February 19, 2017

Sexagesima + Luke 8:4-15 + Februrary 19, 2017

A-WAKE! - || Why do | You | sleep, | O - | Lord? *
            Arise! Do not cast us | off - | for- - | ev- | er. -
|| Why do | You | hide | Your - | face, *
            And forget | our | af- - | flic- | tion?
|| For our soul is bowed | down | to | the - | dust; *
            Arise for our help | and - | re- - | deem | us. (Psalm 44:23-24a, 25a, 26a)
|| We have heard with | our | ears, | O - | God, *
            Our fathers have told us, the deeds You | did - | in - | their | days.
|| You drove out the na- | tions | with | Your - | hand, *
            But them You planted, because | you - | fa- - | vored | them.
|| You have saved us from | our | en- | e- - | mies, *
            And have put to shame those | who - | hat- - | ed | us.
|| In God we | boast | all | day - | long, *
            And praise Your | name - | for- - | ev- | er. (Psalm 44:1a, 2–3, 7–8)
 


Readings
Isaiah 55:10-13
2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9
Luke 8:4-15 

Collect for Sexagesima
O God, Who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do, mercifully grant that by Thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

 Sermon on Luke 8:4-15


Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

1)         A sower goes out to sow his seed. Seed isn’t cheap. It’s precious, which is why modern farmers go to great lengths to make sure that none of it is wasted, that each seed planted has the best environment in which to grow. Not so with this sower in the parable. He is quite reckless, almost thoughtless it seems. He reaches his hand into his seed pouch, grabs a handful of the precious seed, pulls his hand out and tosses it into the air. That precious seed lands on four different types of soil. Some seed falls by the wayside, that is, on a walkway or road. People’s footsteps have compacted that soil to make it hard and unyielding. Other seed falls on rocky soil. Finding a bit of soil, the seed sprouts and grows up quickly, but since it is on rocks, it has no moisture for its root. The seed that suddenly sprouted withers away just as quickly. Other seed falls among thorns. This weedy soil has moisture but because the weeds and thorns were not taken away, but allowed to remain, the thorns grow alongside the seed and strangle the small plant, choking it so that it does not mature and bear fruit. Finally, some of the seed falls on good soil, soil that is cultivated and receptive to the seed. That seed springs to life and bears much fruit. Jesus tells the parable of the sower for this purpose: that we examine ourselves to see what kind of heart we have, which kind of soil we are, so that we may be careful and circumspect about how we hear the Word, for “the seed is the Word of God” which Christ sows in the hearts of men. 

2)         We understand what the first type of soil is. This hardened, compacted soil is that which unbelievers possess. They can hear the Word preached from the pulpit or in private conversation and the precious seed is sown but it cannot take root. The unbeliever’s heart is hardened and unyielding, thinking that it doesn’t need God’s Word or Gospel, that life is just find without it. Our eyes see this as apathy. “No one cares to hear God’s Word,” we say. But it is more than just spiritual apathy. This comes about because a bird comes and plucks the seed from their hardened heart so that they cannot seriously consider it. It is tempting to think that if someone doesn’t believe the Word of God then the preaching isn’t good enough, winsome enough, or convincing enough. But the fault is not with the seed that is sown or the sower. The fault is the hardness of the soil and the bird of prey, the Devil, the ancient enemy of God, who swoops in and takes the seed of the Word out of the hearts and minds of those who hear it. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 that “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” So this soil, this condition of the human heart, believes that it is just fine without the Word of God and goes about its merry way, pursuing the things of this life as the highest good. We see throughout the Gospels that many of Jesus’ hearers fall into this category. Personal experience shows that most in the world fall into this category too. 

3)         As Christians, we ought not to feel ourselves exempt from this type of the soil of the heart. It is possible for the Christian to harden their heart against the seed of God’s Word, so that over time one’s heart becomes stubborn and stops truly hearing God’s Word. This happens if we hear the Word that commands us to repent of our sins and we fail to repent but instead go on willfully sinning against God’s command. If we know that the Lord forbids anger and we willfully hold a grudge against our neighbor who has wronged us, eventually that willful sin will harden our heart so that the Devil can come and snatch the Word away from us. If we know the Lord forbids lust, yet give lust free reign over the members of our bodies, we harden our hearts against God’s Word and eventually drive out the Holy Ghost. If we know what God commands us to receive the Word and gladly hear and learn it, yet willfully stay away from His preaching and His sacrament, we harden our hearts against them so we become indifferent to hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament for the strengthening of our faith. If we make a practice of sinning, if we cultivate sin in our heart, that will, at some point, lead us to forsake the seed of the Word so that we go back to the devil. Thus we must be careful that we hear the Word of the Law and seriously take it to heart so that we repent of our sins and seek to be rid of them. It also means we take the Gospel seriously, firmly believing that our sins are forgiven, lest we fall into despair, thinking we are beyond grace. 

4)         The second type of the heart of man is the rocky soil. Jesus says that these “when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.” These are the hearts that receive the Word with great joy and rejoice over the forgiveness of their sins. But temptation and persecutions arise and these two forces prove too much for the young plant. Temptation to sin leads them away from the Word. Persecutions buffet that heart like a cloudburst’s downpour on a small seedling. This is the heart that receives the gospel with joy, but then abandons it when it learns that it must give up its favorite sin. So one receives the gospel with joy but then abandons it because it demands he give up cohabiting with his lover. This is the heart that rejoices in the Gospel but refuses to put aside its own false beliefs about God because it treasures those false beliefs more than the pure Gospel. This is the heart that believes with great joy but then abandons the Word because he values false teaching just as much, if not more than, the pure Word of God. Still another believes but is easily disheartened and dismayed when friends and family members ridicule him for his faith. This is the heart who become fainthearted when it finds that the world really does hate Jesus and the Gospel, so that it is scandalized and casts the true faith aside. Again, even Christians must be on guard so that our hearts do not become burdened with temptations and persecutions. We are daily attacked by Satan with his fiery darts. The devil tempts us to abandon the faith by showing us just how alone we are in a world that wants nothing to do with Christ crucified. Thus we must be careful that we not allow the lies of the devil and the smallness of the church scandalize us into hardening our hearts against God’s promises. 

5)         The third kind of soil, the third condition of the hearts of men, is the soil that has thorns in it. By thorns Jesus means  the “cares, riches and pleasures of life” which grow with the seed and choke it to death. We all have cares in this life. That’s part of having God-given vocations. The life has many cares that need attending to. What Jesus warns against is making those cares the center of our heart so that worry becomes our worship and anxiety replaces faith. The cares of this life must not become the thing we fear, for we should fear God above all things. We must be on guard that riches do not take center stage in our heart so that we trust them for our security. Again, riches and wealth are not evil, they are gifts from God to be used for our benefit and the benefit of our neighbor. But they must not become the object our love and trust. Cares and riches are not to take our hearts away from hearing the Word, contemplating it, and mediating upon it. For Christ tells us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). He also adds the thorn of worldly pleasures, which are carnal lusts and an overindulgence in the finer things in life. Both of these can easily harden our hearts so that we look to our own comfort as the highest good, and that if we have pleasure and bodily comfort, we do not need the Word of God. Thus we must be vigilant so that we are always striving, with the help of the Holy Ghost, to place our fear, our love, and our trust in God alone and no other. 

6)         The final type of soil is the good soil that receives the seed of the Word and brings forth fruit. The good soil is the heart that does not set itself against God’s Word and harden itself against the Gospel. The good soil is the heart that hears God’s word and desires to learn it. The good soil is a heart that is set on the Word so that the Devil has no occasion to swoop in like a bird of prey and snatch the Word away. This heart is not frightened away by persecutions for it knows that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). This heart is not dismayed when temptations to sin and doubt rain down upon it, because it knows that “offenses must come” (Matthew 18:7). It also knows the promise of God in 1 Corinthians 10:13, that “no temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” This heart is not disheartened that it must be continually pruned by God the Father through trials and afflictions, because it knows that the Lord disciplines those He calls sons and chastens us “for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). This heart hears the Word joyfully and bears fruit. 

7)         That fruit is chiefly repentance, faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, patience in afflictions, prayer, and good works of love that benefit one’s neighbor. Where the precious seed of the Word takes root in the heart, there you will find these fruits. The unbeliever cannot bear these fruits because the seed of the Word is snatched away. The heart that seeks after sinful pleasures, the cares of this life, and riches cannot bear these fruits, for their anxiety for these things chases away faith. The heart that is scandalized by temptations and persecutions cannot bear these fruits because they will doubt that God is truly good and gracious to them on account of faith alone. The good heart though, hears the Word, keeps it, treasures it, cherishes it, and that faith in the Word of the Gospel brings forth fruit with patience. May the Lord grant this heart of good, soft, receptive soil to us always, so that we may repent of our sins and believe the Gospel of Christ crucified for us, and bear fruit with patience. Amen.


May the peace of God which passes understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


February 12, 2017

Septuagesima + Matthew 20:1-16 + February 12, 2017

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 276 Come Unto Me Ye Weary
Hymn # 377 Salvation Unto Us Has Come
Hymn # 50 Lord, Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing
Introit

The Sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord, He heard my voice from His temple. (Psalm 18:5–6a, c) 
I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress.
For You will save the humble people, But will bring down haughty looks.
It is God who arms me with strength, And makes my way perfect.
Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, And sing praises to Your mame. (Psalm 18:1b–2a, 27, 32, 49)

Collect for Septuagesima
O Lord, we beseech Thee favorably to hear the prayers of Thy people that we, who are justly punished for our offenses, may be mercifully delivered by Thy goodness, for the glory of Thy Name; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Savior, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Readings
Jeremiah 1:4-10
1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5
Matthew 20:1-16

Sermon on Matthew 20:1-16

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         The parable that Christ tells us this morning is filled to the brim with wonderful gospel.. “A landowner went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he send them into his vineyard.” Jesus is speaking about the Jews, for they are the ones whom the Lord called early in the morning of history. While the world was young the Lord made Israel His own people and called them to work in His vineyard. He gave them the Law of Moses. He gave them the Ten Commandments with which to busy themselves. He gave them ceremonial law, all the sacrifices, the festivals, the food and clothing requirements and more. The Lord called Israel to work in His vineyard, His church, and He gave them plenty to do. The calling of Israel to work in the Lord’s vineyard was one of sheer grace. When the Lord called Abraham he was an idol worshipper. When Lord called Israel from Egypt they were slaves. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the sons of Israel had nothing to offer God to make Him choose them. He chose them out of sheer grace and mercy, with no merit or worthiness on their part whatsoever. He tells Israel this in Deuteronomy 7:7-8. He says, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers.” So it is in the parable. The first workers are chosen by grace and the Lord agrees to give them a denarius. The Lord chose Israel, brought them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, promised them forgiveness of their sins and everlasting salvation, and they rejoiced at His good promise. 

2)         But the parable goes on. The Lord goes out at other times of the day, later in history, to call more workers for His vineyard. Throughout the Old Testament we see the Lord calling Gentiles to labor in the vineyard. Rahab is called to join the workers in the vineyard. The Gibeonites are assimilated into the people of Israel. Ruth the Moabitess, the widow at Zaraphath, and countless others who are not of the line of Abraham are graciously called to labor in the vineyard. Finally, in the eleventh hour of human history, God the Father sends forth His Only-Begotten Son into the world to bear the sins of the worlds and make the atonement long promised. He goes out then through His apostles and heralds into the world, calling more and more to come work in the vineyard. Those called at the eleventh hour do not have to bear the heat of the day. They have do not have to bear the burden of the Mosaic Law, for Christ fulfilled the entire Law, so that for those who believe, He is the end of the Law. These Gentiles He calls, including you and I, do not bear the burden and heat of the day as Israel did. It was this that led the first workers called, the Jews, to look differently at the whole arrangement. At the beginning they had been content to labor in the vineyard for a denarius. They rejoiced at God’s mercy. But now that they saw the Lord bringing in Gentiles by the droves and not requiring nearly as much work from them, they become presumptuous. They forget that they too were graciously called to work in the vineyard. They forget that it was sheer mercy that caused the landowner to give them the vineyard. As they come to the end of the day they no longer want what the landowner promised. They want to be rewarded according to their works. 

3)         Then their presumption is cast to the ground. “When those who were hired about the eleventh hour came, they each received a denarius.” The workers called first assume that if these “Johnny-come-latelies” get paid the original amount, then they, who have worked much longer and endured so much more under the Law must reap an even greater reward. Since they want to be judged on their works at this point, in their minds this would be the only fair thing. “But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius.” This is, after all, what they had agreed upon. But something changed during the day, and it wasn’t the rules. They had hardened their hearts towards the landowner’s generosity. They began to think they should get more, that they deserved more. They began to presume that this whole arrangement had nothing to do with grace and everything to with the amount of time put in and the amount of labor accomplished. This presumption turned their eyes evil, so that when the Landowner put a denarius into each of their hands as well, they couldn’t help but despise what was originally promised. “These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the head of the day!” They no longer cared for what was promised. They wanted their works to be recognized and rewarded. But that is the point of the parable. God is not a respecter of persons or their works. God’s gracious call is the same to all, no matter when they are called. God, in His mercy, gives the same gifts and blessings to all whom He calls. Those who labored under the Law in the Old Testament were given the same blessings as the tax collectors and sinners which Jesus called during His ministry. You and I are given the same blessings as they, and we are not even expected to work the works required of the Jews through Moses. In this, Jesus shows the generosity of the Triune God toward all sinners, that He calls them into His vineyard and promises them each the same forgiveness, the same salvation, the same everlasting life. 
 4)         We see this as well in our own lives. There are some who are called to the faith as infants in the waters of Holy Baptism. They grow up in the church and do the work of the vineyard. This is not the Mosaic Law. Rather, they work they do is in prayer and study of the Word. Through the means of grace God cultivates their hearts like soil year after year and He plants His Word in their hearts so that faith grows strong and bold and good works spontaneously grow. There are others who do not come to the faith until adulthood, and when they do, they rejoice at the gospel because they knew life without the promise of the gospel and the forgiveness of their sins. They too go to work in the vineyard, cultivating their hearts through the Word and doing good works of love for their neighbor. Others the Lord calls in the sixth or ninth hour of their lives. Still others He calls at the eleventh hour, as they languish and inch closer to death. The ones whom Christ calls later in life receive the same baptism, the same Lord’s Supper, the same absolution and the same Word of God, and they are to cultivate the same good works of love for neighbor, though there may not be as many of these fruits of faith as those who were called in the early days of life. The person who is called on their deathbed had no time for good works. But this shows the graciousness of God. Whether you were called as an infant in the waters of Holy Baptism, or as a young adult or fully grown adult, or even in your retirement years, it matters not. There is only one promise of the Gospel and it is what the Lord gives to everyone whom He calls. We are commanded to do good works, but not with thought of reward. Our good works are to be done out of thanksgiving for the Lord’s gifts and out of love for our neighbor. 
 5)         We must not, as the workers called earliest, grow to despise the Lord’s mercy as the Jews did. Nor should we fall to the sin of presumption so that we think that if we’ve been longer in the church or if we’ve done more good works, that God owes us more than He has already promised. To put it another way: we should not look to our works at all, let alone a reward for our works. Too many people want their good works, whether real or imagined, to count for something in God’s vineyard. Too many people want their piety to set them apart so that they imagine God has a special reward for them because of their extra service. Still others are tempted to turn their sufferings into something that should merit something from God. But anytime we want our works to mean anything at all before God, we are despising the grace of God and thinking little of it. Presumption is such a difficult sin to see in us because we it hides behind good works, real good works or imagined ones. If we expect to get more from God because of our financial contributions, we are despising His grace. If we expect to gain God’s favor by acts of service we do for the church or our neighbor, we are not doing it out of love but out of a mercenary hope for reward. If we insert any work, God-ordained or man-made, into our salvation, our call into the vineyard, then our salvation in no longer by grace alone, but by works. The Jews wanted to add their work to Jesus. Jesus plus circumcision. Jesus plus dietary laws. Jesus plus the Law of Moses. Many do that still today, except with man-made works never commanded by God. “Jesus plus my decision to accept Him into my heart,” or “Jesus plus my new personal holiness.” Those sound pious, just like circumcision and dietary laws sounded pious to the Jews. But if you want anything you do to get you your reward, then you have become presumptuous and despise grace. 
6)         So this text is also a stern warning to all whom Christ has called to labor in His vineyard. Your calling, whenever you received it, was purely by the grace of God, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He has called you by His Word preached and His Word combined with water in Holy Baptism, for those are His means for working faith in your heart and strengthening that faith.  He has called you to a glorious vineyard, His Church, in which sins are daily forgiven and the Gospel is daily bestowed upon you. He desires you work in His vineyard, that you stay close to His Word and Sacrament and bear fruits of good works. But take care so that you eye does not become evil, so that you come to expect reward for the fruits of your God-given faith. Rather rejoice in His mercy and take heart that you have been called into the vineyard of the church for your forgiveness and salvation. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

February 05, 2017

The Transfiguration of our Lord + Matthew 17:1-9 + February 5, 2017

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook. (Psalm 77:18b)
How lovely is Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints For the courts of the LORD.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; They will still be praising You.
O God, behold our shield, And look upon the face of Your anointed.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; (Psalm 84:1-2a, 4, 9, 11) 

Readings
Isaiah 61:10-11
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9 

Collect for the Transfiguration of Our Lord
O God, Who in the glorious Transfiguration of Thine Only-Begotten Son hast confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the Fathers, and Who, in the Voice that came from the bright cloud, didst in a wonderful manner foreshow the adoption of sons, mercifully vouchsafe to make us coheirs with the King of His glory and bring us to the enjoyment of the same; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 

1)         Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with Him upon a high mountain and there He reveals His glory to them. John, one of the three eyewitnesses to this incredible event, writes in his Gospel, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The glory that Christ possessed as the second person of the Trinity shines forth unadulterated and unsullied. The glory Christ possesses as the eternal Son of the Father shines through His human nature so that “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” He shone with perfect light because by nature He is the brightness of the Father’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). As the eternal Word and Wisdom of God “He is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness” (Wisdom 7:26). Christ shines forth, for “n Him was life, and the life was the light of men” as the Apostle writes (John 1:4). 

2)         These three disciples see Christ as He truly is and in this image of their Lord they see their own future as well. The prophet Daniel writes that “Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3), and Christ Himself teaches that in eternity “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). As these three disciples see Christ in all His glory they see their own future and the future of all the saints. In this sinful world, our bodies fail us and decay. Because of our sinful flesh we walk in darkness and not in light. In this life the garment of our flesh is stained with sin. But Christ shows us that in the life of the world to come we will be free from the stain of sin, the burden of regret, and the darkness of our sinful hearts. Add to this that Christ is surrounded by Moses and Elijah. Moses representing the Law, Elijah the prophets. Their presence indicates to the three disciples that the Shining One standing in their midst is the culmination of the Law and the Prophets, and that everything foretold and every promise of God given in years past will find their answer in Jesus Christ. 

3)         Who wouldn’t want to remain on that mountaintop and bask in that divine glory? Peter speaks up and indicates just that. “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter, along with James and John who go along with the idea, want to soak up the glory and walk in this radiance. And none of us could blame them. Humanity likes glory. We enjoy the base glory that comes from sports competitions. We feel a surge a joy at the glory of seeing our favorite quarterback hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy above his head. We love the glory that comes from being recognized for our own achievements at our work, in our family, or in our community. Those glories are not in themselves sinful unless we make idols of them or harm our neighbor to get the glory and accolades of men. But there is another glory which humanity seeks and that is the glory of being its own savior and redeemer. So we are tempted to glory in our works, thinking that we can earn our absolution from sin. We are tempted to glory in our own good deeds and to imagine that if we chase enough sin from our life, then we can have something to offer to God for our shortcomings. We are tempted to glory in our own righteousness, even though we have no righteousness before God whatsoever. This is not the case with the disciples. They are not sinning when they want to bask in the glory of Christ on the mountaintop. They see their future, for as St. Paul writes, “whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:30). They see their future glory. Who wouldn’t want to stay? 

4)         But they cannot. The final glorification of Christ comes in the form of the cloud which engulfs them all. The Father speaks audibly not for Christ’s sake for the sake of Peter, James, John, and all who hear this account read. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him.” Like Israel at the base of Sinai, the sound of the Father’s voice causes the men to fall to faces greatly afraid. They quail at the undiluted presence of God, they cower at His almighty voice because they are still sinners, and sinners cannot handle God speaking to them undiluted. But then comes the Mediator between God and man, the One who came not for the righteous but for sinners, touches them and says, “Arise and do not be afraid.” Let it be to me according to Thy Word. They arise at the word of Christ, fear expelled and terror cast out, and they  no longer see Moses, Elijah, or the cloud. The voice of God reverberates only in their ears. They see no one “but Jesus only,” their Mediator, their Redeemer, their Advocate. As quickly as it happened it was over, just as it is with the baser glories we experience in our own lives. One moment they are enjoying the blessedness of heaven upon earth, the next moment they are wiping dust from their faces and its back to business as usual. On the way down the mountain, Christ cements them back in the reality of the sinful world. “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” 

5)         Not only do they have to leave the glorious scene on the mountaintop, but Christ hits them with these sobering words. Christ conceals His divine glory beneath the cloak of His humanity once again, but now Christ goes not only to conceal His glory but empty Himself out entirely. Christ, the Word made flesh, “being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). He conceals His divine glory because divine glory won’t atone for your sin. Only the suffering and death of Jesus can do that. Our sins are so great that we cannot atone for them ourselves. We need not a God who comes shining in resplendence but a God whom comes robed in our flesh so that He might die with every single one of our sins in His flesh. The flesh which shone with heavenly glory on the mountaintop will, on the cross, “be made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In the Transfiguration of Jesus we see what the disciples saw, the glory, the heavenly light of our Lord Jesus Christ and we love what we see for we see Christ as the victorious and triumphant. But before He can enjoy the glory that He has by nature of His Godhead, He descend into the valley of the shadow of death for our sakes, so that we too might enjoy that everlasting glory and the brightness of the heavenly light. He must bear our sins, carry our sorrows, be wounded for our transgressions so that all who believe in Him and trust that He is merciful to forgive them theirs join Him in glory. 

6)         Christ, possessing an eternal glory, conceals His glory under the shame and suffering of the cross. This is also a picture our lives in Christ. St. Paul writes this to the Colossians: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). Like Christ during the days of His self-emptying, you possess the glory of God as well. You possess all that is Christ’s by faith. What you see in this glorious picture of Christ is your future in the life of the world to come. As Christ is dressed in the purest white, so you to are clothed with Christ and have put on His righteousness as your own by faith. You do not appear spotless and holy to the world. You still feel your sins your impurity. Yet they are forgiven by faith in Christ because you have the promise of the Gospel. As Christ shines with a radiance of pure light, so you too possess such purity from the taint of sin, though in this life sin still clings to you to you. Your glory as sons and daughters of God the Father, the glory you possess as co-heirs along with Christ, the glory of having the Holy Spirit in your hearts, is one that is not seen by the eyes of flesh. The glory you possess as ones who are baptized and thus washed clean of sin is one that is concealed in this life under sin, various crosses, sufferings, and temptations. But like Christ, that doesn’t mean the glory isn’t there. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” That is His promise to all who have died with Him in Holy Baptism and all whose true life is hidden with Christ in faith. 

7)         Just as Christ had to suffer and die before His glory would be fully revealed, so we also have to suffer in this life. The glory we have as baptized sons of God is not one that the world sees, and even at times it is hidden from our own eyes. But it is there, for it is written: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17). When you suffer for the sake of the gospel, you are suffering with Christ. When you suffer temptation, the fiery darts of the devil, you suffer with Christ your Lord who was also tempted, yet who defeated temptation for us. When you suffer pangs in your conscience and are terrified by the Devil’s accusations, you suffer with the one who suffered for all our sins. And as you suffer these things, you suffer them with Christ, who went before you in this path and walks with you through your suffering. Remain steadfast in these sufferings in the flesh, and “consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18), the glory of being sons of God, the glory which we see in the radiant face of Christ today. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

January 29, 2017

4th Sunday after Epiphany + Matthew 8:23-27 + January 29, 2017

Worship Him, all you His angels. Zion hears and is glad.
And the Daughters of Judah rejoice because of Your judgments. (Psalm 97:b,8)

The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice. Let the multitude of isles be glad.
He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. (Psalm 97:1, 10b-12) 

Collect for the Fourth Sunday after EpiphanyAlmighty God, Who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright, grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Readings
Isaiah 43:1-3
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 8:23-27

Sermon on Matthew 8:23-27

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         In today’s Gospel lesson, Christ gets into a boat and His disciples follow Him. It is once Christ is in the boat that “suddenly” a great storm arises. All had been calm before, but once Christ enters the boat the weather turns nasty. The weather becomes so terrible that that Matthew calls it a “great tempest, so that the boat was covered with the waves.” This small vessel made with human hands was then put to the test. Winds buffet it. Waves engulf and overcome it so that that the disciples despair of their lives. Their reaction would be anyone’s reaction in that moment of panic. They look to Jesus, their teacher, the One who is God’s Son, for help. “But He was asleep.” Even the Lord seems aloof to their misery. So they wake Him and say, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” What is so interesting to me is that these physical problems, these external threats against their boat, lead to such spiritual and internal despair. They most certainly fear death. But they also fear that that their Lord will not come to their aid. In St. Mark’s account of this event the disciples wake Jesus and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The external circumstances, the winds and the waves, caused these men to cower in fear so that faith seemed to have fled their hearts in that moment. Physical anxieties cause spiritual unbelief so that they look at Jesus and wonder, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing, in turmoil and danger, and about to die?” This fear is worse than the fear of dying. This is the fear of dying while God does nothing to help. It is the fear that you have been abandoned by God. The winds, the waves, the doubt, the fear, all of these things are great tests of the disciple’s faith.

2)         When Jesus awakes and they beg Him, “Lord save us, we are perishing,” He asks them, “Why are you fearful? O you of little faith?” It is a stunning, yet gentle rebuke of the disciples’ faith. Their faith had been in the wrong place. They had put their trust in the wrong object. Jesus reveals their unbelief with this simple and quiet question. Jesus is not interested in the winds buffeting the boat or the waves crashing onboard. Jesus is concerned to teach the disciples faith. Their faith, before that moment, had been misplaced. They trusted the weather. If they had good weather, then they had a God that was good and gracious. They trusted their experience. As long as the situation was under control they knew God was favorable to them. They trusted themselves and their abilities as fishermen, and as long as they thought they were up to the task, they knew they had a God who loved them. For as much as all that looked like faith, externally, it was nothing but unbelief in Christ. The moment things went sideways, the moment the wind became too strong for their strength and the moment they took on more water than they knew what to do with, their unbelief was exposed. “Why are you fearful? O you of little faith? Do you really think that I would let you die out here? Did you really think that this situation would engulf me, the Son of God in human flesh? Did you really thing that any real harm could befall you as long as I was in the boat with you?” The little faith the disciples had was misplaced. Their faith grasped for all the wrong things and that is what led them to fear the situation, to fear death, and to fear that they had a God who did not care whether or not they perished.

3)         Jesus rises and rebukes the winds and the sea. Matthew doesn’t tell us His word. Mark does. “Peace, be still!” (Mark 4:39). Literally, “Silence! Be muzzled!” God spoke and it was so, for at that moment “there was great calm.” Jesus shows the disciples that He can bring creation’s wild outburst to heel with the word of His mouth. He shows them that He is God in human flesh. He is the Word of God of whom it is written, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). And while this is amazing in and of itself, that the man Jesus of Nazareth reveals Himself to be the very Word of God which spoke the creation into existence, this is not what Jesus wants the disciples to take away from this episode. He wants them to be able to say more than just, “Jesus is Lord of the creation.” He wants to teach them faith and faith’s proper object. Their faith, which they believed to be strong, was quite weak because the object of their faith was weak. But if faith has the proper object, then it doesn’t matter how weak or strong it is at all. It’s the not the size of the faith that matters. What matters is what the faith holds onto. Jesus shows the disciples that He is the only worthy object for their faith. He is the only one who is powerful enough to help in the face of death. Not only does He show them His power, He shows them His compassion. Unbelief says, “Lord, don’t you care that we’re perishing?” Faith in Christ would have said, “We have Christ with us in the boat. We will not fear in spite of wind, wave, water, and tempest, anxiety, or death itself.”

4)         Modern day disciples have the same problem, for we have the same sinful flesh that clung to the twelve. We experience physical, worldly, external tests of faith that cause us to quail in fear and cower in despair. We are the disciples in the boat. We often place our faith in objects which are unworthy of our faith and unable to save. Then when those things give way, we crumble with them. At times we place our faith in our good health. If we have good health then we must have a God who is good and gracious. If we have a comfortable life with more than we need, then we know we have a God who favors us. If our lives are going smoothly with only minor hiccups in the road, then we know we have a God who truly loves us. But then God allows a tempest to suddenly arise. He allows our health to deteriorate, perhaps in a small way, perhaps in a large way. Either way, when that happens we begin to see the frailty of our flesh and just how susceptible to death it truly is. If we had placed our faith in good health, the absence of health can only be interpreted as divine wrath, that God is no longer good to us. At other times the Lord allows us to experience lack to some degree, so that our homes, our possessions, or our incomes suffer. If we had placed our faith in our wealth, that it was a sign of God’s favor, then sudden lack could only mean that God does not favor us but is displeased with us. Whenever these things happen, they are tests of faith, as the disciples’ faith was tested in the boat. These things are sent to us not to show us God’s disfavor or wrath. They are given to us to show us that our faith has the wrong object, an object that will let us down when we need it the most.

5)         As Christ showed this to the disciples and then pointed their faith to His almighty power and promise, so He does with us as well. He exposes our unbelief so that we can repent of it and be absolved of it. Christ showed the disciples that He was to be the object of their faith by speaking His powerful Word. He does the same with you, pointing you to His Word to demonstrate that your heart should cling to Him alone in all external situations. When the wind and waves of illness, sickness, and disease in your body buffet your heart, the Word comforts your heart with His Word, “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). When the gale force of loss and the tumultuous waters of scarcity threaten to capsize you, the Word consoles you heart, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things” (Matthew 6:33-34). When your sins, present or from the past, pester you and your heart condemns you for the wicked things you have done, so that you are tempted to believe that you are beyond God’s grace, the Word offers your refuge. “If our heart condemns us God is greater than our heart” (1 John 3:20). He tells you, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). When you feel sin still clinging to your flesh each day and you feel it yourself, He gives you the Word of Absolution in which Christ says to you, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.

6)         Dear saints of God, when your hearts are driven by the winds of temptations, when you are buffeted by doubts as to whether or not God is only good and gracious to you, consider where you sit. You sit in the boat with Christ. The boat has, since ancient times, been interpreted spiritually as the Church. And you, by faith, belong to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in which Christ is truly present. I have heard from several people that the building in which we sit was built with material from a shipyard. How appropriate is it that the building we have been given in which to hear the Word is made from a ship? Not only that, but in this boat Christ is truly present just as He was present in the boat with the disciples. There is no need to wake Him because He does not slumber or sleep but is attentive to the voice of your prayers and concerns. He is present here in the preaching and reading of His Word. Christ is physically present in the Sacrament, real body and real blood, given and shed for you for the real forgiveness of your real sins. Christ is present in this boat right now, preaching to you the Word of forgiveness and life and salvation.

7)         There is no reason to put your faith in anything else than Christ’s promises in Word and Sacrament. These are the objects which He has given to us to place our faith in. They are not unworthy objects of faith, for they are sure and certain, straight from the mouth of the Lord.  When your heart is buffeted back and forth by the waves of temptation, remember that you sit in the boat with Christ who strengthens you against temptation. When your mind is driven back and forth by the winds of doubt and despair of God’s mercy, so that you think that God is not only good and gracious to you, remember that you are in the boat where Christ is truly present not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. When your heart condemns you of your sins, when your conscience oppresses you for the wicked things you have done, when your health and possessions fail you, remember that these are not signs of God’s wrath upon you. The Word He gives you the absolution and in the Sacrament, this Word you are to trust, believe, and fervently cling to no matter the physical and external tests of faith which come your way. You are in the boat with Christ. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


January 22, 2017

3rd Sunday after Epiphany + Matthew 8:1-13 + January 22, 2017

Introit 

Worship Him, all you His angels. Zion hears and is glad.
And the Daughters of Judah rejoice because of your judgments, O Lord. (Psalm 97:7b paraphrase, 8)

The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; Let the multitude of isles be glad!
He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous, And gladness for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. (Psalm 97:1, 10b–12) 

Collect for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Almighty and Everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to help and defend us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

Readings
Jeremiah 33:6-9
Romans 12:16b-21
Matthew 8:1-13

Sermon on Matthew 8:1-13

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Both of the men that approach Jesus in the Gospel lesson have maladies that are far worse than physical afflictions. The first man is a leper. Leprosy in the Scriptures probably covered a wide array of skin diseases, but in every case it is something communicable and deadly. The Lord instructs Moses and Aaron in Leviticus 13:2-3, “When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. The priest shall examine the sore on the skin of the body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore. Then the priest shall examine him, and pronounce him unclean.” With that pronouncement of “unclean” the leper was to be segregated from everyday life. He was to live outside the camp of Israel, or outside the city in what would come to be known as a ‘leper colony.’ This separation was necessary so that the leprosy was contained, lest it spread to more people and infect them. This means that those deemed “unclean” by the Lord’s representatives was unable to worship in the Tabernacle, unable to offer sacrifices to the Lord for the atonement of sins, and unable to enjoy the fellowship of the Old Testament church in her Divine Service. Being “unclean” was as much a spiritual condition as it was a physical condition. “Uncleanness” is separation from everything, the inability to touch or be touched by other humans, or by God in His holy house.

2)         The second man that approaches Jesus comes as a surrogate for a suffering man. A centurion, a Roman captain, and probably a pagan, approaches Jesus in Capernaum. He says, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” (Matthew 8:6) At first glance this affliction seems purely physical. The man is paralyzed, unable to move. He has been segregated from others by being rigid in his bed. Like the Leper, this man is separated from ordinary life by this physical disability. But this man is more than paralyzed. He is “dreadfully tormented,” the Centurion says. Torment is a spiritual condition. The Greek word St. Matthew uses here for “tormented” is the same word which Demons often use when confronted by Jesus in the Gospels. In Mark 5:7, Jesus confronts a demoniac and the demon recognizes Jesus as the Only-Begotten Son of God and shrieks, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” The torment this demon was referring to was the torment of hell, the suffering of God’s eternal wrath toward sin and rebellion. This is the fate of every demon and their master, the Devil. St. John sees a picture of their eternal suffering in Revelation 20:10, “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” The torment that awaits the Devil and his angels, and all those who reject the Lord Jesus’ Christ, is a physical and spiritual torment. It is eternal separation from God and an eternal enduring of the full wrath of God against sinners.

3)         So this man, lying paralyzed on his bed, is “dreadfully tormented.” He is struggling against not only his physical debilitation, but an evil conscience. When we say “evil conscience” we mean that it feels as if God is set against you. This man sees his paralysis as a judgment from God for his sin. As he lays rigid in his bed his conscience convicts him of his sinful actions. All men are born with a natural knowledge of God and part of that natural knowledge of God reveals itself in the conscience. All men know that there is a God and that God will judge our actions at some point according to some standard of righteousness. The man’s conscience believes that this paralysis is God’s judgment and a visible manifestation of God’s wrath. The conscience that is not healed by the Gospel is continually thinks that God is against him, and habitually running from any thoughts of God, because those thoughts are only convicting and can only drag that soul further into the depths of Hell. The one who suffers from an evil conscience is the one of whom the proverb is spoken in Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no one pursues.” This spiritual torment, the evil conscience, is, as Luther commented in a Letter to Jerome Weller, “truly a descent into Hell.”

4)         We see these same maladies at work in our flesh, do we not? The ritual impurity and uncleanness of the Old Testament is a picture of the unrighteousness of the human heart and actions which flow from the heart. Jesus says that we are by nature sinful and unclean in Matthew 15:18-19, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.This means that even the best of our works are unrighteous before God, as Isaiah says in his sixty-fourth chapter, (v.6), “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.How easily we give the members of our body over to be enslaved by sin, so that our members become “instruments of unrighteousness.” The answer for such spiritual uncleanliness isn’t a more rigorous self-discipline or the injection of more pious platitudes throughout the day. In the Old Testament there was only one way to remove the ritual impurity. Hebrews 9:13 says, “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.” That blood cleansed them outwardly, ritually. The author of Hebrews goes on in the next verse to say, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” Our spiritual uncleanliness, the stain of unrighteousness that resides on our hearts can only be cleansed by the blood of Jesus, which earns the atonement for all of our sins and the sinfulness of our hearts.

5)         The “dreadful torment” of the Centurion’s servant is a picture of what the Devil does to Christians when they do fall into sin. He torments them with an evil conscience and accuses you day and night for what you have done, or for what you have failed to do. One of his weapons against you in the evil conscience, which can only see God as your adversary. The Devil wants you to think that the Lord is out to get you and looking for reasons to punish you for your sins. When the Devil has his hooks in you, everything that happens to you is seen as wrath from God. This conscience cannot truly pray, because this conscience thinks of God as enemy. No one asks their enemies for relief. The soul that lives in the Hell of an evil conscience is downtrodden by Satan and stands accused day and night before the throne of God. This causes a spiritual paralysis, making us unable to pray, unable to fear, and unable to trust the Gospel, that God is merciful to us in Jesus Christ and desires to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
 
6)         In contrast to these spiritual maladies stands faith. Faith hears the Gospel and believes that it is ‘for me.’ Faith apprehends Christ by His Word. Faith hears the promises of Christ and the promises about Christ grabs hold of them, saying, “Jesus is mine and all His gifts are mine.” The Leper comes to Jesus in faith. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” The Leper approaches Jesus with this word because He believes, against all earthly odds, that Jesus IS willing to cleanse His spiritual malady. He certainly believes that Jesus CAN heal him. But he believes that Jesus WANTS to heal him. The leper’s faith is rewarded, too. “I am willing. Be cleansed.” And by this Jesus teaches all of us that He wants to forgive your sins. He wants to cleanse you from your unrighteousness. He desires to absolve your sins when you repent of them and mourn over them in Godly sorrow. He is willing now just as He was willing then. In contrast to the torment of the centurion’s servant stands the faith of the centurion. He will not even allow Jesus under His roof because He understands how authority works. Speak the word and it will be accomplished. The faith of the centurion believes that Jesus is willing and is able to perform such a great work of releasing his servant from the physical, and spiritual paralysis. Faith in the Gospel is the only thing that can drive out our guilty, ashamed, and evil consciences. The Gospel is the only Word can calm the “dreadful torment” that rages in our hearts and minds when the Devil attacks us with our sins, present and long past.  

7)         In the Gospel Jesus gives Himself to you, so that you might know that He is FOR YOU and not against you. He shows this to you, and gives you faith to believe that Gospel, by absolving you and removing your sins. They can no longer torment you. They are gone. The temptations which well up from the depths of your own heart no longer need to frighten you, for Christ speaks His Gospel to you in order to strengthen you, so that you do not so easily give your members to be slaves of unrighteousness and impurity. The Gospel, heard, read, pondered, and meditated upon, gives you Jesus, your God and Lord who is FOR YOU and not against you. And to fortify this faith in your heart all the more, He gives you His very body and very blood in His Sacrament, given and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of all of your sins. He wants to show you over and over again that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) He gives you this faith through the Gospel preached and in the Sacrament so that you might be healed today, and every day, all the way up to your dying day, through faith in Christ Jesus, which believes, no matter what the world or your conscience might say, that He is a God for you and not against you. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” “I am willing.” Go in peace. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

January 15, 2017

2nd Sunday after Epiphany + John 2:1-11 + January 15, 2017

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 134 Songs of Thankfulness and Praise
Hymn # 129 Hail, Thou Source of Every Blessing
Hymn # 30 Oh, that I Had a Thousand Voices
 

Introit
ALL THE - || earth | shall | wor- | ship | You, *
And sing praises | to | You, | O - | God.
|| They will sing | praise | to | Your | name; *
- | O | — | Most - | High. (Psalm 66:4; 9:2 paraphrase)
|| Make a joyful shout to | God, | all | the | earth! *
Sing out the honor of His name; make | His | praise | glo- - ri- ∙ | ous.
|| Say to God, “How awe- | some | are | Your | works! *
All the earth shall sing | prais- | es | to - | You.”
|| Come and see | the | works | of | God; *
He is awesome in His doing toward | the | sons | of - | men.
|| Bless├Ęd be God, who has not turned | a- | way | my | pray-er, ∙ *
Nor His | mer- | cy | from - | me! (Psalm 66:1–5, 20)
|| All the earth | shall | wor- | ship | You, *
And sing praises | to | You, | O - | God.
|| They will sing | praise | to | Your | name; *
- | O | — | Most - | High. (Psalm 66:4; 9:2 paraphrase)

Collect for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Almighty and Everlasting God, Who dost govern all things in Heaven and Earth, mercifully hear the supplications of Thy people and grant us Thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Readings
Deuteronomy 18:15-19
Romans 12:6-16a
St. John 2:1-11

Sermon on John 2:1-11

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 
1)       Moses says in Deuteronomy 18:15 that “the Lord your god will raise up for you a prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” All the prophets that came after Moses were, in a sense, like Moses, each one being from among the brethren of the Israelites. But none of the prophets were truly like Moses. Moses was the Lawgiver who received the Ten Commandments on Sinai’s heights. Moses received and established the Divine Service of the Tabernacle and Levitical priesthood. Moses spoke with God face to face. None of the other Old Testament prophets did any of these things. Their preaching always hearkened back to Moses, back to the commandments, and back to the worship God required. Even those prophets who worked signs and wonders were only like Moses to a small degree. The miracles of Elijah and Elisha, for instance, paled in comparison so the signs and wonders Moses did before Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. Elisha purified a pot of poisonous stew for the sons of the prophets. Moses purified the bitter waters at Marah so that all Israel and their livestock could drink. Elijah withheld rain from all Israel for many days. Moses caused burning hail to fall upon the entire land of Egypt. There was never truly a prophet “like” Moses, who gave the Law, who instituted worship, and who worked such miraculous signs and wonders.

2)       The Prophet prophesied by Moses, the one whom the Lord God would raise up from among the children of Israel, the one who be truly be like Moses, is our Lord Jesus Christ. He reveals Himself to be The Prophet at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. St. John specifies that this was the “beginning of signs.” By these words the Evangelist invites us to compare Jesus’ first sign with the first sign Moses worked at the banks of the Nile River. Standing at the banks of the great river, the source of life for all Egypt, and standing in front of the mighty Pharaoh, Moses speaks the Word of the Lord, saying, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD. Behold, I will strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood. And the fish that are in the river shall die, the river shall stink, and the Egyptians will loathe to drink the water of the river” (Exodus 7:17-18). Moses commanded his brother Aaron to touch the mighty waters with Moses’ staff, “and all the waters that were in the river turned to blood. The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:20-21). The Lord demonstrated His mighty power and established Moses as His chosen servant by this miraculous sign.

3)       This first sign Moses did over all Egypt typifies His entire ministry. Moses’ ministry was one of the Law, that is, Moses was sent to work condemnation upon the Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Moses took what was good and life giving and turned it into putrid undrinkable blood. Where there was life, Moses worked death. This is precisely what the Law of God, given to by God to Moses, would does as well. The Law given to Moses on Sinai shows Israel what God requires of them and what their Lord forbids them to do. In doing this, the Law does much more than simply act as a guide. The Law works condemnation upon all men for there is not a single Israelite who does the works of the Law entirely. The Law condemns all men because there is no man who truly has no other God, for all men place their love and trust too easily and too often in the things of this life. Daily, men make their wealth, their reputation, their desires, or their own selves, into idols. The Law of Moses condemns because no one fulfills it according to the heart. St. Peter, in Acts 15:10 describes the Law of Moses as “a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” The Law is most certainly good because it is God’s will for our behavior. But when it is laid upon sinners it shows us our sins, for no man can measure up to the perfect standard of righteousness in one’s heart and life. It is as St. Paul writes to the Galatians, “by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16). What Moses does to the Nile, He does to all mankind. The Law he gives turns water into undrinkable, putrid blood. The Law he gives continually accuses us our sins in thought, word, and deed, striking us dead.

4)        Now compare this great sign and wonder to the beginning of Jesus’ signs and wonders! Moses turned water into blood. Moses brought condemnation and wrath for all who violate the Law. Moses works death. But Jesus is truly like Moses, doing great signs and wonders, but He brings something entirely different, something far superior than what Moses brought. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” says St. John (John 1:17). Where Moses worked death and brought about undrinkable blood, Jesus works life and brings about wine, the sign of gladness among men! Where Moses brought the Law which condemns all flesh because of its sin, Jesus brings the fulfillment of the Law so that that Law has no authority over the conscience of all who believe the gospel. Consider what Jesus uses to show us this. “Now there were set there six water pots of stone, according to the manner of the purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons a piece.” These were not used to store drinking water. The water contained in these large stone barrel drums was for ritual washings when one became ceremonially unclean. The water housed in this barrels wasn’t to drink, for that would have made that water a source of life. It was water according the Law, so that men and women could cleanse themselves ritually after all sorts of things commanded by Moses. That they are stone also calls to mind that these water pots represent the Mosaic Law, for the commandments themselves were engraved upon tablets of stone. Jesus has the servants fill these up to the brim, because that is what He does throughout His life, suffering and death, to the Law. He fulfills the Law of Moses, every requirement laid upon you, He does fully, to the brim.

5)      It is this water for ritual cleansing according to Moses that Jesus turns into wine. In this Jesus shows us precisely that He is like Moses, except that He is far better to Moses. Jesus does not come to be a new Lawgiver. He does not come to set down ten principles for Christian life. He does not declare ten new commandments for pleasing God and earning God’s favor. He comes to fulfill Moses, to fill all those demands to the brim, so that all who trust in Christ’s work for them, they have precisely what Jesus earns throughout His life. You are not holy, nor will you ever be perfectly holy in this life. You are not sinless and can never be as long as you are in the body. You are not perfect, nor will you come anywhere even close to being perfect in thought, word, and deed. But look into the six stone water pots. They are full. Not only are they full, but they have been transformed into sweet wine, the symbol of joy and gladness, a symbol of prosperity and of peace. Moses brings the Law which brings death. Jesus fulfills the Law and earns life for all men, so that all who trust Christ’s work as their own, all who believe the Gospel that Christ is merciful to them, have everything Jesus earns and acquires, so that they are no longer under the Law.

6)       If you are in Christ by faith, then you possess all that is His. If you possess Christ by faith, His fulfilling of the Law is credited to you. This means that God the Father credits you as having entirely fulfilled the Law. The Law can make no demand upon your conscience, for you possess the righteousness of Christ by faith. Moses can make no claim upon you, for your Lord Jesus Christ has done all things on your behalf. And when you do sin, and you will daily because you are still in the sinful flesh, and when Moses condemns you for what you have done and what you have left undone, you are able to flee to the six stone water pots and there see what Christ does for you. He takes your wrath, your condemnation, your sin against God’s Law, and He removes all of it by His death on the cross. When your conscience terrifies you because of your sins, you are to flee to Christ, your throne of Grace, and seek refuge in Him. And there you will find it. Your sins are forgiven you, be of good cheer. Your faith has saved you, give thanks to Christ! The one to whom you flee is like Moses, powerful and one speaking God’s Word, but He is superior to Moses in every way, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (John 1:17).

7)       Because your sins are forgiven when you believe the Gospel, because Christ has lifted the yoke and burden of the Law from your necks, rejoice. You are no longer under the Law, but the heart in which faith in Christ dwells will make a beginning at fulfilling the Law in this life. The Ten Commandments become your guide, to show you the good works God desires His baptized children to do. And though you do them imperfectly, your sins are forgiven because of the faith God has implanted in your hearts. The Law will still accuse you. That is its job. When it does, flee to Cana in Galilee. There is a wedding there where Christ provides everything you need, where Christ fulfills the Law in your stead and fills you joy and gladness by forgiving your sins and filling you with the Holy Spirit, so that you begin to walk according to the Law of the Lord through faith in Christ Jesus your Lord. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard you hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.