The school children were studying Luke’s parable of the Great Banquet today. The invitation goes out to the people of God, but they have so many excuses why they can’t come. They are pretty lame excuses. They have to go look at land and check out oxen and one has a wife that keeps him from coming. So God extends the invitation to more. He goes to the lowly and common, but there is still room. He sends his servants with the invitation to go to the Gentiles. The room is grand and the room must be filled. The work of Jesus is for all to enjoy. God loves the whole world and wants everyone to turn from their sin and live. He wants all to repent and enjoy his good gifts. So, come to the wedding feast. Bring your wife and your children, too. Look at the land later and enjoy the lavish shower of love that God has given to you. In this lavish washing, he makes you children and we call him Father. Thanks be to God for his good and gracious love for us that we have been rescued by the blood of Jesus.
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A bad shepherd abandons his duty, leaves the sheep to the enemy, and saves himself when the going gets tough. A bad shepherd cares nothing for the sheep. He cares for himself. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and you are his sheep. This isn’t a compliment to you and me. Sheep are dumb. They must have a shepherd or they will wander and stray and get lost. If no one shears them, their wool will weigh them down and cause stress and pain. The Good Shepherd takes care of his sheep. He cares for them. He cares for you. When the going gets rough, he gets into it with the sheep. The wolf (that ancient serpent) attacks and the Good Shepherd gets in the way. He lays down his life so that you and I could live. Praise God that he sends his Son to be our Shepherd and Redeemer. Jesus knows his sheep. He knows you and no one can snatch you out of his hand.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” -John 1:4-5
Jesus has come into the world and he is light and life. The darkness thought it was stronger. Death thought it was invincible. They were both wrong. The darkness is broken by the light of heaven. The darkness can’t comprehend it, can’t overcome it, can’t survive. Darkness can be a powerful thing. I remember being terrified of the darkness as a child. Many of us still are. There are certain places, even to this day, that I get a bit uneasy when it’s dark. Only a small flicker from a match or a candle can change all that. The tiny flashlight on the back of your iPhone makes the powerful darkness crack. But Jesus isn’t a small flashlight. He is the light of heaven. He shines with a light unparalleled and because he has come into the world, the darkness is broken. Never can it claim us. The people that in darkness sat, a glorious light have seen. We have seen and we have heard and we have tasted that the Lord Jesus is the victor. What did he win? The battle to have you forever. Your sins are paid for in his blood. Your life is restored that you may live under God in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness. Thanks be to God who has won the victory and destroyed our enemies.
John sees those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. He can’t number them. No one can. The Lamb of God is in the midst and they have palm branches in their hand. They aren’t singing, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” No, the time for that song has finally ended for them. Now they sing the song of the feast that is above all feasts. Now they sing the song of Alleluias never ending. “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They sing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen! The thing that is accomplished that first Holy Week is celebrated to all eternity. God does save his people. He pays for them by the blood of Jesus. You have been bought back from sin and death. The power of the devil is just a joke. Jesus turns everything on its head. Everything has been reversed. Nothing is the way the world and the devil intended it. Though we sojourn here in the midst of the tribulation, we do not go at it alone. Jesus promises to be with you to the very end of the age. He will not forsake you or leave you.
The Lord God commanded the Man and the Woman to be fruitful and multiply. He uses the Man and the Woman as his instruments to continue to bring forth life. He tells us multiple times (in his Holy Word) that he forms life, that he has knit us together in our mother’s womb, and that he knows us even before we are born. When it was time to rescue the whole world and all of humanity from sin and death, our God becomes part of his own creation by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is conceived in the womb of Mary. God takes up human flesh and is worshipped even in his mother’s womb. Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother) asks, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” He wasn’t even born yet, but Mary is the mother of our Lord even then. Pregnancy is a God thing. He is at work in the lives of his people. The womb is a place set apart where God forms, shapes, knits, and creates. Our God uses means, but it is God doing the doing.
We would be told that Christians should stay out of this fight and that churches should remain silent. They say that abortion is a political issue and that churches should be silent on politics. We are convinced by God’s Word that life begins in the womb at conception. We are convinced that God is the one forming and shaping. We are convinced that God wants us to be fruitful and multiply. And we are convinced that he will sustain us as we take care of what he has given to us. But we cannot stay out and we cannot be silent. Life, no matter in the womb or out of it, is precious in the sight of our God. He is active in it and by his work on the cross has paid for it. Jesus redeems and saves by his death on the cross. The Love of God is this: he dies on the cross so that death can be undone. So let’s pray for the babies in the womb and out of it. Let’s pray for the children in our country and around the world. Let’s pray for hunger and homelessness and the drug addicted. Let’s pray for the lonely and the forsaken. Let’s pray for the suffering and the hurt. And as we are able, God sustaining us, let’s bear the burdens of our neighbor and show mercy and love to the world. God is pro-life all the way: conception to eternal life in heaven. He’s pro-life because he has sanctified it and paid for it. He is our life and now that life has no end.
Our human nature wants to enjoy all that the world has to offer. And the world has a lot to offer in the way of deception and depravity (and debauchery). So the Lord Jesus has called us to be on guard. He has called us to deny ourselves and follow him. In that following and denying, we will have a cross to carry. Crosses by definition are hard and painful. Expect the Christian life to be different from the world’s expectations. Expect the Christian life to include suffering and persecution. But nothing normal doesn’t mean its only doom and gloom. Instead, remember that Jesus has redeemed a people of God for himself. You are not alone. He calls and gathers his holy people together around his Word and Sacraments. He creates a community on purpose. Thanks be to God that we have won the victory in Jesus Christ. He is with us in our journey through this world. Jesus shed his blood to buy you back from sin, death, and the devil’s power and he has accomplished this great work. Encourage one another. Pray for your fellow Christians. Give thanks to God for your congregation. Nothing is normal and that’s okay.
The Lord meant for a mother’s womb to be a safe place. It was there that the Lord formed and shaped you. It was the Lord’s doing and you are marvelous in his eyes. He who knit you together in your mother’s womb has redeemed you by the blood of Jesus.
But the assaults of the devil and the kingdom of darkness rage and shout. The womb is a battlefield. Satan wants our blood. He wants murder and carnage. Yesterday we learned that a document was leaked from the Supreme Court of the United States of America. It showed that perhaps the court is about to overturn the evil and perverted decision it made in 1973. So the church prays. It continues to pray. It prays that the justices might be strengthened in their resolve and filled with the solace of the Holy Spirit. The church prays for the safety of our leaders and the integrity of our government.
Though the devil rage and spite, the Lord has defeated him. The cross is our comfort in the midst of battle. By the cross we know that we dwell in the safest place: the arms of our Savior.
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen. The Word of God that will serve as the basis of our meditation this morning has been caused by the Holy Spirit to be written by the Apostle Saint John, our Gospel Text, I reread these words, “Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” Thus far our text.
This is our season, our season of victory and joy, yet Peter hadn’t quite grasped it yet. The One that Peter spent three years with, the One he saw the Romans crucify, the One that came through locked doors to grant peace, remember, Peter so long ago…Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” Now is the time to cast nets to catch men with the Gospel. Now is the season of the extraordinary, the season of resurrection, of victory over death. Now the grave has lost its sting and Satan lay in ruins. This is our season, people loved by God! This is it! The victory has been sealed. We are a kingdom and priests to our God because of Jesus’ blood on the cross that has been showered upon us in our baptism. This is our season, The Resurrected Jesus’ season, Peter’s season, John’s season, the season of victory and joy and we sing our loud, alleluias! This is the fullness of time and the end of sin’s reign. This is the Reign of Jesus the Christ, who was dead, but now lives forevermore. Yet Peter hasn’t quite understood. “I’m going fishing!” he tells his companions. They miss it too, or they are polite to help him, either way, they go with him.
God has created the extraordinary for his People. What we thought was normal is gone. Everything is turned upside down. Sinners are forgiven, the dead live, the lowly are exalted. Jesus has taken the weak and even the violent and made them his spokesmen and stewards. He has taken sinful men and placed them in pulpits to declare the Kingdom of God in your presence. To declare the day of salvation to you. To stand on the shore and call to you in the middle of the dark and murky waters of your life…of your struggles…of your sin… To stand next to you and in the midst of you and preach the Word of God and to administer the Sacraments and say into your ears, “It is the Lord!”
It couldn’t have been angels (or anything else in all of creation) that Jesus sent to be these heralds, it had to be men, because Jesus is a man. He wanted Men to stand in his stead: To have his authority and to declare with the power of heaven that sins are forgiven. To declare to the Church—his holy Bride—that he has come for her. We preach the forgiveness of sins that the man Jesus won, we declare the life and salvation of the only Son of God. The Holy Spirit uses our mouths to call Christians with the Gospel, our hands to enlighten the people loved by God with the gifts of the cross, the victory over sin and death and the devil. To declare the season of resurrection, and victory, and joy…to wash his holy people in the renewal of the Holy Spirit and feed them with His very body and blood.
That is because, dear Christian, you’re in a war of reason against faith. Human reason (or better called “the sinful nature”) thinks it all boring and unimportant. Certainly worthy of being skipped and ignored (from time to time, or all together). Indeed, the Gentiles think the Gospel and all the trappings of this God to be foolishness. And we struggle with that very thought ourselves. So did the Israelites and Peter and John and the other disciples. Like the father who came to Jesus to heal his daughter, “Jesus, we believe, help our unbelief.” For to those who are perishing and to your sinful nature, it is just the same words over and over again, nothing flashy here, not that entertaining, not even a full meal, not even always the most skilled orators and yet to the Christian…to your faith, to those made kings and priest to our God, the Kingdom of Heaven comes here and the Lord of Life bids you come into his presence for a foretaste of heaven itself. For you—kings and priests of the Living God—it is the power of God unto salvation.
So now nothing can be ordinary for you again. And that is a hard saying. The world is in an alliance with the devil. And the world and the devil are in an alliance with your sinful nature. They will use everything they can, everything they have to trip you up, to introduce doubt and unbelief, to convince you that they have more to offer than Jesus. They will entertain and they will tell you things to make you feel good. They will appeal to your desires and your emotions and your feelings. They will break the Law of God in subtle and seemingly innocuous ways so that it becomes normal and ordinary to you. TV shows and movies take the Lord’s name in vain, story lines attack marriage and sexuality, things tempt you to take the place of church and church activities on your calendar… your friends gossip about your neighbors and they gossip about your fellow believers… You are tempted at every turn to believe that sin isn’t really that bad, that the devil doesn’t exist, that there is no such place as hell, and that God isn’t really concerned about his Law or his Word. Everything is fair game for the devil. He has lost and he is mad. He wants you and he wants nothing more than to destroy Christ’s Church on earth. Nothing is ordinary for you anymore. It hasn’t been ordinary since Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden. It still isn’t ordinary now. Even the things we count as vocation, as things we are good at, that we were given to do by God…like Peter going fishing, are under attack by the devil. And the greatest temptation is to go at alone: without Jesus. Peter and the disciples worked all the night and caught nothing. It had happened before. They were skilled fishermen. They knew the water. They knew the boat. They knew the fish. When Jesus first called them to be his disciples, they had toiled like this to no avail.
So when it was morning, after their failure had set in, Jesus stands on the shore. He manifests himself to his disciples yet again. It is, if you will, another Epiphany. God made man made manifest for his people: the proof of his resurrection, the declaration of life and the defeat of death. (You see, Jesus shows himself alive many times and in many different places to many different people…indeed to over 500!) He comes here to set the disciples straight. Their success was absolutely sure if they would obey his command and rely only upon his Word. “Let down your nets on the right side.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because of the quantity. John declares, “It is the Lord!” The good gifts in our life, the bounty we enjoy, the family and friends, our wives and husbands, the houses we live in, the church we gather in, all that we have is a gift from our God…but one gift goes higher. One gift tops them all. Your Lord Jesus comes to you, alive and declaring his Word of Salvation and victory, your Lord stands on your shore and loves you with his good gifts and Spirit.
God has cast the net of his Gospel. He has created the extraordinary for you. It is hidden from human reason and sinful flesh, but it is manifest to you. So he prepares you for the battles in your life. He clothes you in righteousness and he sends you out with his Word. Nourished by the forgiveness of sins and by his holy gifts, he guards and protects you from every evil and defends you against all danger. It is his word that you need as the devil and the world attack you. He has made this extraordinary—the filling you up and clothing you in his Word. The whole armor of God is yours and his Word has been delivered to you. For he has come to you to feed you, to tend you, and keep you in his loving arms. So come to the extraordinary, to the Divine Service, to Bible study, come and eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood. Fill yourselves on the good and gracious Lord of Life. And encourage one another to come and be filled by Jesus. And when the world, and the devil, and your sinful flesh ware you down, return to the Lord and feast again. Fill yourself and know that this is your Season of Victory. Now is your season of the extraordinary. This is the season of Resurrection and Life. This is our season, it is Jesus reign. You have been made a kingdom and priests to your God by the blood of the Lamb and dear Christians, your Lord Jesus has come for you. He is Risen. Alleluia!
We are quick to walk away from things. Thomas isn’t so wacky when he says, “Unless I see the nail holes and put my finger into the holes and my hand into his side, I will never believe.” After all, there is a popular saying, “Seeing is believing.” Our nature dismisses the resurrection. Our sin keeps us from grasping the plain work of God in our midst, right in front of us. Like the father who seeks help from the Lord Jesus (Mark 9:24), we believe, but we need help with our unbelief. So through the walls we build around us and the locked doors for fear of being seen and known for the fraud that we are, through it all, Jesus comes with his Word and Spirit. He sends the Holy Spirit to call us by the Gospel. The preaching of the Cross grips us and pulls us to Jesus. The gifts of God enlighten us (Sing: The people that in darkness sat, a glorious light have seen) and we are made holy. As quick as we are to walk away from things, our God is all the more determined to have you as his own. He is persistent and he is patient. Far more patient than we would ever be. He is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love: Love for you, love that is dying on a cross to take away your sins. Let us believe with Thomas and declare in Easter joy: “My Lord and My God!” Jesus won’t leave you. He paid for you with his blood. He loves you. He has made you a new creation.
John of Damascus writes a beautiful Easter hymn (LSB 487), called “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain.” The hymn is glorious as it depicts God’s wonderful plan to bring His holy people into joy from sadness. I’ve used the first stanza to drive home the story of the drowning of Pharaoh and his whole army in the Red Sea (what’s most magnificent is that the sea floor was dry ground for the Israelites and mud for the Egyptians). But nothing tops the fourth stanza:
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the first born of the dead. Nothing was capable of holding him. Death couldn’t chain him, the tomb couldn’t sting him, the devil couldn’t defeat him. Now he reigns over every enemy. The immortal becomes mortal to save mortality and then defeats death so that he becomes immortal. Oh glorious Lord Jesus. You make all things new by your cross. Through your blood we have been made immortal. Death no longer has any mastery. Alleluia! Now we cry to our King immortal. Jesus, triumphant, burst the bars of the tomb’s dark portal. Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness! God has brought you into joy from sadness!