Luke 18:31-43

Quinquagesima

11 February 2018

Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center—Shorewood, WI

The Rev. Dr. Jason D. Lane

GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. The text is the Gospel Lesson, Luke 18:31-43, Christ’s final prediction of His suffering and passion and the healing of the blind beggar, who St. Mark tells us is named Bartimaeus.

It always seems that we understand why something happened only after the fact, and that any prophesy or prediction that contradicts conventional wisdom or human reason seems foolish—until, of course, it comes true. I mean, any reasonable person would’ve picked the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. They were, I’m sure you would agree, the superior team—something like Eliab, David’s older brother, who had the appearance of the Lord’s anointed, like Tom Brady in his shining smile and UGG boots. The Eagles were like David—a long shot out there on the field. And if you were one of those who picked the conflicted youngster Nick Foles, you may not have been so popular at the time, but you obviously saw something that others could not. And it’s only after the game that what you saw beforehand is clear to everybody else. Because here we are, and the city of Philadelphia finally has a champion.

But when a prediction contradicts conventional wisdom, it seems foolish—until, like I said, it comes true. Jesus made a bold prediction to His disciples. V. 31, JESUS TOOK THE TWELVE ASIDE AND SAID TO THEM, “LOOK, WE’RE GOING UP TO JERUSALEM, AND EVERYTHING THAT’S BEEN WRITTEN BY THE PROPHETS ABOUT THE SON OF MAN WILL BE FULFILLED. [32] HE WILL BE HANDED OVER TO THE GENTILES AND HE’LL BE RIDICULED AND ABUSED AND SPIT ON. [33] AND AFTER THEY’VE SCOURGED HIM, THEY’LL EXECUTE HIM. How’s that for conventional wisdom?

By all appearances Jesus was invincible. I mean that He was the very best of humanity, the Better Adam, the perfect specimen of holiness and power, wisdom and mercy, strength and humility. He was the Superman, who walked on water and raise the dead. His disciples at least knew this for sure: that following Jesus meant being on the winning team. Look at the track record: His birth was announced by angels. Every saint who held that Child knew He was the one to save Israel and enlighten the Gentiles. At age twelve, He amazed the teachers of the Law with His knowledge of the Scriptures. At His baptism, the Spirit descended and remained on Him and the Father’s voice from heaven testified bore witness that He is the Messiah, God’s own Son, and the Holy One of Israel. Then He was tempted, like we’re tempted, but He didn’t sin; He overcame Satan in the wilderness. He wins where Adam and his children had failed. And then He goes through Galilee casting out demons and healing every kind of sickness and disease. He preached about the Kingdom of God, about God’s judgment and mercy. He raised the widow of Nain’s son. He forgave the adulterous woman, and the wind and sea obeyed Him. He miraculously multiplied five loaves and two fish and fed over 5,000. Was there anything He couldn’t do?

You understand then why His prediction is so hard to hear. “LOOK,” He said, “WE’RE GOING UP TO JERUSALEM, AND EVERYTHING THAT’S BEEN WRITTEN BY THE PROPHETS ABOUT THE SON OF MAN WILL BE FULFILLED.” I suppose THE TWELVE had selective memory. They imagined that EVERYTHING THAT’S BEEN WRITTEN about Jesus was just about His strength. So when Jesus says, WE’RE GOING UP TO JERUSALEM, they think: “It’s about time! Finally, the King will sit on His rightful throne in the Holy City and put all His enemies under His feet, just like the Scriptures say!” But that’s not all the Scriptures say. Jesus had to spell it out for them, just as He always has to spell it. [32-33] The Son of Man WILL BE HANDED OVER TO THE GENTILES AND HE’LL BE RIDICULED AND ABUSED AND SPIT ON. AND AFTER THEY’VE SCOURGED HIM, THEY’LL EXECUTE HIM. AND ON THE THIRD DAY HE’LL RISE.

Jesus predicts an impossible defeat, the heavyweight champion of the world getting into the ring to fight a featherweight with a broken jaw and a bum knee—and the champ predicts that He’ll lose by knock out. Our reason can’t comprehend it. And neither could THE TWELVE. V. 34, THE DISCIPLES COULDN’T PUT ANY OF THESE THINGS TOGETHER. THIS SAYING WAS HIDDEN FROM THEM AND THEY DIDN’T KNOW WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT. I’ve imagined that I’d be better than those disciples; I’d understand why Jesus had to go to Jerusalem and suffer those horrible things. But you and me are no different than them. We’re just as blind when it comes to suffering, death, and resurrection. We may and we should find comfort that we’ll rise again, but we’re still trying with all our might to avoid suffering. We don’t want it for ourselves. And we don’t want it for Jesus. We can’t seem to put His words together. Even if we focus all our attention on those beautiful words at the end of His prediction, “AND ON THE THIRD DAY HE’LL RISE,” we still can’t grasp it. Flesh and blood cannot receive it. Maybe there’s something else. Maybe it’s that if we put our hope in His resurrection, that means we’re admitting His bloody death, and we don’t want to face that innocent Man’s suffering. So our human reason says: “If He’s almighty, and He is, then why take the hits? Why suffer when You can conquer?” Which goes to show that our thoughts are not His thoughts. And our reason makes us blind to His ways.

Jesus says, “WE’RE GOING UP TO JERUSALEM.” And the Son of Man GOES AS IT IS WRITTEN OF HIM. But it would take a long walk on the road to Emmaus and the BREAKING OF THE BREAD for the disciples to understand WHAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN. It always seems to happen after the fact. But it’s by God’s mercy that after the fact, the Lord Himself strengthens faith, and shows us again and again that His Word doesn’t lie. What He predicts happens EXACTLY AS He HAS SPOKEN it.

Look at your life in Christ. Most of you didn’t understand your Baptism at all. But after the fact, the Holy Spirit has taught you what that WASHING has done. Look what it’s done and what God has done through it. He’s condemned our sinful nature to death, buried it with Christ through Baptism and raised us up out of that font as new creations made to live in righteousness and purity forever, forgiven and holy. We’re only just beginning to know what that means. WE SEE IN A MIRROR DIMLY. We’re only just now beginning to see with the eyes of faith. And the time is coming in the future life, when we will see fully!

The same is true about Holy Absolution. The Lord helping us, we come into church, and we try to prepare, we pray to get our hearts ready for the prediction that Christ has made: “that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command…and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.” Jesus promised His apostles: “WHOEVER’S SINS YOU FORGIVE THEY ARE FORGIVEN.” And with all the preparation those words still catch us by surprise: “I FORGIVE YOU ALL YOUR SINS!” It’s not until after the Absolution, surprised by His immeasurable grace, that faith is increased and that we learn to trust God’s Word.

After everything we’ve seen in Christ, you’d have to be blind not to see that what Jesus predicts comes true. St. Luke says that THE DISCIPLES COULDN’T PUT ANY OF THESE THINGS TOGETHER. Jesus’ SAYING WAS HIDDEN FROM THEM AND THEY DIDN’T KNOW WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT. But it was only because their eyes were closed to WHAT WAS WRITTEN. They couldn’t see it.

But there was someone who could see better than those disciples. 35] AS JESUS WAS APPROACHING JERICHO THERE WAS A BLIND MAN SITTING BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD BEGGING. How long had been at that job, blind and begging? V. 36, WHEN HE HEARD THE CROWD PASSING BY HE STARTED ASKING people WHAT WAS GOING ON. You understand, he couldn’t see. The only thing he could do was listen. Vv. 37-38, THEY TOLD HIM, “JESUS OF NAZARETH IS PASSING BY.” AND, when he heard it, HE CRIED OUT AND SAID, “JESUS, SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!” You notice, it’s a prayer.

[39] BUT THOSE LEADING THE CROWD TOLD HIM SHARPLY TO BE QUIET. BUT THE MAN KEPT praying ALL THE LOUDER, “SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!” We don’t know how much that man knew of Jesus. But He knew enough about Him to call Him THE SON OF DAVID, which means the Anointed King of Israel, the Christ of God. And he knew enough about himself to know that He needed Jesus. He cried out and Jesus heard his cry for mercy. 

[40] THEN, STANDING STILL, JESUS ORDERED THE MAN BE BROUGHT TO HIM. And He didn’t say, why are you disturbing Me? Why are you stopping My procession to Jerusalem? No, WHEN HE CAME TO HIM, JESUS ASKED HIM, [41] “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO FOR YOU?” And this blind man asked what the disciples could not: HE SAID: “LORD, I WANT TO SEE AGAIN.” Oh, we’ve been blind to what God’s predicted and we’ve been slow to believe everything that’s been written and slow to ask God what we desire. But this is written for us, so that we’d know how to pray and to believe that Jesus Christ wants to help us in every need. LORD, I WANT TO SEE AGAIN. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s a request. Learn from this blind man, Bartimaeus, how to ask something from the Lord. He didn’t doubt, but firmly believed that Jesus could give him whatever he asked for. “I WANT TO SEE AGAIN,” he said. [42] JESUS SAID TO HIM, “SEE AGAIN; YOUR FAITH HAS MADE YOU WELL.” Christ’s Word and faith belong together. His Word is to be trusted. And Jesus says, YOUR FAITH HAS MADE YOU WELL. As if to say, “LET IT BE DONE TO YOU AS YOU BELIEVE.” If we don’t trust that Christ will give us what we ask, we won’t receive it. But here you see what faith in Christ’s Word does. Because it was after the blind man heard the words “SEE AGAIN” that [43] IMMEDIATELY HE SAW AND FOLLOWED JESUS GLORIFYING GOD. He followed Jesus wherever He was leading, because seeing is for following. And Jesus says, WE’RE GOING TO JERUSALEM. FOLLOW ME. Amen.

Sermon for Sexagesima, 4 February 2018

At Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, WI

Rev. Michael Larson

Is. 55:10–13; Ps. 84; Heb. 4:9–13 Luke 8:4–15

This morning our Lord teaches us that the seed is the Word of God. He teaches us that there are four different hearers of the Word of God.

A sower went out to sow and some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. Jesus says these are those who hear the word and it does not penetrate their hearts. They walk away Sunday morning totally unmoved by God’s call to repentance, faith, and love. The birds are Satan’s demons who snatch the Word of God away from their hearts before it can even begin to take root. God preserve us from this!

The second group receives the Word of God like rocky soil receives the seed. A thin layer of soil is warmed by the rock and there is initially lots of growth and excitement. They hear the Word of God and receive it with joy but there is no root. They believe for a while, and in a time of testing or tribulation, they fall away from our Lord altogether.

The third group are those who receive the Word of God as seed among many thorns. These are those who hear the Word of God and may even take it briefly to heart, but the thorns are the cares, activities, and pleasures of this life. Perhaps this is the most relevant among us. It’s no secret that church is not what it used to be on our priority list. The third commandment is shoved aside in favor of school sports, clubs, or simply sleeping in.

Quite simply, if we teach our children, or one another, that anything is more important than the Gospel and the body and blood of Christ on Sunday morning they will always find something more entertaining to do! If we teach our young ones that church is fine but only when it conveniently fits into our schedules they will notice that – and they will follow your lead. God has a word for anything that replaces proper worship of him – idolatry – plain and simple.

Jesus in our parable is warning us that our amusements, our pleasures, the things we think are so important can become thorns that can choke-out faith in the Gospel – which can wither and die. Our Lord is also teaching us that our worries, our anxieties, the cares of this life can snuff out true faith as well, where we become so obsessed with ourselves and our personal troubles that saving faith is extinguished, love of God snuffed out.

The fourth soil is different. The Word of God is preached, and this is a true disciple, who hears the Word and holds on to it. It doesn’t matter that the world is changing. It doesn’t matter that the culture is different. They know that the Lord God is the very source of their life - that His Word of forgiveness received in the Divine Service in absolution and body and blood is the one thing needful. These disciples consider themselves dying sinners in a dying world who are saved by the Gospel of Christ – and the love of God. There is no question what is most important in their hearts and homes.

If you are trying to figure out which type of soil you are that is not the really the point. When it comes to the sower and the seed, when it comes to the Word of God, it’s better to just confess that you are like the dusty path and the rocky soil. Confess that you have not let God’s love have its way with you. Confess that the cares and pleasures of this life have nearly overtaken you. Confess that your faith is shaky - and that you fear nearly everything except God. Confess that your sins are grievous and thorny and that your priorities are messed up too.

Confess because today there is comfort, and perhaps strangely it’s because Jesus shows us in this parable that he is not a very good farmer – at least not as the world goes. When we plant a garden we carefully pick the right spot. We till the soil. We carefully plant where the birds, rocks, and thorns are not a problem. We don’t like to waste seed.

But it’s different in the Kingdom of God because God scatters His Seed everywhere. In a way, he’s wasteful. He scatters His word recklessly. And yet this Word does not return empty. It accomplishes everything for which he intends.

And the seed is Christ, born of the woman to crush the serpents head. The seed of the woman who grows up to bear fruit for you through the forgiveness of sins. This seed is planted in the garden of gethsemane to sweat blood for your salvation.

The thorns which threaten to choke your faith have been pressed into his innocent head – carrying the sins of misplaced priorities and the sins of neglect of God’s Word, everything must be paid for.  He was planted on the rocky soil of Calvary to bear fruit, and a tree of life sprang up as he stretched out his arms in love for those who made it their number one priority to put him to death.

He was placed in the soil of the earth but sprang forth again in His glorious resurrection. The stone of death was rolled aside, death cracked under his power, the earth shook, and Satan was cast down. The angels descended, the women ran with joy, the guards were stuck dumb, and the disciples all beheld Jesus alive and risen with their own eyes.

Even this morning you see God face to face in the sacrament. The seed that bleeds is He who has risen victoriously from the grave. This sower sows his love recklessly, indiscriminately and says to you your sins are forgiven, rise and sin no more.

So let us hold unto this life-giving Word, which is Christ, until the shadows lengthen, our work is done, and this busy world is hushed in death. And then after some rest, and a long winter we’ll sprout forth like saplings in spring – a new creation, with a body, shooting up in the resurrection of all flesh in glorious light, planted again in the soil of paradise, saints of God in full bloom, radiant and flowering before Him who has called you out of death and into eternal life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of the Church

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

For the Church, that all the baptized would continue to hear the Word of God, hold it fast in honest and good hearts, and bear fruit with patience, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the Office of the Holy Ministry, that the seed of God’s Word would be sown and find good soil in many through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the nations of the world and their leaders, that all who receive the sword as Your servants may bear it according to Your command, and that war, hate and bloodshed may be overcome by peace, justice and mercy, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For our Christian brethren around the world facing persecution and martyrdom, especially in the Middle East and Africa, that they may, by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, confess the saving name of Jesus Christ in the face of their persecutors, remembering that He will confess them before His Father in heaven, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the institution of holy marriage and the blessings of family, we give thanks to the Lord. That these gifts would be cherished and honored in our society, and especially within the communion of saints, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For Deidre and Temish Christiansen, that the Lord would be with them to serve your church in Germany. That God grant them safe travel and joyful hearts for the work before them in the mission field, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For this holy house and for all who offer here their worship and praise, that reverence and awe would attend them as they enter into the dwelling place of their Lord and Savior, especially as they approach the holy altar to receive the very body and blood of Jesus for their forgiveness and strengthening of faith, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For all the faithful, in whom the seed of God’s Word had been planted and cultivated until they departed this vale of tears in faith, let us give thanks to the Lord. Asking Him to bring us to share in the joys of the unending feast with them, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.

SERMON FOR SEPTUAGESIMA, Jan. 28, 2018

LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI

Rev. Michael Larson

Ex. 17:1–7; Ps. 95:1–9; 1 Cor. 9:24—10:5; Matt. 20:1–16

Today we see the congregation of Israel. God had delivered them from bondage in Egypt. They had been baptized in the cloud and in the sea, delivered through the Red Sea from Pharaoh’s hellish army. They had just received bread from heaven in the form of manna. God had provided for them and shown them He was a God who delivered on his promises - a God to be trusted. And now, what did they do? They grumbled. They complained. They doubted whether God was capable of continuing to provide for them. 

But you don’t complain like those grumbling Israelites. You never feel slighted when a coworker gets a promotion and you have to keep slugging it out. You always trust that God has a perfect plan. You trust that God is wise, and good, and always knows what’s best for you.

You believe with every fiber of your being that God will provide for you and your family. That’s why you’re never anxious or worried about what the next day will bring. You never fantasize or day dream about all the things that God has not given you – because you know that he has given you Himself, given you everything. So you trust in him with everything you’ve got.

That’s not you. It’s not me. It’s none of us.

The Israelites too had a sort of baptism, they too had some Old Testament sacraments, water from the rock and manna from heaven. But God teaches us this morning that most of those Israelites, because of their faithlessness and grumblings, were overthrown in the wilderness, and their bodies were scattered throughout the dessert.

St. Paul reminds us today in the epistle that the Christian life is not a spectator sport. Paul teaches us:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

This is a sobering sermon from St. Paul! The Israelites too enjoyed God’s special presence among them, but they persistently grumbled against him. It’s not enough to plant your butt in church. Not enough to hang with the right crowd and serve on the right board. Not enough to go the sacrament in a mere outwardly way.

The Sacraments are to be used, enjoyed even, but as a sign of God’s will toward you, for the purpose of awakening and strengthening repentant faith. The whole nature of them is that they are a promise toward you. A wonderful promise, and to receive them, without trusting in that promise is to abuse them – and brings about judgment and not blessing…Those Israelites overthrown in the wilderness is a warning to all of us. A wake-up call!

In the vineyard this morning. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard we see how dangerous it to grumble against the Lord and to keep track of the ledger - to measure and track our rewards and wages in the kingdom of God.

Those who thought they really deserved something receive nothing. Those who thought they were entitled to heaven get hell. Those who puffed themselves up and boasted of their accomplishments hear from the vineyard owner the most terrifying words one can ever hear. The Vineyard owner simply says: “take what belongs to you and go!”

Those are words of judgment and condemnation because only in the kingdom of hell is there perfect fairness. That’s where the ledgers and scales are perfectly balanced, and everyone gets exactly what they deserve.

But this morning we give thanks and praise to God who is not fair. Because even though we deserve condemnation and judgment, God sent His Son to bear the curse that we deserved. It’s not fair that the holy sinless Son of God should bleed for your sins – and suffer hell on the cross, but he does it anyway. In the vineyard, it’s He and only He who bore the burden of the day and the scorching heat of the Father’s wrath. That’s not fair. And yet this was his passion – and source of his joy – to do this very thing for you.

He trusted in the goodness of His Father even impaled upon the cross, ridiculed and spat upon by the crowds, who all thought he was getting what he deserved. How wrong they were! He was getting what they deserved – what we all deserved!

Out of great love for you He took all your complaining, all your faithlessness, and all your fears into himself. He bore the fiery curse of all your unbelief until it squeezed the last breath out of him.

Only the centurion, the last worker of the vineyard, the 11th hour man, could utter the truest words ever spoken on this side of glory: “Truly this man was righteous!”

Moses took his staff and struck the rock at Horeb and out of that Rock came an artesian well, flowing water, an oasis in the wilderness of sin. But now from his pierced side, struck with the centurion’s spear, out of that Rock, comes a gusher of mercy - flowing waters of baptism which saves. A cleansing of pure delight, that refreshes you, purifies and washes away all sin.

All so that you might stand up in the resurrection, walk out of your grave, leave behind your empty tomb, and boast that your God is not fair. He has rewarded you not according to what you deserve, but only according to His steadfast love and mercy.

So why rubberneck and look around at what others have? The whole vineyard, the whole kingdom of heaven has been given to you!

The owner of the Vineyard, your Lord, doesn’t say “take what belongs to you and go.” Instead he says, “Take what belong to me and go.”

My righteousness, my holiness, my blessedness. Take my victory over the devil and go forth, take my body and my blood and go, take my streets paved with gold, take my heaven and everything that belongs to me. Take my grave and my empty tomb. Take my resurrected life and all that I am.

This morning, don’t begrudge your God’s generosity. From the vineyard of his cross and passion, comes a gusher of mercy.

So this morning let us go confidently to the altar this great rewarding day, and let us all boast, that God has not been fair. He is much better than that. He is generous beyond compare. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of the Church

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

Brief silence

For the Holy Church, that all who have been called into the vineyard of the Lord would recognize their unworthiness for such a gracious gift, rejoice in the salvation they have in Christ, and remain steadfast in the Word, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For all pastors in Christ, that they would gladly preach the saving Gospel to all, not counting the cost, and not for their own glory or the praise of men, but for Christ’s glory alone; for all other church workers, that all they do would be in service to this same saving Gospel; and for an increase in these vocations, that the Lord of the harvest would use His laborers as His blessed instruments in bringing sinners into the vineyard of His redemption and love, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For missionary Rev. Jacob Gaugert, and the work carried out at the seminary in Togo, West Africa, that those sitting in darkness would called in His marvelous light, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For our congregation, that we would love one another as Christ has loved us, give generously to support the ministry here and abroad, pray for our enemies, put away all earthly grumbling, and bask in the gracious provisions our Lord lavishly bestows on us, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For all those suffering or recovering from illness especially Gabriel Albers, for those who are sad and sorrowing, for those suffering from broken relationships or financial distress, for those to whom death draws near, and for those who are grieving, that Christ would be their health in sickness, their joy in sorrow and their life in death, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the most vulnerable among us, especially the unborn and elderly, that we would cherish life from the womb to the grave, seeking to care for them to the best of our ability; and that a culture of life would be embraced by more and more in our society until it becomes the norm, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the newly baptized, for Job Christopher, for Kalia and Pastor German, for those preparing for the birth of children, for Erica, Helen, and Kristina. That God would give them great comfort and joy, in their blessings, let us pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy.

For those who come to the table of our Lord this day, that they would receive the very body and blood of Jesus in repentance and faith, and to their abundant blessing, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the faithful who have gone before us and enjoy heavenly bliss, let us give thanks and praise. That we may be brought to share with them the feast of joy that never ends in the eternal vineyard of our Lord, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD, 1-21-2018

Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, Wisconsin

Rev. Michael Larson

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

This morning we come to the climax of the Epiphany season in which we have the feast day of the Transfiguration.  This morning we see Jesus take Peter, James, and John, his first three disciples up upon a mountain.  At the top of this mountain they see Jesus. His clothing is white. His face is shining bright than the Son. Glorious light is pouring from his body.    

At the top of this mountain Jesus is joined by the two VIP’s of God’s OT people.  Moses, the supreme law-giver who represent the first five books of the Bible.  And also Elijah, who is the prophet par-excellence, who represents all of the prophets who spoke of the Messiah – the Savior of the world who would save us.  This morning we have the whole Bible represented in these three men.  And these men are having a conversation and speaking of what is to come.  Moses and Elijah are conversing with Jesus about the completion of God’s plan. 

That Jesus will be handed over to be crucified, to die for the sins of the world, and to be raised on the third day – thus putting an end to death and delivering forgiveness of sins and everlasting life to all believers. 

And up on this mountain the disciples are loving every moment.  They are having a spiritual mountaintop experience – all is going right – they are with God – hanging out with Moses and Elijah and things are looking good.  So good that Peter wants to have a camping party and make three tents – and stay there. 

As Peter was still speaking, the Scriptures say “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and God the Father spoke from the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 

The disciples, terrified by the holy presence of God, hit the deck and throw themselves on their faces in fear.   

They fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.  No Moses, no Elijah.  Jesus the face of Christ, stooping down to lift them up.

Jesus tells them not to tell anyone of the vision until after He is raised from the dead.  They quietly descend down the mountain and the slow journey starts to another mountain – high up on the mount of Golgotha where all things will be made new.

Today we observe the feast day of the Transfiguration.  But what does it all mean?  The scriptures point out this morning that the Transfiguration is on the sixth day.  If you remember from Genesis it was the day that God has made man.  This was the first time God did not say it was good but said for the very first time “It is very good.”  He created man to live forever in paradise, created man from the dust of the ground to live, worship, and have pure delight in the presence of God for eternity. 

But paradise was short-lived.  For God did not create man from the dust of the earth just to stick him right back in it. It was not long before we turned away from his life-giving Word and death entered in.  Ever since, humanity has been languishing in the curse caused by our own sin.  We are all growing old and weak from our sins.  Marriages are fractured, our backs are sore, our eye sight is getting worse.  Even in our relationships we so often grow cold and callous. There is death and funerals and tears everywhere.         

The Transfiguration takes place on the sixth day to show up what our future looks like.  Jesus is shining like the Sun to show us what God’s plan for us is.  Because quite frankly, you don’t shine like the sun.  You’ve rained on more than your fair share of parades. You can be dark, dim, and cold to those whom God has called you to love the very most.  Your appearance isn’t dazzling like the transfiguration because sins sully our own appearances.  We are not adorned in dazzling white but have been horribly damaged by the darkness of sin and the blackness of our own cold hearts.   

That is why Moses and Elijah are encouraging Christ to press on – to fulfil the entire Scriptures by reversing the curse of sin which has marred man’s existence since that dreadful day.  So this morning we see the dazzling presence of Christ – shining brighter than the sun – clothes white as light.  All to show us what we too will look like when this valley of tears is ended and God ushers us into his presence when He comes again.

But before we can be transfigured like Christ, first he needs to be disfigured by sinful man.  This transfigured sinless Son of God must be disfigured by our sins.  He must carry our sorrows, bear our shame, and be beaten and marred beyond human semblance.  Bearing the curse for rebellious and sinful man.  He must take our cold callous hearts and in exchange give us his heart of gold.  He must be disfigured at the cross – until as the scriptures say he appeared as a worm and not a man.  With no semblance or beauty that we should desire him.  A man to whom people would look away from. 

He must be left in a tomb for our sake.  To rob death of its power.  To burst open the gates of hell and to disfigure Satan until he has lost all power over the sons and daughters of God.  And he rises victoriously on the third day, destroying death, and showing us what our future will look like. 

The transfiguration points to the cross and resurrection which is the fulfilment of everything that Moses and Elijah ever spoke of.  From the Red Sea of his blood we are delivered. And death passes over. Jesus is our bread from heaven.  He is our fiery chariot ride. Now that Christ has come nothing else matters – Moses and Elijah fade into the distance and all we see is Christ – our Joshua, Yahweh, the Lord God.   

Just like, St. Peter who threw himself down in fear at the Transfiguration, Christ knows all the things that terrify you.  He knows how afraid and faithless you can be.  Like Peter, Jesus knows what a fair-weathered disciple you are. But He is still with you.   

The risen Christ speaks the same words to you this morning that he spoke to Peter.  He says to you “don’t be afraid.”  Your future is good and it’s secure. Your sins are forgiven.  You life has been redeemed. Trust in me…I will lift you up on the last day”

Even though you can’t see through the clouds of confusion caused by the troubles and changes of this dying world, you should nevertheless see Christ.  Like Peter you may gaze at the loving face of your Savior.  A Savior who goes to hell and back to claim you as his own.  And this morning he reaches out to you to feed you gifts from heaven.  To give you himself and all that he is – His righteousness – His innocence – His blessedness – His holy body and blood.  Everything God could possibly give you He does.  He calls you His own. 

And the Father speaks the same words to you that he speaks to His Son.  You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.

And just like the disciples we can head down the mountain to our ordinary lives – knowing that someday – when our work is done.  We too will shine like the sun in His glorious kingdom.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

Prayer of the Church

Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

For the baptized, that we would heed our heavenly Father’s admonition to listen to His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, as He speaks to us through His Holy Word and Sacraments; and that we would, by grace, through faith, behold Him in His glory as He continues to tabernacle among us, delivering forgiveness, life and salvation through the same, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For those who are called and ordained to serve in Christ’s stead and by His command, that all their preaching and teaching would flow from the right understanding that all Holy Scripture testifies of Christ and all that He has done, and continues to do, for our eternal salvation, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For all those who have been placed in authority over us, including Donald, our president; Scott, our governor; and all those who make, administer and judge our laws, that they would serve with integrity and honor, having the welfare of all in mind; and for our country, that division, conflict and strife would give way to unity, peace and quietness, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the Lord’s flock here at Luther Memorial Chapel, that we would be granted faithfulness, humility and patience in our various vocations, striving to love God and neighbor in all that we say and do, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For those who mourn, especially the family of John Burfeind at the death of Robert, his father, that they would be comforted by the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For all the schools of the Church, for all who teach and learn in them, and for all who support them during this National Lutheran Schools Week and always. Raise up faithful teachers and directors of Christian education who are equipped to assist parents in nourishing children in faith and preparing them for life in this world, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For those who come to the holy altar this day to receive the Holy Eucharist of Christ’s very body and blood, that receiving the forgiveness of sins, they would be strengthened in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John and all the saints who have fallen asleep trusting in our Savior’s promises, let us give thanks to the Lord; that we would be kept in this same faith and brought to behold with them the fullness of Christ’s glory in His Kingdom, which has no end, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

All this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through Him, with Him and in Him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is Yours, forever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of our Lord

13 January 2018

Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center

The Rev. Dr. Jason D. Lane

GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.

From the moment of His conception in Mary’s womb, He was God. And when God became man, His divinity never changed; it was never diminished, which means that there was never a time when He was less God. When Mary’s Son was born in Bethlehem, God was born in Bethlehem. When the child was circumcised according to the law, it was God who was circumcised. When the Magi followed the star and brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to worship a king, they didn’t find just a boy; they found a boy who was God and King of the Universe. And when the child was 12 years old, and in the temple teaching the teachers, God was in His temple. And when He APPEARED OUT OF GALILEE AT THE JORDAN WITH JOHN, TO BE BAPTIZED BY HIM, God came to be baptized like a sinner.

Even though HE WAS IN THE FORM OF GOD, He DIDN’T COUNT HIS EQUALITY WITH GOD SOMETHING TO BE GRASPED. At the Jordan, the Great Epiphany is that HE MADE HIMSELF NOTHING. That’s the whole incarnation and life of Christ all the way to His death and burial. HE MADE HIMSELF NOTHING. And that’s the way the ministry of God-With-Us starts. He takes His office as the Christ by becoming nothing, to be baptized like a sinner.

That’s not us. Our old nature doesn’t want us to look weak, doesn’t want to be called a sinner, and so we do everything we can to look righteous, to show others how full of good works we are. We want people to know about the thing we did, the things we do, and all the things we can do, if we’re just given the chance. We want approval. We want to be recognized.

If someone doesn’t praise us, doesn’t recognize everything we’re trying to do or everything we’ve done, we drop a hint—so quick to justify ourselves. We care so much about what people think of us, and end up doing little things and big things in hopes of getting people’s attention and getting people to love us. We act like we’ve never been loved before and live as if we don’t have the attention and love of God the Father. It’s pride and pride is just another form of selfishness, another way the old Adam in us coils in on himself, looking out for number one, while everyone else stays a long way off at number two. Adam’s first sin was pride. He didn’t want to consider Eve better than himself. He could’ve MADE HIMSELF NOTHING for her, put her above himself, but instead he made himself great and made her the sinner. “THE WOMAN YOU PUT HERE WITH ME; SHE GAVE ME OF THE TREE!”

But, beloved, now look at Jesus. Look at Jesus. HAVE THE SAME MIND AS CHRIST JESUS. He was by nature before all others. That’s how He was from eternity: God from God, Light from Light, and the very substance of the Father and the BELOVED SON of the Father. And yet, verse 13, God APPEARED AT THE JORDAN WITH JOHN, TO BE BAPTIZED BY HIM. He took on the FORM OF A SERVANT, no even less, He took on the form of a sinner. He came to be baptized by John with the rest of those sinner. But JOHN TRIED TO PREVENT HIM.

The Gospel of John tells us that the Baptist didn’t know who the Christ was until the Holy Spirit descended on Him. John said: “I DIDN’T KNOW HIM, BUT FOR THIS PURPOSE I CAME BAPTIZING, THAT HE MIGHT BE REVEALED TO ISRAEL.” He was waiting for a great epiphany! Here at the Jordan, he’s still not sure whether Jesus is the Christ. To know that for sure, He needed the Holy Spirit. NO ONE CAN SAY JESUS IS LORD or that He is the Christ, EXCEPT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. Still, he had to have a hunch. He’d been waiting for the Christ his whole life, and when his cousin Jesus approached, he at least knew that He wasn’t like everybody else. John must have seen something holy in that carpenter coming out of Galilee, because he says, verse 14, “I’M THE ONE WHO NEEDS TO BE BAPTIZED BY YOU, AND YOU COME TO ME?”

John had seen through to the heart of the Pharisees and Sadducees and he called them snake children. But John also saw through to the heart of those thousands upon thousands that were coming to the Jordan River, confessing their sins. He received them. He baptized them. And we can only assume that He saw something in Jesus too. Maybe he sensed the divinity, like he did when he leapt in his mother’s womb. Like a baby knows the scent of its mother, John the Baptist must have smelled the aroma of Christ’s divinity, because John tried to prevent Him from getting into that water. He knew enough to know that Jesus didn’t belong in that sin-stained river. John saw greatness in Jesus. It’s why he TRIED TO PREVENT Jesus from baptism. It wasn’t right that the GREATER One should be lesser than John. It wasn’t fitting for the Righteous One to get involved in all that unrighteousness. BUT JESUS ANSWERED AND SAID TO JOHN: “ALLOW THIS NOW, FOR THIS IS FITTING FOR US TO FULFILL ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS.” It was fitting that the LESSER should baptize the GREATER and the GREATEST BORN OF WOMEN should baptize the LEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. But it was more than just humility. Jesus says that is was TO FULFILL ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Jesus had to get down in that water. It was the only way. Not that He was a sinner but that He came to soak up all that sin. He WHO KNEW NO SIN had to BE MADE SIN FOR US. It was the only way to FULFILL ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS, because it was the only way to cleanse that water for the rest of the world.

John tried to prevent Him, because it’s not proper to treat Jesus like a sinner and have Him baptized like a sinner. And our hearts will try to prevent Him, not from getting in the Jordan, but to prevent Jesus from being a sinner. We say He’s too righteous, too holy, too clean to be involved with sin, with our sin. But Jesus says: ALLOW THIS NOW.

John didn’t think it was right for Jesus to get into the water. 23wesdxBut, beloved, if Jesus doesn’t get into that water as a sinner, then nothing changes. God remains righteous and we remain sinners. But if He gets into that water like a sinner, then He becomes the sinner and we become righteous. That’s why Jesus says: ALLOW THIS NOW. Sin has got to be somewhere. Either it’s on us or it’s on Jesus. What’s it going to be? Jesus says: ALLOW THIS. Christians, IT’S FITTING FOR US to allow Jesus to be our sin, so that He could destroy sin and that He alone could be the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. The office of the Christ is to be the SIN-BEARER. If Jesus is to be our Christ, our Messiah, then let Him bear our sin. Allow Him to get down into our mess. I mean the real sin you’ve been hiding or the sin I’ve been trying carry myself. Whatever pride we’re still holding onto that tries to prevent Christ from being a Savior. We’ve got to allow Him to take it. Why? It’s to FULFILL ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS.

JOHN ALLOWED IT and we’ve got to allow it, too. Jesus stepped out into that water contaminated with the sins of Israel, and He took up the sins of the whole world. He plunged into the depths of our mess, so that Jesus Himself is the one praying Psalm 69: SAVE ME, O GOD! FOR THE WATERS HAVE COME UP TO MY NECK. I SINK IN DEEP MIRE; THERE IS NO FOOTHOLD. I HAVE COME INTO DEEP WATER AND THE FLOOD SWEEPS OVER ME…LET NOT THE FLOOD SWEEP OVER ME, OR THE DEEP SWALLOW ME UP OR THE PIT CLOSE ITS MOUTH OVER ME. He went and plunged down into that water, and came out Jesus the Christ, the Anointed. He was always God, but now He takes up His office as the Christ, anointed with the sin of the whole world. He went in clean and came out stained. He came out bearing it all, all your sin, all my sin, everyone’s sin. He soaked it all up. And I tell you, that water has never been more pure than now. That day at the Jordan He sanctified that whole river and not just that river, but water in every faucet and font. Whatever’s been washed away from us in the water is on Him now.

How do we know? [Vv. 16 and 17] AND WHEN JESUS WAS BAPTIZED, SUDDENLY HE CAME UP FROM THE WATER AND BEHOLD, THE HEAVENS WERE OPENED TO HIM, AND HE SAW THE SPIRIT OF GOD DESCENDING AS A DOVE AND COMING OVER HIM. [17] AND BEHOLD A VOICE FROM THE HEAVENS SAYING: “THIS IS MY BELOVED SON IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED.”

You see the whole Trinity is involved in His baptism, because the whole Trinity’s involved with our Baptism. INTO THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT we are washed clean. It’s not just washing away the dirt. It’s not just an analogy of being clean by faith. It’s that baptism does it. It forgives sin, because in our baptism we are placed into water that’s been sanctified by Jesus Christ. God Almighty has baptized us, so that our sin is put on Christ and the righteousness of Christ is put on us.

The heavens opened at His baptism to declare that He is the Christ, THE BELOVED OF THE FATHER, on whom THE FATHER HAS SET HIS SEAL, THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD. And because He’s purified the water with His baptism and His word, He now through the gift of Holy Baptism opens the gates of Heaven to us, so that we’d wake up every morning to CONSIDER ourselves DEAD TO SIN AND ALIVE TO GOD IN CHRIST JESUS, so that every part of our lives would be pleasing to God the Father, so that we’d hear that voice from heaven, too: YOU ARE MY BELOVED WITH WHOM I’M WELL PLEASED. It’s what the Father says to you now. Not because you’re without sin, but because all your sin has been washed onto Jesus and all His righteousness has been washed onto you. ALLOW THIS MUCH: Allow Christ to be your sin-bearer. Allow Christ to be your Righteousness. And for the baptized child of God, BEHOLD THE HEAVENS ARE OPEN TO you. THE SPIRIT RESTS on you. Listen: “YOU ARE MY BELOVED child,” says the Father. Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
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