Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Epistle Lesson from Peter’s second letter.
Those of you who have been in my new member’s class could maybe see it. Or maybe who were in Bible Class last week, you could maybe see it too. This Epistle lesson is one of my favorites. I love it because of what we see said here. Look at how Peter speaks: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” What a grand statement! Think about it all that Peter is describing there. We’ll get into a number of the things he says today, but the thing I think it does well for us to begin with is the human aspect here. Look at the human perspective Peter brings in: “we were eyewitness of his majesty.”
Now, hopefully, you grasped that this lesson is paired with the observance of Jesus’ Transfiguration because what Peter is describing is being there with Jesus on that mountain. He’s making sure that people know that he was there. He saw this with his own eyes. And that’s what I think we need to think about for a minute. It’s always easy to think about the great Peter, or the great Paul, or just the disciples, and not think about what that is like from a human perspective. In other words, think about what this was like for them as real people. Put yourself in their shoes. Or in this case, in particular, imagine what it would be like for you to be standing on that mountain and seeing Jesus shine like the sun.
You know we all sort of say, “Oh yeah, that’s something Jesus did, and obviously He did that because He was God in the flesh, and this shows us that and…” Yes. That’s all true. It’s all correct. But take a minute to think about it! Take a minute to imagine you were Peter standing on that mountain. Here this man you know is amazing; He’s performing miracles, after all. We don’t know for sure that the Gospels were written in order, in fact, we think the order to an extent, serves the theological purpose of the writer. But in Matthew before this point, Peter has already walked on water, the disciples have collectively acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God, Peter Himself confessing it in particular just before in Matthew 16. The point here being, Peter knew that Jesus was the Christ. But even still, do you think when they went up that mountain that Peter had any idea what was in store? I’m guessing he didn’t.
You can imagine, then, what that would have been like to be standing on that mountain and suddenly to have Jesus begin to shine like the sun. I always say that’s the sort of thing that would be seared into your memory. It’s the sort of thing that you would remember for the rest of your life. It’s the sort of thing the three disciples likely consulted with each other about after the fact to make sure they really saw what they thought they saw. But you can hear it in Peter’s words how certain he was that he saw it.
As I say that, I think we can all acknowledge that this sort of memory, that sort of experience, is extraordinary. However, my experience with American Christianity has been that there is a stream of American Christians who have the expectation that this will be their experience too. They have the assumption that if they just believe enough, or in the right way, then they will get to have the experience of seeing Jesus in His majesty. Or maybe they’ll be like Moses last week, and God will put them in the cleft of the rock to show His glory to them.
Now, I bring this up, not to just bash other people in their faith, but because we need to look at the broader teaching of Scripture. In fact, I think we should apply that not just to the mentality that we might have in American Christianity that we are Peter or Paul, or that we are Moses, but a certain narcissism that we all have. For example, think about how many people you have heard say, “Well, I would believe in Jesus if He would show Himself to me.” Maybe they even know the story of the Transfiguration and they say, “It would be easy to believe if I was Peter and I was there on that mountain. If God wants me to believe He can just appear to me like that.” It’s a common perspective, isn’t it? It’s the idea that if God is that great, then I’ll determine how He should appear to me, and He can just make Himself do that, isn’t it?
But this is why I love this passage so much. Look at what Peter says here. He’s been talking about this amazing experience. He’s been telling about how he saw this change with his own eyes, how he heard the voice of the Father spoken from heaven lauding this Son, “when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” Peter was there, and yet, what does he say? “And we have something more sure.” Something more sure than you seeing this man change to shine with the glory of God? Something more sure than that experience on the mountain top, hearing the voice of God from the heavens? Something more sure than that memory seared into your conscience, swallowing the entirety of your existence? Yes. Something more sure than that, Christian.
And what is that? It’s the prophetic Word. It’s the Scripture. These words of the Scripture are more certain than all of that. Why? He explains it. Because although these were recorded by men, they weren’t only written by them. No, these words were written by God. In fact, it didn’t matter what these men thought they were saying, because God was giving them the words, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Yes, these words were recorded by men, but those men were carried along by God Himself, carried along by the person of the Holy Spirit. You want to know about God? Look there. You want to know that God exists? Look there. Stop looking to your experiences. Stop looking to how You think about things, how You feel about things. Look at this Word.
As I mentioned those who say that if God would just appear to them like He appeared to Peter, I’m always reminded of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Do you remember that? Lazarus was the poor man who sat begging at the gate of the rich man’s house. Eventually, both the rich man and Lazarus died, and the rich man was sent to hell, Lazarus to heaven. After realizing the severity of his fate, the rich man finally asks for Lazarus to be sent to the rich man’s brothers that they could avoid the same consequence. Abraham tells the rich man this won’t happen. But do you remember why? His rationale is, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them… If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Do you hear the implication? This Word is sufficient revelation. If you don’t believe it, you won’t believe it if you see Jesus shine like the sun yourself. You won’t believe if Jesus appears to you risen from the dead. And that’s why Peter speaks of it as he does. Look again at his words, “we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
You see that word comes to you as a light. It brings that light with which Jesus shined to the darkness of your life. It brings the light of His forgiveness to your sin. It brings the love of His suffering for you in the midst of your sorrows and suffering under the brokenness of this life. And His resurrection shines to give you the light to see your own resurrection as He has baptized you and made you His own. His Word does this, works this in you and in your life.
Again, all of this is over and against everything else in the world. It’s “something more sure.” In fact, I think we can draw from how Peter starts speaking in this lesson as we look to think about this concretely in our own lives. Look at how Peter describes his experience, or more so what he says his experience is not: “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What’s he saying? The eyewitness experience he had, the experience which the Scripture is even greater than, is not a “cleverly devised myth.” In other words, this isn’t made up. In fact, the word there for “cleverly devised,” has at its root in the word I, wisdom. This transfiguration was not a wise myth. So, let me connect the dots very explicitly. There are wise myths, things that sound good but are made up. Greater than that is the eyewitness experience of the Transfiguration. Greater than both, however, is the God breathed Word of the Scriptures.
So Christian, why do you still delude yourself with the cleverly devised myths of the world? Isn’t that the reality? We all do. We all have those ways where we inch toward those cleverly devised myths. We think “well, maybe I’ll believe in Jesus, because that’s all that matters, but I won’t believe that Jonah was actually swallowed by a fish. I’ll believe that Jesus is my savior, but I’ll dedicate all of my energy to worrying about the things of this world. I’ll confess that the Bible is that word, but I’ll convince myself I’m too busy to read it or it doesn’t matter how much I do what it says.” Or as we look to the worries around us, we buy into the myth that the things like, old presidential administrations, new presidential administrations, Coronaviruses and vaccines, that these things are greater than God’s Word and the One who has spoken that Word to us.
But Christians, in our time, then we have this comfort of the word spoken as the Spirit carried these men. The Word of the light of the World. Just as Christ shone, this word does too because it’s His Word. It’s the Word that says, you are living in darkness, but this One, this Christ, this One beloved by the Father with whom the Father was well pleased, that One has entered into this darkness and has devoured that darkness by shining the light of His love in it. A true love. Love that will not just make you feel better for a bit. Sometimes it does, but it’s more than that. It’s a love that will save you. That will take you from myth to truth, from darkness and suffering now and eternally to light and life and joy in the resurrection of our Lord now and eternally. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Today we meditate on the Epistle lesson from Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially these words: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
In our society which has become increasingly focused on the individual and the rights of the individual, Luther is often perceived as having been the ultimate champion of standing against authority in view of these rights. And it’s certainly true that without Luther’s courage to make his well known confession of “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and pure reason, here I stand, I can do no other,” individual freedoms would look very different today. However, this stand of Luther gives an incomplete picture of him. In particular, an experience that certainly must be understood to grasp Luther as a whole is what’s called the Peasant’s Rebellion.
If you’re not familiar with the Peasant’s Rebellion, you have to understand that as Luther published his writings in the early days of the Reformation, they caught on like wildfire. Not too long after that, many begin shifting the application of his principles about the necessity of freedom for the individual to believe to the necessity for the individual to have freedom in all realms of life. Eventually, this resulted in the peasants rallying and finally rebelling against their magistrates and lords. This rebellion Luther saw as being marked by utter dishonor of those in authority and a mob mentality. Such a mentality had no place in the lives of Christians. And Luther made that clear in his writings, even to an extent that may have been overreaching.
As I speak of a mob mentality today, I’m assuming you can see the connection to our day. We’ve been seeing a mob mentality operating in the riots that have been going on since the George Floyd incident last summer. We saw a mob mentality operating in storming of the capitol building last week. We see a mob mentality in manifold places in our society.
In fact, I was reading an article last week that spoke about some comments from comedian Rowan Atkinson. You might know Rowan Atkinson in his roles from the show the Blackadder and the movie Johnnie English, and he’s probably best known for being Mr. Bean. Atkinson recently echoed sentiments of many comedians in critiquing what’s called “cancel culture.” If you’re not familiar with “cancel culture,” that’s the phenomenon we’re seeing where when someone says something not deemed appropriate by a particular group, there is a call for them to suffer for it. For example, if an actor says something not considered appropriate by the culture, there is a call for them to lose their jobs on shows or in movies. As I say this, I think this is considered more common for those who of the far left politically to be those calling for the cancellation, but it’s something you see occurring with the right politically as well.
But of this “cancel culture,” Rowan Atkinson said, “what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval mob, roaming the streets looking for someone to burn.” In other words, the movements to hound and shame others into submission to particular ideals, he likens to a mob.
As we look at this as the Church, I think we can provide some insight. You see what’s happening is what we as Lutherans call a confusion of the Two Kingdoms, or Two Realms. I spoke about this from one perspective in November when I preached about Jesus’ words “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” It’s the understanding that we as Lutherans say sees that God rules over all of creation. In the Church He rules through the ministry of the Gospel, through Word and Sacraments to give His grace. However, in the world, He rules through the governing magistrates.
He does this then, the understanding is that when it comes to faith, to matters of the heart, the Church is involved and that’s her realm of authority. However, the realm outside of the Church, the government, culture, etc., the government’s job in that is to deal with that which is external. It deals with lives and concrete breaking of the law, destruction of property, actions, etc. When we see a mob mentality, often it seeks to evoke a mass response, and in our time we see it as seeking to do that by attacking the thoughts, beliefs, and ideas of people. In other words, this mob mentality and cancel culture in our day say, “if you don’t think like I do, you will be controlled to do so.”
And as we see that, what does this reflect? It reflects the expectation that if we just get everyone to think a certain way and they’ll act in conjunction with that, then we’ll have a utopia. In other words, there’s this confusion that says the role of the government and culture is to exercise consequences on people to believe a certain way, because if they all believe that way, then a utopia will be manifest.
Of course, this is something that has played itself out in other times too, besides the Peasants’ Rebellion at Luther’s time and what we see now. I have been listening to a podcast that talks about the French Revolution. As I have been listening, I have seen so many ways where things are moving in the mob mentality that could create an environment ripe for something like that. But of course, what I found most interesting there is striking. If I recall it was even pointed out in the podcast. It’s that as you look into the mentality of the French Revolution in comparison to American Revolution, there’s a distinct difference. The Revolutionaries in France, especially Robespierre, followed Jean Jacques Rousseau in saying that people are inherently good and merely corrupted by a culture and those in authority.
Now, hopefully you recognize that is not what Scripture teaches. I think you all know that, I hope you’ve all heard me make the point that Scripture teaches that we are all born dead in our trespasses and sins. That it teaches that we are rescued from that and only given new life by the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. But what’s interesting is that people seem to want to view humanity as basically good because they see it as unloving to think otherwise. Yet look at the mob mentality. What does it utterly lack? It lacks love. It’s not loving to browbeat others into submission to your ideology. It’s not love to shame them and to rally people to ridicule them into compliance with your ideas. If there is a real action that’s sinful, sure the government has the right and authority to exercise their arm in punishing people, but this isn’t thought policing.
No, instead the call is to love. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Christians, this world around us is becoming increasing unloving in it’s mob mentality, but you, you are different. You are redeemed by the love of Christ. You are baptized and owned by Him. Love like Him. Love like the One who has seen your sin and your failing, and He hasn’t cancelled you, but was cancelled for you. He is the One who knows where you have fallen short in your care for your neighbor, in not loving them, or being as generous to them, not explaining everything in the kindest way, and He has been crucified for that sin, rejected by the Heavenly Father, that in His resurrection you would have His mercy.
Now you love like that. You let your love be genuine, literally be unhypocritical. You abhor the evil of sin and hold strongly to that which He calls you. And I love the way Paul says this: “outdo one another in showing honor.” If you remember Paul says in His letter to the Philippians that Christ did not see equality with God something to be grasped, but in humility considered others’ interests above His own. He outdid us in showing honor. And so we should too.
Of course, that’s contrary to this whole mentality right now, isn’t it? Look at the mentality of the mobs now. What are they focused on? Rights, right? It’s my right to have this or that. You can’t interfere with my right to do x,y, or z. And let’s be clear, you have some of this on both sides of the political aisle.
Christians, what about love and honor in this? Are we actually outdoing others in showing honor? And don’t think to yourself, “Yes, pastor, but I do x, y, and z, because I’m right about a,b, and c!” You see in Christ you have freedom. You have the freedom to submit to your neighbor out of love for them. You have the freedom to submit in times even when you know that you’re right. To be clear, I’m not telling you to not speak up for the confession of the faith. God tells us to speak His Word. When the culture tries to prevent that, or to prevent us from speaking what His Word says, we still speak. Or should the government tell us that we can’t meet together at all, we still meet. In fact, that’s a part of our freedom as Christians: we know that we can bear the consequences of doing those things against the wishes of the culture or of the government when they are opposed to God, because we have the God who will care for us eternally. We also have the duty to pursue the actions that protect those under our care, for example as parents. I have the duty as a father to care for my children as God’s Word calls me to, in particular in teaching them the faith. But when it comes to the things that we think of as rights, a lot of times we could be a lot better about showing honor to others.
You see this mob mentality, this cancel culture, this focus on my rights, this is devoid of love and honor to our neighbor. I think you see it. As we’ve confused the two kingdoms, we’ve done this because we think that the Kingdom of the Left, the realm of the state and culture, we’ve thought that our salvation is found in these things. We’ve made an idol out of them. As we’ve done that, we’ve taken God out of His place and put an idol in there. The government will not save us. The culture will not save us. Only Christ will save us. And He will save us in His love. And so, we can bring love to it. We can bring true love to it.
In view of that, Christians, show that love. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. It’s easy for the stress of these circumstances, the anxieties of how we’ll end up in the midst of things to try to prove how right we are, or how wrong someone else is. But outdo others in showing honor. Even when it’s required for you to confess the faith, outdo others in showing honor. Show the love that has been shown to you. Let your love be genuine, unhypocritical. Love like you have been loved. The mobs will come and they will go. They will flare up and burn out. The consequences may even be dire. But you have the One who will not flare up and burn out, the Christ Himself. His love will sustain you into eternity. Thanks be to God. 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.
The story is one that we hear annually. We even have the yearly reminder of it in our Nativity Sets: the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. On the one hand we know it like the back of our hands. On the other, if you’re like me, things strike you as unnoticed in it periodically. For example, I remember being relatively old when I realized that these wise men didn’t visit Jesus at the manger in Bethlehem. In fact, the lesson doesn’t specifically say that Jesus was still in Bethlehem. I think he probably was, but if you watched my devotion on it this week, you heard me say that the author I read about this said that he believed Joseph and Mary had returned to Nazareth and the star led the Magi there. But whether in Bethlehem or Nazareth, the thing that makes this the most surprising is that the visit is apparently two years or after our Lord’s birth. If you hadn’t heard or remembered that, you can see it from the section we had last week where Herod slaughtered all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. And why? Because that was according to the time he had ascertained from the Magi.
As I say this, though, you might be wondering why I’m spending this time talking about such intricate details. Does it matter that it was two years after Christ’s birth when the Magi came? Well, on the one hand you won’t be damned just for falling into the assumption that this visit is at the manger. But what duty do we have to knowing God’s Word? We all have that duty to know it and have it inwardly digested. Sure, as a pastor it’s my job to know it and study daily for my work, but for all Christians, we should know it. We should also believe it.
Now, as I say that, you might be thinking that’s obvious. And of course it is. But we’ve got a great warning in this reading reminding us of that truth, and of how easy it is either to not know it, or not to believe it. What is that? Look at the details here. When Herod heard that the King was born, what did he do? He assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” And what did they say? “Oh well, we don’t know.” No! They knew exactly what it said. The got it right. The said that the child would be born in Bethlehem. They even knew where it said so. “For so it is written by the prophet, ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” They knew that the Prophet had said this—which by the way this is mostly from Micah 5:2, although the language at the end about shepherding is from 2 Kings 5. But they knew that the prophet Micah had said it. And why’s that important? What can we take from that?
Well think about where they were and where they weren’t. You have these Biblical Scholars who know their stuff, but when push came to shove—when the Messiah was actually born in Bethlehem—where were they? They were in Jerusalem, not worshipping the child. And when these Magi came, where was the King of the Jews? Seeking ways to destroy the child.
How do we learn from that? Well, first of all, we need to make sure we know that word, because we see that even when you know it, it’s hard to properly cling to it. But that’s the other part, to make sure we cling to it. To make sure we don’t get distracted by the worldly things, by the comforts of palaces or what we feel to be safe. To make sure we don’t get our focus shifted from the heart of that Word to other concerns. It’s so easy to do.
I mentioned those Biblical Scholars knowing that Word, and not taking it to heart, and we can make the clear connection to Academia today. I don’t think I really had that with my professors in seminary. I think they were deeply convicted by the Word, but you see in the Academic world many who know the Bible inside and out, who teach about what it says, and yet they devalue that word constantly and undermine the truth revealed in it.
For us, we need to make sure that doesn’t happen as well. We need to make sure that we cling to this Word and its truth. However, I think we need to also make sure that we don’t become self-righteous about how much we believe the Bible and use that as an excuse to rest on not knowing it inside and out. The Bible is a hard book to understand in many places. That makes it hard to want to read. But the more we read it and seek to understand it, the more we will understand it. And the more deeply it will ground us in our Lord. And the more we will understand its message about our Lord.
And as I say that, that’s something else I personally have been struck by these past couple of weeks. I started thinking about this for the devotions on the Escape to Egypt and the return after Herod’s death. You look at all that, and the attention that God gives to the details and fulfilling those details is amazing. He fulfills the details that Jesus would be called out of Egypt; “Out of Egypt I have called my Son.” And then that there would be the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, that Rachael would weep over her sons. Then that Jesus would be called the Nazarene. Detail after detail from the Old Testament fulfilled. And you see it here too. Look at the detail of making sure that Jesus is born in Bethlehem. Look at the detail of making sure that the Magi come to worship him as was promised in the lesson in Isaiah. And the detail that they would bring Gold and Frankincense. This detail foretold hundreds of years in advance, yet fulfilled. God’s attention to it.
It was interesting, here I was already meditating on this and I heard a friend of mine preach on the Epiphany last week. What did He focus on? He spoke of what the theologians of old called it: Providence. He said look at how you see God’s providence in all of this. Look at how you see Him working all of this. I often say that God is playing chess while we’re playing checkers. And that doesn’t even suffice to describe it. He’s doing thermonuclear equations while we’re unable to count with our fingers.
Look at how that plays itself out even in the story here, or in the whole birth. You’ve got Joseph looking to divorce Mary right away, and God reorders that. You’ve got the Magi going to the wrong place, and the Lord redirects them to the Son. You’ve got Herod looking to kill this threat to his power, and the Lord moves the Magi to go back another way. God’s three steps ahead of man in all of it.
And I think we need to look at the world around us in the same sense. Look at the two things we’re most up in arms about: politics and the coronavirus. We’re worried about how things will shake out with race relations or with elections, or the storming of the capitol this week. Do you think God doesn’t have it all in hand? Or the coronavirus. We’ve got the vaccine being distributed and now the virus is changing to spread that much faster. Do we think that if God intends for a certain number to get sick, or even to die with that as the cause it won’t happen?
And of course, I know I’m touching on some very challenging ground in the faith and the mysteries of that faith, but it’s true. God rules over all things and has them working for His good. Does it mean that we don’t try to take care not to get our neighbor sick? Of course not! We still try to honor care with things like social distancing, even here in the church. Do we not hope that vaccines can be created? Of course it’s OK to hope for that, to hope for the virus to end. Do we still vote, do we sill repent of racism and seek reconciliation and care for all peoples? Of course we do! But we understand with David a couple of weeks ago that sometimes pious desires of men don’t fit into God’s mysterious plans for the world. And what I’m referring to, if you recall, was David saying to Nathan the prophet that he would build the temple for God.
Do you remember that reading? David said he was going to do that, and what did Nathan hear as a word from the Lord? “Did I tell anyone I was upset I didn’t have a house? No. Tell David that he won’t build me a house, I will build him one.”
Yes, God has it all in His hands! So why do we rail against it? Why do we seek to push against His rule and trust Him? Why do we not seek instead to know Him and His will? Obviously, as always the answer is sin, but look at what it does to us. Look at how it ultimately draws us to fear and despair.
Christians, we rail against it because we think we know better, but how could we know better? We weren’t there when He created the world, just like He said to Job. I don’t know if you remember all of that. Job went through his whole story and his whole life was toppled end over end. And God said that Job didn’t do anything to deserve it in particular, but the He is God and Job wasn’t. He reminded Job that His wisdom was above Job’s, He was there at the formation of the world, Job wasn’t. How true for us too! And that’s good. It’s especially something we realize is good when we see who this God is. It’s especially good when we see what this Providence works.
After all, I’ve been talking about how God is doing all these things way above us; how He was working this over and against Joseph, and that over and against Herod. And look at what all of the attention to detail was centered on. What was the point of all of it? That there would be this Jesus who saved mankind. God was working all of this to the salvation of the world.
You know that’s something that always strikes me this time of year. We don’t latch onto it much, but the whole New Testament makes the point that this salvation of Jesus is about the whole world. It was promised to the Jews, but given for the whole world. That’s how much God wanted salvation to be brought. That’s how much He wanted salvation to occur. It’s so much a part of His heart, His very being that He wanted to work that salvation, that forgiveness of sins. And He wanted to work it even for those who deserved it least. He wanted to work it for sinners like us.
And He has. Look at how this providence has worked for your benefit. He has worked that providence that you would be brought to the waters of baptism and cleansed under His gracious flood. He has worked His providence that you would be brought to hear His blessed Gospel. He has worked His providence that He would place that salvation upon your tongue in the body and blood of Jesus.
Christians, as we hear this lesson we hear year in and year out, don’t miss that. Those High Priests and Scribes are the warning for us. May we not ignore that Word. We deserve to miss it, but may God keep us in that Word. Why? Because in that Word this God revered by the Magi reveals Himself. He reveals Himself as having all things in His hand. And they are in His Hand for our good, for our salvation; for salvation in His love and His care for us. That stands now amidst political division, amidst pandemics, and even against our own sin. Because He has loved us and worked all things for our good 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 presentation of Jesus in the temple and do so in view of God’s presence. Amen.
As I talked last week about holiness, I said it’s something that we need to be reminded of because it’s not a category we really think in. As I did that, I made the point that holiness is something that is set apart and distinct because it carries a connection to God and His divinity. I think as we don’t think in that way, we have a real trouble understanding things like what we heard in the Gospel lesson today. By that I don’t mean the song of Simeon. We get that Simeon is rejoicing at the birth of our Savior. We get that he realizes He is looking upon the salvation of mankind in his arms. However, the whole idea of the presentation and the purification doesn’t make sense. I’ll explain the actual command in a bit, but to start, I want to reconnect to the point I made last week about God’s presence, that holiness and presence go hand in hand.
If you recall, I made that point last week that you can’t come into God’s presence if you’re unholy. Nothing unholy can come into His presence, or it will desecrate the presence, and His presence will be detrimental and death-dealing. How so? Because He communicates holiness via that presence. When you come before God His holiness radiates from His being. In fact, all holiness is derived only from Him and is only available by contact with Him. This is a strong OT theme that we have become accustomed overlooking or misunderstanding. You know, we sort of think of the Old Testament as just all these crazy laws and we say Jesus came to overcome them so that we’re saved. And that’s that. But it’s like I said last week. We are made holy by Him, keeping His commands prevents desecration. But this begs for us to ask the question, how can we come into that presence? Sin makes us unholy; if we’re unholy we can’t come into presence. But holiness only comes from contact with presence, so how do we get it?
And as we’re speaking about presence, this is where we think God just comes to us like a laser beam. This is where we don’t think in view of the OT. This is where we have turned God into this lovey-dovey mushy God who is all around us and who we can just know that He loves us because we feel so good about Him. But that’s where I love the statement from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. I think most of you know that and have at least seen the movie. I don’t recall if they actually say the line in the move, but it happens between Mr. Beaver and Lucy, one of the human girls in the story. They’re discussing Aslan, the Lion who is a Christ figure, and Lucy, upon hearing that he is a lion makes the connection of what that means. So, she asks Mr. Beaver if Aslan is safe. Fair question, right? I was looking at the lions when we went to the zoo at the beginning of the month. I was thinking of how they are majestic creatures, but how I love animals and I’d like to pet them and the like. But I knew that was a stupid thought, right? You can’t just go up and snuggle a lion. Why not? They could easily overpower you, tear your body to shreds, and devour your remains. So, to answer the question is a lion safe? No! And that’s what Mr. Beaver says about Aslan: “Is he safe? No! But he’s good.”
Christians, that’s the presence of our God. Is it safe? Is our God safe? No! But He’s good. And in His goodness, He’s given us the means to come before Him. He has given us atonement for sin. Like I said last week, that’s what the Old Testament structure taught us. We can come into His presence because He provides means for sin to be paid for. The sacrifices, the shedding of blood made clear that payment. Of course, those were pointing to Jesus, but we’ll get to that in a minute too. So, there’s atonement.
But there’s another part that allows us to enter into His presence. That’s the authorization He speaks in His Word. Think about going to visit a king, or the president, or some other VIP. You wouldn’t just bust into their court, or the oval office, or their office period without permission. You wouldn’t just walk past everyone and speak to the person on your own whim, right? What do you wait for? You wait for some kind of invitation to come into that presence, and then you wait for some kind of invitation to speak what’s on your mind.
And that’s what the Word provides. In the Old Testament, the word provided that authorization according to the commands of the Law. Think about what I said before about this presence of God being like a laser beam, and we sort of think about God just zapping us with presence in a way that’s unmediated, that’s with out mediation. But that’s not what we see. No, there’s the mediation of what the Word says, what it authorizes. This helps things make more sense in the Old Testament too. For example, if you know the story of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu who were serving at the altar at the tabernacle and were struck dead because they didn’t bring fire to the offering of incense that was authorized. Or the story of Uzzah, who tried to prevent the Ark of the Covenant from falling, but also was killed when he touched it. These things don’t make sense unless we understand the danger of approaching the holy presence of God apart from the authorization of His Word.
And that word is what we see Mary and Joseph abiding in when they bring Jesus to the Temple in the Gospel of Luke. As Luke tells us, “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’).” You see the Law prescribed that there was a period of uncleanness then a need for purification after that at birth. It actually had associations with purity relating to birth, to death, to sex, to things like menstruation. And we hear some of that and think, “Why?” What does that have to do with sinning, why is one impure then? From what I’ve read, it was actually because some of the countries around Israel believed that there was power to be gained from these things. Women had special power in view of their ability to give birth. The blood of menstruation had special power attached to it. Death had it’s own power, as one was thought to be able to manipulate the spirits of their dead loved ones to accomplish the things they desired. And as you hear all of that, where is power not attributed? To the Lord. So, Israel was called to be different. They were called to disassociate those things from their worship. They were to understand that the Lord gave them their provision and power. Therefore, they were to be cleansed from these things before going to His presence. And where was that presence? In the Temple. Specifically, at the Ark.
Now, I said before that I would connect this to Jesus, and here we have to. What’s neat about this presentation of Jesus is that it’s a shift. On the one hand, this baby is being brought to the Temple, He’s being presented for service to the Lord. But on the other hand, look at the response of Simeon and Anna. What are they there to tell everyone? What was promised Simeon? That he would see the consolation of Israel, the Lord’s Christ, before his death. And this promise was fulfilled. The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon, revealed to Anna too, that this was in fact that Christ. And so, they gave testimony to that witness of the Spirit. And if you know the Law, you know it was important that they both did it. Why? Because every matter had to be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. You have the witness of Simeon, you have the witness of Anna, and you could say you’ve also got the witness of Joseph and Mary who can confirm their words.
But as we’re talking about presence of God, think about who this Jesus is. What was He named? Well, yes, Jesus, but Immanuel. Immanuel. God with us. God had been present in the Ark of the Covenant. His holiness had been brought out of the Holy of Holies in the Temple and carried to the people via the work of the priests. But there in the arms of Simeon is the new priest, the Infant Priest, holy born. And now the glory of God, the presence of God was entering the Temple in a way that had never happened. There in this child born at Christmas was the presence of God in an utterly unprecedented fashion. God meeting with His people.
Now in the temple, God met with His people to give them His holiness, to bless them with His promises and His life, but now in Jesus this was no longer happening through those men, through the sacrifices on the altar. In Christ, there was a new Ark, and the new altar would be the cross, and the altar in the Heavenly Realms where the sacrifice of the cross would be brought before the Heavenly Father in satisfaction for every sin, every unholy thought word and deed. There in that work at the ascension, the Lord who was presented that day in the Temple presented and continues to present His work before the Father for us.
But as a I speak about the ascension, what do we do with God’s presence now? I keep mentioning how we get this omnipresence wrong and how we think God just connects to us like a laser beam, but that’s not right, so what about it? If this is how God works, where is that presence? It’s that question I’m constantly asking. Where is God? Not as He is everywhere, but where is He for you?
Hopefully, by now you’re thinking of it rightly. He is in His Word. He is in that message of the Gospel that tells you of this priest who sacrificed Himself on the cross for you that in His resurrection you would have holiness to enter into His presence. He is in the waters of baptism. Those waters that wash not earthly impurity and uncleanness from your flesh but cleanse your conscience in the washing in His purity. He is under that bread and wine, His body and blood present for your life and salvation in the forgiveness they won for you on the cross. That is where He is.
And just like there was a liturgy, a rite of how to approach God in the Old Testament, we have a rite centered on His Word to come before Him as He brings Himself to us in preaching, in the Lord’s Supper. Think about the awe of that presence, Christians. As I often say, think about the awe of the Christ here in your presence. Think of the awe that we too can approach Simeon’s song with as we sing it after communion: Lord let your servants depart in peace, according to what? According to your Word! And why? Because our eyes have seen the salvation He has prepared for us! Salvation of holiness. Salvation of mercy. Salvation of love! Salvation by the Christ who was presented in the Temple that He could present us before the Father holy and blameless. And why? That we may stand in His presence there. Not because we deserve or have earned it, but because He has loved us and authorized us to enter by the grace He won for us through His Son this infant in Simeon’s arms. Amen.