The Good Shepherd

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter based on John 10:11-18

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

Sheep are the most helpless of animals. They are easy prey. Sheep have no defence mechanism to protect themselves from wolves or other predators. They don’t have claws or sharp teeth to defend themselves. They don’t have a shell like a turtle, spines like a porcupine, ink spray like an octopus, or stink spray like a skunk. Sheep can’t change colour to hide themselves like some frogs and lizards, nor can they repair limbs like a starfish. They’re soft and fluffy and rather stupid. It is no wonder then that sheep need a shepherd.

Sheep need a shepherd to take them to green pastures so they don’t eat weeds that are poisonous to them. They need a shepherd to lead them to still, quiet waters so they can drink. They need a shepherd to protect them from predators day and night.

What a fitting analogy for us. We also are helpless and unable to defend ourselves. Temptations surround us, and we are only too ready to fall. We are ever ready to fall victim to the predators that seek to take us: the predators of desire, greed, and selfishness; the predators of doubt, fear, and despair. We think the grass is always greener elsewhere than in the pasture to which our Shepherd has led us. We wander into our predators’ territory. We become enamoured with the ways of the world; ways which keep us from the pastures where we are fed. In other words, we get hooked by all kinds of things which do not spiritually feed us, but in fact get in the way of us reading God’s Word and receiving His gifts. Whether it is overworking ourselves, sports and other leisure activities, or even just plain laziness, spiritual nourishment just isn’t the pasture in which we want to feed. We eat poisonous weeds that are harmful to us, whether it is the lies of some television preacher like Joel Osteen or the self-help ideologies of Oprah. If there is anyone who needs a shepherd, it is us. If there’s anyone who needs protection from predators and their own propensities to wander, it is us. On top of it all, when we have wandered and got ourselves into trouble, we look around and think the Good Shepherd has abandoned us or forgotten about us, when it is really we who have wandered away from and forgotten about Him.

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” There’s lots of artwork dedicated to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We can probably readily think of many of them: art depicting Jesus gently holding a lamb in his lap, petting its wool, or carrying it upon His shoulders; art depicting sheep peacefully grazing in lush pastures with quiet waters nearby as the Good Shepherd watches over them.

But how does such art fit into what we experience in our lives? How does this fit with what we have seen happen to us and to other sheep around us? We’ve seen predators snatch their prey. We’ve experienced loss and heartache, illness and weakness. We’ve wandered into other pastures and eaten the poisonous weeds of false teachings. We’ve seen the effects of sin in our lives and in the lives of others around us. Where is our Good Shepherd in all of this?

The answer is in our Gospel reading. Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” In fact, Jesus says five times in our reading that He lays down His life for the sheep. That’s what it means to be the Good Shepherd – to give His life for the sheep.

This is quite odd, really. If an ordinary shepherd dies, the sheep are left helpless. The sheep need their shepherd. If it came down to it, a shepherd would sooner allow a couple of sheep to be snatched for the sake of the rest of the herd and for the sake of his own life. Sheep are replaceable. It’s better to lose a bit of wool than your own life, isn’t it?

But Jesus is no ordinary shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd. He gave His life to save us. He died for our sins, taking the punishment of our sins in our place. Jesus died for our sins of wandering from Him; our sins of not listening to His voice; our sins of despising His spiritual nourishment. “The Shepherd die[d] for sheep that love to wander” (LSB 439:4). The sinless Son of God gave His life in exchange for yours, despite your wandering.

But Jesus said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (v. 17) Jesus did not remain dead. The Good Shepherd did not abandon His flock and leave them helpless. He died for them, in their place, and rose again. He will not even abandon or forget His wandering sheep but seeks them out to rescue them and forgive them (Ezek. 34:11).

In Psalm 23, David points to what Jesus accomplishes as our Good Shepherd. He writes, “He restores my soul.” (v. 3) He doesn’t say that the Good Shepherd restores my health and my wealth. He doesn’t say the Lord will restore my ambitions and my happiness. We writes, “He restores my soul.”

David doesn’t write that everything will be joyful and painless. He writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (v. 4) Thus, David is saying that we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We will face consequences from our sinful actions. We will face sickness and difficulty, trials and hardships that are part of living in a fallen, sinful world. But even in the valley of the shadow of death we have nothing to fear. Jesus, our Good Shepherd restores our soul even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Your Good Shepherd has not abandoned you or forgotten you, nor will He ever. He put His name on you in your Baptism, thus you are His sheep. In your Baptism, Jesus identified you as His own.

The prophet Isaiah writes to God’s people who think that God has forsaken them and forgotten them, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Is. 49:15-16)

In your Baptism, your name was engraved in the palms of God’s hands. He will not forsake you. It was Jesus who cried out from the cross to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Jesus was forsaken for you. All of your sins were put on Jesus, and He took your punishment in your place. Jesus was forsaken by God the Father so that you will never be forsaken.

Yes, even through the valley of the shadow of death, your Good Shepherd will not abandon you. He will bring you through the valley of the shadow of death to eternal life. Jesus, your Good Shepherd, laid down His life for you, in order to bring you to eternal life with Him forever. Jesus, your Good Shepherd, laid down His life to earn forgiveness for all of your sins. Jesus, your Good Shepherd, laid down His life to give you that forgiveness by nourishing you with His body and blood. Thus you can say with David, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Ps. 23:6) Amen.

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

Harsh Preaching

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter based on Acts 3:11-21, I Jn. 3:1-7

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

Many of those who heard Peter’s sermon undoubtedly thought he was rude, harsh, and unloving. People gathered upon seeing that a miracle had been performed and a lame man was leaping and praising God. And Peter starts berating them. Peter rips into them as they gather to see what has happened. To paraphrase him a bit, he essentially says to them, “What are you looking at? We didn’t heal this man and make him walk. You know who healed him? Jesus. Yes, Jesus whom you delivered to Pilate. Yes, Jesus whom you denied. Yes, Jesus whom you murdered. You killed the Author of Life and instead asked for a murder to be released.” Peter points the finger directly at them, blaming them for the death of Jesus. He bluntly calls them murderers! Many undoubtedly though he was rude, harsh, and unloving.

Why does Peter come out with guns blazing? Why does he blast away with such powerful, stinging Law? He does it so that the Law would make them recognize their sin. He does it so that they would turn away from their sin. Thus he also says, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” (Acts 3:19) Turn away from your sins so that they may be forgiven.

This is right in line with what John writes in his first epistle as we heard: “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness… No one who abides in [Christ] keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him…” (I Jn. 3:4, 6) A Christian does not live for the sake of sin. He doesn’t remain in lawlessness, which is rebellion against God and His Word. A Christian does not reject God’s Word or its established standards. Those who practice sin do not care what God has to say about sin, but prefer to remain in their sin instead of receiving forgiveness.

Our epistle reading ended at verse seven, but if we would have gone on and read the next verse also, we would have heard, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (I Jn. 3:8) There’s no third option. There’s no neutral position. Either we are in Christ or we are of the devil. Either we make a practice of sinning or we make a practice of opposing sin.

Sin is no small matter. Sin is deadly. Sin is of the devil. There is no room to be indifferent about sin or to allow ourselves to hold onto sinful habits. A Christian cannot give up, give in, tolerate, condone, or ignore sin.

Unfortunately, we have become complacent. We don’t really take God’s warnings all that seriously. We allow the formation of sinful habits and believe the devil’s deception that they are not so serious.

Thus we need to hear Peter’s sermon pointed at us. We need to hear that we are murderers. Our sins killed Jesus. Our sins that we have thought are no big deal were big enough to end the life of the Son of God on the cross. The sins that we have been indifferent about killed the Author of Life.

But as Peter preached in his sermon, so I preach also to you: Despite what the people had done in delivering Jesus to Pilate, denying Him, and murdering Him, even though they didn’t know it, killing Jesus was actually God’s plan. God had planned already beforehand that this would happen. God had foretold it by the mouth of all the prophets. It had to happen to restore all things. It had to happen for the forgiveness of sins. It had to happen to pay for the sins of every single person.

Thus, Peter preaches repentance to the people. They had to turn from their sin. He had to warn them that whoever continues in sin is of the devil. If he didn’t warn them, then he would truly be the rude, harsh, and unloving person some thought he was. If Peter didn’t preach God’s harsh Law, then not only would he be unloving, but a faithless, false preacher. He would then be opposing God. If he didn’t warn those whom he had been sent to warn, then he would himself have been practicing lawlessness. Thus Peter preached the message of repentance.

This message is also for you. Despite what you have done to deny Jesus by your sinful habits and despite what indifference you have shown towards sin, yet you also are given the opportunity to repent and turn again that your sins may be blotted out. You also are given God’s harsh Law so that you would recognize your sin and turn away from it.

Because we are sinful, we will always struggle with sin. We will fall into sin. We will do the very sins that we hate (Rom. 7:15). But we cannot become indifferent about sin or allow ourselves to hold onto sinful habits. We cannot give up, give in, tolerate, condone, or ignore sin. We cannot make a practice of sinning.

We cannot make a practice of sinning because we are children of God (I Jn. 3:1). We put our hope in Jesus who is pure, and thus we are pure (I Jn. 3:3). We are in Him, and He appeared to take away sins, and Him there is no sin (I Jn. 3:5).

God gives us the strength to oppose sin by continually giving us forgiveness. Every time we fall, He lifts us up again. He reminds us that through Baptism we are His children. He absolves us of our sins through His Word of forgiveness. He nourishes us with the very body and blood of Jesus that forgives us our sins and strengthens us in our fight.

God’s Word of Law is not rude, harsh, or unloving. It shows us our sin so that we would know that we need a Saviour. And God provided a Saviour. He sent His only Son to take all our sins on Himself and take our punishment by dying in our place. Now we are adopted as His children. He has forgiven us and He will continue to forgive us until Christ appears and we shall be like Him (I Jn. 3:2). “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (I Jn. 3:3).

Christ is pure and in Him there is no sin. When we receive His pure, sinless body and blood again today from this altar, His pure body and blood make us pure. His sinless body and blood make us sinless. What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets has been fulfilled. Christ came and suffered for us and blots out our sin. Amen.

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

Seeing is Not Believing

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

Dear people who have not seen and yet have believed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Thomas gets a bad rap. He’s even given the title “doubting.” “Doubting Thomas” has even become a label given to others when they express distrust or disbelief.

Now, in a way, Thomas certainly deserves blame since he did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead when the other disciples told him. And Thomas didn’t just doubt Jesus’ resurrection. He disbelieved it. He didn’t doubt that it happened. He believed that it did not happen. He didn’t say to the other disciples, “I doubt that you really saw the Lord.” He said, “I will never believe.”

But why point the finger at Thomas alone? He wasn’t alone in his unbelief. Last week we heard how the women at the tomb responded to the words of the angel that Jesus had risen. They didn’t believe the words of the angel, but they fled the tomb with trembling, astonishment, and fear (Mk. 16:8). The women didn’t believe the good news that’s why they were still living in fear. They were too scared to even tell anyone what they had seen and heard. Finally, they did tell the disciples the good news the angel had told them, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Lk. 24:11) The disciples didn’t believe the women. The disciples went into hiding. The disciples were scared. The disciples did not believe.

But when Jesus came into their locked room, giving them His peace, then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus showed them His hands and His side and only then did they believe.

But Thomas wasn’t with them. That’s why he didn’t believe. He didn’t see what the other disciples had seen. The other disciples believed now that they had seen their risen Saviour for themselves. But Thomas didn’t believe their report any more than they had earlier believed the women’s report. They were all in the same situation: they did not believe until they had seen Jesus’ resurrected body for themselves.

Where does this leave us? Where does it leave all of us who have not seen our risen Lord? Where does it leave us who have not seen in Jesus’ hands the mark of the nails and who have not placed our fingers into the mark of the nails or placed our hand into His side? Do we really need to see in order to believe?

The scribes and the Pharisees saw Jesus. They heard Him teaching. They saw Him healing, performing miracles, and even raising the dead. Did they believe because of what they had seen? For the most part, no, they did not believe. What they had seen only made them want to kill Jesus! After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they decided that they are going to kill Lazarus as well, in addition to killing Jesus (Jn. 12:10)! Seeing is not believing.

In fact, sometimes what we see contradicts what God’s Word says. God says that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28). That’s not what we see in the intensive care unit of the hospital. We see suffering. We don’t see good. God says that whoever believes in Him, even though he die, yet shall he live (Jn. 11:25). When we stand over our loved one’s casket we don’t see life. We see only death. We cannot see what is real, only what is earthly.

St Paul writes, “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) What we see is temporary; it is passing; it is not permanent. The things that we do not see are eternal, enduring, and permanent.

Luke gives us a little more information on Jesus’ appearance to the disciples. After Jesus showed them His wounds, Luke writes that they still disbelieved (Lk. 24:41). It was not until Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures that they believed (Lk. 24:45). The disciples did not believe because they saw Jesus, but because He opened their minds to believe through His Word. They believed because they were given faith. Jesus gave them faith through His Word.

But notice what happened after Jesus had given the disciples faith in His first appearance to them. They went back into hiding! They went back behind locked doors! Jesus had appeared to them and given them faith. He had absolved them of their abandoning Him, of their fear, and of their unbelief. He had stood among them and given them His peace – His peace of forgiveness; His peace of absolution. Yet the disciples still went back into the locked room even after seeing Jesus alive – they needed Jesus’ absolution again! Jesus again appears to them in their fear and cowardice, behind locked doors. Jesus again gives them His peace; His absolution; His forgiveness.

This is the reality of life for us also. We receive absolution, but the forgiven sins don’t just go away. Our memory of those sins doesn’t just disappear. Our sinful inclination to fall again into the same sin remains in us. The sinful, doubting nature will not leave us until we die. Thus, we need absolution again. We need the Lord’s Supper again. We need to hear Jesus’ Word of peace again.

We need to hear Jesus’ Word of peace again and again as we see things that happen to us that appear bad. We need to receive Jesus’ peace when we see suffering and temptation, when we see fear and death. We need to hear God’s Word that tells us what is real; His Word that gives us faith. We need God’s Word that fixes our eyes of faith on what we do not see, not on what we do see.

And Jesus does not leave us in want. He sends His ministers to proclaim His peace as we heard in our text, saying, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

When I speak absolution to you, it is not my absolution, but God’s. That’s why it “is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (SC V). It is Jesus who gives you peace. That’s why I hold His body and blood up for you to see as I speak His word of peace to you just before you receive the Sacrament of the Altar, saying, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” It is through His body and blood that was given for you on Calvary that you receive forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus died for your sins to give you peace. That’s why He appeared to His disciples and the first thing He said was, “Peace be with you.” He showed the disciples His wounds through which He earned us peace.

So, peace be with you. The peace that the world cannot give (Jn 14:27); the peace that we have with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1); the peace of being reconciled with God; the peace we have through the forgiveness of sins. This peace is yours. We are no longer enemies of God or rebels against Him, but we are at peace with Him because our sins are forgiven.

And the peace of Jesus will carry you through what you see that seems to contradict His Word. His Word is firm and certain. His Word gives faith. His Word absolves you of sin and gives you forgiveness. Jesus’ Word gives you peace despite what you see. Amen.

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

Resurrection Dependency

Sermon for Easter Sunday based on I Corinthians 15:1-11 (14, 17-19)

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

All of Christianity depends on one single day. Really not even one single day, but rather one single event during that one day: the Resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised [from the dead], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (15:14, 17-19)

In other words, if Jesus was not raised from the dead then we are dead. Then we’ve got nothing. We’ve got no hope. We’ve got no future. The only thing that awaits us is eternal death.

If Jesus claimed to be God and then died and is gone, then he’s nobody. Despite whatever good things He might have said and done, He would be a fraud. He told His disciples many times that He would die and rise again, so if He did not rise, He would be a liar. If He said He was going to die for our sins but then never rose, we would have to conclude that He lost the battle with sin and the devil. We’d have to conclude that God the Father did not accept His death as payment for our sins. That’s why Christianity is dependent on the single event of the Resurrection.

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (I Cor. 15:20). Our Epistle lesson says, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures… he was buried… he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” And Jesus proved His resurrection by showing Himself to Peter. Then to the Twelve (eleven). Then He appeared to more than 500 at one time. He appeared to James. He appeared to Paul. He appeared to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18). He appeared to the two on the road to Emmaus and to those gathered in Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). And Jesus proved Himself not to be some ghost or apparition by telling them to look at His pierced hands and feet and touch Him and see that He is real (Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27). He ate in front of them (Lk 24:42; Jn 21:9-14). He performed miracles in front of them (Jn 20:6). Jesus proved that He had been physically raised from the dead.

And Jesus’ Resurrection changed the disciples. Before the Resurrection, the disciples had fled when Jesus was arrested. They were in hiding behind locked doors after His death. They were exactly at the point we would be if there was no Resurrection. They were thinking that their faith in Jesus had been in vain. They thought they had it all wrong. They had hoped Jesus would save them, but now He was dead (cf. Lk 24:21). Jesus was dead. They had no hope. They had no future. Jesus must have been a fraud. Jesus must have been a liar. And now the disciples were afraid that they would be put to death just like Jesus had been put to death.

Between Jesus death and resurrection, no one believed in Him. No one single person believed in Him. The religious leaders had Him killed. The crowd had shouted, “Crucify Him!” The disciples fled and met in hiding to figure out what to do next. The women bought spices to anoint His corpse. No one believed in Jesus. But that didn’t stop Him from dying for them and rising from the dead. In spite of their unbelief, Jesus died and rose again. Then He showed Himself to them and proved that He had done exactly what He said He would do.

So the resurrection changed the disciples. All of a sudden, they came out of hiding. They openly proclaimed Christ in Jerusalem in the power of the Holy Spirit received at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). They were no longer afraid of death. Even upon arrest and being told to stop talking about Jesus by the same council that found Jesus guilty, they said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

So also the resurrection changes us. We also have no need to hide our faith. We also do not need to fear death. Baptized into Jesus, we have the promise that just as He was raised from the dead, so we will also be raised (Rom. 6:5).

So we ask: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55) Death, you have nothing on us. You think your victory is in the morgue? You think your sting is in the cemetery? Death, do you think your victory is in the cancer ward or in palliative care; in terrorist strikes or on the battlefield? There is no victory for death. There’s no sting in death because the grave cannot hold us. The grave cannot hold us any more than it held Jesus.

The tomb couldn’t hold Jesus. The heavy rock rolled in front of the entrance didn’t stop Jesus from rising. The Roman seal on the stone that threatened execution to whoever broke it could stop nothing. The Roman guard keeping watch couldn’t secure Jesus’ body in the grave. Death did its worst, but Jesus rose triumphantly.

So also the grave will not hold us. Dirt will not keep us from rising. Even a heavy stone and a guard of soldiers cannot keep us in the grave. So we need to fear death as little as our bed. The grave is nothing more than a resting place for our bodies until the day of our resurrection.

Jesus’ resurrection has changed everything for us. It compels us to hold fast to the preached Word of God and His Sacraments. It compels us to regularly receive God’s gifts that He gives here in the Divine Service lest we fall away from the faith and have thus believed in vain. The resurrection compels us not to live in doubt or fear, or live in sin following our sinful desires. It compels us to live in hope – sure and certain hope in the promises of God. We will be raised as Jesus was raised. Our sins will not be charged against us because they were charged against Jesus and He died for them on the cross. Through Baptism, His death is our death and His resurrection is our resurrection.

Jesus claimed to be God and then died and rose, so we know that He is God. He told His disciples many times that He would die and rise again, and He did as He promised so we know that everything that He said is true. Jesus said He was going to die for our sins and rise from the dead, so His resurrection proves that He won the battle with sin and the devil. It proves that God the Father accepted His death as payment for our sins. That’s why the single event of the Resurrection proves that Christianity is true.

Since Jesus was raised from the dead we will be raised from the dead. Because of His resurrection, we’ve got everything. We’ve got hope. We’ve got a future. We’ve got the forgiveness of our sins. The only thing that awaits us is eternal life. Amen.

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

It Is Finished

Sermon for Good Friday based on John 19:30

Dear brothers and sisters who have gathered to remember the death of our Lord: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“It is finished.” Jesus said these three words from the cross before He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. It is finished.

But what was finished? Hours of torture, scorn, and mocking were finished. Jesus’ earthly ministry of healing the sick and raising the dead was finished. Jesus’ teaching and preaching to the crowds was finished. Jesus’ life was finished. But there is something even more here; something that directly and personally affects you.

You see, you had a debt to pay; an accumulated debt of sin from every thought, word, and deed that breaks God’s Law. We are not talking about something insignificant. Even if you kept the whole Law and failed only in one point, you are guilty and accountable for all of it [James 2:10]. There’s no such thing as “pretty good” when it comes to the Law. You either keep all of the Law perfectly, or you are completely accountable for breaking all of it. Sin severs you from God [Is. 59:2] and there is nothing you can do to bridge that gap. There’s nothing you can do to pay the debt of your sins.

But God knew your situation. He knew the situation of the whole world. Instead of allowing us all to end up in hell as we deserve, God had a plan of salvation. He sent His own Son to take our place. Here we see the cost of our sins. Here we see how significant our sins are, in the punishment that Jesus took. God in the flesh came to earth and took the burden and guilt of our sins on Himself. He was betrayed, denied, and abandoned by those closest to Him. He was bound, flogged, crowned with thorns, mocked, and beaten although He was found guilty of nothing. He was then nailed to a cross and hung there for hours until He died. He was even abandoned by God the Father, left all alone to pay the great price of our sins.

Why such a horrific death? Was there no other way? In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father that He would not have to drink this cup of wrath if it were possible [Mt. 26:39 – 42]. This would have been possible if we were to be condemned instead. But in order to pay for our sins, Jesus’ horrific death was necessary. It was necessary to save us from hell. God’s love for you compelled Him to pay such a high price for you.

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He spoke this to His Father. Jesus makes His report, that He has fulfilled the will of the Father who sent Him. The plan of salvation is finished.

But Jesus spoke audibly with the intent that all people would hear. Recorded in Scripture, you can still hear the voice of Jesus say, “It is finished,” and so Jesus speaks also to you.

Jesus tells you it is finished. Through His obedience to the Law of God throughout His life, Jesus fulfilled the Law for you. The Law that you are unable to keep was fulfilled by Jesus on your behalf. Thus, it is finished. The Law is finished. The Law no longer reigns over you. You have died to the Law through the body of Christ [Rom. 7:4]. The Law can no longer accuse you. All of the accusations of the Law were directed at Jesus, so now there is no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ [Rom. 8:1]. Therefore, for those who believe in Christ, the Law is finished.

Through Jesus’ death, He defeated death. So death is finished. Death for us is now nothing more than a slumber. As Jesus rose from the dead, so we will also rise from the dead. Death no longer has dominion over us. Therefore, for those who believe in Christ, death is finished.

And the reign of Satan is over. Jesus’ death may have seemed like Satan triumphed, but in fact, Jesus overthrew the devil’s reign of tyranny with His death [Jn. 12:31]. The Great Accuser can accuse you no more [Rev. 12:10]. Therefore, for those who believe in Christ, Satan is finished.

But the devil is busily trying to rob you of your freedom that cost Christ so much. He wants to use your freedom to your detriment by tempting you to sin and fall into the slavery of sin. Satan wants you to lose grace by tempting you to remain in your sins and not turn away from them. He wants you to be secure in your sins and let your sins reign over you, so that you will not believe that in Jesus the reign of sin is over, that the reign of sin is finished.

Or, the evil one wants to deceive you to believe in Jesus but also look to your works. He wants you to say that yes Jesus died for me, but I also must do my part in order to be saved. For those that believes this, Christ is of no advantage for them [Gal. 5:2], because the Law is finished for those who are in Christ. If you do not believe that the Law is finished for you, if you do not accept Christ’s words, “It is finished,” you nullify His death and victory for you. You say that Christ’s death is not enough and the victory over the Law is not finished. Thus you fall under the judgment of the Law again, since you cannot fulfil it yourself.

On the other side of these first two tricks, the father of lies wants to accuse you of your past sins as if their guilt was not taken away from you by Jesus’ death. He wants you to look at your past sins and feel guilt, anxiety, fear, and false terrors. He wants you to think of Christ as your judge.

Instead of falling for these traps and wiles of the devil, of allowing sin to rule our lives, of looking to our good works, or looking at our sins, we should instead look only to Jesus. He fulfilled the Law for us. He performed the good work that saves us. He took the debt of our sins and paid it with His blood. He took the punishment for our sins and said, “It is finished.” Your good works do not save you, and in Christ, your sins do not condemn you. The reign of sin is over – it is finished. The reign of the Law is over – it is finished. And there is no condemnation for those in Jesus Christ – condemnation is finished. Christ was condemned for you, and now He is not your judge, but your Intercessor and Mediator. He did not come “into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him [Jn. 3:17].”

With all that Jesus accomplished, we can indeed say that it is a good day that we remember. Good Friday is the day that we remember the suffering and death of Jesus. It was a day that darkness appeared to have won. But when we understand what Jesus accomplished through His death, we see the power of God at work to save us; to redeem us; to pay the price of our debts. It is finished. Amen.

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

The Lord’s Supper – A Matter of Life and Death

Sermon for Holy Thursday based on 1 Corinthians 10:16–17; 11:17–32

Dear children of God who have come to be fed: grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

One of the sad realities of Christendom is that we do not all agree when it comes to the Sacrament of the Altar. Sometimes there seem to be as many views on the Lord’s Supper as there are church bodies. What if this issue could have been settled already in the Early Church, so that all Christians would be in agreement now? What would it have taken, so that everything that we need to know about the Lord’s Supper would be crystal clear, with no possible inaccuracies? What would have needed to happen so that there would be absolutely no doubts?

Well, first, we would want to have an eyewitness who was there when Christ instituted His Supper. But no, let’s say two eyewitnesses in order to establish the truth for legal purposes [Dt. 17:6, 19:5, Mt. 18:16]. Just for good measure, because of the weakness of our faith, let’s double the legal requirement and say that we would want four eyewitnesses that were present at the institution. Then let’s still multiply that by three and desire twelve eyewitnesses, of which at least four would give us, in writing, the truth of the Lord’s Supper. If the written reports of the four were not accurate, then the other eyewitnesses could respond and set the record straight.

Next, we would want the institution to take place in a somber setting – perhaps the day Jesus knew He would be arrested to be crucified. Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables (Mt. 13:34) but to His disciples He taught plainly the secrets of the kingdom of God (Mt. 13:11), so we would want this institution away from the crowds, only with His disciples.

We would also want what Jesus said to be something that must be taken literally, such as a last will and testament, so there would be no doubt concerning the meaning of the words. The will would come into effect upon Christ’s death [Heb. 9:16 – 17], and would be binding and unchangeable, since no one can change or annul the will of someone after their death [Gal. 3:15].

Also, we would want Jesus to have used the simplest of words to ensure that they cannot be misunderstood. Maybe if He just said, “Take eat; this is my body [Mt. 26:26],” and “Drink… this is my blood [Mt. 26:27 – 28].” With this, He would make clear that it is His true body that is eaten and His true blood which is drunk in words so simple a child can understand them. And further, if He would connect this Supper to His covenant, which is a testament that cannot be broken or changed, and then say the reason for this covenant – “the forgiveness of sins [Mt. 26:28].”

And still, just for good measure for the doubters and those slow of heart to believe, if the apostle who wrote thirteen of the Epistles in the New Testament would have, after Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension, written confirming that this is how the disciples and the Early Church understood the words of Christ. And finally, if another New Testament author, perhaps the writer to the Hebrews, in connection to Christ being a guarantor of the better covenant, would write, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind [Heb. 7:21b – 22].” With all of this, what more could we ask for? How is it possible that it could have been made clearer?

I hope you are starting to see the picture here, that all of this is indeed true. We do have four eyewitness testimonies and Christ’s clearest of words regarding His Supper. Matthew, Peter [recorded in the Gospel written with Mark his interpreter], Luke, and John were all eyewitnesses of the institution, and they all write concerning the Lord’s Supper [even though John doesn’t specifically mention the institution]. This issue was settled by Christ, and the Early Church believed and held onto His words as demonstrated by St. Paul’s writings. Jesus says that it is His will or testament. No one can change or annul the will of someone after their death [Gal. 3:15]. There is no way anyone can change the Lord’s Supper into something Jesus did not institute. It is His true body and blood we receive.

Since we receive the true body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, how should we approach the altar? St Paul writes that we should examine ourselves and recognize the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament so that we do not eat and drink judgment on ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28-29). This is why we practice closed communion. We recognize what the Lord’s Supper is.

In a way, the Lord’s Supper can be compared to a powerful medicine. The pharmacist doesn’t just give it to anyone. If taken in the wrong way, the powerful medicine can harm the patient. If the patient doesn’t know what it is and pops it like he does tic-tacs, he will die. It is important that the illness is recognized, the medicine is prescribed, and then that the medicine is taken properly. No principled pharmacist gives out such a medicine willy-nilly to just anyone who shows up. But this isn’t because the pharmacist is on a power trip, but because he wants to protect those who do not know what they are receiving. He wants everyone to receive the medicine for their benefit, not their harm.

It is possible to receive the Lord’s Supper to your harm. Those who are not repentant over their sins receive the body and blood of Christ unworthily. Those who do not recognize the real presence of Christ’s body and blood eat and drink to their judgment. This is not what we want for anyone. For those who are living in a sinful situation that is against God’s will, we want those people to turn from their sin and receive forgiveness instead of receiving the Lord’s Supper unworthily. For those who do not believe Jesus’ words “This is my body” and “This is my blood”, we want those people to be taught first what the Sacrament of the Altar is instead of eating and drinking to their judgment. Paul says that unworthy eating and drinking is why many of the Corinthians were weak and ill, and why some had died (1 Cor. 11:30). Unworthy eating and drinking is eternally serious.

Pastors are stewards of the mysteries of Christ, and it is required that we be found faithful [1 Cor. 4:1 – 2]. We want to ensure that no one eats and drinks to their judgment. But we cannot examine your hearts. This is why we have confirmation. You are taught the truth of God’s Word, and the truth of the Sacrament of the Altar. And then you confess whether or not you believe it. Based on your confession, you are admitted to the Lord’s Supper. This also puts the responsibility on you to examine yourself and what you believe. It puts the responsibility on you to examine yourself if you repent of your sins and seek to amend your sinful life with God’s help. It puts the responsibility on you to confess what you believe the Lord’s Supper is.

Even though it is possible to eat and drink unworthily, Christ did not institute the Supper to scare or frighten us. As He Himself said, He instituted it to give us forgiveness of sins. That is why we cling to the absolute certainty of the Sacrament that Jesus instituted and do not change what He has given us. We dare not change anything in His last will and testament. We dare not change anything or we will introduce uncertainty. We hold to what Jesus gave us so we have the certainty of the forgiveness of sins. We hold to what Jesus gave us so we have the certainty of eternal life, because the Lord’s Supper is the medicine of immortality.

How often do you want this medicine of immortality? How often do you want the forgiveness of sins? How often do you want the strengthening of your faith? We should desire it often. Jesus Himself said, “As often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

If you struggle with your sins; if you feel weak and in need of strength; if you’re tired of your battle with sin, then I have wonderful news for you: the Lord’s Supper is for you! Jesus gave us the Supper specifically to strengthen us in our faith and give us forgiveness of our sins. The Lord’s Supper is for the hungry soul; the soul that needs forgiveness; the soul that needs strength in the battle against sin. Jesus specifically said the purpose of the Supper – “the forgiveness of sins [Mt. 26:28].” In His Supper, Jesus personally distributes to you the forgiveness of sins He earned by His death on the cross. Jesus died for your sins on the cross, and He gives that forgiveness to you in the Sacrament of the Altar.

So let us cling to the clear words of Jesus concerning the Supper that He instituted and let us gather to receive the gift of forgiveness often. Jesus left us His last will and testament for our good. He instituted it to give us the certainty of the forgiveness of sins. So come receive what Jesus here gives you. Amen.

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