Freedom

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. —Galatians 5:1

Do not be entangled in a yoke of bondage. Sin is crouching at the door waiting for you. Like we said yesterday, don’t forget your enemies are the devil speaking the lies of despair and unbelief in your ear, the world enticing you with its pleasures, and your own sinful flesh. Our help must come from outside of us. You know when the Psalmist asks, “From whence cometh my help?” It comes from the mountain of God. It is an insignificant mountain to the world’s standard. But your Lord puts death to death there and undoes your enemies there. He sheds his blood and that blood is your help. That blood is your forgiveness. That blood is your righteousness. The offense of the cross is your salvation. The world will rage and spite, but dear Christian, your help has come to you and called you out of your sin to his marvelous light.

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The Invitation

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.

In the Tribulation

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.

By Martinus (Scribe=Petrus) – Archives de la Cathédrale, Public Domain

I’m Going Fishing

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!

Come, You Faithful

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:

“For today among His own Christ appeared, bestowing His deep peace, which evermore Passes human knowing. Neither could the gates of death Nor the tomb’s dark portal Nor the watchers nor the seal Hold Him as a mortal.”

Lutheran Service Book 487:4

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!

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

How Beautiful

Praise the Lord, the King has returned to Zion. Your King is strong to save. He bares his holy arm and with it he has won the victory. Our faith is not in vain, dear Christian, for Christ has risen from the dead. He is victorious over all your enemies. Who are your enemies? Death, sin, and the devil…and the devil, the world, and your sinful nature. How beautiful are the feet of those that preach to you this good news: these enemies are defeated in the blood of Jesus. How beautiful it is that this victorious King sends his heralds out that you would hear and believe. How beautiful it is that in your hearing, God creates faith. So lift up your voices with the watchmen–together we sing for joy. Break forth into singing and know that the Lord has comforted his people (Isaiah 52).

Amen, Lord Jesus, grant our prayer; Great Captain, now Thine arm make bare, Fight for us once again! So shall Thy saints and martyrs raise A mighty chorus to They praise Forevermore. Amen. (LSB 666:4)

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.

Glorified on the Cross

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.

The Processional Crucifix at Our Savior Lutheran Houston