Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent (February 22, 2015)

Wordle: Untitled

First Sunday in Lent – Series B (February 22, 2015)
Mark 1:9-15

            After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.  Threw him out there.  Expelled him.  Sounds like something a school principal does to a habitually naughty student.  Not something the Third Person of the Holy Trinity does to the Second Person.  I thought they were supposed to be on the same team.
            Well, they are.  The Spirit sent him out there to do battle with Satan.  This was a divine appointment.  Satan’s appearance was no surprise.  God is never caught off guard.  This was all part of the plan.  Jesus was sent to act as faithful Israel.  Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea and spent 40 years in the wilderness.  Jesus passes through the waters of the Jordan and spends 40 days in the wilderness.  Whereas Israel was unfaithful, Jesus is faithful.  And Jesus came to serve as the substitute not just of Israel, but of all mankind.  He came to stand up to Satan’s temptations in our place and to prove himself as the faithful Son and perfect Savior.
            Mark’s account is very short.  We don’t get the details of the various temptations that Matthew and Luke give us.  Turn stones into bread.  Throw yourself down from the temple.  Bow down and worship me.  In each case, Jesus answers not with his own divine power, but with the Word of God.  He didn’t come to rely on his power as God for his own purposes, but to rely on his Father in heaven.  And so he says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God … You shall not put the Lord your God to the test … You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt. 4:7-10).
            Those temptations ought to be familiar to each of us.  We are often not content with the daily bread God has given us.  We often neglect every word that comes from the mouth of God in Holy Scripture.  We put God to the test when we do stupid, harmful, reckless things.  It might not be like jumping off the high point of the temple and expecting angels to catch you.  It’s more like seeing how reckless you can be by sinning against your conscience, almost daring God to see if he means what he says about the faith-destroying effects of willful, perpetual, deliberate sin (Heb. 10:26).  And we also have a tendency to put everything else in our life before God, thereby proving that, like the people of Israel, we also have our own Golden Calves.
            Matthew, like Mark, tells us that after the temptation in the wilderness angels came and were ministering to Jesus.  What does that mean?  We’re not really sure.  Perhaps they cared for his physical needs after spending so much time in the wilderness, hungry and exhausted.  Certainly, Jesus had also felt the full force of Satan’s temptations and stood up to each one of them … unlike you and me.  You and I fall so soon, even before we feel the full brunt of temptation’s force.
            Mark adds this interesting detail: “And he was with the wild animals.”  Now what was that all about?  Again, we’re not really sure.  I can’t read Mark’s mind, but just like the Transfiguration was a preview of Easter and the Resurrection on the Last Day, I contend that Mark’s description of the aftermath of the temptation of Jesus is a preview of Paradise restored and the peaceful reign of the Messiah that he came to bring.
            In God’s perfect creation, Adam was with the wild animals. Lions and tigers and bears (oh, my) were no threat to him.  All was peaceful.  Along comes Satan.  He tempts Adam and his bride to disobey God’s command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Adam falls into sin, bringing death and disorder into creation.  It’s no longer perfect.  It’s broken.  Mankind’s perfect relationship with God is destroyed.  Adam’s sin brings separation from God.  And that means death in this life, including death from wild animals.  Including death at the hands of one’s own brother, as soon occurred east of Eden.  And it means death in the life to come, that is, eternal separation from God and his love.  Adam is expelled from the Garden of Eden, and God placed the cherubim – angels – with a flaming sword guarding the entrance to the Garden and the way to the Tree of Life.
            Centuries later, the promised Savior arrives on the scene.  He does battle with Satan, not in a garden, but in the desert.  He is the Second Adam who does not fall into Satan’s trap.  He remains faithful and obedient to his Heavenly Father.  Angels appear not as a threat to keep him away from the Tree of Life, but to serve him.  And he is with the wild animals, even as the First Adam was before the Fall.  The wilderness with Jesus in it becomes a picture of Paradise, the way things were meant to be.  True Man is obedient to his Heavenly Father.  True God is served by his creation.
            This is also a picture of the future peaceful reign of the Messiah.  In Isaiah 43, the Lord describes it this way: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches” (Is. 43:19-20).  And in Isaiah 65, he says, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind … The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food” (Is. 65:17, 25).
            A wild beast was caught in a thicket and served as a substitute for Isaac.  The Lamb of God was nailed to the Tree of Life on Calvary and served as our substitute.  He goes to death.  We go free.  There he trampled upon the wild animals that signify all evil forces, as we sang earlier, “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot” (Introit, Ps. 91:13).  Back in the Garden of Eden, God declared that dust would be the serpent’s food.  The devil would grovel for the rest of his existence until his head would be crushed at the cross by our victorious Savior.  Yes, the devil still prowls around looking for someone to devour, but he is a defeated enemy.  The serpent has been defanged.  In Christ Jesus, he has no power to accuse you of your sin or to defeat you.  The victory of Jesus belongs to you.  Your baptism is the guarantee of that.
            On this side of the veil, though, we still feel the effects of sin.  We are both tempted and tested.  How can we tell the difference?  The word for “tempt” and “test” is the same in the Greek.  Take heart in what the Apostle James writes.  He says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).  God gives tests only to strengthen our faith, never to tear us down.  Temptations never come from God.  They come from Satan, the sinful world around us, and our sinful flesh.  Satan wants to use those temptations to drive us to unbelief and despair.  God will never do this.  He will, though, permit trials in our life to draw us closer to him and strengthen our faith.
            But what do we do when real temptation comes?  Draw strength from God’s Word.  Run to the Sacrament where Jesus is present for you with his Body and Blood to “strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.”  Know that you are not left to fight the battle alone.  The author of Hebrews, in chapter 2, says, “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18).  In chapter 4, he says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).  And Hebrews 12 teaches that a great cloud of witnesses surrounds you, the saints of old, cheering you on from the sidelines.  They fought the good fight.  They finished the race.  They know how difficult it was.  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us , looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).
            And when that “wild animal” that is our old sinful nature takes over and we do fall to temptation, this does not call for perpetual hand-wringing or self-flagellation.  Simply listen to Jesus who says, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Turn from your sin.  Trust in Jesus who died for the ways in which you have fallen to temptation.  Receive forgiveness in his victory in the wilderness and all the way to the cross and the empty tomb.  Come to the altar to the presence of Jesus.  This is our Paradise in the wilderness.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord (February 15, 2015)

Wordle: Untitled

The Transfiguration of Our Lord – Series B (February 15, 2015)
“Exalted on the Mountain” (Psalm 99)

The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name!
Holy is he!
The King in his might loves justice.
You have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
worship at his footstool!
Holy is he!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called upon his name.
They called to the Lord, and he answered them.
In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them;
they kept his testimonies
and the statute that he gave them.
O Lord our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Exalt the Lord our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the Lord our God is holy! [1]

            It was not all that long ago (about seven weeks to be exact) that we once again celebrated the Incarnation of Our Lord.  The Son of God humbled himself and took on human flesh.  Born in a stable in Bethlehem, the place the prophet Micah said was “too little to be among the clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2).  Born to a poor virgin girl from the village of Nazareth, the place of which Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).  From his hometown, he traveled throughout Galilee, where he preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  In the fishing village of Capernaum, he showed how the kingdom of God was at hand in him.  He taught with divine authority.  He cast out demons, proving his power over the forces of evil.  He healed the sick, proving his power over the brokenness that sin had brought into the world.  And yet looking at him, there was nothing that would have distinguished him from the rest of the people.  Dusty robes.  Calloused hands.  Body odor.  Dirty feet.  He didn’t appear very exalted.  On the contrary, he appeared quite humble.
            For a moment, that all changed.  Jesus led three of his disciples upon a high mountain. There he no longer appeared as a humble man.  Now, he was exalted.  He was transfigured.  Changed.  The dust of the roads of Galilee and Judea that dirtied his garments disappeared in the shining radiance of his divine glory.  Clear evidence of his dual nature as True Man and True God in the same person.
            On the mount of Transfiguration, Jesus is flanked by Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest saints of the Old Testament, now appearing in glory.  Both Moses and Elijah had previously encountered God on another mountain, Mt. Sinai to be exact.  Moses stands as a representative of the Law.  Elijah stands as a representative of the prophets.  Jesus has come to fulfill all that the Law and the Prophets had promised, that God himself would come to save his people from sin, death, and hell and give them an everlasting kingdom.
            “The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake” the psalmist says.  In the presence of God, you better tremble.  You have every reason to shake in your boots when the holy God shows himself.  You are sinful.  God is not.  “Holy is he.”  Therefore the disciples were “terrified” when they viewed this sight on the mountain.  And this was not the first time they were afraid in the presence of Jesus.  After Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples “were filled with great fear” (Mark 4:40).  During another storm, they saw him walking on the water, and they “were terrified” (Mark 6:50).  And after a miraculous catch of fish arranged by Jesus, Peter recognized his own unholiness and fell at the Lord’s knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:16).
            One of God’s attributes is omnipresence.  He is present everywhere.  Yet in the tabernacle and later in the temple, Yahweh promised that his presence would be located in the Holy of Holies, the place behind the curtain where the Ark of the Covenant would be situated.  There, the Lord God would be “enthroned upon the cherubim,” flanked by the sculpted angels on the mercy seat that sat on top of the ark.  From there, the Lord promised to meet with Moses and speak to him and tell him what to say to the people (Ex. 25:22).  On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would sprinkle sacrificial blood from bulls and goats over the mercy seat, thus covering over the sins of the people (Lev. 16:11-19).
            Peter wanted to build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.  But that would not have been appropriate.  Jesus is the tabernacle.  He is the presence of God.  “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” St. Paul writes (Col. 1:19).  There is no more need for tabernacles and temples.  And here he is, exalted for a moment with his own divine nature shining, not a reflected glory that needed to be veiled as it was for Moses was when he came down the mountain.
            Actually, the glory of Jesus also had to be veiled for a time when he came down the mountain.  He had an appointment with another mountain, not one as high as this one, but one much more important.  This one was not really a mountain, but a raised elevation outside the walls of Jerusalem.  This one looked up to Mt. Zion where the temple stood in its glory, although a fading glory, for with Jesus it ceased to serve its purpose.  On Mt. Calvary, Jesus was not flanked by Moses or Elijah.  On Mt. Calvary, Jesus was not enthroned between two cherubim.  Instead, he was enthroned as the King of the Jews between two accursed criminals.  This was the Holy of Holies.  There, his blood was shed at the mercy seat of the cross.  There, on the cross, Jesus was lifted up above the earth, his footstool.  And from that cross, his blood dripped down upon his footstool to redeem the sins of the whole world.
            “The King in his might loves justice.  You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob,”  the psalmist declares.  “You were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.”  In Jesus, the justice of God over our unholiness has been met.  The wages of sin has been paid in full in the death of the sinless Son of God.  Our wrongdoings were avenged by the terrible price that God himself paid for them … the death of his only Son.  That is God’s equity.  That is the way he displays his righteousness.  He is indeed a just God, but he is also a forgiving God.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).       
            This is what we will be further contemplating in the coming season of Lent.  The voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”  Each Wednesday night we will listen to the seven words or statements of Jesus from the cross.  We will learn from them and have our faith nourished by them.  The Transfiguration of Jesus was a preparation of sorts for Jesus as he faced the cross.  It prepared him for his journey down the mountain and gave the disciples a preview of the resurrection, something they did not fully understand until after the fact … besides which, Jesus told them not to say anything about it until he had risen from the dead.  For us, the Transfiguration is therefore a fitting conclusion to the Epiphany season and a preparation for our Lenten journey to Good Friday, knowing that the joy of Easter is always in view.
            “The Lord is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.”  Zion is the hill on which Jerusalem sat, where the temple was built, the place where God promised to dwell with his people.  With Jesus as our temple, Zion is his Church.  He dwells among us.  The table of the Lord becomes the Holy of Holies where the very body and blood by which he redeemed us is given to us to eat and drink for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And one day we will be brought into the eternal Zion, the new Jerusalem, where we will sing our eternal Alleluias with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven (Rev. 21:1-4).
            “Exalt the Lord our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!”
            “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!”
            Kneel down today at his footstool and receive the body and blood of your exalted King.  Worship him in Zion.  Holy is he … and you are made holy through him.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ps 99:1–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 8, 2015)

Wordle: Untitled

Epiphany 5 – Series B (February 8, 2015)
Mark 1:29-39

            During the season of Epiphany, the Scripture readings teach us how Jesus manifested himself as God in the flesh.  Hymn 394 summarizes this in these words: “Manifested by the star / To the sages from afar, / Branch of royal David’s stem / In Thy birth at Bethlehem … Manifest at Jordan’s stream, / Prophet, Priest, and King supreme; / And at Cana wedding guest / In Thy godhead manifest; / Manifest in pow’r divine, / Changing water into wine … Manifest in making whole / Palsied limbs and fainting soul; / Manifest in valiant fight / Quelling all the devil’s might.”  And each stanza concludes, “Anthems be to Thee addressed, / God in man made manifest” (LSB 394).
            Today’s Gospel reading shows us Jesus exercising his divine power on behalf of those who were “sick with various diseases” or “oppressed by demons.”  This follows up on last week’s reading where Jesus was in the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath where he had cast out a demon.  After the service was over, he goes to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew and heals Peter’s mother-in-law of her fiery fever.  And take note that all of this is done on the Sabbath … the day when no work was supposed to be done.  Jesus would soon come into conflict with the Pharisees over this very issue.
            But this was a way in which Jesus taught that the Sabbath rest that God promised was found in Jesus himself.  He exercises his authority over all the effects of sin in the world, both the presence of illness and the existence of evil forces.  When sundown came, after the Sabbath was over, the whole city came out to be helped by Jesus.  Now that the Sabbath was over, they felt free to carry their sick friends and family to Jesus so they would not be “working” on the Sabbath, the day of rest.  And Jesus continues to be merciful and compassionate to those who need his help.  Likewise, Jesus is merciful and compassionate to us today, as well.  Jesus does his work among us at all times.  He never rests from his labor but continues to sustain us and even heal us.  It’s not normally in a miraculous way as in the days of his earthly ministry … although we certainly don’t limit him to doing miracles only back then.  But today he heals through the means he has given us … our body’s natural curative abilities and the gifts and talents he gives to doctors and surgeons and nurses and pharmacists.  He raises us up from our sick beds so we may serve others with the same love and compassion that he has shown to us.
            What about when God does not heal?  You’ve prayed and prayed and your illness is not taken away.  Your chronic condition worsens and you feel like such a burden to your family.  There are no easy answers.  God promises to hear our prayers (Ps. 50:15; Prov. 15:29).  He promises to answer them according to his will (Is. 65:24; John 14:13-14; 15:7; 1 John 5:14).  He also promises to work all things out for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).  We trust that our suffering serves a greater purpose to draw us closer to him, even as the suffering of Jesus on the cross was the means by which we are delivered from sin, death, and hell.  We may not be raised from our sickbed, but we can still serve others as a witness to Christ’s mercy and compassion through his saving death and resurrection.  It can be humbling, no doubt, but we also can allow others to serve us with Christ’s mercy and compassion in the midst of our suffering.
            Jesus is more than simply a famous healer.  His healing ministry has a much greater significance.  The bodily healings he performed foreshadow forgiveness and resurrection.  He sends fevers away, and in his sacrificial death on the cross he sends our sins away.  He lifts up the sick, and his resurrection is the guarantee that he will one day lift us up from the grave.  Jesus demonstrates how he overcomes all the effects of sin and evil in the world.  His healings and exorcisms are a preview of the wholeness he will bring in the new creation.  This is a preview of the coming eternal kingdom of God.  The life and ministry of Jesus was the fulfillment of Zechariah’s words in the Benedictus, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68).  And Jesus continues to visit us with his redemptive power as we hear and believe the message of the Cross and eat and drink the fruits of the Cross for the forgiveness of all our sins.  He has brought us into his kingdom.  He manifests the presence of his kingdom among you today in Word and Sacrament.
            The crowds pressed around him.  Jesus tirelessly sought to meet their needs.  The next morning, he went to a desolate place to pray.  This is only one of three times Mark mentions Jesus praying, and it usually revolves around some significant moment or crisis.[i]  What was the crisis here?  Probably the shallow and superficial response of the people … that they were only seeking him to have their physical needs met.  Perhaps here Jesus sought to pray to seek “guidance from the Father about what he should do in view of the responses he is getting to his ministry.”[ii]
            Consider the weight that was upon Jesus.  The pressure of the crowds.  The constant attention that people demanded.  Remember, Jesus is not only fully God, but fully man.  He needed rest and refreshment, too.  He needed solitude to pray and to recharge his batteries, so to speak.  If our Lord Jesus needed, this, how much more do we need this and should take time out of our busy lives to pray and refresh and recharge.  We have heavy responsibilities placed upon us, too.  Like he did for the disciples, Jesus invites us to “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:30).  It may not be a weekend at a mountain retreat or a desert hermitage.  It might be just a few moments in the corner of your bedroom.  But when you consider all the things in life that weigh heavy upon us, it’s refreshing to spend time in God’s Word and prayer.
            Nothing compares, however, to the weight of responsibility placed upon Jesus.  The press of the crowd was only a preview of the pressing weight of the world’s sin soon to be placed upon him at the cross.  The solitude he sought was only a preview of the solitude that he endured as he suffered and died for the sins of the world.  Yet even from the cross, in the darkness of desolation, he prayed faithfully to his Father.  Jesus was faithful to the end for you and for me, acting as our substitute all the way to the bitter end.
            The disciples search for Jesus.  When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”  Do you hear the veiled rebuke?  “Where have you been, Jesus? We have been looking all over for you? All these people are asking for you.  We’re kind of tired of telling them, ‘We don’t know where he is!’”
            And do you hear a hint of sadness in Jesus’ response?  “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”  Jesus came to preach the Good News of the forgiveness of sins through him.  He did not come to be a miracle worker.  He did not come to be a general who would lead the people in rebellion against the occupying Roman Empire.  He came to call people to repentant faith in himself in preparation for his saving death and resurrection. The people were only coming for healing.  They weren’t coming to hear Jesus’ preach about repentance and the presence of God’s kingdom.  This is one reason why Jesus would not have the demons use his name.  The demons who declared him to be the Son of God did not do so in repentant faith.  I suppose this is not all that different to people today who flock to healing rallies and revivals or people who listen to false teachers today who tell them what their itching ears want to hear.
            To preach.  That is why Jesus came.  And that is why we gather here.  To hear God’s Word preached.  To hear and receive the Good News of the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death and resurrection … in our ears and in our mouths.  When that Good News is preached, our souls are healed.  When that Good News is preached, the demons tremble and flee.  And one day, after the feverish pace of life is over and we rest in our graves, Jesus will come and take us by the hand and raise us up and we will worship in his presence for eternity.  Amen.

[i] 6:46 after feeding of the 5,000; 14:32-41 in Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion
[ii] Witherington, quoted in Voelz’ Matthew commentary

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 1, 2015)

Wordle: Untitled

Epiphany 4 – Series B (February 1, 2015)
Deut. 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-28

            The traveling rabbi enters the seaside village of Capernaum.  Four of his fisherman followers accompany him.  Just before this he had invited these sun-baked, calloused, rugged men to learn from him.  He had great plans for them to be “fishers of men.”  His authoritative call impelled them to leave their business behind and travel with him and sit at his feet.
            Now it is the Sabbath.  The day to set aside all work so that you can go to the synagogue and let God’s Word do its work in you.  The traveling rabbi enters the synagogue in Capernaum to teach, and the people are astonished at his teaching.  Like the fishermen-followers of Jesus, they noted that his teaching was with authority, not like the scribes they were accustomed to hearing from.
            A recent commentary on this text says that Mark’s language here gives the sense that Jesus was “exuding” authority.  How did Jesus exude authority?
            First, let’s consider how people exude authority today.  In the office, you dress for success.  Wear a suit and a power tie.  Stand up straight, no matter how tall or short you are.  Look confident.  Make eye contact.  Use a clear, direct, commanding voice.  On the football field, you send the Legion of Boom out to crush Tom Brady and the Patriot’s offense (I promise, that is my only Super Bowl reference today).
            How did Jesus exude authority?  Was there something about his appearance?  Probably not.  The prophet Isaiah described the coming Messiah this way: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2).  Other than his appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration, his divine presence was not noticeable.  He looked like an ordinary human being.  Yet he taught with authority, and “not as the scribes,” Mark states.  In other words, he spoke his own words and never quoted other rabbis, as would have been the custom of other teachers in those days.
            Jesus is the “prophet” promised in today’s reading from Deuteronomy 18.  As they prepared to enter the Promised Land after their wilderness wanderings, Moses says to the people: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen – just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’”  Back at Sinai, the people had heard the fearful thunder and flashes of lightning and smoking mountain and they were terrified.  When God speaks unveiled, fear and terror strike sinful human beings.  No one can stand before his glory and live.  Even in the Old Testament, when God spoke, it appears that he veiled himself in some way, sometimes as the Angel of the Lord, once as a burning bush, at other times as pillar of cloud or fire.
            And so, God promised one final prophet to come of whom he said, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”  “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen.”  At the Mount of Transfiguration, this is exactly what the voice from heaven said.  Surrounded by Moses and Elijah, two of the great prophets of the Old Testament, God the Father said “This is my beloved Son … listen to him” (Mark 9:7).  Jesus is that prophet like Moses … but more than a prophet, of course: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ incarnate Deity,” to quote a famous Christmas hymn.  He is the very Son of God who speaks the words his Father gave him, the authoritative words we listen to in the Scriptures today.
            The authority of Jesus is challenged by demonic forces.  Here in our reading, it is challenged in the synagogue, no less.  The very place where God’s Word was read and explained.  Other than our Lord’s temptation a few verses earlier, this is the first place where opposition to Jesus’ teaching arises.  The man with unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us?”  That is to say, “We have nothing in common with you!”
            We gather here, safe and snug in our pews, and look out at the evil in the world today.  We forget that here in the Church is where opposition to Jesus and his teaching begins.  The devil attends church, too, you know.  Now, his opposition is not as obvious as in our text, where demons cry out with loud voices.  It’s much more subtle.  False teaching and false teachers infect our ranks.  The devil wants us to doubt and question the truthfulness and authority of the Scriptures.  He also loves to cause division … division between fellow Christians, and division over the teachings of the Scriptures.  Both are a poor witness to the unity that Christ desires for his Church.
            You and I are also tempted to ask, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  Our sinful nature is moved to say that we have nothing in common with Jesus.  God’s judgment and wrath convict us, like that terrifying voice from Sinai, and we ask, “Have you come to destroy us?”  We fail to hear and believe the words of Jesus which teach us, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).  Jesus has plenty in common with us.  Hebrews 2 says, Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery … Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:14-17).  The sinless Son of God came to share in flesh and blood with you in order to be the perfect atoning sacrifice for your sins and mine.  He came to call all of us back into God’s kingdom by faith in him.  God had said through Moses that the prophet who presumes to speak a word that he was not commanded to speak should be put to death.  And the great divine prophet Jesus came, speaking nothing but truth in the name of the Father, and was unjustly put to death on a cross … a death he endured willingly, lovingly, so that you and I might be given life eternal.
            Jesus did not come to destroy us, but came instead to destroy the evil forces arrayed against him and against his redeemed people.  He muzzled the demon in our text and cast him out, a preview of the day in which the devil and all that is opposed to God will be eternally silenced and cast into outer darkness.  1 John 3:5 says that Jesus “appeared in order to take away sins,” and then verse 8 says, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”  And Jesus said that on the Last Day, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace” (Matt. 13:41-42).
            The authority that Jesus displayed is the authority of his Word.  With a word he created the world.  With a word he silences demons and casts them out.  The one who ordered all things comes to destroy the one who brought disorder.  The unclean spirit is cast out by the one bearing the clean Spirit, given to him at the Jordan.  At the font, you were given the clean Spirit.  Now, you can sing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit cleanses you, forgives you, brings you in and keeps you in God’s kingdom.  He makes you a new creation now and keeps you ready and watchful for the day when Jesus returns in glory and the new creation will come in all its fullness.
            The night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to his Father, “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:2-3).  And then, before his ascension, he told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” by baptizing and teaching them in the authoritative name of the Triune God.  Jesus silences the demons, but he sends forth his Church, cleansed and redeemed, filled with his clean Spirit, to boldly declare him as the Holy One of God.  Trust his authoritative Word today that gives what it says … the forgiveness of sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord (January 11, 2015)

Wordle: Untitled

The Baptism of Our Lord – Series B (January 11, 2015)
“The Dawn of a New Day” (Gen. 1:1-5; Rom. 6:1-11; Mark 1:4-11)

            The New Year brings all kinds of expectations.  People make all kinds of resolutions.  Exercise more.  Eat healthier food.  Quit smoking.  Spend less time on the internet.  But after two Sundays into the New Year, some find that they couldn’t even hold out that long.  The temptations were too strong.
            Well, tomorrow is another day, isn’t it?  Whatever you failed to do today, there is always tomorrow.  It’s the dawn of a new day.  A NEW YOU!  But you wake up, and the same OLD YOU stares back at yourself in the mirror.  The same old failures.  The same old temptations.  All the sins that haunt you from the days past.
            The Baptism of Jesus was the dawn of a new day for all mankind.  But first, let’s go back to the dawn of the first day described for us in the book of Genesis.
            Before time began, God created the heavens and the earth.  At first, the earth was empty, void, and dark … and God filled it with life and light.  The Holy Spirit was present and active, too, hovering over the face of the waters, breathing life into all creation.  And the power of the Word of God to create was evident, as well.  God spoke … “Let there be light.”  And there was.  And it was good.  Perfect.  Just the way he planned it.
            God separated the light from the darkness, the day from the night, and there was evening and morning, the first day.  How can this be, when there was no sun created yet?  We’ll leave this to God to figure out.  He is the source of light.  In the heavenly Jerusalem described at the end of the book of Revelation, St. John writes, “They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (Rev 22:5).  Clearly, it’s not hard for God to make night and day occur even when there is no sun.
            At some point after the seventh day, mankind fell into sin.  Although the sun continued to rise with each new day, rebellious mankind was plunged into darkness in a fallen world.  Death was their destiny … a life of decay and an eternity apart from God.  And although God promised to send a Savior, people were content to remain in their sin.  John 3:19 says, “the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light.”  St. Paul, in Romans 1, says that “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1:28-32).
            God had called his people Israel to be a “light to the nations” (Is. 42:6; 49:5-6; 60:3).  He also named Israel his “son.”  In Exodus 4, the Lord told Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son … Let my son go that he may serve me” (Ex. 422-23).  Through the prophet Hosea, the Lord said, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos. 11:1) … and of course, you know that those words were later applied to Jesus when the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt due to Herod’s murderous intentions.
            Israel’s calling was to reveal the One True God and his purposes to the world.  But Israel failed to do this.  Like Adam and Eve, they rebelled against God’s will for them.  They followed after the false gods of the nations around them.  And God severely disciplined them, scattering them and sending them off into exile far across the Jordan.
            But God did not leave his people helpless or hopeless.  He sent his Divine Son into the world to be the faithful Son that Israel was not.
            The Baptism of Jesus was the dawn of a new day.  It was an Epiphany … a manifestation of the Messiah.  It was the beginning of a new creation.  Into a world of sinful darkness, into a world void of perfection and holiness, God enters to fill it and give light and life.  Jesus came to be the “light of the world” as he declares in John 8:12.  Remember also how Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms and declared him to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32).  What Israel failed to do, Jesus came to do perfectly.
            Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan where people were going to confess their sins and prepare for the coming of the Savior.  Jesus had no sins to confess, but he came to bear the sins of the world, all the way to the cross.  The Spirit of God hovered over the waters of the Jordan, anointing Jesus to fulfill the words of Isaiah 42:1, “I have put my Spirit upon him,” … and Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Is. 61:1).  And just as the king of Israel was called God’s son in Psalm 2, “You are my son, today I have begotten you,” so also the eternally begotten Son of God is publicly declared to be God’s Son in the Jordan: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  The powerful Word of creation spoken from heaven is now the Word made Flesh, plunged in the baptismal waters to rescue us from the powers of darkness.
            A missionary linguist was working in a remote village in Laos.  He was trying to find a word to translate Savior.  He asked villagers the word they would use to describe the person who saved someone from a tiger's attack, or a child from falling off a cliff.
            “Pa,” they said.
            A couple of days later, the missionary set out on a raft with two women to cross a river.  The water was turbulent, and the raft flipped.  The missionary grabbed the two women and swam with them to shore.
            The missionary asked them what word they would use to describe saving them from drowning.
            “Not pa, but che,” they responded. “Pa is when you reach down to help someone from above and che is when you were in the water yourself.”
            That's what Jesus did.  He went into the depths of the water [… both literally in the Jordan and effectively through his entire life, death, and resurrection … ] and pulled us out — a real Savior who became like us, lived with us, and gave his life for us. [i]
            Do you need to see the dawn of a new day?  Does the weight of your failed resolutions, your falling to temptation, and the darkness of days past keep you from looking forward to the rising of the sun in the morning?  First of all, look to Jesus who entered the waters for you.  Jesus was drowned at the cross, sunk under the weight of your sins, so that you could be set free of your guilt and shame.  Jesus took it all for you.
            Secondly, look to the day when you entered the waters.  Your Baptism was the dawn of a new day for you.  It was the first day of a new creation for you.  Into a heart of sinful darkness, void of perfection and holiness, empty of belief, God entered to fill you with light and life, to fill you with his Spirit and faith.  The Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters of the font and connected you with the one who bore your sins for you at the cross, as St. Paul writes, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
            And finally, remember that your baptism has meaning for you every day.  No matter what you have done, no matter what others say about you, no matter what you think about yourself, God’s Word is sure and certain.  And his powerful, creative Word in Holy Baptism has declared YOU to be a beloved son … a beloved daughter.  United to Jesus, all that he inherited as the faithful Son is yours.  You are loved.  You are forgiven.  Heaven is opened to you.  Each new day, you can walk in newness of life.  By grace, every day is a brand new day.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas (December 28, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

Christmas 1 – Series B (December 28, 2014)
“The Fullness of Time” (Galatians 4:4-7)

Time rules our life. We live by the clock. Your alarm clock wakes you up in the morning. You have to get to work on time. You have to get to school on time. Once you get to school, you need to be aware of your class schedule and how much time you have between classes. You also need to keep appointments with the doctor or dentist and get there in plenty of time. You want to know what time the Seahawks game starts. You don’t want to miss the opening kickoff.

It’s important for the church service to start on time, too. A few minutes too late, and you start to wonder, “Where’s the pastor? What’s holding him up?” Some congregations are concerned with the length of the pastor’s sermons. Some congregations are also overly concerned with the length of the service. If it goes one minute past an hour, the elders decide to hold a special meeting to discuss this with the pastor.

There’s a lot to be said for the way they deal with time in other cultures. In Lutheran churches in Africa, services don’t start at any particular time. People gather in the morning and begin singing hymns and psalms. This will go on and on for a while. Soon more people will gather, some walking for many miles around. Eventually, you may have 2,000 people gathered there, and then the Divine Service proper will begin with the procession and the liturgy that would be very familiar to us ... with an African flavor, of course. I kind of like that idea. But I’m not so sure how that would fly here. Besides, we’re going to need a bigger building to seat those 2,000 people.

Sports are ruled by the clock. Football, basketball, and hockey games are all limited to periods of certain lengths of time. I think this is another reason why I like baseball so much. No clock. It has a much more leisurely pace. I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “Pastor, the words ‘leisurely pace’ is just a nice way of saying ‘boring.’” I beg to differ with you. I like spending a day at the ballpark and when New Year’s Day rolls around that means Spring Training is a little over a month away.

On New Year’s Eve, countless people stay awake across the country and count down the seconds until midnight. Another year has gone by. Another year will begin. Another year of being ruled by the clock. And who hasn’t reflected on the strange phenomenon of time seemingly going faster as you get older? It never seems like there is enough time. We’re always running out of time. Who started this whole time thing anyways? It seems like such a curse.

It was God who started this whole time thing. When he created the world, he started the whole cycle of evening and morning, with “lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night ... for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years.” (Genesis 1:14) Then, time was a blessing. There was time for experiencing the perfection of God’s Garden. There was time to talk to God face to face. There was time for honoring God as Creator and knowing yourself as creature – and being happy with that arrangement – at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But all of that changed once Adam and Eve tried to turn that arrangement on its head and be like God. They ate fruit from that tree of which God had told them not to eat. The curse of death entered the world. Since then, the life of every man, woman, and child has been hurtling toward a date with the Grim Reaper.

And time became a curse. Because the passing of time means that this world is decaying. Our bodies break down and can’t always get fixed. Hearts stop pumping. Brains stop functioning. And you and I try to do all we can to avoid the inevitable. We waste time. We make time for ourselves rather than for meeting the needs of others who need our help. And then, in our loneliness, we kill time by deadening our inner pain with assorted activities or addictive substances. There’s a part of us inside that screams “Stop the world! I want to get off!”

That’s when it’s time to stop and look again at the Baby who was born in the manger of Bethlehem. When you look into the manger, it’s as if time stands still. Time and eternity met in the flesh of that Child. God entered the world in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God became Man. St. Paul put it this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5)

“The fullness of time.” Other translations put it like this: “When the time had fully come.” (NIV) “When the right time came.” (NLT) “When the completion of the time came.” (NJB) “When the time arrived that was set by God the Father.” (MSG) None of those quite capture the whole meaning of the original Greek. Some commentators say that God chose the time of the Roman Empire for Christ to be born because the Roman roads made travel easy and helped spread the Gospel. That may be true, but then why didn’t God just wait for the day when the internet was invented, and then have Jesus be born? The news would have spread a lot faster today than it did then. It seems to me that St. Paul is saying more than just that the right time had come. It’s true that God had planned all this out carefully even before time had begun. Jesus is called “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8 KJV) But that phrase “the fullness of time” gives you the sense that all time and history is centered in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of that One Man, Jesus Christ.

And although it’s as if time stood still in the manger, time did not stand still for Jesus. His life began just as hectic as any of our lives. Not long after his birth, he and his family had to flee to Egypt to escape the murderous intentions of a paranoid king. A few months later, they had to hike back to Judea, expecting to make their home in Bethlehem again. But then, as you know, Joseph was warned in another dream to head north to Galilee where he settled in Nazareth to fulfill another of the many Old Testament prophecies about the Christ.

We don’t know much about Jesus’ life until about the time he turns 30. And what a brief career he had. Around 3 years as a traveling rabbi, gathering around him 12 disciples, and even bigger crowds at times. But the words of this rabbi got him into trouble. He made some pretty outrageous claims. Like being the Son of God. Like existing before Abraham. Like being the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one coming to the Father apart from Him.

I began this morning by saying that time rules our life. I said that your life and mine is hurtling towards death. But as you read the Gospels, you see that Jesus’ life was ruled by time. Page after page reveals his battle with death and the devil and disobedience and disbelief. His life was hurtling towards death ... so that you and I might live. Look at the face of the child in the manger, and it’s as if time stops. God stepped into time so that you and I could step into eternity. The Child in the Manger grew up to be the Man on the Cross. There we see the fullness of time. There we see the center of all history. There we see the completion of all of God’s promises.

And in our Epistle text, St. Paul goes on to tell us about the blessings of what God’s Son did in the fullness of time. He redeemed us from the curse of the law. God’s law condemns us. It makes it perfectly clear that we are sinners and can do nothing to save ourselves. But Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross is the payment for the sins of the whole world. We are bought back with the price of his blood and adopted into God’s family as forgiven sons of God.

“And because you are sons,” Paul continues, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” In Baptism, you were given the Spirit of God and faith to trust in God’s Son and what he did for you in the fullness of time. Jesus’ Father becomes your “Abba” ... the Aramaic word for “Father.” As adopted sons and daughters in Holy Baptism, our relationship to the Father is just as close as Jesus’ relationship to the Father. The same Spirit who came upon him at the Jordan is the same Spirit who came upon us at the font. We are not slaves who have no rights in God’s household. We are free sons and daughters of God, heirs of all that God’s Son has earned for us ... eternal life, a place reserved in heaven, a glorious future resurrection on the day when time is no more ... because of what Christ did for us in the fullness of time.

And now, each moment of passing time is no longer a curse, but a blessing ... time to talk to God in prayer, time for eating from the fruits of the tree of the cross at the altar, time for honoring God as Creator and knowing yourself as creature, and being happy with that arrangement. Each second that ticks by on the clock is another gift to be received, another moment of grace, another moment to be spent with God and with each other.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (December 21, 2014)

Advent 4 – Series B (December 21, 2014)
“God Takes Up Residence” (2 Sam. 7:1-16)

Many people have a dream of building their own home one day. They can make it as elaborate or as simple as they want. How exciting to have input on every little detail about your house. How many bathrooms and bedrooms it will have. How large the windows will be. What kind of cabinets and fixtures will go in the kitchen. Will it be a rambler or a two-story home? Will it have a deck out back? How about a gazebo with a hot tub? Now we’re talking!

When God first gave instructions to Moses about the tabernacle, it was quite elaborate. Furniture covered with gold. A solid gold lampstand. Linen curtains woven with blue, purple, and scarlet yarn. Images of cherubim.

But the tabernacle was not a house. It was basically a big tent. And it was no circus inside that big tent. God himself took up residence there. Although the whole universe cannot contain God, still, he promised that his very presence would dwell in the tabernacle. Right above the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, there God promised to meet with the people: “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exo 25:22).

The tabernacle traveled with the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings. It crossed the Jordan River when Joshua led the people into Canaan. It stayed at Gilgal for seven years. After that it was pitched at Shiloh. After several other moves and mishaps, including the Philistines capturing the ark of the covenant for a time, David constructed a new tabernacle in Jerusalem and placed the ark inside where it belonged.

That leads us up to the account in today’s Old Testament lesson. David built a house for himself. “A house of cedar” he called it … but it was probably more like a mansion, a palace fit for a king. Whether it had a hot tub, I don’t know. But you can imagine that it was not your typical wooden house.

David looked around and thought to himself, “Here I am in a palace, but the ark of God sits in a tent. Something ought to be done about that.” Apparently, David had it in his mind to build a temple for the Lord, and Nathan the prophet put his stamp of approval on it ... that is, until the Lord had a little talk with him. The Lord had other plans. He told Nathan to tell David, “Hey, I’ve been living in a tent for a long time now. Have I ever griped about my accommodations? I never told anyone to build me a house of cedar.”

David wanted to build a house for God. But God always has a way of turning the tables on us. Right when we think that we are going to do something great for God, he reminds us that he is the one who does great things for us. And here, the Lord tells David, “David, I’m going to build a house for you.” “I will make for you a great name, like the names of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more … and I will give you rest over all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.” And here, of course, the word “house” does not refer to a house of cedar. It refers to a royal dynasty, a ruling family, like when we say that Queen Elizabeth is of the House of Windsor.

King Solomon, David’s son, eventually did build a house for the Lord in Jerusalem. But God’s Word today points beyond Solomon’s spectacular temple. God’s Word today says of the House of David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.” Yet after Solomon, the glory of the House of David did not last very long. The kingdom was divided. Because of their idolatry, the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians. Because of their unfaithfulness to the Lord, the southern kingdom was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the people were taken off into exile. Seventy years later they returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple and the walls of the city. However, there was no king from the House of David ruling.

Until, that is, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to a Virgin in Nazareth of Galilee. The Holy Spirit came upon her. The power of the Most High overshadowed her. Within the house of Mary’s womb, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on human flesh. Without human intervention, one little egg became a zygote, and the House of David was restored, since Mary was a descendant of David. Not only that, but Joseph, her future husband, was also of the House of David. Therefore, by birth and by Law, Jesus was truly a Son of David … THE Son of David. God took up residence inside the womb of Mary. Although the whole universe cannot contain God, his very presence dwelt in the flesh of Christ in the Virgin’s womb.

But Christ was not born to rule in Jerusalem. At his First Advent we see him hunted down by King Herod in the region of Bethlehem. At his First Advent we see him confronted by the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council. At his First Advent we see his trial overseen by Pontius Pilate, the local representative of the great Roman Empire. At his First Advent we don’t see Christ wearing a jewel-encrusted crown and seated on a gold-plated throne. His crown was made of twisted thorny branches. His throne was made of two beams of wood. From there, the King’s blood was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28). Christ, the Son of David, was born, lived, died, and rose again for you. And when he ascended into heaven, King Jesus of the House of David took his rightful place as King of all Creation. He now rules and reigns for the good of his Church. He is in control, even when things seem out of control … even as he was completely in control while dying for your sins and mine.

In Christ, God has built a house for you. Through Baptism, your sins were washed away, and you became a member of the household of God. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2 that we were previously “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ … So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household.” You reside in God’s house … and God takes up residence in you. Although the whole universe cannot contain God, his very presence dwells among you and in you, as Paul concludes in Ephesians 2, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

God dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle. The Virgin’s womb became the Holy of Holies as God dwelt there in the flesh of Jesus. The Cross of Calvary became the Holy of Holies, as the flesh of Jesus hung there for the life of the world. And this altar becomes the Holy of Holies every time bread and wine are set apart by God’s Word and promise to deliver the true body and blood of the Son of David to us. God takes up residence right here, and delivers life, forgiveness, and salvation when you eat and drink with faith in those words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.” As Luther said in the Small Catechism, “These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’”

God has built a house for us and by faith in Christ we reside in that house and God resides in us. He richly and daily forgives and feeds us in this house. What, then, shall we do with those words in our text, where God promises a place for his people where they would be safe from their enemies? If that “place” is the land, then God’s promise is not true. After Solomon’s reign ended, the people were continually pestered and persecuted from enemies without and within, as the people living in the land of Israel still are today. The land is not the thing. There is a greater land, a greater house, an eternal one, an everlasting kingdom where God’s people will be undisturbed forever from their enemies of sin, death, and the devil. There is a house waiting for us in eternity, as Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms … I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).

And in that place, at Christ’s Second Advent, we will see the Son of David on his throne, and we will call to mind the words of St. John’s Revelation, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).