Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah, especially these words, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
As we hear those words “Holy, Holy, Holy,” in this vision that the prophet Isaiah sees, he tells us that this vision came in the year that King Uzziah died. Now, I probably learned this last year when I did the devotion for these lessons, but as I was doing them again this year, I was reminded of the story of King Uzziah. King Uzziah, also called Azariah, became king when he was sixteen years old. The second book of Chronicles tells us that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. This means that he was not a king who turned Israel away from faithfulness. He didn’t direct them to other gods or false worship and the like. But he does have an interesting story. At a point Uzziah had found so much strength in victory over other nations that he thought he had the right to enter into the temple and make the offering of incense before the Lord. So, he went right in there and tried to do as he pleased. As he went, the high priest and eighty of the priests of the tribe of Levi followed and tried to stop him. This made him really mad—after all he was the king, right?! But in his anger the Lord struck him with leprosy on his forehead. Now, if you recall leprosy was something that prevented someone from being allowed to stand in the Lord’s presence at the temple. I don’t mean that they couldn’t offer offerings, that was true, but I mean that they couldn’t even come to the Temple. They were considered unclean and were therefore not permitted in the presence of the Lord there.
Now, we could ask the question as to whether Uzziah repented, and if he is now with the Lord heaven, and I would say I think so, but that isn’t the point here. No, there is a greater point. It’s the point that we should heed, and that is that as we hear of this holiness of God, we should understand that this makes it unsafe for sinners to approach Him. What does that mean? Well, as we hear of this vision of Isaiah we hear of this angel before the throne of God, singing that song that we’ll sing in a few minutes, the song we call the “Sanctus,” “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And as we hear the angel singing that song we hear of this nature of God as holy. And what does that mean?
That’s a hard word for us to define, isn’t it? We use it all the time in the Church, and what does it mean? It means something that’s set apart, that’s distinct from those things around it. We could even say it’s distinct because of its purity. God is holy because He is set apart in a way that is unique from the world. He’s set apart and distinct because He is perfectly good, because He is perfectly pure. However, that purity is so perfectly pure that we bring a problem when we try to come before God. We aren’t pure like that, and so if we come to Him with that impurity it will enkindle his anger.
You see this with Isaiah Himself. Look at what happens. He sees this vision of God, he hears the angel cry out in this Sanctus, this song, and how does he react? Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts! So, how does he react? He’s scared, right? There Uzziah came into just the Holy Place in the Temple—if you recall there’s the altar outside the Holy Place, where they had the offerings in morning and evening. Then there’s the Holy Place, and that’s where Uzziah was, the room with the Table for the Showbread and Lampstand, and then the Golden Altar for incense—and that’s where he was when he became leprous. But here’s Isaiah and he’s not even outside the curtain, he’s in the presence of God Himself, and this is scary. He’s afraid he’s done for. Why? Because this God is Holy. This Isaiah is unholy in his sin and he’s one of a people who also are unclean. What’s that going to mean? It’s likely a lot worse than leprosy, isn’t it? No that unholiness should lead to destruction by the holiness of this God.
And as we meditate on the Trinity today, on this Trinity Sunday as we meditate on this Holy, Triune God, it’s good for us to take a minute and meditate on that holiness and how it relates to us. It’s good for us to reflect a minute on what that means.
I say that because I think in many ways we’ve become comfortable in our culture with God. As Mark Twain is quoted to have said, “In the beginning God created man in his image, man has been returning the favor ever since.” I think our time is a time when that’s even truer than it was then. We’ve ratcheted down God’s holiness to make him just a buddy who wants to have us with him so that we can have drinks and play golf with him for eternity. And in light of that, we’ve made God out to be a guy who loves us for who we are and it doesn’t matter, then, what we believe, what we think, do, or say, we’re all getting to heaven.
But that’s not what we see with Isaiah, and it should make us think. It should rile us up to reflecting on our lives. It should make us realize that our lives demonstrate our sinfulness, and how God’s holiness makes it unsafe for sinners to approach Him.
So, what should this mean? Well, it means on the one hand, that we should submit to His Word. And I use that word submit intentionally. Why? Because that’s a word we don’t like. We don’t like to submit to anyone, do we? In fact, in our day if anyone requests any kind of submission we call that out as oppression. If the government tells you what to do, they are oppressing you. If the police tell you what to do, they are oppressing you. If the Church tells you what to do, they are oppressing you. All the more, if the Church tells you that God is telling you what to do, that’s oppressive, and ridiculous that one would believe in such a God who seeks so much to oppress and oppress and oppress. No, it’s better to believe in a God who just loves.
And as I say that, we’re all shaking our heads about how true this is for the culture around us, but we have to understand how we have adopted that mindset ourselves. For example, I think that Paul is clear about submission to the government—and we see as His example that this is exempted when the Government tells you to do something contrary to what God calls you to—but I think we wouldn’t be comfortable with how far Paul might be willing to go in that submission. Or the letter to the Hebrews tells the congregation to obey their leaders, that is their pastors, because they are ones who have to give account for souls. Thankfully, we don’t have a lot of tension here in that, but how far would you be willing to obey your pastor? Or again, we don’t have women as pastors in the Missouri Synod, but how comfortable are we with that teaching? Or are we a bit embarrassed about it in view of the world and how they view that as oppressive?
Christians, we have to stop seeing submission as a matter of oppression. And as I’m saying that, I’m not ignorant of how often people in authority do it wrong. What I’m saying, though is that the refusal to submit isn’t out of rights. No, that’s self-centered. If there is a refusal to submit it ought be out of service to God and neighbor. And when it comes to this holiness of God, there should never be a refusal to submit. Why? Because God’s holiness makes it dangerous for us as sinners to approach Him.
Now, having said that, we can understand that this call to submission is not only not oppressive, but it’s grounded in love. I was listening to a lecture this week online that was talking about parents. It made the point that sometimes parents demand submission and they do so by using what reason? Parents, you’ve all used this before. What’s the reason? “Because I said so.” The lecture said that sometimes that reason is used because there isn’t sufficient time to explain. The child is running to the road and the parent is screaming, “Stop!!!” “Why?!” “Because I said so!” Or maybe there isn’t enough understanding on the part of the child. “Don’t put your finger in the plug!” “Why?!” “Because I said so.” On the surface, it sounds just like a demand, but what’s the rationale? Love for the child and concern for their safety.
So also, with our God. And what is the concern for safety? Well, He has the concern that it’s unsafe for us to approach Him as sinners.
So, then we submit to His Word, but we do so especially as it relates to approaching Him, to coming before Him. What do I mean there? Well, look at Uzziah. Why did he get the leprosy? Because it wasn’t his job to come before the Lord and offer incense. Now again, this was the King. It’s not like it was just an ordinary Joe. And yet still, whose job was it to bring that incense? The priests and the priests alone. God had given them the Word that they could approach that altar. And as they did it made it not only so that the priests could approach God safely, but in the holiness of the Word, they could provide for the people of Israel to approach God safely too—King and all the people.
But that’s the Old Testament, how does that work for us? How do we approach God safely? We approach Him safely by coming before Him in reverence and fear. And that approach is by the Word of Christ, the One who died for our sins. You see, as we celebrate the Trinity today, we see the greatest mystery of all, not just that this is one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the fact that this God entered into our flesh in the person of the Son, in Jesus Christ, to bear our sin and unholiness, to carry that to the cross and to make it so now we are cleansed of that sin and made holy to approach God in His holiness.
In other words, as Jesus died for your sins, He speaks His word of forgiveness to you, He baptizes you, He makes you holy by His holy body and blood, and in that you can now approach God confidently in faith.
In other words, while we think of God as this amoebic and amorphous love, in Christ we see what that love really is. And that love isn’t just a gracious accepting love. No, it’s the kind of love that sacrifices. It’s the kind of love that digs its way into the trenches and suffers hypothermia to battle your sin. It’s the kind of love that steps in front of the bullet that you willingly put yourself in the way of. It’s the kind of love that gives up heaven and earth for you when you haven’t deserved it or earned it.
Christians, that’s what we see in Christ. Isn’t that love where we can see how unoppressive submission is? Isn’t that love where we can understand that God’s “Because I said so,” is even more loving that ours as parents?” And isn’t that love where we can see what holiness truly is? It’s the holiness that is truly shown to be the purist of the pure, because it is the holiness of love that is purer than any love that serves itself—purer than the love we see, in some way or another, in every person on earth. It’s in that knowledge, then, that we too can sing with the angel “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Why? Because our unholiness makes it unsafe for us sinners to approach the holiness of God. But His holy love forgives our sin in Christ making us holy so that we can. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The feast of Pentecost demonstrated the mighty works of God bringing about a unity that overcame the world. That’s a mouthful and brainful, isn’t it? But it’s true. This feast that we see here in the reading from Acts, it demonstrated the mighty works of God and brought about a unity that overcame the world. But what does that mean?
Well, let me start with the feast. You know, we celebrate Pentecost every year. And what do we celebrate as we’re doing that? The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, right? We honor that our Lord Jesus sent the promised Spirit and so the Church was born of that Spirit on that day to live until His return. But how many of you knew that this feast was actually a Jewish one? Yes, we celebrate Pentecost as a Christian feast, but notice that there were all these people coming to the Temple for a Jewish celebration. “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” Why were these devout Jews in Jerusalem? They were there for the feast of Pentecost. Ok, so what was that, then? Well, for homework go home and search for Pentecost in your Old Testaments to find out.
As I say that, though, you won’t find it. Why not? Why isn’t it there if this is a Jewish festival? Because in Exodus 34 and Leviticus 23 where it tells us about this, it’s not called Pentecost. It’s called the Feast of Weeks. So, why the change? Well, the word “Pentecost” is Greek and it relates to Fifty. The Feast of Weeks is 50 days after the Passover. There’s the connection. But what about this feast?
So, first we have to make the point that the worship in the Old Testament, while it centered around the temple, and the service in the Temple in the morning and evening, we have to also understand that the high point was the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the holy day. This was the Shabbat, the Seventh Day—for us Saturday. And think about that. What would make that so important? Well, you have the Commandment itself, right? But what else? What was the Commandment grounded in? It was grounded in the connection to the creation, right? God created all things, and then He rested on the Seventh Day. And in that rest man was called also to rest and keep the Sabbath Holy.
Now, this Feast of Weeks, that was fifty days after the Passover. This was a Sabbath of Sabbaths after that first feast, plus one: seven weeks of seven days, but then into the eighth day of that last week. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but the Eighth Day, then, connected from the Old Creation, the Creation that finally was broken in the fall into sin, and it went into the New Creation. The Promise of God to make all things New. So that was important about this Pentecost, this Feast of Weeks.
It also was important, because just as the Sabbath was grounded in creation, and the promise of God’s care on the day of rest, so also this Feast of Weeks connected to creation. On the Passover, the Israelites brought forth a sheaf of grain as an offering. Only after that day could Israelites eat grain from the new harvest. At the Feast of Weeks, there were offered loaves of bread by the Israelites. This marked the ritual end of the grain harvest. They also were instructed to leave the corners of their fields un-reaped at this time. All of this indicated the understanding that as they were connected to this creation, God was providing for them, not just the landowners among them, but even the poorest of the poor.
So that’s all the Jewish feast, though. That’s what the Jews dwelling Jerusalem at that time were celebrating. What’s that have to do with what we hear in Acts Chapter Two? What these Jews were doing when they all saw the tongues as of fire resting on these Christians there was that they were coming to the temple to bring their loaves for this sacrifice. And what that did is allowed for this feast of Pentecost to demonstrate the mighty works of God and bring about a unity that overcame the world.
So, having explained what Pentecost was for them, how they came to the temple and brought these loaves, we can now unpack what it means that this allowed for this to demonstrate the mighty works of God. What does that mean?
Well, you see, I think in our Christian culture there has been a lot of influence by those who hear about Pentecost and assume the glory of Pentecost was this demonstration of the Holy Spirit that could be seen in this speaking in tongues. And of course you do see the Holy Spirit poured out so that tongues would result, but what does that look like? Well, if you go to a Pentecostal church here in America, it’s assumed that this looks like the Christians sitting or standing in this place where they were gathered and this wind coming upon them and they all started speaking in gibberish.
I bring this up with some regularity because of my own sensitivity to it by being drawn into that mindset when I was in college. For whatever reason, my assumption was that the speaking in tongues meant that same thing. The disciples of Jesus spoke in this gibberish. As I say that, if you look at what Paul says in I Corinthians 12-14 about this, it wasn’t right. This speaking in gibberish puffs the speaker up instead of truly praising and glorifying God. Why do I say that? Because God can’t give people the gift of tongues? Because things like that don’t happen now? No, but when they do happen, they happen like we see in Acts 2. They happen where the tongues do something different. They don’t just create this mystical emotionally driven experience. No. Look at what this speaking of tongues served in the Lesson. “they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? … we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” What happened with the speaking in tongues here? The disciples spoke in tongues in order to be heard by those who didn’t know Aramaic, the language they spoke. And why did God do that? Because He wanted something heard by them. His “mighty works.”
What do you think that means? When the disciples were talking about God’s mighty works, what do you think they were saying? Well, we see something akin to it when Peter pipes up and starts preaching. And if you go home and read the rest of Peter’s sermon here in Acts 2, you see what he’s taking about. He’s talking about Jesus. He’s making the point that this Christ is the One who has fulfilled the Old Testament. The Jews present at the crucifixion had called for Jesus’ death, but this death was for them, it was to fulfill their Scriptures. It was to fulfill the death that we all deserve. In fact, it even fulfilled this Pentecost feast. As the Jews honored God’s provision for them in the fields by bringing the grains for the grain offering at Passover and as they brought the loaves from the grains at Pentecost, Christ offered Himself for us. He offered up His body as the firstfruits to God so that we would be found acceptable before Him, our sin forgiven. He Himself worked the perfect life, that we could rest from our works being needed to get us to heaven. He, in other words, is your perfect Sabbath rest. Sabbath of Sabbaths to eternal life and joy. And in Him you see God’s provision, not just for an earthly care, but one that’s eternal—one He ensures you have in His Word and one He feeds to you in His body and blood. But that one worked as God mightily overcame sin death and the devil on the cross.
So that’s the purpose of the tongues. Pentecost isn’t Pentecostal in the American sense of the word, it’s about the Holy Spirit confessing Jesus, because that’s His job. It’s His job to speak the mighty works of God and to point to what Jesus has done. As it says in the Gospel lesson, “to bring to remembrance all that” He said.
And as we meditate on this theme think about what happens: The feast of Pentecost demonstrated the mighty works of God bringing about a unity that overcame the world. This proclamation unites. It creates a fellowship.
We had our Circuit Visitor meeting this week and the speaker talked about what we often call fellowship. Or if you saw some of the materials that came out of synod when our current president, President Harrison was elected, there was a theme of witness, mercy, and life together. This is life together that the speaker talked about. He said that as we gather around Jesus, as we gather around His gifts to us, then we are gather in a co-participation. We co-participate in His work, we co-participate in His forgiveness, we co-participate in this life together. And to talk about this, he looked at how Paul describes this in I Corinthians. And there you see it how Paul shows that this is different. You know this isn’t just a group of us who are of the same mind gathering together. We aren’t just here because we’re all republicans or democrats. We’re not all here because we’re a society gathered to discuss the approach for dealing with the world. Sure there might be conversations that overlap on political things or social things, but that’s not the main point. The main point is that we are united in Christ. We are bonded together in the body of this Christ who actually unites us in Himself. You know, that’s what we have in the Lord’s Supper. That’s what He’s doing with us. We have the aspect where Paul tells us that we proclaim Jesus’ death till He comes. There’s a part of this where He’s speaking through our gathering. That’s why we have closed communion, we want to protect people from confessing something other than what they believe if they don’t agree with our teaching. But Jesus gathers us here in that body and blood and unites us with Himself. In that, He unites us with each other in Him.
Christians, that’s exactly what we see at Pentecost. The feast of Pentecost demonstrated the mighty works of God bringing about a unity that overcame the world. I think I mentioned this last year, but this is why we have the Old Testament Lesson that we have. Look at that lesson. In their arrogance, mankind decided that it was good for them to go against God’s call to them to spread over the earth. Instead, they wanted to glorify themselves, “make a name” for themselves and build the tower going up and up and up. God brought judgment against that by dispersing them and dividing their languages. In Christ, that division is overcome. You see it, sin is what truly divides. The devil is the one who divides. The Lord Jesus has died that sin would be forgiven and the devil would be overcome. And this overcoming of language at Pentecost shows that. It shows that peoples of all stripes would hear and be united in Him.
Christians, that’s what we see, then: The feast of Pentecost demonstrated the mighty works of God bringing about a unity that overcame the world. Thanks be to God. May He bless us in that unity here, and may He grant for that unity to be with us as we go into the world which has such dire need of Him. And May He grant for us to do so in the assurance of His promise that by His mighty works that unity is accomplished. Amen.
Confirmands, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and or Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Confirmands, thanks be to God! You made it through. You did your memory work and your sermon notes, and your papers. You listened to me talk for somewhere around seventy-five hours of class time. And now you’re here. But as I say that, I’m also going to say something I’ve said before. Remember, this is not a graduation. This isn’t like moving on from church, or Sunday School, or learning about the faith. Instead, continue to grow. Continue to plan for learning and studying the Bible. Do this in daily readings. Do this in hearing the preaching on Sundays. Know this teaching. And why? Think about what we said in the catechism for the third petition – don’t count out which one that is, I’ll tell you: “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of who? The devil, the world, and our sinful nature. And what do they not want us to do? To hallow God’s Name—they do not want us to live according to that word of our Lord—or to let His kingdom come—they don’t want for His Holy Spirit to bring faith. You are in a challenging spot because the devil, the world, and our sinful nature do not want you to continue in this faith you’re confessing.
And this is even harder because it’s not like the devil is going to appear before you in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork and try to convince you. No. He’ll appear as an angel of light if he has to. And the world around us, our friends and neighbors, perhaps our teachers at school—and even our own sinful nature—these will all to pull us to other things away from our Lord. They’ll all pull us from the faith and promises of our God. And think about how challenging this. It comes from outside of us. And you all know it. It comes from inside of us, from our own sinful nature.
So, where is our strength then? In Jesus. Confirmands, continue in the grace of Jesus. Continue where Jesus gives that grace to you. And where is that? You know it. It’s where the cross of Jesus comes to you as you read that Word, as you hear it here in the readings, in the sermon, in the absolution. And thanks be to God, today, you will begin to receive it with His body and blood. Confirmands, these are your strength.
Think about it this way. You all play or participate in sports of some kind. Think about how you have to eat in order to perform at your best. You can’t go perform in a competition, whatever it is, without having eaten. This Word and Sacrament are your food so that you can go into the world strengthened for life in it. Continue in that, always.
Now, having said that, I’d like to talk to the parents—and I’m going to include our grandparents, godparents here. First of all, like I said last week, thank you for all the work you have done to bring the confirmands to this point. They all reflect the care you have shown them in teaching them the faith. Thank you and thanks be to God for that. Having said that, I want to continue to encourage you in that all the more. Look at what Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, “ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Now that passage literally speaks to fathers – and dad’s this is especially our job, statistic after statistic speaks to how important fathers are in the development of children in the faith, and we’ll be held accountable in a particular way be God for that—however, we can extrapolate for all those in authority. So, parents, grandparents, godparents, look at what that means. Teach these kids that this faith is absolutely the most important thing there is. Teach them that there is nothing that can compensate for losing eternity. And this job is becoming increasingly hard. We have all sorts of things that distract us from this work, things that draw out attention away from it. Things that are extremely important but not as much as the church, as the faith.
For example, I told the confirmands that when they’re choosing colleges to look into churches near those colleges and pick based on where they will have a solid foundation for their faith. You know, we look at what schools are going to be perceived the best for jobs when we finish, but don’t take into consideration what will be best for when they finish this life. Even within this life, we forget that Jesus says in Matthew 6: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” I encourage you to keep that in mind too. It won’t matter if our kids graduate from Yale if they lose their faith in the meantime. Also, continue to bring them to church, and make every effort to go even when other schedules conflict with them. By that I mean even every Sunday.
As I say that, is as though we will lose our salvation if we miss a Sunday here or a Sunday there? Let’s be frank, most likely that won’t. But the reality is that we are deluded and have a false sense of security about how capable we are in the battle against sin. We think of ourselves like highly trained athletes who can fend off the temptations of the evil one like Chuck Norris fights bad guys. We should think of ourselves like addicts. It’s common that addicts will kick their habits and at a point think that the substance they’ve kicked is something that they can manage. So, they have one drink, or one dose of whatever. And at first, they might do that occasionally and it’s fine, but then it’s common that they’ll fall back fully into the throes of the addiction. We’re all addicts to sin. We all always need the constant treatment against that that Jesus gives to us in His Word in His Sacraments. We all have need to be vigilant. You all are, and I encourage you in that, like I said. But I encourage you always to every increasing vigilance.
In fact, we have all of you here who aren’t confirmands or parents, grandparents, godparents, and the like. Hopefully, as I’ve been talking you’ve been hearing all of this for yourselves too. Because that’s the reality. All of this applies to all of us. We all need increasing vigilance in this.
But having said that, I also have to acknowledge that this isn’t easy. The fight against the unholy trinity, as it’s called, against the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, that fight is not easy. You all know that. It’s taxing. It taxes us in that we become tempted ourselves, we become distracted by worldly pleasures and worries ourselves, we become despondent about the world ourselves. And that worry and the temptation and the guilt, those all weigh on us. No, it’s not easy. In fact, if it were up only to us, you all know what would happen, right? If this were just up to us, we would fail. We would fail ten out of ten times. But thankfully, we know it’s not just up to us. Thankfully, we know that this is in the hands of our gracious Lord Jesus.
And as we observe the ascension of our Lord Jesus today, it’s quite fitting, because in it we have great comfort. How so? Well, look at what the ascension is. You know, we so often just think about this with regard to the fact that Jesus went up into heaven. But so what? Was ist das? What does that mean?
Well, it means that God approved of all that Jesus did and testified to the importance of Jesus’ Word. That’s important. However, it means a lot more. Listen to what Paul says about this in his letter to the Ephesians: “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” So, what does all that mean? It means that when Jesus ascended into heaven, the Father gave Him power over all things.
You know power is a common topic in conversation in our day, everybody’s worried about who has power and who has power over whom and all that. But Jesus is the One who ultimately has power. He sits at the right hand of the Father, which is that place for the right hand man, the trusted advisor, the one whom the king consults for decisions and counsel. That’s where Jesus is—not in a literal sense of there being the Father in a chair, and the Son sitting in this chair next to Him. No, it’s a symbolic statement. But it tells us that this Jesus reigns, that He’s in control over all things, that He is capable of working what’s best. And to draw further comfort from this, look at who this Jesus is as He reigns.
You know, I love how we can see this in this passage from Luke. Here Jesus is and He’s been raised, and Luke tells us that He’s shown them in all these ways about who He is by miracles and life after the resurrection, and He takes this moment to explain His work to His disciples. He reminds them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then, Luke tells us that He “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” Take a second and think about that and what that says about Jesus. He worked all things to fit with what we call the Old Testament. Everything was worked so that it fulfilled the writing of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms. All that had been said about what He would do and who He would be was fulfilled. He did it all. And to what end? So that He would suffer and on the third day be raised from the dad and that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His Name.
In other words, all of that was worked for salvation. For your salvation. This Jesus who has all of this power and this authority doesn’t have that so that He can be fat and happy like rulers and those who govern in our earthly kingdoms. No, He does all of this for you.
And look how He does it. Look how He has brought you to His waters of baptism. Look at how He has cared for your needs of body and soul, how He’s brought that life giving blood from the cross to you. Look how He has done this so that you will be cleansed and made holy in Him. Look His great love for you.
As you hear that, then, do you think He’ll leave you alone in the challenges of this world? Parents, grandparents, godparents, do you think He’ll leave you alone in caring for these under your purview? Confirmands, do you think He’ll leave you alone against the devil, the world, and your sinful nature? No! He hasn’t and He won’t. As is ascended and lives and reigns with the Father, He will never leave you nor forsake you. He will always be right where He promises to be in His Word and in His Sacraments. It might not always feel like those are doing much for you, but remember we always listen to what His Word tells us. Because this Jesus who loves us never lies. And that is a truth that we can all hold onto unto eternity. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read.
In the world you will have tribulation. The word for “have” there is a present indicative verb. That means it’s happening. Literally “In the world you have tribulation.” It’s translated “will have” because that communicates that it’s ongoing. It’s happening now. It’s inevitable. You can’t get rid of it. You’re not going to get rid of it in this life. It’s going to be there.
As I was reading about it, one of the authors I read connected it to Revelation—which I thought was fitting because we recently started talking about Revelation in the Wednesday morning Bible Class and we’ll be planning to pick it up on Sunday mornings too in the fall. What you see when you look at Revelation, besides the fact that it’s a revelation of the Lord Jesus, as the name describes, is that you have in that book these two contrasting portraits. The one portrait is that of the heavenly glory of our Lord Jesus. As He is ascended you see Him in Revelation receiving the exultation and praise He deserves, around Him are the heavenly host, the Sabaoth as we say in the hymn of praise. They are gathered in His presence, basking in His goodness, and lauding His worthiness in view of His work of salvation.
The other portrait is starkly different. The other portrait is the harsh reality of this world. Now, in our day, the widespread assumption here in American Christianity is that this portrait is only what will happen in the last seven years before Christ returns. But that is based on a very literal reading of things that pretty clearly aren’t to be taken so literally. Rather, they should be taken in view of the symbolism with which they were given and which we see elsewhere in the Bible. And so in that view, what we understand is that this picture of the harsh reality of this world is the picture that we have extending from the time of Christ’s ascension, which we’ll be observing next Sunday, until His return at the end of time. And that picture shows chaos. It shows death. It shows destruction and suffering.
Now, does that mean that there is only that in this life? No. By God’s grace it isn’t only that, there is a lot of relief from what we deserve and there is a grace shown us in the comforts and blessings that we have. However, as our Lord says, “In the world you will have tribulations.” That’s why you see them and know them.
But our joy is that Christ brings us peace in that. As He says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” And what does that mean? He brings us an absence, an opposite of tribulation. He brings us peace. And how? Because He brings us His victory: “take heart; I have overcome the world.”
I know I say this regularly, but as we understand the state of this world, as we look at the chaos around us, at the sorrows and suffering, we see that it is broken. Jesus makes it clear in the Gospel of John that this is because the world can’t accept Him, it can’t receive Him, it doesn’t know Him. And so, think about that. A couple of weeks ago, we heard Jesus speak about the ruler of this world being judged. And what He’s talking about is how the fall into sin gave the devil authority over this world. And of course, speaking of the devil is seen as superstitious and unenlightened in our day, but what better explanation is there? You see goodness in creation. But you see a whole lot of bad too. And you see death, and you know your own guilt. Where did that come from? It came from this fall, this rebellion against God, where we took this blessing of this world that God gave us, and we handed it over into corruption and death. And of course, it wasn’t like it was your sin or my sin that actually did that. No, but our sin puts our stamp of approval on it. We like to pretend we don’t approve, but when we sin, what we’re saying is that we’re just fine with it, that we choose this suffering and this hardship, this tribulation.
In fact, we see how much we’re like the Israelites in the Old Testament Lesson. You know, I love the imagery of that lesson. I love how much we can relate to that lesson. Here the Israelites are, and they’ve been in this wilderness for how long. If you watch my devotions, you know I pointed this out there. This occurrence is after the death of Aaron—Aaron, Moses’ brother, the first high priest over the temple, which was the tabernacle at that time. So, this is a ways into the forty years in the wilderness. And from a human perspective we can understand their grumbling. They’ve been wandering around, they’ve been getting only Manna to eat day by day, and so they grumble. Now from a divine perspective, how could they? They’ve been rescued from slavery. They’ve heard the voice of God giving them the Ten Commandments. They’ve seen this Manna appear like dew on the grass. How many of you have seen that? How many of you would like to just have your daily provision appear on the grass in your backyard? And yet they grumbled. But lest we get self-righteous, we’ve see the resurrected Jesus, we’ve seen how the story comes together. And yet we grumble. And so, there’s this infestation of snakes the Lord brings against them in judgment. It’s deserved. And there’s the venom that enters their bloodstream as the snakes bite them, and they start dying. But then they look at the bronze serpent that Moses lifts up and they are healed.
And I love that imagery. As John tells us earlier in the gospel: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” That’s the reality, this suffering this, sorrow, this death, this is the venom not from a fiery serpent in the wilderness, but from the serpent who drew us to death in our sin. And now the venom of that sin courses through your veins. That venom is taking its toll on you. Eventually, that venom will play itself out and, in this tribulation, you will experience the loss to that venom. You will lose the battle and die.
But I found this great quote from Luther as I was reading about this this week. Luther wrote this sermon about death and dying, and in it he starts talking about the snakes in the wilderness. And he said: “we hear that when the children of Israel were bitten by fiery serpents they did not struggle with these serpents, but merely had to raise their eyes to the dead bronze serpent and the living ones dropped from them by themselves and perished. Thus you must concern yourself solely with the death of Christ and then you will find life. But if you look at death in any other way, it will kill you with great anxiety and anguish. This is why Christ says, ‘In the world—that is, in yourselves—you have unrest, but in me you will find peace.’”
In Christ you will find peace. You will find peace as He has been lifted up on the cross for you to look upon His victory. He has fed you the antivenin in His body and blood so that you would know His life over death and His peace for you. He has washed you in His waters and cleansed you from your sin, raising you in that life which has overcome death. Because He has overcome the world.
And as we look at this week and its lessons, though, we see a connection to this that isn’t just about the comfort we have in Christ’s victory. Certainly, we have to understand that this victory, this overcoming of the world is where we have comfort. It’s where we have peace. In fact, it’s where we have strength and joy and endurance and all the good that we have. But we see something here that we also can draw from. Confidence to pray.
Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Have you thought about that confidence that we have to pray? You maybe have. You maybe have thought about the assurance we have that because Jesus has died for our sins we can come before our Father in heaven in confidence that we will not be struck down in light of our sin and unholiness. I mentioned this last year, but that’s not a common thought, that we wouldn’t be acceptable before God because of our sin, and we wouldn’t be acceptable to come before Him in prayer in light of that. We sort of assume that of course God would just hear us.
But even still you see it recognized in some ways. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that they’re not going to pray about something because it’s too insignificant for God. Or they’ll say they don’t pray because God has more important things to worry about. But hear again at what Jesus says, “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” Luther takes this and he says that in the command to pray, there is also the promise to hear.
You aren’t too insignificant for God to hear. No, even you, the God who created the whole universe tells you that He will hear you. And you have the confidence that this is the case for Jesus’ sake, because you ask in His Name. In fact, that’s essentially what that phrase relates to. It relates to coming before the Father in light of the work of Jesus for you. It also includes praying according to God’s will and Word, but it’s about coming before the Father cleansed in the blood of the Son, confident in His victory over the tribulation of this world.
Now, does that mean that you’ll just get what you want whenever you want? No. I’ve heard it said wisely that sometimes God says, “No, because I love you.” Sometimes He says, “Not yet, because I love you.” And there certainly are also those times where He says, “Yes, because I love you.” And I’m sure you parents can relate to that. Sometimes you tell your children yes, but sometimes you tell them no, or not yet. And why? Because of your love for them.
Christians, you have confidence in that love because of Christ. You have confidence in that love and that listening to your prayer because of Jesus. You have the assurance in Him that the world has been overcome and the tribulation of this world will cease. It specifically will cease at the return of our Lord Jesus. But that peace is promised to you now. As Paul says, “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That peace is yours in prayer and supplication because Christ has overcome the world for you. Amen.