Sunday, January 22, 2023

Sermon for Epiphany 3: "From Darkness to Light" (Matthew 4:12-25)

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen! Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: 

Have you ever been inside a cave or cavern? I have. Caves are a beautiful sight. It causes us to wonder how the stalactites, the stalagmites, and other cave formations came into being. Visiting a cave is certainly awe inspiring.

 

But what happens when the tour guide turns off the artificial light? From what I recall, nobody moves. Your mom may grab your hand just in case, but nobody is going anywhere. Suddenly, we are unable to see right in front of our own faces. We can’t see where we could walk. We are all paralyzed in an all-encompassing darkness.

 

Eventually, the tour guide flips on his lighter. At last, there is light! But just in case, you may have noticed that the tour guide never lets go of the main light switch for the cave. So, just in case, he may drop his lighter, he can turn the lights back on.

 

Visiting a cave is certainly memorable. But can we really be comforted with the promise of artificial light?

 

“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light” (Matthew 4:16; Isaiah 9:2).

 

Today’s gospel reading begins with the news of John the Baptist’s arrest by Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who sought the life of Jesus when He was a baby. When Jesus heard this news, He left Nazareth and moved to Capernaum. Did this news influence Jesus? Possibly. But, Jesus did not move to Capernaum to get away from Herod Antipas. You see, Herod Antipas ruled over the province of Galilee as well.

 

So, why did Jesus move there? Well, Capernaum was a great headquarters for Jesus’ work. The shores of Galilee were thickly populated. In the many cities on the shore, He could reach many more people. In fact, Capernaum was also located on an important highway coming down from Syria, which eventually goes down to Egypt. Think of our highways today. There is a reason why businesses like to put up shop next to an interstate highway. It’s all about location, location, location. 

 

Add to the fact, Capernaum was a city He could reach out to Gentiles as well as to Jews. But ultimately Jesus took up residence in Capernaum so “that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:14-16).

 

The people of Galilee were in a sad spiritual state because they were of a mixed race, and they were far removed from the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews there were often married to Gentiles and their faithfulness to God was often trumped by their spouse’s opinions, rather than God’s truth. So, to keep things happy in the family, religion was often watered down to find a compromise, or the false religion of the spouse reigned supreme. Now, Galilee was not all that different from Israel. For by and large, Israel was also living in darkness.

 

So, what was this “darkness”? The darkness that Isaiah refers to in his prophecy of Jesus is not physical darkness, but spiritual darkness. The gospel light had become lost to most of them. The faith in a Messiah with the sure hope of salvation was lost, both in Galilee and Israel.

 

In Galilee, most had forgotten about the promise of the Messiah. In Israel, the hope of the Messiah has greatly been replaced by a trust in the outward routine of worship and work-righteousness. Both Galilee and Israel were living “in the shadow of death,” a shadow of eternal death, an eternal separation from God.

 

Spiritual darkness remains to this day. We live in an ever-increasing dark world. It’s not that the sun (s.u.n.) is losing its power to give us light. It has nothing to do with “so called” climate change. It has everything to do with our hearts and minds.

 

Spiritual darkness is the state of a person living apart from God. Spiritual darkness means that a person is not in fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.

 

You see, from the very moment Adam and Eve sinned, humans have lived in a fallen world. All people are born in this fallen state of sin and separation from God. Everything God created as good has become corrupted. Our sinful pride, inherited from Adam and Eve, leads us to all sorts of evils against God and our neighbor.

 

Despite not knowing it, those who continually live in spiritual darkness get what their sins deserve: eternal death.

 

Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday and marks 50 years since the Roe v. Wade decision. Despite it being overturned last year, elective abortion continues in many states. But supreme court rulings and legislation do not change hearts. Rulings and legislation do not enlighten people. Only the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Gospel has the power to change people’s hearts. 

 

Since Roe v. Wade made elective abortion legal at the federal level in 1973, more than 63 million children have died via elective abortion. Throughout those decades, the darkened world has pressed its pragmatic lies upon us. We hear about quality of life, potential disabilities, mental illness, rape and incest, and financial constraints on the mother or parents. The world shouts, “Who would raise such a child?” And these lies are driven right into our hearts and minds. Today, we continue to hear pragmatic lies: “Would you rather have a trans kid or a dead kid?” and “Wouldn’t you rather die with dignity than in pain?”

 

We can see the darkness all around us. So many people are spiritually lost. So many are in that dark cave, that dark alley in their life, and they don’t know where to go. They don’t know Jesus and that He is their Savior. So, they seek earthly pleasures to dull the pain and escape from reality. We know of people who never go to church, and we know the people who go to church, but never take anything to heart. There is a lot of darkness to go around. Maybe you can see it in yourself.

 

We live in darkness. Where there is sin, there is darkness. Where there is sin, death follows. Death is constantly chasing us all the way to the grave. There is no way out. The death rate for sinners is 100 percent. Due to sin, we all die, but the only question is when?

 

“The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light” (Matthew 4:16).

 

Within all this darkness, God the Father scatters the darkness through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Light. He is the Light because salvation is found only in Him and proclaimed by Him.

 

If we are to receive the Light, that is, believe in Jesus as the Savior and rejoice in His salvation, we have to be told about Him. So, Jesus begins to preach saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

 

The voice of John the Baptist had been silenced. From prison, John could no longer point to Jesus and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” But here is Jesus proclaiming the same message using those same words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The only difference is that Jesus is saying that the kingdom is among us now. John prepared for the coming Kingdom and Jesus is the fulfillment of the Kingdom. Jesus is the Kingdom. And He would be coronated on the cross with the crown of thorns.

 

As the kingdom comes to us, Jesus says “Repent!” It’s time for us to repent. For we all have sin to repent of. In fact, it’s our whole person – our whole self – that we have to confess, since we are thoroughly corrupted by sin. So, we repent, as we acknowledge our sinfulness, confess it to God, and plead mercy to God for His forgiveness and help. And so, we receive His forgiveness. We receive the remedy for our sins that Jesus as the Lamb of God won for all people upon the cross.

 

Last week, we heard how John the Baptist directed his disciples to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We heard how Andrew and Peter immediately followed Jesus. But at first, this calling of discipleship did not involve giving up their occupation as fishermen and being with Jesus full time. Today, Jesus calls Andrew and Peter, and James and John to the apostleship, saying: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). They didn’t think twice. They immediately dropped their nets and followed Jesus. 

 

Andrew and Peter, James and John had no special qualifications to become an apostle. They were just fishermen. They likely didn’t have much of a formal education. Jesus called them not because of any special qualifications, but because He was so gracious.

 

From there, Jesus with His first four apostles, went throughout all Galilee. Jesus saturated Galilee. Everybody knew Jesus. He was teaching in the synagogues and preaching the Gospel. He was healing every disease and malady people had.

 

But ultimately, Jesus was known by His preaching.

 

We may see today’s Gospel text as something that has happened in the past. But this epiphany is still happening today. You see, we come out of the darkness to the light through the epiphany of preaching. God’s Word continues to reveal Jesus as the Christ and we see Christ through preaching.

 

Jesus says to His apostles and to us, “Follow Me!” Andrew and Peter, James and John, followed Jesus and in time, these fishermen, would bring more people into the net of the church, so others could learn from Jesus and follow Him.

 

One of the many ways Jesus brings us to Him is through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. You see, before Baptism, we were living in total spiritual darkness and under the complete rule and authority of Satan. But through the water and the Word in Baptism, we are restored as children of the light since we are rescued from the domain of spiritual darkness. This alone is the work of the Triune God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – that rescues us. So, we rejoice this day for Carter, who has joined the baptized by receiving from the Holy Spirit the power to believe in Jesus as His Lord and Savior.

 

Jesus, the Great Light, breaks into history through the preaching of His Word and the administration of the Sacraments. The kingdom of heaven is at hand as Jesus is present as our judge and Savior.

 

But we have a calling too. We have all been called to follow Jesus, learn from Him, and to tell of Jesus to others proclaiming the same message of Jesus, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,”since the remedy to sin has been revealed in Jesus Christ.

 

Darkness no longer has the upper hand, since Jesus brought us out of darkness and into His Light. For by faith in Him, and trusting in His promises, Jesus sustains and preserves us. He is always present where He promises to be. Here! As we receive His healing Word of absolution and as we eat of His Body and drink of His Blood for the forgiveness of our sins! Amen.

 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen. 

 

+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Funeral Sermon: "Receiving the Promise" (Psalm 121)

Elaine, Jeff, Dave, and Jodi, family and friends of Ed: Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen!

Jesus said to His disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1a). Jesus says the same to us this day, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” With these words, Jesus fortified and preserved His weary disciples. Today, Jesus reminds us that we will see our loved ones again who have died in the faith.

 

During the last days of Ed’s life, I’m sure there were times when your hearts were troubled. Thoughts like, “This isn’t the way I thought it would be” likely cropped into your minds. If it did, it’s because that is a natural thought. Even though death is expected of all of us – unless Christ returns first – death still does not seem right. It just doesn’t seem right that we are separated from our loved ones. For with death, comes separation. With separation, we experience loss. 

 

Death is still our enemy. Jesus wept when He heard that His friend Lazarus was dead, even though Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead. The shortest verse in the Bible tells us about Jesus’ tears over death: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). So should we. We mourn death. We are sad when our loved ones die. And there is no shame in our suffering.

 

But we must remember that death is still defeated. We are not given over to despair. We mourn, but with joy. We cry with laughter. Our tears are mixed with hope. In the shadow of the grave, we sing of life eternal. In the midst of death, we confess the resurrection. Our mourning is mixed with joy because “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).

 

Throughout his earthly life, Ed lived out his Christian vocations. He was a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a great-grandfather to name a handful of his vocations. He grew up in Milwaukee and later found his way to the Coulee Region. Along the way, he served in the US Army and the Army Reserves. For 27 years, he served the city of Milwaukee as a police officer. From what I recall, he had many stories to share about his time on the force. But what I think he enjoyed the most was his family. He adored his wife Elaine. For Ed, passing on the Christian faith was most important to him. So, to Jeff, Dave, and Jodi, they all know what “Where were ya?” means.

 

For Ed, hunting, bowling, baseball, and watching the Packers all came up well down the list to passing on the one true Christian faith to his family. Here, at Prince of Peace, Ed served as a pillar of this congregation as an elder and as the vice-president, turned president of this congregation. Now, Ed was a sinner – just like all of us – but due to his faith in Christ, he is no longer numbered among sinners. You see, at his death, his sin was destroyed. Death for Ed is simply a portal to heaven as His Savior Jesus Christ called him home. Today, Ed is resting from his labors as he has received the promise of eternal life.

 

Ed and Elaine’s wedding psalm was Psalm 121. This Psalm tells of pilgrims on a journey to their heavenly home. Ed has completed this journey, but we on this side of heaven are still on this journey.

 

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” (Psalm 121:1) Hills and mountains so often are portrayed as dangerous places. But hills and mountains are also symbols of strength and security. But, how is the Psalmist looking at the hills? As a source of danger, or as a source of help? Is he fearful, or is he confident? 


“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” Well, his “help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).

 

This psalm is an ascending promise of help, since the Lord is our ally. But what makes the Lord our ally? Well, He took on our human flesh by becoming man for us. As a man, Jesus took upon Himself our death, our punishment, so that our death would no longer forever separate us from God. He is our ally because he gives us salvation in the place of condemnation and forgiveness in the place of judgment, eternal life in the place of eternal death.

 

From where does our help come? Our help comes from the Lord! Each verse adds a blessing: “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3). You see, the Lord protects us from tottering and slipping, because He never becomes inattentive to our needs. He doesn’t let us struggle our way to Him, instead He provides us the Way through His Son (John 14:6).

 

“The Lord is your keeper” (Psalm 121:5a). The Lord is our watchman who preserves His people when we cannot see the danger ahead. And unlike some watchmen who take breaks, the “Lord is your shade on your right hand,” (Psalm 121:5b) so His protection is timeless. He protects us in this life and to life everlasting.

 

All throughout his life, Ed was looking up to that hill where his help came. Today, Ed is atop that hill. He has arrived at his heavenly home. He has arrived atop the mountain the Lord of hosts has made for all peoples. Upon that mountain, he is numbered among the faithful as they eat “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (Isaiah 25:6).

 

Upon this mountain, no human action occurs. Here, all people – by faith in Christ – receive what God graciously provides. Because of God’s love, He provides a rich spiritual banquet. This heavenly banquet is the richest and tastiest meal that is beyond our own imagination! The wine is aged in order to increase its color and quality. The meat is fat and rich. This is the banquet of God’s grace. Our Savior Jesus has prepared the best His love could offer: rich compassion, wonderful forgiveness, and every satisfying food for the soul.

 

This is the banquet that no one deserves, because of our sin. But God has prepared this feast for us in heaven for all who receive His forgiveness.

 

Even in our life now, we receive a foretaste of this rich meal. In the Lord’s Supper, we receive Christ’s very Body and Blood under the bread and the wine for the forgiveness of our sins.

 

While in heaven, God continuously provides as He keeps our going out and our coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

 

But heaven is not the end. For Ed and all the faithful, there is still something more on the horizon. The Apostle Paul writes: “Behold! I tell you a mystery! We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). You see, death does not have the final say. Life has the final say! For everyone in Christ, He will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:21a)! Since Christ has been raised from the dead, we too, will be raised! So, Ed’s body will be raised to life on that glorious resurrection day!

 

May we too look up to the hills and receive the Lord’s blessings of eternal life! Amen. 

 

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.


+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +


Ed Schmidt's Obituary: https://www.schumacher-kish.com/obituary/edward-schmidt

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Sermon for Epiphany 2: "The Power of the Spoken Word" (John 1:29-42a)

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen! Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: 

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

 

John the Baptist had gained quite a number of disciples. But John knew that such discipleship would not be permanent. He knew he was only the forerunner to the promised Messiah. And John did not resent or resist that prospect. In fact, John rejoiced over it. He gladly said: “He – Jesus – must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). So, John would gladly recede into the background as Jesus came to the foreground.

 

So, seeing Jesus coming toward him, John called out to his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

 

By saying “behold,” John is saying to his disciples: “Look! Turn your eyes over there! Don’t miss this! That Man is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

 

But how did John know? Well, he tells us what he witnessed at Christ’s baptism! “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him” (John 1:32). You see, it wasn’t from his own reason that He knew Jesus to be the Christ. Instead, it was revealed to him. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33).

 

Like St. Peter, who would later say to Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), this was revealed to Peter not by reason, but by “My Father who is in heaven,”Jesus says (Matthew 16:17).

 

We are in the season of Epiphany. Throughout this season, Jesus is revealed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, in various ways. Today, we hear how Jesus was revealed as the Son of God through the proclamation of the Word. Through the proclamation and power of the spoken word, Jesus wins His first disciples.

 

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Following the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John, John came to realize what had just happened. He baptized the very Son of God. Yes, he attempted to decline Jesus, because Jesus knew no sin. But today, we hear the rest of the story. All of what happened that day in the Jordan River was revealed to him before Jesus broke the tension with John when He spoke, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

 

Suddenly, John realized. He remembered. He had an epiphany. He baptized the sinless One, so that Jesus would be the sin-bearer.

 

So, again as Jesus came walking toward John, John speaks to get the attention of his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

 

Then, the next day, John speaks again as Jesus walks by: “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

 

Now, upon hearing these words, every devout Jew knew that these words could only refer to the promised Messiah. For one thing, every sacrifice of a lamb, especially that of the Passover lamb, was a type, a direction sign, which pointed forward to the coming Redeemer.

 

“Look! Jesus is the Lamb of God! There is the Man you need to follow! There is the long-awaited Savior! Why are you standing here with me? Go to Him!”

 

Jesus is the Lamb of God who came to give Himself as the sacrifice to win forgiveness for a sinful world. He is the Passover Lamb whose blood saves us from death (Exodus 12:1-13). He is the burnt offering “without defect” (Leviticus 1:10). He is the sin offering through which we receive forgiveness. He is to be the lamb “led to the slaughter” for our sins (Isaiah 53:7).

 

Here, John the Baptist is proclaiming Jesus’ mission. Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John is pointing forward to Christ’s atoning work upon the cross. Jesus didn’t come just to forgive the sins of certain people. He came for the entire sin of the entire world. He came to take away all the sins of every sinner, from Adam down to the last transgressor born before the Last Day. 

 

All this sin, Jesus as the Lamb of God takes away with His one tremendous sacrifice as the spotless Lamb who would carry out God’s grand design: to cancel the sins of all mankind. This is known as universal justification. But don’t be confused. This has nothing to do with universalism where all are saved no matter what they believe. 

 

Instead, universal justification means that Jesus came to save everyone who believes and trusts in Him. For everyone who trusts in Him, they are freed from the power of sin. This is what Jesus proclaims: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but who ever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:17-18).

 

“Behold, the Lamb of God!” After two of John’s disciples heard this proclaimed, they followed Jesus. Jesus then turned and saw them following Him and said to them: “What are you seeking?” (John 1:38) That is a most-important question. Here we have two faithful Jews who have long been seeking the Messiah. What were they seeking?

 

Could they be seeking a Messiah who would bring freedom from the Romans? Could it be a Messiah who would restore Jerusalem and Jewish power? Could it be a Messiah who would be a miracle worker?

 

How might we respond? Are you seeking help coping with daily burdens? Seeking a life made easy? What are we seeking from Jesus?

 

All of humanity is seeking something. Sometimes, we just don’t know what. Since most people do not know what they are really seeking, they continue to seek. Some seek power, for with power, they can do whatever they want. Some seek wealth. Like power, you can do a lot with wealth. You can buy whatever you want. Some seek knowledge. But sometimes it isn’t about knowledge, instead knowledge may be used to impress others, or even to control others, or to attempt to solve the world’s problems all on their own. Others, seek popularity. Who doesn’t desire to be liked? This is the whole point behind social media. But what do power, wealth, knowledge and popularity all have in common? They are fleeting. Each of these things lead to the same result: death.

 

Without knowing it, what most people are really seeking is a Savior from sin and its effects. We are seeking a sense of identity. We are seeking a sense of security. We are seeking meaning and purpose.

 

What we are really seeking, God provides. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

 

In fact, this is what John’s two disciples were seeking. They said to Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” You see, they wanted to stay with Jesus, learn from Him, and get from Him what He had to offer them – the forgiveness of sins. Jesus replies, “Come and you will see.”

 

In Christ, our identity is restored as a redeemed child of God. The sin that alienated us from God and others is forgiven. In Christ, our security is restored. We are reconciled to God since our sin is removed, so that while we live or when we die, we are certain that we are protected by God. In Christ, our meaning and purpose is restored. We are children of God with a vocation: to love God and serve my neighbor.

 

Immediately, as the two disciples are told “Come and you will see” by Jesus, one of them, Andrew, tells his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah!” He brought him to Jesus.

 

This is the Church’s mission. Word and Sacraments are God’s means for transmitting salvation, but we are the human agents who bring those means to bear on people.  Through Andrew, we see the early church’s involvement in Jesus’ mission on a one-on-one basis. John the Baptist tells two of his disciples about Jesus. Then one of them, Andrew, tells his brother about Jesus. And so it goes on through human history, and so the church grows one by one.

 

Through the spoken word, we hear and follow Jesus. The Apostle Paul proclaims, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

 

So, like John the Baptist and Andrew, through the working of the Holy Spirit in us, we testify of Jesus in who He is – “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He is what the world is seeking. We invite our friends and neighbors saying, “Come and see!” We invite, so that others can hear and see Jesus in this place. Here in the Divine Service, we come to see, learn, believe, and follow Jesus as He comes to us through His Word and Sacraments! Amen.

 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen. 

 

+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord: "Fulfilling All Righteousness" (Matthew 3:13-17)

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen! Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

The Twelve Days of Christmas have passed. We have begun a new church season, Epiphany. And suddenly, now we find Jesus as an adult. We find Jesus at the very place where people have been confessing the very thing that Jesus came to save them from: their sins.

 

Today, we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. On this day, Jesus began His public march to the cross for you and me.

 

Out in the wilderness of Judea we find John the Baptist preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). This odd-looking man wearing camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist who ate an odd diet of locusts and wild honey was gaining quite a following. It appeared that everyone wanted to hear John’s preaching, repent, and be baptized by him, including some Pharisees and Sadducees, who hoped to sneak in without confessing their sins.

 

But among this crowd was Jesus. He “came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13).

 

Now, everyone in line to be baptized by John was a sinner in need of repentance. That is, everyone except Jesus.

 

So, why is Jesus there? Well, He is there for the same purpose. He is there to be baptized by John. But, why?

 

Does Jesus need to repent? Does Jesus need to be converted from unbelief to faith? Is Jesus among the lost sheep of Israel?

 

John knows the answer. He wanted to prevent Jesus from being baptized. And not because Jesus was unrepentant. It was because Jesus knew no sin.

 

If the roles were reversed, John would have been fine if Jesus baptized him, because he was a sinner who stood in need of baptism. But John baptizing Jesus? No! John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14).

 

Now, as you recall, John had refused to baptize some people in the past. But that was because those people refused to repent for their sins. Now, John has the opposite dilemma. A dilemma that likely he thought would never happen to him: Should I baptize someone who is without sin?

 

As John attempts to say “no” to Jesus, Jesus breaks the tension saying, “Let it be so now, for thus is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). In other words, Jesus is saying: “Allow it. I know this is out of the ordinary, but this needs to be accomplished, so I can be the sin-bearer.”

 

At any other time, John’s argument to deny a baptism might be valid, but now is the time for Jesus to begin His public ministry.

 

Before this, Jesus was relatively unknown. He grew up in the obscure town of Nazareth. A town that most Jews thought very little of. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

 

While in Nazareth, Jesus had been living in perfect obedience to God the Father as a man in the place of all men. But now, on the banks of the Jordan, He is publicly beginning His course that will take Him to the cross, where He will give His life as a ransom for many. Although He knew no sin, Jesus is declaring Himself to be one with sinners by taking up the burden of sin.

 

Here, in the Jordan, Jesus is inaugurating His public redeeming work. In doing so, He is linking Himself to a sinner’s baptism to fulfill all righteousness.

 

But an obvious question is why now? Why at age 30 is Jesus being baptized? Is this proof that we choose to be baptized, rather than receiving baptism?

 

Well, back during the earthly life of Jesus, John’s baptism was new. John’s baptism was in preparation for the Messiah.

 

What was common was circumcision. On the eighth day of a Jewish boy’s life, he would be circumcised and formally given his name. Circumcision is what made a Jew a Jew. It’s what marked them as one grafted into Israel. 


Circumcision was a sign on the flesh, like a branding or tattoo. It was something that marked them as a child of the promise and as the offspring of Abraham.

 

So, circumcision, then, is akin to baptism today. As an eight-day old child, they are not making decisions. Just like infants today. Almighty God chose Mary and Joseph, because He knew His ceremonial Law would be fulfilled upon Him. The Son of God knew His earthly parents would be faithful to the Law, so He would submit to His own covenant of blood. 

 

All infants have is childlike faith in their parents to provide their needs. And one of those needs is baptism and the benefits baptism provides: forgiveness of sins, salvation from eternal death and the devil, and eternal salvation.

 

For us, because Jesus fulfilled all righteousness by linking Himself to us through a sinner’s baptism, we no longer are circumcised with hands to make us a child of God. Instead, we are “circumcised with a circumcision without hands … having been buried with Him in baptism, in which [we are] raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised [Christ] from the dead” (Colossians 2:11, 12).

 

Our circumcision is by water and the Spirit. Our Baptismal circumcision cannot be seen but is more permanent. It’s a union with Christ. Through Baptism, we are marked as a child and heir of God.

 

For us, we don’t choose God. He chose us! Christ even says this to His own disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Even His own disciples needed that reminder, just as we do.

 

Our own free will is to turn away from God, which is seen so much in society. That is what our sinful nature desires. But it is through the Holy Spirit that has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified us and kept us in the true faith. This is what Baptism does. Baptism is God choosing us. All we do is receive. And He gives us faith.

 

Christ’s baptism by John is vicarious. He is baptized not for Himself, but for us sinners. Through Christ’s baptism, He is pointing forward to His death and resurrection as the substitute for all sinners.

 

When John consented and Jesus was baptized, “immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17-17).

 

God the Father is well pleased because His Son has fulfilled all righteousness, and now it is time for Jesus to be the sacrificial Lamb for sinners.

 

For the triune God – the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit – everything has a purpose. Jesus was baptized so He would take on our sins to the cross. So that through His sacrificial death and bodily resurrection, our sins would be forgiven through our baptism into Christ.

 

At your baptism, God the Father looked down upon you – like He did for His own Son, and said, “I am well pleased.” He is pleased, because He chose you in the waters of Holy Baptism as His adopted child to inherit the Kingdom of God.

 

But as we all know, our Old Adam – our old sinful nature – continuously shows up and urges us to turn away from God, and our neighbor. This is why confession and absolution is linked to our Baptism. So, daily our Old Adam is put to death, and a new person who lives by faith in Christ is raised up. This is the rhythm of the Christian: we sin, we repent, and we live. And each time we repent and turn back to God, He says to us: “I am well pleased.”

 

The Rite of Confirmation is also linked to our Baptism as well. For Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). So, to Josh, Faith, and Laura when you make your confession to God and to this congregation in just minutes, guess what God will be saying? “I am well pleased.”

 

He is well pleased, because we are saved through His Son Jesus who fulfilled all righteousness in the place of all sinners. Amen.

 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.  

+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Sermon for Christmas 1: "All According to God's Plan" (Matthew 2:13-23)


Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen!

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Happy Eighth Day of Christmas!

 

One week ago, we were singing “Joy to the World” and now on this Eighth Day of Christmas it appears that this joy is over. Instead, we hear of “weeping and loud lamentation … because [the children] are no more” (Matthew 2:18).

 

How can we go from “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled” to the deaths of innocent children?

 

We began today’s Gospel reading with the departing of the Magi from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Why did the Magi even go to Jerusalem? Why didn’t they just go straight to Bethlehem?

 

Well, these Magi may have been known as “wise men,” but they still needed directions. Now, these Magi were a class of priests, astronomers, and astrologers. They were influential advisors of the Babylonian king. During the 70 years of the Jewish captivity in Babylon, the prophet Daniel was made the presiding officer over the caste of the Magi. From Daniel, the Magi learned about the promised Messiah who was to come. These Magi studied and took very seriously what Israel’s prophets had foretold about the Messiah.

 

Then on that Christmas Day, they saw one of the promised signs “a star will come out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). It was a star that they had never seen before. It did not look like any other star, and it did not act like any other star. So, they began to follow this star toward Jerusalem. Now, it was only natural for the Magi to come to the capital city of Jerusalem. For they expected everyone there to know about the Messiah’s birth, and they were surprised when they asked around and no one was aware. Didn’t anyone search the Scriptures?

 

Meanwhile, Jesus had already been circumcised, presented at the Jerusalem Temple, Simeon and Anna have departed in peace after they marveled at the Christ Child, and Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus returned to Bethlehem.


Eventually, the word got out to Herod the Great that there were Magi searching in Jerusalem for the promised King of the Jews who had just been born. For Herod the Great, this was a complete surprise to him. And he was not a man who liked surprises, especially surprises that could threaten him.

 

If anyone got in Herod’s way, he would just eliminate them, including those in his own family. He was cruel, merciless, and jealous. He had his wife’s brother drowned. He had his own wife murdered. He murdered his mother-in-law. He murdered three of his own sons. He even had many of the most-distinguished citizens of Jerusalem imprisoned and then gave the orders that they would be executed at the moment of his own death. Herod wanted to ensure that there would be mourning in the city at the time of his own death.

 

So, it is easy to see why Herod was not happy upon hearing the news of the birth of the King of the Jews. After summoning the chief priests and the scribes, they began searching the Scriptures and found that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem: “You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah … from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2).

 

Secretly, Herod summoned the Magi and told them to travel to Bethlehem saying: “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (Matthew 2:8). But Herod had no intention on worshiping this child or any other child. He wanted any threat to his reign eliminated.

 

Oddly enough, Herod the Great may have been king, but his reign was more imaginary than real. You see, Herod was a puppet king of Rome. He was there to keep the Jews happy as a sort of intermediary between Rome and the Jewish people. Even with that being so, he didn’t want anyone to take his “Jewish kingship” away from him.

 

This leads us into today’s Gospel reading. The Magi arrived in Bethlehem, located the house of the Child Jesus and there they worshiped Him and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But as told them in a dream, they did not return to Jerusalem, but departed back another way.

 

Meanwhile, after at first patiently waiting, Herod believed that the Magi tricked him since they had not returned those few miles from Bethlehem.


No one messes with Herod. So, enraged, he ordered the murder of every boy in Bethlehem younger than two years old. He wanted this threat eliminated. He trusted that this boy would be among the victims of this slaughter.

 

But evil rulers will have no power over this Child! Herod plots and acts in vain. All the while, God planned for this to fulfill Scripture for “Out of Egypt I called my Son” (Matthew 2:15b).

 

When the angel of the Lord said to Joseph, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, … for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13b), he took it very seriously. Afterall, everything else the angels have told him has come true. So, he did what any father would do, even if he wasn’t the biological father, he cared for his adopted son. So, by the morning, Joseph, Mary, and the Christ Child were simply gone. They vanished in the darkness to Egypt.

 

But why Egypt? Well, the easy answer is the angel told Joseph. So, we could stop there. But also, Egypt had been known as a traditional place of refuge. Abraham went there during a famine. Jacob and his family went there for the same reason. Jeroboam fled to Egypt when Solomon tried to kill him. Uriah also fled to Egypt.

 

At that time, there were many Jews in Egypt, so Mary and Joseph could feel quite at home and secure there. It is likely that they funded their journey and stay there with the gifts from the Magi. And from Egypt, God would fulfill the prophecy: “Out of Egypt I called My Son” (Matthew 2:15).

 

But what about those young boys in Bethlehem? Herod sent in his soldiers to murder every boy two years old and younger to give himself plenty of leeway that this future king would be eliminated. These victims would be called “The Holy Innocents,” not because they were sinless, but they surely had not committed any crime worthy of death. These boys were murdered out of convenience of King Herod the Great. You may think: “Why didn’t God stop this?”

 

The answer to that question may not satisfy us. God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Why does He permit evil? All we know is that God uses horrible events to bring us closer to Him. God is incomprehensible and we surely cannot judge Him.

 

Through these victims we see the wickedness of the world. Herod would gladly murder his own child, out of fear that one would take his reign. Herod was not above getting his own hands dirty and all to preserve his own power.

 

This wickedness of the world is still with us. Young life is still despised by so many in our time. Herod’s systematic destruction of these children ought to remind us of the countless children who have died by abortion. It was a matter of convenience to Herod as it is for nearly every abortion today. Selfishness can make murder seem like a good deed. Today, too, the world says it is a good deed to even castrate children who are led to believe that they are of the opposite sex through “gender-affirming healthcare.” May we lament with Rachel weeping for her children (Matthew 2:18).

 

But out of this horror comes prophecy. Despite the wickedness of men, God the Father would protect His Son through His earthly father, Joseph. When Herod the Great died, Joseph brought the holy family to the forgotten town of Nazareth, which fulfilled another prophecy: “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23), which fulfills the Christ’s obscure beginning. He wasn’t from the big city of Jerusalem, but He is instead from the forgotten town of Nazareth.

 

Yes, Jesus came in human flesh to die, but His hour had not yet come. He would be lifted up on the cross. He would die not by the will of man, but by the will of God.

 

Jesus had to die, but not on Herod’s schedule, not until the fulness of God’s time, just the right time. He had to die for Herod’s sins. He had to die for our sins, every sin, including abortion. He had to die because of our doubt and our fear and our unbelief. He had to die because God the Father knew we could never turn back to Him, keep His commandments, and love Him on our own. He would die for our salvation and for the salvation for those Holy Innocents, who were His martyrs not in will, but in deed.

 

Jesus would die for the sins all people – Jews and Gentiles alike – to bring about forgiveness and salvation for every sin of thought, word, and deed through repentance and faith in Him and all according to God’s plan. Amen!

 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.  

 

+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +