Do Not Be Afraid

Our sin puts us on the ground with our noses in the dirt. “Depart from me!” we say to God. The sinner cannot stand in the presence of the living God. We may think it would be different for us, but time and time again the seemingly strong become weak in the presence of God Almighty: Adam, Isaiah, Peter, John, etc. It is, after all, our own sin that has destroyed us. But God will not let his crown be lost to our own works and wickedness. He sends Jesus to redeem us. Jesus redeems us by paying in blood. In the first chapter of Revelation, John is knelt down before Jesus as a dead man. This is the same God that John reclined with on Maundy Thursday. It is the disciple that believed at the tomb. Yet he kneels with his face to the ground. It matters not who he is. It takes Jesus to touch him (like on the mountain of transfiguration) and help him realize what has happened. Jesus says to him and he says to you, “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last; I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen.” Like on Easter day, “Peace be with you!” Death has been defeated. Death no longer has mastery over Christ and therefore no mastery over John or you either. You will live like Jesus for evermore. Wow. The firstborn of the dead has made the weak strong for evermore. Alleluia!

By Matthias Gerung – Ottheinrich-Bibel, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Public Domain

Faith is Bold

The prayers of God’s saints are never a bother to him. It doesn’t matter the immensity or the complexity or the simplicity. Don’t try to protect God from your feelings. Don’t act shy and self-conscious. Don’t think yourself humble or pious. Coming to God in prayer is intimate. To hold back is to say you don’t trust him or that he doesn’t care for you. If what you want is a good parking spot or to win the game or even your husband back from the dead, but you won’t ask God for it, it means that you think He will laugh at you or that he doesn’t care about you or will think your request stupid. Either that, or you don’t think He has the power to give it. God desires you to open your heart to Him in prayer, to lay yourself vulnerable, to reach out and touch his garment, to kneel before him and ask. Why won’t you trust Him? Repent. Do not be afraid. He loves you. He loves your prayers. Faith is bold.

Peace be with you

Part of being a sinner is guilt and terror over our sin. The disciples had fled from Jesus when they had promised to die with him. They were locked in an upper room for fear of the Jews. Then the unthinkable happens. Jesus walks through the locked doors and stands in their midst. The same shock and awe manifested itself in Joseph’s brothers when they realized their brother was alive and in power over them. We feel the pain of our sin in our heart (the BIG Lutheran word for that is contrition). The Law shows us our sin and we feel it in our heart. We feel this terror striking the conscience through the knowledge of sin. Jesus comes into the upper room and he comes to you, too. He comes not to strike terror, but to take your terror away. He strips the guilt from you and leaves you with peace. “Peace be with you!” Don’t be afraid. So you, too, lay your sins before the One who has died and rose again to conquer death and the devil. Confess these heavy sins and let Jesus take them to his cross, and you will have his peace. You know, he doesn’t give peace like the world gives. His peace lasts forever.

We will be changed

Mortality can now take on immortality in the victory of Jesus. We who were once under the curse of Adam, now have eternal life because Jesus has won the victory for us. Death is swallowed up in this victory and the sting that so many feel is taken away. Death is just a sleep for us and we mourn with hope…knowing that we will be transformed to be like Jesus and we will live with him forever. So we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus for in it we live with him forever.

And He Slept

Jesus kept the Law perfectly. It started on the 8th day after his birth and it continues even after his crucifixion. He rests on the Sabbath. He keeps the Law for you and me. He keeps it perfectly. He offers a perfect sacrifice to His Father and takes away the sin of the whole world. Now the wrath of God has been stilled. Now we are called children of God. Now we are the Father’s delight. He sleeps in the belly of the Earth. He will awaken. He is the Lord of Life and he gives his life to you.

With His Stripes We Are Healed

The servant of the Lord has acted wisely. He has taken on the sin of the world in order that he would free the world of sin and death and the power of the devil. It was the right time, the perfect time, that God sent forth his Son to the cross to die, to redeem you, and to restore life to humanity. To hang on a tree is a curse, but Jesus takes this on that he might become lowly and you would be exalted. So he bore our sorrows and griefs. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for us. For our transgressions, he was wounded and crushed. God dies that the reign of sin would be over. The great reversal, the great exchange has taken place. You were low and Jesus exalted, but for your sake he becomes the lowest so that you would be raised up. How great is this love?! You have been showered in the blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Now they call you children of God.

Folly to those that are perishing

The word of the cross is just plain dumb to the world. In fact, the three great enemies of our God (the devil, the world, and our sinful nature) do all that they can to show off how dumb, how stupid, the cross is. It is pretty phenomenal. Human wisdom doesn’t create a god that becomes part of his own creation in order that he would be killed by it to save it. However, the true God does just this and thus He made foolish the wisdom of this world. It pleases our God to come down to us as one of us to save us. It pleases him to save us by preaching. So faith comes by hearing. I’ve always found this interesting. It doesn’t come by reading or doing, but instead, God sends preachers so that you may hear his Word and feel it with the water. That you would taste it in the bread and wine and see that the Lord has saved you and taken away your sins. The Word of the Cross is the power of God for us…for by it he saves us!

Gaudete (Matthew 11:2-11)

A voice cries out to you.  Can you hear it?  No longer is it coming from the wilderness, but it still has the same purpose…a voice carrying the Word of God to your ears.  John the Baptizer is now behind Herod’s bars in prison.  Being deprived of his beloved Jordan river and his locusts do not put an end to his vocation.  Advent is not over and his God given purpose has not come to an end even as Herod has locked him up behind bars.  He will not rest until the path is straight.  He will not stop until the way is prepared.  And his tool, his weapon, is not stopped by handcuffs and prison food.  Can you hear it?

The Baptizer continues to decrease, but the Lord continues to open his lips and through his mouth the Lord Christ continues to increase.  The world insists on clinging to false prophets and Satan’s deceptions – idols that cannot guarantee anything.  The Lord knows that you have succumbed to the work of the Devil and his demons.  He knows that you don’t believe how deep and powerful his deceptions are.  The heavenly Father knows that you make more friends and influence more people with fine clothes and king’s palaces.  Gold and silver will turn more heads but it is the Word of God that will carry you out of eternal damnation.  Advent is not over, you are not done waiting for the LORD to judge the living and the dead.  And therefore the voice will not end.  Can you hear it?

Do the conveniences of life impress you?  Do the worries of earthly incidentals pull you away from the love of God with your whole heart and soul and mind?  What about loving your neighbors as yourself?  All of your neighbors…your brothers and sisters in Christ, every last one of them?  Do you love them as yourself?  I know I don’t.  I would never treat myself the way I have treated others.  You all love yourselves.  But Satan has tricked you into using your voice, your thoughts, and your actions to show hate instead of love.  To show a connection to condemnation rather than eternal life under the heavenly Father who is only LOVE.  But this earth and its gold and silver – its iron bars, and even a word given by a king to execute will not silence the Word of God.

Repent!  The Kingdom of God is near!  Repent and listen…can you hear the voice?  The eternal Son of God has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person…he has purchased and won you from all your sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.  He did not use gold or silver, but his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death he lifted you out of condemnation and eternal damnation.  It is the voice of God…the Word that became flesh and dwells among you.  God spoke and it happened.  The Father opened his lips and Christ – who filled his mouth – came forth for you to hear, to see, to feel, and to taste.  God, who’s Word formed you, fills you.  He desires that nothing have your attention but himself.  And so your ears are filled with the preached Word of forgiveness, while you feel his Word mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified and the coolness of that heavenly water runs down your cheeks…and your same tongue that sings his praise with hymns and psalms tastes your salvation.  It forms you and completes you.

God made you and all creatures.  His Word performed the work.  It came with a purpose and it did not leave without accomplishing what it came to do.  Herod’s ax was laid at the root of John’s tree but that ax did not silence God’s Word.  Can you hear the voice?  The voice is crying out to you!  It defends you from all danger and guards and protects you from all evil.  It calls you with Good News…and that Good News breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and your sinful nature.

Combined with water it works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe…certainly it is not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water that does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.  There in the font, the voice of God has made you his child.  He has given you Christ’s crucifixion: and through Christ you are no longer blind.  You who were lame and dependent upon the world’s crutches now walk again…and you are made whole.  No longer dead, but raised…Blessed are you!

The Word of God continues to come to you to deliver absolution, that is, forgiveness, from your pastor as from God himself.  Can you hear the voice?  It is calling for you.  The Holy Spirit brings it here to you.  To the body of Christ.  Advent is not over and you continue to wait for the Christ to come to judge the world…but until that time, nothing will silence the voice of God.  It prepares you for the way of the LORD…it makes your way straight – mountains low and valleys high.

Even from prison, John pointed all people away from himself, away from the earth and their worldly fortunes and filled them with the heavenly riches of Christ’s body and blood.  Christ is the one that has come for you!  His voice is crying out to you and he gives his Word to you.  From pastors and preachers his Word comes to you to make your way straight and to lead you from the valley to the Mountain – for on Mount Calvary, Christ shed his blood to forgive you and release you from the Devil.

His Word of forgiveness endures forever…and forever you have the assurance of your baptism: where Word and water have made you heirs to the Heavenly Kingdom.  Children of God traveling through this advent…waiting for the judgment.  The true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ will sustain you.  God’s voice, his Word combined to bread and wine, gives you the very thing that forgave you in the first place…the body and blood of God.  Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Expect no one else…you are renewed, prepared, and forgiven!  Can you hear the voice?  It speaks here to you!

In the Name of +Jesus. Amen.

Midweek Advent One

The time is at hand for you to be ready. No more sleeping. Your salvation is nearer to you than when you first believed. Be active and watchful! Saint Paul calls us forth out of our slumbers, out of the darkness of sin into the marvelous light of Jesus. The readings for the end of the church year prepared you for the readings of Advent. The end harkens to the beginning. And the beginning, our Advent together (this Advent), harkens us to the Cross and the work of Jesus in the midst of us.

Wake, awake, the time has come for you to be serious. For you to be about the work you have been given to do. The watchmen on the heights are crying… the Bridegroom is at hand…and the enemy is on the prowl. The night is far gone, and yet we pretend that it is still upon us. The work is at hand and yet we pretend that we can lollygag around and not be concerned for our spiritual situation or those of our neighbors and enemies, our family and friends. We act like we know when the Master of the house will return. We act like we have time to clean up our own messes or accumulate enough to satisfy our debts with God. But we don’t know the time or the hour.

But we do know the enemy prowls around like a hungry lion, looking for someone to devour. His work is serious. The devil knows that you are a tasty meal, ripe for the kill. In fact, he has marked you with a target clearly seen by all your enemies and they want to take you down. The problem is that you can’t see all them… and the ones you can see, the ones you interact with, are good at deception. But if we could see all the darts, daggers, swords, guns, and evil things pointed at us, we would desire the sure and ready Sword of the Word of God and his Sacraments every time it was offered, everyday, every hour, every minute.

Repent, your salvation is at hand. Do not worry. Cast your anxiety on the Lord himself, for he cares for you every hour and every minute. Don’t worry about the heaviness of your eyelids…or the devil and his accomplices. He has been judged and the deed is done. He may show his fangs, but they will not be able to destroy you. He may scowl fierce as he will, but he will not devour you. It is the Lord Jesus that has come for you. He cares for you this way: he brings the light of heaven into the darkness of sin and death. He unravels death and steals away its sting, the grave is now just a bedroom and death a sleep. And as for you, Jesus has clothed you in the righteousness of heaven. You are wrapped in the clothing of Christ. You’re being cleansed in the blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

The armor of light has been prepared for you. You have been dressed by the Son of God himself with protection for the fight. Know this: it is a fight. The devil is real; his minions are all around you. The world hates you. Your old Adam is fighting to live every day of your life. The situation is serious. The enemies are more real than anything you have ever met. But you have a Lord and Savior that is far more strong that any devil or demon. He has washed you in his blood, named you with the name that is above every name, vested you with heavenly armor, and marches with you on the plain. He feeds you with food fit for angels and saints triumphant; binds up your hurts and patches your wounds with the oil of heaven.

You have this promise: The cross of Jesus has undone Satan and destroyed your sins. The Law and all your enemies can no longer accuse you. Every provision has been made for you. You will not fight alone and you will not lose. God is with you in your sorrow and this Jesus will not forsake you in your pain. The hour is here. Come, feast with the Lord, let him feed you with his body and blood again. Partake of your salvation, your sins are forgiven and God has made you citizens of the light… the Light of the World.

The Feast of Saint Matthew

We would require sacrifice. Our heart’s desire is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We are very good at seeking out vengeance. And we’re willing to be a Matthew, a tax collector, a cheat, a liar, or a thief as long as we get a fat wallet or can stick it to the man. It’s the heart of each of us that is the problem.

“Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

And we are the ones that complain about a God that includes the less fortunate, the poor, the ones that dress differently than us, the ones that talk differently than us, the ones that we don’t like. And yet it is everyone of us that have fallen short of God’s desire. His image shattered and his likeness lost on a people that thrive on boasting, pride, covetousness, and all those things. We are a sick people.

Repent.

It won’t get any better for you on your own. You need a doctor. Rejoice with me, God has sent one to you and to me. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, if there were such a one. He did not come to yuck it up with the experts on prayer and keeping the law. Rather, he came to the sick… to you and to me. He comes to rip from your chest the heart that causes all your evil desires. He comes to give you a new heart, a right spirit. And with that clean heart, then he eats with you, rejoices with you, prepares you for the battle to come, and goes out into it with you.

He comes to the most unlikely—to the ones that don’t deserve it and makes us worthy, he comes to the sick to call us righteous. That he did at your baptism as he clothed you in the blood that he shed on the cross. That he does today as he gives you that body and blood again for your forgiveness and life. You see, the cross is his death, but your life. When he dies, he brings and end to the reign of boasting, of death, of graves, and sin. As a sacrifice, he shows his mercy… his long suffering love. For it is showered down on you today. Love calling your righteous, holy, and forgiven.