Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.
This week I was pointed to an article about a church in Minnesota. Apparently this congregation there decided that they were not attracting enough young people, so the way they would deal with it was to tell all the older folks in it to leave for a couple of years so they could start fresh. Now, they did say the people could come back, and they did tell them they couldn’t force them not to come, but still. The optics on something like that aren’t good, are they? But what’s underlying this? It’s the assumption of the appeal to the world, isn’t it? And youth is appealing, old age not so much. Now as I say that, I think that’s even misguided, it seems that many my generation and younger actually are looking for churches that have a blend of people, a wholeness to the community. But what’s that assumption at work here? If we want to keep the church going, we have to do ______, right? If the church is going to keep going, we have to change to appeal to the world. If the church is going to keep going we have to make ourselves look good so the world will like us. If the Church is going to keep going, we have to approve of the things the world approves of and encourage the things the world encourages.
And what’s missing there? Who’s the Lord of the Church? Who can make sure that the Church will keep going? Who could bring a thousand people through those doors Sunday after Sunday? I’ll give you two hints: it’s not someone in our pews and it’s definitely not the guy in the pulpit. It’s our Lord, isn’t it? But when we think that it’s up to us to do x,y,z in order to get people in the door, what is the underlying assumption? Where is our trust for that? It’s in ourselves, in our wisdom, our abilities, our intelligence. And if we trust in those things, what does that mean? Where is our faith? Or where isn’t our faith?
And that’s what our lesson is about, isn’t it? As Jesus commends this centurion, what is He commending? His faith. But that brings us to another question, what is faith? I know I discuss this with a bit of regularity, but it’s always good to revisit. In our Catechism, we describe faith as, in essence, trusting in something. In what do you trust? That’s where your faith is. Do you trust in your money to keep you secure? Your faith is in your money. Do you trust in the approval of others to satisfy your sense of fulfillment? That’s where your faith is, etc.
Now as I say this, I think what I just said is somewhat obvious, but it’s good to start with a foundation. I say that because one of the things I noticed when becoming Lutheran was that faith is spoken of in a way that’s a bit different in Lutheranism. In fact, this sort of distinction is something that I heard described in a paper presented at the seminary my first year there. What the author said was this: If you look at how Calvin—or those who follow him in our day, those to the protestant side of us—for them the description would go something like the following. The Bible says all who believe will be saved. I believe, therefore I’m saved.
Now, what I just said is true. I’m guessing that’s how many of you would describe faith. But the point that this article drew out was that as Luther described this faith, he would say it a bit differently. He would say instead, “Jesus says, ‘I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus doesn’t lie, therefore I’m saved,’ or perhaps even, “therefore, I am His.” Do you hear the difference?
Now be clear it’s not to say that the first statement is wrong, or that if you’ve been saying it that way, you should feel bad. In fact, I’m not even saying don’t say that anymore. But what I am saying is that what we hear in this description based on Luther’s pattern is a focus outside of me. How do I know I’m saved? Not because I believe enough, but because of what my faith trusts in. And what is that? It is in my Lord, the One who speaks to me and doesn’t lie.
Now this sounds subtle, but look at what it’s showing. As I speak, and hopefully more so think about this, I bring my focus outside of me, of my doing, and place it onto the Lord. My Lord is the One who saves me. He is the One who tells me this. He is the One whose Word carries all of the weight of His authority.
As the Centurion came to Jesus that’s what He confessed. Here he is, Roman soldier, commander of one hundred men—that’s what Centurion means after all—and he’s got this servant that he cares for who’s sick, paralyzed and suffering, and He hears of Jesus doing His work, and so He pleads with Him, “please heal my servant.” And Jesus is prepared to do just that where the servant is. But then the Centurion makes this great confession: Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. Do you hear in that what I’m saying? Not “Lord I believe.” Not even as the father of the boy in Mark says: “I believe, help my unbelief”—another beautiful confession by the way. No, it’s humility. I’m not worthy of this. I’m not worthy that you would come to my house. I’m not able to contribute anything to this. But just say that Word and it’s done.
Christian, what a blessing for you. Do you hear it? When you hit your point when you feel as though you have been crushed, when you have no other option. When you hit that point when it feels as though even your faith, your trust is at its end, how comforting? “Lord, I’m not able to do this, but You are.” And how do I know? Because I see it. I see it in the Lord’s coming into this world and bearing my sin. I see it in His death on the cross for that sin. I see how He has come alongside of mankind, come to be with us as our brother. And as He has done that He has come to bear the suffering. As the Centurion describes his servant, he says the servant is suffering terribly. Jesus has come to know that suffering with us. And even more so in our place on the cross, where we deserve it. But He’s done this so that in His resurrection, I would be raised to new life. He does this that you would be raised to new life.
And as we speak of what this faith trusts, it trusts Jesus, it trusts this work, and what else does the Centurion show? We trust the Word because that’s how He works it out. And this is who our God is. He’s the God who speaks. He’s the God who said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. He’s the God who spoke the whole creation into existence.
I love the way the Centurion says it. He knows. When he commands his soldiers, his word carries the authority of the Roman Empire to those men, and they do what he says as if he were the emperor himself. “Do this,” and it’s done. “Come here” and the man comes. “Go there,” and the man goes. So it is with the Lord. “Let it be done for you.” And it was done. Or for the Leper at the beginning of the lesson, “I will, be clean.” And the cleansing happens.
To show how this happens, I love that this is paired with the story of Naaman. Did you catch what happened there? Here Naaman is this man who’s a Syrian. He sounds like he’s not only a commander in their army like the Centurion is for the Roman army, but he’s got a really big role. The Syrian king knows this commander and obviously respects him. But he’s got leprosy.
In our day leprosy is treatable with antibiotics, so we don’t see it. But it’s horrendous. It’s a disease that brings death to the body limb by limb. So when Naaman has this, it’s a death sentence. But God gave this messenger to bring healing to him. This girl in his household tells him to go to Israel because there the prophet Elisha can help. So Naaman does. And what does he expect? He expects this big show. A tent revival sort of act. Instead, what happens? Elisha doesn’t even come meet him himself. No, instead he just sends his servant with a word: “go wash in the Jordan.” I love Naaman’s response because it tells us about the importance of the word doing the doing. Look at it: So [Naaman] turned and went away in a rage. But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. Do you hear it in there? It’s not the water that does it, but the word with the water. If the word hadn’t been spoken, the washing would have been nothing. The river Jordan wasn’t much compared to others in the eyes of Naaman, but the word made it the greatest river of all.
And Christians, does that sound like anything? It sounds like baptism, doesn’t it? This Jesus with His authority speaks the Word and that water there over even the infant does what it says. Even for that child who seems like he can’t believe for himself—which by the way as a quick note, faith isn’t this understanding in our brain, it’s not this strictly rational thing. It’s different from that as we see as we bring this infant to those waters. And it doesn’t look like much but the water is poured. And Jesus says there, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And what happens? That baptism. That washing, that cleansing from the leprosy of sin by the blood of the Lamb. That burial with Jesus of our sin in His tomb. That covering in His righteousness that we are forgiven.
In fact, think even about how this Centurion brought healing to the servant by petitioning Jesus. Isn’t that so what we do for our children in baptism? Faith trusting not our work, but this Word of Jesus who does not lie? And we see how this works. We see our children, yes nurtured in the faith, but the Holy Spirit in them as they confess it. It’s not faith in ourselves, but that faith that looks outside of us to Jesus and the Word He speaks.
As we then think about something like the state of the Church and the worries of what this means, we take comfort that we don’t need to kick out our elderly in an effort to make the Church more appealing. We trust that the Lord of the Church will do what He does. We trust that He will build it and bring people in as He sees fit to do. However, that might be. Do we still confess? Of course, and we are called to do so faithfully according to what He says. But He does it.
And on a more personal level then, we also trust that Word applied to our lives. We trust that Word which says, “I forgive you your sins in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And we trust the implications of that forgiveness. We trust that now God’s not mad at us. We trust that He truly does love us. We trust His Word that tells us He won’t leave us or forsake us, but provide for our every need of body and soul. In fact we trust this will be the case even when everything else tells us something else. That is faith. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read, Jesus changing water into wine.
I was preparing this week and beginning to think about how to preach this lesson, the changing of water into wine, and as is often the case, I wasn’t sure where to go. After all, this is another one of those lessons we tend to be pretty familiar with. I was thinking about how I’d been discussing recently this shift from the Old to the New Testament. And that’s something that certainly fits. This is Jesus taking the water of the Old Covenant, the covenant in the Temple, the covenant God made with Moses, and He’s now filling it with the sweet wine which is the cleansing in His blood. That’s good. For homework meditate on that.
But then I was hit with something else as I read this lesson from Amos. Now, to give you some background about Amos, he was a prophet during the reign of Uzziah in the Southern kingdom, in Judah, and of Jeraboam II in the North, in Israel. So this is about 750 B.C. or sometime before that. Apparently during this time, there was a lot of prosperity. From what I read, there was political stability in both kingdoms, and as is often the case with stability, the ability to produce a fair amount of wealth. Sound familiar?
It’s in that context then, that you have Amos’ preaching. If you read the book of Amos, it’s a lot of Law, as we Lutherans like to call it. It’s a lot of preaching that is God’s warning to the people that they’ve gone off course. Apparently, in the midst of their wealth and their prosperity, they were leaving behind the poor. They were overlooking them, they were not caring for them, etc. And if you read the Bible much at all, or listen much to Jesus’ preaching, you know that’s not OK in God’s eyes. You better take care of the poor. In view of that, then the Lord, through Amos, tells the Jews that He’s going to hold them accountable for that. There’s going to be a lot of judgment brought upon them. If you read Amos, there’s a fair amount of fire and brimstone there. Fire and brimstone that we should ourselves always hear to help restrain our sinful selfishness. But that’s not where I want to go with this.
What was so interesting to me was what we have in Chapter Nine of Amos: restoration. There is this judgment that God brings upon these people, but then you have all of this beautiful language of mercy, of abundance, of restoration and peace: “the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.” Of course as you hear those words you can see the connection: there will be wine and Jesus shows the wine. He doesn’t just show it, He makes the wine! And it’s there that we can make a connection to ourselves.
Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to stand up here and preach like Amos. I don’t have a clear word from the Lord like that, but I can tell you we can see judgment all around us. I don’t mean necessarily for our lack of generosity—although as Christians we should always seek to be more generous, generous in our finances, in our love, in our mercy, and forgiveness. But what I mean is that we can see the ways that God brings judgment to the rebellion of our sinfulness.
Now I do want to take a second to make a point about judgment. When we understand God’s judgment as Christians, we have to understand that the wrath of God has been poured out on Christ. Jesus’ blood has been shed that we would be forgiven, that we would not bear the anger or wrath of God any more. It’s all been done and paid for by Him.
This means it not as though God is up there looking down us to mess up and for ways that He can say, “Gotcha!” He’s not waiting for you to commit that certain sin so He can catch you. He’s not waiting for you to have that one thought that He can punish. He’s not trying to trap you. He tests us, but not to trap us and say, “Look, you failed!!” No, He’s instead stripping away our idols, our false gods, and the things we trust in instead of Him, and He’s pulling those out of our hands to teach us how to hold on to Him alone.
But what we can see in the world is a general experience of the fallenness we know in sin. And it’s in the words of the Gospel lesson that I think we can best understand this. You see when Mary approaches Jesus, she comes to Him because the wine ran out. As John says, “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’” Now this word for “ran out” is the same word that the prodigal experiences when his food and money are lacking. If you remember that, the prodigal takes all of the money from his dad, takes his inheritance, and he goes and parties it up until it has run out, until it’s lacking—really until the prodigal himself is lacking. That’s the wine here in the story, it’s lacking.
That’s how we experience judgment. Before the Fall, nothing was lacking. There was plenty of food, plenty to drink, there was plenty of warmth. And there was plenty of love. There was no lacking of love between Adam and Eve, between them and God. You could even say there was plenty of God. But now we know something else, don’t we? We know lacking, don’t we? Of course there’s a lot of goodness that we experience, thanks be to God, but there’s also always some lacking.
We try and we try to be good, we come and we hear how God loves us, how He forgives us. As I’ve heard it put, we come to His Word, to this rail for His body and blood and He fills our bag. But then we empty it. It doesn’t keep making it. Our patience with that particular person, they say this or that and we try to love them, but it runs out. It begins to be lacking. Our love for this particular person, we let it run short, ignoring their needs for our own. Or Life. Life ultimately is going to run out. It’s lacking. None of us gets the fullness of life we’d like. I don’t mean in terms of contentment with material things and provisions, God provides for us abundantly, but with life itself. Sure we can be ready to go be with Jesus, but that’s because we know something better is in store, that this is lacking.
In fact, I often say there’s something in us that tells us this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, we know there’s something better. The Lord has placed it into our hearts to know there’s more, that’s why even atheists constantly strive for something better, for improvement, for utopia.
In connecting to the lesson, this lacking can even feel like what the master of the feast says to Jesus: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” You’ve guarded the good stuff. It can feel like that can’t it? Especially when that lacking is most apparent, most felt, it can seem like the good stuff is ever out of reach, never to be had. It can feel like you’re always stuck eating Twinkies, when the gourmet chocolate cake seems like it should be coming.
But you see this miracle shows us that in Jesus it’s come. The relief from the lacking is really here. There’s wine now. There’s the wine of the forgiveness of sins. There’s the One who steps under judgment and promises something more. There’s the One who takes every piece of the brokenness of this world, every ounce of the pain of what has run out, and He’s pulled them all into Himself. And He brings the new life, the resurrection which is the promise that this will all be better.
I don’t know if you notice the first words of the passage here, but John points to it. He says, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.” On the third day, there was the feast. On the third day, there was the hope, on the third day, what was lacking was made full. On the third day the glory of God was revealed: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.” The glory of the death on Good Friday overcome, the glory of the judgment of the people poured out and forgiven, the glory of the new life in the most delectable of feasts.
Of course, you can’t ignore the connection. And as I say that, you might be thinking, “what connection?” When you look to the end in the Bible, figuratively in terms of what it says about the end of time for this creation, and literally at the end of the book, at the end of Revelation, there’s a picture. It’s a picture of a feast. There’s this new creation that comes down. There’s the new heaven and the new earth. And all of the old stuff is gone, behold, Jesus there makes all things new. And what happens? A wedding party, a feast. A marriage feast between this Savior Jesus and His bride. The marriage feast celebrating the union between this Lord and His Church, His bride whom He has washed in water with the Word, the bride whom He has cleansed in His blood. This feast of Jesus and you.
And Christians, what you lack now won’t be lacking there. Your joy, your fulfillment, your holiness, your love. All of that will be overflowing. It will be bubbling over like fine champagne. And Jesus shows you that in this lesson. It will be overflowing in Him.
Of course, that’s the promise to come. You still have to wait for it, which is hard, isn’t it? It’s hard while we still sit here waiting, still wanting something better, still experiencing that lacking. But, He is so generous, He gives it to you. He gives you more. He says, “here, know that this is coming.” Last week, we saw that in His baptism which showed the promises that are yours in baptism, that He is with you, with you in all things, every trial and tribulation. And here we can connect to the foretaste of the feast to come in His Supper. You see you get a picture of the feast of His Kingdom when you come and dine at His table, at this rail. You get the preview of heaven, you get heaven here in your midst even as He comes to you again, and again and again. Christian, what a blessing that is yours in Him. He is with you, His giving you all that you lack and more. It might not always feel like it, it might not always seem like it, but that’s the reality in Him. He is the One who brings fullness in all things. He brings comfort, fulfillment, forgiveness, and most of all love and mercy. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the baptism of Jesus.
As you all hopefully know, Monday was the feast of Epiphany, the day after the 12th day of Christmas, when Christmas officially ended and the Season of Epiphany began. I try to make this point every year, I think, but the season of Epiphany is about Jesus being manifest as God in the flesh. As we say in the Epiphany hymn, “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise,” He is “God in man made manifest.” So here in this season, we have this child, this God with us, born in the manger at Christmas, being shown to be just that: God with us.
However, something really struck me this year. As I was studying those readings for Epiphany, and heard the preaching of Epiphany at the Circuit service Monday night I was really struck by the point that this Jesus coming is monumental in large part because it means salvation for all peoples. What I mean is this: when you note the coming of the Magi, the wise men, to see Jesus, that’s a big deal because these men are not Jews. These aren’t Jews, just coming to worship their king. No, these are Gentiles coming to worship the Jewish King. Up to this point the blessing of God, the choice of God, you could even say, had been to give salvation to the Jews. Now, that’s not to say that someone who wasn’t Jewish by blood couldn’t be saved, they could as what was called a proselyte, but the Jewish people were chosen as the people of the Lord. But when Jesus came, this salvation was opened to all peoples. And this is, like I said, monumental. This is a massive paradigm shift.
I’ve said before but I think this is something we don’t process enough because we are just so used to it. Yes, God’s salvation is for everyone. Yes, God loves everyone. Yes, God has sent Jesus even for my sins and my being a gentile has no bearing on that forgiveness. Now, as I’ve said, on the one hand that we don’t think about this is sort of a good thing. It’s good for us to rest in the promises of God and not doubt them due to our heritage. That’s good. We don’t want Christians asking if they’re really saved even though they’re not Jewish. So that’s good. But there are some problems with this if we just take it for granted. One problem, I think is reflected in a question that I found asked this week.
Now as I say I found this question asked, it was actually in a journal article that I got in the mail, but it was a very interesting arrival considering how this issue had been mulling around in my head. The question was this: “Why are the BC Scriptures Necessary for the AD Church?” In other words, since we as the Church know this Jesus as Lord, really as THE LORD, the true God in the flesh, why do we need the Old Testament, the Scriptures before Christ?
Now this article had a number of great reasons in it, many of which will be alluded to in things that I’ll say in the rest of the sermon, but I think one that was extremely important is that it says that these Scriptures give us language to talk about God. What does it mean? Well, what the author said is that it’s in the Old Testament that we are given the language to understand God as the God who has anger and wrath at sin. It’s there that we learn that sin requires atonement, death, the shedding of blood. It’s there that we see that as we experience these things, they come as a consequence of sin. Now, as I say that, it’s not as though we can’t learn about these things from the New Testament, but it’s in the Old that we see how foundational these are for understanding God. It’s there that we see that we have sinned against God, this sin has made Him angry, and therefore the consequence of that anger is death which requires the loss of life, the shedding of blood.
I think this point is so pertinent because of how we talk about God so much in our religious culture. Think about it. If you went up to a random person on the street and told them that they deserved God’s wrath, His temporal and eternal punishment, as we say it in the prayer, how would they respond? That’s sort of anathema, isn’t it? “You can’t say that about God?! That’s judgmental! Didn’t God say not to judge anyone because you can’t see their heart?!” You see we’ve grasped on so much to the idea that God is love, that we’ve extracted a real consequence to sin. But this is what we see in the whole of the Bible. The Bible gives us this worldview of who God is and who we are in relation to God, especially as we see it grounded in the Old Testament.
Now, as I say that, you likely wonder what this has to do with Jesus’ baptism. First of all, when we have this grounding of the Old Testament, we actually see this as a fulfillment. This birth, life, death, resurrection of Jesus is actually something that is the peak of all history. The world created by God as described in Genesis One, fallen into sin in Genesis 3, that world now has it’s fulfillment as that Creator enters creation. And there’s a very particular fulfillment in this baptism. Look at what happens. There Jesus comes to John, and He’s getting ready to be submerged in those waters, and what happens? Look at what Matthew says. “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” So, John realizes who this is and tries to stop this from happening. He realizes Jesus is greater than him, and he says, “wait, this is backwards, you should be doing this to me.” But what does Jesus say? “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” There it is. This is a fulfillment. Things in the world, the Old Testament, they’ve been leading up to this.
In fact, you can see that when you look at the Old Testament. Did you know that in the Old Testament they had washings? It wasn’t baptism, but they washed. If they touched something unclean, they washed. If they ate a food that was unclean, they washed. If they touched a dead person, they washed. If a woman had a baby, she washed. When she shed blood she washed. Why? This uncleanness, this impurity is a part of the world and needed cleansing. So Jesus gives the ultimate washing in baptism. But lest I get ahead of myself, first to His baptism.
How is this a fulfillment? Well, it fulfills these old washings, but think about this with John. What was John’s baptism for? Do you all remember? He said it was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. So who needs forgiveness? Well, everyone, right? We know that. And why everyone? Because we’re all sinners. Sinners need forgiveness. What does this mean, then, when Jesus subjects Himself to this baptism? Is He a sinner? No, certainly not. But it means He’s standing with sinners. He’s standing where sinners stand, He’s identifying Himself with them. He’s fulfilling what needs to be fulfilled for them. So that’s first, this relates in that this baptism is fulfillment.
Second, we can understand this washing in view of water and the Old Testament. What do I mean by that? Well, think about the Old Testament and water. For example, look at the Old Testament reading for this morning. What happened when those Israelites walked in the water? And as I say that, let me give you some context. This is when the Israelites are entering the Promised Land. They were rescued by the Lord from their slavery in Egypt as they passed through the waters of the Red Sea—something Paul interestingly calls a baptism in his first letter to the Corinthians—but they were rescued, they lived in the wilderness for forty years with Moses, and now Joshua is taking them to the Promised Land. And what do we see in those waters? Listen: “And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan.” The Lord shall rest in the waters. There is God, with them in the waters.
Now if you know the Old Testament, you know this isn’t unusual. God was there with the water at creation. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and it was formless and void, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of the deep. There is the Spirit, there is God in the water at the beginning, and there is God in the water at the Jordan, and where do we see Him in Jesus’ baptism? And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” There God is, actually the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there in the water. In the Old Testament, God is in the water—and to be clear that doesn’t just mean any water, it’s making a connection, but God and the water. Which brings us to the third part: comfort.
I was reading a book on pastoral care this week, a book about what it means to be a pastor, and I was reminded there of what I have so learned in my own ministry: the promise of God’s presence and His work are the heart of His care. Where does God promise to be? Where does He promise to work? In His Word, in His body and blood, and as we look at God in those waters, we know: in baptism. That baptism of yours, there God was, for you. There the water tied to the word, Jesus was in the water, the Spirit brought Him to you in the water. It looked like just this ordinary sprinkling of water your head, but the God who created the whole universe, the Jesus who identified Himself with your sin, who was crucified for your sin, but raised for your forgiveness, the Spirit who gives life, they were there in that water.
Luther said it this way: But no matter how external it may be, here stand God’s Word and command which have been instituted, established, and confirmed in Baptism. What God instituted and commands cannot be useless. It is a most precious thing, even though to all appearances it may not be worth a straw. Or as Paul said it: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” That water didn’t look like much. It looked like water maybe washing dirt off your flesh, but it was more. Jesus was there, you were united to Him. You were buried with Him so that in dying you could rise again in His resurrection. You were cleansed by His Spirit there, purified, made new. All this through the water.
And that brings us to the last point with the Old Testament. Who created this world in the Old Testament? God, the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, right? And what does He say about creation? It’s good, isn’t it? And since it’s good—although it’s fallen—He still uses it. He still promises that in that creation, in that water with the word—the word always doing the work there, without the word it’s just water—but there He is working.
This is what we see with the Old Testament, we see that it grounds us in understanding who God is. It grounds us in the knowledge that He has made all things, that all things have fallen in our rebellion against Him, but that He has come to us in Jesus and fulfilled all things to save us. And now He does. He saves you, baptizes you. He makes you His own in those waters, so that you would know Him, He would be your God and you would live with Him eternally. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read, especially these words: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.”
As we are still in the season of Christmas, we are still in the mode of thinking of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus. Although the world has moved past this celebration, in the Church we haven’t. He we are, we’re still marveling at the fact that God has entered into the world, being born of a virgin, being God in the body of a human being. And as we think about this, as we think about the perfection of God, the perfection of Christ and His divinity, I think something that often jars me—and maybe it jars you too—is the description we get of Jesus sometimes. Sometimes we get phrases like we have in Philippians where it describes Jesus as “becoming obedient” to the point of death. Or like in Hebrews where it speaks of God “making” Jesus “perfect through suffering.” Or we have one of those phrases in our lesson today, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” When we hear those phrases they’re jarring because we ask how Jesus could improve. Right? How could God get better? How could the properly obedient Son, “become” obedient? How could the perfect God “be made” perfect through suffering? How could He “increase in wisdom and in stature?” All the more how could He “increase… in favor with God?”
Well, we don’t want to spend too much time delineating between the two natures of Jesus. After all, He is One Christ, and it is good to maintain that unity. But, it is a reality that sometimes we have to make the point about how this works. What is improved in Jesus? Certainly not His divinity. No, only His humanity has that room for improvement. And that’s what we see in those words there. In fact, we even have a concrete example of it in this lesson.
Obviously, this is a story we all know well. Joseph and Mary take Jesus up to the temple for the Passover. They’re apparently with a large caravan of people, and they lose track of Jesus, assuming He’s with some other family or friends. When they realize it, they search and search, finally going back to Jerusalem only to marvel at how He’s impressing even the teachers there with His insight as a mere twelve year old. And there we can so easily see the point of this as a Christmas text. Here He is, this twelve year old Jesus showing that He’s God in the flesh by His wisdom for the teachers to witness. The glories of Christmas continue.
But there’s something just as “Christmassy” in those words I said we’d be meditating on: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” Why do I say that, and how does that connect to what I’ve been saying? Well, look at the interaction before this. If I were just to read those words, it would be easy to think Jesus did something wrong, that He sinned. All the more, if you consider what Mary says. And I’m guessing you can put yourself in her shoes pretty easily. You can imagine the terror at having lost her child. You can imagine the “great distress” both she and Joseph had in looking for Him for three days! After all, it’s bad enough to worry for three days that you lost your child, but all the more when this is the Messiah God entrusted to your care! So it’s easy to interpret this as though Jesus sinned. Which, He didn’t. And you can see that in His response. He was merely doing what He was supposed to be doing.
I think we can even picture this in view of how extremely intelligent children respond to their parents who may not be quite as intelligent as they are. “What else would I be doing?” And that’s Jesus’ response, “What else would I be doing, but what is right and attending to my Father’s work.” But yet, Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives us this insight: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” It’s as though this human side of Jesus had to learn: “Oh, while it is right for me to do what my Father says, He has given me these parents whom I am to honor, and it’s honoring for me to submit to them because when I don’t it causes them great distress. I am to love them and therefore do what they say.”
In that, then we learn something not only about Jesus but about the Fourth Commandment, don’t we? We learn something about what God is saying when He tells us “Honor Your Father and Your Mother.” Now, I sort of began to touch on this a couple of weeks ago when I discussed God giving Joseph this authority over Jesus through the word of the angel. I mentioned how Jesus was submissive to Joseph perhaps even when He was wrong. I discussed it there to make the point that God used this authority to protect Jesus that your salvation would be protected. And that’s important.
However, when we hear of Jesus being submissive, that’s important for us to consider as well. I say this because I speak with some regularity about the Fourth Commandment. I talk with some consistency about how authority and it’s relation to this commandment and it’s example in Christ show us that authority is properly for serving and not abusing. And I do this because we are so anti-authoritarian in our society. I do it to make the point that we can understand that we shouldn’t be anti-authoritarian because if authority is understood properly it’s a good thing and not a bad thing.
But the flip side of that is what we see in Jesus: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” You see sometimes when we are confronted with our rebellious and sinful nature, sometimes the best thing to hear is just outright law. The Law of God says do this, so do it. The Law of God says to submit to your parents, so submit. Luther says it like this: To fatherhood and motherhood God has given the special distinction, above all estates that are beneath it, that he commands us not simply to love our parents but also to honor them. … Thus he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself. For it is a much greater thing to honor than to love. Honor includes not only love but also deference, humility, and modesty, directed (so to speak) toward a majesty hidden within them… that we respect them very highly and that next to God we give them the very highest place.” In fact, he even makes the point that, “they are not to be deprived of their honor because of their ways or their failings. Therefore, we are not to think of their persons, whatever they are, but of the will of God, who has created and ordained them to be our parents.”
Now, as I say this, two things are noteworthy. First of all, hopefully you all know that as we look at Scripture, we see clearly that this honoring of father and mother is not just limited to parents. If that were the case, this commandment would have no bearing on a number of us here who no longer have living parents. But that’s not the whole application. I think you all know that. It applies to other authorities too. It applies to husbands as the head of the household. It applies to government as the head of state. It applies to employers as masters. It applies to pastors. There is a structure to this authority and God says submit to it. Submit to it out of joy knowing that God has put authority in place to help you. It doesn’t always feel like it. It doesn’t always feel like it’s a good thing to submit, but do it.
Now as I say that, the other noteworthy thing is something I am sure many of you are thinking: “but what about when the authority tells us to do something wrong?” To that we always say, “we must obey God rather than man.” That is an absolute. That is the appropriate response when we look at households, at jobs, at government, and even under pastoral care. That’s the appropriate response when we consider how the Germans responded to the Nazi Reich. But, I do think we need to be cautioning ourselves in view of the freedoms we have that we don’t just jump on any and every opportunity to rebel.
In fact, I think this example of our Lord Jesus is ideal in this. Look at this submission as an act of love. Jesus loved Mary and Joseph so He submitted to them. He saw their care for being good authorities over Him, and He loved them and so submitted. And I make this point because, as I said when I talked about Joseph, I’m sure there were times that this submission showed itself when the authority wasn’t seeking the best interest of Jesus. And yet this submission—when not called upon to sin—was still demonstrated. So for us to see, this is love.
In fact, as we reflect on this love of Jesus, this love as He is God in the flesh, we can’t but reflect on the fact that this child grew to the man who showed even the submission to the Sanhedrin and their mock trial, to Pilate and his unjust ruling, finally it submitted to the unjust verdict of death. You see we are so often quick to rail against injustice—and we should seek the justice of others—but we are so quick to shout out when we’ve been treated unjustly, but in our Lord Jesus we see the submission to injustice that was by far the most unjust of all. And yet that’s what He bore as this God in the flesh.
He bore it for you, for your rebellion, for your imperfection as authority too. That’s what this perfect submission was for. It was for you. For your life, for your good. Because that is His love for you.
So in this Christmas, as you reflect on this Lord who is God in the flesh, consider Him as that One who submitted under the call of the Fourth Commandment, who submitted even to the curse of sin on the cross, so that this One born in the manger would be the Firstborn over the New Creation, raised for your resurrection. In that submission, then know that this humanity of Jesus was perfected, it was restrained and improved. And to understand that rightly, you can know that this was done so that your humanity that is broken by sin would be raised in His perfection, and it would be so that you would live eternally with Him. After all, that was His goal in coming in the world, that was His joy, and that was the cause of His submission to His parents and to all things to which He submitted Himself: your salvation. Amen.