Today is Ascension Day. What a glorious day for the Church, for you. and me. The creator of the heavens and the Earth has become part of that creation to redeem you and now he sits on his throne in heaven. For the first time in all of eternity, a man sits on the heavenly throne. The God Man has elevated your station. He truly has made all things new. It has been 40 days since our celebration of the Resurrection. It has been 40 days since we celebrated the destruction of death and the devil’s reign. Now we celebrate for the Lord has ascended to his heavenly throne to reign eternally.
I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God’s word becomes corrupt….I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell. –To the Christian Nobility, LW 44:207
You may think that it is nice that your church has a school. You may think that it is just an outreach among many different outreaches in which your church could engage. Whereas it is nice that your church has a school, it is also necessary that your church has a school. Your church can engage in other outreach, but it really must have a Christian school. The world has gone on a full attack of our children. It is one of the great enemies of the church. The world, the devil, and your sinful nature work together to destroy and lay waste the work of Christ. The United States is no safe haven for Christians. The world here hates Christ as much as it hates him everywhere else. And the world will do its due diligence indoctrinating our children in the ways contrary to the faith. But the Lord has given the work of indoctrinating to parents, not to the state. Classical Lutheran Education uses the Latin phrase, “in loco parentis.” It means literally, “in place of the parent.” Thus Christian schools walk along side the parents in full view and in full communication to bring up the church’s children in the way of the Lord. Supporting your church’s school is a wonderful thing. Lifting up the teachers and administration in your prayers is needed. Let’s see what we can do to establish and support classical Christian education at every congregation. Wouldn’t that be nice.
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 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.
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 font which you stumble across and remember that God has made you his child and an heir to the Heavenly kingdom. Water to remind you that you have been washed from your sins and made clean by the blood of the Lamb. An altar for you to look at and know that God makes his dwelling with you. A pulpit to give you the assurance that God’s Word is not hidden but heard. The Holy Spirit knows that you need this Christ and gives you his body and blood in the bread and wine and there you have forgiveness. There is Christ.
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!
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.
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!