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Sermon for Epiphany 4 – Matthew 5:3-12

January 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today is the fourth Sunday in the season of Epiphany and this year because Lent starts so late, we get a full taste of the season.  Compare that with three years ago when we got only three Sundays of Epiphany.  “What difference does it make?” you might be asking.  Well, if you listen carefully, there is a logical order to the Sundays this season.  Many of you, I think, know Pastor Alms at Redeemer in Catawba.  He wrote a great little article for a Lutheran journal about the season of Epiphany as a blueprint for mission.  He says, “The season’s structure—its texts, hymn and color—gives a vital template for the church’s mission.”  Think about that for a minute and think back to what we have already heard this season: the visit of the Magi, gentiles from the east, the testimony of the heavenly Father at Jesus’ baptism, “this is my beloved Son.”  Next John points to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  And last week Jesus began His ministry in full, teaching the same message as John, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  And after He called his first disciples, He began doing the healing that John had prophesied the coming One would do.  This week, the saving Son of God goes up on the mountain and sits down to teach his followers.  There is a logical progression to the Gospel readings during this season and we would do well to listen to them in order.

And this week Jesus begins to flesh out His first sermon, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The connections are all over the place but you have to look closely because this is where the universalists and humanists try to dethrone Jesus.  These are the folks that would put Jesus on the same level as Confucius, Buddha and even Mohammed.  The first word out of Jesus mouth should convince them otherwise but they don’t see the importance of it.  “Blessed.”  Jesus’ first sermon was, “Repent.”  They say, “That’s old-fashioned religion.  Repentance is for sinners, people who sin, people who have angered a God of wrath.  ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’  That’s more like it.  We like the Jesus of the Beatitudes much better.”  Except that they do not understand that the beginning of this sermon is an explanation, and expounding of the first.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  “Blessed,” says Jesus are the ones who have the kingdom of heaven which has come near.  You know why their blessed?  Because they are poor in spirit, they heard the first sermon and they did what Jesus said to do, they repented.  And so the poor in spirit are not the poor; they aren’t even what we would call depressed today.  They are the ones who know the state of their soul in God’s eyes and have been brought low by it, they recognize that in their very soul they lack, they suffer want, they need.  Just as much a blind man eyes can’t see, their soul is empty, they have no resources in the spiritual realm.  These are the ones Jesus calls to be in the kingdom of heaven, the ones who need these spiritual resources provided by Another, Himself, the Savior.  Jesus isn’t calling the self-righteous or the self-assured “blessed.”  He is calling those who describe themselves as “poor, miserable sinners.”  And them, you, He calls “blessed.”

“Blessed” is maybe one more word study we need to do.  But I know I’ve preached along these lines on this same text not long ago, back at the beginning of November on All Saints’ Day.  So you should already know that “happy” which we see in so many modern translations does not cut it.  “Happy” does not carry any of the notes of salvation and redemption, those big eternal sounding words with big eternal meanings.  “Happy” is what I am when I get a good pastrami on rye.  “Blessed” is what I am when I hear that Jesus save me from death and hell and the power of the devil.  We need to be sure of the words here because the first two sermons of Jesus go together.  Those who have repented, have inherited the kingdom of heaven that has come near; they are blessed.

The rest of the Beatitudes go on to describe these blessed people.  Jesus goes on to describe those who have taken Him at His word and repented.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

There are quite a few bad ideas floating around among Christians that are not only false, but worse, they are detrimental to faith.  One of these is the false notion that Christians are supposed to be constantly experiencing deep, inner joy.  Philip Carey in his book, Good News for Anxious Christians, describes it this way.

“The Christian life is supposed to be an abundant life, a life of victory—so you can’t go around telling people that it really hurts inside.  People at church may not understand if you start talking as if your life was a failure.  You’re not really allowed to be sad at heart, because everybody says Christians are supposed to have an inner joy deep in their hearts, which is always there beneath all the troubles of life.  So it can’t be that at the center of all your feelings is a great ball of hurt and suffering.  Not if you’re a Christian!” (128)

Now, to those of you who always experience deep, inner joy even in the midst of suffering, I guess I’m not really talking to you this morning.  I’m talking to the other folks, those who feel guilty because they have a cross to bear and they’re not bearing it with a big smile on their face.  There are those folks whose faith seems so deep that they appear immune to suffering, but that is not the Christian message.  This is what Carey calls a “terrible reversal of the Gospel of Christ…” because it sets us on a different path from our Lord Jesus, the Son of God who became human to share in human suffering and to die a human death.”  (128)  It’s bad enough that we feel empty inside, but it’s made worse by some cruel notion that Christians shouldn’t feel that way or that perhaps we feel the way we do because of some failure in our Christian life.  The worst thing that can happen then is Jesus’ words here to rejoice get turned into a command, and because we don’t feel like rejoicing, a condemnation.  Instead of inviting us into the joy and blessedness of the kingdom of heaven, they demand we be happy, or else.  I like the way Carey says this:

For a depressed person to hear this exhortation should be like receiving an invitation to a wedding for which everyone has been waiting for ages.  There are obligations that come with the invitation: there is some serious celebrating going on and you shouldn’t go spoiling the party by moping around feeling sorry for yourself.  But by all means, come to the celebration (that’s the way to invite a depressed person to rejoice) and recognize that there is indeed something to be glad about: come in hope that your own heart too will eventually be able to join in the gladness.  For the point is not that you’re supposed to feel glad all the time, but that something good has happened that’s really worth celebrating.” (129)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Jesus teaches the Beatitudes with authority.  These nine blessings proclaim with authority the saving and transforming truths that the reign of God in Jesus is given to all Jesus disciples, to you.  We are disciples of Jesus.  Jesus has already come, suffered, died, and was resurrected.  We already possess the blessings of the reign of heaven.  We have the forgiveness of sins.  We possess Baptism into Christ.  We possess the power of the Holy Spirit for faith and obedience.  We hold in our hands the nourishment of the Body and Blood of our Savior.  We possess the fellowship of all the fellow redeemed.  All of these blessings which we already possess are the blessings of the reign of God in Jesus.

There is no other message of the kingdom of heaven.  There is no secret prayer that brings peace to your heart or wealth to your bank account.  There is no perfect Christian life, only broken Christians perfected in Christ.  There is nothing other than the Gospel message of the reign of heaven.  Repent and be blessed.  This Good News is preached with no conditions, no specifications, no limitations, no quid pro quos, no fine print.  This message of Jesus is completely consistent with what we have already seen of Jesus’ ministry, His teaching and His healing.  To those brought low by Jesus first sermon of repentance, here is now the sermon of complete and utter grace and blessing.  The reign of heaven belongs to those who have no spiritual resources of their own, it belongs to the lost, to the sinners, to you and me.  And Jesus calls you “blessed.”  That really is Good News.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for Epiphany 3 – Matthew 4:12-25

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

 

John is arrested.  His ministry was ended and Jesus’ ministry began.  And Jesus withdrew up into Galilee and began to preach.

Matthew ties this to the prophesy in Isaiah.  The land around Galilee was the land through which the conquering Assyrian army had marched, would later see a “great light.” Jesus, the light of the world (Jn 8:12), dispelled the darkness in which these people had walked.

 

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Notice what Jesus did not begin to preach.  Jesus did not begin to preach, “Learn how to live your best life now.” He did not preach, “Live a life of purpose.” He did not preach a secret knowledge of God or universal power, or wealth or prosperity or health or better relationships.

Jesus did not deliver the seven or twelve or 21 steps to a better life with God.  Jesus did not preach, “I want you to accept me into your heart” or “I want you to give me your heart.”  Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

We don’t outgrow this message.  Repentance is the sum total of the Christian message.  It is not the first step on the road to a Christian life; it is the whole road.  We will walk a road of repentance, journeying on together as people of repentance, as a community of repentant people.  We will not stop repenting until we get to heaven.

As you can see, this is a difficult message to preach because it is a difficult message to hear.  Our Lutheran Confessions state it this way, “The entire notion that a person is righteous is mere hypocrisy before God.  We must acknowledge that our heart is, by nature, destitute of fear, love, and confidence in God.” (Ap II 33)  So that means everything in us, everything around us runs against this message.  We much prefer the message that “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” or that the message of God is simply His love and that God loves us just the way we are.  But when Jesus began to preach he continued the ministry of John.  Matthew records back in chapter 3 that when John was preaching he said these exact words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  John was preaching to all Israel.  A call to repentance is a call for a radical transformation of the entire person, a fundamental turnabout.  To repent meant to be converted from unbelief to faith.

And yet, I am preaching to the believers, to the converted, to the baptized.  So how can I preach “Repent!”?   And lest we think this is something we do, we should note the prophet Jeremiah who tells us that the work of repentance is God’s work, not ours.  It is a work that begins and ends in God.  “I have heard Ephraim grieving,

‘You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined,

like an untrained calf;

bring me back that I may be restored,

for you are the LORD my God.

Resisting the discipline of bearing a yoke.  bring me backrestored.  This Hebrew verb is repeated, which frequently denotes a turning back to the Lord in repentance.  Jeremiah delivers God’s word to Israel in chapter 3, “Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say,

“ ‘Return, faithless Israel,

declares the Lord.

I will not look on you in anger,

for I am merciful,

declares the Lord;

I will not be angry forever.

 

And again in verse 14, “     Return, O faithless children,

declares the Lord;

for I am your master;

I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,

and I will bring you to Zion.”

 

And again in verse 22, “Return, O faithless sons;

I will heal your faithlessness.”

“Behold, we come to you,

for you are the Lord our God.”

 

Return, return, return.  Now disciplined and ashamed, they pray to the Lord that they be restored to fellowship with Him.  “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Restoration, whether physical or spiritual, is possible only if the Lord brings it about.

No, we believe and confess what we have learned from the Scriptures and what is contained in the catechism, that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord or come to Him, but it is the Holy Spirit who has called us by the Gospel, enlivened us with His gifts and sanctified and kept us in the true faith.”  We call this work of repentance, completely and solely God’s own work.  And that’s we state it so clearly in our Lutheran Confessions, “The entire notion that a person is righteous is mere hypocrisy before God.  We must acknowledge that our heart is, by nature, destitute of fear, love, and confidence in God.” (Ap II 33)

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  This is why we talk like we do.  Our Lutheran Confessions echo the Scriptures in clear words.  From the Formula of Concord we read, “Our election to eternal life is founded not on our godliness or virtue, but on Christ’s merit alone and His Father’s gracious will.… When His children depart from obedience and stumble, He has called them to repentance again through the Word, and the Holy Spirit wants by the Word to be effective in them for conversion. When they turn to Him [Jeremiah 31:18–19] again in true repentance by a right faith, He will always show His old paternal heart to all who tremble at His Word and from their heart turn again to Him” (FC SD XI 75).

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Let us, then, hear this call to repentance.  Let us submit ourselves to God, and confess to him every sin.  And when we remember our offences, let us truly lament the things we’ve done, and blush on account of our disgrace and let us not speak of them as the good old days, or even as something we’ve overcome as if we could have overcome them ourselves.  Let what we say about our sins be more along the lines of letting others know how we did not know God and how God rescued us from our sins.

This is the example of our forefathers in the faith, of Andrew and Peter and James and John.  Jesus is no rabbi.  The rabbis waited for students to choose them.  Jesus calls His own disciples.  You too, are to hear Jesus’ message.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

This is the call of Jesus.  He has called you and He is calling you even now.  He is calling you to follow Him.  He is calling you to call others.  He is not waiting for others to seek him out, He is calling.  He is calling even today.  Follow him.

Follow the one who came bringing with him the kingdom of heaven.  Follow the one who came “healing every disease and affliction.”  Follow Him who worked miracles like calming the storm and walking on water and feeding the five thousand.  These healings and these miracles prove that Jesus is the one God sent, Jesus is God’s servant.  Follow the one God sent.  Follow the one who teaches you the truth.  Follow the one who proclaims the truths of heaven.  Follow the one who preaches the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Follow the One who brings the reign of God close by.  Follow the One who ushered in God’s reign and gave a foretaste of our final deliverance from disease and death.  Follow the One who opened God’s kingdom for all people, not just a few, Jew and Gentile, wealthy and poor, men and women, and children.

Put away your pride.  Put away your self-righteousness.  They block the work of the Holy Spirit. Hear the word of the Lord.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Only after the Law has stripped away all pretense of our personal merit can we come to know the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  Follow him.  Enter the Kingdom as helpless children born anew by water and the Spirit.

Only Jesus, crucified for the sins of the world and raised again for the external application of righteousness onto us sinners, can create the Kingdom that leads to eternal life. The kingdom of heaven is anchored in the cross of Christ and has now become real in the here and now through the proclamation of God’s Word.  Follow Him who will come again in glory.

Follow Him who comes to rescue you from your sins.  Amen.

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Sermon for Epiphany 2 – John 1:29-42a

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon is the Gospel reading for today, from John chapter one, specifically, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

As we heard back on Christmas Day, John was the one who came before Jesus, whose birth was miraculous but of another sort, more like that of Isaac born to Abraham and Sarah.  Conceived six months before Jesus, he leaped in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when he heard the voice of the mother of her Lord and his Lord.  John the Evangelist tells us that John the Baptist  “came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” (Jn 1:7-8)  Like Jesus who came after him he had to contend with the Jewish leaders about his prophethood.  He said, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”  24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  (Jn. 1:20-28).  And then our text.  “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

This is one of those short, very clear sermons in the Scriptures.  This is what we should think about Jesus, God’s anointed One.  Just imagine all those people going out into the wilderness to see this prophet they had hear about to hear what he had to say.  Hundreds of people moved to repent of their sins and be baptized.  Who knows how large a crowd was there when Jesus has arrived to be baptized as we heard last week?  This time there were enough folks there for John to point them to the One he had baptized and on whom he has seen the Holy Spirit descend like a dove and call him, “the Lamb of God.”  Most of the folks to had come out to hear John were devout Jews and were earnestly seeking the revelation of the Lord’s Christ.  There was this expectation in the air that the time was at hand.  Maybe the stories were still whispered about that strange star in the sky and what those shepherds near Bethlehem had seen in the night sky some thirty years ago, or the arrival of those magi from the east with their strange news that a new king had been born.  Surely those things would have been remembered as precursors to the slaughter of the innocent children ordered by Herod shortly before he died.  And now this fellow John with his strange clothes and his Nazarene vows proclaiming in the wilderness that the time of judgment was upon us, He—the One—was coming.  John was the one of whom Isaiah prophesied, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” to prepare the way of the Lord.”  And some of them had seen the strange sight a little over a month ago when this Jesus from Nazareth was baptized and some of them, perhaps had even heard the voice from heaven, “Behold, this is my beloved Son.”  And here he was again and John was pointing to Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

And to these folks, these devout seekers of the one who was coming, the ones who were prepared by repenting and being washed in a baptism of repentance, they may have missed the full importance of this sermon.  But this they knew, all those Passover lambs slaughtered every year, they never took away sin.  Those two lambs offered daily, one in the morning and the other as the evening sacrifice, they knew were more of a show and a charade than a means of grace, than a way to God’s favor.  The sheer hypocrisy of it blunted the mind.  They were lambs to be sure but the way they were turned into such a show and display to the point that they take pride and boast in the act of the sacrifices themselves instead of the glory of God they were supposed to point to.  Here in the very actions commanded by God in the Law itself man found a way to boast of his own actions rather than in the actions of God to be a blessing and give grace and favor to His people.  At the time God should have been honored for His gifts, man found a way to push God into the background and deprive Him of His honor.  “No,” says, John, “Compare the true Lamb with the lamb which the Law of Moses commands you to butcher and eat. One is a lamb procured from shepherds. The other, however, is an entirely different Lamb; it is the Lamb of God. Because It has been ordained to bear on Its back the sins of the world. Compared with this Lamb, all the lambs you butcher in the temple, roast, and eat count for nothing.”

For the better part of a year and half now, we’ve been making our way through Leviticus on Sunday mornings.  It’s hard to explain how my faith has been strengthened by looking at the Levitical codes not because they are faith-strengthening but because Jesus came to fulfill them and embody them in a way that one simply does not understand without some close study.  I’m sorry that so many of you have simply missed that opportunity to understand more fully the content of John’s sermon here, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”  It’s more than simple sacrifice.  It’s more than a blood rite for the payment of sin.  It’s far deeper than that.  To think that over 1200 years before God sent His Son to die for the sins of all people, He would to a small group of the descendants of Abraham, give very specific laws and regulations for the preparation and death of the Passover lamb, on a particular day of the year, the Day of Atonement.  And that Jesus would come and fulfill in every way, every jot and iota of the levitical code in his life, suffering and death so show that all of it, for over 1200 years had pointed to God’s great work of redeeming the world through His Son.

That saddest of all things is that the vast majority of the people preferred the lambs of the law and preferred to live in the shadows rather than in the light revealed in the Lord’s Christ.  This happens today of course in many ways.  We prefer the manmade thing to the God given thing.  We prefer the proverbs of people that distort and twist the Word of God, rather than the clarity of the Word itself.  And so we think we need to hear God’s voice in our heart rather than God’s clear voice in the Scriptures.  If you’re listening for God’s voice in your heart, how can you know if what you’re hearing is really, truly God’s voice?  God has revealed His truth in His Word, in the Scriptures, in mouths of His holy prophets and apostles.  There is not some secret internal Word that you need to be searching for.  John’s sermon was clear.  With finger pointed at the one on whom the Holy Spirit had descended like a dove, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  And so the Word for us is outside of us today as well.

So often, we are not sure of the certainty of the forgiveness of sin we have in Christ and life with an unclear conscience.  We should hear God’s word, loudly and clearly for us but instead we prefer the ruminations of our hearts.  We think for some reason, we should feel forgiven, or we should feel like we have the assurance of salvation all the time.  Phillip Cary in his book, Good News for Anxious Christians, explains this clearly for us.  So often we’ve been told that we need to listen for what God is telling us in our hearts.  But that’s the worst place to listen for God.  Make no mistake; we should listen to our hearts, especially if we have to make decisions.  Listening to our hearts helps us to understand ourselves better, our thoughts and feelings about a given situation.  But listening to our hearts helps us to understand ourselves better, not God.  If you want to know what God says, you need to listen to God, and that means listening to the words of Scripture.  The bottom line is that God speaks to us as a person and just like you can’t listen to another person by listening to your heart, you can’t listen to God in your heart if you want to be sure it’s God speaking to you.  The Scriptures confirm this.  I know the Scriptures say “Christ dwells in our hearts.” (Eph. 3:17)  But they also direct us outside our hearts to point to what we should put our faith in.  “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17)  The word that St. Paul is talking about is not in our hearts but in the preached words of the Gospel in clear external words that we can hear with our ears and that announce the Good News of Christ to us.  Christ is in us because we find Him outside of us.

John’s sermon for us today is clear.  “Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  This is God’s Lamb. The Easter lamb is a Lamb from God, not a lamb selected from the flock.  This is the true Lamb, which takes away the sin of the people. With your other lambs, sacrificed on the Passover festival, you tried to remove your sin; but you never succeeded. In this Lamb, born of a virgin, you will. It is not a natural lamb and yet It is a lamb.” For God prescribed that it was to be a Lamb that should be sacrificed and roasted on the cross for our sins. In other respects He was a man like all other human beings; but God made Him a Lamb which should bear the sins of all the world.  “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for the Memorial Service of Gene Eggers

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

John 6:35-40

Augustana 2011

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The sermon today is the Gospel reading for today, John 6:35-40.  This is a reading that Gene himself chose, in fact, Gene chose everything for today’s service.  He chose the hymns and the readings and, as I noted in the bulletin there, he expressly wanted us to confess together Luther’s understanding of the Second Article of the Creed and we will do that shortly.  In fact, Gene had written out, even laid out his entire memorial service and given it to me and this was months ago, long before he was even sick.  This is a first for me, that someone would give me an entire service planned out like this for their funeral.  Some would probably think, “Well now, that’s just a type A personality for you.”  But I don’t think that was Gene’s motivation at all.

I think the reason that Gene went through the trouble to do all this is found in the last verse of the Gospel reading, Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  And so this is what I am sure of, that Gene wanted the service today to very clearly confess and mirror his personal confession of the Christian faith that all those who believe in Jesus Christ, even though they die, Jesus will raise them up on the last day.  This was Gene’s confession of faith, and this memorial service is the opportunity to rejoice in the faith we share with our dear brother, Gene.

Now I know I said that Gene picked everything out for the service but that’s only partly true.  I did make a few changes.  I took nothing away but I did add four things to the service.  I added the remembrance of baptism at the beginning of the service.  This is an important part of a Christian memorial service because as I mentioned in the sermon this morning, in Holy Baptism God makes a solemn promise to those He baptizes and our confidence rests on the certainty that God does not go back on His Word.  So many years ago, God called out Gene Ross Eggers and made him His own, by water and the Word and we know, that as He spoke to Gene, so He speaks to us.  I added the Nunc Dimittis and the Prayer of Commendation, again, parts of our normal funeral rite from the new hymnal because they are clear confessions of what God has done in Christ, and specifically what God had done through Christ for Gene.  I also added one other thing, the greeting that we normally use at Easter, “The Lord is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.”  Again, it’s one of those things that is now in the funeral rite that clearly confesses our hope in Christ.

Now some might question what I did and say, “Pastor, if that’s what the guy wanted, that’s what he wanted.”  And I would say, “True, but, first, I know that Gene had written this up long before he knew me or started attending here.  And I’m pretty sure that he wrote up what he did so that no pastor would mess it up and turn it into something other than what a memorial service is supposed to be.  So my rationale is that by adding what I’ve added, I’ve only turned up the volume on the faith delivered to all the saints and what was on Gene’s lips even in the days before he passed.  Secondly, many of you know that when Gene served as lector he would often have these little extra introductions before the readings.  They were always good but I never knew what he was going to say and so this is my way of sneaking a little surprise on him.”

Gene chose the text from John 6 from Jesus’ bread of life sermon.  It’s an amazing sermon from Jesus but to understand it I think I need to set it up a little for you.  The day before Jesus had fed the five thousand men and even more women and children by feeding them with five small loaves of bread and two fish out on the hills of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The crowds are amazed by what He does and they track him down the next day over in Capernaum up on the northwest shore because, come on, if you’re looking for someone to be king, this is the kind of king you want, someone you can make five loaves and two small fish feed well over five thousand people.  And Jesus chastised them for thinking this way.  He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

So they need to know if Jesus is the real deal.  They ask him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Now keep in mind this is the group that just watched well over five thousand people eat bread and fish from five loaves and two small fish.  It’s not that they suddenly have poor memories but that they don’t see what Jesus did as a sign from God.  Nevertheless Jesus says to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”  And this is where our reading starts.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

As I said, Gene was an interesting man.  I mean who else drafts up their own memorial service, right?  Now I say this not really knowing Gene all that well, because, as many of you know, Gene was not a member at Augustana for very long.  It was just over a year and a half that he and Virginia had moved to Grace Ridge in Morganton from Pinehurst, North Carolina.  And Gene caught people’s attention on the first day he was here when he walked in the doors and said to the usher that he had been looking for a Missouri Synod congregation in Hickory that had the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.  Gene was no closet Roman Catholic, he was squarely and firmly a Lutheran and grew up in the our church at a time when it was not at all common to find a Lutheran church that celebrated Holy Communion every Sunday.  But somewhere along his growth in his understanding of the faith Gene became convinced of the grace our Lord was pouring out on those who received His body and blood at his table regularly and I’m pretty sure that this reading from John had a lot to do with that.

Gene came to know the truth of God that our life in Christ is not a systems of points by which we hope to earn enough for salvation but rather that our lives are lived out in the grace of what our Lord had already achieved for us by His life, death and resurrection and what He gives to his people through the Word read and preached and through the sacraments celebrated as Christ instituted them.  If we go to church because we think we have to, what’s operating there is perhaps just the bare minimum of a living faith.  But it is a beginning because it’s here at church where the Word is regularly preached and the sacraments administered.  We’re here not so much because we have to be but because we delight in being where Jesus is.  It’s here that our Lord Jesus Chris is in the midst of His people to bless and sustain us and even correct and rebuke us but never without giving to us the forgiveness and strength we need to live the lives to which we’ve been called.

Jesus says some pretty amazing things in this sermon to the crowds in Capernaum.  When he said he was the living bread from heaven, they grumbled and said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

No doubt there are many who wonder how Jesus can give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink even as we had it this morning.  But he does so by His Word.  And so it’s here where Jesus gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink and where He comes to abide in us and us in him.  This was the content Gene’s faith.  This was why he was here week in and week out even when he was terribly sick, so sick he could barely stand, but he drove here and I’m sure it was no less than God’s holy angles who kept him and all the drivers between here and Morganton safe.  He sought the Lord where He was to be found, here, where Jesus invites  sinners to His table for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of body and soul to life everlasting.

John goes on to record what happened next after Jesus said these things.  60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

As I’ve said this was the content of Gene’s faith.  We are here today to celebrate and give thanks to God for this faith lived out in a live full of many years of blessings.  And we’re here to find that Word from God that will sustain our faith in the days and weeks ahead as we miss him and mourn his loss.  Hopefully you heard those words of eternal life today loudly and clearly, for Jesus said, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  And hopefully you can join with St. Peter and Gene and St. Paul and all of those who have gone before us in the faith and confess with them, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep watch over your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for The Baptism of our Lord

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is from the Gospel for today, Matthew’s account of the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan which we just heard read.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jesus went out to see John in order to be baptized by him in the Jordan, “in order to fulfill all righteousness,” Matthew says.  This really is the key to understanding the reason why Jesus was baptized.  Most folks will say that Jesus’ Baptism marks the beginning of His public ministry, and it does but that’s about like saying Jesus’ crucifixion marks the end of His public ministry.  That’s true, but it’s about the least important thing you could say about Jesus crucifixion.  In the Baptism of Jesus we begin to see God as He wants us to see Him.  We see our God not as the Most Holy One, unapproachable on a high mountain enshrouded in cloud and fire but rather as One who sent His own Son not only into human flesh, to be in every way like us, but as One Who sent His Son not only to die for the sins of the Israelites but to die for the sins of all people and who intended Him to be Baptized in the same filthy water as all sinners seeking repentance.  The righteousness of God is His unfolding plan to make people right with Him through the perfect obedience, suffering and death of His Son Jesus.  And so the first thing Jesus must do, is be baptized, “in order to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus was baptized by John in a baptism of repentance and by being baptized as a sinner, He identifies Himself as one under the Law and cursed by it.  I want to make one thing perfectly clear this morning:  Jesus never sinned.  Jesus never failed to obey His heavenly Father in any way.  Jesus never broke a single one of God’s commandments.  Although He was tempted in every way, He did not fall in temptation to sin.  I want to make that perfectly clear, okay?  And yet, in that baptism by John in the Jordan, God the Father reckoned Him a sinner.  He put the debts of all sinners’ accounts on Jesus’ account.  We can look at it this way, that all those sinners that John had been baptizing and even through history and up until now, went down into that water filthy dirty from sin and came out clean righteous in God’s sight and Jesus went down into that water pure and perfect and came up covered in the muck and slime of all our sin.  These sins, the sins of all people He began to carry throughout the 3 years of His public ministry until He was crucified and died because of our sin.  Just as God reckoned Christ’s righteousness to us, so in Baptism, He reckoned our sinfulness to His Christ.  So Jesus was baptized by John in a baptism of repentance and by being baptized as a sinner, He identifies Himself as one under the Law and cursed by it in order to pay the price for sin.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul understands Jesus’ Baptism better than anyone and expounds on it so that we would have the truth and the comfort of what Jesus accomplished for us in Baptism.  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  And so this is what we turn to at funerals and memorial services for our loved ones.  This is where we turn, to Holy Baptism, to our baptism and to Jesus’ baptism.  Baptism is not a community birth ritual or a naming ceremony.  It is those things but again that’s like saying the Super Bowl is a football game.  It’s about the least thing you could say about it.  Baptism is so much more.  You see, we have a tremendous problem: Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago in a land 8,000 miles away.  We weren’t there.  We did not witness it.  We did not participate in it in any conventional way except by Holy Baptism.  Baptism is our link to Jesus’ cross across the vast gaps of time and space.  Because in Baptism we were drowned and died, just like the wicked in the Flood drowned and died, so we drowned and died in baptism.  It always confounds me a little bit that parents are so happy to bring their children to the font; I’m convinced they are not processing in any way the present meaning of Baptism: we’re about to drown your kid here.  When drown and die in Holy Baptism we are united with Christ in His death, connected to the grace of Christ that poured out from His cross.  Paul puts it like this, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin.”  In Holy Baptism we die with Jesus.  And this then is our hope, maybe this is what the parents are thinking of at the font, that “if we have been united with him in a death like his we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  Because by faithful bringing their little one to the font of God’s grace they know that their child will be raised from the grave just as Christ was resurrected.  Resurrection to eternal life is the promise won by Christ Himself for all people and delivered in Holy Baptism.  Resurrection is our sure hope for Gene Eggers as we remember this afternoon all the gifts that God worked in his life but especially that he was baptized.  Resurrection is the sure hope we share with our dear sister in Christ, Nellie Evans whose husband’s funeral is today as well.  Resurrection to eternal life is what Jesus accomplished for us at His baptism to fulfill all righteousness, a link for us to His cross through which we obtain all the heavenly treasures Christ won for us there, forgiveness of all sins, salvation and eternal life.

And yet this is not how we act or how we talk.  We prefer the language of “faith.”  Somebody once asked Doctor Luther what he would do if he died and got to the pearly gates but St. Peter wouldn’t let him in.  I think the vast majority of Christians today and, sadly, even the vast majority of Lutheran Christians would say, “Well, I have faith.”  That’s what’s said at funerals.  We lift up the person who died.  We say this person had strong faith.  We’ll that’s great but strong faith doesn’t get you into heaven only perfect faith does and you only get that from Jesus.  Luther’s response to that question will shock some of you.  He said, that he would stand outside and yell that St. Peter would have to let him in because, he said, “I am baptized.”  Luther understood clearly what Paul was saying in Romans 6 today.  “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”  So let us put to death this language of “faith” because it only points us back to ourselves and either to our own bottomless pit of faults or to our façade of self-righteousness.  Let us instead speak the language of God in action to save us, of gifts received, of forgiveness of sins through Christ alone delivered to us in Holy Baptism.

And when 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; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  As the voice from heaven once spoke to declare Jesus to be the beloved Son, so the voice from heaven today speaks to declare you forgiven of all your sins, to deliver to you very body and blood of Christ given and shed for your salvation, and to call you blessed and beloved in the countenance of God.  This then is the truth for Gene and for Jim and for all Christians through Holy Baptism.  God has spoken.  He does not go back on His Word.  You are His beloved; he has declared it so.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep watch over your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Sermon for Epiphany

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2011

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this evening is from the Gospel for today, Matthew chapter 2, the visit of the Magi.

Back on the last Sunday of Advent we heard about Joseph’s dream.  Joseph was getting ready to divorce his betrothed Mary because she was with child.  We learned then just how unaware Joseph was concerning the plan of God.  The take away for us from that whole story was that apart from God’s interruption and revelation, human beings will never know or believe in God’s ways of working through His Christ, the Son of David and Son of God.  Well, if that was our take away then, we get a second helping tonight because the same themes are here if not more so.  Here we have two kings as well as some unexpected believers.  In tonight’s Gospel we learn of our ignorance of God’s true plan, apart from His revelation and we learn of what we think are our normal expectations of God.

Pay attention!  Matthew says, he uses the word “behold” to do it, but here Matthew clearly points out two very important happenings.  Look here, Magi from the east appear in Jerusalem inquiring about newly born King of the Jews.  Look at the contrasts here between Herod and the Magi.  Herod is King of the Jews.  If there is a new Jewish King born, he should know about it; it should be his son.  And even if God was doing something in the unique way God often does and is providing a king via another house, Herod should have known about that and if he was truly a believer and understood his role as under-king, if you will, then he should be know about the king.  But Herod doesn’t know about the king.  Not just because he is jealous tyrant, this guy gives the word tyrant a bad name, but because he is a false king, an unbelieving king, the kind of king Israel had in her later days just before the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon.  He doesn’t even see the star that is plainly in the sky for anyone to see.  He doesn’t have his royal viziers on guard watching for signs like these.  The contrasts are between knowledge and ignorance, faith and unbelief, truth and hypocrisy.  But the difference between the two kings is even greater.

Herod governs by fear, deceit and murder.  We read that all Jerusalem was troubled along with Herod.  This was not because most people in Jerusalem would have been sorry to see Herod replaced or because they didn’t want to see the coming of the King Messiah, but because they knew all too well that any question like “Where is he who is born King of the Jews?” would only result in more cruelty from the despot Herod.

You’ve heard be go on about Herod.  The last time I did, though it was about another Herod, Herod Antipas, the one who had John beheaded.  The Herod I’m talking about tonight is the source of that evil, Herod the Great, Herod Antipas’ father.  Herod was a puppet king, named by the Roman Senate in 40 BC.  By 37 BC, he had crushed, with the help of Roman forces, all opposition to his rule.  Herod loved power, inflicted heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many Jews considered him an illegitimate king.  In his last years he suffered from a mental disease that compounded his paranoia and he was often reduced to fits of murderous rage killing close friends, other family members and even his own wife Mariamne and at least two of his sons.

Contrast Herod with the “one who has been born King of the Jews.”  He is unknown.  He has no great palace.  He is weak.  He needs protection and the only protection He has is a little Jewish girl for a mom and a nice step-father, Joseph.  He is to be found not in great Jerusalem, but in lowly Bethlehem.  It looks like from all angles powerful Herod the Great is in charge.

But wait, Look! “the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.”  (v. 9)  God intervenes.  Just as he intervened in Joseph’s plan, God in intervenes here and guides the Magi to the true King of the Jews.  After they greet the new king and offer appropriately royal gifts in an act of obeisance, they apparently intend to return to Herod and report to him what they have seen.  But God intervenes again and warns them in a dream not to return and so, perhaps even afraid for their own lives, they depart by another way to their own country.  Just as God had intervened with unknowing Joseph, so now God intervenes so that neither the naiveté of the Magi nor the murderous plans of Herod will threaten His plan to save all people, both Jew and Gentile through Mary’s child, the true King of the Jews.

I just want to do one more thing tonight and that is expand a little bit on this idea of holy ignorance.  Now what do I mean by that?  I mean that so often we are far more like Joseph and the Magi, and for that matter the disciples most of the time, than we are like knowing believers.  Joseph was a righteous man.  The Magi came from a long way away to pay homage to this king of the Jews, Matthew actually uses the word, “worship.”  They had the best of intentions and were still about to deliver this new king into the hands of a murderous tyrant if it were not for the intervention of God.  I saw we are often like that because I think that we often act in ignorance, even holy ignorance, if you will, without knowing the full plan of God.  And so we make choices, but they turn out to be the wrong choices because we refuse to listen to the clear Word of God.  Like Joseph and the Magi we can be doing the exact wrong thing for all the “holiest” reasons and without the clear word of God to correct us we would fall into error and sin.  How many times have we come to church not even expecting to hear God’s Word but rather we come out of habit, perhaps more ready to see friends and to be around the people we know?  If we did hear God’s Word, when was the last time we said to friend, “You know, the pastor said something interesting in the sermon the other day,” or “There was this line in one of the readings that struck me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since”?  When was the last time we were truly moved to change something, anything in our lives, because the clear Word of God was compelled it?  Perhaps it’s not to see that movie or to listen to that music or perhaps even to hang out with that friend anymore because those are simply not godly situations and you are led to sin and deny your true King.  Or maybe it’s in our relationships where we refuse to forgive another even when it is clear that God has forgiven us our sins and through that forgiveness and freedom we are free to no longer hold on to old hurts and slights, we are free to give up even our perceived right to get even.  This can affect us even in churchly things.  How many of us worship old ways without even knowing where those ways came from and how old they are or without even testing them against the clear witness of God’s Word?  It’s great that we are a traditional congregation, but we are traditional not because that makes us better than other churches, nor because there is a certain righteousness in the traditions themselves.  We are traditional only because those traditions point clearly to Jesus in ways better than some of modern ways muddle the message and draw us away from the Lord and back into ourselves.  Like Joseph and the Magi we can be doing the exact wrong thing for all the “holiest” reasons and without the clear word of God to correct us we would fall into error and sin.

And so Epiphany is about a number of things but it is clearly about the clear word of God by which God intervenes in our lives to correct us and without which we would fall into error and sin.  Your King came into this world to suffer under the worst of the worst, under the likes of the Herods, and the Caiaphuses, and the Pontius Pilates of this world so that you might hear God’s Word clearly like Joseph and the Magi be free to serve your King in His kingdom in whatever capacity He has asked you to serve, but always as a righteous servant like Joseph and always like worshipful servants like the Magi.  Behold, your king has been born, the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2010

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for sermon this morning is the Gospel for today, Luke 2.

In this brief story we have the first record words of our Lord.  “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Here He speaks about who He is and what He must do.

It seems that it was customary, family tradition for Jesus’ and Mary and Joseph to man the annual trek down from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover.  Luke mentions Jerusalem three times to make sure you know that Jesus’s destiny even as a 12 year-old boy is Jerusalem.  According to Jewish Law, all Israelite men were expected to travel to Jerusalem for Passover.  From Dt. 16, we hear the Lord command, “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.”  (Dt 16:16)  The Passover celebration commemorated the greatest redemptive event in the history of Israel when God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  The Ten plague that finally convinced pharaoh to let Israel go was the death of all the first born of the Egyptians.  But the angel of death had passed over the firstborn of the Israelites because the blood of a lamb on the lintel and doorposts of their homes.  The fact that Jesus and Mary both go with Joseph is a testament to how pious a family they were.

The set up to the story is that Jesus then remains in Jerusalem at the temple, actually, while his family being the journey home.  When the boy Jesus decides to remain in Jerusalem, the city of God’s presence, we are to understand that God has come home to the place where he will accomplish salvation.  The thing that always seems to shock us today is that Mary and Joseph had traveled a day’s journey without realizing that Jesus was not with the group.  Professor Arndt, in the old Concordia Commentary explains this.

The traveling to and from the great festivals in Jerusalem was done by those living at a distance in companies or caravans.  Neighbors, friends, and relatives formed groups whose members could furnish assistance to one another in cases of illness or attacks by highwaymen.  Naturally is was not necessary for them to travel in anything resembling a military formation.  Some of the group would walk more leisurely than others.  In this instance, the parents of Jesus, probably with a few special friends, traveled alone, knowing that at the meeting place agreed on as resting place for the night they would find their companions.”  (Arndt, Luke, 100-101.)  And by companions, I think he meant their son, Jesus.  And when they didn’t find Him, they returned to Jerusalem for diligent and anxious searching.

“After three days they found him.”  What we are missing in the otherwise great translation of the ESV here is the key time reference, the old, “and it came to pass.”  It’s there in the Greek and without it, we might miss something.  But we know that when Luke uses it, something big is taking place.  Between, the “and it came to pass” and the reference of “after three days,” we should notice that we are staring a foreshadowing of eschatological importance here.  Jesus was missing not one, not two, not four, but three days.  But there are two more parallels.  Jesus asks his parents, ““Why were you looking for me?” and Jesus’ question to the women on Easter morning, “why do you seek the living among the dead?”  Mary’s response is to “treasure up all these things in her heart” and the women at the tomb “remembered his words.”

What Simeon had prophesied when Jesus was 8 days old , Jesus now declares clearly at age twelve: he is God’s Son and his destiny is Jerusalem.  Old Simeon prophesied that Mary’s soul would be pierced through and here she and Joseph are looking for Jesus in great distress.  Actually the translation has been softened a bit.  The word is anguish.   Luke is the only gospel writer who uses this word and it needs to be translated “anguish” as it is in other places in Luke. Anguish has more pain than the even greatly distressed.  But the temple is the place where he must be.  Dr. Just concludes here that “Jesus’ first words are a full Christology that speak to his person, the son of God, and his work, the necessity of his being in Jerusalem, where he will return as the Passover Lamb.

Jerusalem is the city in which the climax of God’s plan of salvation is played out.  It’s only in Luke’s Gospel where we overheard the conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah on the Transfiguration Mount about Jesus’ “exodus, which he was going to fulfill in Jerusalem.” (9:31)  At the end of Jesus ministry in Galilee, only Luke records this pivotal statement, “as the days of his being taken up were being fulfilled, and he set his face in order to journey to Jerusalem.” (9:51)  Luke records that when Jesus finally arrives in Jerusalem, he weeps over her (19:41-44).  In the Emmaus story, which only Luke records for us, there is an instant replay where the disciples have to return to Jerusalem to see the other disciples.  If we see Luke and Acts as books one and two, then we see the newly established church grow quickly from its central point in Jerusalem.  Luke helps us to see how central Jerusalem is for God to fulfill his plan of salvation, in fact not just Jerusalem but the temple, specifically.  If you want just a little bit more, here.  Luke only mentions two Passovers in his Gospel, this one here, and the one during which Jesus dies on the cross.

So here Jesus is at 12 years-old in the temple at Jerusalem where he must be, in his Father’s house, at Passover.  And Mary finally finds him and says to him, “Your father and I have been looking for you.”  Jesus says back to her, ““Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  These are Jesus first recorded words.  They clearly state that God is His father.

Mary and Joseph did not understand.  Jesus’ first words are not understood.  This is a theme that will occur for the rest of His life.  In everything that turned out to be “Christmas” at your house, are you sure you heard the most important thing?  Are these first words of Jesus clear for you?  Do you know without a doubt who Jesus says He is?  Do you know what it was He came to do?  Simeon also predicted that Jesus was appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.”  Mary his mother and Joseph his guardian and step-father were the first to stumble over the cross.  How often and how hard we stumble.  What Mary and Joseph did not understand was that in these first words, “I must be in my Father’s house,” Jesus was already alluding to this future passion and Resurrection in the Holy City of God.

And so the Christmas story ends with Jesus living in the proper order of earthly relationships, being obedient to his parents and in Nazareth, growing in wisdom and stature and grace before God and people.  Jesus is who the angel Gabriel said He would be, Immanuel, God with us, come to save us from our sin.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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