SERMONS

    Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - It Only Took One
  • Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
    July 5, 2020


    Hymns 379, 619
    First Lesson Jeremiah 20:7-13
    Psalm 31 (page 77)
    Second Lesson Romans 5:12-15
    Gospel Lesson Matthew 10:24-33
    Romans 5:12-15
    It Only Took One
    I. The one ruins all
    II. The One rescues all

    In the name of Christ Jesus, true God and true man, our Savior and our Substitute, fellow redeemed,

    Trailblazers light up the pages of history. Pasteur for his work developing vaccines and Curie for hers with radiation. Edison’s inventions pioneered convenient life as we know it today. Bell’s innovation brought swift communication via telephone. More recently, Bill Gates has developed software and Steve Jobs computer technology that most everyone uses.

    In this lesson, the Holy Spirit had Paul write about two ancient trailblazers. Both introduced something new to the world and to the life of people in it. The people affected didn’t live only in advanced civilizations. The people affected were – and are – every person ever! One of the trailblazers was Adam, the first human; the other trailblazer is Jesus Christ, the only God-man. It only took one. The one ruins all. The One rescues all.
    I. The one ruins all
     
    Many of us are old enough to remember the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, and the resulting deaths of all seven on board. But do you remember what caused the explosion? Due to unseasonably cold temperatures in Florida that January morning, an o-ring failed which allowed pressurized gas from the booster to escape, and that gas ignited an external fuel tank on the shuttle. One little o-ring! But it only took one!

    People who know you as a regular church-going, Bible-believing, Christ-confessing child of God might have told you, “It’s ridiculous, even barbaric, that your God would condemn all people because only one sinned. It’s pathetic you believe God got all bent out of shape because Adam and Eve ate a piece of forbidden fruit – fruit from a tree God had made but then forbad them to use for food! That’s unreasonable nonsense!”

    They don’t get it because they suppose sins are only little errors in judgment. They think people control their own destiny. Some of them likely believe there is no all-powerful Creator God, but that people evolved from lower life forms over billions of years. Those people have a hard time explaining “death” (v. 12). If man is in control, if man is evolving into more complex, better beings, then why would people die?

    Adam was the trailblazer who started us down the road to the cemetery. “Sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all people because all sinned” (v. 12). It’s not an unexplained phenomenon that people die. It’s the curse of sin. Sin isn’t a little mistake some people make. Sin is rebellion by all against the holy God. That’s terribly serious. “Death” shows just how terribly serious it is!

    Adam and Eve had only one command from God in the Garden of Eden. They disobeyed that one command, and ended up dying as a result. But what about all the people in the centuries and millenia after them? Our teeth marks weren’t on the fruit Adam and Eve ate. How fair is it that all people since then have died, too? It seems like a teacher keeping the whole class in for recess when only one student broke classroom rules.

    God answers, “Even before the law was given, sin was in the world…Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those whose sin was not like the transgression of Adam” (vv. 13-14). Accountability for sin didn’t begin when God gave the law through Moses at Sinai. Accountability for sin was in effect from the beginning. God’s law is written on everyone’s heart. Proof of that is the fact that from Adam to Moses, some two thousand five hundred years, people died. Parents then didn’t say, “You sinned against the Fourth Commandment when you talked back to us.” But they did say, “You sin. We sin. All who sin will die. All sin is that serious!”

    It’s not that God wanted that for people. God created Adam and Eve to live forever. But Adam’s sin brought death into his life and into our lives. “Death” is evidence that disobedience to God separates people from God. It only took one to ruin all.

    That truth shames us into giving up our fools’ gold game of comparing ourselves to others. At least I’m not as bad as they are! Adam’s sin brought sin to all. We don’t even start life with the possibility of living sinlessly. We do start life with the curse of sin hung around our necks and souls and hearts.

    Is that fair? Is it right we are burdened by sin and must die just because Adam listened to the devil’s lies more than six thousand years ago? Those are the wrong questions. Those questions suppose God owes us an explanation of His justice. The right question is the one asked when we stand in front of the mirror of God’s law. What do I see? You and I see ourselves as sinners against God, destined for death, deserving of hell. We see our sinful nature, our old man, our Old Adam. We see that it only took one, the one who ruins all.

    II. The One rescues all
     
    People of God who hold to all God’s Word are asked, How can you believe in a God who will damn the world because one sinned? People of God who hold to all God’s Word answer, God forgives the whole world because of another One! How is it true that Adam “is a pattern of the One who was to come” (v. 14)? Isn’t the One who was to come Jesus Christ? He is! Then how is Adam “a pattern” of Jesus? It took only one to ruin all, and it took only One to rescue all.

    Adam acted on the devil’s lie. As a result, life with God and holiness before God was lost, the entire creation of God was stained and ruined, sin and death entered to defile all people. But Jesus had agreed to the rescue plan. He entered our sinful world, lived in our place, then gave His life to restore life for sinners with God. He is the One who rescues all.

    Really? “All”? Your Bible says, “the many” (v. 15). You’re right. It does. “For if the many died by the trespass of this one man, it is even more certain that God’s grace, and the gift given by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ, overflowed to the many(v. 15). But that doesn’t mean we have to wonder and worry if we will make the cut to be among “the many”. Remember the Spirit’s lesson here! All sinned”. Read on for more of the Spirit’s truth. A few verses after this lesson, He had Paul add, “Just as one trespass led to a verdict of condemnation for all people, so also one righteous verdict led to life-giving justification for all people(Romans 5:18).

    That fits perfectly with passages you cherish. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16). Realize it took only one to ruin all. Trust it took only the One to rescue all! And since we are part of “all people” (Romans 5:18), we, too, are rescued by “the One man”.

    What did the coming One, the God-man, Jesus Christ, do? Willingly He went to the cross to carry our sins, even though the very thought of it in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before overwhelmed His holy soul with sorrow to the point of death. Completely He suffered the punishment – not just a cruel crucifixion, but the horror of hell – for every sin.

    When we question God’s fairness or justice, He shows us “the One” who is God and man, the only Savior, Jesus. Doesn’t God want to have mercy on us who deserve hell? Doesn’t God want to spare us the forever consequences of Adam’s sin? Doesn’t God want to dispel the fear of death for those who trust in Him and see death as the last, great step to life with God in the holy joy of heaven through faith in “the One”, our Savior?

    Of this lesson’s two trailblazers, one is known for his “trespass” (v. 15), the other One is known for His “gift” (v. 15). The “trespass” was terrible and inexcusable. Adam’s fall into sin was no accident; it was deliberate disobedience and open rebellion against the Lord. It brought ruin to all. Blessedly, the remedy was more than adequate! The source of “the gift” is “God’s grace, and the gift given by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ”. That makes us believers the most confident people in the world. If we doubt our sins are forgiven, we insult the Savior who paid for them, and act as if our sins and guilt are greater and more powerful than His promise and grace. But we no longer fear what will happen to us at death. Our sins are covered and “death” has been defeated by Christ to rescue all.

    There was so much power and effect in the sin of the one man to bring sin and death on all. But there is much more power and effect in the work of “the other One”, the God-man, the Savior, Jesus Christ! We are not just freed from the chains of sin and death and hell. We are freed by Him to serve Him and one another now. We are freed by Him to reign with Him forever. He calls to us, “Why live as a follower of Adam, trailblazer of sin and death? Live as a child of Mine, the One who rescues all, and in grace brings life to all who trust in Me!”   Amen.
                                                                                                                                                  Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - See the Heavenly Harvest
  • Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
    June 28, 2020


    Hymns 576, 559
    First Lesson Exodus 19:2-8a
    Psalm 100 (page 104)
    Second Lesson Romans 5:6-11
    Gospel Lesson Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
     
    Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
    See the Heavenly Harvest
    I. The fields are ready
    II. The workers are needed
    III. The machinery is here

    In the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior who has purchased salvation for all souls, fellow redeemed,

    Last winter a sociologist estimated our planet’s maximum capacity is 9-10 billion people. Within the next three years, there will be 8 billion people on earth, then 9 billion by 2042. Where, the expert wondered, will we find food and water, medicine and health care for everyone? Nearly two thousand years ago, heaven’s Savior, the expert in both the world’s population and the sinner’s salvation, said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers into His harvest” (vv. 37-38).

    Which situation is more serious? Yes! The one to which the world pays little attention. Harvesting souls for heaven is more critical than harvesting food, producing medicine, and improving the standard of living. Oh, those are important. But they are not as important as the heavenly harvest. Our eyes are directed by “the Lord of the harvest” to the heavenly harvest, to the continents full of souls bought by His blood. His harvest merits our attention, prayers, support, and efforts. We see – and get busy working in – the heavenly harvest where the fields are ready, the workers are needed, and the machinery is here.
     
    I. The fields are ready
     

    Even those of us who know little about farming can tell when the grain fields we pass are ready for harvest. The tiny green grass we see in fields when late winter snow melts rise into blue-green stalks, then become acres of golden grain. Farmers harvest the grain at just the right time – before the heads get too heavy and while the stalks still stand tall for the combine.

    The souls to be harvested by the Gospel are countless. Each of the nearly 8 billion people alive right now has a soul; only one-third of them trust in Jesus as the only Savior. “The heavenly harvest is plentiful”, indeed!

    All people are planted on earth enemies of God by nature from their conception and birth – sinners in God’s eyes and without any hope to enter heaven on their own. Without being harvested for the Lord, every soul is “troubled” (v. 36) by Satan and his helpers from hell; the idea behind this word is going through a huge thorn patch and coming out a bloody mess. Without being harvested for the Lord, everyone is “downcast” (v. 36), a word used by a shepherd of a four-legged sheep that is lying upside down and can’t get to its feet on its own. Without being harvested for the Lord, every soul is “like a sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36) to lead the sinner to the Savior.

    That’s what makes the heavenly harvest so urgent – and it needs more than our passing look! Jesus lived a perfect life for all and died the sacrificial death to cover every sin. He makes the heavenly harvest an eternal blessing for sinners! But billions are blind to that. They still plow through life in unbelief, trusting their own good living and rejecting the only Savior.

    Fellow sinners rescued by Christ, let’s keep the eyes of our hearts open to see the yet-unharvested souls around us! Let’s see the fields of souls that are ready now! The heavenly harvester says, “The harvest is plentiful!” This heavenly harvest doesn’t happen first on the Last Day. The souls of those who die trusting Jesus for forgiveness are already harvested for the Lord and thus enter heaven when they die. The souls of those who die rejecting Jesus in unbelief are sent to hell forever. See the fields of souls ready now for the heavenly harvest work!

    II. The workers are needed

    The grain standing in fields today won’t make it to the elevator next month unless someone works to harvest it. Some in our country are concerned that more stringent immigration regulations will result in some crops rotting in fields because there won’t be enough workers to harvest the crops.

    Will part of the heavenly harvest be lost because “the workers are too few”? It’s not up to us to answer that question. It is up to us to hear Jesus calling, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. Workers are needed!”

    We pray the Holy Spirit moves all of us to identify people we know, relatives we love, folks with whom we have a close relationship, and souls living without the peace of God and His forgiveness for Christ’s sake in their hearts. We pray the Spirit gives all of us the courage to tell them what only Jesus has done to rescue them and us and all the world’s billions of souls, or at least to invite them to view online or attend in person our services or classes so they hear the life-giving good news about the Savior and His work. We pray the Triune God will continue to fill our members, and members of eleven hundred or so sister churches, to support His kingdom’s work – not just in our own congregations, but for schools to train pastors and teachers, for mission fields around the world we’ll never enter.

    And when we pray for workers in the heavenly harvest, the Lord of the heavenly harvest’s answer may well be, “Go! Get to work in My heavenly harvest! Use the opportunities I give you to harvest souls. How about your boyfriend or girlfriend or fiancé? Your neighbor or co-worker or classmate? If you won’t speak to them about what sinners have in Christ alone, who will? If you aren’t yet confident
    telling them about Me, study what I tell you in My Word about Me and My work! Invite them to study that with you at your house and in My house!”

    The Lord of the heavenly harvest’s words about needing workers are even spoken about the youngest of you. “Children, parents, grandparents, what about you, your children, or grandchildren, becoming full time workers as a pastor or teacher in My heavenly harvest? The first full-time workers in the New Testament I called to teach others about Me and My work were Simon (who is called Peter)…Andrew,
    James…John, Philip…Bartholomew (also called Nathanael), Thomas, Matthew, another James…Thaddeus (also known as Judas), another Simon and Judas Iscariot” (vv. 2-4). They were not intellectuals, not particularly holy in their living, not much different from others. They were ordinary people like you are.

    “You might think you’re not fit to be a full time worker in My harvest. But I will equip you for that work. Ponder it seriously, children! Encourage it earnestly, parents and grandparents! Pray about it fervently, all of you! Workers are needed!”

    III. The machinery is here

    Would you harvest grain entirely by hand, no tools at all? Of course not. Even in Bible times farmers had oxen turn huge stones to grind the cut grain and separate edible kernels from useless straw. Today’s harvest tools are called machinery.

    The same is true in the heavenly harvest. No one can work in the heavenly harvest without the right tools, machinery. Some say they harvest souls for the Lord with their manmade machines as they claim, “God is love and loves everyone into heaven!” But they don’t insist Christ is the only way to heaven. That’s like using a tweezers to grill chicken; it does not work.

    God’s miraculous machinery is the message about who Jesus is, about what He did and still does for sinners. “As you go to work in the heavenly harvest, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’” (v. 7). Fellow workers in His heavenly harvest, to use that message, we need to know it! “The kingdom of heaven” is not as much a place as it is the activity of the Savior ruling in human hearts with
    His Word about the sinners’ salvation won by His work.

    Some of the machinery mentioned isn’t used for the heavenly harvest now. “Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Drive out demons” (v. 8). That was needed for heavenly harvest work in the early Church. Those miracles convinced souls the workers were sent by, and had the power of, the one true God. Today that machinery isn’t necessary because the Bible is complete to show others what God
    has done and what He says. The machinery is here – the message of sin and salvation!

    The machinery then also included a map. “Do not go among the Gentiles…Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv. 5-6). During our Savior’s ministry, the Word went to Jewish people first. But eighteen months after Jesus said this, on the first Pentecost, Gentiles, too, heard the Gospel from the apostles. And so it continues among us Gentiles today!

    A modern combine will cost a farmer one quarter of a million dollars. The heavenly harvest’s machinery is free. “Freely you have received salvation; freely give (v. 8) salvation.” You don’t have to pay the pastor and teachers; we are willing to work in the heavenly harvest for “free”. But our called workers and families need to eat. If we didn’t receive a salary for work in the heavenly harvest, we’d work elsewhere to earn a living, leaving less time for our work in the heavenly harvest. Our called workers give thanks to the Lord of the harvest for your loving, generous support so we are able to work full time in His heavenly harvest with His machinery, His law and Gospel, His Means of Grace, the good news in Word and sacraments!

    Fellow workers in the heavenly harvest, we work together to use the good news about the Savior after His threats show what every sinner deserves. We work together as the Lord of the heavenly harvest uses us to gather souls around the world for His kingdom and into His heaven.      Amen.        Pastor David A. Voss

    Third Sunday after Pentecost - God's Promises Never Fail
  • Third Sunday after Pentecost
    June 21, 2020

    Hymns 596, 321
    First Lesson Exodus 3:1-15
    Psalm 119c (page 111)
    Second Lesson Romans 4:18-25
    Gospel Lesson Matthew 9:9-13

    Romans 4:18-25
    God’s Promises Never Fail
    I. Despite our helplessness
    II. Because of God’s power
    III. Thanks to His faithfulness

    In the name of Jesus, the Lamb of God and only Savior, who removed our guilt with His precious blood, fellow redeemed, High school seniors had counted on their huge day this spring, but that didn’t happen; and now those graduates don’t know when they’ll be the guest of honor and gather with classmates and others at their open house. The driver of a vehicle that has issues puts the key in the ignition wondering if he can count on it to start – and if it does, get him to work and back home. Not to minimize either one, but whether the open house is held or the vehicle needs repair doesn’t change anything that is life-changing. But what about life with God? What if what we count on to be right in His sight gets canceled like graduation this spring or grinds to a halt like a troubled transmission? Romans Chapter 4 reviews the life of the great Old Testament believer Abraham. His life’s story so clearly shows how man’s salvation comes only from God, and there is absolutely nothing man does or offers for salvation. The way God dealt with Abraham is how God deals with sinners of all ages. Thus, our salvation is the greatest guarantee ever given. It never fails! The way God dealt with Abraham centered on His promises to Abraham. God’s relationship with us is sealed by His promises, too. That’s crucial, because God’s promises never fail, despite our helplessness to do anything for our salvation. God’s promises never fail because of His power, far beyond all other powers in the universe. God’s promises never fail, thanks to His faithfulness, which isn’t canceled even by our sinfulness.
     
    I. Despite our helplessness

    Abraham first appears on the pages of God’s Word as an old man. Although Adam, Seth, Methuselah, and others in the early chapters of Genesis lived to be nine hundred or more, after the Flood life expectancy dropped precipitously. Abraham “considered his own body as good as dead (because he was about one hundred years old” (v. 19). It’s not that he was bedridden and unable to do anything. It’s that, humanly speaking, he was helpless to father children at that age. Same with his wife: “he considered Sarah’s womb to be dead” (v. 19). Twenty-five years earlier God had promised, “You’ll be a father of many nations, Abraham!”, though Abraham wasn’t yet the father of a single child. Abraham tried to do something about that. Servant Hagar was a young, single woman. Abraham had no designs on her as a second wife, but thought she was the solution to his helplessness in becoming a father. Not only with Sarah’s permission, but at Sarah’s suggestion!, Abraham had sinful sexual relations with Hagar. She conceived. The baby was a boy, but not the son God had promised. We don’t invent schemes to get God’s promised blessings when God’s promises seem preposterous. God’s promises never fail. Our old Adam doesn’t want to rely on God’s promises. Why do I need a savior? I obey God’s laws. Well, at least I do more good than bad. Doesn’t that make me okay with God? Absolutely not! Our sins and guilt make self-salvation impossible, make us helpless before God and hopeless on our own, made us spiritually dead to God and helpless to live the perfect life He demands. Our sinful nature hates God’s promise of salvation because it is God telling us we aren’t good enough! How blessed we are that God didn’t turn His back on us, but kept His promises to the world. God’s promises never fail! That is the truth from heaven our helpless souls need!

    II. Because of God’s power

    Abraham had his moments when God’s promises seemed impossible. But for the most part, Abraham spent the twenty-five years – from God first telling him the plan to make him and Sarah parents to God giving them Isaac when they were nearly one hundred years old – waiting patiently and faithfully. “He did not weaken in faith” (v. 19). How could Abraham remain strong in the face of the many human reasons God’s promises might not come true? Because they were God’s promises! God’s promises never fail because of God’s power. When reality causes doubt about a hoped-for outcome, we think, I don’t know what to believe! As Abraham pondered the promised pregnancy for those twenty-five years, he kept coming back to this: It seems impossible, but it is God’s promise! “He did not waver in unbelief with respect to God’s promise, but he grew strong in faith” (v. 20). So many Bible verses teach that God’s Word strengthens faith. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). What is God’s Word other than a list of His promises, and how He miraculously kept them?! Our faith is strengthened the same way Abraham’s was! Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised” (v. 21). The child who listens to dad describe what he did to get the child’s toy car running again, who watched dad reassemble the complicated gears, thinks, My dad can do anything! God our Father delights to see our faith that trusts He can do anything and uses His power to save helpless sinners. His words and works prove God’s promises never fail! Of course, Abraham and Sarah wanted a child of their own. But more than having a baby she could cuddle, he could take hunting, was having the Savior to die for them. The Savior would come from Abraham and Sarah’s family; that was the great importance for them in having the promised son. And even that – the Savior would be true God and true man – seemed unbelievable. But that was God’s promise flowing from God’s power. God invites all His children to bring Him their troubles and problems. We come to Him, trusting His promised power to deliver us. When we aren’t delivered in an instant and Satan whispers, “Is God really as good and powerful as you think He is?”, we hear God shout to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, because My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s deliverance doesn’t always remove trouble; the last three months have been evidence of that. God’s deliverance does always supply us with the strength to endure trouble; the last three months have been evidence of that, too! This, dear friends, is faith. Faith isn’t feeling good. Faith isn’t a feeling at all. Faith is trusting that God has done what He said He would do, that God will do what He says He’s going to do. That is our crowning comfort under the wretched burden of sin. What the devil wants us to doubt more than anything is God’s forgiving grace. But God has promised His grace to us. The Father sent the Son with His saving combination of power and humility to rescue us. Each day the Triune God uses the power of His good news to tell us, “I have forgiven you in Christ!” Each day our God-given faith responds, “I trust in that!” Since all the power in keeping those great promises is God’s, all the glory is God’s. With Abraham, we are daily, “giving glory to God” (v. 20). We play no part at all in making the promise possible or in fulfilling the work of Jesus to suffer hell for us. So we are “giving glory to God” with all our lives, living thanks to Him for His never-failing promises flowing from His divine love and power.
     
    III. Thanks to His faithfulness
    Some suppose it’s no great act of power for God to forgive the world’s sins. They say He simply shrugs off all sins, like a referee who pretends he didn’t see the infraction that happened right in front of him. Oh, God knows all about every sin. He most certainly does not shrug off any sin. Instead, He has sent every sin off in His suffering and death. God’s promises never fail thanks to His faithfulness. God credits “righteousness” (v. 22) “to all who believe in the One who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead” (v. 24). The Savior died for every sinner. Christ’s death covers the guilt of the world because there He suffered hell. “Righteousness” demanded by God is “righteousness” delivered by God. But sinners who trust their own righteousness want nothing to do with God’s “righteousness”. Though Jesus forgave their sins, they reject it. Christians, by the Bible’s description, are sinners who have been brought to their knees by the crushing knowledge of their guilt before God, and are also filled with the precious peace of faith in Christ crucified and risen. Jesus “was handed over to death because of our trespasses” (v. 24) to pay the penalty of sin for us. “It is finished! (John 19:30). Perfectly completed!” The same Jesus “was raised to life because of our justification” (v. 25), that is, He was raised to life by God the Father to assure us that sacrifice for us paid the price in full and He declares sinners, “Not guilty! It is accepted!” God’s promises never fail thanks to His faithfulness! There is no other way for guilty sinners to stand before the holy God. Too many sinners suppose God is pleased with their imperfect obedience as long as they try their best. In fact, that is what every religion without the crucified and risen Savior at its center counts on. But every one of those religions is wrong. God’s promises never fail! We are helpless to please the holy, mighty Lord. But the holy, mighty Lord is also the loving, gracious God who promised the Savior through Abraham’s descendants, sent the Savior as promised, and is faithful to everything He has promised and said. His promises never fail!      Amen.         Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday after Pentecost - Let Us Live What We Love about the LORD
  • Second Sunday after Pentecost
    June 14, 2020 

     
    Hymns  382,   293  
    First Lesson   Deuteronomy 11:18-21,26-28  
    Psalm   78 (page 95)  
    Second Lesson   Romans 3:21-25a,27-28  
    Gospel Lesson  Matthew 7:15-29  
     
    Deuteronomy 11:18-21,26-28
    Let Us Live What We Love about the LORD    
    I. The importance of His Word
    II. The seriousness of His will 
     
     
    In the name of Jesus, fellow followers of the Savior,  
     
    Teens are told, “Act your age!” when they’ve been carrying on like little kids. Fans need to hear, “But that’s your team!” when the team is having a tough season and those fans show no loyalty. Teachers tell some students, “You can do better work!” All God’s people need God to tell them all the time, “Put these words of Mine in your hearts and in your soul” (v. 18).  
     
    Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he spoke these words to his beloved people of Israel. He wasn’t a fragile old man wagging his cane in a senile speech. In his forty years of leading them, Moses had seen how often the nation God chose to be so specially blessed had so severely stressed their relationship with God: griping about the food He miraculously provided in a desert, worshiping an idol as they had seen the Egyptians do, ignoring God’s promises to protect them when they would enter the land of the Canaanites, and more. The people often didn’t show love for the LORD who loved them so dearly.  
     
    That attitude infects us people of God, too. Too often we selfishly shuffle through life, not living what we know the loving LORD wants from us. We’ve celebrated for weeks the triumphant truths that our Savior died for us, rose from death, and ascended to heaven. We’ve reviewed the Holy Spirit’s work to bring us to and keep us in the one true saving faith in Christ. We spent last week focusing on what the Triune God does for us. Now God wants us to put all we believe about Him into practice all the time. Let us live what we love about the LORD: the importance of His Word and the seriousness of His will.  
     
    I. The importance of His Word

    Wouldn’t people look silly walking around with the printed Word of God in boxes tied “on their wrists as signs and as symbols on their forehead” (v. 18)? Would any home improvement show suggest hanging little scrolls of God’s Word from “doorframes… and…gates” (v. 20)? But there were, and still are, Jews who took, and take, this literally. Jesus described the Pharisees of His day this way: “They do all their works to be seen by people. They make their phylacteries (little boxes containing Bible verses) wide” (Matthew 23:5).  
     
    These words about keeping “these words of” God before us are to impress upon us the importance of God’s Word in our lives. “Tie them on your wrists as signs and as symbols on your foreheads” is the 
    LORD’s forceful way to say, “My Word directs all you believe and love, think and say, do and make.” “Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” is God’s Word picture way to say His Word guides what we do and discuss when we leave home and come back, and everywhere we go in between. “Teach them to your children by talking about them when you sit in your house and when you travel on the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (v. 19). That covers everything! God wants His Word to dominate and permeate all we think and say and do in every place during every moment of every day.  
     
    And that’s not just an individual thing. Parents, do we show our “children” the works of the LORD and the importance of His Word each day this way? Or let them decide about that on their own? Our spiritual responsibility doesn’t end when we bring our infants to the font to receive the miracle of faith in Christ given in Baptism. God tells us to teach our children these “words of Mine” daily, constantly, faithfully at home.  
     
    Let us live what we love about the LORD and the importance of His Word each day of the week, not just the hour of worship. The little boxes some Jews strapped to their heads and wrists, tacked next to their doors and gate, were to be wonderful reminders about the importance of God’s Word for their private lives, work lives, and civic lives. We have similar things today – crosses, pictures, plaques with Bible verses to remind us that God loves us, commands us, and comforts us every day.  
     
    The importance of God’s Word is that God is not an abstract idea, but the very real, personal, and powerful God. He goes with us wherever we go and knows all we do. The first half of this lesson includes an attachment. It’s not an e-mail thing, but the LORD’s promise: “so that your days and the days of your children may be many on the land that the LORD promised to your fathers with an oath, as many as the days that the heavens remain over the earth” (v. 21), which is, of course, until the Last Day. That doesn’t mean God’s blessings to us depend on our work. God’s truth is that His grace multiplies to us as we keep His Word! For those who heard Moses speak it, it was the sure and certain promise that the bountiful land they could see just across the Jordan River would be theirs, and that the coming Savior would make them God’s people forever.  
     
    We have the same sure and certain promise. God showers His grace on us. For however “many days” the LORD will grant us, the LORD’s way for our blessed life is parents teaching His Word to their children, and parents and children keeping His Word, until He takes us to Himself through faith in His work.    
     
    We live what we love about the LORD and the importance of His Word. We fight the temptation to think that since we are active members of a church, we have done our part. At home, work, school, play, and in stores; morning, noon, and night, and every moment in between; with what we do and the attitude with which we do it; with what we say, and what we really mean by it; let us live what we love about the importance of God’s Word of salvation for sinners through His Son Jesus!  
     
    ?II. The seriousness of His will 
     
    Do any of us disagree with that? We say God-pleasing things now. But how about away from God’s house? Do we live like God’s Word has little meaning for everyday life? Our hands, which should be used to serve the Savior who shed His blood to forgive us, too easily hit, hurt, and steal. Our minds, which should think of God and His saving cross and His eternal love, too quickly turn to thoughts of envy, hate, lust, and pride.    
    What’s the remedy? “These words of Mine” about the Savior! Here He fills us with His loving forgiveness of every trespass, then shows us what He wants from us in loving living. Here He reminds us that the Christian life is not a one-day deal, but a live-what-you-love-about-the-LORD life. We live what we love about the LORD, which includes the seriousness of His will.  
     
    What were the children of Israel chosen by God to be? The people from whom the world’s only Savior would come! They weren’t precious to God because of their race, but because of the work of the One to come from them! It’s the same with us. God has set us apart as His own children not because of what we’ve done, but through the completed work of His Son. That is God’s will! He has made us His own. We sinners who daily offend Him in countless ways are forgiven in Christ.  
     
    That doesn’t mean we’re now free to do what we want. That doesn’t mean we can remain God’s people by ourselves. That’s why God’s will is also that His grace and the power of the Spirit continue to be given us. God is serious about that because His heart is full of love for us. His loving heart leads the LORD to tell us, “I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commandments of the LORD…the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD…and follow other gods” (vv. 26-28).  
     
    Yes, “other gods”. Satan has a will, too. He wants to take us away from the LORD and the salvation God has won for all. Satan daily tempts God’s people to follow gods that are not true. With this last address to people he led for more than a generation, Moses made sure Israel knew Satan’s damning designs on them. The rest of the Old Testament shows how God used troubles to wake Israel up, call them back to Him and His Word, to repent of following “other gods” and defying God.  We also know from the rest of the Old Testament how the LORD showed His love to assure His people His promises never fail. Such promises allowed those who trusted in Him to see every trouble, every setback, and every difficulty as a loving lesson from the LORD. Those sorrows were meant to direct the people back to the compassionate promises of God.  
     
    How about our history? It’s no different, is it? We, too, have received God’s gracious promises. Despite our constant wandering from Him and our doubtful wondering about Him, the LORD has placed our punishment on His Son. Despite our inherited sinfulness, the LORD has placed in our hearts trust in Christ’s sinless life and innocent death to be our Savior. He is just as serious about that for us as he was about that for Israel.  
     
    We live what we love about the LORD and the seriousness of His will. We don’t shrug off His will. We don’t decide the parts of it we will follow and ones we won’t. We trust He knows and commands what is best for us because He gave His life for us.  
     
    When we feel it’s not worth it to live for the LORD day-in and day-out, let’s remember what’s at stake: “a blessing and a curse”. God is serious! He died to save us! But all who reject His work to save sinners follow other gods, seek another plan of salvation. They leave the faithful, reliable, proven God for “other gods” that don’t even exist! God will damn all such people. He is just as serious about that part of His will.  
     
    Our life with God isn’t lived on our terms. We don’t set the parameters or determine what is best. He gave Himself for us. We live for Him every moment, every place, in every situation. His saving work and gracious promises lead us to live what we love about Him, realizing we cannot live without Him.      Amen.       Pastor David A. Voss
    First Sunday after Pentecost – The Holy Trinity
  • First Sunday after Pentecost – The Holy Trinity
    June 7, 2020 
     
    Order of Service   The Common Service, page 15
    Hymns  195,   334        
    First Lesson  Genesis 1:1 – 2:3  
    Psalm   150 (page 122)  
    Second Lesson  2 Corinthians 13:11-14  
    Gospel Lesson  Matthew 28:16-20 
     
    2 Corinthians 13:11-14
    What Do We Get from Our Relationship with the Triune God?  
    I. Grace
        II. Love        
        III. Fellowship 
      
    In the name of the only saving God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, fellow redeemed,  
     
    Read the Bible from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, and you will never read the words triune or Trinity. We admit the words are man-made, not divinely inspired. But we will forever confess that the truth expressed by those words is from God Himself. He tells us what we could never know about Him on our own. He is three – tri – persons  in one – une – God. Though we believe that doctrine, we can’t understand on earth how one God can be three persons, how three persons can be one God.  
     
    How blessed we are that the Triune God tells us more, much more!, about Himself. Though we can’t comprehend Him, we can clearly see what our Triune God has done in the past, is doing right now, and will do for sinners until the end of time. Our relationship to God isn’t that of clueless slaves who have no idea what their master does behind closed doors. We know what He does for us and what He means to us.  
     
    We don’t ask, How can it be that God is Triune? We ask, What does it mean for us that God is Triune? What blessings are ours in our relationship with God? It’s not just a nice way to begin or end a worship service. The Word’s words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (v. 14) is God revealing His relationship with us. From Him we receive everything we need: grace, love, and fellowship.  
     
    I. Grace
      
     
    When talking about the Triune God, we usually list God the Father first. That’s because, as we heard today, Jesus said, “Go and gather disciples from all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). But there is no ranking of the persons of the Triune God. The Holy Spirit had Paul put God the Son first here. So today we begin examining what we get from the Triune God’s relationship with us sinners where His relationship with us begins: “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”.  
     
    We talk so often of God’s “grace” that we might miss the full force and majestic meaning of “grace”. It is His love for us who deserved the very opposite of love. That is our only hope with God, isn’t it? We 
    anger the holy Lord with our sins, so we certainly won’t ask Him to give us what we deserve. What we deserve from God is trouble here, then death, then hell forever!  
     
    Christianity is the only religion which doesn’t require obedience to some law code as the only way to be blessed or rescued by a deity. Christianity is based on what God has done and still does for us. He tells us who slap Him in the face with our rebellion, “In spite of your sins, I still love you!” That’s “grace”!  
     
    Some call that cheap grace. In one verse of His Word He rants about mankind’s sinfulness. In the next verse He tells the world He forgives them! What gives?! What gives? God gives! God gives His life for us sinners. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” is most certainly not cheap. It cost the sinless One His life, and to endure the horror of hell for every sin ever.  
     
    Grace isn’t only something God creates. Grace is grounded in Christ, in His perfect life on earth for us and His sacrificial death on the cross for us. Paul wrote about grace earlier in this letter, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Grace is God the Son agreeing to be abandoned by God the Father, so much so that He shouted, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Grace is not a gripping story; it’s God’s forgiveness of every trespass.  
     
    Even before we did anything, God’s grace saved us. What a relationship! We do more than sit back and bask in His grace. We who trust “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” seek His forgiveness. We don’t yawn and mumble, “Thanks, God!” We daily thank Him in wonder that He has done all that for us!  
     
    Our thanks is more than saying and praying it. We strive to mend our sinful ways because we hate to anger and disappoint the One who has done and still does so much to bless and save us. We strive to live as God desires. His fully forgiven and grace-granted children delight to live for Him in everything.    
      II. Love        
     
    But grace doesn’t come from God the Son alone; there is an unlimited supply of it from God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, too. The same is true with love, “the love of God”.  
     
    We usually associate the Father with making and preserving the universe and all He has put in it. The First Article of the Apostles’ Creed focuses on God the Father as the Almighty One, the Maker of heaven and earth. That certainly was an act of His power – and His “love” for us! That continued long after those first six evenings and mornings. When this day is over, the LORD will have brought forth millions more human lives.  
     
    His mighty “love” is over all He has made. God the Father takes care of everything in the human world, the animal kingdom, the solar system. “The eyes of all look eagerly to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15-16). That’s “love” we receive from Him! The virus has led to health problems, and restrictions have resulted in financial setbacks. But none of that cancels God’s “love”. 
     
    Why not? Our understanding of God the Father’s work for us is stunted if we think of nothing but His creating and keeping the world. When He finished creation, everything He had made was perfect. There was no sin. But a number of angels God made rebelled against Him in heaven, led by the angel Satan, who then tempted our first parents to sin. When Adam and Eve fell, sin was passed on to the rest of the human race.  
    God could have wiped out all He had made and started all over. That would have been just! He could have let mankind continue to damn himself until God called an end to time and condemned to hell all who ever lived on earth. That would have been fair! But in “love” God promised and sent His Son to take our place. “God shows His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  
     
    That’s what we get from our relationship with the Triune God! Unconditional love! Eternal life! What do we return to Him? Nothing we do or give can pay Him back for His love, so we don’t try. Rather, we run to His loving arms and trust Him to keep us safe until He takes us to heaven. What more could we ask from a relationship than “love” with no strings attached, happiness without end, and the most powerful Person in the universe watching over us?! How blessed we are!  
     
        III. Fellowship  
     
    Our Pentecost service reviewed the saving work of the Holy Spirit. But we only scratched the surface. We get more from our relationship with the Triune God than trusting the wonders He has done. We also get “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”.  
     
    The work of the Holy Spirit runs both vertically and horizontally. It is the Holy Spirit who brings us into “fellowship”, union with, the world’s only Savior. We were so spiritually blind and dead – the condition we inherited from our parents, who inherited it from theirs, and so on all the way back to Adam and Eve – that we had no clue where to turn for salvation. A Savior who died on a cross? He’s nothing but a dead and defeated loser. He’s certainly not a living and conquering Savior!  
     
    A huge blessing from our relationship with the Triune God is that we trust in Jesus, and in all the Triune God continues to do for us. We no longer try to run from the Savior; we cling to Him in faith. And that faith has been worked in us by the Holy Spirit. That is “fellowship” with the Triune God!  
     
    This is the very last verse of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. What a fitting time for him to remind them and us of our vertical relationship with God, and our horizontal relationship with fellow believers. “Set things in order” (v. 11) could be translated aim for perfection. Our “fellowship” with the Spirit moves us to seek “fellowship” with each other that is based on the purity of God’s Word – not allowing any false teachings, but teaching and confessing all God’s truths.  
     
    “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you” (vv. 12-13). Today’s “holy kiss” in church is set-aside-for-now handshakes or hugs. It’s also the liturgical exchange, The Lord be with you / And also with you. Not a kiss, but still a greeting! God-given “fellowship” leads us to love, support, and encourage one another. We don’t exist as little islands. The “fellowship” we enjoy with the Spirit spreads to the “fellowship” we enjoy with those who’ve been led to the same faith.  
     
    It’s not just Jesus who give us “grace”. It’s not just the Father who supplies our daily needs. It’s not just the Spirit who brings us to faith in the Savior. The Triune God is so united in His work that all three persons participate in all those works to give us all we need for body and soul. Verses like these make it seem like there are three different Gods who work out our salvation. Sure, such a view would be easier to understand. But such a view of God is not who the true God is.  
     
    We don’t need a god who is easy to figure out. We need the God who gives us all we need. We have Him – the Triune God. We have a saving relationship with Him. We receive grace, love, and fellowship from Him.     Amen.         Pastor David A. Voss
    The Day of Pentecost - The Holy Spirit Makes Us Convicts
  •  

    The Coming of the Holy Spirit – The Day of Pentecost May 31, 2020

    First Lesson Joel 2:28-29
    Psalm 51b (page 87)
    Second Lesson Acts 2:1-21
    Gospel Lesson John 16:5-11
    Hymns176, 183

     

    John 16:5-11
    THE HOLY SPIRIT MAKES US CONVICTS
    I. Convinced about sin and its payment
    II. Convinced about righteousness and its acceptance
    III. Convinced about judgment and its consequences

     

    Fellow redeemed – sinners against the Triune God, but made children of the Father by faith in the Son worked by the Spirit,

    The words convince and convict are clearly similar to each other and come from the same root word. But their definitions and uses are almost the opposite of each other. Is it bad to be convinced of something? Almost always no. Is it bad to be convicted of something? Almost always yes. Yet “convict” (v. 8) is in the middle verse of this lesson about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works to “convict the world” (v. 8).

    Yikes!? Or Yes!? Both! The Holy Spirit makes people convicts. In some ways, the work of the Spirit terrifies us. His Word exposes our sins and what we deserve eternally for them. In other ways, the work of the Spirit thrills us. His Word delivers the remedy for sin and what we receive graciously from God.

    Is it a compliment to be called “a person of conviction”? It is! In that sense the Holy Spirit blessedly makes us convicts. Because of His work we are convinced of sin and its payment, convinced of righteousness and its acceptance, convinced of judgment and its consequences.

    I. Convinced about sin and its payment

    This lesson was spoken by the Savior to His disciples the night before He died. They had gathered for the joyous Passover, the Jewish festival that looked back at God delivering their ancestors from Egypt and forward to God sending the Messiah to make the sacrifice to cover the sins of the world. Passover for the people of Israel was like our Fourth of July and Christmas combined. But this Passover was different than any other. The tone Jesus set by what Jesus said was gloomy, not celebratory. “Sorrow has filled your heart” (v. 6). It was more than, “We’ll miss You, Jesus!” It was the despair of, “What will we do without You, Jesus? Without Your powerful miracles, divine teachings, heavenly direction, how will we function?”

    The Savior’s answer, “If I do not go away, the Counselor (the Holy Spirit) will not come to you” (v. 7), leads to more questions. Why did Jesus have to wait to send the Spirit until after He ascended? Why not remain here and still send the Spirit? The only answer the Lord gives is, “This is the plan of the Triune God. When the Son returns to heaven, the Spirit comes to make sinners convicts, people convinced about sin (v. 9).”

    Jesus had told the Twelve and thousands of others about sin and its seriousness in the sight of the holy God. But now Jesus is in heaven. Who will teach about sin? The same God, the third person, the Holy Spirit says the same things about sin. He had His Apostle Paul write, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The same Holy Spirit filled the disciples with His courage to speak about sin the way Peter did in his Pentecost preaching this Sunday nearly 2,000 years ago. Believers and unbelievers both need to hear about sin’s sickness and the sorrow it brings, about death here and hell hereafter that sinners deserve. No longer Jesus teaching from a boat, on a hill, or at the temple grounds, but the Holy Spirit teaching in His Word, makes us convicts, people convinced of our sins.

    That work of the Holy Spirit leads us to weep in woe with Isaiah, “I am ruined, because I am a man with unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5) and mind and body! I am damned before the King of heaven!” Convinced by the Holy Spirit that we are condemned by God as guilty before God, we need good news. The same Spirit delivers that, too. “Your sins are sent away from the King’s presence by the Lamb’s blood shed for you!”

    Within twelve hours of saying this, Christ was crucified. He had done nothing wrong, ever! He suffered hell for my sins, your sins, the entire world’s sins. How could we possibly know that the death of a humble victim on a cruel cross two thousand years ago paid for every sin? The Spirit worked with His Word and sacraments to make us convicts, people convinced to believe and thrilled to know our sins are forgiven by another!

    The night before His sacrifice Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit is coming to convict the world...about sin, because they do not believe in Me” (v. 9). The main problem with sinners is not that they sin, but that they refuse to “believe” the payment for sin that Christ Jesus has made. The pastor isn’t suggesting sin is no big deal. Sin separates us from God; we need the Spirit to convince us of that in our anything goes society. But without trust in sin’s payment at the cross, sinners are still locked in their sins and guilt. All sinners need the Spirit to make them convicts, convinced of their sin and of the Savior’s payment.

    II. Convinced about righteousness and its acceptance

    What is our reaction to the virus, the deaths from it, the restrictions meant to slow it? Anger at those who spread the virus or imposed the restrictions? The Word of God teaches a reaction the pastor hasn’t mentioned enough. God sends or allows sorrows, even when they don’t afflict us personally, as calls to repent. “We can’t satisfy You, God! The illness around us and the closures under which we chafe are child’s play compared to what You ought to unleash on us for sin, Lord! We repent!” But there’s another part to repentance. “We trust our Brother’s righteousness!” The Holy Spirit also makes us convicts who are convinced of “righteousness” (v. 10) and its acceptance.

    We need the Holy Spirit to convince us “about righteousness” because we were born with wrong ideas about “righteousness”. So many think, and we sometimes slip back to it, too, that heaven is the home of pretty good people. But many of those seen as pretty good by folks here have no home with God there. The world’s idea of being good is blasted by the Lord’s truth, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Perfection is God’s standard for “righteousness”.

    How do we meet that demand? We can’t. But Christ did. He did the day after saying this about “righteousness”. Righteousness demanded is righteousness delivered at the cross.

    “But, Jesus, You rose and ascended. We don’t have Your risen body here for evidence. How can we know? How can we tell others?” Jesus ascended to show His righteous work for us is accepted. Jesus

    ascended also to shower us with the Holy Spirit to trust that and to testify to others about that.

    Would the Father and the Spirit have welcomed the Son back to heaven had Christ’s righteousness not been enough to rescue the world? Never! His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven assure us we are saved. Now the Spirit makes us convicts, people convinced about the righteousness that rescued us. He convicts us “about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me” (v. 10).

    How the Spirit made Peter and the others men of conviction to speak about that the first Pentecost! How the same Spirit uses His Word to make us children of conviction to trust that today! We don’t need the physical body of Jesus taking us by the hand. We have the eternal Word about Jesus filling our hearts. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). We are ready to go to death, if need be, defending His truth! How the same Spirit puts His Word on our lips to confess with conviction to friends and loved ones what the Savior has done for the fallen world! Sinners are declared righteous in God’s sight because of the Savior’s work for us!

    III. Convinced about judgment and its consequences

    Frequent criticism aimed at Christians includes questions about evil. If your God is so great, so loving, so all-knowing, so ever-present, why isn’t the world perfect? Why doesn’t He kill the virus so life can get back to normal? God answers, but not the way the world wants. “A normal life here isn’t the great goal.” The Holy Spirit uses His truth to make us convicts, people convinced “about judgment” (v. 11) and its consequences.

    Is it really true that “the ruler of this world has been condemned”? It seems Satan has a death grip on the world. He still tempts and is too often successful, still deceives and destroys on his damning prowls to devour souls. Are we convinced that the devil has been conquered and “condemned”?

    Thanks to the Holy Spirit we are! We are convicts, people of conviction that the devil is under God’s judgment. If we had our way, the old evil foe wouldn’t be able to do anything to harm anyone. But if we would always do things and see things God’s way, Satan would not influence us. It’s not easy following God’s way. But it is the only way that doesn’t end in condemnation with Satan. We don’t walk God’s way in this life to win the victory; the victory is already won in Jesus. But only by faith in the Savior do we avoid condemnation with the devil.

    The Holy Spirit keeps us in faith that trusts Jesus, the faith the Spirit gave us. His tool is the good news about the Savior. As people of Spirit-worked and Spirit-kept conviction, we stay in contact with that good news about the defeat of the devil and the never-ending victory for those connected to Christ!

    My Lutheran layman uncle called the Holy Spirit “the forgotten person of the Trinity among Lutherans”. That is a danger for us. When we put our spiritual lives on cruise-control and slide into apathy about the daily influence the all-powerful Spirit has in our lives, we may forget Him – and that’s not good. But neither is it good to do what other Christians do with the Spirit. They suggest the Spirit really comes only if sinners work themselves into a spiritual frenzy and emotional fervor.

    The Holy Spirit’s work is to make sinners convicts. He uses the steady tool of the saving truth about the promised Messiah, the perfect Jesus, the crucified Christ, the risen Redeemer, the ascended Savior to keep us in the one true faith, to keep us children of the saving God. He makes us people of conviction – strong in the one true faith and eager to do His work.     Amen.         Pastor David A. Voss

    Seventh Sunday of Easter & Ascension Festival
  • Seventh Sunday of Easter & Ascension Festival
    May 24, 2020 
     
    First Lesson   Acts 1:1-14
    Psalm    47 (page 85)  
    Second Lesson  1 Peter 4:12-17; 5:6-11
    Gospel Lesson  John 17:1-11a  
    Hymns   169,   175 
     
     
    Ephesians 1:16-23 
     
    CHRIST’S ASCENSION MAKES SENSE    
    I. It helps us know Him better
    II. It helps us look to heaven  
    III. It helps us see God’s power 
     

     In the name of Jesus Christ, the Savior who has ascended to and now reigns from His native heaven, fellow redeemed,  
     
    We wonder, Why would Jesus leave? He only preached for three years. Why, after His struggle to establish a nucleus of believers, would Jesus depart when His resurrection from the dead had just provided a miraculous boost to His followers?  
     
    God answers in these verses about our Savior’s ascension. The Lord makes sense of the ascension for us who think it would make more sense for Christ still to be on earth. Christ’s ascension makes sense! It helps us know Him better, helps us look to heaven, and helps us see God’s power.  
     
    I. It helps us know Him better
     
    The night before He died, Jesus said to His disciples, “It is good for you that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). Trusting that promise, Paul wrote here, “I keep praying that God…give you the Spirit (that Counselor) of wisdom and revelation in knowing Christ fully” (v. 17).  
     
    Do we get to know others better when they go away? No! Isn’t it the other way around? But Christ’s ascension helps us know Him better. Just before the ascension His disciples showed they didn’t fully know Him and His mission. They asked, “Lord, is this the time when You are going to restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)? Ten days later that foolish notion was gone, replaced by the message about the Savior’s life and death and rising for sinners. He ascended to send them the Holy Spirit.  
     
    Paul called the Third Person of the Triune God “the Spirit of …revelation” because the Spirit gave men words to write – everything God wanted His world to know about our sins and Christ’s rescue for sinners at Calvary. We don’t wonder what Jesus meant to do. The Holy Spirit makes the most important things ever known to us: God’s promises of the Savior, given in the Old Testament, and Christ’s fulfillment of those promises, the center of the New Testament.  
     
    He is also “the Spirit of wisdom” because the Spirit works to create and strengthen faith that trusts the crucified, risen, and ascended Savior. He works to build understanding and shape values, to fit His truth to our life. Now that’s “wisdom”!  
     
    We might prefer to sit, like Mary, at Christ’s feet to learn from Him personally. But Christ teaches His way these days. His way is the Spirit working through the news about Jesus given in His Word. His Word is for His glory and for our “knowing Christ fully”. We rejoice that Jesus ascended to heaven to help us know Him better! That makes sense of His ascension!  
     
    II. It helps us look to heaven   
     
    Get a baby’s attention with a colorful object and the infant will follow it with her head and eyes up and down, back and forth. Our Savior’s ascension does something similar – not playfully, but spiritually! When He ascended to heaven, Jesus did so to get His disciples, on the Mount of Olives then and us now, to look up. His ascension makes sense! It helps us look to heaven.  
     
    What the disciples asked Jesus right before He ascended, “Lord, is this the time when You are going to restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6), is a weakness that plagues us disciples, too. Too often we focus on the earthly and worldly things of life, but not on the spiritual and eternal matters of life.  
     
    During His ministry on earth, Jesus scolded the Twelve for arguing about positions of glory in heaven, admonished them for worrying about material things, warned them not to save their bodily life while losing their soul to the prince of darkness. For this generation of His followers, those same problems persist. We live too often as though what we have right here, right now, purchased with our hard-earned dollars and enjoyed during our free time, is what makes life worth living. But current conditions and restrictions have us questioning what really matters.  
     
    Friends, it shouldn’t take a pandemic to do that. Jesus ascended to heaven so His disciples look up. As His followers watched from a hill east of Jerusalem, mouths open and necks stretched, their hearts took on the same posture. Their hearts were looking up. Did the Eleven then recall Christ’s words from the night before He died, “I am going to prepare a place for you…I will come again and take you to be with Me” (John 14:2-3)?  
     
    In that same spirit, Paul continued here, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope to which He has called you, just how rich His glorious inheritance among the saints is” (v. 18). The “eyes of” our hearts should be looking up, not mostly down and around us here on earth. The Spirit had Paul write about that also in Colossians. “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).  
     
    God’s Word calls us nomads. We’re just camping here. Our real address lists no street number or 488-- zip code, but six glorious letters: H – E – A – V – E – N. Jesus ascended so we aren’t preoccupied with making our tents more comfortable. He ascended so we travel light – not with U-Hauls full of furniture and appliances, not most of all concerned with the quality of life our retirement plan might provide. Our hope is up there, not down here.  
     
    Jesus came to earth to win our salvation, then ascended to heaven to keep our hopes up. His ascension makes sense! See how it helps us look to heaven? There the blessed and glorious “inheritance” awaits all who look to heaven’s King, trusting what He has done for us!  

    III. It helps us see God’s power 
     
    Unbelievers mock the Ascension assurance from the Lord here. Your Jesus goes out of sight, and you claim you can see His power better than ever? Listen to yourself! That doesn’t make sense! Not logical sense. But, as often in our lives of faith, we set human reason in the background and – as Martin Luther liked to say – believe the bare Word of God, trust as a little child what God says. Christ’s ascension into heaven makes sense! It does help us see God’s power.  
     
    When Jesus was with the disciples physically they didn’t always feel secure. They panicked in a storm on Galilee, though half of them were fishermen with a lifetime of experience on Galilee. They fled into the dark night when Jesus was arrested.  
     
    But after Jesus died, rose, and ascended, not even the executioner’s sword scared them. Only after Christ’s ascension did they realize how all-encompassing was His power. Not Jewish mobs or Roman soldiers, not stoning at the hands of callous countrymen or shipwreck at sea, not even Satan himself, intimidated the disciples after Christ’s ascension! That’s “power”!  
     
    The Son ascended. Now we, too, know “how surpassingly great His power is for us who believe” (v. 19). The Father showed that power “when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand” (v. 20), God’s way to say Christ has full power in heaven after perfectly completing His mission on earth. Jesus knows how easily we can be intimidated by those who mock our beliefs, tempted by get-rich schemes and sexually immoral relationships. So, not little miracles, but big power is what Jesus wants us to know. Power to raise us, too, from our grave to His glory. Power to take care of everything. Jesus ascended to let us know that “power”.  
     
    But it’s more than bursts of power from on high that inspire confidence, courage, and commitment in Christ’s people. It’s that after He paid for our sins here, He ascended there to rule all things for our blessing. He has ascended to help us see the “power” of His forgiveness of our sins won at His cross and sealed at His rising, the “power” He uses to help us spiritually.  
     
    On Good Friday the Church numbered only a few hundred, the treasury was empty, the Head of the Church was dead, and the workers had fled. But within two months the power of the ascended Christ had added three thousand souls, showed the apostles their world mission fields, proved He wouldn’t let persecution stamp out His Word, and taught that Gentiles like us were to be accepted as His precious people, too.  
     
    This Ascension lesson helps us see how God blesses us, even in this virus world, even as false teachings claim souls and churches struggle with funds and the pursuit of wealth is more important to more people than following God’s will is. Jesus hasn’t left us. Ascension is the Father placing “all things under the Son’s feet and making Him head over everything for the church…His body” (vv. 22-23). That makes sense of the Ascension! Christ ascended to bless us here and prepare a home for us there – all based on His birth, life, death, rising, and ascending for us who are damned without Him, but full of joy and life in Him!     Amen.        Pastor David A. Voss
    Sixth Sunday of Easter
  • Sixth Sunday of Easter May 17, 2020

    First Lesson Acts 17:22-32
    Psalm 66 (page 90)
    Second Lesson 1 Peter 3:15-22
    Gospel Lesson John 14:15-21
    Hymns 163, 159
     

    Acts 17:22-31

    TRUST THE ONE TRUE GOD
        I. He is independent of mankind
    II. He is in control for mankind
       III. He is coming back for mankind

     

    In the name of Jesus, fellow sinners redeemed by the one true God, the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

    “You don’t have to worry about me! I’ve never been Lutheran, and wonder if I’m Christian anymore. But I’m more spiritual than ever and very religious!” Have you read about folks like those who are staying away from – or leaving altogether – what they call organized religion? Have you spoken with people who told you something like that? Most people who say such things claim they’ve found a new religious view, a fresh way of living spiritually. But there’s nothing new or fresh about it.

    Paul preached nearly two thousand years ago to people like that, people proud of being “very religious” (v. 22) and deeply interested in spiritual things. God’s apostle didn’t encourage them to keep living that way, keep following their religious ideas. He told them nicely, but firmly, their fear of overlooking a deity was correct. In fact, they were ignorant of the one true God, despite all their religious practices and spiritual ideas.

    Like those Athenians then, many today suppose they have all the answers about religion or have discovered a new way to God. There are no new ways to God. There are no correct answers that work for heaven except the ones God gives in His Word. To review for our faith and to renew for our telling others about the one true God, He here gives us His truth about Himself. We trust the one true God who is independent of mankind, is in control for mankind, is coming back for mankind.

        I. He is independent of mankind

    Paul’s travels for the Savior on his second mission journey had taken him down the east side of Greece. He and Silas taught about Christ in Philippi, were put in prison there, then miraculously freed. They preached the Savior in Thessalonica and Berea, and as we read last Sunday met opposition in both places. Paul left Silas with Timothy at Berea, and he went to Athens.

    While Paul walked through that large city, he saw numerous statues and altars to honor various deities – gods of Greek mythology like Zeus and Ares, Aphrodite and Athena. Paul taught in the Jewish

    synagogue and the marketplace in Athens about the one true God. Athenian philosophers wanted more information about what Paul had proclaimed, so they had Paul appear at a meeting “of the Areopagus” (v. 22). When Paul began to speak to the men there, he might have gestured toward the famous, fabulous Parthenon, the ornate temple built nearby to honor the goddess Athena.

    One particular altar in Athens had grabbed Paul’s attention. “I ...found an altar on which had been inscribed, ‘To an unknown god’” (v. 23). That altar spoke volumes about the religion of most Greeks. They had many gods: one for the rain, another for the sun, one for war, another for peace, one for crops, another for health, and many more. That altar was their unintended admission, “All our gods might not be enough! What if we’ve overlooked one? Or some? Or many?!”

    Instead of pointedly preaching, “You’re wrong!”, Paul said, “What you worship as unknown – this is what I am going to proclaim to you” (v. 23). Ancient Greek mythology was centered on the belief that if the gods were to live among you and bless you, you needed to make temples for them. But “the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made with hands” (v. 24). The one true God doesn’t need people to make anything for Him. He made everything in six twenty-four hour days of creation – and still preserves all He has made.

    “Neither is He served by human hands, as if He needed anything, since He Himself gives all people life and breath and everything they have” (v. 25). The Athenians thought the gods they trusted depended on people for what the gods needed. If those gods were going to provide things for them, protect and preserve them, the people needed to give the gods things first. The one true God is independent. He needs nothing from people, so it’s foolish for people to try to bargain with Him, If I give you this will You give me that? He gives people everything they need, and does so before we offer Him a single Alleluia! as praise or ten-dollar bill in an offering envelope.

    As we trust Him for all we need and speak of Him to those who don’t trust Him or have questions about Him, we don’t think or say that God needs our money, time, or praise. We trust and tell others the one true God wants our money, time, and praise as our way to say, “Thank You for taking care of us each day – even in these unsettling days! Thank You especially for giving up Your life to rescue us from punishment forever!”

    II. He is in control for mankind

    Some ask “What’s the big deal whether we view God as independent of mankind or needing mankind? Who gets hurt if we suggest God needs us?” Who? Human souls! People need to know that God is in control for them and all mankind.

    Paul’s lesson continued, “From one man, He made every nation of mankind to live over the entire face of the earth” (v. 26). Mankind didn’t evolve from monkeys or apes or frogs or fish over millions of years. God made man – and does more. “He determined the appointed times and the boundaries where they would live” (v. 26). We don’t think about that very often, do we? God planned the exact times when nations would rise as world powers, and when they would fall. We wonder what will come of our nation, our continent, our world if the pandemic lasts for months yet. Well, God already knows. Will He allow America to remain the blessed nation He’s made her for nearly two hundred fifty years? Let’s use each day He gives us to tell others about the one true God and trust in Him alone!

    God even set where people would settle so they’d be in the right geographical place at the right chronological time for His plans for mankind. This life isn’t a series of haphazard happenings, nor is our planet flying around out of control. The one true God is in control for mankind. Really, preacher? Then why this world-wide crisis? God controls history “so people would seek God and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move

    and have our being’” (vv. 27-28). The word picture is of a blind person groping for an open door in front of him when danger roars behind him. Paul taught that the one true God, the Triune God, uses His control of every cubic inch of His universe and of every second of history to lead people to reach out for His help. Might one of the one true God’s reasons for allowing the world to suffer in numerous ways these days be to drive mankind to ask, “What is truly important?”

    Too many people figure they can live just fine without God. They ignore the reality that all mankind is condemned before God by their sins. People are griping about being held prisoner by stay-at-home orders. What an opportunity to tell them we deserve to be prisoners in hell forever, then go on to tell them what the one true God has done for all mankind by taking the world’s punishment on Himself! What a time to tell people that this virus is nothing compared to the pandemic that infects all: guilt before God from sin, and hell deserved forever! What a great time to live, a time when people are looking for answers and wondering about control, a time for us to tell them of the one true God who controls all for the eternal good of mankind!

     III. He is coming back for mankind

    The eternal good of all mankind! Man doesn’t take up space, make money, build things, then die and is no more. The one true God is to be trusted for this life – and the life to come. The one true God who came to earth is coming back for mankind.

    The deep-thinkers in Athens might have objected, “If your God is in such control, why hasn’t He struck us dead with an earthquake for not following Him?” But they didn’t get to ask because Paul said first, “Although God overlooked the times of ignorance, He is now commanding all people everywhere to repent” (v. 30). The fact that God hadn’t punished all false-god worshipers with instant death shouldn’t be misunderstood to mean it wasn’t serious, or that if people didn’t know better it was all right. False-god worship, even in ignorance, damns.

    The one true God chose not to destroy the false-god worshipers in Athens on the spot so He could reveal Himself to them as their Savior from sin. The one true God calls on people everywhere to turn from their false gods, even of self, and turn to the cross. And all people everywhere should do so today since God “has set a day on which He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He appointed. He provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead” (v. 31).

    See how the resurrection of our Jesus powers us every day?! He who came once to bear all sin, then rose from death three days later, will come suddenly to judge all mankind. Man is not the master of his fate. The one true God is coming back to have all mankind stand before His judgment seat. Those who trust Him and His work in life and death and resurrection will be taken with Him to heaven forever. Those who trust any other god – or no god – will be sent from Him to hell forever.

    The world in which we now live is no different spiritually than the one in which the Athenians then lived. People still go their own way, develop their own religious ideas, follow their own spiritual compass. None of that works. Only the one true God has worked salvation for every sinner. We trust Him who has done it all. We tell others of Him who is the only true God, most importantly because He is the only God who saves sinners.      Amen.              Pastor David A. Voss

    Christian Family Sunday - The Christian Home: Living Stones Built On the Living Stone
  • Fifth Sunday of Easter / Christian Family Sunday May 10, 2020

    First lesson: Acts 17:1-12
    Psalm 33 (page 79)
    Second lesson: I Peter 2:4-10
    Gospel lesson: John 14: 1-12
    Hymns: 156, 506

    1 Peter 2:4-10
    THE CHRISTIAN HOME: LIVING STONES BUILT ON THE LIVING STONE
    I. The strength is in Him alone
    II. The purpose is for Him alone


     In the name of Jesus Christ, the only Savior, fellow redeemed,

    I don’t know if the national news anchor was serious or trying to be funny when he said, “It’s one thing to have to stay home for Easter. But for Mother’s Day? That’s harsh!” We’re sad that restrictions will keep many of us from seeing Mom today. But if he meant Mom is more important than Jesus, even, and especially!, you Christian mothers would vehemently disagree.

    Christian mothers don’t want a worship service devoted to them. Christian mothers want their home, their family, devoted to the Lord. In that sense, this is a most appropriate lesson for this Mother’s Day. The Christian family isn’t built on parents and children agreeing about meal menus, household chores, and bedtimes. The Christian family is built on Christ.

    Whether yours is a Christian household bustling with many, slower paced with just two empty nesters, or an apartment occupied by only one, it’s still true that your Christian home is living stones (or a living stone) built on the Living Stone. The strength is in Him alone and the purpose is for Him alone.

    I. The strength is in Him alone

    This spring’s Resurrection season lessons include many verses from Peter’s first letter. We know Peter. He was a fisherman from Capernaum, chosen by Christ to be one of His twelve disciples. He was a man who spoke his mind, sometimes rashly so. Peter denied three times in the wee hours of Good Friday that he even knew who Jesus was, though he’d spent most of the past three years with Jesus! Peter was named Simon by his mother and father, then called Peter by the Savior because the faith Peter confessed in Christ is the rock-solid faith on which Christ’s Church is built; Peter sounds like the word for rock.

    So isn’t it interesting that the Holy Spirit had Peter, Rock, write here about the Solid Rock, Jesus, and Christ’s people being “living stones” (v. 5) built on Christ, “the Living Stone” (v. 4)?! We don’t think of a stone as living. A stone just sits there, unless moved by waves in Lake Michigan or pushed out of the ground by frost in the spring. So, how is Jesus “the Living Stone” ? He is alive! He who was crucified, died, and buried, rose from death and now rules from heaven. He’s not a lifeless object or mysterious force, but alive and well – a real person.

    But it’s not just that He’s alive. Jesus also gives life! Sure, as the second person of the Triune God, Jesus gave you physical life. He and the Father and the Holy Spirit knit you together in your mother’s womb –

    the miracle very much on our minds this Mother’s Day. He made you. Even more, as the Savior, Jesus gives you spiritual life connecting you to Him and to His work through faith, life trusting Him and His work as your only salvation. He who gave His life for us gives us life in Him.

    Moms, right before our lesson, the Holy Spirit had Peter describe us with a word picture dear to your mother’s heart. “Like newborn babies, crave the pure milk of the Word so that by it you may grow up with the result being salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). As you fed your infant children what they needed to grow, so you Christian mothers made sure your family fed on the Word about Jesus to keep growing strong in Him, “chosen by God and precious” (v. 4) as our Savior. Not on our own determination and effort, but on His life and sacrifice for us, are we built. We are living stones built on the Living Stone!

    Without Jesus, there is no strength, no salvation. Those who suppose they’re part of God’s family without trust in Jesus as true God and the only Savior are doomed. The One “chosen by God” is the same One “rejected by men” (v. 4). Isn’t that jarring?! Many think they know better than God! God’s choice to be the sinner’s Savior is rejected by the sinners themselves!

    But it’s worse than jarring. Jesus is “a stone over which people stumble and a rock over which they fall...they stumble over it. And that is the consequence appointed for them” (v. 8). It’s not that the Triune God wants people damned; Jesus died to save everyone! It’s that they try to smash Jesus and His forgiveness to pieces, but in the process end up smashing themselves on the Rock who was their only salvation.

    The Living Stone is the “chosen and precious cornerstone” (v. 6). You get the architectural angle, don’t you? Today’s cornerstones are only decorative and commemorative. But in ancient construction the cornerstone determined the stability of the building and the lines of its walls. If the cornerstone was off even a tad, the building would be an unsafe, crooked mess.

    “The Living Stone” on whom we are built is Jesus. Without His suffering and death for us sinners, without His Word, there would be no true Church, no forgiveness of sins, no salvation. In our world full of Satan’s lies, the Word of God runs straight and true. His law slashes our excuses for sin, the rationalization that a little relaxing of doctrine is okay, the idea that there is no forever punishment. God’s gospel gives us the forever love of “the Living Stone’s” crucifixion in our place and His resurrection for our life. All who are built on Him “believe in Him”, and “will certainly not be put to shame” (v. 6) before Him.

    The Living Stone is so central to all spiritual life and truth there is no neutrality about Him. His Word either creates and then strengthens faith in those who hear it, or people ignore Him and harden their hearts against Him. What a rich blessing for many of us that God had a believing mom raise us! Today we thank her for what she told us about Jesus, thank Mom for that above all else she’s done for us! And even more than Mom, we thank the Living Stone for all He has done, does, and will do that we remain His living stones, built strong in Him forever!

    II. The purpose is for Him alone

    Children, even more than a handmade card and homemade meal this day, Mom wants your love and concern every day. A one-day celebration, then back to a grumbling and griping routine, isn’t a tribute to Mom; it’s a selfish life for yourself.

    That’s even more true with the Living Stone. He didn’t die and rise from death so we could only cheer

    for Him Resurrection Sunday. He died and rose to give us salvation. Through trust in Him, we live. The Living Stone gives life to us so that we live for Him, not for ourselves. The Christian home, the Christian life, is living stones built on the Living Stone – and the purpose is for Him alone, which isn’t as divinely selfish as it sounds.

    Peter likely pondered his past when the Spirit had him write, “At one time you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. At one time you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy” (v. 10). He and we had at conception an ugly birthmark that read, Not a child of God! But he and we were brought into God’s family by God’s “mercy”.

    We are part of God’s “spiritual house” (v. 4). That’s not because somehow from the stone pile of this world we made a life-changing decision. God picked us out and built us on the Living Stone. The first Palm Sunday, Jesus told His enemies He could turn the stones along the road into talking stones, and those stones would praise Him! So we “living stones” (v. 5) who are built on the solid foundation of the Living Stone talk and walk, sing and serve, worship and work for Him!

    That’s not just a Sunday thing because it’s the Lord’s Day. That’s not just a Mother’s Day tribute to your Christian mother because it’s what she wants today. That’s our every moment agenda because that’s who the Living Stone has made us to be.

    “You are a chosen people” (v. 9). God certainly so loved the whole world that He sent His Son to save all. But it’s also true He so loved you personally that He bought, sought, and brought you to faith in Him. He wanted you! He made you His!

    “You are...a royal priesthood” (v. 9). You are not a lowly slave who has no inheritance with your master, but you are royalty in God’s family. And you are priests who “bring spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (v. 5). His sacrifice for sin offered there is the only sacrifice needed; it was perfectly complete for every sin of every sinner in every age. The “sacrifices” you bring are daily acts and words and thoughts that thank Him for all He’s done for you.

    “You are...a holy nation” (v. 9). Through faith in Christ you have become a part of the great company of believers, that invisible network of saints. Through faith in Christ you are set apart to serve Him – not just with weekly worship of Him, but also in daily love and service for your mother and others.

    “You are...a people belonging to God” (v. 9). That’s not an angry God shouting, “I own you!” That’s the loving God reminding you, “You are Mine forever. Walk with Me. Talk to others about Me as you proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (v. 9).

    Does that describe your home life? Your family life? Your individual life? Children, thank your Christian mother who keeps that as the top priority and the chief characteristic of your home life! Christian mothers and fathers, given the stay-at-home order that will continue for at least a little while, now more than ever make the Word a daily part of your family life at home. Christian children, you, too – not just the adults in your house – are “living stones” built on “the Living Stone”. May your lives at home and everywhere show that you live for Him.

    Your Christian mother played a large role in raising you to trust Jesus. Give special thanks today to that Christian living stone whom Christ, the Living Stone used as He chose you and shaped you into one of His living stones, too. Above all, give constant praise every day to the Living Stone who did it all for you and for your salvation.        Amen.                     Pastor David A. Voss

    Good Shepherd Sunday - We Trust the Good Shepherd
  • Fourth Sunday of Easter / Good Shepherd Sunday
    May 3, 2020

    First Lesson Acts 6:1-9; 7:2aa,51-60
    Psalm 23 (page 72)
    Second Lesson 1 Peter: 2:19-25
    Gospel Lesson John 10:1-10
    Hymns 360, 148

     

    Acts 6:1-9; 7:2,51-60

    WE TRUST THE GOOD SHEPHERD
    I. For daily life

    II. For spiritual life
    III. For eternal life

    In the name of the crucified and risen Savior, Jesus, fellow Easter believers still rejoicing in His death and resurrection,

    Unlike the other two lessons and the psalm, this doesn’t sound like a Good Shepherd lesson, does it? These verses don’t conjure cozy, cuddly thoughts of life with Jesus, do they? They give us a bloody, deadly image – and don’t we get more than enough of that on the news these days and weeks and months?

    It’s tempting to make Stephen the star here. But the focus must be, as always, Jesus. He’s the One in action here, even though we don’t see Him. The One whom Stephen trusted for everything he needed, we, too, trust for the same. We trust the Good Shepherd for daily life, for spiritual life, and for eternal life.

    I. For daily life

    The Bible book of Acts is God’s record about the growth of His Church. In this Acts account we find out not only did church numbers grow, so did trouble. Some of the risen Shepherd’s flock had “a complaint” (v. 1). We don’t know how long this was after Jesus died, rose, and ascended or after the Spirit filled the twelve disciples with His divine gifts. The believers in Jesus, as we heard last Sunday, “shared their food” (Acts 2:46) and donated “the proceeds from some of their personal sales “according to what anyone needed” (Acts 2:45). And the apostles “never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42).

    That sounds wonderful! How could anyone complain? In the church-run program to help widows, some newcomers to the Jerusalem congregation who spoke more Greek than Hebrew “were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (v. 1). Though accidental, not intentional, it was still a problem.

    The problem wasn’t lack of food. The Good Shepherd had provided plenty. “So the Twelve called together the whole group of disciples (all the believers)” (v. 2) to change the plan for distributing food to needy members. The Twelve whom the Holy Spirit had trained and called would devote themselves

    to “the ministry of the word” (v. 4), while seven qualified men “with good reputations, who are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3) were appointed to manage the food program. It’s not that the Twelve thought it was beneath their dignity to do such work. But if others could do it, they could focus full time on what God had trained them and called them to do.

    Jesus is still the Good Shepherd. “The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1). Until six weeks ago, few of us worried about enough food to eat or clothes to wear or a place to live. Some have some concerns about some of that now. But we still trust the Good Shepherd to continue to give us all we need for our daily life. Food and clothes and shelter and oxygen don’t just appear. The Good Shepherd and the Father and the Holy Spirit send them as the Triune God wants us to have them.

    II. For spiritual life

    But the same Good Shepherd teaches His sheep there’s more to human existence than daily life. The early believers knew that and so were committed to their church’s most important mission: not feeding bodies, but feeding souls. “The Word of God kept on spreading” (v. 7), thanks to the Good Shepherd. We, too, trust the Good Shepherd for spiritual life.

    News about the Son of God who laid down His life as the Lamb of God to pay for the world’s sins, then left His tomb, needed to be distributed even more than food. As it was, even “a large group of priests” (v. 7) came to faith in Jesus as their Savior. Those Jewish men who had been sacrificing animals for decades were led by the Spirit to trust the Good Shepherd’s sacrifice of Himself as the fulfillment of centuries of sacrifices.

    Seven men were appointed to lead the food program for needy believers in Jerusalem. Five of them we don’t read about in God’s Word again. “Philip” (v. 5) later explained God’s Word to, and baptized, a government official from Ethiopia. “Stephen” (v. 5) is prominent in these two chapters. Do you hear your sinful nature? Stephen, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), was executed! Do you really trust the Shepherd who lets that happen to one of His faithful sheep? We do!

    The Good Shepherd blessed Stephen with a rich spiritual life. He gave Stephen the power to perform “great wonders and miraculous signs” (v. 8) to convince people what the apostles proclaimed about the work of Jesus to save sinners is true! His miracles were exclamation points to the Gospel message. Stephen took advantage of his meetings with people as he distributed food to speak with them about the death and rising of Jesus. God used that message to give more people spiritual life.

    But not all liked that message. “Some men...from...the Synagogue of the Freedmen”, Jews freed from slavery in parts of the Roman Empire beyond Israel, “disputed with Stephen” (v. 9) about spiritual life given by Christ. The Good Shepherd gave Stephen the faith to speak boldly to those protesters. There are 55 verses of Acts 6 and 7 we didn’t read today. In them, Stephen spoke faithfully and courageously to fellow Jews who hated the Good Shepherd. Stephen repeated the history of God’s gracious promise of the Savior to their mutual ancestor Abraham. “You don’t deny God’s promise, do you?” He reviewed God’s powerful deliverance of their forefathers from Egypt through Moses. “You aren’t rejecting the great Redeemer of whom Moses spoke, are you?” He related how the temple pointed to the sacrifice by the coming Messiah. “You aren’t rebelling at the message about the Messiah, are you?”

    “You stiff-necked people...You always resist the Holy Spirit! You are doing just as your fathers did. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who prophesied the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become His betrayers and murderers” (vv. 51- 52). It took great faith to tell them they were wrong for putting trust in their own lives, for resisting and rejecting the One who obeyed the law for them and took their hell on Himself.

    We trust the Good Shepherd for spiritual life, the life that is faith in Him as our Savior. How He blesses us to keep feeding our spiritual life in this way even when we are staying home! More than daily bread, we need His daily Word of forgiveness and life and salvation! The Good Shepherd’s church focuses on His heaven-given mission: the spread of the Word of life.

    When we resume services here protesters won’t block the parking lot and neighbors won’t fire eggs at your car as you leave to worship the risen Good Shepherd. When classes resume in August no one will scream at you students who bow your head to thank God for your lunch. Or don’t we risk sticking out from the crowd? Do we try to blend in inconspicuously rather than live for our Good Shepherd faithfully?

    In our time, in our land, the threat to our spiritual life doesn’t come so much from the outside as it does from the inside, from our reluctance to show in everything that we belong to the Good Shepherd. Stephen knew and trusted the Good Shepherd to give him life. Do we live our spiritual life in Jesus in everything? Or do we edge away from Him when it’s more culturally convenient to let our life in Him fade into the background?

    III. For eternal life

    Those seven were appointed to the kind of work our Councilmen are elected to do. If a Councilman here spoke about the risen Savior and was executed for doing so, at his funeral we’d mention his faith in the face of death. Would we praise his valor or wonder how God could have let that happen? No! We would praise the Lord for the victory He granted our brother! We trust the Good Shepherd, as Stephen did, for eternal life.

    As Stephen was being pelted with stones, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit...Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (vv. 59-60). Sound familiar? That’s just what the Lamb of God, who is also the Good Shepherd, prayed on the cross Good Friday! Jesus had just appeared to Stephen, and Stephen said so out loud. He dared to tell the Lord’s enemies that the One they hated above all had risen from death and was ruling in heaven. “Look, I see heaven opened, and the Son of Man (the name Jesus most often called Himself when He taught in Israel) standing at the right hand of God” (v. 56).

    Thanks to the Good Shepherd, Stephen faced his cruel execution knowing he would soon enter eternal life. What peace! He forgave those who were chucking skull-cracking, trauma-causing, death-dealing stones at him! What faith! Trusting his Good Shepherd, Stephen “fell asleep” (v. 60). At death, his soul was taken by the risen Christ to eternal life, to heaven.

    Could we have done that? Yes, trusting the Good Shepherd for eternal life! We will face our dying day – whether it’s from natural causes in old age or a violent death at the hands of unbelievers or something in between – with the peace and confidence that eternal life is ours in Jesus! Could we pray that He forgive our enemies as Stephen prayed? Yes, trusting the Good Shepherd who has forgiven us, we could! We do! We will!

    Our world is looking for a wizard who will make the virus and all the trouble that go with it go away. God doesn’t tell us to look for a wizard. He tells us to look to the Good Shepherd who takes away all sin and reigns in us with His forgiveness. We trust the Good Shepherd for all we need now and forever.      Amen.                     Pastor David A. Voss

    Third Sunday of Easter - He Lives, So We Live ...
  • Third Sunday of Easter April 26, 2020 
     
    First Lesson   Acts 2:14a, 36-47
    Psalm    67 (page 91)  
    Second Lesson  1 Peter 1:17-21  
    Gospel Lesson  Luke 24:13-35  
    Hymns   144   -   149 
     
     
    1 Peter 1:17-21 
                HE LIVES, SO WE LIVE …          
    I. In appreciation for Christ’s redemption
    II. In anticipation of Christ’s heaven 
     
    In the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Redeemer, fellow Easter believers still celebrating His resurrection from the dead,  
     
    It’s the Easter parade problem. It’s slightly different this spring since we didn’t travel to gather for worship on Resurrection Sunday. But it’s still there. What is it? It’s the devil’s damning deception that we had our parade for our risen Jesus two weeks ago, so now it’s time to move on.  
     
    That temptation from Satan is nothing new. Believers in Peter’s time felt it in their hearts, heard it from others. But it wasn’t then, and isn’t now, true that Jesus rose from the dead, we’re glad for Him, but it’s back to real life. What was true for Peter and those to whom he wrote, is true for us, too. It’s the real life that Jesus lives in victory and lives in us, too – as we will pray a little later in this service. Christ’s people are changed forever. That’s the life we live!  
     
    Easter isn’t an event to be observed and cheered, but then we move on. Easter is the truth, the “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) we heard last Sunday from this letter, that drives the way we live, even in this completely different, stay-at-home, reality. Because the Redeemer lives, His redeemed live – live the new life that is theirs in Him. He lives, so we live – live in appreciation for Christ’s redemption and in anticipation of Christ’s heaven.  
     
    I. In appreciation for Christ’s redemption
     
    We need to live connected to Christ because the holy God who right before our lesson demands, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) is not fooled. “You call on the Father who judges impartially, according to the work of each person” (v. 17). We can’t flatter Him into ignoring our sins. We can’t practice before the holy God a religion of lips without life, of saying what He likes to hear without doing what He desires. Nor dare we fool ourselves into thinking, I’ve been a church member most of my life, I’m respected by those who know me, and I’ll keep contributing to the church, so all is OK with God. That’s what the Pharisees of our Savior’s day said and thought and did. Jesus blasted their mere outward piety, but their faithless inner filth. We won’t ever fool God!  
    We sinners are also slaves to sin. Our good lives can’t cut the chains to set us free us from sin. Our nice words won’t cause God to remove the curse of sin – death and hell – hung around our necks. Our generous thankofferings (We even send them when we can’t gather for worship, Lord!) don’t pay for a single sin against the holy God. On our own, we’re lost, trapped in the “empty way of life handed down to us from our forefathers” (v. 18) who passed their sinful nature on to us!  
     
    But we are also “redeemed” (v. 18) sinners. What we couldn’t do, the crucified and risen Christ did for us. “Redeem” is a word from the slave world in Bible days. To redeem yourself or another slave meant a steep price had to be paid for your freedom or another slave’s freedom. The price to free us slaves to sin? Not flattering words directed to the God who judges every person, nor good works done by the offending sinner. Not “silver or gold or any other things that pass away” (v. 18). Not all the money in the world is payment enough to God for one angry thought or wicked word or selfish act.  
     
    We “were redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ, like a lamb without blemish or spot” (vv. 18-19). God established the Old Testament sacrificial system, the daily repetition of a bloody spectacle, to show how sin ignites the white-hot wrath of the mighty and holy God, results in guilt on the sinner, and then guilt demands a blood (not a money!) payment. The blood of Christ is triply “precious”. It flows from the loving heart of the Savior. It is the blood of Him who lived in perfect obedience to His own laws for us over His thirty-three years in our world. It is the only blood that could pay the price to redeem us sinners.  
     
    He shed that blood at the cross for us. He rose from death to show His payment worked to redeem us. He lives, so we live in appreciation for Christ’s redemption that sets us free. It’s not loving appreciation, but pathetic hypocrisy, to keep God’s commands because we have to. It’s loving appreciation for Christ’s redemption when we put behind us the sins for which He shed His “precious blood”, when we strive to live thanks to Him for His payment in life and death for us. What do our daily lives say about our appreciation for Christ’s redemption? That’s nice, Christ, but I need to live my own life! Or, That’s amazing grace, Jesus, and I live every moment for you!  
     
    II. In anticipation of Christ’s heaven 
     
    Easter parades began in Manhattan in the 1800s. On their way to and from Easter worship services, people hoped to impress others with new hats, dresses, suits. We see the pictures and wonder, Was their focus on the risen Christ or their clothes?  
     
    Now let’s look at the pictures of our lives. What does God the Father “who judges impartially, according to the work of each person,” see about where we’re walking? What do our lives say about our where we’re headed? Christ lives, so we live here in anticipation of entering Christ’s heaven hereafter!  
     
    Because heaven is our goal the Holy Spirit had His Apostle Peter write to us, “conduct yourselves during the time of your pilgrimage in reverence” (v. 17). Do you understand “pilgrimage”? It’s just the journey, not the destination. God’s point is that we don’t live most for this life, because this life won’t last. We’re just passing through this life for our seventy or eighty or ninety years on the way to our home above.  
     
    By calling our lives here “the time of your pilgrimage”, God keeps things in perspective for us during this stressful time: the inconvenience of orders to stay home, the hardship of being out of work, the concern we might be infected with a serious virus. According to His perfect will, the Lord will either get 
    us through this healthy and with enough for our daily lives, or He will allow this to result in death here but life hereafter. This life is just our “pilgrimage”, not our permanent home.  
     
    Most translations read at the end of verse 17, “in fear” or “in reverent fear”; EHV translates “in reverence”. When we come across the word fear in God’s Word, we must ask ourselves, Is this “fear” our terror of judgment from God for our sins against Him? Or is this “fear” our respect for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us and wants us to show our love to Him with the way we live? A large part of our respect, our “reverence” for the risen Christ, is knowing that our lives here are lived in temporary tents and that our permanent mansions are in heaven! He lives, so we live in anticipation of Christ’s heaven, of our life with Him there forever.  
     
    The only way for sinners to gain entrance to Christ’s heaven is through trust in Christ’s payment. That’s why it’s not how we look to others on the outside; it’s what the Lord knows is in our hearts: “your faith and hope are in God” (v. 21).  
     
    Our certainty and hope for life in heaven with God forever rest on what God has done for us. Jesus “was chosen before the foundation of the world” (v. 20) to be the Savior. God knew the humans He would create would sin. So before time began, God determined He would be born as man (yet remain God) so He could die as God and man to redeem us. For four thousand years God promised that He would come as our Substitute, His promises given in His Word. Then, Jesus came as promised and did as prophesied to live our life and die our death and rise from death to assure our resurrection to life with Him. “Our faith and hope” for heaven rest in Him who did it all for us!  
     
    Other hopes and goals for heaven? “Empty”. Our own plans, thoughts, and money? Worthless for heaven eternally! Our world’s desires and lusts, our culture’s cravings for more things and fame and fun? “Empty” before the holy God! Our Brother’s life and death and rising? “Through Him you are believers in God, who raised Christ from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (v. 21)!  
     
    He lives, so we live in anticipation of Christ’s heaven. But how can be sure Christ is the way? What God planned before time began, what God carried out in real places with real people in real time has been “revealed…for your sake” (v. 20). God gives us His Word. God feeds our “faith and hope in” Him with the good news of salvation. With His gospel God focuses our faith on Christ’s cross and empty tomb. With His truths He keeps us looking forward to life in heaven because He knows so much in this life distracts us.  
     
    With all that’s going on in our state and nation, some shout in frustration for freedom. Some of that is healthy; but some isn’t. Any cry for freedom that insists, “No one tells me what to do! I get to decide what’s best for me!” sounds dangerously like the way Satan wants us to view life and to live so we would be, ironically, trapped in slavery to him and sin and death and hell. For real freedom, hear Satan’s Conqueror Christ shout: “Because I live, My people live for Me now and will live with Me in heaven forever!”      Amen.      Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday of Easter - The Risen Christ Conquers What is Closed
  • Second Sunday of Easter
    April 19, 2020 

    First Lesson   Acts 2:14a, 22-32
    Psalm    16 (page 68)
    Second Lesson  1 Peter 1:3-9  
    Gospel Lesson  John 20:19-31  
    Hymn:   165 
     
     
    John 20:19-31 
     THE RISEN CHRIST CONQUERS WHAT IS CLOSED  
    I. Closed doors opened by His miraculous presence
    II. Closed hearts strengthened by His gracious peace 
     
    In the name of Jesus, the risen Christ, our living Redeemer, fellow redeemed still celebrating His rising from death,  
     
    Some you watched the long caravan roll past your place on Grand River late Wednesday morning as folks headed to Lansing. A few of you were hemmed in by traffic that noon near the capitol. The people protested so much being closed. How long will the closures last? Why can’t God cause the virus to vanish? All this has our attention because it affects us and others, affects almost every area of our lives and theirs. It’s frustrating and frightening physically, emotionally, economically.  
     
    But it’s still true that Jesus lives – as we sang at a distance last week – to silence all our fears. Christ crucified is Christ risen, which means He’s also Christ the conqueror. Last Sunday we celebrated that. Does it seem so joyous and real this Sunday?  
     
    Every year this second Sunday of Easter’s Gospel Lesson is these thirteen verses of John 20 – the risen Christ appearing to His disciples on the first two Resurrection Sundays ever. On both those Sundays, the risen Christ conquered what is closed. That closed list doesn’t include businesses and events. It includes what is far more important, what even more seriously affects us and all people. The risen Christ conquers what is closed. Closed doors are opened by His miraculous presence. Closed hearts are strengthened by His gracious peace.  
     
    I. Closed doors opened by His miraculous presence
     
    Really, preacher? “Closed doors”? Why is the risen Christ conquering closed doors so important for us? We have equipment Christ’s disciples didn’t dream of to take care of locked doors. What’s the point? Good point! It’s not that the risen Christ opened “locked doors” (v. 19). He didn’t. It’s that He went through locked doors, to prove He is the risen Christ.  
    The doors were locked because the disciples feared “the Jews” (v. 19). It was well-founded fear. The intensity with which the religious leaders pushed for the execution of Jesus wasn’t lost on them. “They’ll come for us next!” We read in much of the book of Acts serious steps and awful action those Jewish religious officials took to silence Peter, John, James, and others.  
     
    The emotions among the ten disciples were mixed that first Resurrection Sunday evening. Mary Magdalene reported she had seen, talked with, even touched the risen Christ that day. John had seen the tomb empty that morning, linen cloths with which the Savior’s body was covered for burial still there and the face cloth folded up separately. We read in 1 Corinthians 15 Jesus had also appeared to Peter earlier that day. Could it be true? Is Christ risen? And even if He is, are we safe?  
     
    The doors were locked. Their emotions were mixed. Then their hearts soared with joy. “Jesus came, stood among them, and …showed them His hands and side” (v. 20). He instantly appeared in the middle of a locked room, proving He is both God and man even after His resurrection. He lovingly displayed His formerly nailed hands and pierced side to prove it wasn’t a mere vision or a human actor, but the risen Christ. “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (v. 20). The risen Christ was with them to conqueror more than locked doors.  
     
    The next Sunday the risen Christ conquered “locked doors” (v. 2) again. This time Thomas was there. For a week Thomas had refused to rely on resurrection reports from his fellow disciples, “Thomas, you should have been with us last Sunday! Christ is risen! We have seen the Lord!” (v. 24). Thomas  insisted he both see and touch the Savior’s marks and wounds from Good Friday before he’d believe. Then Jesus entered the locked place as before, again proving He is the risen Christ. He also invited Thomas to look and touch, using almost word-for-word what Thomas had demanded, proving Jesus is present everywhere, hears every word, knows every thought. The sight of the risen Christ and the words of the risen Christ conquered Thomas’ doubts about the resurrection. Thomas boldly confessed the conquering reality of the risen Christ.  
     
    The miraculous presence of the risen Christ proves two thousand years later Jesus lives to conquer the worst for us, too. Jesus left a sealed tomb; Jesus entered a sealed room, not once, but twice. That proves He wasn’t a mythical Messiah who preached nothing more than, “Love each other, okay?” Jesus bodily left a sealed tomb, then twice bodily entered a sealed room to show, “I am the risen Christ who conquers the worst!”  
     
    Sin? Defeated at the cross and displayed defeated by the risen Christ! We use His power to fight off temptations. Death? Destroyed by the reality that Christ crucified is Christ risen! Oh, we will die one day, but it will be the glorious day our soul – through faith in Him – will join Him in heaven. Hell? Conquered by the risen Christ who descended into hell to tell hell’s head spirit, “All who hold to Me in faith will never be here!”  
     
    A seal on the tomb didn’t keep Jesus in! Locks on doors didn’t keep Him out! His miraculous presence is real! His miraculous presence proves the risen Christ conquers the worst we’ll ever face, worse than what worries our world these days when so much is closed. His miraculous presence is ours in His Word!  
     
    II. Closed hearts strengthened by His gracious peace 
     
    Christians, if your Christ is as powerful as you claim He is, why doesn’t He conquer COVID-19 and open up places of employment and entertainment, schools, and even His churches? How do we answer? 
    Just as important, what do we think? We say, we trust, “God’s ways aren’t our ways. The risen Christ conquers what is closed! He makes no promise to open what’s been closed around the world these long weeks. But the risen Christ conquers what is far worse: closed hearts of condemned sinners and despondent people, hearts afflicted by faltering faith. Closed hearts are strengthened by His gracious peace.”  
     
    The disciples lacked spiritual peace that weekend. Maybe not closed, but certainly clouded, were their hearts. Clouded by shame they deserted Jesus Thursday night after boldly asserting they would never do that. Clouded by grief their beloved Lord suffered so Friday at the hands of Jewish churchmen, Pilate, soldiers. Clouded by guilt they hadn’t trusted the Savior more deeply. Clouded by doubt about the resurrection reports.  
     
    All the clouds from their failings, all the parts of their hearts closed to the truth that Christ conquers the very worst, were cleared by not only the physical appearance of the risen Christ, but also the spiritual words of the risen Christ, “Peace be with you” (vv. 19,26). Jews still greet other with those words; in Hebrew, Shalom lachem! But it’s more than a greeting when it is spoken by the risen Christ to sinners. He who was prophesied to come as “Prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and who was proclaimed the night of His birth as the One who brings “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), upon completion of His work and full payment of hell for us says, “There is peace for you with Me, the Father, and the Spirit! You need not hide from God in fear of forever. Your hearts are open before God by the payment I made to dismiss your shame, cover your guilt, atone for your sins! You have peace in Me – crucified and risen for you!”  
     
    See what the risen Christ’s gracious peace, His verdict of peace to sinners who don’t deserve in the least peace with Him, did those two Sundays. The evening of His rising from the dead it led the ten disciples to “rejoice” (v. 20). The next Sunday it led to more of the same for them and Thomas, and to Thomas confessing, “Jesus, You are My Lord and My God” (v. 28)!  
     
    And it didn’t stop there. The risen Christ still conquers closed hearts by His gracious peace. After proclaiming, “Peace”, Jesus, “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whenever you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. Whenever you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’” (vv. 22-23). The same Holy Spirit had John write about His words in His Word, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (v. 31).  
     
    Those whose cloudy and closed hearts the risen Christ had cleared and opened those Sundays were even further filled with the Holy Spirit seven weeks later, Pentecost, to proclaim to other cloudy and closed hearts the peace of forgiveness won by the crucified and risen Christ – and do so as their life’s work. Those whose cloudy and closed hearts the risen Christ had cleared and opened those Sundays were sent by the Triune God to warn sinners about closing their hearts to the Savior and to assure hurting hearts of the forgiving peace won by the Savior. They were sent to the world by the risen Christ to proclaim the “miraculous signs” (v. 30) they had seen Jesus do, the words of salvation they heard Jesus preach, the work of redemption they watched Jesus fulfill and perfectly complete.  
     
    We whose cloudy and closed hearts have been opened by the news of the crucified and risen Christ will continue to hear His Word of peace in His forgiveness won for us as He strengthens us in His grace. We whose cloudy and closed hearts have been opened by the risen Christ are also given by the Triune God the same message and mission. We tell repentant sinners – those who grieve they’ve offended God with their sins and desire His forgiveness won by Christ, “Your sins are indeed forgiven. You are at peace with God!” We tell sinners who refuse to admit or to change their sinfulness, “Your sins are still held 
    against you by the Lord because of your attitude about your sins or the Savior’s work. For your soul’s sake, repent!” Both messages are for the same saving purpose, “that by believing sinners may have life in His name”. The risen Christ who conquered our closed hearts with His gracious peace uses His peace proclaimed by us to conquer closed hearts in others.  
     
    Understandably, the world wants closed doors to open. But even when things get back to normal, it’s only for this life. The risen Christ conquers what is closed for forever life with Him. Skeptics want Jesus to prove on their terms He really lives and has power. To unbelieving skeptics and His humble children, the risen Christ says, “Don’t tell Me how to run the world I made and keep. Instead, hear Me tell you what I’ve done for the world’s sinners to whom heaven’s doors would be closed forever if not for Me. Having heard that, hear this, too: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”      Amen.                        Pastor David A. Voss
    Resurrection Sunday - We Know that Our Redeemer Lives!
  • Resurrection Sunday April 12, 2020 
    First Lesson   Matthew 27:62-66; Mark 16:1-8; John 20:10-18
    Second Lesson  1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 19-24, 57-58
    Third Lesson   Isaiah 25:6-9; Job 19:23-27
    Hymns   150, stanzas 1-2   -   152 
     
     
    Matthew 28:1-15 
     
    WE KNOW THAT OUR REDEEMER LIVES!    
    I. We know that from His holy angels (vv. 1-7)  152:1-2    
    II. We know that from His risen self  (vv. 8-10)    152:3-4  
    III. We know that from His frightened foes (vv. 11-15) 152:5-6 
     
     
    In the name of Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior, who rose from death before dawn this glorious Resurrection morning, who lives exalted there on high, fellow Resurrection believers,  
     
    Empty malls. Empty restaurants. Empty streets and freeways. Empty businesses and schools. We have gotten a little used to that, but that still doesn’t seem right! And empty churches for Easter?! Who would have thought it? Who could have seen that coming? Depending on your news source, we either couldn’t have seen that was coming or we should have seen that coming.  
     
    One more empty. The tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea and used by Jesus of Nazareth is empty. Who would have thought it or could have seen that coming? The disciples should have! Jesus told them He’d be betrayed by one of His own disciples. Happened. He had said several times He’d be condemned to die by the Jewish chief priests and Scripture experts. Happened. He said He’d be handed over to the Gentiles who would mock Him, whip Him, spit on Him, crucify Him. Happened. He had said He would rise from the dead on the third day. His disciples should have seen that coming!  
     
    Our church is empty. But our faith and life are full because our Redeemer’s tomb is empty! We know that our Redeemer lives! How do we know that? We know that like the Old Testament believer Job knew that. Jesus said He would rise, then did rise, and has the evidence etched on the stone of His Word for us.  
     
    I. We know that from His holy angels (vv. 1-7)  152:1-2    
     
    We’ll examine that evidence in three Resurrection Festival devotions from Matthew 28. The first seven verses there tell us our Redeemer lives! We know that from His holy angels.  
     
    Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome the mother of the disciples John and James had followed Jesus during His three-year ministry. They were at Calvary, then at the tomb, even as Christ’s disciples disappeared. They hoped Jesus would rise, proving He’s the Savior. Then why did they trek to the tomb at daylight after the Sabbath with spices for His lifeless body? Because a proper 
    burial was important in Jewish culture. They wanted to honor their Jesus. Did they discuss that on their way out of the city? Will His body even be there? And if it is, won’t He be rising from the dead soon? Should we even bother doing this?  
     
    We don’t know if they talked about that. We do know they wondered how they’d get the heavy discshaped stone out of the deep groove it rested in as that stone kept intruders out of the tomb. All their questions were answered when they arrived. The stone was moved and they were told their Redeemer rose!  
     
    Who told them? “An angel of the Lord” (v. 2) who was sitting on the large stone the angel rolled away. The stone rolling and the earth quaking had already happened by the time the women got to the tomb. So had the soldiers’ fleeing, “terrified of” (v. 4) the angels. Why did the risen Savior send His angels to His tomb? It wasn’t to guard the tomb; the tomb was empty. It was to deliver the message, “He is not here. He has risen… Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” (v. 6).  
     
    Remember that the word angel means messenger. Holy  angels didn’t decide on their own to talk to Mary the mother of Jesus, to Joseph, to shepherds about Christ’s birth; nor to these women about His resurrection. Holy angels were sent by the Lord to deliver His messages to the people He wanted to hear His messages. That’s how we know that our Redeemer lives!  
     
    We? We weren’t there! Not physically then, but we are spiritually now. Wouldn’t it be great if the Lord sent His angels to appear to us, to our neighbors and nieces and nephews and others? He has! He does! He is! He will! Not messengers whose “appearance is like lightning…and clothing is as white as snow” (v. 3). But messengers who are parents and grandparents, pastors and teachers, spouses and coworkers, friends and others. Messengers who have His message: “Christ has risen”! The method by which the message comes – angelic announcement, human speaker, printed word – changes at God’s direction. But God’s message doesn’t change! He is risen indeed! God’s message! That’s how we know that our Redeemer lives!  
     
    “He has risen, just as He said”. Jesus used His Old Testament prophets, then His own preaching ministry, to foretell all the great events of His work to take on Himself hell for all our sins and for all the sins of all the world. Then Jesus did everything He said He would do. Because He has, His tomb is empty, our hearts are filled with His glorious victory, and we are saved! His message! That’s how we know that our Redeemer lives, and we sing about that in the first two stanzas of Hymn 152.  
     
    II. We know that from His risen self  (vv. 8-10)    152:3-4  
     
    The next three verses also tell us our Redeemer lives! We know that from His risen self. Not a selfie, kids! His risen self!  
     
    “With fear and great joy” (v. 8). Those are emotions of most this Easter. The virus situation that has Christian churches empty on the Christian Church Year’s greatest day leads some to react “with fear”. But there’s the far greater emotion, the “great joy” from Jesus rising from the dead, just as He said!  
     
    The Resurrection records in Mark and John say Mary Magdalene went with the women to the tomb just outside Jerusalem, then to town to tell the disciples what the holy angel said, then to the tomb with Peter and John, then this outside the tomb: “Suddenly Jesus met her and said, ‘Greetings’” (v.9). Did Mary just imagine she saw Jesus, hoping He had risen? Was it a vision or dream? Imaginations, visions, dreams don’t have flesh and bones. Mary “took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him” (v. 9). From the 
    Savior’s risen self Mary knew that her Redeemer lives!  
     
    Jesus did more than greet Mary. He said to her, “Go, tell the disciples they should go to Galilee…there they will see Me” (v. 10). It wasn’t coincidence that Mary had heard those same words from the angel at the tomb. The angel’s words were the risen Savior’s words, words from Him who is the Word!  
     
    Lutherans learn to ask What does this mean? What does it mean that our Redeemer lives? It means He is truly God! Only He has given up His life, taken His life back, and done so exactly according to His own predicted plan and schedule. From His risen self we know that our Redeemer lives as true God!  
     
    It means we are really free from the curse of sin, death, and hell! Had God the Son not taken our damning load on Himself by His literal God-forsaken suffering at the cross, God the Father would not have let the Son’ body leave the tomb. From His risen self we know that our Redeemer lives as Him whose sacrifice for our forgiveness has been accepted by His Father!  
     
    It means that we, too, will rise from death. The Holy Spirit had Paul write in the great Resurrection Chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, that Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20) trusting in Him as the Savior, as the price-payer, as the Redeemer. What happened to Him the first Resurrection Sunday will happen to us on the Last Day. From His risen self we know that our Redeemer lives, and that we, too, will rise to live with Him! We sing of that in stanzas 3 and 4 of Hymn 152.  
     
    III. We know that from His frightened foes (vv. 11-15) 152:5-6 
     
    And also from the last five verses of our text we know that our Redeemer lives! We know that from His frightened foes.  
     
    Really? Why use our Resurrection celebration to talk about His enemies? It’s not to give them a platform for their perjury. It’s to show that they knew that if word about the resurrection got out, it would undermine everything the Jewish leaders had said to deny that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the world’s Savior.  
     
    The Jewish leaders had bribed Judas with a substantial sum to hand Jesus over to them. They had broken their own Sabbath laws by going to Gentile Pilate on Saturday, asking for a guard posted at the tomb to prevent the disciples from taking the dead body of Jesus and saying, “See? He rose! His tomb is empty!” Now on Sunday, when the Roman soldiers reported to them the early morning earthquake and angels and empty tomb, the Jewish religious leaders “gave a large sum of money to the soldiers” (v. 12) to lie, “We fell asleep, the disciples came, and stole the body.” The Roman soldiers knew miracles had happened at the tomb. The Savior’s frightened foes, the Jewish church leaders, needed to keep that Resurrection report quiet.  
     
    But enough about the bribed lies on this holiest week in the history of the world. What we can’t get enough of is the divine truth that our Redeemer lives! Because He lives, the truth from heaven is that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus is the One who said He’d suffer our hell, suffered our hell, then raised Himself from death. He is who He says He is!  
     
    Other passages in God’s Word say our Redeemer was raised from the dead by God the Father. Those verses verify the unity between the Father and the Son in the holy Trinity. The verses which tell us the Father raised the Son emphasize the Father’s satisfaction with the Son’s sacrifice, His acceptance of the payment made, His declaration that the world is forgiven!  

     Then there’s the Resurrection truth from Colossians and 1 Peter that Jesus – after His soul left heaven to rejoin His body as He came back to life in the tomb and before He appeared to anyone on earth this glorious Sunday morning, slipped through the tomb’s walls and went body and soul to hell to tell His frightened foe there, “You thought you had me Friday when I died on the cross. Well, here I am in your horrible home, in My risen body, very much alive and triumphant. Satan, you and your helpers can’t touch Me. And you can’t have those who trust in Me and in My work!” Christ’s trip to hell well before dawn this morning was not to suffer, but to declare His victory to His vilest foe. Then Jesus appeared on earth to report His victory to a few of His faithful followers, the Resurrection event summed up in our creeds, He rose again the third day.  
     
    It’s sad to see so many places empty. But it’s never sad to see that place empty. The empty tomb of Jesus is the greatest sight, a saving sight! Our church is empty, but our hearts are full. We are full of all we need. Christ died for us! Christ is risen from death for us, “just as He said” He would. Christ will take us to Himself forever!  
     
    Wouldn’t it be great to see each other face-to-face? It’s been four weeks for most of us, so that would be great. But that’s nothing compared to what we already see this greatest day of all. Isn’t it great to see the risen Christ, see Him with the eyes of faith?! It is! With Him, we have all we need. We know that our Redeemer lives! Amen.  
     
    Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever.   Amen.  
                                                                                                                                                                                        Pastor David A. Voss
     
    Good Friday - It's More Than a Cross; It's the Curse's Cost
  • Good Friday April 10, 2020 
      
     Galatians 3:13 
     
    IT’S MORE THAN A CROSS; IT’S THE CURSE’S COST          
    I. Displayed in full
    II. Paid in full 
     
     
    Hymns:   105:1   -   434:3 
     
      
    Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. As it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”  
     
     
    In the name of Jesus Christ, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried this Good Friday for you, for me, for all, fellow sinners redeemed by His precious blood,  
     
    This is the day Christians call Good. But what we see at the cross and hear from the Word seem to say, This must be Gloomy Friday, not Good Friday! It’s all so sad! The loving, holy Jesus was executed! It’s not a sarcastic joke to call today Good Friday. It’s Good Friday because on this Friday the most important mission in history was perfectly completed.  
     
    Our verse calls Jesus “cursed” (v. 13), perhaps the most brutal description of our Savior’s work in all His Word. The crosses in our church and school, in your home and around your neck are symbols for the only cross that matters. One who died on a cross was considered “cursed”. So it’s more than the cross; it’s the curse’s cost. At the cross the curse is displayed in full, and at the cross the curse is paid in full.  
     
    I. Displayed in full
     
    What is this “curse”? It’s not the supposed curse in houses said to be haunted by spirits moaning and groaning to frighten families. It’s not the so-called curse on a team that traded a star player, then never won a championship. It’s not the superstitious curse for one whose path is crossed by a black cat.  
     
    This very real “curse” was given by God way back in Deuteronomy through aged Moses as one of God’s laws for Israel. “If there is a man whose sin justly deserves a death sentence, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his dead body is not to remain on the tree overnight. You must bury him on the same day, because a person left hanging on a tree is cursed by God” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  
     
    For very serious crimes, the penalty was death. Sometimes that death was by stoning, sometimes by 
    hanging, sometimes by impaling the criminal on a sharp pole. Then the corpse would be displayed – hung on a tree like grotesque ornaments, tied to crude crosses, or suspended from hooks and looking like a human buck pole. Clearly no one said about those bodies, “What a beautiful head of hair!” or, “Look at those muscular arms!”  
     
    A horrible sight, right? That was God’s point! A cruel death, then an almost inhumane display of the body, did double duty. It brought justice to the heartless criminal, and it told the assembled public, “Don’t do what he did, or that will be you!” Clearly, one who died that way was “cursed” in God’s sense: evil deserved and dished out on the one who had been so vile.  
     
    See Christ’s full Good Friday punishment as you look at the cross! See the curse’s cost! Jesus became “a curse for us” (v. 13). Some like to call it the old rugged cross. God calls it the “cursed” cross, the place where the curse’s cost was displayed in full. A cross was the final end for a person guilty of wretched wrongdoing. It was the fitting end for one who deserved the worst punishment. It was the electric chair of the ancient world.  
     
    Just as the displayed corpse of a condemned criminal carried God’s curse for the one who had so little regard for human life, so God the Father had God the Son be put on public display as the One who carried God’s “curse” for sin. Even before Jesus died that day, the curse was on display. Three hours of daytime darkness displayed that. So did the cruel jeering of those on the ground, cowardly shouting at a man nailed to a tree. And then there were the anguished words of Jesus Himself, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46)?!  
     
    This day’s public display of wretchedness, the “curse” of hanging on the cross, points not at Jesus, but at us! He became “a curse for us”! Our sins are not a few pebbles tossed into Lake Michigan. Each sin carries with it the curse worse than hanging on a tree, the curse that we should live burning in hell forever. Our sins are not minor offenses, petty mistakes before God. See in Christ’s suffering of hell today the full penalty, the damning display, of what every one of us should have suffered forever for our every sin! Jesus became “a curse for us”. God’s law demands perfect performance, no room for error. Look at what happens to one who fails just once!   
     
    That’s the curse’s cost. And that is every one of us! Christ “becoming a curse for us” is our report card! The realization of what our sins caused drives us to our knees to repent this Good Friday and every day. The “curse” of the cross cries out about our guilt before the holy God. The “curse” of the cross eliminates any excuses we offer to downplay our sins. Will we ever take any sin lightly again? Jesus was “cursed for us”!  
     
    II. Paid in full 
     
    Does the Old Testament law mentioned earlier help you understand why the Jews insisted Jesus had to be executed? They screamed, “For all His blasphemy that He is true God, the promised Messiah, that He and our heavenly Father are one, Jesus must be cursed, crucified!” We understand it, but we don’t agree with them. We know our Jesus is true God and did nothing wrong ever! There is more to Good Friday than Jesus of Nazareth is cursed, because cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree! It’s also, Jesus of Nazareth was cursed for sinners. It’s more than a cross; it’s a curse, and the curse’s cost! At the cross the curse’s cost is fully displayed and fully paid!  
     
    “Christ redeemed us” (v. 13) means He bought us back. The term was often used for slaves. The redemption price was the amount paid to set a slave free. That’s exactly what took place on Christ’s 
    cursed cross for six hours Good Friday. We were slaves to sin, powerless to break its eternal death grip on us. But no longer are we cursed because the price was fully paid.  
     
    Jesus became “a curse” to do what we could not do. He settled our account in heaven’s ledger book. Jesus did that with perfect living every second of the thirty-three years He lived here, and with His innocent curse-carrying those six hours on the cross.  
     
    Hold it! Just six hours for all sins? Isn’t that a little light? Not when we multiply the penalty for one sin, hell, by the number of sins committed in the past, being committed right now, and to be committed in the future by every person ever – except for the One who became “a curse” for all! Some say Christianity offers cheap grace. But there is nothing cheap about removing the curse of hell! Hell for every sin ever was dumped on Jesus, a crushing avalanche of billions of one-ton boulders. With that, our curse’s cost, fully displayed, was also fully paid.  
     
    The price paid was the sinless, innocent life of Jesus and the holy, precious blood of Jesus. Sinless, innocent, and holy we understand. How about precious? What makes gold and type AB blood precious? There’s not much gold or AB blood in the world. Christ’s is the only blood that could fully pay the curse’s cost for our sins, fully cover the debt of our transgressions.  
     
    “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (v. 13). He was cursed, and what we owed God for every sin is fully paid! What a tremendous exchange for us! Our sins made our Savior’s suffering, His cruel crucifixion, necessary. We can’t escape that truth! But in love for us Jesus agreed to it all to pay what we can’t. He didn’t shout, “I don’t want to do that!” He didn’t whine, “It’s not fair!” He went as sent – and paid it all. The curse has been removed from us. Christ’s shout, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) used the word that means It has been paid in full!  
     
    Jesus came as our Substitute. Remaining true God, He also became true man. That’s why Good Friday really starts at Christmas, even back in Eden when the Lord promised the Savior would be one of us, the Seed of the woman, but without sin. In our place Jesus came to obey God’s law perfectly and to suffer our “curse” completely. The curse’s cost is fully paid!  
     
    All God’s wrath was fired at Jesus who became our “curse” at the cross. That doesn’t make us proud. But it does make us forgiven now and heirs of heaven forever. We don’t shake in our shoes or wake up in a cold sweat about burning in hell forever. Jesus was “cursed for us”; our curse’s cost is fully paid!  
     
    That equation, one death for all, doesn’t add up in any area of life except in the most important one. “God made Him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). All our guilt is gone, erased by the Savior’s suffering. All traces of the curse are removed, paid by the Redeemer’s sacrifice.  
     
    The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Jesus was made the worst sinner of all, “cursed” to die the death that in His day was reserved for the world’s worst criminals, then He was buried. There’s more to the truth of how He could be cursed then and we have our curse’s cost fully paid now. We’ll hear the rest of that truth Sunday morning. Even on this dark day, especially on this dark day, the truth of our peace and joy is this: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” That’s the Good in Good Friday!      Amen.  
                                                                                                                                                Pastor David A. Voss
    Maundy Thursday - The Savior Gives Us His Love
  • Maundy Thursday April 9, 2020 
     

    First Lesson   Exodus 12:1-14
    Gospel Lesson  Luke 22:39-53
    Hymn 124  
     
    1 Corinthians 11:23-28 
     
    THE SAVIOR GIVES US HIS LOVE
    I. In His testament to die for us  
    II. In His covenant to live with us 

     
     
    In the name of Jesus, who gives us Himself for our forgiveness, life, and salvation, fellow sinners loved by the Lord,  
     
    It’s not a spiritual version of You say ‘potato’, I say ‘potahto’. It’s not what we’ve noticed a lot lately: canceled is correctly spelled with one l or two. The King James Version read here “This cup is the new testament in My blood” (v. 25). Then the New International Version had “the new covenant in My blood”. Now this Evangelical Heritage Version is back to “the new testament in My blood.”  
     
    It’s not that Bible translators can’t make up their minds. It’s that they must use a human word to describe God’s work. A testament is a person’s final will, and takes effect when the person dies. In that sense, the Lord’s Supper is a “testament”, God’s will that He die to give sinners the forgiveness He won for them. A covenant is a person’s will in a person’s relationship with another while both are still alive. In that sense, the  Lord’s Supper is a “covenant”, God’s desire to live with us.  
     
    The Christian Church year’s focus for Maundy Thursday is Communion. Given present circumstances, we won’t receive it tonight. So, should we just forget it and focus on another aspect of Maundy Thursday? That wouldn’t be wrong. But we’d be the poorer for it. Our absence from the sacrament makes our hearts fonder for it. Why? Not because it’s something we do for the Lord, but because in the sacrament the Savior gives us His love. We won’t receive His true body with the bread, His true blood with the wine, tonight. But we will keep in heart these truths from God’s Word. The Savior gives us His love in His testament to die for us and in His covenant to live with us.  
     
    I. In His testament to die for us  
     
    That Thursday night in the upper room it would have been easy for Jesus to forget about the Twelve, you and me, the sinful world. He had so much on His heart as He ate the Passover with the disciples. Ahead of Him lay a night followed by a day packed with the worst horror, terror, grief, and suffering any human could imagine. As true God, Jesus knew it all, and exactly how it would feel. Ahead of Him stood the darkness of the hell into which He would be plunged for the sins of the world because He was the appointed sacrifice for them all. No one could have blamed Jesus had He told the Twelve, “I need some time to Myself. Eat the Passover without Me!”  
    But Jesus wasn’t thinking of Himself. This wasn’t just “the night when He was betrayed” (v. 23). This was the one night of the year when Jewish families for fifteen hundred years had said, “This night is different than all the others.” Remember why? The Passover meal reminded the Jews of their LORD’s love and power in the past. He demonstrated that love by freeing Israel from oppressive slavery in Egypt. God’s power forced Pharaoh to free Israel, as God sent His angel of death to kill the firstborn sons of Egyptians, but to pass over the homes of Israelites where doorframes were marked with the blood of young male lambs without defect, lambs slaughtered that night.  
     
    At God’s direction, the Jews recalled His great love for them by reliving it that same night every year as they talked about what God’s love did. He wanted them to eat roasted lamb, remembering all the lambs that died the first Passover. They were to eat unleavened bread, recalling their ancestors being ready to leave Egypt so quickly that the bread for the meal didn’t have time to rise. They were to eat bitter herbs, remembering the suffering their ancestors endured in Egypt. They were to drink wine at various parts of the meal – not in giddy joy for alcohol, but in thanks to God for His power and love as they used the finest beverage they had. The night was a solemn, yet happy, meal to honor God for His love and power in the past.  
     
    All that happened in the upper room that night. But that night there was more. The Savior showed He is the fulfillment of everything the Passover also promised for the future. Jesus was the Lamb who in hours would shed His blood so eternal death would pass over all who had His blood painted on their hearts. So, at that Passover meal Jesus took the unleavened bread, thanked God, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me” (v. 24). Jesus also took some wine and gave it to them, saying, “This cup is the new testament in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (v. 25).  
     
    What a “testament”! What rich assurance that He died for the Twelve, for you and me, for all! Jesus didn’t go to the cross kicking and screaming. He went willingly for die for sinners. What wondrous love! Now He gives communicants this miraculous meal to strengthen our faith when sins irritate our consciences, when difficulties drag doubts to our hearts, when the messes we make make us wonder where we stand with God. The Savior uses the power of His Word with ordinary bread and wine to give us His body and blood. What a “testament” of His desire to pay the ultimate price in dying to save us! “Depart in peace,” He tells us as we leave His Supper. “Your sins are completely forgiven! You have received at My table the body and blood I gave up when I died for your forgiveness!”  
     
    Due to current restrictions, we don’t receive His Supper in His house tonight. That makes us sad. But Christ still makes us glad and rich tonight. We receive the same forgiveness tonight from His Word. The means by which we receive God’s undeserved love tonight is only the Word – not the Word and the Sacrament. But tonight we still will rest in sweet forgiveness because Jesus died for us. The Word of the sacrificed Lamb says so!  
     
    II. In His covenant to live with us
     
    Christ gives us His love for more than a quiet conscience. He gives us His love for our full life! Thus, it’s also correct to see His love in His Supper as a covenant. Jesus didn’t stay dead, so He gives His love to us as His covenant to live with us.  
     
    The Old Adam inside us clears his throat to argue. Your Jesus died for you to forgive you, to take you to His heaven. Everything’s done! Now live like you want! Be sure you don’t do or say anything to hurt others. But other than that, live like you want! You’re forgiven! That’s the way the sinful flesh, the sinful 
    world, and Satan team up to tempt us, even on this holy night. As long as you steer clear of what will get you in trouble with the authorities, you can do it or say it or think it!  
     
    Hear the Savior’s Word expose the devil’s lies! By God’s perfect standard, each sin – selfish act, suggestive thought, snarky word – deserves hell. Whether or not society deems it depraved  doesn’t matter. What the holy God, our loving Savior, calls sin is what we are to avoid in our doing, our thinking, our speaking. Sin separates us from the Lord! Why would forgiven sinners want to spread sin all over their freshly washed hearts?  
     
    The body and blood of the Lord given communicants by their Lord in His Supper don’t cleanse us so we can go out and get dirty again. In His Word and in His sacraments the Savior gives us His love to purify us as His people and to live as His people.  
     
    Here the Savior doesn’t give only bread from the field to say, “Now think about how I died for you!”, then a sip of wine to say, “Think of how My blood saved you!” “In, with, under the bread, My body…for you. In, with, under the wine, My blood for you! Not for you to abuse by sinning, but for you to use in living for Me and with Me! That’s My covenant with you!”  
     
    Because His Supper is such powerful medicine, the Savior requires we be ready to receive it. “Let a person examine himself and after doing so, let him eat of the bread and drink from the cup lest the person be guilty of sinning against the Lord’s body and blood” (vv. 28,27). The divinely directed examination will ask whether we are guilty of sin, admit we deserve hell, trust the Savior’s sacrifice to forgive us, recognize His body and blood are in the Supper, seek His help to set sin behind us. Because God insists his Supper be an outward confession of our unity in faith with each other, “Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16), we see to it only those who hold to all the Bible’s truths as we do partake of it with us. Because God demands His sacrament not be given to someone who “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29), we don’t give the Savior’s Supper to those who refuse to set sin aside in their lives.  
     
    Those are not man-made rules to come to our sacrament. Those are the Savior’s standards to receive His Supper! How could we lower His standards for His Supper in which He gives us His love?! The Savior gives us His love, and in this covenant declares His desire to live with us – yes, in heaven forever, but also on earth in the joy of forgiveness!  
     
    “I still love you!”, God tells us daily in His Word as He shows us the love that led Him to die for us. “I still love you!”, God tells us regularly in His Supper as He gives communicants His body and blood. This is probably the first Maundy Thursday in our congregation’s history when the Lord’s Supper hasn’t been offered to our communicants. We long for the time when we can receive it. We also long to hear the Word of life in His life, death, and rising for us. We gather again in worship and in spirit to receive the Savior’s love tomorrow and Sunday.      Amen.
                                                                                                                                                                       Pastor David A. Voss 
    Palm Sunday - Christ Jesus is Our Lamb 
  • April 5, 2020 Palm Sunday 
     
    First Lesson   Zechariah 9:9-10  
    Psalm    24 (p. 73)  
    Second Lesson  Philippians 2:5-11  
    Gospel   Matthew 21:1-11    Hymn    133  
     
     
    Philippians 2:5-11 
     
    CHRIST JESUS IS OUR LAMB 
           I. Our Substitute who humbled Himself for all (vv. 6-8)
    II. Our Savior who receives glory from all (vv. 9-11) 
     
     
    In the name of Christ Jesus, fellow sinners rescued from sin and death and hell by His life and death and rising,  
     
    For us, Palm Sunday paints pictures of Jews waving palm branches and shouting at Jesus, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” For Jews up to that first Palm Sunday, that Sunday every year was lamb picking day. The Passover meal was Thursday, but God had His people pick the lamb to eat four days earlier, this Sunday. Do you see it? As Jesus rode on the donkey colt, many were thinking, We have our lamb picked for the Passover or We still have to pick our lamb for the Passover. The Jesus whom many acclaimed that Sunday was the Lamb picked by God, was the Lamb to whom all the other sacrificed lambs had pointed for fifteen hundred years.   
     
    Christ Jesus is the Lamb of God. Like the four-legged lambs being picked, Jesus was a young male. He was perfect. Why should He die? This classic section of God’s Word teaches Christ’s states of humiliation and exaltation. Remember that teaching from your Catechism classes? But that’s not just doctrine for students to learn. It’s salvation for sinners to trust.  
     
    Because too many people don’t want to dwell on sin and its punishment, they say the greatest thing about Jesus is that He was an excellent example to follow, a master model for our lives. Since Jesus never sinned and always loved, that’s certainly true. But Christ Jesus is more than our model to follow. Christ Jesus is our Lamb! He is our Substitute who humbled Himself for all. He our Savior who receives glory from all.  
     
     I. Our Substitute who humbled Himself for all (vv. 6-8)
     
    Jesus didn’t act like a big shot while He lived on earth. He could have. He remained true God when He came down to earth, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin mother. “Christ Jesus was, always has been, always will be, by nature God” (v. 6).  
    But on earth He didn’t make full and constant use of His power and glory as God. “He did not consider equality with God” (v. 6) to be used for His advantage. He could have “displayed” (v. 6) His glory as a trophy. He could have used His power to make His life on earth easy, plush, comfortable. But He didn’t!  
     
    Rather, “He emptied Himself” (v. 7). The phrase means Jesus didn’t often use the power and glory as God He has always had and will always have. Oh, He did use His power and glory as God sometimes during His life here: to still storms on Galilee, heal lepers, rise Lazarus from the death to life, at His transfiguration, and more. But for most of His life here Jesus lived like one of the poorest people in Israel.  
     
    He took on “the nature of a servant…was born in human likeness” (v. 7). Though Christ Jesus is the all-powerful God, He lived here as “a servant”. That’s not the spiritual equivalent of Prince Harry saying, “I don’t want to be considered royalty any longer!” That would be like an American president saying, “I’ll live in abject poverty, and serve all the people of the land by doing the most horrible work in the land!”  
     
    Why did the powerful, perfect Son of God live and work like that? For us! For all! “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (v. 8). What a striking difference from the way earthly rulers seek success! Jesus “humbled Himself” to win the greatest victory of all for all! He didn’t build bombs, recruit soldiers, or form alliances to win. Just the opposite! Christ Jesus, truly and fully God, set aside His divine glory, became more lowly in life than we will ever experience, and suffered what we and all sinners should suffer forever in hell. More about that on Good Friday.  
     
    That was the plan of the Triune God to save us. The Jesus we’ll follow this week was not a pawn in the hands of hardened religious leaders and misled political rulers. The Jesus we’ll follow this week remained very much in control, as He said a few months before the first Holy Week: “No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down on My own” (John 10:18).  
     
    On this day when Jews picked their lamb for the Passover, we see and follow Christ Jesus as our Lamb. We don’t see Him clearly or follow Him faithfully when we consider ourselves the boss, but when we serve everyone humbly. We don’t see Him clearly or follow Him faithfully when we live for ourselves, but when we live for Him who humbled Himself for us. That’s not easy for us. By nature we are selfish, arrogant, stuck on this world. “Let this attitude be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). We see His attitude so clearly this holiest week of the year! Our sins and our guilt were put on Christ’s account because He “humbled Himself” to be the Substitute for all. His righteousness is ours! Christ Jesus is our Lamb!  
     
    II. Our Savior who receives glory from all (vv. 9-11) 
     
    Every four-legged lamb picked this Sunday would be killed, eaten, never to exist again. Spoiler alert! Christ Jesus is our Lamb to be sacrificed for all Friday, but raised from the dead next Sunday! Holy Week isn’t a divine drama to keep us on the edge of our seats wondering how it will end. We already know! Jesus did what He was picked to do – humble Himself for all to die “on a cross. Therefore” (v. 9), since Christ Jesus did all that for all, our Savior was exalted to receive glory from all!  
     
    “God also highly exalted Him” (v. 9). The exaltation of Christ Jesus is more than a victory parade to honor Him. He is every moment exalted after perfectly completing His mission. He is exalted to prove 
    that His work won our salvation. If His humiliation was Christ Jesus not making full use of His power and glory as true God, what is His exaltation? Yes! Christ Jesus once again makes full use of His power and glory as God, divine power and glory He’ll never set aside again. Much more about that next Sunday, the greatest day of the Christian’s year!  
     
    Christ Jesus is our Lamb. The Lamb who was slain was raised to life to be honored by all. “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 10-11). In a few minutes we will confess Jesus has ascended to heaven. Heaven opened its doors to receive the risen Savior. And heaven’s doors will open to us who trust Christ Jesus as the Lamb slain for our sins and raised for our assurance that His forgiveness is ours forever!  
     
    But “every knee” and “every tongue”? “In heaven” sure! “On earth”?” We believers are! But “under the earth” in hell? This doesn’t mean everyone will be saved. But a day is coming when all, even souls in hell, will know Jesus is the Savior. Right now “heaven” rings with the perfect praise of angels and of the souls of our loved ones and of all others who’ve died trusting their sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb. Even now “on earth”, even in the middle of widespread disease and a crumbling economy and uncertain jobs, we sinful believers honor Him for His blood shed and His body raised. And on the Last Day all will stand before Him to see His glory and power.  
     
    On the Last Day unbelievers will see the Lamb’s glory and power with knees knocking and teeth chattering in terror. They will acknowledge in anguish the One they deeply despised or apathetically rejected or slowly let slip away is the Savior. But for them it will be too late.  
     
    Christ Jesus is our Lamb! We wouldn’t have picked Him because He looked too lowly, was too humble. But God used the good news about the Lamb to give us the faith to confess His humiliation to save us, then His exaltation to assure us. That’s the best news ever, better even than a miraculously instant end to the virus! We have the good news! We share the good news!  
     
    Holy Week is here. It will be the first Holy Week ever that worship services aren’t held here in His house. But His Word will be heard in our homes. His good news will reign in our hearts where God plants faith and waters it, leads us to trust the Lamb and His sacrifice, uses His “attitude” to direct our lives to glorify Him. His humble, steady commitment to His mission is the humble, steady trust in Him we live – even as the world wobbles in fear of disease and death, of despair and depression.  
     
    Holy Week is here. Christ Jesus is our Lamb. Direct others to Him as their Lamb, too, as the only Lamb for salvation.      Amen.  
                                                                                                                                                                 Pastor David A. Voss