Fifth Sunday of Easter/Confirmation Sunday - Confirmands, the Holy Spirit Still Has Work to Do in You
  • Fifth Sunday of Easter / Confirmation Sunday
    May 2, 2021
    Hymns                        148,   598,   332
    First Lesson                Acts 8:26-40
    Psalm                          67  (page 91)
    Second Lesson            1 John 3:18-24
    Gospel Lesson            John 15:1-8
    Acts 8:26-40
    Confirmands, the Holy Spirit Still Has Work to Do in You
     I. The same tools
    II. The same goals
    III. The same agents
    In the name of our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow redeemed, and particularly you confirmands,
    When our confirmands stand in a receiving line later, they will hear from many of you, “Congratulations!” You will say that from your heart and they will receive that with humble joy as an acknowledgment they have reached a spiritual milestone in their young lives. You won’t mean it and they won’t take it to mean that they’re done with their study of God’s Word. They aren’t. We who aren’t confirmands today aren’t done, either.
    This well-known lesson from God stresses a truth He gives  throughout His Word. We don’t do anything to make ourselves something before the Lord. How critical to consider that truth this Confirmation day! Whether confirmed long ago as an eighth grader or adult, still awaiting confirmation down the road, or confirmed today, God’s message to us is, “The Holy Spirit still has work to do in you!”
    That was true for the Ethiopian government official. That was true for Philip. That is true for you who are presenting yourselves today for communicant membership. That is true for each of us. The Lord says, “Confirmands of long ago, today, and in the future, the Holy Spirit still has work to do in you! His work is done with the same tools, for the same goals, and by the same kind of agents as you read about here!”
     I. The same tools

    I’m so old I used a typewriter my first eight years as a pastor. I’m so old I remember waiting a week to see pictures because cameras used film that took days to be developed. Tools are different today, right? But in the Lord’s work, the tools haven’t changed a bit. When He sent Philip to the Ethiopian, the Holy Spirit had Philip tell him “the good news about Jesus” (v. 35).
    As our confirmands just now testified about the faith the Holy Spirit has given them and strengthened in them, as they and we confess each week the greatest need we have, it is still the same truth from God Himself. What but “the good news about Jesus” is God’s eternal remedy for the sinner’s deserved damnation? The latest spiritual fads do sinners no good. What you and I need every day is to be fed with the Bread of Life, Jesus!
    The Holy Spirit in some miraculous way told Philip, “Go over there and stand close to that chariot” (v. 29). Philip didn’t then make small talk with the stranger about the weather or Jerusalem’s soccer team or Mother’s Day plans. Philip knew what the Holy Spirit had sent him to say to the Ethiopian. “Do you understand what you are reading (v. 30) from the Bible?” The Ethiopian asked for more instruction, so Philip started “with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (v. 35). In other words, what happened in that chariot is exactly what happens in all our classes!
    The Spirit uses the same tool to do the same work today. The tool is the words the Holy Spirit gave human writers in what we then properly call God’s Word. The Ethiopian was reading out loud a portion of Isaiah Chapter 53 about a man “led like a sheep to the slaughter” (v. 32). That was God’s prophecy of His suffering and death for all sinners. Our guilt for our sins was taken on – and taken away – by that Lamb, Jesus. The tool the Holy Spirit uses on us and with us and in us is still the Word about the same crucified and risen Christ as the only Savior.
    My sinful nature grumbles to hear the same thing all the time in here. But as our bodies are fed by the same food groups each day, so our souls are fed by the same spiritual food each day. What is better for our faith than the Word “about Jesus” and His sacrifice? Confirmands – current, past, and future, the Holy Spirit still has work to do in us with the same tools of His good news about the Savior in His Word and sacraments. Hold on to Christ as He is preached and taught and read and pondered! Grow in Christ as the Spirit uses the same saving tools!
    II. The same goals

    My guess is that thirty minutes ago your goal was, “Answer the questions correctly”. But that isn’t the great goal the Spirit has for you. His goals for you are His goals for us, for all. He still has work to do in you and us – work done for the same goals.
    The goal of this mission might have seemed foolish to Philip at first. Do you know what Philip was doing right before the Spirit sent him to the man headed back to Africa? Philip had been teaching a lot of souls about the Savior in Samaria (central Israel). There “the crowds paid close attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the miraculous signs he was doing…There was great joy” (Acts 8:6,8) there. Should Philip really leave a populated area where church work was a huge success for “an isolated area” (v. 26) between Jerusalem and Gaza to work with just one person?!
    Yes! That was the Holy Spirit’s goal for Philip that day. He was to work with this man, not a Jew like Philip but a Gentile, a man who had, like Philip, been led to trust Jesus as the Savior slain and risen. Isn’t that saying a bit much about the foreigner who worked for the queen of Ethiopia? No! Why would he go “to Jerusalem to worship” (v. 27) if he didn’t yet trust the one true God? Christian Church history records a strong strain of believers in the Savior from Ethiopia after this. Could it be this man was instrumental in spreading “good news about Jesus” in his homeland? We can’t say for sure. But that would be in line with the Spirit’s goals for every age in every land!
    We can say for sure that the Holy Spirit who still has work to do in us still has the same goals for that work done in us and by us. As the Spirit used the tool of the Gospel to build up the faith in the Savior He’d already given the Ethiopian, so the Spirit’s goal is to keep using the tools of Word and Sacrament to build up your faith in what the Savior has done to rescue us sinners. The Spirit’s goal is also to give faith in Jesus to those who are still living in the darkness of unbelief that rejects Jesus as the Savior. The Holy Spirit’s goals never change!
    As the all-powerful, all-knowing God, the Holy Spirit could do that work Himself. But He reveals in His Word He wants to use those in whom He’s planted the seed of faith and in whom He’s still growing the plant of faith to give others what He has given us. It’s our prayer, confirmands, that the answers you give today and confession of faith you make today will be answers you give and faith you confess in conversations with friends about the most important matters of all. Our study of the Word doesn’t stop at Confirmation. It’s what the Spirit uses to carry out His goals in us and through us. Daily we sinners need nourishment from our great Vine, Jesus, as we eat eagerly  and drink deeply of His sacrifice for us. Then the Spirit uses us branches connected to Jesus to reach other souls with Jesus.
    III. The same agents
    You confirmands have already confessed that you haven’t really accomplished anything today. It’s the Holy Spirit who has done it in you. The Holy Spirit still has work to do in you and in all of us. And He uses the same kind of agents He used here – flawed sinners, mistake-making people – to do His work.
    When Philip saw the man to whom the Holy Spirit had sent him, Philip might have felt intimidated about speaking to an influential government official from Ethiopia. Who was ordinary Philip – not even one of the Savior’s twelve disciples! – to approach a foreign dignitary? But the Holy Spirit had sent Philip to that man. It’s not the messenger who produces the results, it’s the message of the Savior slain for sinners!
    The Ethiopian had no reason to respect Philip. Still, he asked Philip to baptize him when “they came to some water” (v. 36) on their trip. The Ethiopian hadn’t asked for an evangelist to tell him more about God’s Word. But after the visit was over, he “went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39) about what the Spirit had used Philip to teach him. Philip was an agent, an imperfect agent, used by the Holy Spirit to give the Ethiopian what he needed: more about the Savior’s sacrifice as the Gospel was given in the Word and the washing that flows from the work of Christ in Baptism. And then “the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away…Philip…found himself at Azotus. And as he went from place to place, he preached the gospel” (vv. 39-40) in a number of cities up the Mediterranean coast. The Holy Spirit had still more work to do through Philip.
    You confirmands today confess what you believe about salvation found only in Jesus for us who deserve hell, and confess your desire to be faithful to Him as long as you live. Our prayer is that God will keep you in your Spirit-given faith and use you as His agents, too. Confirmands – today’s, yesterday’s, and tomorrow’s, the Holy Spirit still has work to do in us as He daily equips us to be His agents.
    It’s easy to pretend we aren’t His agents. It’s easy to assume the Holy Spirit will find someone else to do it if we won’t or don’t. But what if Philip had adopted that attitude with the Ethiopian? The Holy Spirit uses His truth to equip you young people and all of us believers – both younger than you and older than you – to be His agents.
    Our newest confirmands will partake of the saving body and blood of our Lord with us. Our newest confirmands will work with us in the fields of the Lord that He has made ripe for harvest. Their professions of faith today remind us what the Holy Spirit has worked in us – as He did in Philip and the Ethiopian – and of what the Spirit wishes to accomplish with the same tools for the same goals and with us, the same kind of agents.
    Dear confirmands – current, past, and future, the Holy Spirit isn’t done with us. That’s because the devil isn’t done with us, either. Satan will continue to attack you to take you away from the cross and empty grave of your Savior, to take you to the dark alleys of sin and shame. Your own power can’t help you in those attacks. Only the Savior’s blood cleanses you forever! Only His Word fends off the devil. You have Him. You have the Word. Keep connected to Him through it!      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Fourth Sunday of Easter - The Good Shepherd Never Forsakes His Sheep
  • Fourth Sunday of Easter
    April 25, 2021
    Hymns                        150,   360,   432
    First Lesson                Acts 4:23-33
    Psalm                          23  (page 72)
    Second Lesson            1 John 3:1-2
    Gospel Lesson            John 10:11-18
    Acts 4:23-33
    The Good Shepherd Never Forsakes His Sheep
      I. We know that from His work done for us
     II. We know that from His Word given to us
    In the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd because He is our crucified and risen Savior, dear precious sheep of His flock,
    Good Shepherd Sunday. One of the most endearing Word pictures in all the Word: the Good Shepherd cares for His sheep. And the preacher picks a lesson from Acts that doesn’t mention Jesus as the Good Shepherd?!
    I understand your disappointment. But I didn’t just plug the words The Good Shepherd into the sermon theme to make it look like the preacher isn’t ignoring the endearing – and enduring – Word picture of the Good Shepherd. True, this lesson doesn’t call Jesus the Good Shepherd. But this lesson most certainly does show what Jesus does as our Good Shepherd.
    How? We confess how helpless we are against the wolf and his helpers in hell; how often we stubbornly stray from our loving Lord; how desperately we weak, defenseless sheep need the risen Jesus to guard and keep us, to bless and save us. And He does – always! Even when trials in life, trouble from others due to our faith, pain and problems make it seem our Good Shepherd has left us, He hasn’t, He doesn’t, He won’t – ever! That’s the truth at the center of this lesson. The Good Shepherd never forsakes His sheep. We know that from His work done for us and from His Word given to us. 
    I. We know that from His work done for us

    Now what?! the first Easter believers might have thought. The Savior had died to pay for the sins of the world, risen from death three days later, appeared to His disciples and other believers at various times for forty days, then ascended to heaven. Ten days latser, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples with the ability to speak about the risen Jesus in languages they hadn’t studied, and with courage they hadn’t shown when their Lord was arrested, tried, died, and buried. They told others what Christ Jesus had done to fulfill prophecy and to save all the world.
    To prove that what they taught came from God, God had used Peter and John to heal a man who hadn’t been able to walk from birth. Peter and John told the crowd, stunned to see this man who’d only ever been sitting on the ground or carried around by others, walking and “jumping” (Acts 3:8), “This man stands and walks among you by the power of Jesus! We didn’t do it, the risen and very-much-alive Jesus did!”
    The Jewish religious leaders reacted to Peter’s preaching, “How dare you blame us for putting that vile Jesus to death? He deserved it! How dare you suggest that blasphemer has risen from the dead? He couldn’t!” The religious leaders put the Savior’s apostles in jail overnight, but released them in the morning because the leaders couldn’t deny the miracle that had been done and couldn’t convince the people Peter’s preaching was wrong. They ordered Peter and John not to speak to anyone about Jesus of Nazareth as risen from the dead.
    Now what?! It was illegal to preach and teach the good news about the Savior – the very mission the risen Savior had given His followers. Had the Good Shepherd died, risen, and ascended to leave His sheep forsaken? No! Those earliest Easter believers, apostles and laypeople, knew they weren’t forsaken.
    They prayed to the Triune God – not for protection, but to praise God for His control and power over His enemies, even “kings and rulers” (v. 26) who opposed God. They thanked God for the work the promised Good Shepherd had done to save all the world’s straying, helpless sheep. God hadn’t forsaken His sheep when authorities planned and plotted to kill the Father’s “holy servant Jesus, anointed” (v. 27) for the mission to redeem all sinners. In this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and people of Israel” (v. 27) conspired to capture and crucify the long-promised Messiah. But unwillingly and unwittingly, they carried out God’s purpose! “They did whatever Your hand and Your plan had decided beforehand should happen” (v. 28). The Lord didn’t force those people to do it. But it was His will to use them and their wicked work to serve His saving “plan”. God’s work was done and mankind’s salvation was won! Those sheep were not forsaken; they were forgiven!
    The Good Shepherd never forsakes His sheep, including those He’s gathered here this morning. The temptations that blow into our lives and the troubles that threaten to flatten us will continue as long as we draw breath on earth. But none of that separates us from the crucified and risen Savior! We are rescued and certain of heaven because of His work to save us from the hell we deserve. The Good Shepherd isn’t a dead hero; He is the risen Savior! He reigns from heaven to protect His sheep from the lion prowling to devour our faith.
     II. We know that from His Word given to us
    It’s never happened to us; if only it would! “After they prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken” (v. 31). But that was only a momentary miracle from the Good Shepherd for His sheep at that time and in that place, a God-given sign their prayer was answered. The continuing blessing that does happen to us is in the next sentence of the same verse. They continued to speak the Word of God with boldness” (v. 31). Hear it? Here’s the power and protection, the blessing and connection the Good Shepherd gives His sheep: not in a shaken room, but in the Word! The Good Shepherd never forsakes His sheep. We know that from His Word given to us.
    When doubters wondered out loud how the humble Jesus of Nazareth could be true God and how His horrible death on the cross could save the whole world, the earliest Easter believers pointed to the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, then to the fulfillment of every one of those prophecies by Jesus of Nazareth. The Good Shepherd used His Word to feed His sheep, His never-forsaken sheep.
    Did you catch the teaching about the inspiration of the Old Testament in what those early Christians prayed? “By the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David, Your servant, You said: Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain” (v. 25)? That people, even government officials, would oppose the promised Savior didn’t come as a surprise to those who knew their Old Testament. God had foretold that “rage” against the Redeemer, “against God’s Anointed One” (v. 26), the name that means the same as Christ and Messiah!
    Did the “threats” (v. 29) those believers had heard and were now facing – “Do not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” – mean that God had forsaken them? Not at all! It was all foretold in God’s Word, and was more evidence that God is in control of all He has created – including powerful people. The power of the Word showed those early believers that Jesus is the Savior: crucified, risen, ascended, and now ruling from His heaven for the good of His sheep! What Jesus did through Peter and John for the man who had not walked in all his life proved that the truths Peter and John and the other believers spoke and taught were from God. The “threats”, raging, persecution, and opposition to the Savior and then His sheep didn’t mean He’d forsaken them. He still fed them with His Word.
    For more than a year, many around the world have felt isolated, abandoned, alone. Socially and emotionally, you may be forsaken. But spiritually and eternally? Never! The Good Shepherd never forsakes His sheep. Like those earliest Easter believers, we know that is true from His Word given to us.
    Troubles and setbacks in this life should not decrease our reliance on the Lord. Rather, they show us – as such sorrows showed the early believers – how deeply we sheep depend on our Good Shepherd. His Word reminds us that life in this world will not be easy for His sheep. “We must go through many troubles on our way to the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). His Word condemns us as sinners who anger Him and deserve only His punishment. “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). What are we weak and powerless sheep to do? Look to the Good Shepherd, Himself the Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He came as God and man to remove our guilt and restore our life with God forever!
    All of that He gives us in His Word. We trust it deeply. And we share it widely. Those early believers didn’t set their own agendas. “The whole group of believers was one in heart and soul” (v. 32) – united not in politics or team loyalty, but in God and on all His Word. They showed their faith as they helped those who needed help. Most important, they “continued to testify about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ with great power, and abundant grace was on all of them” (v. 33). The Good Shepherd blessed their words about Him to others, and they gave evidence with their lives that they belonged to the Good Shepherd who died and rose for them. 
    We do no differently as saved sheep of the Good Shepherd. He promises to do His work in the hearts of people through no other means than the good news about His work – good news He gives in His Word and Sacraments. The Good Shepherd gives His Church one mission: “speak the Word of God with boldness”. That’s not an order from an angry God, but a privilege from the Good Shepherd to and for His sheep. As He has fed us with His Word of life, so He uses us to feed others with that Word of life. We who are fed His Word share His Word.
    Whether or not the page of His Word on which we hear Him speak to us calls the risen Jesus the Good Shepherd, His Word continues to give us the results of His work to rescue straying sheep. This life will still have many moments of sorrow and grief. But we don’t let the wolf in hell tell us our Good Shepherd has left us and now we’re about to be devoured. The Good Shepherd never forsakes His sheep. We have that confidence. We live that confidence. We share that confidence.     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Third Sunday of Easter - Our Fellowship Is With the Real God
  • Third Sunday of Easter
    April 18, 2021
    Hymns                        149,   143,   162
    First Lesson                Acts 4:8-12
    Psalm                          118  (page 108)
    Second Lesson            1 John 1:1 – 2:2
    Gospel Lesson            Luke 24:36-49 
    1 John 1:1 – 2:2
    Our Fellowship Is with the Real God
    I. In whose light we walk
     II. In whose blood we wash
    In the name of our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ, fellow redeemed, still thrilled at His rising from death,
    Is God a religious version of Sasquatch or the Loch Ness monster? An unbelievable legend no one has seen and therefore can’t be taken seriously? That’s what some in John’s day said. People today say that, too. “Possessions, power, and pleasure are real! But God? I’ve never seen Him, so He can’t be real.”
    God is real! John had “heard” (v. 1) the Father’s voice at the Son’s transfiguration, shrieks of evil angels driven out of possessed bodies by Jesus, countless lessons taught by Jesus. John had “seen” (v. 1) Jesus have Lazarus leave his tomb alive, hush severe storms in an instant, restore immediately an ear sliced off by a sword. John had “touched” (v. 1) leftovers from thousands fed by Jesus with five loaves and two fish, the risen Savior, nets in which Jesus gave them a miraculous catch of fish.
    Through John and all the other Bible writers, we “have heard …seen…observed…touched” the very real God. Right here, right now the very real God speaks to us. By His grace, we have “fellowship…with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ” (v. 3), and the Holy Spirit. God makes us, who entered life dead in sin and in rebellion against Him, members of His family. We are not just His guests for cookies in our fellowship hall, but His people forever here and in the heaven’s holy halls.
    That’s real “fellowship” with the real God who did His real work in real time among real people in real places to save all sinners. We weren’t there then. But that work of salvation has been “proclaimed” (vv. 2-3) to us and has taken root in us by the power of God’s good news, the Gospel. Parents, spouse, or others who’d already been brought into “fellowship” by God with His Gospel used the Gospel with you – and God brought you into “fellowship with” Him, the real God. Fellowship” is being joined to the real God. Our “fellowship” is with the real God in whose light we walk and in whose blood we wash.
    I. In whose light we walk

    The words are simple, but the truth is so deep: “God is light” (v. 5). That’s not the sun, though God made the sun and everything else in the universe in six days with His Word. “God is light” refers to God’s divine splendor and spotless purity, so perfect that in Him there is no darkness at all” (v. 5). The real God reveals Himself in the Son who came to earth as the Savior. Jesus calls Himself “the Light of the World” (John 8:12) and “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). The very real God is the very real Light who broke through the clouds of sin and death with His work on earth, and who still shines in this otherwise dark world with His good news.
    Do you agree with that and trust that? Do you delight that the real God has established “fellowship” with you? We strive each day to walk in His light, right? Do we see we can’t walk in His light and at the same hug, or even hold hands with, sin? This Resurrection season lesson tells us to hold up our life to the light of the real God. “If we say we have fellowship with Him but still walk in darkness, we are lying and do not put the truth into practice. But…we walk in the light, just as He is in the light…If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us…If we say we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar (when God calls us sinners) and His Word is not in us” (vv. 6-8,10).
    The first readers of First John were being pulled in two opposing, but equally damning, directions. Some false teachers said, “If you really let God into your mind you would eventually become perfect and no longer sin here.” Others said, “Only matter is evil. Since the body is made up of matter, whatever sins are committed in the body are okay because the body will die and decay anyway, and no thoughts or words are sin.” They needed “the light” from the real God, for their walk of life. We need it, too, when we’re told it’s nobody’s business how we live and speak and think, and that no one can call us sinners.

    If we claim “fellowship” with the real, holy God who hates sin and correctly calls us sinners, will we allow sin or false ideas about sin to pollute our lives? Do we kneel daily to grieve over our sins and trust in the payment made when “the Light” sacrificed Himself for us? Does our life show “the Light” in our lives everywhere we are, in our choices of pleasures and treasures? Or do we at times make the spiritually dangerous mistake of claiming “fellowship” with God, but thinking we don’t need to walk in “the Light” every step of the way every day?
    Our fellowship is with the real God, and we walk in His light as we deal with our sins. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9). We who have fellowship with the real God don’t deny or downplay our sin. We “confess” it, admit it, see it as God He sees it, feel its guilt, come before the Almighty as beggars pleading, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!”
    How modern is this ancient letter! We don’t claim to be without sin. But are there sins in our lives that no longer bother us? Little lies we tell, slander we spread, grudges we nurse, wicked thoughts we harbor? Likely. there are! Rather than excuse them and keep living in them, we who have “fellowship” with the real God put those sins behind us as we walk in “the Light”.
     II. In whose blood we wash
    Why do dentists and surgeons use bright lights as they do their vital work? To see every little thing. God says, “Be perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and “Do not sin” (2:1). But we aren’t and we do. “God is light”, so He sees every single sin in us! Does that ruin for now or break forever our fellowship with the real God? If not for Him, it would! But we have “fellowship” with the real God, the real God in whose blood we wash.
    “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin” (v. 7). “Sin” is not just the wrongs we do and the rights we don’t. “Sin” is also the evil nature in us that injects its filth in all our words, acts, and thoughts – even the ones we think are good! “Sin” stains us through and through.
    It takes a strong cleaning agent to get rid of “sin” on us and in us. And Christ’s blood is just that powerful a cleanser for us! His blood does more than clean our surface. It removes our stain and guilt completely. The blood comes from the veins of Him who is not only man, but is God from before time began.
    Satan says, “You keep getting dirty, sinner! God will never let you into heaven!” But our “fellowship” is with the real God in whose blood we wash. And He shouts to us daily, “When you sin, you have an Advocate before the Father: Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world” (2:1-2).
    Who better to have as our lawyer in heaven’s court? He is the One who restores “fellowship” with the real God when we sin. He pleads for us powerfully and personally before His Father and ours. Our loving Father listens to His beloved Son. Jesus maintains our fellowship with God by pointing to and standing behind the sacrifice He made at one time for every sin!
    Without our crucified and risen Redeemer, the question, “What if I sin?” would be a horrible one, haunting us all the way to hell. Without Him, each sin would be longer and higher than the Great Wall of China – a spiritual wall of separation from God we couldn’t break through, climb over, walk around, or dig under. But by Jesus and His “blood” we are “cleansed. By Jesus and His “blood” we are in fellowship with the real God – and are represented by Him every second of our lives!
    How is our Resurrection season going? Were we only resurrection spectators who no longer thrill about the empty tomb and the resurrection truth and the Easter lessons? None of us will admit that. But that’s a very real danger. Oh, I know all that. Of course Jesus rose from the dead, just as He said He would. Good for Him! After all He’d been through for us and for our sins, He deserves it! All of that is most certainly true.
    But if that’s where it ends for us, we are lacking in understanding the full Resurrection Gospel. Jesus didn’t rise only for Himself. He also rose for us to assure us of life for Him now and life with Him forever. We are sinners crushed daily by realizing what our sins ought to bring down on us – Off to hell with you - forever! We are sinners who are also crushed daily by understanding what our sins cost Christ – “Forsaken (Matthew 27:46)! Covered by the filth of the world’s every sin! Enduring the terror of hell for the world’s every sin!”
    Repentant in that realization of how serious are our sins, and by how terrible the torment “the Righteous One” suffered for us, we rejoice in the spiritual blessings that are ours in the risen Jesus! Confessing daily where we’d be without “the blood of Jesus Christ”, we thrill – even though the world has long since waved good-bye to Easter – that the empty tomb of Christ fills us with every needed gift for our soul. We sinners don’t deserve a single blessing or gift from God. But the death and the resurrection of the Son of God guarantee we have the best and greatest gifts of all for today and for forever!
    How did you understand our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ” and the Holy Spirit when this lesson was read earlier? How do you understand it now, thanks to God’s Word? We have “fellowship” with the real God! And He keeps us connected to Him with His Gospel in Word and Sacrament. We don’t establish the basis for our “fellowship” with Him; He establishes the basis by His Word of truth, by all His Word of truth. That’s why weekly – and daily! – connection with Him in His Word is vital for our continuing fellowship with Him – and with one another as fellow believers. Through that fellowship, that connection, we walk in His light and wash in His blood here until He takes us to life with Him in heaven.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Second Sunday of Easter - The Easter Truth Produces Beautiful Fruit
  • Second Sunday of Easter
    April 11, 2021
    Hymns                        163,   165,   146
    First Lesson                Acts 3:12-20
    Psalm                          16  (page 68)
    Second Lesson            1 John 5:1-6
    Gospel Lesson            John 20:19-31
    1 John 5:1-6
    The Easter Truth Produces Beautiful Fruit
      I. Love
             II. Obedience
       III. Victory
    In the name of Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior, fellow Easter believers, still celebrating our Redeemer’s resurrection,
    When the forecast predicted last week’s wonderfully warm  weather to give way to rain, the chatty anchor predictably told the trained meteorologist, “That’s all right. April showers bring May flowers” – as if the one forecasting the weather is responsible for the weather. We can put a spiritual spin on the spring proverb about April rain and May flowers to declare, very Biblically, “The Easter truth produces beautiful fruit!” The Easter truth makes a huge difference in our lives.
    Today we begin a series of six lessons from the Apostle John’s first letter. The letter describes the believer’s light, life, and love. It tells us what we’d never know on our own. How could that ugly death on a cross bloom into anything beautiful in us? This letter is God’s truth to tell us how and why – and more!
    Some sixty years after the first Easter, John wrote an Easter sermon with the words, “Jesus is the Christ…Jesus is the Son of God” (vv. 1,5). With “is”, not was, God has John tell us, “Jesus is alive! He rose from death!” Though He died and rose long ago, that truth has as much meaning for us today as it did for John and others the first Easter. Why? The Easter truth produces beautiful fruit in our lives. Three of those fruits are listed on this page of the Easter catalog: love, obedience, and victory.
    I. Love
    When all is said and done, love is proved less by what is said and more by what is done. True love is love in action. Is love buying flowers for the love of our life, then refusing to help in daily life? Hardly! Is love taking Mom out to eat on Mother’s Day, then disrespecting her the rest of the year? No way! Is love the promise and fulfillment by another to take care of our deepest needs and most troubling woes, even if the promise and fulfillment are staggering? That’s it, isn’t it?! That’s love! And that is what God has done for us. “This is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
    The Easter truth points us to the love of the Father sending the Savior. The Easter truth points us to the love of the Son leaving His glorious throne to bleed and die to save us. The Easter truth points us to the love of the Holy Spirit working faith in us sinners to trust Christ’s full payment for us sinners.
    The Holy Spirit is the often-forgotten person of the Trinity in Holy Week. Don’t miss the Spirit’s part in the Easter work and in what the Easter truth produces in us. The Spirit had John write that sinners are “born of God” (v. 1). God alone works faith in our hearts to trust Christ as our crucified and risen Savior, and His forgiveness won for us. The Spirit’s grace gave new birth and new life to us sinners as He brought us into His family. The Spirit uses the Easter truth to produce “love” for God in us. Thanks only to the God we “believe that Jesus is the Christ”, the One chosen for the mission to save us. Thanks only to God we believe “that Jesus is the Son of God”, the One who bore our guilt and now lives in glory in heaven.
    That Easter truth and joy didn’t fade away after last Sunday. They continue to produce the beautiful fruit of “love” in us. We show love for the Father who gives us life beyond this life, and for fellow believers who share in the spiritual life the Easter truth gives us. We show love for God and others by more than sentimental feelings or sappy talk about love. The Easter truth produces the beautiful fruit of “love” in action – eager to roll up sleeves and get to work,  moved by the work of Jesus to suffer and endure hell and die, all in “love” for us.
    “Love” that seeks to serve others rather than be served by others is a beautiful fruit of the Easter truth. “Love” that rejoices when someone else is honored rather than being cranky that I’m not getting any credit is a beautiful fruit of the Easter truth. “Love” that forgives another’s wrongs rather than keeps score of another’s wrongs is a beautiful fruit that only the Easter truth of the Savior slain for us is now risen for us can produce.
    II. Obedience

    There are flowers other than “love” in God’s garden produced by God’s Easter truth. The Easter truth also produces the beautiful fruit of obedience, of “keeping God’s commands” (v. 3).
    Our sinful nature rebels and yells, “How can a loving God stunt my fun and enjoyment of life by giving me so many rules to follow?!” God doesn’t! Oh, it is true that God gives us His laws to follow, His commands to obey. But it is not true that God gives them to us to ruin fun or drain delight. The Easter truth produces the beautiful fruit of obeying God with a joyful heart.
    Obedience is not a fruit produced by the Easter truth when we see ourselves as people over whom the Lord stands with a whip and forces us to obey like slaves. “His commands are not burdensome (v. 3). Our obedience is a fruit of the Easter truth when it is obedience delightfully done and graciously given. The will of God for our daily living isn’t a ten-ton ball and heavy chains we drag through life. His will for our daily obedience doesn’t rub shoulders of faith sore or knock happiness to the ground as a load too heavy to bear. God’s commands are a blessing for us and all people. What a better world this would be if more people followed God’s laws! His laws are designed for our happiness and are a privilege for us to obey in joy.
    How has the Easter truth been shown in our lives these seven days since Easter? God commands, “You shall have no other gods.” Did our lives last week show that the Easter truth produces the fruit of happy obedience as we loved the Lord and His Word above all else? Or did we show disobedience as the Lord and His will at times took second place to the money we have, the jobs we like, the fun we seek, the family we cherish?
    God commands, “You shall not commit adultery!” Did our life last week show that the Easter truth produces the fruit of happy obedience as we kept thoughts, words, and actions pure? Or did we show disobedience by justifying our thoughts, words, or actions with, “Everybody watches it, says it, does it!” “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Did our life last week speak obedience to the Lord? Or did it shout disobedience when we whispered gossip about others?
    Because of our sinful nature, God’s commands aren’t easy to obey. We know how flawed and feeble we are. But with God’s strength we strive to live according to His laws. For hearts still glowing with the Easter truth that Christ is risen, no law of God burdens us. God’s commands are everyday opportunities to show love for Him who saved us. When life is rough and the opposition to obeying God is tough, we don’t run from God’s commands; we run to His strength in His Easter truth.
    Where is the Easter truth found? In God’s Word and sacrament. When temptations to disobey come fast and furious, we go to God’s house, come to Christ’s supper, open the Spirit’s Word, ponder Jesus’ cross, run to His empty grave. With our faith in the Easter truth strengthened, the Easter truth produces new zeal in us to obey God’s great commands with a grateful heart.
       III. Victory
    John wrote this letter partly to expose the false teaching of Cerinthus. Cerinthus supposed it impossible for God’s Son to suffer and die, so he said Jesus was only a man. Cerinthus said a divine gift came on the human Jesus at His baptism, but left Jesus before His crucifixion, and only the human Jesus suffered and died. But if Jesus died only as a man, where would be the victory for us sinners? Cerinthus was wrong. Jesus “is the One who came by water”, truly both God and man at His baptism, “and by blood”, still fully God and fully man at His death on Calvary. So, “Who is the one who overcomes the world” (v. 5)? New-thinking philosophers like Cerinthus? No! We are – we “who believe that Jesus is the Son of God” (v. 5)! The Easter truth produces the beautiful fruit of victory.
    The world” here means all that is sinful in the world. All the pressures out there and in here (our Old Adam) tugging and pulling at the essence of the Easter truth and life, will still bombard us. But the victory is assured through Jesus. The world” shouted curses at Him, betrayed Him, slapped Him, spit on Him, tried Him, crucified Him. But “the world” failed! Christ rose from the dead to proclaim His glorious victory. The devil and his helpers couldn’t keep Jesus in the grave. The world” can’t prevent His victory from being our victory.
    Our victory is assured by Jesus and is a beautiful fruit of the Easter truth! Why then do we so often lose in life’s daily skirmishes with Satan? Why do petty jealousies and little irritations, temptations to drink too much or worship too little, Satan’s whispers about doing what he wants us to do and ignoring what God wants us tp do, so often blow us around like litter swirling in the wind? Because we don’t go often enough to God’s Word. The Easter truth about the risen Savior produces in us the beautiful fruit of victory, “overcoming the world”
    The beautiful fruit of victory! Easter is not egotistically boasting, “I am the greatest!” Easter is humbly and joyfully confessing, “We live because He lives!” And that isn’t just life forever in heaven. It’s also enjoying life as God’s people here on earth. That victory is evident in the beautiful-way-to-God we live.
    We don’t only rejoice on Easter Sunday that Jesus is risen. The Bible is based on the truth – and proof – of our Savior’s resurrection from the dead for us. But many people won’t ever read the Bible; instead, they read us. What do the paragraphs of our living show? Good news that fades in us faster than an early spring sunburn? Or beautiful fruit that expresses itself daily in practical love and joyous obedience and humble victory?
    The evidence in our lives won’t make the local news or national headlines. But it does delight our risen Lord and gives powerful testimony to those around us. We will continue to be full of beautiful fruit produced in us by the Easter truth.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Resurrection Sunday - A Word of Life
  • Easter Sunday
    April 4, 2021
     Hymns:   157   -   161:1-2   -   160:2-3   -   406   -   167   -   152

    Matthew 28:8-10
        I. Spoken as the living Savior
     II. Spoken for the living God
     III. Spoken to the living people
    8They hurried away from the tomb, with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”
    They approached, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.
    10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go, tell my brothers that they should go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
    In the name of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Savior, who rose from death that glorious Sunday morning – just as He said He would, fellow Easter believers,
    What did the women expect to see that Sunday morning? Soldiers guarding the tomb in which the body of Jesus had been laid after He died on the cross. Wax applied to the cover stone, and Pilate’s seal making it official. A huge disc-shaped stone covering the opening. And a cold corpse. But when they got to the tomb, the soldiers were gone, the seal was broken, the stone was rolled aside, and – most important – there was no body!
    We know the explanation. Even better, we trust the reason the soldiers fled, the seal was broken, the stone was moved, the body was gone. Jesus is alive! He did what only God can do! Jesus Christ is risen today! He raised Himself from the dead!
    Many believers mark Good Friday by pondering – as we did thirty-six hours ago and in the last two midweek Lent services – Christ’s seven words from the cross. We ponder this Resurrection morning His first word outside His tomb. It’s not one literal word, but twenty-one of them. Together, His words outside His tomb give us life as He explains His victory. We Easter believers listen to Jesus speak a word of life as the living Savior, for the living God, and to the living people.
       I. Spoken as the living Savior
    Early Easter Sunday morning, the Savior spoke a word of life to His followers who’d been crushed by His Good Friday death. What those believing, devoted women – and later disciples Peter and John – saw at Christ’s empty tomb at first puzzled them. The stone problem, How will we women roll a heavy stone away? was solved. But that revealed a new problem.
    The body was gone, yet the linens the women had watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus carefully wrap around the body were still “lying there” (John 20:5). Did they think, As if everything that’s already happened to Jesus and to our hopes isn’t rotten enough, now someone’s taken the body!? God had John write that the linens were still there to prove Jesus is alive. Grave robbers wouldn’t spend time taking off those cloths before making off with the body. There was also this: the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was not lying with the linen cloths, but was folded up in a separate place by itself” (John 19:7). Clearly, the body left the tomb peacefully.
    There is only one explanation. The risen Jesus showed Himself alive to the Marys, saying to them as He had said so often before He died, “Greetings” (v. 8)! That was more than, “Hello!” The word also means Rejoice! You are blessed! When spoken by once dead, now living, Savior, it’s clearly a word of life!
    Jesus had called Himself the Son of God, the eternal Word, the Resurrection and the Life. The memory of Him would be a joke, as would be we who trust in Him, had that borrowed grave still been occupied. But it’s not! It’s empty. Jesus has risen from death “just as He said” (Matthew 28:6) He’d rise on that third day (the way Jews counted time) after He died.
    He is who He says He is: the living Savior, the very Son of God. He isn’t who His enemies said He was: a liar and blasphemer to call Himself God’s Son, the promised Messiah. He isn’t dead and defeated. He is alive and victorious! The empty grave proves He is the living Savior. He “was declared to be God’s powerful Son by His resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). We sing yet again this greatest day of the year to praise the living Savior, this time with Hymn 167, stanza 1.
    II. Spoken for the living God

    The way the word rose is used in our creeds confuses even veteran Bible students about the order of the Resurrection events. Let’s quickly summarize them from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. First, the soul of Jesus returned from heaven and reunited with His body in the tomb well before dawn; we’d say He rose. Soul and body together, Jesus invisibly and silently slipped out of His tomb and descended to hell – not to suffer, but to proclaim His victory over Satan to Satan and all the evil angels there. Then two holy angels came from heaven – punctuated by an earthquake, rolled the stone aside, and with their gleaming appearance and angelic might frightened the battle-hardened soldiers. The soldiers fled when they saw the angels and the just-opened tomb empty. Later that morning and afternoon and evening, the risen Jesus appeared on earth – the appearances our creeds mean with He rose again the third day – to some of His followers at different places.
    Why so many resurrection day details? The Holy Spirit preserved for all time and for all people that Jesus did what only God can do: raise Himself from death. What the Spirit had Matthew write here is a word of life spoken by the living Savior for the living God, that is, on behalf of His Father in heaven.
    In this chapter of Matthew it only takes a few verses for the women to go from emotional wrecks to ecstatic worshipers. They had “hurried away from the tomb, with fear and great joy” (v. 8) – quite a combination of emotions. So far they had heard only from the angels. But who had sent the angels to the empty tomb? Angels don’t decide for themselves what to do and say; they go at God’s command. So the message the angels delivered to the women was God’s message. “Do not be afraid! You are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:5-6).
    This morning isn’t about candy, eggs, or a fairy tale bunny; isn’t a rebirth of nature or celebration of spring weather. There is a saving connection between what we saw Good Friday and what we see Easter Sunday. Good Friday shows God’s wrath and punishment for our trespasses against Him. There we saw Christ treated as the worst criminal ever. There we saw the Son of God forsaken by His heavenly Father, the earth grow dark for three hours as a symbol of the disgusting load of hell laid on His holy soul. We watched in sorrow as we pondered the result of our sins. The Creator of the universe was carried by several people He had made, then laid in a tomb He had made.
    If Christ were still dead, His Father would still be angry. If God the Son were still separated from God the Father, our sins would still separate us from God. “If Christ has not been raised…we are still in our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
    But the Savior lives – and speaks! What He said to the women He says to us: “Do not be afraid” (v. 10)! His Sunday resurrection declares, Your sins are forgiven!, and is an extra exclamation point on Friday’s, “It is finished” (John 19:30)! By the Son rising from death, and the Father raising His Son from death (the Bible describes the resurrection both ways), God tells every sinner, including us, “I accept My Son’s payment for your sin!” Had He left Jesus in the grave, we’d be left this morning with nothing more than jelly beans and new clothes.
    When Mary tried to hug Jesus that morning, He said, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father…I am ascending to My Father and your Father” (John 20:17). He didn’t hurt Mary’s feelings. He strengthened her faith – and ours! His resurrection proves He has His Father’s approval. “I am going back to My Father and your Father!”
    The words the Son speaks are also the words of the Father. The resurrection is the Father’s shout, “My Son, well done! You made the sacrifice I accept for the forgiveness of the whole world! And dear sinners, My Son’s work is credited to your account in heaven. He has My approval – and through Him, you have My approval, too! His resurrection is My receipt to you: Your debt is paid in full!” We sing about that endless joy with stanzas 2-3 of Hymn 167.
     III. Spoken to the living people
    Christianity is not a spectator sport. The Resurrection truth is life in action for us connected by faith to the risen Lord. That means Easter believers don’t just put in an appearance this morning; they stay connected to Him daily by His Word of life. The Word Jesus spoke outside His tomb is the Word of life to us, too. We live by the Word of life He speaks outside His tomb as the living Savior for the living God to the living people – us!
    The Word of life Jesus spoke outside the tomb to the women was a word to share. “Go, tell My brothers” (v. 10). The word of life the Savior spoke gave meaning to their lives. And to ours! The key to life is to live in, and pass on, the joy of Jesus.
    The joy is that life with Jesus never ends, but leads to heaven. There the Father waits for us because our sins are paid in full. Life’s first short chapter is life on earth. But life in heaven’s chapter has no conclusion; it never ends! That’s why we tell our dying loved ones they may depart in peace, entrusting their soul to the living Savior as people who live with Him forever!
    When we confess each Sunday I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, we don’t wonder if it will ever come true. The resurrection of the living Savior guarantees it; the Word of the living Savior grants it. When we stand at the grave of a loved one who left this world loving the Savior above all else, we trust His promise to take all believers to Himself in heaven. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees it; His Word grants it. This Easter a number of you celebrate Christ’s resurrection without a loved one at your side, one whose soul  has entered heaven since last spring. What joy the living Savior gives you as He speaks His word of life outside His tomb!
    Assured of all that as God’s living people, we get to work as God’s people who are headed to heaven. We see our life as the time God grants us to engrave His Son’s empty cross and tomb deeply on our heart so we’re ready for our resurrection to life everlasting. Our purpose in life isn’t to earn money and eat well, to entertain others and enjoy ourselves. Our purpose is to live for the living Savior in all we think and say and do – and tell others about His life and death and rising for their resurrection to life everlasting. “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). That’s the Word of life the living Savior speaks to the living people! 
    We feel so alive in Christ today! But it’s more than a feeling that might be gone tomorrow. The Savior speaks His Word of life to us daily. Will we keep hearing it here and at home? The Resurrection truth and joy does not expire; it is good forever! So we use it forever! We keep coming back for it week after week, and we keep living in it day after day. 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
    As we remain standing, we sing Hymn 167, stanzas 4-5.
    Good Friday - All This For Me
  • Good Friday
    April 2, 2021
    Galatians 2:20
           I. Crucified
    II. Died

    20I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I am now living in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
    In the name of Him who was born in Bethlehem at Christmas especially to endure the dark suffering of Good Friday at Calvary, Jesus Christ, our Savior, dear beloved by the Lord,
    Oh! For me?! exclaims the young woman whose boyfriend bought her a dozen roses for no special occasion. Really? For me!? marvels the worker just told by management of his unexpected promotion within the company. Aww! For me?! coos the grandmother who gets a hand-drawn picture from her four-year old grandchild. Special, and rare!, are the times in life we receive something so unexpected or undeserved that we use those two words For me?
    In our midweek Lent services we have pondered the passion of the Christ. We’ve seen scenes and weighed words from His arrest, trial, denial, condemnation, and crucifixion. And as we’ve gone in spirit to Gethsemane, Caiaphas’ court, Pilate’s place, and Calvary, God’s Word has reminded us that we aren’t watching what happened to a good man. We are receiving what God did for me, for you, for all – unworthy, all of us sinners. 
    This darkest day of the year is called Good Friday. That’s not a sadistic or sarcastic term. It really is Good Friday because of what our Brother accomplished when He was crucified and died. It was all “for me” (v. 20), for you, for every sinner ever.
      I. Crucified
    It’s a Good Friday riddle that’s been asked for centuries: What held Jesus to the cross? We might answer, There was a rope wrapped around His hands in Gethsemane when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss as the pre-arranged signal about the One to be arrested. There was Pilate’s order to crucify Jesus despite Pilate declaring three times, “I find no basis for a charge against Him” (John 19:6). There was the hatred of fellow Jews who screamed for His crucifixion. There were the spikes that tore through flesh and tacked Him to the tree.
    But we’d be wrong. Although all that happened, none of that put Jesus on the cross or held Him there. Jesus wasn’t forced into this. With a thought He could have melted the rope and been gone from Gethsemane a free man. He could have silenced the crooked church court meeting at the high priest’s chambers in the wee hours this morning by revealing every sin every person present had ever committed. He could have turned pompous Pilate into a quivering coward by shouting, “You have no right to send Me to death, or even lay a finger on Me. I am the holy God!” He could have muted the mockers beneath His cross by coming down, just as they suggested, slipping His hands and feet from the spikes, instantly healing His gaping wounds, then strolling right through the crowd as though nothing bad had happened to Him. But He didn’t.
    What kept Christ on the cross was His love for us. “The Son of God…loved me and gave Himself for me” (v. 20). He was crucified for us. Before time began, God’s love decreed God’s Son be sacrificed on that altar, just hours after Jews had sacrificed lambs in Israel for Passover. At Calvary, God’s love for me and you and all sinners kept Jesus on the cross. He was crucified for us to pay the full price we owe God for our sins.
    All this for me, for us, for all! The love we transgressors needed so desperately is delivered. Crucifixion wasn’t the idea of Jewish zealots. It was the plan of the Father, Son, and Spirit. “He gave Himself for me”, for the daily sins we commit. He foretold it all so we’d know He did it for us, not that they did it to Him. His feet were pierced not because Jesus couldn’t stop it, but to pay for our sins of not walking in the way God demands. His head was bloodied by thorns to remove the curse of hell for the times we’ve selfishly done things our way. The Lord of heaven was covered with the curse and torment of hell for all the cruel things we’ve said and all the evil thoughts we’ve had.
    Jesus was crucified for me. His horrible ordeal went beyond blood and pain; He was “forsaken” (Matthew 27:46) by His heavenly Father, the very essence of hell, for me. Christ cut no corners for comfort or convenience; He had the complete cup of suffering poured out on Him. He was crucified “for me”
    II. Died
    Good Friday is not a Passion play that we view as spectators. We have a real stake in the passion. As Jesus was crucified, He endured hell for all the transgressions of all the world’s sinners. And we might think it goes without saying, but it needs to be said: He then died for me, for you, for all.
    Without His death, we’d never have what people mostly mindlessly wish us and we them: have a good day. Without the Savior’s death, the unthinkable would be lurking for me, for you, for all. We would not just be erased from the land of the living at our death, we would be removed from the blessings and sight of the gracious God. We would not just go into a dank, dark grave, but into the never-ending torment of hell.
    That isn’t what God wanted for us. His desire was that the crown of His creation – not just Adam and Eve, but every human – live in perfect harmony and peace with Him forever. What happened to what God desired? Man sinned! We ruined it! It wasn’t just violent murderers, crooked politicians, or immoral actors. It is our sins, too, that ruin what God desired.
    This quiet, darkened evening the question is not, “What happened to Jesus?” The question is, “Why did this happen to Jesus?” Although we may not want to know, we need to know.
    “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:20). That’s the warning from the just, serious, no-excuses-permitted God. Our Savior carried His cross to Calvary this morning, but never carried any sin in His heart, head, or body. Still, He died. He died after such awful suffering that He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46)? That was His human nature crying out about the agony of hell tormenting His soul.
    Why would the holy God endure that? All this “for me”. The full fury of God’s righteous anger and the full force of hell’s punishment crushed Him as He hung there for six hours earlier today. All that was pictured by the darkness which shrouded the earth for the second half of the Savior’s suffering today. It was our death, our hell, our forsakenness that He endured.
    That’s not a pretty sight. Those aren’t happy thoughts. But “for me” makes this darkest day of the year still Good Friday. When He died all sinners were forgiven. “It is finished” (John 19:30) wasn’t said in exasperation or frustration because He didn’t deserve it. “It is finished” was shouted in victory and fulfillment because He did it. Did what? Sin’s stains were completely covered. Sin’s punishment and guilt were entirely removed. How? As God and man Jesus did it all “for me”.
    Death still buzzes around us every day, but it does so only as a pesky bee. Death can’t harm us because Jesus has removed the stinger. When He died, we were “crucified with Christ” (v. 20). His death is our death. Our damning debt has been canceled by the crushing weight the sinless Savior took on “for me”, for you, for all. That’s the Good in Good Friday.
    Some like to watch a dramatic reenactment of the suffering and death of our Lord. It makes for good theater. It is a gripping story. But it is the devil who wants us to assume that Good Friday is just watching what happened to someone else. It is the Holy Spirit who shows us what this means for us and does for us. Christ “loved me and gave Himself for me”.
    Our confession He was crucified, died, and was buried is not a routine recitation of Good Friday facts. It is the confession of sinners crushed by their daily rebellion against God, our rebellion that made this rescue necessary. It is the confidence of repentant sinners, trusting He did all that “for me”, for all. It is why, even as we see our Redeemer’s body put in a tomb, we still call today Good Friday. He did it all! And we confess through tears, yet with humble trust, He did it all “for me”.     Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Maundy Thursday - See What The Savior Gives Us In His Supper
  • Maundy Thursday
    April 1, 2021
     Hymns:   317   -   313   -   124:1-3

    Luke 22:7-8,14-20 
           I. Real history (vv.7-8,14-16)
       II. Real presence (vv. 17-20)
    7The day of Unleavened Bread arrived, when it was necessary to sacrifice the Passover lamb. 8Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.”
    14When the hour had come, Jesus reclined at the table with the twelve apostles. 15He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, 16for I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
    17He took a cup, gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves, 18for I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
    19He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20In the same way, he took the cup after the supper, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is being poured out for you.
    In the name of the suffering Savior, the crucified Christ Jesus – also our risen Redeemer, fellow Holy Week worshipers,
    That night when Jesus had so much on His holy mind and in His anguished soul, what did He do? Like death row criminals do today, did He eat His favorite meal before His execution the next day? In a manner of speaking, He did. Did He get away for quiet hours of reflection? Yes, sort of. The meal was the Passover. The quiet hours were spent with His disciples. Jesus took the time on His last free evening to instruct, strengthen, and bless His disciples in that room and in this room and of all time. The Lord Jesus had you and me – as individuals! – in His mind and on his heart this Thursday night so many years ago. 
    We are still in His mind and on His heart. To draw us closer to Him, He gives us His Supper. What do we make of it? Neither more nor less than what He gives us in it. We see what the Savior gives us in His Supper: real history and real presence.
      I. Real history (vv.7-8,14-16)
    On “the day of Unleavened Bread…it was necessary to sacrifice the Passover lamb” (v. 7). God’s Old Testament law for the Jews stipulated the lamb be killed late in the afternoon, and that slaughter begin a week-long festival. The high point of the festival came right away – the Passover meal, which Jews today call a Seder. “Jesus reclined at the table with the twelve apostles. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (vv. 14-15).
    The Passover celebrated God’s mighty delivery of His chosen nation fifteen hundred years before Jesus was born. The Jews had spent more than four hundred years in Egypt after Joseph had brought his father, brothers, and the rest of the extended family to Egypt. Over those four centuries the family became a mini-nation of two million people who were gradually enslaved in Egypt. They wanted freedom to live in the land God promised them, not as slaves in Egypt. But the various Pharaohs refused to let them leave. Israel seemed to have no hope.
    God freed them in His perfect time. He had Moses ask Pharaoh to let God’s people go back to the land of God promised them. The Lord empowered Moses to do miracles and call down plagues to show the Egyptians the God of the Jews meant business. After nine plagues, God declared the tenth would be Israel’s ticket to freedom.
    Each Israelite family was to select a relatively young male lamb which was spotless, without blemished wool, injury-free. The lamb was killed, roasted, and eaten at a meal that first Passover night, after its blood was put on the doorframe. God told them to eat the meal in a hurry and be ready to run at once, trusting the Lord’s promise that He would rescue them.
    He did! That night He struck dead the firstborn sons in each Egyptian home, but passed over homes marked with lamb’s blood. That same night, Pharaoh – devastated by the loss of life among his people – told Moses to get God’s people out of Egypt. To lead the Jews, the Lord appeared as a column of fire by night and as a cloud-like column by day. No wonder Passover became the festival of the Jewish year!
    But there was more to Passover. Each year the same meal would be eaten on the same night of the year – not just to recall what God had done to deliver Israel, but also to anticipate what God would do for the world through Israel. Sadly, most Jews celebrating Passover this spring only look back at their ancestors’ deliverance from Egypt. They ignore the truth that God set up Passover also to foretell the Savior coming as the Lamb of God from their ancestors to deliver all people from hell.
    Let’s go back to the upper room, to the “Passover” meal Jesus ate with His disciples. He made it clear there was something different about that night’s Passover. What Passover pointed to for centuries was now just hours away. The greatest deliverance in history would not be God freeing the Jews from slavery in Egypt, but God freeing all sinners from hell at Calvary.
    See the parallels! All the world’s people are slaves to sin, helpless to escape its grip. All the world’s people are hopeless on their own, have no power to free themselves. All the world’s people are rescued by the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). All the world’s people are set free by that Lamb’s blood. All the world’s people are to see that real history in the Savior’s Supper.
      II. Real presence (vv. 17-20)
    But Christianity isn’t just observing the anniversary of miracles done long ago. It is also the life we have from the Lord of life right now. We see that, too, in what the Savior gives us in His Supper. The Lord’s Supper we communicants receive tonight is also His real presence!
    Jesus took the unleavened bread, like a bigger piece of our pita bread, from the Passover meal. Nothing strange or out of the ordinary there. But then He gave it to the disciples and said, “This is My body, which is given for you” (v. 19). Jesus did the same with the wine from the Passover meal, saying, “This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is being poured out for you” (v. 20). The Savior instructed His followers in every generation thereafter, including this generation of believers, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (v. 19). See what Jesus gives us in His Supper. It’s more than a way for Him to say, “I love you sinners!”
    The Triune God knows what we want, but doesn’t give us everything we want because not all of what we want is good for us. He always gives us what we need: His Son to live and die for us to remove our guilt and pay our penalty. Jesus is really present with us in His Supper. He doesn’t just speak to us here. He also gives the body that was nailed to the tree and the blood that flowed from His hands and feet. He thus gives Himself to us in this Supper in a way that brings us as close to Him here as He was to His disciples in the upper room. He does more than tell us to think about Him. He gives Himself to us here!
    That’s why Martin Luther refused to compromise about Communion with some who had joined him in protesting the unscriptural teachings of their church. Some of those protestors said, “Christ’s true body and blood can’t be really present in the Supper on earth since His risen body rules in heaven.” So they came up a Communion teaching that goes no further than to say, “The bread represents Christ’s body, makes us think about the flesh He sacrificed at the cross. The wine represents Christ’s blood, makes us think about the blood He shed there.”
    Is it really a big deal whether we trust Christ’s body and blood are really present or just represented in His Supper? It is! Not because we make it a big deal, but because Jesus does! He took bread and wine from the Passover table, combined His powerful Word with them, and made His body and blood present under the bread and wine. That’s still what His Supper is! His Word, not human religion, says, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the Lord’s body and blood (1 Corinthians 11:27). And in the chapter right before that is this: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16)
    As we communicants come forward, united in what we believe and confess, the Savior gives Himself to us in His Supper. Our sins no longer separate us from Him, thanks to His sacrifice of His body and blood for us. We see, with the eyes of faith, what the Savior gives us here. He is really present in His Supper!
    And that’s why we keep His Supper the way He gave it to us. We follow His words when we don’t invite just anyone to receive His Supper with us. His Word makes it a meal at which communicants express their unity in all they believe and confess. His Word is why we invite here sinners who repent and who’ve publicly confessed their unity with us in His teachings.
    Not just on Good Friday, but on this Thursday night, we see the blessings from the cross the Savior gives us in His Supper. We don’t just remember Christ when we come here; we actually receive Him! In His supper He is really present. The Savior’s very real sacrifice in very real history is our very real – and the only – way to heaven.      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss
    Palm Sunday - The Ride Reveals the Redeemer
  • Palm Sunday
    March 28, 2021
    Hymns                        131,   133,   363
    First Lesson                Zechariah 9:9-10
    Psalm                          24  (page 73)
    Second Lesson            Philippians 2:5-11
    Gospel Lesson            Mark 11:1-10
    Mark 11:1-10
    The Ride Reveals the Redeemer
      I. The choice of the animal
     II. The cheers of the people
    In the name of Jesus, the Son of God who comes in the name of the Lord to ride to His death to save us, fellow redeemed,
    While everyone else was walking down the Mount of Olives on this Sunday afternoon so many years ago, Jesus rode down that road into Jerusalem. Did doing so cause some Passover pilgrims streaming into the city for the festival to nudge each other and ask, “Why is the teacher from Nazareth riding a donkey’s colt into Jerusalem? Is He trying to make a statement? Is He trying to be different?” Though not in an obnoxious way, Jesus was making a statement with His ride into Jerusalem. He was revealing to those people – and to us – a few truths about His person and His mission, truths He wanted those people – and us – to know about the events coming up in the holy city during the week that has come to be called Holy Week.
    There will be nothing new for most of us this week. Satan’s already whispering, You’ve heard it all before! You don’t need to pay listen! But God uses the timeless truths of His Word to renew our trust in Him and our zeal to serve Him. That includes Christ’s Palm Sunday ride. The ride reveals the Redeemer – both in the choice of the animal and in the cheers of the people.
    I. The choice of the animal
    Why? two of His disciples might have thought as Jesus sent them into the village ahead of them to get Him a ride into Jerusalem. For three years, everywhere He’s gone with us, He’s walked. Why would Jesus ride now? Why? On this trip Jesus wanted to attract the attention of the people. Riding on an animal – rather than walking on foot – was His way to do that.
    The Master told the two disciples not only where to look in the village for the animal, but also what would be said when the animals’ owners confronted the disciples who untied the animals. Jesus predicted the initial objection to the disciples taking the animals, and then the permission granted by the owners.
    Preacher, which is it: animal or animals? Animals. Here we read only about the young colt on which Jesus rode. Matthew’s Gospel reports that Jesus correctly foretold the mother of the colt coming along, too. And all of that fulfilled the prophecy God gave through Zechariah five hundred years earlier.
    His correct prediction where the animals would be found and what their owners would say revealed the Redeemer is in control. But there’s more! He wants all to know His control is far different than the world’s view of control. His ride on that Sunday nearly two thousand years ago shows that, too.
    Not only did Jesus control how the animals would be brought, but also the kind of animal He would ride. Riding a borrowed, stubborn donkey colt, one never ridden before, and not getting thrown off revealed Jesus has power and control over everything and everyone. Selecting a lowly beast of burden, not a beautiful, majestic horse, revealed He wasn’t riding into Jerusalem to lord it over sinners. A few days earlier He had said, The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for” (Mark 10:45) all sinners. His ride revealed the Redeemer had come to suffer for us.
    The choice of a donkey’s colt fit our Redeemer! He came not as an entertainer waving to the crowd from a convertible, but as the sacrifice for all sinners. We see Him not as a distant athlete admired from afar, but as our Brother come to our world to take on our guilt, give up His life, and win our heaven.
    As we enter Holy Week, it’s crucial we see our Redeemer reveal Himself this way! By His choice of the animal – from predicting everything about getting it and its mother to riding a lowly and never-ridden-before donkey – He reveals Himself not as a snobbish royal, but as the all-powerful and all-knowing Son of God who agreed to endure hell for His rebellious subjects. Though “by nature God, Jesus did not consider equality with God as a prize to be used for His own advantage, but emptied Himself by taking the nature of a servant…He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8)!
     II. The cheers of the people
    There was more to the first Palm Sunday procession than the Redeemer’s choice of the animal. The ride also reveals the Redeemer in the cheers of the people, both then and now.
    The cheers that Sunday were fit for a king. “Our King shouldn’t ride on the colt’s bare back! That’s uncomfortable and undignified!” That’s why the disciples of Jesus “threw their outer garments” (v. 7) on the animal as a cushion for the Christ. “Our King shouldn’t ride through dust kicked up by the colt and its mother. He’s getting dirty!” So the throngs “spread their outer garments on the road. Others spread branches that they had cut” (v. 8) – palm branches” we read in John.
    Who was in the crowd? Some had followed Jesus for a while. Most among the thousands heading to Jerusalem for Passover heard the commotion and did what we would have done – waited for the procession to catch up with them and see what the fuss was all about. They honored Jesus with more than  cloaks and palms. They shouted to Him, not to get His attention like you kids do to get candy tossed your way at a parade, but to give their King their praise.
    “Hosanna in the highest” (v. 10) means Jehovah in the highest heaven, save us! Those happy people were singing words from Psalm 118 that had generations of Jews had sung. They were full of enthusiasm for their King, asking Him to save them. But in five days some of those same people would shout sarcastically, “Save Yourself (Mark 15:30), You fake Savior! Look at You on a cross! You can’t save us from the Romans!” How quickly they forgot what the Redeemer had His Old Testament prophets predict about Him and His work! How easily they overlooked all the Redeemer had told them about why He had come – not to deliver Jews from Roman oppression, but to deliver all sinners from eternal hell!
    “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (v. 9) means more than to have the Lord’s name on the back of your sweatshirt. It means to come carrying out the plan of the Lord from before time began, the plan revealed by the Lord in His Word. It means to come with the authority of the Lord. But by Friday some of them would scream objections to Jesus calling Himself the Lord come from heaven.
    “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (v. 10). David was king of Israel at her peak of power. “Jesus, You have what it takes to restore even greater glory than that!” But by Good Friday those Palm Sunday shouts turned to taunts. “You aren’t a king like David! You’re too lowly!” They rejected what the world’s Redeemer had revealed about Himself to the world in His Word!
    Will our praise long after this Holy Week show we regard Jesus as our Redeemer? Or will our praises to Him turn to complaints about Him before too long? It happened to the Jews among whom Jesus lived and worked, walked and talked. It could happen to us, too. Are we too busy to worship Him three more times in these eight days of Holy Week? Not when we confess our sins – and His sacrifice to cover them! Are we too proud to look lovingly to our Redeemer when He was arrested by His enemies, convicted by church officials, mocked by scoffers, crucified by soldiers, executed with criminals? Not when we admit what we deserve for our gossip about others, disrespect toward parents or teachers or authorities, selfish nature that hogs our money and time and abilities instead of offering a fair part of all of that to support the work of our Savior’s Church here and around the world. “Hosanna” indeed! “Save us from our sins, Lord!”
    We won’t say it. But do we think it? An hour or two a week for God is fine. But all our lives, Lord?! And I can’t get too close to Your humility, Jesus. What would my friends say? I like to impress them, but You weren’t always impressive. Those are the devil’s deceptions. See the reality! Without this Redeemer, we have no hope. Cut off from Christ, we are damned. See what the ride reveals about the Redeemer! Both the animal He chose to ride and the cheers He accepted as He rode reveal who He is and why He came and what He’s done to save us!
    Jesus reveals Himself as our Redeemer. He didn’t first require our obedience before deciding if we were worth rescuing. He acted in love for us first and fully. Our response? We follow Him His way in everything at every moment.
    Holy Week has dawned. The devil wants us to breeze through Holy Week on spiritual cruise control because we know how it ends; it’s the same every spring. Let this Holy Week be different. Not in what happens during it, but in how we approach it. The ride reveals our Redeemer riding in lowly majesty to suffer the travesty of hell so we will enjoy the eternity of heaven with Him. In extra devotions and meditation at home this week, as well as extra services here, we see Him revealed as our Redeemer – in His humility this week, then revealed in all His glory the next morning we gather here. The hours and days of Holy Week have come. Most important of all, the Redeemer has come! “Hosanna in the highest!”      Amen.
    Pastor David A. Voss