Behind the Scenes

Sermon based on Mark 1:21-28 for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Dear Christians who stand in Christ: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We often have great interest in what goes on behind the scenes. Perhaps the latest blockbuster movie has such great action sequences that we want to find out how they did it. What new technology or innovative directing was required to bring our favourite scenes to life on the big screen? Oftentimes in business and politics, we hear of a big announcement of a new partnership of former rivals or competitors and we wonder what happened behind the scenes? Who ingeniously put aside differences and made the seemingly impossible deal happen? Besides what we know publically, we are often curious to know what happened behind the curtains to make something a reality.

Our Gospel reading gives us a behind the scenes glimpse. On the surface, it may not have seemed like much at first: another rabbi teaching in one of the many synagogues. But when those in the synagogue heard this rabbi speak, they recognized that He is no regular rabbi. He speaks with authority, and not as their other teachers. None of the other teachers said what we heard Jesus say last week, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mk 1:15). Jesus teaches the Scriptures with authority because He is the reigning King and the Scriptures speak concerning Him! (Jn 5:39) Jesus also showed His authority in calling the fishermen to follow Him which we also heard last week. If you don’t think this is a sign of authority, then go by various places of work and business and tell people to drop everything and follow you and see how well it works out. Behind the scenes, we know that Jesus is God and thus of course He has authority that no other teacher has.

And then Jesus has a confrontation with a man in the synagogue. To those in the synagogue, this man was just another listener, quite probably even a familiar face often seen listening to teachers in the synagogue. He cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” The observers were undoubtedly wondering what this man was talking about, at least until Jesus responded and cast the unclean spirit out of the man. Then, upon the words of Jesus, the unclean spirit convulsed the man, game a demonic shriek and departed as Jesus commanded. This is astonishing and amazing to these observers. This teacher who teaches with authority even has the authority to command unseen spirits!

We have more behind the scenes information here also. In Ephesians 6 we hear that our fight is not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) We know that our fight is not with each other. Our fight is not against our neighbour who sins against us. Our fight is not even with the earthly enemies and persecutors of the Church. Our fight is with our adversary the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Pt. 5:8). Our fight is with his demons and unclean spirits that would tempt us and lure us into sin. Our fight is against our own sinful nature which wants to be lured into sin.

In our Collect of the Day we prayed, “Almighty God, You know we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright.” We confess that in this fight that we have against the spiritual forces of evil we cannot stand. When we are tempted, we fall. When the unclean spirits of anger, lust, greed, and doubt work behind the scenes we don’t just jump in with both feet, we dive into sin head first. We do not do God’s will. Every opportunity that presents itself, we are always looking out for what is best for me, myself, and I. We are frail. We cannot stand upright.

But Christ our Lord stands. He who has authority is on our side. He whom the demons must obey speaks to us and for us. Although we are too weak to stand and face the devil, Jesus did stand and face him. Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness and never fell. Jesus squared off with the devil on Good Friday. The devil maybe even thought he won because Jesus died. But Jesus showed Himself victorious over the devil. Jesus rose on Easter Sunday and showed that the devil is powerless against Him.

That’s all well and good, but what does it mean for me? What does it mean for me who cannot stand upright? What does it mean for me who has fallen headlong into sin and wickedness? What does it mean for me because I’m frail and when I try to stand, I not only fall but I knock over my brother next to me as well? It may be shocking to hear in your weakness, but Jesus’ victory was for you.

If you could stand on your own, Jesus would not have had to come. If you could do better if given more chances, Jesus would not have had to keep the Law for you. If you could avoid sin by trying harder, Jesus would not have taken the punishment of all your sins onto Himself and died your death. This is the very message of the Gospel: your sins are forgiven on account of Jesus.

This is what our Introit based on Psalm 32 is talking about: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Jesus’ blood has covered our sins. That’s why He died; He died to forgive our transgressions. Our sins are no longer counted against us. We who are too weak to stand have One who stood in our place. We who are too frail to do what is right have had our sins covered.

In your Baptism you were washed; your sins were covered. The witnesses and observers at your Baptism did not see this happen. All they saw was water poured over your head. But from Scripture we know what happened behind the scenes. Behind the scenes, according to the promise of God, you received the forgiveness of sins and were rescued from death and the devil. You were rescued from the devil. For this reason, the devil has no accusations to throw at you. He cannot claim you as his own because you belong to Christ. And as weak as you are, it’s not your strength that matters. All that matters is the strength of Jesus, who holds you. And He is the one who has authority. His Word sends demons scrambling in fear. His Word casts out unclean spirits. His Word keeps the devil’s forces in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until Judgment Day (Jude 6).

Much of this happens behind the scenes and we cannot see it. But Scripture gives us glimpses of it and tells us it is so. These sneak peeks behind the scenes help us stand, because we stand not in ourselves, but in Christ. We have won the victory over sin, death, and the devil – not in ourselves, but in Christ.

We probably should have sung A Mighty Fortress Is Our God today instead of last week, but let me leave you with the third verse:

Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us,

We tremble not, we fear no ill; They shall not overpow’r us.

This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will,

He can harm us none. He’s judged the deed is done;

One little word can fell him. (LSB 656) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Women Pastors?

Sermon based on Mark 1:14-20 for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Dear bride of Christ: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

The Lord God of heaven and earth had a plan when He created the heavens and the earth and when He created man and woman. He created order and structure. He designed the family unit as the basic building block of society. The family has a designated structure and order, and families together form society with its order and structure. The Lord of the creation also instituted the Church with a certain order and certain roles, because “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Cor. 14:33).

After John the Baptist was no longer preaching repentance because of his arrest and imprisonment, Jesus Himself starts preaching, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel” (v. 15). There is no more waiting; God is here before you and His reign is here! According to God’s plan, this message is to be preached to the ends of the earth, so Jesus calls disciples to follow Him.

Simon and Andrew are carrying out their job as fishermen as Jesus passes by. Jesus says to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (v. 17). They immediately drop their nets. They leave their jobs and their incomes and follow Jesus, not knowing where they are going or what following Him will mean over the months and years ahead. Jesus comes across James and John and He calls them to follow Him also. They likewise drop everything and follow Him in faith.

Overall, Jesus calls twelve men to be His disciples. In essence, they start seminary under Jesus’ teaching. They spend three years with Jesus listening to Him and learning from Him. They see His miracles and they hear His preaching and teaching as Jesus prepares them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. After His resurrection Jesus sends them to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and by teaching them to observe everything that Jesus taught and commanded them (Matt. 28:19). Here also Jesus has a plan, a structure, and an order to His plan of salvation. Jesus called men to represent Him and speak His Word of forgiveness to His bride, the Church.

The question can be asked: why did Jesus send only men as His representatives? Is it because only men are good public speakers? No, we can possibly think of many women who excel in public speaking and many men that do not. Is it because men have more value in God’s eyes or are better in some way? No, Galatians 3[:27-28] says that through Baptism we are all one in Christ Jesus – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” when it comes to salvation or equality in God’s eyes. Perhaps it is then because men take God more seriously. Nope. It cannot be that either. Very often it is the women who attend the Divine Service and teach their children while men are slackers in their obligations as husbands and fathers. So what then? Why only men? We get very helpful answers from Paul’s letters since this question is one that came up then as well.

In the Greco-Roman world of the first century there was a strong movement of the “new woman”. These “new women” pushed for liberation from traditional roles, appearance, and social conduct. They pushed away from traditional family structure and sought to be heads of their houses contrary to the order of creation (cf. also Eph. 5:22-33). It should be noted that women were serving as priestesses in many of the religions in the Greco-Roman world. Women were allowed leading roles in religious rites and in teaching, particularly in the religions with female goddesses and those gods related to fertility cults.

So when this influence of society invaded the church and there was a push for women to take leadership roles and to teach in the church, Paul writes to address this. He writes, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (I Tim. 2:11-14).

So Scripture says that contrary to the influence of society and contrary to other religions, in the Church of God women are not to teach or exercise authority over a man. The appeal is to the order of creation: Adam was formed first, then Eve. The appeal is to the structure and order that God planned before creation. God says that He gives man headship because He created man first, then woman.

This is not a question of value or equality. This becomes clear from I Corinthians 11[:3], “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” This is nothing other than a hierarchy or an ordering of offices. Christ subordinates Himself to God the Father even though He Himself is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God… and of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed). Christ is equal with the Father, nevertheless, there is an order established by God. So it is in the family, and so it is in the Church.

But we may still want to ask why? Why is this God’s order? Why did He not create woman first, and then man? Or why not create man and woman at the same time? And why must woman bear the hard work and danger of bearing children instead of men also bearing children? God does not give us every answer for which we seek. But He does tell us clearly what His plan is, what His order is, and that that is what is best.

In I Corinthians 14[:33-38] we hear also, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.”

This passage of God’s Word says that God Himself instituted the Church and set its structure and order. The Word of God is not ours to tamper or change. There was such pressure from the world to allow women to do things outside of God’s order that Paul makes a great issue of this. He writes that those who do not recognize this command of the Lord are not recognized to be in the Church. And indeed, how can they be? How can someone go directly against the Word of God and think that they should be recognized as being in the Church?

Jesus did indeed send the disciples to teach everything He had commanded (Matt. 28:19). Not just some things. He didn’t tell them to pick and choose what they want to teach. He said teach everything I have commanded you.

This is the order God decided was best. Surely, if it was up to us, we would probably choose a different order. But our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and our ways are not His ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9). “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33)

There is also societal pressure on us now, as there was on the Church in the days of Paul, to conform to the world in which we live. It’s not just other religions around us that allow women to lead and teach in their temples, but also organizations that call themselves the church of God. Even organizations that call themselves Lutheran! But we must resist this worldly pressure, and we must not recognize those who permit such things contrary to the Word of God.

We do not have all the reasons why God set such an order in place. We may still want to ask: Why can a woman not read Scripture lessons in the Divine Service? Why can a woman not be an elder of the congregation? Why can a woman not be a pastor? It can look to us like a waste of talent if you have a caring woman who knows her Scriptures well and is a good teacher. But such is God’s command, so it we will obey.

God our Father saw fit to send His Son to be born a man and die for our sins. Christ our Lord sends men to bring this good news of forgiveness to the world so that they would come into the Church. The Church is often described as the bride of Christ in the Scriptures (Mt. 25:1-13; Mk 2:19; Jn 3:29; II Cor. 11:2-4; Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:8, 21:2, 9-10). This all points to the glorious and honourable position of being the bride. It is the bride that is served by the groom. Christ, the bridegroom gave up His very life to save His bride, the Church.

So also in the Divine Service there is this symbolism present, whereby women also have the position of honour. They are the ones being served by the pastor who stands as the representative of Christ. They symbolize the entire Church of men and women receiving the forgiveness of sins.

This all falls into place when we recall that the Divine Service is all about receiving from God. The Divine Service isn’t about our involvement or actions; it is all about God doing, and us receiving. We receive the forgiveness of sins. We are fed and strengthened through His Word and through the Lord’s Supper. Christ serves us and gives to us. It is the congregation, the bride of Christ that is in the position of honour as Christ, through His representative serves His people. So let us rejoice in the order that God has instituted, knowing that His order is best. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Fictional Freedom vs. Real Freedom

Sermon based on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Dear temples of the Holy Spirit: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“I can say and do whatever I want” is a very common saying that much of society holds as sacred. The god of freedom reigns supreme in the world. We have seen this recently with all the cries and demonstrations for free speech that have taken place since the French magazine Charlie Hebdo was attacked by Muslim terrorists. Great masses have held signs which say, “I am Charlie” to express support for the freedom of speech they feel we should all have.

But what freedom of speech are they talking about? The freedom of speech that shuts down pro-life speeches at our universities? The freedom of speech that has Christians fired from their careers because they hold to Biblical views against homosexuality? The freedom of speech that bans God’s Word from the public sphere by calling it “hate speech”? The world’s idea of freedom of speech certainly doesn’t apply to anything I say from this pulpit. I can assure you the purveyors of “free speech” would be ready to lynch me for just about every Word of God I speak here.

No, the world’s idea of freedom of speech is one-directional. Freedom of speech is permitted only for those who want to kill unborn babies. Freedom of speech is only for those who push the lesbian, bi-sexual, homosexual, transgendered agenda. Freedom of speech is only for this filthy French magazine that printed images of the Holy Trinity in perverted sex acts.

It is just this kind of worldly freedom which our Epistle lesson speaks against. All things might be lawful for me to do, but not all things are beneficial. All things might be lawful for me to do, but I should not be enslaved by anything. Here we see how blind the world’s idea of freedom is. The freedom to say or do whatever I want is nothing more than slavery to sin. It’s not freedom. It’s following the way of the prince of this world. It’s following the corrupt, sinful nature. It’s not freedom; it’s slavery to sin. Sin lies: it promises freedom but gives only slavery. The subjects of sin find themselves caught in a cycle of bondage and corruption that leads to death and hell.

Apparently, some of those in the church at Corinth visited prostitutes and defended their actions by the fact that it was legal in the Roman Empire to do so. “All things are lawful for me” they claimed. “The law and the culture give me the freedom to do so”. Or perhaps they said that as Christians they are not under the law so that means they are free to do whatever they want.

God’s Word says, “Not so fast”. “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord” (v. 13). “Flee from sexual immorality” (v. 18). You cannot do whatever your sinful flesh wants because, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (vv. 19-20).

You are not your own; you are the temple of the Holy Spirit. As we heard extensively last week, you received the Holy Spirit through Baptism. You are not your own; you were bought with a price: the holy, precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus has purchased you and redeemed you from all sins, from death, and the power of the devil (cf. SC II.2).

Those who desire to be their own; those who do not want to be members of Christ or the temple of the Holy Spirit: they do whatever they want. They have sex outside of marriage. They live in sinful relationships outside of marriage. They practise homosexuality and every other form of perversion. But concerning them God says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9-10). In other words, those who practise such sins are not members of Christ. They have severed themselves from Him. They are not the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Is this hate speech? In the eyes of those who do such things, yes it is. But this is not written in the Bible with the purpose of causing anger against God and His Word. It is written with the purpose of warning; with the purpose of turning people from their sin and receiving forgiveness. It is anything but hate speech.

What kind of a pastor would I be if I took this warning from God and hid it from those who committed such sins? What kind of a pastor would I be if I did not warn the wicked to turn from his ways and receive life (cf. Ezek. 3:18)? I would be an unfaithful pastor, and the blood of the wicked person who dies in his sin would be required from my hand by God Himself (Ezek. 3:18). Thus I preach God’s Word to you even though many consider it hate speech.

It does matter what you do in and with your body. Your body is meant “for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (v. 13). And the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead will raise your body also (v. 14). Your body is a member of Christ (v. 15). Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (v. 19). Thus you are warned not to sin against your own body, which belongs to God (v. 18). You are called to glorify God in your body (v. 20).

So don’t be fooled by the freedom that sin promises. It is not freedom, but it is slavery (cf. Rom. 6:16). But now we have been rescued from slavery to sin. We are free in Christ. We are free to do what is good, which is impossible for those who are not in Christ.

But we are also free from the accusations of the Law. Christ fulfilled the Law on our behalf. He was accused of the sins we have committed against our bodies. Jesus was found guilty of every time you have defiled the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was crucified and allowed Himself to take the guilt for all sexual immorality, for every homosexual act, for every perversion that has taken place under the sun. He died for every sin that you have committed and that your children have committed. He died for the sins of the whole world.

He did this to free you from sin, so that you would no longer be enslaved to sin. He died for your sins so that you will not be punished in hell for you sins forever. He died to give you true freedom forever.

Through Jesus’ death for you, He has bought you for Himself. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price”. You now belong to Jesus. You past sins have been removed from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Jesus also has given you the Holy Spirit who has called you to faith. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit because He dwells in you. The Holy Spirit keeps you in the faith by continually giving you the forgiveness of your sins through the Gospel and through Holy Communion. The Holy Spirit also works through God’s Word to guide you in living a life that is pleasing to God.

See the world’s freedom for what it really is. Understand that the world’s idea of free speech is anything but free. On the other hand, Christ has given me speech to give to you that is freer than any other speech. It is speech that actually gives you freedom. There is no speech that is freer than the speech that forgives you your sin. The Word of Absolution frees you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. The Word of Absolution gives you the forgiveness of sins Christ earned on the cross. That is truly free speech. So go in peace, your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Baptism of Our Lord

Sermon based on Mk. 1:4-11 for the Baptism of Our Lord

Dear baptized believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Suppose there were a physician who had so much skill that people would not die, or even though they died would afterward live eternally. Just think how the world would snow and rain money upon such a person! Because of the throng of rich people crowding around, no one else would be able to get near. Now, here in baptism there is brought, free of charge, to every person’s door just such a treasure and medicine that swallows up death and keeps people alive.” These words were written by Martin Luther in the Large Catechism to teach concerning the great gift we have in Baptism (IV.43).

These words are important for us to hear because we have a tendency to greatly undervalue our Baptism. When facing disease and death, we are eager to chase after the latest medical breakthroughs to lengthen our life. We will try gadgets and gizmos, medicines and herbal remedies that promise to improve our life. Meanwhile, the treasure and medicine that swallows up death and gives us eternal life is forgotten and disregarded.

We have a tendency to greatly undervalue our Baptism. Although we celebrate the day of our birth into this sinful world, we do not celebrate our rebirth into eternal life. Although we remember our birthday and will be upset if others don’t remember it, we ourselves often don’t even know the date of our own Baptism. Even more importantly, we forget what it means to be baptized. We don’t flee to our Baptism for refuge from guilt, sin, and the devil. We don’t look to our Baptism in the midst of doubt, suffering, and temptation. We forget how great of a gift our Baptism is.

As we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, today is a great day to remember the great gift that Baptism is. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, went into the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But what was Jesus doing, being baptized? John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance. What did Jesus have to repent of? Those who were being baptized were confessing their sins. What sins did Jesus have to confess?

Here you can see that Jesus was not baptized for Himself; Jesus was baptized for you. The sinless Son of God had no sins to repent of or confess. In His Baptism, Jesus repented of your sins. In His Baptism He confessed my sins. What happened to Jesus in His Baptism is the exact opposite of what happened to us in our Baptism. Jesus took our sins on Himself in His Baptism, while our Baptism took our sins away from us. This is what St Paul is writing about in 2 Corinthians 5(:21), “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus takes our sin, and we get His righteousness. Jesus takes our guilt, and we get His forgiveness. In His Baptism, Jesus took your sins on Himself and confessed them as His own. He carried your sins for you all the way to the cross, where He died for them. He confessed your sins of lust, coveting, and selfishness and died for them. He confessed your sins of doubt, anger, and undervaluing your Baptism and died for them. He took your sin in His Baptism, and in Your Baptism gave you His righteousness.

Jesus giving you His righteousness in Baptism means that He declares you forgiven. He declares you to be pleasing to God. He declares you free of all charges. He declares you acquitted. Jesus’ holiness becomes your holiness. In your Baptism, you are washed clean from all sin.

Yes, it is true, sometimes we don’t feel that way. Sometimes we don’t feel forgiven or pleasing to God. We feel our guilt. Our offences against God weight heavy on our consciences. We see the effects of our sin in our lives: broken homes, hostility with family members, aborted babies that never saw the light of day. Because of our sin, we will always have our feelings of guilt and shame before God about what we have done and left undone. That’s why we don’t look inside ourselves for peace or forgiveness or holiness.

This is why you should flee to your Baptism. Your Baptism isn’t a feeling. Your Baptism is a certainty. Your Baptism is your certainty that Jesus gives you His righteousness and declares you forgiven. Your Baptism is your certainty that you have been declared pleasing to God and free of all charges. Your Baptism is your certainty that you are washed clean from all sin. Your Baptism is your certainty that all of your sins were confessed by Jesus in His Baptism.

As we heard in our Epistle lesson, our Baptism into Christ Jesus was a Baptism into His death (Rom. 6:3). In our Baptism we get all the benefits of Jesus’ death on the cross. In our Baptism we died to sin (Rom. 6:2). In our Baptism we already now live a new life (Rom. 6:4). In our Baptism we have the promise that since we have been united with Christ in His death, we will certainly be united with Him in His resurrection (Rom. 6:5). See how great a gift our Baptism is!

But there’s still more! Galatians 3 tells us, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ… And if you are Christ’s, then you are… heirs according to promise.” (vv. 27, 29) In Baptism, you were made an heir; you were made a child of God. And if you are an heir, you have the promise of the inheritance of the children of God – eternal life. And in Titus 3 we are told that we receive the Holy Spirit in the washing of regeneration in our Baptism; that the Holy Spirit is poured on us richly through our Baptism into Christ (vv. 5-7). This also John the Baptist preached as he proclaimed that after him comes the Mightier One who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

In these passages we then see how our Baptism, although not the same as that of our Lord, has many similarities with His Baptism. Through Baptism, our sins no longer keep heaven closed to us. Rather, as the heavens opened at Jesus’ Baptism, so the heavens are torn open to us through our Baptism into Christ. As the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at His Baptism, so in our Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends on us along with all of His gifts. In our Baptism, because we are made heirs and children of God, God the Father says to us, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” God is pleased with us because Jesus has taken our sin and given us His righteousness in our Baptism.

This is why we should treasure Baptism. When facing disease or death, know that you are baptized into Christ and have been given the medicine of eternal life. In the midst of doubt, suffering, and temptation look to your Baptism. When you are burdened by the horrible guilt of your past sins; when your pet sins have again reared their ugly head; when you see the effects of sin in your life: then look to your Baptism. Your Baptism is the certainty that your sins were put on Jesus and that He carried them to the cross and died for them. Your Baptism is your certainty that Jesus gives you His righteousness and declares you forgiven. Your Baptism is your certainty that you have been declared pleasing to God and free of all charges. Your Baptism is your certainty that you are washed clean from all sin.

This is why we should remember our Baptism. This is why in the Small Catechism Luther directs parents to teach their children to make the sign of the cross on themselves in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. This is why our hymnal indicates that the sign of the cross may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism at the Invocation, remembering that we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. No we don’t have to make the sign of the cross, but we should remember our Baptism. We should treasure the great wonderful gifts given to us in Baptism. Because, “Now, here in Baptism there is brought, free of charge, to every person’s door just such a treasure and medicine that swallows up death and keeps people alive.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The New Passover

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas based on Luke 2:40-52

Dear people who celebrate the New Passover: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

All male Jews were required to make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover (Ex. 23:14-17; Dt. 16:6). But it was customary to make it a family event and the heads of the houses would bring their wives and children with them. So, as was their yearly custom, Joseph and Mary travelled with Jesus, at this time twelve years old, to Jerusalem for the feast.

The Passover celebration involved the liturgical slaying of the Passover lamb at the Temple. The family would then gather together to eat the lamb after sundown. This feast celebrated the great Exodus event, when God redeemed His people from slavery in Egypt.

The Egyptian’s had oppressed the people of Israel and enslaved them. They set taskmasters over them afflicted them with heavy burdens. They made their life bitter with hard service and beat them and whipped them to keep them working. Despite this harsh treatment, the Israelites still grew stronger and greater, so the Egyptians started murdering the boys that were born to the Israelites by casting them into the Nile River. The Egyptians refused to let the Hebrews out of slavery, so God sent Moses to rescue them. Through signs and plagues, God showed His might. God inflicted the Egyptians by turning their water into blood, and by sending frogs, gnats, and flies. He killed their livestock, and sent boils and hail, locusts and darkness. Finally, the tenth plague was the angel of death killing all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, but he “passed over” the firstborn of the Israelites because of the blood of the lamb on the lintel and posts of their doors. This final plague at last resulted in the Egyptian pharaoh letting God’s people go. (See Ex. 1-12) Thus the Passover was a commemoration of the angel of death sparing the firstborn son wherever the blood of the lamb had been sacrificed, and rescuing the Israelites from slavery and bringing them into the Promised Land.

Jesus Himself celebrated the Passover. This time, at the age of twelve, He travelled with His parents to Jerusalem for that purpose. Jesus remained in Jerusalem when his parents left, and was in the Temple. As we heard last week, it was necessary for Jesus to be in the Temple, His Father’s house. It was the fulfilment of prophecy. In His Father’s house, at the age of twelve, Jesus astonished the teachers with His wisdom and knowledge. The teachers of the Scriptures were learning from this twelve-year-old and didn’t know what to make of it.

Neither did His parents. When his parents found Him after three days, Jesus asked them why they were looking for Him; “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke reports, “And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them” (v. 50). They did not understand why Jesus would need to be in His Father’s house, doing the work of His Father. Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, there was much confusion and misunderstanding over His purpose and mission. Even His mother and disciples didn’t understand His purpose and mission until after His resurrection.

Luke also records another time that Jesus celebrated the Passover. This time it was with His disciples. The day before He was crucified, Jesus celebrated the Passover one last time. He also inaugurated a new feast, instituting the Lord’s Supper (see Luke 22). Jesus and His disciples then chanted a hymn, likely Psalms 113-118 which were commonly chanted at the end of the Passover meal. Then they headed to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested (Mt. 26).

Jesus’ first recorded celebration of the Passover anticipates His last celebration of the Passover. Just as when He was twelve, this last time in Jerusalem Jesus also taught in the Temple (Lk. 21:37). Luke also identifies being “lost” with being dead and “being found” as coming back to life. Thus Jesus tells of the prodigal son who was lost but then was found (15:32). As a twelve-year-old, after the celebration of the Passover, Jesus was “lost” to His parents and then three days later “found”. This foreshadows this last Passover, after which Jesus was “lost” to His disciples when He died and three days later “found” when He rose from the dead.

Of course Jesus was not truly lost either time, but because His parents and disciples at that time did not understand His purpose or His mission, He was lost to them. Once they later understood His purpose and mission, they remembered these things that they had treasured up in their hearts (v. 51; Lk. 24:8).

So the first Passover celebration anticipates the last. During the last Passover celebration, Jesus institutes something new to remember. He said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:24-25) Jesus instituted a new remembrance meal. The Passover meal remembering the delivery from slavery to the Egyptians has been replaced by the New Passover feast remembering the delivery from slavery to sin. And the Lord’s Supper isn’t just a meal of remembrance, but in the very meal we actually receive deliverance. We receive the very forgiveness of sins as Jesus promised. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Jesus gave Himself as the Passover Lamb. Thus I Corinthians 5(:7) says, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Jesus, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world gave His life on the cross for our sin. He is the sacrifice for us. His blood keeps the angel of death from us, so that he passes over our doors. Jesus’ blood keeps us alive. And because of the shedding of Jesus’ blood, we have been freed from our slavery. Jesus has freed us from our slavery to sin and death. We are no longer enslaved to sin so that we have to obey its passions (Rom. 6:6-14). Because of Jesus’ death we are now free to serve Him instead of sin (Rom. 6:17-18). So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander (1 Pt. 2:1). Instead, come to the Lord’s altar and receive the forgiveness of your sins.

Come and eat the true body and blood of Jesus, our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed. Come; receive the forgiveness of sins. Come; receive the strengthening of your faith that keeps the angel of death at bay. Jesus, through His death and resurrection, has defeated the devil, so we have been granted an exodus out of slavery to him and have been given the Promised Land as our inheritance.

Do not misunderstand Jesus’ purpose and mission. He came to die. He came with the very purpose of being our Passover Lamb. His purpose and mission was to take away the sins of the world. His purpose was to give us new life in Him. So come, let us celebrate the New Passover feast with joy, receiving the new life Jesus gives to us. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.