The End of Suffering

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 8:1-13

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

“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” With this short, simple phrase, the leper prayed to Jesus. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

By calling Jesus “Lord” the leper confesses that he believes that Jesus is Lord and ruler over all creation; that He is the Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord of sickness and health, the Lord of life and death.

By saying, “if you will” the leper is submitting his will to Jesus’ will. He is praying for cleansing from his leprosy only if God so wills it.

By saying, “you can make me clean” the leper confesses that Jesus has the power and the authority to heal him. He confesses that he is unclean and only Jesus can make him clean.

In other words, he is saying to Jesus, “You are God. Because I have leprosy, you obviously willed me to be a leper and I deserve my illness. You have given me this illness because of my sin or to reveal your glory. I deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment and I would rather have this illness and your favour than to be healthy and have your wrath. I know you can heal me, but thy will be done.”

This is a prayer of faith. True faith trusts in God even when He does not heal you. True faith trusts that God knows better than you about what is good for you.

Jesus responded to the leper with the words, “I will; be clean.” Jesus willed him to be clean, so he was cleansed by the word of Jesus.

Can Jesus still heal today? He healed many during His earthly ministry from various illnesses and diseases. He even raised the dead. Can He still do it today?

Scripture tells us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) so we know that He certainly can still heal.

Jesus said that He willed the leper to be clean. Does He will any less for you? Does He love you any less? Assuredly not! Jesus wills you to be clean of all illnesses and diseases, and He promises you that you will be cleansed. But He has not told you when. He has given you no firm date or time. He can heal you now. He may heal you now. He will most certainly heal you in the life to come. In heaven, you will have no ailments of body or mind.

He will bring you into heaven and give you a new body and mind not because you deserve it. You don’t. You deserve only temporal and eternal punishment. Jesus will bring you into heaven because He died for all of your sins. Jesus will raise your body from the grave because He has cleansed you of the dirt of your sins in your Baptism. Jesus will bring you into heaven because He continually absolves you of your sin and gives you His body and blood to keep you cleansed.

As the Roman centurion realized, Jesus has the authority to do this. As the Roman centurion had authority to send his soldiers to come and go according to his orders, he knew that Jesus has all authority in earth and heaven (cf. Matt. 28:18). This means that if Jesus commands a leper to be clean, he will be clean. If Jesus commands the centurion’s servant who was lying paralyzed and suffering terribly to be healed, he would be healed. If Jesus commands His minister to forgive you your sin in His name, it is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with you Himself (SC V.6).

He does cleanse you of your sins so you will be eternally in heaven with Him, and He will ultimately cleanse you of all illnesses and diseases and save you from every trial and tribulation.

When you pray, be careful that you don’t desire to be released from your trial against the will of God. Say joyfully, or at least firmly, “Not my will, by thy will be done.”

In fact, Scripture says we should rejoice in our suffering because God works through our suffering to strengthen us, to form us, and to increase our faith (Rom. 5:3-5). We should thank God for suffering because suffering teaches us to pray and pay attention to God’s Word. If we only knew the great good for us that is hidden under our trials, we would gladly give up all our days of joy for them.

Do not for one moment think that you are the only one under great trial. In First Peter 4, you learn that such trials are common to Christians, and in the next chapter that sufferings come upon all your fellow Christians who are in the world (I Pt. 4:12, 5:8-9). When a person begins to imagine that he alone is suffering, or that his sufferings are greater than those of others, it is a sign of a vanity and of being self-absorbed.

Finally, do not resist God when He drives you to His Word in suffering. Do not avoid His Word and thus sink and entangle yourself in your own thoughts or feelings, throwing yourself into the enemy’s camp that is besieging your soul. Cling to the words of Scripture. Ponder them in your heart. Repeat them again and again and direct the thoughts and emotions of your heart to them. Sing them in hymns of comfort and praise.

And pray. Pray saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. If you will, you can heal me. If you will, you can remove my trial and my affliction. But not my will, but thy will be done. If you know that this affliction is for my good, grant me to accept it, to rejoice in it, and to thank you for it. For I know that you desire only my eternal good – that is why you gave your life for me; that is why you suffered and died for me; that is why you have granted me to be baptized, and to hear your Word and absolution, and receive your body and blood in my suffering and affliction. And according to your promise to me grant me the resurrection of my body and life eternal according to your good and gracious will. Amen.”

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

[Portions of this sermon are adapted from “Brief Counsel for the Suffering and Afflicted” by W. Loehe.]

Wine of Gladness

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany based on John 2:1-11

Dear invited guests of the great wedding feast: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Water is good. Wine is better. God loves to give the best gifts to His children, so Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana to provide for the on-going festivities.

The reality is that God turns water into wine all the time. He causes rain to fall so that vines will grow and grapes will ripen. He’s been doing it for thousands of years and He’s still doing it today.

What stands out in His turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana is how quickly He did it and that it was different from His usual method. He turned the water into wine without soil, without vines, without sunshine, and He did it instantly, without it needing to age in oak barrels, and it still tasting really good. It was a miracle. The first of Jesus’ signs that manifested His glory.

The first sign of Jesus’ glory is related to the last sign of His glory – the glory in which we will spend eternity. With Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana, the wine did not run out, and you can rest assured that the wine will not run out at the great wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

There are those who say that it is doubtful that Jesus actually performed this miracle. They say it is a miracle of luxury and indulgence. Why would Jesus provide wine for a feast where the guests had already drunk freely? They find it improbable that Jesus would even show up at such an event.

Others want to obsess over some symbolism in the turning of water into wine. The six water jugs symbolize the Law of Moses that cannot take away sin, while the wine symbolizes Jesus’ blood which does take away sin. Water symbolizes Baptism, the wine symbolizes the Lord’s Supper, and that it all took place on the third day symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection. Okay, maybe there is something to these things, and that’s all well and good.

What is front and centre, however, is that Jesus honoured marriage my attending the wedding in Cana and gracing it with the beautiful miracle of turning water into wine, manifesting His glory. Of course Jesus is going to honour marriage since He is the one who came up with marriage and instituted it for man and woman.

In the beginning, in Paradise, God created them male and female and blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen. 1:27-28) Even after the fall into sin, God blesses marriage. He says that it is He who joins husband and wife together with a portion of His Spirit and that He seeks godly offspring (Mal. 2:15). What better place for Jesus to reveal Himself as God, than where His great gift and institution of marriage is taking place? What better way to do it than provide wine for the celebration?

After all the planning and work of preparing for the wedding celebrations, what an embarrassment to run out of wine. It would have been unthinkable for a Jewish wedding to be celebrated without wine. Despite the important part of the wedding already having taken place and husband and wife already being one flesh, the only thing that everyone would remember about the wedding for years to come is that they ran out of wine.

To avert the disaster, Jesus had the servants fill six stone jars with water, together holding 120 or 180 gallons of water. That’s a lot of water. The servants then witnessed the miracle, as the water was now wine. That’s a lot of wine. Not just any wine, but wine so good that it made the master of the feast take notice and speak to the bridegroom about it. It was excellent wine, the very best.

The Psalmist writes that God gives wine to gladden the heart of man (Ps. 104:15). Indeed, as for the couple in Cana, He turns the water of sadness into wine of gladness.

We also have many warnings, however, about drunkenness. Ephesians 5 tells us, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” (5:18) Drunkenness is sin and excessive consumption weakens the will to oppose other sin. Proverbs 21 says, “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich” (v. 17) Those who live for the pursuit of luxury and pleasure are reckless in their spending and many ruin themselves.

Wine was given to gladden us, not for intoxication (Chrysostom). Ecclesiastes 2 says, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.” (v. 24) This is not suggesting hedonism, but that you labour and work and then enjoy the benefits of that work which come from the hand of God.

There is also wine in which you enjoy the benefits of the work that Jesus has done. This is of course the wine in the Lord’s Supper. Another week has gone by, more sins have been committed. Marriages have been under strain as husbands have been selfish and looked after themselves, neglecting their wives, taking instead of giving, disrespecting instead of honouring. Marriages have been under strain as wives have not submitted to their husbands, but instead criticized them, bossed them, and nagged them.

It is a great and necessary thing to apologize to your spouse and be reconciled and then even to share some wine. It is an even greater and more necessary thing to be reconciled and receive the blood of Christ with the wine in the Sacrament of the Altar – two sinners, together receiving the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of all your sins.

If God has taken your spouse to Paradise already, you are not left out in this regard. In the Divine Service we are assembled before God in heaven, and we sing with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven as we sing “Glory to God in the highest” and “Holy, holy, holy,” two songs of the angels (cf. Heb. 12:22-24; Lk. 2:14; Is. 6:3). As you eat the body and drink the blood of Christ, you are in communion with Christ and with all the saints who are in communion with Him, whether here on earth or in heaven with Him.

Because Jesus lived and died for you, He prepares a place in His eternal wedding banquet also for you. Because you are baptized and are thus covered in the robe of Christ’s righteousness, you are dressed in the necessary wedding garment to enter the feast. There you will drink wine better than anything you can imagine. It will not run out and you will enjoy eternity in the glory of God. Amen.

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

The Baptism of Our Lord

Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord based on Matthew 3:13-17

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

If Baptism is our work, then we must question its validity and its effectiveness. If Baptism is our work, we must each ask ourselves: was I sincere enough when I was baptized? Did I understand Baptism completely and correctly? Did I know everything I needed to know in order for the Baptism to be of any use to me? If Baptism is our work, we must ask these questions and many more. If Baptism is something we do, we must continually question whether or not we did it correctly; if we did it well enough; if we did it earnestly, genuinely, and wholeheartedly.

That is why churches who believe that Baptism is our work, don’t baptize babies. If Baptism is just our confession of faith, you have to wait until you are able to confess the faith to be baptized. If Baptism is our work, you have to be able to do the work in order to be baptized, and you will never have certainty about your Baptism.

Thank God Baptism is not our work, but His work. This removes all questions and all doubt about its validity and its effectiveness; its genuineness and its sincerity. Why? Because it’s then not a question of our sincerity and genuineness, but God’s.

Do you think God is sincere or lying when He says, “Baptism now saves you”? (I Pt. 3:21) Do you think God is being genuine or joking when He tells us to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins? (Acts 2:38) Do you think God is being insincere when He tells you that your Baptism is into Christ’s death and resurrection and that in Baptism you put on Christ? (Rom. 6:3,5; Gal. 3:27) When it is a question of our sincerity and genuineness, we can never be certain. Because Baptism is a question of God’s sincerity and genuineness, we can be completely certain.

In Christ’s institution of Baptism, we also see the revelation of the Trinity very clearly. Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of  all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19) Baptism identifies God, and it identifies you as belonging to Him.

We see the three persons of God also in the Baptism of our Lord. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and God the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

No less happened to you in your Baptism. Saint Paul writes that Baptism is a washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Thus you know the Holy Spirit descended also on you in your Baptism. Saint Paul follows this up with saying that through Baptism we become heirs with the hope of eternal life, (3:7) indicating our adoption as God’s beloved sons, with whom He is well pleased.

Baptism is God’s work. Baptism is God’s gift. You receive this gift of God through faith, while also obligating yourself to live a certain kind of life as a child of God. That is why, in the same passage from Romans chapter six that talks about our Baptism being into Christ’s death and resurrection, we hear, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.” We are not to continue in sin. We are not to walk in the ways of the Old Man, but in newness of life; in the way of the New Man created in us by Baptism.

This is why the Christian life is a continual return to our Baptism. When we fall into temptation and we sin, we repent and turn away from the sin. We return to God’s promises to us in Baptism.

That’s the fourth part of Baptism in the Small Catechism: What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die along with all sins and evil desires, and that a New Man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

When you fail to walk as a child of God, do not harden your heart and remain in your sin. Do not make excuses for your sin. Do not deny your Baptism by refusing to repent and refusing to live like a child of God.

Until we die, we will have our old sinful nature. We will be tempted to sin. When we fall into temptation, our Baptism calls us to repentance. It is not a one time repentance, but a continual, daily repentance. Baptism defines our relationship with God. It strengthens us to flee temptation, and when we fall into temptation, it provides us with forgiveness and the strength to avoid it in the future.


Flee to your Baptism for refuge from guilt, sin, and the devil. Flee to your Baptism in the midst of doubt, suffering, and temptation. Do not forget how great of a gift your Baptism is.

Treasure your Baptism. When facing disease or death, know that you are baptized into Christ and have been given the medicine of eternal life. 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 has covered you with His righteousness and declares you forgiven. Your Baptism is your certainty that you have been declared God’s beloved son and pleasing to Him.

Baptism is God’s work. Therefore it is valid and effective. Even for those who have denied their Baptism by refusing to live like God’s children, their Baptism remains valid and effective, continually calling them to repentance, calling them back to God.

Daily contrition and repentance is the Christian life. Baptism is God’s free gift to you that keeps you in the Christian life and will bring you to eternal life. This is God’s genuine, sincere promise to you. Amen.

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

The Epiphany

Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord based on Matthew 2:1-12

Dear people to whom the Saviour’s birth has been revealed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

That God became man was first revealed to shepherds in Israel and magi in the East. In other words, the Saviour’s birth was announced first to the lowly rejects of Jewish society and to heathen astrologers. Shepherds were outcasts and looked down upon. The magi were pagans who practiced divination, fortune telling, interpreting omens, studying dreams, astrology, and magic (cf. Dan. 2:2, 4:7). These are practices that God says are an abomination to Him (Dt. 18:10-11). Similar equivalents today would be the delinquents on our membership list and palm-reading psychics.

God chose to reveal the Saviour’s birth through angels and a star not to life-long faithful worshippers or to pious pastors, but to those who cared nothing for Him and to those who sought answers from the devil and his demons. God thus confounds those who think they are wise and those who think they are righteous.

Jesus was born for sinners, not for those who are righteous in their own sight. Jesus came for the thieves, adulterers, gossips, heretics, and horoscope readers. He came not to harden them in their sin, but to turn them from their sin and to give them forgiveness. The Gospel is to console the humble and despised, and to them Christ is revealed, as He was revealed to the shepherds and magi.

The magi are sometimes called wise men, but it was not their wisdom that led them to Jesus. They had been looking for answers in all the wrong places. There are no answers to be found in magic. Black arts are the devil’s work and he is the father of lies. No truth is to be found in such witchcraft and sorcery. There are no answers in the stars. There is no truth to be found in the skies.

When it is said that one who is born in this or that sign must become a gambler or an addict, and whoever is born under this or that star will become rich or wise, it is sheer madness. What fool looks to answers from the stars, and makes life decisions based on where the stars are in the sky on a particular day? Who seeks answers from the stars for love, money, success, and health? Only one who is blinded by lies and cannot see the truth. Such a one is in the very grasp of the devil himself because he does not seek good from God, but from fables and lies. Such are not wise men, but mad, frantic, and senseless men.

Yet, somehow, God’s Word had reached these magi in Persia, Babylon, Arabia, or from wherever they were. The Jews had been in exile in Babylon, and it is quite likely that those in the east learned God’s Word from those exiles, such as the prophet Daniel. Surely they had heard Balaam’s oracle of a star coming out of Jacob, and a scepter rising out of Israel (Nu. 24:17). They traveled far to find this king of the Jews, certainly because they understood that He was their king too. They bowed down and worshiped Him because they knew He was not just another child, not even just another king, but the King of kings.

The birth of this King was received in a much different way in Jerusalem. When Herod the king heard from the magi that they were seeking the newborn king of the Jews, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Why was all of Jerusalem troubled? Should they not have been excited and overjoyed that the long-promised Saviour for whom they were waiting was finally come? But as Saint John writes, He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him (John 1:11). He was not sought or acknowledged by His own people, but He was sought out by foreigners from far away with precious gifts in hand. The chief priests and scribes with Scriptures in hand did not acknowledge or worship the Saviour, but foreign sorcerers did.

Herod, of course, feared the loss of his kingdom. He was a foreigner himself and did not have the goodwill of the people. He also knew that the Jews were waiting for the Christ to deliver them from under Roman rule as Moses had delivered them from under Egyptian rule. If a new king had been born, Herod feared a rival for the throne and an insurrection from the Jews who did not want Herod as their king.

The people of Jerusalem were troubled because they knew what Herod was like. They feared bloodshed from this tyrant. They had also earlier revolted against the Romans which resulted in destruction, exile, enslavement, and death. They were troubled with how Herod would react to the news of the birth of a king of the Jews. Their fear was confirmed, when Herod, in trying to kill the infant Jesus, ordered all boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding region to be murdered.

Herod consulted Scripture in order to use it against God. He found out from Scripture that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, and thus it was the little boys of Bethlehem he put to death. He did not submit himself to God’s Word as the magi did.

Christ came for sinners like the magi. We can be offended at the fact that Christ’s birth was revealed to such sinners, or we can humble ourselves and submit to God’s Word, realizing that we also are such sinners. That is to say, Christ came for sinners like us.

We do not rejoice in our sin. We mourn and regret our sin and the harm we’ve done to ourselves and one another. We do rejoice that Christ came to save us from our sin. We are the sinners Christ came to save.

God’s Word has revealed to us who this infant was that Herod tried in vain to kill. He did come for the purpose of dying, but it would be His way and at His appointed time. It would be only when He had fulfilled what He came to do before dying. It would be after He had fulfilled the Law of God for us; after He had taught and healed many; after He had finished the works of God the Father. And no one could take His life away from Him. He laid it down of His own accord (John 10:18). Out of His great love for us, He laid down His life for sinful rebels like us, so that we have the promise of eternal life.

To keep us in the faith until we die, Christ instituted the sacred meal of the Sacrament of the Altar. He invites to His altar those who have sought answers in the wrong places; those who are weary in their fight with sin; those who struggle; those who are weak and heavy laden. Christ promises you rest because with His body and blood, He gives you forgiveness. He gives you rest from your sins because He died for your sins and takes them from you.

Group yourself with the magi, with delinquent members, and with palm-reading psychics as sinners whom Christ died to save. Repent and rejoice that God has revealed His promised Christ to you. Amen.

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