Christs. Every Christian is called to participate in forgiving and retaining sins—by supporting the Church and the ministry of Word and Sacraments, by proclaiming God’s Word to family and neighbors. Every Christian is called to reign with Christ by serving the world with words and deeds. Finally, every Christian is to share the marks of the Lord Jesus’ Christ’s Kingdom; to endure the cross and suffering for the privilege of proclaiming His forgiveness and judgment.
But the question is how Jesus can give you this royal privilege, the authority to “forgive and retain sins”, also known in the Catechism as the office of the keys. You too have proven untrustworthy. You have been embarrassed of Jesus, have run away to save your skin when you should have willingly endured the cross with your Lord.
This is not the way who believe in risen Lord should act. They should not be afraid, but be joyful. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the risen Lord; they didn’t remember how they were small in number, how their enemies were great and powerful, how death was waiting for them outside the door. They rejoiced when they saw Jesus, because in Him they had peace with God. It was as if they no longer remembered their weakness, their sins, the hostility of the world, or death.
Yet many baptized Christians act as if all they can see is the church’s weakness, the hostility of the world, the pain of the cross, and the power of death. It’s as if Jesus hasn’t risen, conquered death, loosed us from sins, and as if He isn’t present in our midst in flesh and blood.
In other words, they manifest unbelief.
And as a result, by no means are they willing to go outside the locked room and reign with Jesus.
What is this but to live as if Christ is not risen? Hypocritical Christians don’t recognize this. They don’t realize they are called to reign with Christ; they are content to live what they consider virtuous lives in the flesh. They say, “I do enough. I go to church. I’m as good a Christian as anyone can expect. Surely Jesus doesn’t expect me to put my life, reputation, comfort, or standard of living at risk to be a Christian. After all, we’re supposed to be saved by grace apart from works.”
Real Christians, however, are troubled by this failure to follow Jesus out of hiding and self-protection. They recognize that when Jesus gives us peace with God, it’s not an earthly peace. Peace with God means that God exalts us with Christ. We become “a royal priesthood”, as Lutherans are fond of saying—kings and priests together with Jesus. But as kings with Jesus, we go into the world not to be served, but to serve. We proclaim God’s law and His Gospel, we serve our neighbor in every way. But we also endure hostility from the world and the devil. To receive Christ’s blessing, “Peace be with you” by true faith at the same time means to receive His cross. Christians are troubled to recognize all the ways we try to avoid the cross. They are all manifestations of our unbelief in Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the world.
And this is another reason why Jesus gave the office of the Keys to the Church. It isn’t simply so that we may forgive and retain the sins of those outside of the visible boundaries of the Church. Jesus gave this authority also for the sake of those within the visible Church, so that those who are baptized and yet struggle to leave the locked room may be loosed of their sins.
When Jesus rose from the dead and proclaimed, “Peace be with you” to His disciples, He was proclaiming not only that they were forgiven, but that they were new creatures. What they saw themselves to be—men who a few days before had fallen away from Christ, who were weak and unworthy to be His disciples—was not who they were anymore. Jesus forgave them everything, and His forgiveness also meant that the old disciples had died and new men had risen in their place.
And when you are absolved of your sins, Jesus frees you from them as well. Their guilt is taken away. But you are also not the person you were before. You live now by His Spirit. Your sins, inscribed on His flesh with nail and spear, died when He lay in the tomb; now that He is risen, the wounds are memorials before God of your priceless worth to Him. The old you has died, nailed to the cross with the Lord, and you now live in Him who died and has been raised again, in Him over whom sin and death have no dominion (Romans 6).
That is what enables us to go out into the world to reign with Him—this appearance by Jesus declaring that His work for our justification is finished.
Yet in the Church so many people seem to be unaware of the fact that in the Divine Service, in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, and in Absolution, Jesus is appearing to us with peace just as in that locked room on the first Easter. This is shown by so many people’s lukewarmness toward His Word and Sacraments. People don’t come to pastors and say, “Show us Jesus.” Generally pastors have to urge people not to despise the Divine Service, Bible Study, and so on. But nowhere is this more evident than in people’s disregard of absolution.
Yes, we’re willing to be absolved in general, as we do in the service. But that’s really not much different than what happens in preaching, except we add a general confession of sins to it. A sainted member of the church once remarked to me that private confession and absolution probably made it seem “more real”. This person never came to private confession but understood that it’s easy to admit in a general way “I’m a sinner” without owning the sins by which we have earned damnation. Similarly, it’s easy to hear “I forgive you all your sins” in the same way—as a general statement about the way God works instead of a personal forgiveness for our personal unfaithfulness. General statements don’t usually provide much comfort.
The reality is that everyone struggles with sin. It’s true that God has already assured us of the forgiveness of sins in the Scripture. Yet it is also true that many people doubt whether that forgiveness applies to them because of the state of their heart. When you reveal your sins in front of the man God has called to speak in His name, and that man forgives your sins with the authority Christ here gives to His Church, it provides comfort and assurance that is greater than your heart.
In private confession and absolution God’s forgiveness spoken in response to the very things that make you feel alienated from God. The absolution says those things are forgiven, and that you are not the person that you see in yourself, who has repeatedly failed Christ and cannot be trusted to reign with Him. You are a new person, raised from the dead to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Private absolution says, “You can speak God’s judgment and grace to the world because you are not the slave of sin you once were. You are released from sin and condemnation; peace be with you.” You are righteous through Christ, and everything He has is yours. You are no longer under the law’s curse; you have been set free from the law, having died to it through the body of Jesus.
Of course, no one is going to force you to confess and receive absolution privately. No one should be forced to receive the gifts of Christ. If our need and the greatness of the gifts don’t compel us to come to hear God’s Word preached, or to baptize our children, or receive the Lord’s Supper, or go to Bible study, or read it at home, or confess and be absolved, external force won’t help. It would be wrong for me, however, not to show you the greatness of Christ’s gifts and remind you of your need.
But mostly I preach this for those who see their need for it and desire the blessing, but who are afraid or ashamed; I preach this to encourage you to come. I cannot invite you as graciously as Jesus invites you; I wish I could. I can tell you that Jesus welcomes sinners and those who are weak in faith. He wants them especially to receive His comfort and pardon. I can tell you that the greater our sins appear to us, the more worthy we are of condemnation, the more graciously Jesus invites us to come to Him. When we come, He will not only forgive us. He will wipe our guilt and shame away entirely. He will make us reign with Him, seat us above the holy angels, make them our servants.
I can tell you that when Jesus showed the disciples His hands and side He didn’t do it simply to show it was Him, nor did He do it to remind them of their sins. It was also an invitation to them to consider how sincerely He loved them and had how completely He had forgiven and put away their sins. The place of the nails and the spear in His body are seals to us that we no longer have anything to fear, but have peace with God that can’t be taken away.
By those same marks Jesus invites and urges us to come to Him so that we may hear Him say, “Peace be with you”. I pray that you will hear His invitation and recognize that when He opens His Word, bestows His Sacraments, and absolves us, He comes into our midst with peace as He came into that locked room. And when He does so He enables us to leave our locked rooms and go forth into the world with His peace to reign with Him.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Mark 16:1-8
April 5, 2015
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
It’s about 2000 years since the first Easter. And how are things with Christ’s church?
The church is weak. So it appears to us, anyway. 2000 years is a long time to wait for our Lord to come back. Meanwhile the church in America seems to be—not to put it too delicately—dying. Our district President told us at the Northern Illinois District convention that the data shows that within 30 years 5000 of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s 6000 congregations will be closed. When I heard that I probably felt about like you do hearing it now. Maybe a little worse. But we don’t need to look as far afield as the whole synod to feel weak, powerless, afraid for the future. Most of us here today can go back in our memories and compare the past to the present at St. Peter and feel afraid and depressed about the future. We can remember when the Sunday School had hundreds of kids, and now it has about twenty. We can remember when confirmation classes were 50 strong every year compared to a handful now. We see the church declining, perhaps dying in front of our eyes. But we are weak. Our efforts to change things have not proven fruitful. There seem to be nothing to be done.
Well then, at least to a certain degree we can identify with the disciples and the women on the first Easter morning. They were weak and full of fear too. And if the church is weak now it was far weaker then. Then Jesus had only a dozen disciples plus a handful, and all of them had run away during Jesus’ suffering. One had betrayed Him, another had denied Him. Can you imagine how weak they must have felt just in terms of their numbers? And that was nothing compared to the weakness they must have felt as they watched Jesus suffer. Here was the one they had placed all their hopes on now reduced to absolute powerlessness, suffering, being mocked, nailed to a cross. Then He died. All the hopes of the infant church must have gone up in a puff of smoke. He was hastily buried, not even given proper burial rites. And now all the women could do on that first Easter morning was try to correct that and anoint His body a day later with aromatic spices.
All they could do was try to give Jesus a decent burial. And even that they were not sure about. “Who will roll away for us the stone from the entrance of the tomb?” the two Marys and Salome were asking each other. None of the apostles had come with them to help because they were either too afraid or too depressed.
All this is to paint a picture of the fear and weakness and despair that the disciples felt at Jesus’ death. It seemed that everything was over for them. They didn’t even have God anymore, because the one who revealed God to them was dead and buried. They felt helpless and weak just as we do as we look on at the death of our loved ones, the death of our church, and our own impending death. They are trying to go on despite grief and fear, but they aren’t even sure that they will be able to give Jesus a proper burial.
Then they look up and see something unexpected. The stone, which was very large, had already been rolled away from the tomb. What could they make of that, except to think that someone had broken into the tomb and defiled His grave?
But when they came to the tomb they saw no grave robbers, only a young man dressed all in white. And even though he doesn’t look like a grave robber the women are still frightened. But the young man, as if reading their thoughts, says to them, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.”
And what do the women see when they look at the place where Jesus was laid? They see the grave clothes lying there. Perhaps they see the stains of blood from His wounds. But they see no crucified, dead Jesus. He is gone.
The young man continued, “Go and tell His disciples and Peter that He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He said.”
No doubt the women couldn’t make sense of this, theologically or any other way. It’s hard to think straight when you’ve just spoken to an angel, one would guess, especially when He’s just told you that someone has risen from the dead.
But we can reflect a little on what this means on this Easter day, two thousand years later, as we come here with our own fear and weakness this morning. You know that Jesus was and is no mere man. He is the eternal Son of God, through whom the world was made and in whom it holds together. And you know that He did not become a man so that He could die for His own sins. He had no sin; no deceit was found in His mouth. When He was led in chains from Gethsemane, whipped and mocked, and crucified in weakness, it was not His own weakness and sin that He was dying for. It was our weakness, our sin. It was because we were born helpless, enslaved by sin, in bondage to weakness and fear and death, that He allowed Himself to be held in the clutches of death. It was our total helplessness to the power of sin and death that the Son of God bore on the cross. That was what placed Him dead in that tomb hewn out of the rock and sealed Him in behind the stone.
But now He is no longer there where our sin and weakness placed Him. It is true, as Scripture says, “While we were still weak,” or “powerless,” “Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5) While we were still dead in our sins He died for us. He was “given over to death on account of our sins but raised on account of our justification.” (Romans 4:25) He was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God (Corinthians).
All of this means that, even though the women didn’t quite grasp it at the time, and even though we in our weakness and fear often fail to grasp it, when Jesus rose from the dead, all our weakness and sin and death disappeared with Him. In place of death, there was life. In place of our sin, justification. In place of the law, the righteousness of faith. In place of our weakness, God’s mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead. He is the God who gives life to the dead and calls what is not as though it were (Romans 4:17). He calls us righteous, heirs of life, risen with Christ from the dead.
Yes, but, you say. The church is still weak. We are still losing members to death and attrition and not gaining enough new ones. The numbers still show that most of the congregations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are going to be closed in 30 years. And we ourselves are still dying, and we are still sinners. And we are still afraid.
The angel says to you, “Don’t be alarmed,” just like he did to the women at the tomb. “You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has risen. He is not here.” And the women still fled and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. They were still afraid and still weak in faith, but it didn’t change the fact that the Lord Jesus was risen and that He had destroyed their sin and death—everything they had to be afraid of. We may still be weak in faith and trembling with fear and amazement, but it doesn’t change the reality that our Lord is risen. And with His resurrection He has destroyed our weakness and sin. With His resurrection He has cancelled the power of death, stripped death of its power. With His resurrection He has justified us—reckoned us righteous.
The church was small and weak on the first Easter but it lived because Jesus, its Lord, was risen. And we will live too even though we are weak and struggling with fear, because our Lord is risen.
Because He is risen we will see Him. The angel said, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” That promise was for all the disciples, including Peter who had denied Him. It was not because of their righteousness or the strength of their faith that they got to see their risen Lord Jesus. It was because of His faithfulness and righteousness. He had suffered for their sins and showed Himself alive to them that they might know that their sins were forgiven and might proclaim the forgiveness of sins to others.
We too will see Jesus, just as He has told us all along. We don’t have His promise that He will raise again the earthly fortunes of our church and synod, as painful as that is to us. We do have His promise that whatever our fortunes are in this world, however things may appear to us, we will see Him in His glory and rejoice in His salvation. For He has risen, leaving our sin and weakness and death behind Him with the grave clothes. They are gone. And we will live by His power. He, the living one, is among us, in our midst. He will sustain our lives in this world according to His good pleasure, that we may bear witness to others about His victorious resurrection from the dead.
And then, after we have rested a little while in the grave, He will raise us up to see Him and to share His glory. We will see Him. He is the firstborn from the dead. He has gone ahead of us. But we have gone with Him, for we are members of His body. We have been buried with Him in Baptism and raised from the dead with Him. So we will live by His power in the flesh until He raises up from our graves in the image and likeness of His glorious body.
So let us keep the festival
To which the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
The sun that warms and lights us.
Now His grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine to our hearts;
The night of sin is ended.
Alleluia! (LSB 458, st. 6)
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 20:1-18
April 4, 2015
“Your Lord is not Lost”
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The disciples don’t understand what has happened. The stone is rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, and the body of Jesus is not there. John and Peter come and gaze into the empty tomb and then go back home. Mary is convinced that someone has stolen the body of Jesus. That would be the first thing you would think in such a situation. And this is just the final straw for her. After watching her Lord suffer and die in weakness, pierced and hanging from the cross, how can it be that now even His body is stolen? How could God allow such a thing if Jesus is His Son?
Even today liberal bible scholars tell us that Mary’s first instinct was right. Someone stole the body of Jesus, or the disciples weren’t clear on where they buried Jesus. Some even say that Jesus wasn’t ever buried in the first place. He was just thrown into a ditch somewhere and eaten by animals.
Such conclusions are no big deal to make for people who don’t believe in Jesus. But for Mary and the disciples and for us, the loss of Jesus would be the end of everything. You can imagine the grief of the disciples when they believed that Jesus was just dead and someone had taken His body. It would be the same as if someone were to convince you that what the liberal bible scholars said was true. Jesus just died on the cross and then His body was taken or somehow destroyed and He didn’t really rise from the dead. What would we do? How would we live? What an empty dark hole of a festival Easter would be!
Sometimes in our lives, though, it is like Jesus really is lost. We may not doubt that He rose from the dead, but for all that we can’t find Him anywhere. We feel like Mary, wandering around Jesus’ tomb weeping. Saying, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him!”
But when Mary is weeping, distracted with sorrow, the voice of God calls softly to her, first through the angels, then through Jesus himself. When we feel as if we have lost Christ, God’s voice calls softly to us too.
“Woman, why are you weeping?” Then again, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Then she says to Jesus, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Finally Jesus calls her by her name: “Mary.”
Before Jesus called her name, the voice of God asked, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”
The answer was, “I am looking for Jesus.” And God’s quiet voice was asking, “Then why are you weeping? You’re looking for Jesus, the Lord, who became what you are to redeem you. He is the Lord, did you forget that? Are you afraid your Lord will get lost? Yes, He is the Lord who slept in the boat during the storm and then awoke and silenced it. You were so afraid then, but did you have anything to fear?”
Yes, it is the same Lord Jesus who created you,
Who brought Noah safely out of the ark,
Who brought Israel through the Red Sea,
Who brought the three men through the fiery furnace,
Who shut the mouth of the lions in the pit.
And now, what are you afraid of? Death? Do you think death is stronger than your Lord? Didn’t He say that He would rise from the dead?
But Mary forgot about all this in her fear. She couldn’t hear the quiet voice of God. So Jesus called to her, “Mary.”
Our Lord Jesus also calls our name to rouse us from our fear.
He called us by name when He baptized us and raised us from sin and death.
He calls our name when He preaches His word. He calls us by name when He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink.
Who are you looking for? You are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. No one has taken Him away, for He is the Master.
He is the one who is from the beginning, who created heaven and earth and human beings in His image.
He brought Noah safely through the flood, Israel through the Red Sea, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego through the fiery furnace.
And He is the Lord and Master of death. He rose from it and He has brought you through it too, for you are baptized into Him.
Your Lord Jesus does not get lost. His word holds true. And He will see that you never get lost. He will call you, His sheep, by name until He calls it at the right hand of the Father and says—“Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
The disciples didn’t know what Jesus was talking about. “What is this that He’s telling us—‘A little while and you will not behold me, and again a little while and you will see me,” and “because I am going to the Father’? What is this ‘little while’ He keeps talking about? We don’t know what He is saying.”
Jesus had already told them what He was talking about. But they didn’t understand because they hadn’t experienced it yet and they didn’t yet have the Holy Spirit.
In the same way Jesus has already told us what we are going to experience in His Church after His ascension, but we don’t understand apart from the Holy Spirit granting us faith through His Word. Apart from the Spirit, relying on our own experience and reasoning, everything is dark.
What He has told us is that in this world we will experience distress and sorrow, but that our sorrow becomes joy.
And to make this easier for the disciples and us to understand our Lord uses a picture that is very fitting for Mothers’ Day.
A woman when she is giving birth has distress, because her hour has come, but when the child is born she no longer remembers the sorrow because of joy that a human being has been born into the world.
Not that there is no distress and sorrow for mothers after childbirth. Being a mother is full of distresses and sorrows. It’s not only the near-death experience of giving birth. Then it’s waking up in the middle of the night to feed and change diapers and years of caring for a little life that needs constant attention. Then they become teenagers and need attention for other reasons but don’t want it. And these days moms also often have to do most of the work of providing for her child, because Dad isn’t around.
It’s a lot of work that is demanding but not highly regarded, despite all the money that we spend on Mothers’ day. How many people with a smart and talented daughter would be happy to hear her say, “I want to be a mother when I grow up”—if she didn’t also say—“and a doctor, or a CEO, or president…”
But Jesus said, “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) We are impressed when men build cities and name them after themselves, when they build companies or nations, when they make themselves wealthy and famous, when they create art and literature. But God calls it an abomination when one works to make a name for himself and instead of working and living for the honor of God’s name. it’s what the people of the world did after the flood—they tried to build a tower to the heavens and make for themselves a name.
It is supposed to be progress now when women have the freedom to pursue this same kind of idolatry that goes by the name “career”.
Work doesn’t exist to make ourselves a name or make ourselves rich. It is a calling from God, a gift, through which He wants to work through us to give life to others.
That’s why motherhood is highly esteemed by God and despised by the world. Mothers who do what they are called to do trusting in Christ to work through them, who do what they are called to do in obedience to His Word—they are pleasing to God. They do great works and get no praise from men. Changing diapers and spending your attention and energy on little children isn’t building the Eiffel tower. It’s more important. Mothers bear life into the world for God and then nurture that life.
Those kinds of works, done in faith in Christ, are not regarded as great by the world. But God has regard for them. He looks on works that are done not for the praise of men but out of faith in His Son, works that actually help our neighbor—help to give and sustain his life. Things like towers and music and athletic ability can bless people, but mothers do the work that makes it possible to enjoy these other things. They face death to bring a child into the world and they give up their youth and freedom to care for it.
But you don’t hear mothers, usually, describing being a mother with the words “distress” and “anguish.” That’s because the sorrows of motherhood God turns into joy, as He does with the sorrows of all callings He has ordained.
The agony of giving birth and the difficulties of raising a child don’t remain agony and difficulty and distress. They become joy.
The excruciating pain of labor becomes the joy of the mom holding her newborn, and the joy these two experience is greater than most joys ever experienced on earth. Dads can only stand and watch it with amazement and gladness for them.
The hassles of raising kids becomes the joy and pride of seeing them go out into the world as adults to walk with God the way to life. And even when they stray there is joy for a Christian mother, because she can turn to her Father in heaven for comfort and with confidence that He will care for her child just as He cared for her. Jesus says that the experience of His disciples will be like the experience of a mother in labor. They will have anguish, but the anguish itself becomes joy. The sorrows of Christians don’t go away and then joy comes. No, the sorrows and pains themselves become joy. Believing this, Christians begin to rejoice in the sufferings themselves.
The Scriptures say this in many places. Paul says in 2 Cor. 4: So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison…” (2 Cor. 4:16-17)
And Hebrews 12 says: For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11)
When the disciples didn’t see Jesus for a little while, all they could do was lock themselves in a house and weep. He was shut up in the tomb; they were shut up in the house. It was unthinkable. They had seen Jesus calm the sea with a word, seen Him cure lepers and paralyzed people and raise the dead with a word. Then He had died in apparent weakness on the cross. Given up His Spirit. Blood and water poured from a spear thrust to His heart. He was dead.
Anguish seized the disciples. How could this have happened? They must have been abandoned by God. And for a person abandoned by God there is nowhere to run.
That very anguish of Jesus’ death and burial did not go away. It was transformed into joy, like the water at Cana didn’t go away but became wine.
So the disciples’ anguish turned into exceedingly great joy when Jesus appeared to them. But He really appeared to them before He came into the room and showed them His hands and side. He appeared to them when the women came and first proclaimed to them the message of the angel: “He is risen!”
That’s also how He appears to us.
He appears to us in the Scriptures, risen from the dead. HE appears to us in the preaching of His resurrection. And in those Scriptures and in that preaching the Holy Spirit is given to us so that we see Him and share the apostles’ joy.
After seeing Jesus risen, do you think the apostles were ever unhappy or scared or in anguish again? You might think they never were. But you would be wrong.
Paul says: We [apostles] are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Cor. 4:8, 10-11
The apostles still had pain, confusion, great suffering even after seeing Jesus raised. In the same way mothers have plenty of distresses after the great distress of childbirth is over. There may be some distresses that equal the pain of childbirth later. But mothers almost never refer to motherhood as “anguish”. Why? Because just as the anguish of labor became joy, so the pains that come after childbirth become joy.
The biggest anguish for us in the Church is over. Christ Jesus suffered, was forsaken by God, died and was raised from the dead.
The pain He suffered became the joy that He has now in justifying us while we are yet sinners.
Because He was laid in the grave not for His own sins but ours. He bore the wrath of God not against His sins, but ours.
Out of the anguish of His soul came the joy for Him of our reconciliation with God. Now nothing stands between us and God, not even for the chief of sinners. His suffering became the joy of clothing us with righteousness in Holy Baptism, of feeding us the righteousness of God in His body and blood given and shed for us.
And out of the anguish of the apostles’ souls came the joy of their message. The three days He was gone from us, they say, meant the reconciliation of the world to God. He atoned for our sins and rose and showed the new life that is ours, which will be ours in fullness when we are raised from the dead.
And it is the same with your sorrows and pains. You see Jesus. Your pain does not disappear.
It becomes joy, just as these bodies of sin and death in which we live will be raised up and transformed into the likeness of His glorious body.
You see Jesus forsaken by God for you and raised from the dead in the Gospel. He comes and preaches it to you. For you I was forsaken by God and for you I am raised, He says, and for you I reign at the right hand of God. For you I will return on the last day.
The anguish we feel over our sins becomes joy, because it is that pain which He uses to keep drawing us to see Him and hear His voice.
He does not change the face He shows us or change His message. He says, “I forgive you all your sins.” Though they be as dark as death and as deep as hell, I endured the darkness for you and I have come from the depths and pronounce your sins forgiven.”
No one can take this joy away from us, because Jesus is present in His church to the end of the world. Whenever His word is read or spoken; whenever someone is baptized in the name of the Trinity, and whenever His body and blood is distributed as He instituted, Jesus is with us. He is the very one in whom all our sins and agonies were transformed into righteousness and joy. Look at Jesus’ head crowned with thorns. Look at His hands pierced, crying, “My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
That is our sin and agony. And it has become righteousness and joy. The same Lord is risen and proclaims the forgiveness of our sins. He bursts their chains—their legacy of guilt, sadness, and death. In place He declares you righteous, free, alive. And with this true liberating word comes joy—even though it may only be a kernel just starting to grow.
Indeed, all our sorrows will become joy. We too are given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that His life may be revealed in these jars of clay.
Joy lightens our face when we look at Jesus—that is to say, when we listen to His Word. When we see Jesus we are seeing the one on whom our guilt and our despair were placed. And He descended into the depths of God’s wrath with that real and heavy weight. But He has risen and proclaims our guilt finished and our pain turned into joy.
The pain of childbirth becomes joy—great joy.
Are you experiencing some great anxiety or pain? Over yourself? Someone you love?
Do things look like they are closing in on you? It’s all too obvious that we feel that way in the church. And many of you have felt that burden for many years.
Jesus promises that just as labor pains become the joy of a child, our labor pains, your labor pains, will not be stillborn. They will become joy, and no one will take your joy from you.
Indeed, Jesus has already turned them into joy. He has borne them and the eternal wrath of God and risen again with the keys of death with which He sets you free.
And today He invites you to sit down and receive the testament that your sorrow has been changed into joy—the sacrament of His body and blood, which pledge that His agony has ransomed us and purchased us for everlasting joy.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.