Our text is today’s Gospel (Mark 16:1–8): 1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (ESV)
Our text is Psalm 22:1: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (ESV)
And also Matthew 27:45-46: 45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (ESV)
Our text is Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
And also John 12:12-15:
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (ESV)
On Palm Sunday, our Lord Jesus Christ enters Jerusalem as King, but not in a chariot or on a war horse, but rather, on the back of a borrowed donkey. It is a day of festive celebration as the crowds wave palms and shout their jubilant “Hosannas,” acclaiming Jesus the Blessed One, the King who comes in the name of the Lord. But the excitement and energy of Palm Sunday is a prelude to Jesus’ Passion. Before this week is over, the One who is confessed as King will be mocked, crowned with thorns, and crucified under a sign which reads “King of the Jews.” This man who rides the donkey is God; yet, in humility, He takes on the form of a servant and He comes to suffer and die.
Palm Sunday’s parade will culminate on Calvary. Jesus enters Jerusalem in the midst of joyful psalms of praise. But when He leaves on Good Friday morning, His ears will be filled, not with sounds of praise, but with cries for His crucifixion.
When Jesus had fed the five thousand in the wilderness, there were those who wanted to take Him by force and make Him king. In truth, Jesus is King, but His kingship is not of this world and He will not conform Himself to this world’s definition of kingship. Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness with bread and fish, but that did not make Him a “bread king” who would simply keep people’s stomachs full. Jesus rode in triumph into Jerusalem, but that did not make Him a king who would liberate Jerusalem from Roman rule. He is a king of an altogether different type. He is the King promised by the Prophet Zechariah: Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
King Jesus comes to meet the greatest of all human needs. He comes to reconcile us to God the Father; He comes to die in our place in order to win for us the complete forgiveness of all our sins. And living in peace with God, having received His full pardon through Jesus, we have every reason to rejoice and no reason to fear. Did you notice in today’s readings that whereas Zechariah says, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!, John apparent misquotes Zechariah, for he says Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt! But John knows what he is talking about. You see, the presence of joy in the Lord always goes together with the absence of fear. Rejoicing over the King who comes to save us means that we no longer need fear our spiritual enemies, for they are defeated by the Lord! We no longer need to fear our spiritual enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful nature—, for in Holy Baptism, Jesus has made us His own and no one can snatch us out of His hand. Do you see then, how, the coming of King Jesus gives true joy and removes our fears?
Without this King, we would have every reason to be afraid of life and death. For without the sacrifice of King Jesus on the cross, life would be vanity and a chasing after wind, and death would be the door to everlasting condemnation in hell. Our King comes to rescue us from the futility of our lives turned inward upon ourselves and from the condemnation that sin brings.
As we live in the forgiveness of our Saviour Jesus, as we live in our baptism, our calling is to live lives of joy in God’s promises and to not be afraid of our spiritual enemies. Fear is out of place among those who confess King Jesus as God-in-the-flesh come to save us! Fear is out of place because nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is given us in Jesus Christ our Lord. By dying on the cross in our place, our King Jesus has defeated death, and by His rising from the grave, He gives us a life that death cannot touch.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel! Notice that this proclamation of Jesus’ victory is made just days before He goes to the cross. He still must face the betrayal by Judas, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the false accusations, the sham trial, the mockery, the beatings, and death on the cross. But in the face of all that is to come in Passion Week, Palm Sunday anticipates our Saviour’ victory. Even as Jesus humbles Himself and goes to die as our Saviour, Palm Sunday gives us a preview of the outcome of His saving work. Jesus became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and of those under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Jesus humbled Himself to die in our place on the cross, but now He is exalted forevermore as the King to whom everyone must bow.
Even now, as baptized children of God, we bow before Jesus, confessing the enormity of our sin and also the great abundance of His salvation. And so, Palm Sunday is for the praise and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is honoured and praised as the King who comes to save sinners. Palm branches and chants of “hosanna” acclaim Him as the Saviour, the Redeemer, of us undeserving sinners. And so Palm Sunday points beyond Good Friday to the triumph of our Lord. Palm Sunday anticipates the heavenly kingdom which our Lord Jesus opens to all believers by His blood. In Revelation, John describes the fulfillment of Palm Sunday as he gives us a glimpse of the celestial liturgy: I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues standing before the Lamb clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
That is the victory of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The saints in heaven praise the Lamb of our salvation. And on this Palm Sunday we join them in their heavenly anthem, for the Lord whom they adore is the same Lord Jesus Christ whom we adore, the Lord who comes to us in His body and blood to give us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. He who rode into Jerusalem by lowly donkey that blessed Sunday before His death comes also to us under the lowly forms of bread and wine to distribute His body and blood, by which we receive the gift of forgiveness. And so every time King Jesus rides among us through His Holy Supper, we greet Him with the same greeting which reached His ears on that first Palm Sunday: Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.
The word “Hosanna” means “Lord, save us now!” And that is what our Lord Jesus does for us. He “hosannas” us, He saves us through His Holy Word and Sacraments. He abides in our hearts and He rules as our Lord and King, so that we may live in His joy and no longer fear the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. And by His Holy Spirit, He enables us to remain steadfast in our loyalty to Him. He keeps us from presumptuous sins, lest we crucify Him anew with unholy living. And above all the temptations we encounter, He keeps us faithful unto death, so that He may fulfill His promise to us and give us the crown of life. Yes, He preserves us in the faith until the end of our days, that we may behold Him in glory forever. Blessed indeed is He who comes to forgive us, to save us, and to give us eternal life! Amen.
Today’s sermon was written and preached by our field worker, Seminarian Matthew Fenn.
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” (ESV)
“God tested Abraham.” It’s one of the most brilliantly told and emotionally heavy narratives in all the Bible. Imagine the dialogue in the first scene for a moment. Abraham heard God’s thunderous voice call his name, “Abraham!” “I’m at your service, Lord!” Abraham was eager and willing to respond to God’s call. “You know your son?” “Yes, Isaac.” “Isaac is your only son, isn’t he?” “Yes,” Abraham replies. “You love him, don’t you?” “Oh, yes,” confirms Abraham, “He has brought me such joyous laughter. He means the world to me.” After a bit of a pause, God replies, “Kill him for me, then, will you?”
A Father is Willing to Sacrifice
God tested Abraham. The reader knows that, but Abraham doesn’t. Abraham was forced to choose between obedience to a horrific command he didn’t understand, and his love for his only son. God did not intend that the command should be carried out, but Abraham has no way of knowing this.
Can you feel his distress? Consider for a moment just what it took to get this child in the first place. Abraham had gone most of his life childless. He no doubt had resigned himself to having no children. Then, out of nowhere, God told the couple in their nineties that they’re going to have a son. Isaac is not merely any son but the son through whom God will keep the promise to Abraham to fulfill a purpose for the world. That same promise which was made in the Garden to Eve. But now that same child of the promise is threatened.
But, hadn’t Abraham already proved his faith? Didn’t he leave his home city and go to a far off country on nothing but God’s command? Yes, but at the same time, Abraham had shown some problems trusting God. When God promised a son, he took matters into his own hands and slept with his maidservant Hagar. That did not turn out well. Additionally, he lied on two different occasions that Sarah was his sister and not his wife. He had also previously questioned God about the morality and justice of God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
God wanted to see if Abraham trusts him now? Is he willing to give up what he loves most, his only son Isaac to God? It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Could I do it? Abraham didn’t complain. He didn’t argue. He got up early the next morning, he grabbed a couple servants, and headed out. Could you do it? What is it that you love most in this world? If God came to you and asked you to give up what you loved most, could you do it? In a world where we love and cling to many things, remember the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Whatever you place all your love and all your trust in, whatever you look to for blessing, help, and comfort, that is your god. Do you cherish, love, and adore God more than anything else in the entire world? God wants nothing to take His place. That’s what God was testing Abraham to find out. “Is your son more important than me? Where did he come from in the first place?” Everything we have in this world is a gift from God. God may not test you in quite the dramatic way He did to Abraham, He still requires you to fear, love, and trust in
Him above everything and everyone.
A Son is Led Without Complaint
After a three days journey, Abraham told his servants to stay back with the animals. “The boy and I will go over there and worship, and we will come back to you.” What does he mean? How can they both come back, if he is to kill Isaac? Or is he working on the basis of knowing that God is quite able to resurrect Isaac? If God could give him a child in his nineties, surely, he could raise him from the dead!
“So they went both of them together.”. This is a very tender moment. Isaac completely trusts his father. Off they go, Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrifice. If God said, “through Isaac shall your offspring be,” then God would raise Isaac from the ashes. Abraham believes in the resurrection of the dead. Up to this point in the journey, the donkey had carried the wood for the sacrifice. But from this point on, it would be just father and son. Abraham being well over 100 years old, loaded the wood for the sacrifice on the back of his son, his only son, whom he loves, Isaac.
It reminds me of my Isaac. I’ll say to him, “Come on Isaac, let’s go!” And hold out my hand. The little guy grabs my hand and excitedly follows me. Complete trust. Isaac loves his father Abraham and trusts him completely. After they went on a way, Isaac realized that if they’re going to offer a burnt offering, they forgot to bring an animal. “Wood and fire daddy, but where’s the lamb?” Abraham, like a good father, reassured his son. The Lord will provide for himself a lamb. And again, we read, “So they went on, the two of them together,” the son, carrying the wood on which he will be killed.
Abraham prepared the sacrifice in each of its painful details. Isaac said nothing. He was completely silent. By now he must realize something was going on. There was no sign of a struggle. The son went willingly in perfect obedience to his father. He didn’t say anything. He was completely silent and cooperative, because it was his daddy, and he trusts him.
But, he also knew his daddy has a powerful God who can do mighty things. Can you imagine the impression that Abraham’s actions must have had upon his son? Isaac must have seen in his father’s faith in God’s promise. Long after Abraham was dead, Isaac would remember his father’s trust in God and pass on this story to his children. How many of us fathers can hope to think that our sons and daughters will see the same in us as Isaac saw in his father? What is our legacy? What will we give to our children when we die? We like to get our wills in order because we have this desire to make sure our children get some money! But, have you made sure you’ve given them the treasure of heaven, something that’s eternal?
A Substitute is Offered
The knife is midair when Abraham’s hand is stopped by a voice from heaven. “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Isaac was spared, and a lamb was offered in His place. The test was over. Abraham feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things.
Now this bothers us to no end. Surely God could have looked into Abraham’s heart and seen the faith that the Holy Spirit had created there without putting him through this living hell. We want God to just look inside us and see our faith. But God looks at what we do as the evidence of our faith. Faith without works is a dead faith. It’s not our works that save us before
God. But let’s not kid ourselves. Our works are the outward evidence of the faith which is God’s own work inside us. As the hymn puts it, “works serve our neighbour and supply the proof that faith is living” (LSB 555).
Here in Genesis we see a picture of the Gospel. God the Father loves His Son. They shared in eternal fellowship and communion with each other. If we can grasp what the love of a father and a son is like, we have some small idea of how the Father loves the Son. This Son had a miraculous birth, like Isaac did. This Son was born of a virgin on Christmas day. The Father, despite his deep love for His Son, is ready and willing to sacrifice him. The Lord will provide and has provided His own Son. He sent his son to take on human flesh so that he might be sacrificed. The Son is led without complaint or resistance to the Cross.
God put a momentary but difficult demand on Abraham, but it was a demand God was also prepared to fulfill. If you can imagine the anguish and turmoil Abraham must have been going through, imagine now, what God the Father went through when His Son was beaten and mocked. And then, already suffering from a scourging which turned his back to bleeding ribbons of quivering flesh, the wood of the Cross was laid upon his shoulders. Then, led away to a high mountain. And there he was crucified for you, while you were still God’s enemy. God the Father has not withheld his Son, his only Son Jesus, whom he loves, from you. In Isaac’s case, an angel intervened, and he got a lamb as a substitute. When it was Jesus’ turn to lay on his altar, the wood of the Cross, there would be no such intervention, nobody would stop this sacrifice. Jesus is the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the substitute. He is sacrificed in your place. So then dear saints, “if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how would he not with him graciously give us all things?”
Our text is today’s Epistle (Galatians 4:21–31): 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”
28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (ESV)
There was once an international rugby match played in pouring rain. The field became muddier and muddier, and the players got dirtier and dirtier. The spectators could not tell which side was which. Then the referee discovered that even he could no longer recognize who was on which side. Finally the players themselves could not tell the difference between their own side and the opposition.
So the referee offered them the chance to go change into clean uniforms. One side refused: they were proud of their national jerseys, and they did not want to look like cowards, changing out of wet clothes into dry ones. The other side was delighted, and went off to change into warm, dry uniforms. When they came out again, not only could everyone tell the difference between the two sides; the side in the clean uniforms felt so much better that they went on to win the match.
In the Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul is trying to clear up a muddy situation. The Christians in Galatia are confused as to what it means to be a Christian. And it is all because of false teachers preaching a false gospel. St. Paul wants to make it clear to all concerned just who is on which side (see Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (pp. 56–57). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge).
To understand Paul’s line of reasoning, you have to know about Abraham. When Abraham was seventy-five years old, God had promised He would make of Abraham a great nation and that in [Abraham] all the families of the earth [would] be blessed (see Genesis 12:1-3). But ten years later, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, still had no children. In desperation, they took matters into their own hands. According to the customs of the time, Sarah suggested that Abraham take her slave-girl Hagar as his concubine and by her to have children which would count as Sarah’s own. Abraham agreed, but the plan misfired badly. The slave-girl Hagar bore a son, named Ishmael, but then preceded to despise Sarah for being barren, and there arose great animosity between Sarah and Hagar.
But this child, Ishmael, born through human scheming, was not the child God had intended when He had promised to make of Abraham a great nation. That child would be a child not of human scheming but of divine promise. Some years later, God re-affirmed His promise, this time mentioning Sarah by name: And God said to Abraham, …“I will bless [Sarah], and… I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him (see Genesis 17:15–21).
Do you see what God was doing? God waited until the time when, as Paul says in Romans, [Abraham’s] body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and … Sarah’s womb was also dead (see 4:19). Both Abraham and Sarah had laughed at the thought of having a baby so late in life. And so God named the baby “He laughs”, which is what “Isaac” means. Ishmael was the child of human scheming and performance. But Isaac, born to a hundred-year man and a ninety-year old woman, is the child of divine promise. And thus, he is a child of joy and laughter overflowing from the love of God.
But now, among the Christians of Galatia, there is great distress. Paul had earlier preached to these Gentile converts the glorious Gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone apart from human works. But then, teachers from Jerusalem came preaching a different gospel.
These teachers thought that Christ alone was not sufficient for salvation; they were teaching people that in addition to believing in Christ, they must also keep the Old Testament rules and regulations. In short, they were saying: “now look, you Galatians, Abraham had two sons. The son born of the slave-woman Hagar and the son born of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. You Gentiles were born the sons of slavery. Jesus came so that you Gentiles could join us Jews as the true and free sons of Abraham. But you have to become circumcised and try to keep the Law, like us Jews.”
Talk about muddying the playing field so that you cannot tell who is on which team! The Galatian Gentile Christians were thoroughly confused. They were wondering who was right. “Paul says that those who trust in Christ alone apart from works of the Law are saved. These teachers from Jerusalem are insisting that we are saved by keeping the Law”. And so Paul steps in to make it clear to all concerned just who is on which side, so that everyone knows what it means to be a Christian.
It comes down to the question of how one is saved. How do you obtain right standing before God so that He gives you heaven rather than send you to hell? The false teachers boast that only those who live under the Law are the true children of Abraham and thus are saved. But Paul is saying: “hold on now, you don’t even know who is on which team!”. You see, the false teachers saw themselves and their fellow circumcised law-keepers as the true and free children of Abraham and the uncircumcised Gentiles as the children of the slave-woman, Hagar. But Paul says it’s the other way around! Those Jewish teachers from Jerusalem, who trust in their keeping of the Law, they are the ones who are slaves. And these Gentile converts who trust in Christ alone are the true children of promise.
Ishmael is the product of human performance and scheming. Just so, thinking that you can obtain right standing before God by keeping the Law, well, this way of living is not at all what God intends, but is a human performance and in the end enslaves one to all kinds of sinful passions. Just you try to live a perfect life to win God’s favour and you will soon be shocked by the filthy urges and thoughts that pollute your heart and mind. Trying to win God’s favour by your keeping God’s Law just won’t do. It is the way of Abraham and Sarah scheming to produce a child through Hagar. It is the way of slavery leading to death.
How different, though, is Isaac. Isaac is the child of divine promise. God waited until Abraham and Sarah were so old that they could no longer scheme, and then He gave them Isaac as the child of promise, through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. And indeed, one of Isaac’s descendants ended up blessing the whole world the day Roman soldiers stretched Him out and nailed Him to a cross so that the world might be saved.
Jesus is the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. It was not through Ishmael but through Isaac that the Christ, the Messiah was descended. And what’s more, it is through Isaac being a child of divine promise that you and I are taught what it means to be Christian, and thus to have right standing before God.
Today’s Epistle is about God making a true distinction between who is on which team. And to truly understand the distinction between Ishmael and Isaac and between being a slave to sin and a free child of God, there is something else you must know: that there is more than one Jerusalem. Of course, there is the modern city in the twenty-first century country known as Israel. But that does not concern us here. Please do not think that in today’s Introit we prayed for that Jerusalem, although of course we can and should pray for peace there and everywhere. But Paul is making a distinction between the present Jerusalem, by which he means the way of human scheming to win God’s favour, and the Jerusalem which is above, which is God’s kingdom, whose subjects are all those who trust in Christ alone for salvation, apart from human performance. And so, when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem and when we speak of the New Israel, as Paul does in Romans, we have in mind the Church, all of God’s children, who were begotten not through scheming but through the promise of God.
And such are you. You who are baptized into Christ, you are not children of slavery; you are children of promise, God’s promise. You have right standing with God, not because you try hard to keep the Ten Commandments, but because you trust God to forgive you and to save you only because Jesus is God-in-the-flesh come to save us sinners for an eternity in heaven.
Now, it is not that you are not concerned about keeping the Ten Commandments. Actually, you are very much concerned about leading a holy live according to God’s Word. And so, you strive to honour God by your prayers and worship, by your resisting the temptations of lust and greed and anger, by your willingness to help your neighbour in need, and so forth. As a baptized child of God, you are filled with the Holy Spirit. And so you cannot help but want to please God in all you say, do, and think. But in true faith you confess that your acts of faith and love are not your own doing; they are a gift to you from the Holy Spirit. And so you never scheme to make your service to God and others the means by which you gain right standing before God. That is not the purpose of the Ten Commandments, and you know it.
The Ten Commandments reveal what a great sinner you really are. The Ten Commandments say “don’t even think thoughts of lust! don’t even lose your temper in your heart! For that is the same as adultery and murder!” The Ten Commandments show you how impossible it is for you to win God’s favour by your performance and just how much you need a Saviour.
And a Saviour is just you have in Jesus. Jesus, the descendant of Isaac, allowed Himself to be stretched out and nailed to the cross so that you may no longer be a child enslaved to death, so that you may now be a true child of promise, set free in the baptismal waters.
We are children of promise because Jesus came as God-in-the-flesh to set us free from sin and damnation through His death and resurrection. Oh, we were conceived and born as children enslaved to sin and doomed to hell. But in Baptism, God has made us Christians, His own dear children of promise, who now have right standing before God. And in His Absolution and Supper, He cleanses us from all the sins that seek to enslave us once again, so that, in spite of all our weaknesses and failures and sins, we may live and die as true and free children of God, who belong to the Jerusalem that is above. The world may despise us and we ourselves may at times feel so overwhelmed by our troubles. But we know whose we are; we know that God has promised that all who trust in Christ alone for salvation are set free from sin and death and shall live forever in the glory of heaven with Christ. This news is so incredibly good that really, we all should now break out laughing at the audacity of a God who promised to give a child to a hundred year old man and his ninety year old wife and who now promises to give us salvation not as reward for our performance but as a gift given us in Jesus. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Thanks to our field worker, Seminarian Matthew Fenn, for preaching today’s sermon.
14 Now [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (ESV)
In a New York Times article, a University of Notre Dame philosophy professor wrote a provocative article: “Forget the church; follow Jesus.” He suggests that the moral and ethical standards taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere are the important takeaway from Christianity. No church, miracles, or theology is required. He claims that Jesus needs to be understood apart from “dubious theology and corrupting politics that have plagued the history of the church.” This is not a new idea. Many non-Christians over the centuries have taken this position. Thomas Jefferson once called Jesus’ moral teaching, “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered.” Even atheist Richard Dawkins has said, “Jesus was a great moral teacher.” Is it enough that Jesus be a good teacher?
I. Conspiring with the Crowds
Controversy surrounding the identity of Jesus is nothing new, and we find such a controversy in our Gospel reading. While Jesus was on his way towards holy week in Jerusalem, He cast a demon out of a man, which had prevented him from speaking. Now casting out demons is not the kind of thing one can do with the aid of artistry and technology like erecting a building. You cannot cast out demons by practicing long and hard like a musician or athlete. The only way someone could cast out demons the way Jesus did was by having power. That power had to come from somewhere. And the source of Jesus’ power sparked a controversy in the crowd. Some in the crowd thought they knew where Jesus got his power from: collusion with the Devil. Jesus wasn’t the type of messiah they expected, and so they claimed that Jesus’ exorcisms were all an elaborate ruse to get them to follow the Devil.
Some in the crowd attacked Jesus deliberately and maliciously. So also, many today do not find Jesus all that exciting either. Jesus the exorcist embarrasses modern Christians too. We know how to handle a teaching and preaching Jesus, but exorcism embarrasses us. Demons went out with the Middle Ages. We’re inclined to agree with crowds. People who begin to act like the world is overrun with evil supernatural beings belong in institutions. The biggest lie the Devil has told us is that he doesn’t exist. Those people who like to think that Jesus is only a great moral teacher, and never accept his claim to be God are faced with a dilemma. A man who was just a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a crazy person—on the same level as a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can dismiss him as a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as in league with the Devil or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. You can’t have the nice teacher, without the exorcist! Jesus claims to be the eternal Son of God, who has come to destroy the works of the Devil. Either he’s telling the truth, he’s lying, or he’s crazy. Those are you only three options.
So also, many today conspire with the crowds to have Jesus the exorcist put away. And there is a danger for us also. Many who claim to be Christians deny that Jesus performed miracles, and some even deny that he rose from the dead. There’s a temptation to not talk about all that miraculous stuff, and stick to the “love your neighbour” stuff. The pressure is to relegate Jesus to the position of life coach. Instead of our risen saviour, Jesus can become our therapist, our guru, the guy who tells us how to live our lives and the example we imitate. For all intents and purposes, we can live our lives like atheists, all the while pretending to be Christians. In so doing, we forget who Jesus really is, and why Jesus the exorcist and miracle worker is vital for our salvation.
II. Conquered by the Cross
The distance between the present and the past has allowed some to say that Jesus did not really perform these wonders or claim to be the Son of God. They attempt to relegate Jesus to the level of other greats of religion, just another good teacher. But the crowds living in Jesus’ time did not have the luxury of such a claim. They could not deny he had performed deeds of unusual power. Those who opposed Jesus took the only option left to them when faced with his supernatural power: they claimed that Jesus’ exorcisms were all an elaborate ruse to get them to follow the Devil.
If Jesus is colluding with the Devil, then that means that Satan’s kingdom has a civil war on its hands, and it isn’t going to last! Jesus’ response shows us that this isn’t a civil war, but a real war. There are two kingdoms, engaged in a bitter warfare! Either Jesus casts out demons by the power of the Devil, or by the power of God. One the one hand, you have the kingdom of the Devil. On the other hand, you have the Kingdom of God. There are no other kingdoms, nor any neutral territories. All who are outside the Kingdom of God are under the dominion of Satan. So, this war isn’t over land or power, but it’s over souls! A stronger ruler than Satan is laying siege to his fortresses and establishing another Kingdom! When Jesus drives out Satan’s minions, that is a victory for God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom is at war with Satan’s Kingdom, and it is God’s Kingdom which is invading this world through Jesus!
Suppose you wanted to rob the house of some great big bruiser of a guy, a man with bulging biceps and rippling muscles. Only a fool would try to rob a guy like that without somehow taking him out of the picture, perhaps by tying him up. Only then could you go into his house and carry off his prize possessions. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” the dwarves cannot reclaim their treasure from the Lonely Mountain until they’ve taken care of Smaug the Dragon.
First Satan must be defeated; then his possessions can be plundered. His possessions, that’s you. You are the loot. Jesus is the one who has come into the world to steal the devil’s stuff. He never could have done that if he had not first tied the powers of evil in knots. Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection has bound the devil, tied him up, cast him down, all so that he could set you free from the Devil. Jesus allowed Himself to be bound tightly on Holy Thursday by Caiaphas’ men. He allowed Himself to be sealed up tight–not only in Joseph’s tomb, but in the bowels of death itself. He handed himself over to the power of the devil, and not even the Devil, not even the grave and not even death could not hold him. We are loosed because Christ was bound. You once belonged to the Devil, and now you belong to Christ. Christianity is not just about a set of ethical rules to live by. It is the proclamation that you have been set free from the Devil so that you live under Christ in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
The point of Jesus’ exorcisms, after all, was not simply to heal as many individuals as possible. If that were his aim, He wasn’t very successful when seen in the longer term. It isn’t to teach us how to be good boys and girls either. Rather, Jesus was bringing about God’s kingdom. And that same kingdom still comes to us today! The same Jesus who worked miracles and defeated the devil continues to do so right in this church. Through the Water and the Word in Holy Baptism, Christ comes to claim us as His own. Baptism is God’s way of adopting individuals into his family, the Church. Through Baptism demons are cast out and Christ takes up residence in the heart through faith created by the Word in the water. When the Devil throws ours sins in our face after we’ve seriously made a mess of things, we can confess our sins to a pastor and he will forgive us in the stead of Christ. In Holy Communion we receive the very blood of Jesus. This blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, and if we have the blood of Jesus and the forgiveness that it wins and delivers, then the devil has nothing to accuse us.
Jesus is not a crazy man, nor is he in league with the Devil. He is not a liar. He is not just a fine moral teacher. His claims are true. Jesus is the very Son of God who has delivered us from the Devil in Holy Baptism, and he is still casting out demons, by His Word of life and forgiveness. He has defeated the Devil. In his family, the Church, Christ continues to keep us safe from the devil through the Word, and for this we give Him thanks and praise.
Our text is today’s Old Testament lesson (Genesis 32:22–32): 22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh. (ESV)
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 5 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (ESV)
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (ESV)
In the lush Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did battle with Satan and they lost. They caved into the temptation to doubt, deny, and disobey God’s Word. They believed Satan’s lie: You will not surely die;…your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God. But were not their eyes already open to the goodness of God as seen in His perfect creation? Were they not already created in the image of God? Here is the temptation that stalks every person. Each of us. “You can be gods. Who needs God when you can be your own god?”
Eve bites into the sweet, seductive Lie, and she leads her husband to do the same. And through this one trespass came condemnation, not only to Adam and Eve, but to the entire human race. “In Adam we have all become one huge rebellious man.” We are there in Adam. He is bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin. That is our inheritance as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Every child is born with it, there is no escaping it. Adam and Eve lost the battle to Satan and we are the casualties; we are sinners who have been infected by the virus of Adam and Eve’s sin. The Fall destroyed our ability to fear, love, and trust in God as our loving Creator. The Fall polluted our minds and bodies, our very souls, so that everything we think, say, do, and desire is tainted by impurities of one kind or another. We all were born into a conquered race, imprisoned under Satan’s dominion.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way (Isaiah 53:4). We are indeed a rebellious race. And yet, God loved Adam and Eve in spite of their grievous fall into sin. And God loves you and me and all sinners. We see this love expressed in the words God spoke to Satan soon after Adam and Eve’s defeat: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. Here, we have the very first promise of the Messiah. Imagine what a comfort this must have been to Adam and Eve. They had just plunged the whole world into sin, and God now gives a great promise to send a Saviour who will crush the head of Satan.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did battle with Satan and they lost. But now, we have the promised Saviour coming to defeat the enemy who defeated the human race. Jesus comes to crush the head of Satan. In the temptations in the wilderness, we see Jesus and Satan locked in battle. Now, this is not the complete crushing of Satan; that will happen on Good Friday. But our Lord’s battle in the wilderness is the beginning—round one—of Satan’s crushing defeat.
Jesus was hungry, having fasted forty days and nights. He is vulnerable, empty, weak, isolated in a way that Adam and Eve were not. This temptation is uniquely His. The devil waits for the opportune moment. Not at the beginning of Jesus’ fast, but at the end, at His weakest, His stomach screaming for a crumb of bread. If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. Jesus is the Son of God, the Word through whom all things, including the stones, were made and in whom they have their existence. So what is the big deal? Who would miss a few stones in the desert? Who would even know or care?
This is the temptation of the flesh and the appetites. We sinners seek first the desires of the flesh and we rationalize and justify our satisfying of our sinful appetites. Our minds want to embrace opinions that are contrary to the Christian faith. Our bodies want to indulge in worldly passions. Our hearts want to lord it over others and to keep score against those who have hurt us. Time and again, we surrender to our sinful flesh and bear the fruit of unbelief, greed, lust, pride, and anger. To live this way is not to live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. But where we fail, Jesus succeeds. Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, resists the temptation of the flesh.
When Jesus needs bread to feed 5,000 in the wilderness, He multiplies it; He does not change stones into bread. That would be most un-Creatorlike, to destroy one thing to make another. Jesus does not use His divine power to serve Himself and His needs, for He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many.
The devil then takes Jesus to the holy city and the top of the temple. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. And here the pious devil quotes a bit of Scripture, a snippet of a psalm: For He will command His angels concerning you and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. This is the temptation of faith. Jesus is the Word in the flesh. Does the Word in the flesh trust the Word of His Father? Or will He put it to the test?
Did God really say? Is God’s Word really true? Can it be that this Baptism is the water of rebirth and renewal? Can it be that this word is the Word of forgiveness? Can it be that this bread is the Body of Christ and this wine His blood? Can it be that in spite of my many weaknesses and sins, that I am truly a child of God? And will God really provide for my needs? Will God give me the strength to endure my afflictions? Will God deliver me from all evil? Will He bring me safely to heaven? Faith always says “yes” even when the world and our own experience want us to say “no”. Faith takes us beyond our sight, emotions, and experiences to trust the Word of God.
The psalm promises the protection of the angels to the one who trusts God. Surely, if He were the Son of God, Jesus had the angels on His side, didn’t He? Well, angels would come and minister to Him, not now and not here, but after the devil left Him and also on the night He was betrayed, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus did not come to be lifted up on the temple, but on the cross, and there would be no angels to catch Him. He goes to death with nothing but trust in His Father, and He does it for us all.
How sneaky the devil is, to quote a psalm to Jesus. The devil is the chief distorter of the Scriptures. The psalm goes on to say, You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. The devil left that part out. You see, that part is about him. The devil knows why Jesus has come, to crush his head with a cross-bruised heel. Jesus matches Scripture for Scripture faithfully: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. To test the Word is to tempt God, and Jesus refuses to tempt God. Rather, Jesus goes forth uncomplaining, trusting completely in His Father’s love.
Again the devil takes Jesus up to a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory. The prince of this world versus the King of kings. All these I will give to you, if you will fall down and worship me. Satan had tempted Jesus in His flesh and in His faith. Now the temptation is to His fidelity. Will Jesus remain faithful and true to His Father?
This is a temptation unique to Jesus, the Son of God, and yet it is the temptation of every Christian and of the Church as well. You and I are often tempted to think we can follow Jesus without denying ourselves and taking up our crosses. So too, here Jesus is tempted to have a kingdom without a cross. The devil proposes a shortcut—a simple act of homage, bow down and worship, in exchange for all the glory of the kingdoms of this world. For Jesus, it was a way around Calvary, a way around the torment of crucifixion, an easy way to an end. But the end does not justify the means. And so Jesus, rebukes the devil: Be gone, Satan!… You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.
The temptation of Christ was greater than the temptation of Adam. Where Adam fell, Christ stood. Where Adam yielded, Christ conquered. Where Adam listened to the Lie, Christ remained faithful to the truth. Where Adam betrayed himself and God, Christ remained true. In Adam, all became sinners and die; in Christ, all are justified and are raised to life.
Which brings us to the third battle we need to consider today. The first battle took place in the Garden of Eden; the second battle took place in the wilderness; the third battle takes place in our hearts. This is the battle you and I fight every single day, the battle to resist temptation and to remain faithful to God. How are you doing? How successfully are you at resisting that roaring lion, the devil? How faithful are you at loving God with your whole being? And how good are you at loving your neighbour as yourself, doing unto them as you would have them do unto you? I imagine that you are about as successful as I am; in other words, not very. Every day we sin seventy times seven times. The spirit is sometimes willing, but the flesh is always weak. The inner man is at times strong and firm, but the outer man is faint and weak. We do not do the good we want to do, but we do the evil we do not want to do. Depraved and impious thoughts appear in our minds. Vain, useless, and harmful words come out of our mouths. Perverse, depraved, and unbefitting deeds pollute us. All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags. If the Lord held our sins against us, none of us would survive; we all would remain Satan’s captives for all of eternity.
But the Good News is that God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son to set us free from Satan’s captivity. The devil seeks to hold us captive to our sins, but our Lord Jesus has won the victory over Satan, and His holy, precious blood, poured out on the altar of the cross, cleanses us from all our transgressions. The Good News for us is that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became incarnate—God-in-the-flesh—to do what we have failed to do, what we never could do. He came as the obedient Son who would perfectly fear, love, and trust the Father above all things. He came to be our Substitute, obeying the Law perfectly in our place and suffering our death for us. He came be our Saviour, rescuing us from eternal death and defeating the devil.
Jesus is driven into the wilderness with the words of His Father ringing in His ears. At His Baptism, the Father said to Him, This is my beloved Son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.
Satan says otherwise. If you are the Son of God, turn stones into bread. If you are the Son of God, take a jump off a high tower and the angels will catch you.
Satan can quote Scripture. He knows it better than you do. He knows why Jesus came. He was there in the garden when Adam fell. And so he gives the last temptation, “Jesus, you can have everything; all you need do is bow down and worship me. You can have it all without the Cross.”
But no Cross means no salvation for you. No Cross means that Adam’s sin is not covered by Christ’s blood and righteousness. No Cross means your sins need to be answered for by you. No Cross means that you, me, and the whole world are lost.
But the Good News is that Jesus resists the devil for you. The Good News is that Jesus did not fail in saving you; Jesus did not fall like Adam did. Rather, Jesus defeats and rebukes the devil and heads on to the Cross with the words, “Get behind me, Satan.” And now, Christ’s resurrection and His gift of baptism proclaims that you are a child of God.
Satan, though, tempts you to think otherwise: “If you really are a child of God, then why are you struggling against so many weaknesses and why do you fail so utterly to love God and your neighbour as you should?” But do not answer the devil; rather, let Jesus answer for you. You are who Jesus says you are. You are baptized. You are a child of God as surely as Jesus died and rose again. In Holy Baptism, you have been given the holiness and righteousness of Christ.
And the devil? He is beaten. He has been done in by Jesus’ faithfulness, by His Cross. And by God’s grace, you stand in your Saviour’s victory. In your feasting on the Lord’s Holy Word and Supper, you receive strength to resist the devil and to stand firm in the faith. You are a child of God, an heir of life, embraced by the death of Jesus your Lord and covered by His blood and righteousness. To win your salvation, Christ defeated Satan in the wilderness and on the cross. Yes, Christ is your Champion. What you could never do on your own, you now receive as a gift from Jesus. He has given you His victory over sin, death, and the devil. And so, even though you sin daily in thought, word, and deed, by the evil you do and the good you fail to do, nonetheless, the devil cannot claim you as his own, for you are baptized—you are joined to Christ Jesus and you live in His victory. Praise be to God! Amen.
Due to freezing rain, the service at Trinity this morning (April 15) has been cancelled. Our Sunday of the Good Shepherd will be transferred to next Sunday. In lieu of a sermon, then, Pastor Ritter has posted the following devotion:
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the one who cares for His sheep, even to the point of giving His own life. He is not a hired hand who leaves the sheep at the first sign of trouble. No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who feeds and cares for and protects the sheep.
And we sheep are in desperate need of protection, for Satan would like nothing more than to lead us away from quiet waters and give us the poison of false doctrine instead of the green grass of God’s Word. Satan would love to see you leave God’s presence and go off foraging on your own in the world. For without the protecting care of the Good Shepherd, you are a lamb for the slaughter.
This is why it is so dangerous for us to abandon hearing God’s Word and receiving His body and blood here in His Church. There is always one part of us that honestly believes that we don’t need God. Jesus’ death and resurrection is all fine and good, but when it comes to my salvation, well, that’s my own problem. I’ll work out my own faith and life, thank you very much. But this view completely misses point of our text, and really the whole point of the resurrection.
Let me explain. Our Lord promises that He Himself will feed His flock and care for them. God Himself will feed and take care of you. So where does God feed you? He feeds you here, at His altar, with His very body and blood. This isn’t simply a rite we do because we’ve always done it. The Lord’s Supper is the very heartbeat of the Christian faith. All of God’s work on the cross and in the empty tomb goes into your mouth and soul in Holy Communion. This isn’t like an option on a car, where you can get the electronic windows if you want them. Jesus is what shapes and defines your faith, for He is the one that gave you faith. And the way Jesus shapes your faith is by coming to you in his Word and in His Sacrament. Without Him, you are a lost sheep, hopeless and alone. But with Jesus, you are a part of God’s flock, and He Himself takes care of you.
Listen to the deep connection between the Father and Jesus and you. Jesus says: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. What our Lord is saying is that the connection between you and Jesus is as close as the connection between Jesus and the Father. As Jesus said elsewhere in John, I and the Father are one.
We live in a day and an age when it is so easy to feel alone or to be alone. Television has made it possible for a million people to laugh at the same joke at the same time and still feel lonely. But this is not only true of television. Our lives are so compartmentalized and categorized that we can easily be disconnected from our family, from friends, from church, and it seems even from God Himself. This loneliness in some ways is an extension of the separation and loss that we all experience because of sin. Sin drives a wedge between you and God, and between you and others. It creates gaps and holes of loneliness that we all feel at time.
This is where Jesus’ words in our text bring such comfort to the lonely and downtrodden. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. Jesus is not simply the God who died and rose again from the dead three days later. He is the God who has come into your midst, who binds up your wounds, and who leads you beside the quiet waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the one who can restore your soul. He is the bridge that reconnects you to God Himself. He is the link between you and all eternity. He is the door to the heavenly mansions, and the one who will walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death. By His stripes you are healed.
So where does this put you, as we reflect on the tender mercies of God? It puts you in His care. It means you are not alone. Indeed, it means that when you eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, that you are connected to God in a way that is more profound and deeper than any kind of emotional high or feeling could ever give you. God’s tender mercy toward you means He cares for you so much that He sent His Son to die. It means that this same risen Son is now in your heart and soul through Holy Baptism, and that when you hear His Word you are connected to eternity itself. Now that may sound kind of pie-in-the-sky or unrealistic. I suppose it is to the world. To the world there is nothing happening here. But to you, God Himself is giving you everything, for in the Word and Sacraments, God forgives you and gives you life and salvation in Jesus’ name.
We are God’s flock, God’s church. We are in this together. By participating in Christ’s life through Holy Baptism, we have life in each other. You are not alone. We in the Christian Church hope in the mercy of God. God will see you through whatever troubles may come upon you. Now that doesn’t mean He’ll wave a magic wand and make everything better. Rather, it means that God will give you the most important thing of all: He will give you Himself.
God calls you and gathers you together into His holy flock. You are not alone. You are now a part of God’s family. So rejoice in His Easter mercy! For this is what Christ won for you at the cross and in the empty tomb. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. And that goodness comes to you now in His risen Son, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. Amen.