Jesus says that He needs to go away so that the Spirit of all truth can come. He comes to lead you and me into all truth. The absolute truth that is the Word of God. This foundation is where our faith jumps forth. But how does he do it? He declares. He speaks. He doesn’t speak his own words, he tells you and me the things he hears. The Spirit is sent to declare all the things of Jesus to you. Wow! In your hearing, you are made children of God by Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. In your hearing, water is made a holy baptism and a life giving flood of renewal. In your hearing, the bread and wine of the sacrament are the very body and blood of your Savior. This Word preached and taught by God’s holy preachers brings life and light to you. It’s the reading of a will. All the treasures of heaven belong to you!
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.
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.
The greatest thing a pastor can do to love his people is to love the Word of God. This week seminary graduates received their divine calls into the Office of the Holy Ministry. No matter the place a pastor goes, no matter the people a pastor finds himself in the midst of, no matter how big or small the town is, no matter if the pastor is a sole pastor or part of a team ministry, the greatest thing he can do to love the people of God is to love the Word of God–to study it, to meditate on it, to memorize it, and to sing it. It forms the foundation of his prayers, it is the rock from which he builds his sermons and Bible studies, it is the jumping off point for his conversations. It is alive and active. The Word of God is the sword of the Holy Spirit.
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!
We begin the study of John’s Gospel this Sunday in 4:12 Bible Class. The Word becomes flesh. The greatest event in the history of humanity is this moment. God becomes part of his creation to save you and redeem you. “We have beheld his glory,” John says. They were all eye witnesses. Their testimony would hold up in a court of law. There was no hearsay–their very own eyes saw these things take place. Indeed, the Son of God died on the cross and there he is glorified. He glorifies the Father. He dies and rises again to have dominion over death and the devil. This class should be pretty fun as we dive deep into John’s testimony. These things were written that you may believe and that by believing you might have life in his name. If you are in high school, join us for the 4:12 this Sunday at 10:45AM.
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.
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.
As Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. At first glance, you might think this is all about wealth, riches, bank accounts, real estate, and the like. And you would be wrong. Instead it is all about stripping us of our own gods and goddesses, the delights of our hearts, and pointing us again to the CROSS of Jesus.
How difficult it is for a man to enter the kingdom of God. Who, then could ever enter the Kingdom?! The rich young man had kept the commandments…right? Just like you and me, right? You are Christian, you come to church, you pray, you may even come running to Jesus in the delights of your successes, but you have a heart just like this young man. And what kind of heart is that??
The intention of man’s heart is evil.
Every heart has been since Adam’s fall. No matter how good you look, how great you work, and what bottom line you have in your bank account or portfolio, or even what ears you can bend by the water cooler, your heart is corrupt. It’s only an evil diet of filth continually. The problem isn’t your wealth or lack of it, it is the god that you have made yourself out to be.
This young man’s sin wasn’t that he was wealthy or that he was young or even that he was greedy. His sin was trust. Jesus explains: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” Not because riches are inherently sinful, but because those who have wealth see little need for a Savior. Wealth is an easy thing to trust in, and those who trust in wealth aren’t trusting in Christ. And so Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”
Yes, the young man trusted in his wealth. But it may not be wealth for you or it may be wealth for you. It may be how you treat others or what you say about them or to them. Your bottom line might be how well you gossip or what you can steal from those who are vulnerable. You want to be able to trust in the things of your life, people, possessions, etc. We are very good at putting all sorts of things in our life in order to not have to trust in a Savior.
You’ve heard it said, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Jesus says, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The Law is a gift of God for you, but it isn’t something you can handle. It does one thing, it kills you. It leaves you sorrowful, it crushes your allegiances and unravels your trust. God’s law is meant to remove those things in life that can’t save you!
Have you kept the commandments? Really, have you had no other gods in your life? Have you called upon his name in every trouble? Have you remembered the sabbath day and held the preaching of God’s Word as sacred and strived to hear and learn it? Have you honored those in authority over you, loved them, honored them, served and obeyed them? Have you hurt your neighbor? Have you spoken well of him, built him up, defended him, and put the best construction on everything – explaining it all in the kindest way?? And what of your neighbor’s possessions and family…have you coveted, schemed, and enticed?
How difficult it is for a man to enter the kingdom of God! Repent!
The kingdom of God is at hand!
Jesus looked at the young rich ruler and loved him. He taught him using the full weight of the Law and yet there was sweet and full Gospel there for him. Jesus looks at you and loves you! Who can be saved? Well, with man it is impossible. You can’t ask: what must I do! Your faith asks, what has Christ done for me! Because with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Camels can go through the tiniest of openings and you can be made new, clean, and holy in the working of faith in your heart.
And so unlike the rich young man and unlike us, Jesus picks up his Cross and goes all the way to death, emptying himself of the riches of heaven so that he could have you as his own.
But He is not finished. The Good Teacher now offers that cross to you. By His holy Law preached to you this day, He still warns and accuses of sin-not so that you walk away sorrowful, but so that you might repent and turn away from that which would destroy you. And by His holy Gospel, He gives you His cross. He takes away your sins-you need not suffer and die for them because He already has. He gives you His righteousness, giving you the credit and benefits of His perfect keeping of God’s Law. He makes you His family, members of His household. He marks you with His cross in Holy Baptism, that He might join you to His death. He gives you His body and blood as he bids you come to the table of his supper, that He might join you to His life.
You can’t. He can; and He does. Faithfully, again and again granting you forgiveness for your sins.
This is the Good News He has for us-that He has won salvation for us and gives it freely. And this is the message that He calls us to proclaim as a Church-continually, faithfully. At times, people will hear and walk away-even some such as the rich young ruler. We watch such go with sorrow, praying that they will return to the grace of God. And we continue to preach the same life-giving Gospel which our Lord proclaimed and fulfilled: You are sure of your salvation: Not because you can earn it, but because He has won it for you by His death and resurrection.
The Deaf man lived in a different world, the sounds of the world, the speaking of praise and prayer…the speaking of buying and selling, living, and playing: all shut off, shut down, left out. But he may have not even thought himself disabled and unfortunate. He may have been comfortable with his life and his deafness. He could have adapted to his life, learned sign language, hung out with others like himself or he could have been miserable, and alone, and shunned OR both. Whatever his life, in his Deafness, It didn’t matter…his friends had heard about a miracle worker and they brought him to Jesus.
His ears stopped… Jesus opened them. His tongue stuck… Jesus loosed it.
But there is something more here. The Deaf man’s ears had been stopped from hearing the Word of God…and here and now, the first thing he hears is the Incarnate One speaking to him: directly to him, Ephphatha! That is “BE OPEN!” Like every last one of us, our ears, our hearts, stopped up from the Word of God. We downplay, ignore it, move it to the back burner, pay attention to it when it is convenient, but treat it like we feel it to be: an inconvenient necessity. What has your sin done to your ears and your hearts?
And where has this put our priorities? What has happened to our speech? Do we hang out with others like ourselves, have we made up a [sign] language to communicate what’s convenient rather than what is real and important? We’re privileged with the presidential campaigns in full swing but we don’t need help bringing to light the absurdity of our talk, our lifestyle, our concerns and worries: we’d rather talk about walls and fences between Canada and the USA, global warming and climate change, which movie is better, which sports team is going to win, than how to save the babies and how to uphold marriage.
The Lord knows our present reality. He knows that we are broken, sinful, stopped up. He knows that we’ve all made a mess out of things and the church is not immune. We make doctrine “convenient” talk while life is relegated to the “inconvenient” category and then fill the void of our deaf ears with life while ignoring doctrine.
We talk about gay marriage while our families fall to ruin and slowly our marriages fail.
We talk about abortion while our children are neglected.
We talk about whether a clerk should go to jail for her beliefs while ignoring our neighbor’s needs, the neighbors and coworkers we see everyday.
We would rather tolerate our neighbors, as though that is a virtue, instead of loving them.
Repent. The Kingdom of God has come to open you.
Not sent to heal, but Jesus was sent to preach. It is remarkable that everything that God does in his means of Grace – preaching, baptism, Lord’s Supper, Absolution, the Divine Service – engages your whole self. He gives you your body and all your senses and not only does he take care of them, but he uses them to assure your of your belonging. When you were first called the Holy Spirit washed you with water. Water combined with his Word and with his command, washed over you… in a similar way that Jesus took the Deaf man, he took you. Taken aside, out of the loud and boisterous crowd, the Deaf man has his one on one, face to face meeting with Jesus. And whereas he wasn’t sent to heal, he has COMPASSION. He compassion that moves him to get dirty…to get down in the trenches with the sinner, to lift us up out of our sin and carry us to safety.
And so it was that Jesus really did stick his fingers in the Deaf man’s ears. He groaned and he spat on the ground, he touched his tongue. But then he preached. Ephphatha! That is, “Be Open!” Be Open! Let your ears hear and let your lips be opened and your mouth declare the praises of God. Ephphatha!!
His Holy Spirit calls each of you to this place. Maybe a friend brought you, maybe it was your mom. You might have been comfortable in your sin. You might love your sin very much. You might hang out with people like you and you might have your own language of sin and death. You might be thinking of that right now and how inconvenient it is that you have to be here. And you might be miserable, alone, suffering, and shunned. And you might be both.
Whatever your life, Jesus has found you and brought you here that you might have your ears unstopped and your mouth loosed. He has brought your into his holy ark of the church to be a member of his holy bride. And like the Deaf man, he really does place his resurrected body into your mouth and his blood he pours down your throat. He has COMPASSION on you. Compassion for Jesus is his death and there is no greater love that a man can have for you.
Here is COMPASSION: Jesus dies on the cross of Calvary to win you back, to destroy death and the devil, and to unravel the sting of sin. He was raised for your justification, your reconciliation, for your life. You moved Jesus to action. Your sin and your mess and your deafness, and blindness, brought him to lay down his life and to pick it up again so that you would have life.
So this is where doctrine and life meet. This new testament is even more glorious than the Law’s work of condemnation. The ministry of reconciliation is this: Jesus has reconciled the Father to you, by the shedding of his blood. The New Testament is in the Blood. It undoes the old ministry because Life is in the Blood and He bestows that Life through it. This gives permanent glory. It makes a holy temples in your heart. The Israelites could not look at Moses’ face, but God has taken flesh that we might look Him in the eye, that He might abide with us, and that we would not be afraid to hear Him.
Be opened, O Christian, and be not afraid. He opens you not to destroy you, but to fill you with himself. Now you live in a different world! The sounds of God’s love, the speaking of his forgiveness and life in Jesus, and the living, playing, and joy of God’s kingdom are yours. Rejoice! Jesus spoke you open! He does all things well.