Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Monday, January 31, 2011

CD - The Salutary Use of the Lord’s Supper? - 1 Cor. 11:26-29

What is the proper use of the Lord’s Supper? Or better, what is the proper way to prepare ourselves to approach the Lord’s Supper? Is fasting commended or required? How do I know if I am properly prepared? What if I am not properly prepared? Following are the answers to these questions.

Fasting as a means of preparation for the Lord’s Supper is indeed commendable and a noble thing to do, but we must remember that it is neither required nor commanded by God. Fasting can also be done in a sinful way, as we have seen of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. True fasting is a good way to focus your attention on the sacrament and is good as a means to clear out your body’s system. It should be done between you and God, alone. While you are fasting, I would suggest using meal time as your prayer time. You might want to plan this for a day you know you will not be disturbed by being asked to eat, like not on a day you are expected to be at a dinner or a party, etc. You might want to search the scriptures and read up on fasting some time before you begin this endeavor.

A good way to prepare yourself to approach the Lord’s Table would be to examine yourself. The Catechism as well as the Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Worship, and Lutheran Service Book have some questions you can ask yourself. The questions or types of questions you will want to use are those that ask if you know you have sinned and if you are truly sorry for your sin. If you believe that Jesus will and has forgiven your sins, and if you are ready to start and with His help, sin no more, you should partake of Holy Communion.

Those people who are not properly prepared are those who are, including yourself if you are, impenitent or ungodly, those who are not instructed (as in Confirmation) or do not understand this sacrament, thus, the reason for close communion, that is communing with only those of the same belief (denomination). Those who do not understand the sacrament may include those who believe it is either a symbolic act or a transubstantiation and not a real presence of bread and wine and body and blood.* Those who cannot examine themselves, such as little children. Those people who are unrepentant or are carrying around a grudge. All these people should refrain from communing.

What then is confirmation? The word means simply to “confirm” or to state for yourself what your sponsors said you believed at your baptism. Or, to confirm for yourself what you believe if you were not baptized as an infant. This is a public confession, not a decision for Christ, although it can be considered a commitment. It is also a rite whereby you become a part of the communicant membership of the church. This commitment should not be taken lightly but should be adhered to and daily remembered as our baptism.


Dear Heavenly Father, forgive me especially when I approach Your table unprepared. Forgive me when I neglect to partake of Your Holy Meal. Thank You for the forgiveness You have purchased for me and for the many gifts which are mine through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Continue to strengthen me through Your Word and Sacraments. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

*Note: When you think about it, if a person partakes of the Lord’s Supper at a church that believes it is a symbolic act, one in which the bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Jesus, then that same person partakes of the Lord’s Supper at a church that believes the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ so that there is no longer bread and wine only body and blood and finally if that same partakes of the Lord’s Supper at a Lutheran church that believes, teaches and confesses the real presence, that is that there is bread and wine and body and blood, then in essence they have lied to two of the three churches, because you cannot believe all three mutually exclusive claims at the same time.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What a Wonder, We Get What We Do Not Deserve - January 30, 2011 - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Matthew 5:1-12

We live in a nice house; it is not too big, but it is big enough. It keeps us out of the weather; cool in the summer, warm in the winter, dry during the rain. We have nice clothes to wear, perhaps some may think my wardrobe is not in fashion, but I do have enough clothes to wear to keep me warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We have enough food to eat and really, more than enough to eat. We have a car to drive; it might not be the latest or fanciest model, but it gets us where we are going. We have a computer, a telephone, a television set with a DVD player. We have all that we need and really, we have much more than we need. We even have a lot of things we simply want. All in all, I would say we are blessed. Perhaps I might even go so far as to suggest that one of God’s wonders to which I am able to witness is the fact that He has been so good to me and my family. But what if I did not have all these nice things in life? What if I had in mind that what I have is not enough? What if my mind was of such that I thought I needed to “keep up with the Joneses?” Would I still feel as blessed? In our text for today we are introduced to what it means to be blessed, not necessarily blessed as I have just described, but to be truly blessed, something that, too often, I believe we miss.

Before we talk about what it means to be truly blessed, we should spend some time talking about what we deserve. Now, most of us probably think pretty highly of ourselves. We think we deserve the job we have or maybe we think we deserve the next position up the old corporate ladder. Perhaps we think we deserve a raise. Maybe we think we deserve a larger house, a fancier car, nicer clothes and the like. We are good people we rationalize. We are law abiding citizens. We attend church and sometimes give of our time as well as our talents and some of our treasures. We are Christians after all. Perhaps in our own minds we think we deserve to be blessed, in other words, that we deserve to be blessed with all the things we have mentioned earlier.

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus, preaching to the crowd, says that those who deserve to be blessed are those who are “poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” those who “are the meek,” “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” “the merciful,” “the pure in heart,” “the peacemakers,” “those who are persecuted,” and those who “when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me,” stand firm in their faith. As we hear these words, perhaps we are thinking, “Yes, that often describes me.” So, yes, we believe we deserve to be blessed.

Maybe we need to have another look at those to whom Jesus says are blessed. Are we really “poor in spirit,” and do we “mourn?” Are we among the “meek,” and “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?” Are we “merciful,” “pure in heart,” “peacemakers,” “persecuted,” “insulted,” and so forth? We just said that we are pretty well off and pretty blessed. And we also just acknowledged that sometimes we believe we are deserving of more. Oh, but “Pastor,” you say, “that is not what we mean. We are talking about two different things.” Are we?

Do we acknowledge our constant need to, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word of the Lord? Or do we just hear it on Sunday mornings or every other Sunday morning when we do not have something more important to do than be in divine service? Do we mourn at our spiritual weaknesses, our constant breaking of the commandments and sinning? Do we humbly acknowledge our doubts, our moments of unbelief and our moments of despair during times of trials? And do we hunger and thirst after wanting to be “right” with God? Maybe you have heard the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” Our actions betray us. Our poor devotional life, our poor attendance at divine service, our poor attendance at Bible Class. Our lording it over others, often times thinking more highly of ourselves because we are members of this church. Perhaps we are not as deserving as we would like to think.

Are we merciful? Do we give others the benefit of the doubt? Do we always put the best construction on everything and explain everything in the kindest way? Do we always, first, think the best in any given situation, or do we like to hear the “dirt?” Do we seek forgiveness and peace or are we among those who are persecuting and ridiculing others for their faith, or their lack of faith? Do we rationalize that it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere in your belief and so we stay away from confronting our neighbor, our friend, and even our family member concerning their lack of faith or their being involved in some non-Christian organization, cult or sect? Again, what do our actions say? Perhaps we are like the young man who spent his summer between college years at the roughest, toughest, meanest lumberjack camp in all of North America. His friends from church all wondered how he would make it, being a Christian and all. Would they mock him and belittle him? Would they beat him up? Would he make it till the end of the summer? When, at the end of the summer, he came home, and before he headed back to college, he was asked how he had faired, if he was teased because he was a Christian. His answer was, “No, they never found out.” Again, perhaps we are not as deserving as we would like to think. Maybe you have heard the question, “If we were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Again, perhaps we are not as deserving as we would like to think.

So, of what are we deserving? In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). What Paul means is that the cost or the price for our sins, what our sins have earned, is death. And not just any old death, but eternal spiritual death, hell in other words. When we take these words of Jesus and match them up against the Ten Commandments and then look in the mirror, what we see is that what we are deserving is not to be blessed, but to be cursed, even to be damned.

The words of our text are words which Jesus is speaking. He is the one who makes them Law words, which they are when we do not do them, and He is the one who makes them Gospel words, which they are when He works these things in us. Jesus is the one who came to do for us what we are unable to do. He came as an example for us, but more than an example. To say that Jesus is just an example would lead us to despair, because, in and of ourselves, we would never be able to follow His example. We can never be perfect. Jesus came as an example, but even more, He came to fulfill His example. Yes, Jesus showed us how to live. He lived the way we are supposed to live. He lived perfectly, but He did not live that way just for Himself. He lived perfectly for us, for you and for me. Even more, now He sends the Holy Spirit to work in us so that we might live in the way that He would have us to live.

Jesus is God in human flesh for all people. The very word “epiphany” means appearance. That we celebrate the epiphany of Jesus means that we celebrate His appearing to humankind, the Magi in particular. It also means that we celebrate the appearing of God in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, His Son. Jesus is God who came to do for us what we are unable to do. He came to live perfectly for us in our place. Remember, perfection is what is expected of us and that is what is ultimately demanded of us, that is that we are perfect. Jesus came as one of us, so that He could live for us. He was the one who was “poor in spirit,” “who mourn[ed],” who was “meek,” “who hunger[ed] and thirst[ed] for righteousness,” who was “merciful”, “pure in heart,” a “peacemaker,” “who [was] persecuted,” and who stood firm to the end.

Jesus is the one who paid our tab. He paid the price, that is the cost, the wage, that our sins earned. He paid the eternal spiritual death penalty. He paid the eternal spiritual death penalty by His suffering and death on the cross, suffering and death which should have been ours, but that, because of His great love for us, He willingly suffered for us. Not only did He pay the price, the penalty for our sins, but now, when He stands before the Father in heaven He acknowledges His love for us, He says, “She, He, is one of mine.”

When our last hour on this earth comes, whether that is at our own death or at the Lord’s return, we will stand before the Lord’s throne to be judge. We will not be judged according to our earthly accumulations. The bumper sticker is not true, “The one with the most toys wins.” When we stand before the Lord’s throne the devil will be there accusing us and claiming us as one of his. He will outline how we have not been any of what we think we have, we have not been “poor in spirit,” “mourn[ing],” “meek,” “hunger[ing] and thirst[ing] for righteousness,” “merciful”, “pure in heart,” “peacemakers,” “persecuted,” and “insult[ed],” “falsely [had] all kinds of evil [said] against [us] you because of me,” nor have we stood firm in our faith. And the judgement against us will be guilty. The sentence will be eternal spiritual death. But wait. Our defense approaches the bench. After a few minutes the judge hands down His decision. Life, eternal life in heaven. You see, our defense is Jesus and what He tells the judge is that He loves us and that He has given His life for ours. He has paid our way into His eternal home.

No, we are not deserving of any of the blessings of which we receive. They are given to us as gifts from God. Yes, even when we fail to acknowledge them as such, the Lord continues to pour out His blessings on us. As we look at these “beatitudes” as we call them, one commentator put it this way, “The divine passives indicate that we do nothing to gain these rewards, they are all pure gift.” In other words, the way Jesus tells it, we do nothing to gain these blessings, He simple gives them to us because of His great love for us. Which reminds me, I neglected to tell you, the “Beatitudes” are framed in verse 3 and 10 with the words, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What we are given, these gifts of God, are indeed the wonders of God’s blessings. They are the greatest gifts of all. These are not gifts and blessings which fade and rot with time. No, these are eternal blessings, blessings of a life in heaven with Jesus.

Yes, we are blessed. We are blessed beyond what we might think or imagine. We are blessed with all that we need and more; we have even more than we might want. And more, we are blessed again and again, each and every day with the blessing of all of God’s grace, forgiveness, life and salvation. We are blessed beyond what we deserve. It is all gift. And we are left simply to stand in awe of what a great and wonderful God we have. We are left to stand in awe of His wonders. We are left to cry out with thanks and praise to our great and awesome God. To Him be the glory. Amen.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

CD - Power of the Lord’s Supper? - 1 Corinthians 10:3-5

From where does the Lord’s Supper get its power? That is a question which many people ask. Some ask for good reasons, some for the reason of wanting to harness that “power” from themselves, much like when Simon offered to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit from Peter (Acts 8:18). We are a society of people who with a fetish for power.

The Lord’s Supper gets its power from faith, which is also given through the Supper. As one eats the bread and body and drinks the cup and blood of Jesus he is given forgiveness of sins, faith and life. It is this faith, which is given in this supper, which takes hold of the other gifts given in the supper. Thus, you might say this supper gets its power from the power it gives. This points us back to Jesus and the cross which is where we always need to be pointing when we are talking about God and His good gifts and blessings. The power does not come from within ourselves. The power comes from outside of us.

In “Lutheran Worship, History and Practice,” Dr. Norman Nagel says this about the Lord’s Supper: “The Lord’s Supper is surely what it is when it is the Lord’s doing. He has done Calvary. ‘The passion of Christ occurred but once on the cross. But whom would it benefit if it were not distributed, applied and put to us?’ If you want your sins forgiven you do not go to Calvary, but to the Lord’s Supper. At Calvary it was achieved but not given out. Here it is not achieved but it is given you. As the Small Catechism confesses, the two chief things are the bodily eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ and the words for you. Into mouth and into faith; unfaith can repudiate the gift, but it cannot make our Lord’s words untrue. It can profane his body and blood to mortal consequence.”* The power of the Lord’s Supper is given through the Supper and comes through the power of Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil won on the cross.

When it comes to the power of the Lord’s Supper we would do well in being content with being given what God gives through this Holy Meal and not concern ourselves with how we might obtain such power for ourselves. We would do well to focus our attention on the giver and the gift He gives.

Dear Lord, forgive me when I seek power rather than gifts. Thank You that You see to it that through Your body and blood I am give forgiveness, faith, and life. May Your body and blood strengthen me unto eternal life. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

*Lutheran Worship History and Practice, Edited by Fred L. Precht, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO ©1993, p. 304-305.

Friday, January 28, 2011

CD - Power of the Lord’s Supper? - Matthew 26:26-28

Here again we could almost rewrite the thoughts from the Power of Baptism. Of course, I will not. The power of the Lord’s Supper lies in the Word of God and in faith in God’s Word.

Anyone can come in and commune in any church. Yes, even though the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LC-MS) says we have close communion, a practice in which we only commune with other LC-MS Lutherans (close, in that they are close to us in their belief not closed as in not open to others, although this case can also be argued), anyone can come in and lie. I state this point only so that I can make my next statement, not that anyone would lie, just to commune. Even some of the LC-MS people might be communing hypocrites. Anyway, both worthy and unworthy communicants eat and drink at the Lord’s Table. For the worthy communicant, the words of Jesus, “Given and shed for you for the remission of your sins” impart and seal the forgiveness of sins and, with the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. For the unworthy communicant, however, Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 11:27, “. . . he is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” He is liable to be punished.

We eat His body and drink His blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine, consecrated by the words of Christ Himself, given and shed for you for the remission of sins. This eating and drinking have power only when connected with Jesus’ words, and, when these words are believed. That is, when we have complete faith in what Jesus said, that we will have forgiveness of sins. As with baptism, with this forgiveness of sins comes new life in Christ and salvation, eternal life (and it is certain) in heaven with Jesus. Again, I stress here, it is His Supper and He is the one giving the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. Because they are from Him, they are certain and we can believe.

For this reason, because of the power of the Lord’s supper which brings about forgiveness and certainty of heaven, we eat and drink, or partake, of the sacrament as often as we can. We partake for our strengthening of faith as well. We remember that all of these blessings come from God, lest we should boast of our own works of faith.

Dear Lord, forgive me when I fail to live according to Your Word. Thank You for the forgiveness and strength I receive through Your body and blood in communion. May Your body and blood strengthen me unto eternal life. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

CD - Benefits of the Lord’s Supper? - Romans 6:8-9

It has been said, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” In the Lord’s Supper the main thing is bread and wine, body and blood and forgiveness of sins. In the Lord’s Supper we are being given bread and wine and body and blood. What does it mean, then, if a person does not recognize the bread and wine in the supper, or what if a person does not recognize the body and blood in the supper? Jesus took bread and said, “Take eat, this is My body.” He took the cup (of wine) and said, “Take drink, this is My blood.” How can we and who are we to say that there is no bread or wine or no body or blood?

The main thing of the Lord’s Supper is bread and wine and body and blood. With this bread and wine and body and blood we are given forgiveness of sins. As our Bible reading says, “if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” “Do this in remembrance of Me” means that we are participating in the Lord’s death and resurrection. His death becomes our death. His resurrection becomes our resurrection. He died the eternal death penalty for us, in our place, thus we have complete forgiveness of sins. And with forgiveness comes the gifts of life and salvation. Heaven is ours by God’s grace. Heaven is ours, made ours by Jesus’ death and resurrection and our forgiveness.

The main thing in the Lord’s Supper is bread and wine and body and blood and forgiveness. In his Gospel John begins by telling us the “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and tented among us” (John 1:1,14). Jesus is the Word. In the Lord’s Supper He is the tangible Word. He is the Word which we feel and taste as we are given His body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine.

The main thing of the Lord’s Supper is bread and wine and body and blood and forgiveness of sins. An extra benefit of the Lord’s Supper is a shared communion with others who confess what we confess, thus the name, Holy Communion. This Holy Communion is not the main thing, but is an added benefit. To come to the table to share in the Lord’s body and blood does not make us one in faith. It is our oneness in faith which brings us to share in this means of bread and wine and body and blood. It is not the homecoming celebration which makes us members of the class, but the class that brings us to the homecoming celebration.

Dear Lord, thank You for the gift of Your Holy Supper. Thank You for Your body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine. Thank You for forgiveness, life and salvation. And thank You for the fellowship with others in this Your Holy Meal. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CD - Benefits of the Lord’s Supper? - 1 Corinthians 10:16

It is really hard to write about the benefits of the Lord’s Supper without repeating what was said about the benefits of baptism. It goes something like this: Baptism offers forgiveness of sins. The Lord’s Supper offers forgiveness of sins. Baptism offers strengthening of (and/or bringing to) faith. The Lord’s Supper offers strengthening of faith. The gifts of baptism are just that, gifts and are free. The gifts of the Lord’s Supper are free. Now, let us try a different angle.

The Lord’s Supper is also called communion. This word means “in (with) unison,” that is, it implies a oneness of faith. When we commune with someone, we say we are in unison, one in faith with that person. We say we believe what that person believes. Our Bible reading for today tells us of the union of Christ’s blood with the wine (cup) and Christ’s body with the bread. Our partaking of the bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, puts us in union with God, our heavenly Father. Our partaking of communion with fellow Christians puts us in union with them. What a wonderful sacrament this is! It brings all believers together in union in one faith in Jesus and the Father.

We are given the benefits of strengthening of our faith, which we have already mentioned, and forgiveness of sins. We are given a sign of our oneness of faith. We are also given strength to love God and our neighbor. As in Baptism, we are given the promise of the certainty of heaven (life and salvation). Note once again that it is we who are the ones being given to. It is the Lord’s Supper, He has invited us to be a part of it and supplies all parts.

We must remember that these benefits, just as the benefits of baptism, are given to us; they are free. We neither work for, nor merit any of the blessings we are given. We also remember that we must not commune frivolously, superstitiously, or blasphemously. For just as we are given blessings and benefits, so also we may be given condemnation for our misuse of the Lord’s Supper. (See 1 Corinthians 11:27.) Go, then, in faith to be given the communion and in faith believe the promise of blessings. Celebrate your certainty of heaven. Celebrate as often as you “eat this bread and drink this wine until the Lord’s return.” These blessings are ours for Jesus’ sake.

Dear Lord, thank You for the gift of Your Holy Supper. Forgive me when I doubt Your presence in this meal. Forgive me when I think I bring anything, except my need for forgiveness. Thank You for Your forgiveness and strengthening. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

CD - What is the Lord’s Supper? - 1 Corinthians 11:23-24

The Lord’s Supper is what Jesus gives to us from the Passover meal. The Passover meal was that meal which was to be eaten in commemoration of the passing over of the angel of death just before the children of Israel were rescued from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. The Passover meal was to be eaten every year. This meal was to be eaten with everyone, even shared with the stranger who was living or visiting with the householder.

When Jesus gives us His Supper, which He takes from the Passover Seder, you will notice who is with Him. When Jesus gives His Supper He does not invite everyone, even the foreigner or stranger, rather He gives His Supper only to His eleven closest friends, those with whom He shares an intimate fellowship and confession. During the Passover meal Jesus takes the bread, brakes it and gives it to His disciples and says that this is His body. He does not say this symbolizes or is turned into His body, but that this is His body. Likewise with the wine. He takes the (cup of) wine, blesses it and gives it to His disciples saying that this is His blood, not that this symbolizes, nor that it is changed into, but that it is, His blood.

From Jesus’ giving of this supper we understand that it is His Supper and we do it best when we do it the way in which He has given it to be done. In much the same way that we would not go to someone’s home to whom we have been invited to dinner and say, I do not want to do dinner the way you are serving it, I want to do it my way. So, when we come to the Lord’s table we come at His bidding, according to His invitation and according to the way in which He has given it. Meaning, we come to His table with those with whom we share an intimate fellowship and confession.

When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we do this in remembrance. This means that we do this as we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through our remembrance, through our participation Jesus’ death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism was given and commanded by God for salvation. The Sacrament of the Altar is given and commanded by God, but is not “necessary” for salvation. This reminds us that there really is no such thing as emergency communion, like emergency Baptism. With that it mind I would suggest that we best make use of this meal by making use in our own congregation, with those people with whom we have pledge a shared confession, and under our pastor who is in charge of our spiritual well being, in this way our pastor can care for us and we will have less or no doubt concerning the confession of the members with whom we are sharing in this fellowship meal.

Dear Father in heaven, forgive me when I forget that this Supper is Your Supper. Forgiven me when I am tempted to abuse and misuse Your Holy Meal. Continually prepare me so that I may come to Your table and be given Your gifts of faith, forgiveness and the confidence of life eternal. Thank You for these Your good gifts. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, January 24, 2011

CD - What is the Lord’s Supper? - Matthew 26:26-28

The Lord’s Supper was instituted on Maundy Thursday night, the night on which Jesus was betrayed. It is called various names, including, Sacrament of the Altar, Eucharist, Mass, and Holy Communion. It is the other sacrament (one being baptism) of which we teach. It consists of two visible elements connected to God’s Word and offering us forgiveness of sins and renewal of faith.

The Lord’s Supper consists of two visible elements, bread and wine, which are received in a natural way, through the mouth. With these two visible elements connected with God’s Word, the partaker is also given in, with, and under the bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood in a supernatural way, through the Holy Spirit. Thus, the belief that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood is incorrect and not according to the Words of Jesus. Also incorrect, and not according to the very Words of Jesus, is the belief that the bread and wine only symbolize the body and blood of Christ. Our Bible reading for today shows this relationship when we are told that Jesus took bread and the cup and said, of the bread and cup (of wine), “This is my body. This is my blood.”

This sacrament, as is the sacrament of baptism, is a joyous sacrament. Sure, we should approach the Lord’s table (altar) in sorrow and repentance, but we should even more so smile and rejoice when leaving, for we have been given forgiveness and we have been strengthened. It is really a shame to watch people come away from the Lord’s Table with a frown on their faces. I, too, believe in reverence, but why should we not let our joy show? Is there no such thing as a reverent smile?

This is the Lord’s Supper, it is not ours. We do nothing in this Holy meal, God has already done everything. We do not present anything but our unholy selves, God presents the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus. We attend to passively be given the benefits and blessings He brings to us.

How often, then, should we attend this sacrament? Unlike baptism, wherein we are baptized only once but daily remember our baptism, we would do well to partake of the Lord’s Supper as often as we can. We would do well to attend especially when we are feeling a great deal of temptation and burden of guilt. We would do well to attend with a repentant heart. We would do well to attend believing in Jesus’ promise of forgiveness and strengthening. Then we leave the Lord’s Supper in joy and with confidence that our sins are forgiven and that all our prayers are heard. Then we cannot help but smile the next time we go to communion.

Dear Father in heaven, forgive me when I neglect to attend Your Holy Supper. Stir in my heart the desire to attend Your Supper and through Your body and blood grant me strengthening of faith, forgiveness and the confidence of life eternal. Thank You for these Your good gifts. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

“Come, Follow Me,” Jesus Said - January 23, 2011 - Third Sunday after Epiphany - Text: Matthew 4:12-25

Today we move back into the Gospel of Matthew where we are privileged to have Matthew show us more prophecy fulfilled. Remember, one of Matthew’s goals is to show us that Jesus is the promised Messiah and he does that by his constant reminder that what Jesus is doing is done to fulfill what the prophets have said the Messiah would do. If you were listening close to the readings of the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson you may have noticed that parts of them sounded the same. Both lessons point out that “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” If we took the time to sit down and think about it, and if we did not know what we were reading, if we did not know when it was written, we might imagine that these words were spoken to us today. How much more pointed can Isaiah’s words be, especially as we live in a world in which our own country is at war against terrorism and we have military troops stationed throughout the world for our protection. Even more, daily we are told of events of robbery, murder, abortion, adultery, fornication, and all other forms of evil which are rampant in our own country and world today. We are living in the land of the shadow of death, physical death and apart from faith in Jesus, eternal spiritual death. We would be in despair if it were not for the good news coming from the Gospel words from our text, “on us a light has dawned.” That light that has dawned we know is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and with Him we have forgiveness. I said, one of Matthew’s goals is to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. I believe a second goal and really a goal for us today is that we take Jesus seriously, and yes, all that it means to take Him seriously.

As we move into our text for today we begin with Matthew’s persistence of showing us more prophecy being fulfilled. We begin with verse twelve, “12Now when [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned’” (v. 12-16).

Matthew begins by explaining Jesus’ move, from Nazareth to Capernaum, by telling us that it happened after John had been put into prison. At this point the ministry of John the Baptist comes to an end and the ministry of Christ Jesus is shifted into high gear. Jesus’ move was because of John’s imprisonment, but it was also a move to make it better for Him to be able to reach more people. Jesus moved to Capernaum because it was on the trade route on the Sea of Galilee, in other words a lot of people from around the world came through this place, thus, this was a prime place for teaching, preaching and healing. This was a prime place for reaching many people with the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven was near.

Jesus’ move to Capernaum was not just so that He could reach more people, it was also a move to fulfill today’s Old Testament lesson from Isaiah, “1But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (9:1-2)

Jesus’ move was a move to call the people out of the darkness of sin, death and the power of the devil. Jesus came to usher in the kingdom of God and so He came as a Light for the kingdom of God. Jesus came to usher in the kingdom of God and to call us out of our darkness of sin, death and the power of the devil.

At first we might not think much of this one person, Jesus, as being able to do much, much less than be a light for the world, however, one light can do a lot. If you have ever been in a cave where there is no light and turned out all the lights, it is very dark. Yet, if you light one little match, it lights up a lot. And here we are talking about Jesus, God in flesh, who is able to do more than we might think or imagine. Yet, at this time He is merely working to usher in the kingdom of Heaven.

Continuing on in our text, Matthew shifts to the calling of the disciples. Matthew tells us that Jesus called the first four disciples to make them apostles. We pick up reading at verse eighteen, “18While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (v. 18-22).

Last week we heard how Andrew had been hanging around Jesus to see if He was the Christ, the Messiah and after doing so he was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. The first thing Andrew did was to tell his brother Simon Peter that they had found the Messiah. The natural order then is what happens in our text, Jesus comes to call Simon, known as Peter and his brother Andrew to be His very close disciples, and to give them a special call as His apostles. Jesus tells them, “I will make you fishers of men.” These are words to which these two fisherman could readily relate. They knew about catching fish, now Jesus would teach them how to “catch” people for the kingdom of God. And if you are wondering, the difference between a disciple and an apostle is this, anyone who is a believer and follower of Jesus is a disciple. You and I are disciples of Jesus. Yet, Jesus specifically chose and set apart twelve to be apostles, those sent for a specific purpose.

Jesus also calls James and John, the sons of Zebedee. These two brothers were business partners in the fishing industry with Peter and Andrew. They, too, knew the fishing business quite well and now Jesus would teach them how to “catch” people for the kingdom of God. Now Jesus would make them His apostles as well.

You may have noticed that I skipped verse seventeen earlier because this verse and the last verses of our text give us insight into Jesus’ preaching. Verse seventeen and twenty-three to the end of our text read, “17From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (v. 17). “23And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan” (v. 22-24).

Jesus began to preach, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus’ words were very similar to the words of John the Baptist, who you might recall, also preached, “repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus preached the word of which He was the fulfillment. The kingdom of heaven was near, it was right there being ushered in by Jesus Himself. Jesus preached the word, “repent” which literally means to change one’s mind. To repent meant for a person to change their mind about sinning, to turn one hundred-eighty degrees in the opposite direction of sinning, to turn from living in the darkness of sin, in the land of the shadow of death and to move to living in the light in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching, preaching, and healing. He took the good news to the people. He did not wait for them to come looking for Him. Although, as the people began hearing Jesus’ Word, seeing the miracles He performed, being fed by Him, and so on, they began to flock after Him so much that He had little or no time to Himself. And after the Jewish leaders heard Him, they threw Him out of their synagogues so He had to do His preaching, teaching and healing out in the countryside.

Interestingly enough, Jesus continued to show Himself to be the Christ, by His teaching, preaching and healing. It is the Gospel writer, John, who persists in showing us that Jesus is the Christ by the signs and miracles He performed. Here Matthew, without using the words, “These things were done to fulfill what was said through the prophet,” shows us that Jesus is the Christ, by His teaching, preaching, and healing.

As we move further into the twenty-first century, four weeks already here into 2011, we are reminded by Matthew, that Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God. This means that we are now living in the kingdom of God. Even so, while we are living on this earth we continue to face the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. We continue to face the temptation to be about our business in this world as if this is all we have, forgetting about our life in heaven, literally not taking Jesus seriously.

Thus today, Jesus continues to call us to repentance. He calls on us to repent of neglecting His Word and Sacraments, and lest we think that these words do not apply to us who are here today, we need to remember that even at our best we are still not perfect. Jesus calls us to repent of neglecting to help and befriend, to speak well of and stand up for, to put the best construction on everything. He calls us to repent for neglecting to speak out and stand up against the sins of this world. He calls us to repent of being tolerant of sin. He calls us to repent for the many times we have gone along with the thoughts of this world, that I am not my brothers keeper and that what a person does is no one’s business but their own.

Jesus calls us to follow Him. He calls us to go against the ways of this world, to follow Him in our thoughts, our words, and our actions. He calls us to believe in Him, to strengthen our faith in Him through making regular, every day and every Sunday, and diligent use of the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. He calls on us to remain faithful to Him, through all of life. And not only does He call on us to follow Him, He moves in us to answer His call.

Jesus comes to us in our world today to bring healing. He comes in our world to rescue us from sin, death and the devil. Of course, all this He has already accomplished through His own death on the cross, but He comes to us to make His achievements ours. He comes to make His death our death. He comes to make His resurrection our resurrection. He comes to make His work on the cross our own personal salvation. He comes to give to us personally the gifts that He has to give, the gifts of faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.

Jesus gives us His gifts through the means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments. He comes to us through these means, which means that apart from these means there is no being given His gifts. That is why it is so important that we make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, so that we may be given the gifts that Jesus has to give to us.

Jesus was born into this world to shine through the darkness of sin, death and the devil, to give us the way to eternal life. By His fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies, He has shown Himself to be who He said He is, and by His teaching, preaching, and healing He comes to us to give us the gifts of life, eternal life and salvation. To Him be the glory. Amen.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

CD - Doing the Supper Up Right - 1 Cor. 11:23-24

The Lord’s Supper is just that, the Lord’s Supper. It is His Supper and the way in which He gives it is the way in which we are to use it. Much like we do not go to someone’s house and say, “I do not want to do dinner the way in which you are serving it, I want to do it my way,” so we do not go to the Lord’s table and say, “It does not matter what you think, I want to do it my way.”

When Jesus gave His supper, He took it from the Passover Feast. Remember, the Passover was for all who were in the family and for the foreigner who was visiting. It was an open Passover. When Jesus gave the Lord’s Supper He did not invite the foreigner. He did not even invite the one disciple who was to betray Him. Jesus gave His supper for those in His family of faith, for those who were like minded in their confession. His was a closed Passover and a closed Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper is not a “me and Jesus” thing. Jesus says that His body and blood are given for you (plural), or as we would say in Texas, given for ya’ll. It is a family meal, a family supper, a family dinner.

I have said these things before in small Bible studies, but I think I need to say it on a more broad basis, that is why I am saying it in the devotion, because you all need to hear it. Let me preface my words by saying that this is not something that I would set down as a law, because I cannot. The Lord’s Supper is a gift and we celebrate it as a practice. I would suggest that the best way to celebrate the Lord’s Supper is to celebrate only in your home church with your “family” of believers. These are the people you know. Here the pastor knows you and can care for you spiritually.

The Lord’s Supper is different from Holy Baptism. The Lord’s Supper is not something that is demanded, as is Holy Baptism. There really is no such thing as emergency communion. The Lord’s Supper, rather, is a family of faith dinner. It is a time to gather with those who have stood together and confessed together their belief in the teachings of this church. Thus, there is less problem of misunderstanding someone’s confession and of making a false confession.

Again, I cannot and will not make this as a policy (which would make it a new law), for to do so would be to go against conscience and Scripture. However, I would offer you these thoughts to spark your own thoughts as we together struggle with being God’s people in this place.

Dear Heavenly Father, forgive me especially when I approach Your table unprepared. Forgive me when I neglect to partake of Your Holy Meal. Thank You for the forgiveness You have purchased for me and for the many gifts which are mine through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Continue to strengthen me through Your Word and Sacraments. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, January 21, 2011

CD - The Office of the Keys - John 20:22-23

The name, Office of the Keys, comes from the power, found in this chief part of the Catechism, to open or lock, in a very real sense, the door to heaven. It is during our study of this office and the office of ministry that we talk about church discipline. First, let us understand the word, peculiar. Peculiar, as it is used here, does not mean strange or weird, but it means something that belongs specifically to the church.

Jesus gave the church the power to forgive and retain sins, to preach the Gospel, and to administer the Sacraments. Jesus gave this power to the church, to the congregation, but, since the whole congregation cannot preach on Sunday morning, it calls a pastor. The church gives this power to the pastor. The pastor forgives and retains sins, preaches the Gospel, and administers the sacraments to the congregation in the name of Christ.

Everything runs smoothly in this system until we get an impenitent, or non-repentant sinner, someone who is not repentant and will not repent of his/her sin or sins. This situation is where church discipline comes into call. We find the four steps Jesus gives us for discipline in Matthew 18:15-17.

Step One: If our brother (or sister is implied) has sinned against us, we are to go to him and tell him so, just between him and us. The Bible also tells us that, if we sin against our brother, we are to go to him and seek his forgiveness. In either case, our sinning or our brother’s sinning, we are to take the initiative of step one and go to our brother. This step is done in love, not in a condemning way. It is important that this be done in love and sincerity for the sake of our brother. If our brother does not repent, we go to step two. This step is done over and over again until one is assured that his brother will not change, only then do you proceed to step two.

Step Two: We take two or three as witnesses to talk to our brother. These witnesses are not to function as a social gossip group; rather, this group of fellow Christians works as those who love and are concerned about a brother. If he should not listen, again, go to step three. Again, this step is repeated over and over again until it is certain that the brother will not repent.

Step Three: The church congregation is now informed about our unrepentant brother. Because the whole congregation cannot go, a representative is sent to talk to the unrepentant brother. If he still will not listen, go to step four. And again, this step is repeated over and over again until it is certain that the brother will not repent.

Step Four: The church excommunicates the brother.

In all four steps, the goal is to get our brother to repent, not to “kick him out.” When our brother repents in step one, two, three, or four, he is immediately forgiven and restored to full fellowship with the church. The hard part is forgiving and forgetting, for we sinful beings always want to remember someone else’s sins. All of these steps are to be done in love and concern for our Christian brother, not in an air of bitterness or superiority.

Contrary to what society says, what our brother does, if contrary to Scripture, is our business. The Bibles tells us that we are “our brother’s keeper,” (Matthew 18:15-17). In love, then, be keepers of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Dear Lord, forgive me when I forget or reject my responsibility as my brother's keeper. Help me to speak in love and sincerely to my brother when he errs. Thank You for caring enough for all of us to send Jesus to earn forgiveness for us, so that when we do err we can know that we are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

CD - Confession and Absolution - Psalm 51:1-4

Confession is not a sacrament, at least not according to the narrow definition we have for a sacrament, but confession is a means of grace. Confession is a means through which our Lord comes to give us the forgiveness of sins.

Confession and absolution has two parts as we have read and memorized. The two parts are first that we confess our sins and second that we are given forgiveness. These two parts do not negate the fact that we are to be sorry for our sins and I do not mean that we are to be sorry that we were caught in our sin, but we are to truly grieve that we have sinned against God and our brother or sister in Christ. Yes, we sin, not only against our brother or sister in Christ, but against Christ Himself. For whenever we sin against another, we are sinning against Christ Himself.

The second part of confession is absolution, that is that we are absolved from our sins. Our sins have been washed away. We are free. We are free from the sin and from any guilt attached to the sin. Should we continue to feel guilt it is because we have not repented or we have not been given and taken hold of Christ’s forgiveness.

Notice, that contrary to what some would preach and have you believe, there is not third part. There is no satisfaction. How can there be satisfaction? There is no need for satisfaction, as Christ has paid the price for our sins. He has made satisfaction for our sins, thus none is left to “make.” Notice also, that if the forgiveness of sins is announced, i.e. “I am sorry,” “You are forgiven,” why is there need for, “Now go and work off your forgiveness by . . . ”? After step two, forgiveness is announced, what more is there to “work off?”

There is confession. There is Absolution. There is forgetting. To forgive is to forget. To remember, especially to remember in order to gain vengeance is to not forgive. Certainly, we are not computers which can have our memories erased, but we can put it out of our memory in the way of not being forgiving. And this we do with the help of the Lord who first forgives us.

Dear Lord, forgive me for all my sins, and as You forgive me my sins grant me a willing spirit to forgive those who have sinned against me. Also, dear Lord, as You forgive me my sins, give me relief from the guilt and fear that often haunt me because of the trouble I have in being given Your forgiveness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

CD - Confession and Absolution - 1 John 1:8,9

Confession is the admitting of doing wrong and the repenting of that wrong. Absolution is to be forgiven for the wrongs we confess. An error we make in today’s world is that, when someone tells us they are sorry for hurting us, we say, “That’s okay.” But, it is not okay. Doing wrong is a sin, and it is not okay to sin. When someone confesses, repents and tells us that they are sorry, we should tell them that they are forgiven, not that it is okay for them to do the wrong.

As our Bible reading for today says, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. After looking at the Ten Commandments, how can any of us say we are without sin? Maybe we had better look again. We find out that we are sinners: now what? Now, comes confession. A hard fact to swallow is that God already knows our sins; therefore, it only makes sense that we should confess all of our sins to Him. We should confess even those sins which we do not know we have committed.

What about private confession before the pastor? Do we have to tell the pastor all of our sins? No, the Bible says nothing about confession to the pastor, only to God. Before the pastor, however, we may want to confess certain sins, especially those that are on our conscience and are bothering us— in order that he might pronounce God’s forgiveness to us.

Following our sincere confession, we receive absolution. We are absolved, that is, forgiven, from all our sins, especially those of which we have confessed. If we have confessed before God all of our sins, then all of our sins are forgiven. When this happens, we are to forget those forgiven sins and remember them no more. If we do believe God’s Word when He tells us that our sins are forgiven, they are removed as far as the east is from the west (they never come together). When we are forgiven, God wipes them out. We can turn right around and ask God about that sin for which we were just forgiven and He will say, in essence, “What sin?”

Because we daily sin much, we should daily confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness.

Dear Lord, forgive me for all my sins, for the one I know and confess to You as well as the one which I have forgotten and know I should confess to You. Thank You for sending Jesus to take all my sins, all my sins from yesterday, for today and even the ones that I have yet to commit or omit tomorrow. Thank You that Jesus lived a perfect life, suffered, died and rose in my place. And thank You that through Jesus’ work I have the gift of forgiveness and the promise of life with You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

CD - The Significance of Baptizing with Water - Romans 8:38-39

The significance of Baptizing with water is plain and true, as water is placed on us, we are drowned to sin, death and the power of the devil and we arise anew, victors for life. More importantly than the significance of Baptizing with water is the significance of being Baptized. Being Baptized means that our future is set. Heaven is ours, it is a present reality. Paul outlined an expanse of those things which no longer have any power over us, death, life, angels, demons, present, future, powers, height, depth, and summing it all up, not anything in all creation.

Baptism is begin born a second time. We are born once, at our nature birth, nine months or so following conception. We are born a second time through Holy Baptism. We die once, a temporal, physical death. If we die that death in unbelief, or lacking faith in Jesus, then we die a second death, which is an eternal spiritual death or hell. So, if you are born once, you die twice. If you are born twice (and believe in Jesus) then you die only once. That truth is very significant and that truth shows the awesome need for Holy Baptism.

With the understanding of the importance of Baptism we will most certainly want to be baptized and/or have our children Baptized as early as possible. And with the understanding of the importance of Baptism we will want to continue to keep our Baptism in mind. We will daily remember our Baptism. We will daily remember that we are redeemed by God. We are washed. We are made holy. We are made right before God through Holy Baptism. When we get up in the morning we remember our Baptism and we rejoice that we have a second chance. We can start over because we have been forgiven. And then about 8 am we can remember that again, we are forgiven and we can start the day over. And about 10 am we can remember again, and so on.

The significance of Baptism is not that we do anything, but that God does everything for us. And because God does everything for us we can be most certain that it is done and done right. Thus, when we hear the words of trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are reminded of our Baptism, that we are the Lord’s people, that He saved us, that He put His name on us, that He put faith in our hearts, that He did everything that needs to be done. And we rejoice exceedingly. And we say, “to God alone be the glory.”

Dear Lord, remind me, every time I hear Your name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that I have been Baptized, that Your name is on me, that I am Yours. With that in mind give me the strength I need to begin, continue and end each day with You. Lord, to You be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, January 17, 2011

CD - The Significance of Baptizing with Water - Romans 6:3-4

Let me state clearly that I believe baptism (washing) by sprinkling is sufficient and Biblical. It is interesting to note that the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized is only ankle deep, except during flooding, (to my understanding); if He were immersed (dunked), He probably would have gotten a mouthful of dirt and mud. The reason I say this is because baptism by immersion is a beautiful way to visualize what happens in baptism, yet, it is not the only valid means of baptism.

Baptism by immersion simply means getting into the water and being “dunked” under the water while the words of Baptism, “in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit,” are being said. You are immersed under water, thus the name. The visualization is beautiful because, as we are immersed under the water, so in baptism we are dead and buried in our sins. As we rise out of the water so we arise anew in baptism. Our old nature, the old Adam in us is drowned and the new, forgiven man arises.

The significance of baptism lies, then, in this, that we were born unclean (original sin). We pass through baptism, die to sin, come forth clean and rise anew. This baptism happens only once. Once we are baptized, we need not be rebaptized, ever. Even if we should fall away from God, when we come back, we do not need to be rebaptized. On a daily basis, we are unclean. We pass through repentance, daily repent, and come forth clean. Our baptismal response then, is to serve God by striving to live a Christian life day by day.

Let me reiterate at this point that it is not baptism that saves us, but faith in Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith and have the certainty of heaven and this is for all who believe and are baptized. All who do not believe, even if they are baptized, will not be saved. Yet, those who believe but have not had an opportunity to be baptized will also have the certainty of heaven. As a response to our certainty of heaven, we strive to live our lives to the glory of God. I say strive because we are sinful human beings, and we cannot live our lives to God’s glory, except with the help of Jesus, and then it is not us, but Jesus, who gets the credit. Thus, we get the Latin term, Solo deo gloria, or “to God alone be the glory.”

Dear Lord, forgive me when I fail to live my life according to Your will. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Open my heart and my mind to daily remember my baptism. And through that remembrance, help me also to be certain that I am forgiven and along with that forgiveness to know that I have the gift and promise of eternal life with You. Thank You Lord for these gifts. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

See the Lamb - January 16, 2011 - Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: John 1:29-42

Last week we were witnesses of Jesus’ Baptism and we were reminded of our own Baptism and the fact that at our Baptism we were claimed, or chosen by God, that He put His name on us, that He gave us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. This week we shift from Matthew’s Gospel to John’s Gospel where today we are given the gift from the Lord of His Word which reminds us that Jesus is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” These words bring to mind several images, such as the nice image of a pure white, cute little cuddly lamb, but also the contrasting image of a lamb ready to be sacrificed, ready to have its blood spilled for the forgiveness of sins. John’s words are very specific. He does not say, “Behold the symbol of the Lamb of God.” John says, “Behold the Lamb of God.” And John is specific about His purpose, “to take away the sin of the world.”

Our text begins on the next day, that is, the day after Jesus was baptized by John. We read verses twenty-nine through thirty-four (v. 29-34), “29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” 31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 32And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’”

Let us look at several points that John makes. We have already begun talking about John’s words that tell us that Jesus is the Lamb of God. The people of John’s day understood full well what it meant to be a lamb. They raised lambs in order to use the wool to make clothing. They raised lambs in order to have meat to eat. And they also used them for sacrifices in the temple. The children of Israel understood, and we today understand, that this sacrifice of a lamb was not and did not bring forgiveness. All these Old Testament sacrifices were merely to remind the people and us that the price for our sins, that what our sins cost, is death. Blood had to be shed. I suppose that none of us really ever thinks about that fact when we are in the middle of our sinning. I know I do not. Think about it, how often are you in the middle of sinning and you stop and think, “you know, God is watching me and Jesus blood had to be shed because of what I am doing.” We just do not think in those terms. For the children of Israel, there was this ever present reminder, the daily sacrifices in the temple, that the price for sin is death, even eternal spiritual death, that blood had to be shed. So, for Jesus, to be the lamb of God meant that Jesus was the lamb that God sent to be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world. The difference between all the other lamb sacrifices in the temple and the sacrifice of Jesus, the lamb of God, is that all the other lamb sacrifices were merely images of the ultimate sacrifice of the lamb of God. In other words, all the other sacrificial lambs meant nothing, they merely pointed to the one ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, the only Son of God, the lamb of God.

About this lamb of God, John says, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” John’s words indicate to us that Jesus is true God along with His being true man, and being the lamb of God. Jesus was born on this earth as a true man about six months after John was born on this earth, thus in this way John was before Jesus. At the same time John knew that Jesus was true God, being before John, being at the beginning of time, being at the creation of the world, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

John confesses, “I myself did not know Him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” John’s confession is interesting, especially when we compare it to Peter’s confession. Remember Peter’s confession? When Jesus asked the disciples, “who do you say that I am.” Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16). And Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). Peter’s confession as well as John’s confession were not confessions of flesh and blood, but were revelations of the Holy Spirit.

About Jesus, John says, He will baptize with the Holy Spirit. The ultimate baptism of the Holy Spirit we know was on Pentecost. Personally, each one of us, at our own baptism, received the Holy Spirit. John’s words remind us that the work of the Holy Spirit is a work that is a part of the working of the means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Another way of saying that is, that outside the means of Grace, outside the Word, the Bible, and outside the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there is no receiving of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to us by the means that Jesus gives Him, through the means of Grace.

Just in case you missed it, in our text, John tells his disciples and us clearly that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the one who has come to save the world and He will save the world by the sacrifice of His life for us and for our forgiveness.

Continuing on in our text we come to the next day, two days after Jesus’ baptism. We read verses thirty-five through forty-one (v. 35-42), “35The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). 42He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).”

John says it again, Jesus is “the Lamb of God.” John came for the very purpose of preparing the way for Jesus. John came to point out the Savior of the world. John came to make sure that the children of Israel did not miss Jesus, which, as we can see, too many did, but he came also so that we did not miss Him. John came to point us to, to show us that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the lamb of God who was sent to be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world, and for our sins, your sins and my sins in particular.

Interestingly enough, as John continued to point Jesus out to his disciples, they began to follow Jesus. This is what John desired as he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John knew that he was not born for his own self promotion, rather he came to prepare the way and to point to the Christ, the lamb of God, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. For John, to have his disciples leave to follow Jesus was a mission accomplished.

As these two disciples approached Jesus they came with a question, “Where are you staying?” The deeper question or the question behind the question really was, “Who are you?” “Are you the Lamb of God, the Christ, the Messiah, as John has been telling us?” These disciples had been following John, they knew what John had been telling them, but they wanted to know for themselves if this was really true. What better way to find out the answer than by hanging around Him for a while.

Jesus response to these two disciples was, “Come and see.” The deeper answer to their question was, “Come and see that I am the Lamb of God.” Jesus came not to promote Himself by His words, but to let His actions, His signs and wonders show Him to be who He was, the Son of God. Jesus knew that if these disciples of John came with Him, spent some time with Him, and saw the things that He did, the signs that He performed, the healing and wonders that He did, they would know that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the promised one of old, just as John had been saying.

We are told that one of the disciples was Andrew, but we are not told the name of the other. We know it was the Gospel writer John, because he never mentions his name. After coming and seeing that Jesus is who John the Baptist says He is, Andrew goes to find his brother Peter. Andrew tells him, “we have found the Messiah.”

Andrew brings Peter to Jesus and Jesus tells Peter he will be called Cephas, or Rock. Our text ends at this point, but the story continues. Our story continues on the next day, that next day being today. Today, we continue to sin, and sin boldly. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. Jesus comes to us through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. As we read our Bibles, as we attend divine service and Bible class, as we have family and private devotions, as we confess our sins and hear God’s words of absolution, as we remember our Baptism, as we attend and partake of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit comes to us through these means to strengthen us and to preserve us in our faith.

Today Jesus shows Himself as the Lamb of God. As we hear the Word of the Lord read to us, as we read the Word of the Lord for ourselves, we actually see that Jesus is the Lamb of God. We see that as the Lamb of God, He was sacrificed once for all, for our sins. Jesus was crucified on the cross for the sins of the whole world, but more than that, He was crucified for my sins and yours. Blood was shed. Jesus’ blood was shed. Jesus died for each one of us, for you and for me, personally.

Today the Holy Spirit works our confession in us. Just as John confessed that Jesus was the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And just as Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16). So too, we confess that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Son of the Living God, the Savior of the world and our own personal Savior. We make this confession, not because we are able to make this confession on our own, but because this has been revealed to us by the Father in heaven. John’s confession, Peter’s confession, and our confession are not confessions of flesh and blood, but are confessions of revelation of the Holy Spirit.

Today, just as Andrew responded to the knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah, so we respond as we go out and find our brothers and sisters and tell them the good news, that Jesus is the Christ, the lamb of God, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. And we respond by telling them that Christ has found us.

Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Listen to Him. To God be the glory. Amen.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

CD - The Power of Baptism - Mark 16:16

We like power. We talk about people being on power trips. Power can be intoxicating. Power can be all consuming. But, what is power? More importantly, what is the power of Baptism? Is it the water? Water is water, is it not? Maybe if we used holy water, that would make a difference, that would make it powerful. No, water is water. There is nothing special about the water, nothing special that we should adore it or hold it in any particular awe or reverence, because the power is not in the water.

If not the water, then certainly the Word, because there are only two things in Baptism, water and Word. Yes, the Word is from where the power comes. But not just any Word. We are commanded, we are entrusted to Baptize in a particular way, with a particular Word and that Word with which we are to Baptize is the name of our God, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Not just any name will do. Certainly we could Baptize in the name of mother earth, father god and sister Sue, but that word would not have the same power as the name of our God, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And besides, God is specific when He tells us that we are to Baptize in His name. He tells us, “Go and make disciples of all nations, Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is His name that gives the Word power, that gives Baptism the power to do what Baptism does, namely to give the gifts that Baptism has to give, or better said, to give the gifts that God gives through Holy Baptism.

The power of Baptism reminds us of the power of God’s Word. God’s Word has power. God’s Word does what it says. If you read it in God’s Word you know it is true, you know it is real, you know you can count on it. God’s Word says that Jesus is true God who took on human flesh. It happened. God’s Word says that Jesus took all our sins upon Himself and suffered and died on the cross for us, in our place. It happened. God’s Word says that Jesus rose from the dead. It happened. God’s Word says that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, before He ascended into heaven. It happened. God’s Word reminds us that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father where He is interceding for us, watching over us, ruling and protecting us. It is happening. God’s Word is a Word with power. God says that the putting of His name and water on a person gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. God’s says it, it happens and we praise Him!

Dear Lord, thank You for Your Word which does what it says. Help me to be confident in Your Word, knowing that if You say it, it is true and real. Guide and encourage me daily, dear Lord, to be in Your Word, so that through Your Word I might be strengthened and kept in faith until You come again, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

CD - The Power of Baptism - Titus 3:4-7

Just as salvation is not achieved by human effort, so neither are the blessings of baptism brought about by such effort. The power of baptism does not lie in our doing something, nor does it lie in the water. The power of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we might add here, is in the Word of God and in faith in that Word. Remember, certainty of heaven comes outside ourselves, from God’s Word. If we had to be certain of heaven in ourselves we would never have that certainty, because we are uncertain people. Certainty comes from outside ourselves. It is by grace through faith in Jesus that we have heaven and we learn of this grace through God’s Word. Therefore, the power of baptism, which brings the blessings talked about in our last devotion, comes also by grace through faith in the Word of God. As our Bible reading for today tells us, this baptism brings the Holy Spirit into our hearts. He works faith in us.

A good example of the power of Baptism lies in our checking system. A blank check is worthless, only a piece of paper, even if it is filled out to the order of someone and has an amount written, but, if I sign the check, and have the money in the bank to cover the check, it is worth the amount it says. If the recipient of the check, however, does not believe I am able to cover the check and throws it away, it is worth nothing. If the person does believe and cashes the check, it is worth the amount stated. The same is true of baptism. The check of baptism is written out, and the “money” (Jesus holy, precious, blood) is in the bank. In other words, God has made His promise and He can and does back it up. Without our believing and not cashing the check of baptism, it is worth nothing to us, because this is gift refusal. Thus, it is faith in God’s Words that are the power that bring about the blessings of Baptism, faith which the Holy Spirit gives and works in our hearts.

One more word on verse seven of our Bible reading. The verse says that we have the hope of eternal life. This word hope is not the hope we know today. When we think of hope today, we think of an uncertain event which might happen. This hope, as given in the original Greek, is a certainty. It would be better if, instead of saying we have the hope of eternal life, we said we have the certainty of eternal life. I hope that, by grace through faith, you, too, have the certainty of eternal life in heaven. Daily, remember your baptism, and, daily, remember your certainty of heaven.

Dear Lord, forgive me when I have doubts, doubts about my faith, doubts about Your forgiveness. Help me to daily remember my baptism as well as to daily read Your Word through which I have the external confidence of my salvation for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

CD - The Benefits of Baptism - Romans 6:3-5

So, does Baptism offer only three gifts? No, and Dr. Luther is not trying to imply or suggest that the three gifts he mentions are the only three offered and giving in Holy Baptism. No, when God gives His gifts He does not do fractions. He does not say, “I will give you some gifts now, and some gifts later.” When God gives His gifts He gives the whole lot and He gives a whole lot more.

The blessings of Baptism certainly are, “forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation,” but that is not just a one time gift. For we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, thus the gift of forgiveness is a constant gift. We daily face temptations from the devil and are in constant need of strength to keep from sinning, thus the gift of rescue is a constant gift. And we are in constant need of being reminded of our inheritance in heaven, thus this too is a constant gift.

The benefits, the blessings of Holy Baptism are beyond our comprehension, as are all of God’s glories. God gives us each day as much of His grace as we can handle. If He were to give us all of His grace at one time it would literally kill us, because we cannot handle it all of His grace at one time. The benefits, the blessings of Holy Baptism are immediate, God puts His name on us, He makes us His own. He puts faith in our hearts. He gives us forgiveness, life and salvation.

That God puts His name on us is extremely important. In Old Testament times, the putting of your name on something was to claim it and make it yours. God puts His name on us making us His. It is much like when you first went to school, your mother would write your name on everything, your coat, your lunch box, your books, and so on, so that you would know what was yours.

God puts faith in our hearts. There are some who do not believe that children can have faith. They can have faith, it is just that they do not express their faith as an older person, mostly because they cannot speak. A child shows his faith in his mother by opening his mouth and believing that she will not feed him poison, but good food to eat. A child shows her faith in her mother by understanding that what her mother does for her she does out of love. Yes, a child can have faith and God does give faith through Holy Baptism.

The most exciting thing about the blessings, or benefit of Holy Baptism is the fact that each and every morning you wake up you can remember your baptism. You can remember that you are a Christian, that you are God’s child, made His by the faith which He has put in your heart. You can remember that God keeps His promises so you do not have to worry about His leaving you. You can remember that you are forgiven which means that you get to start over for this day. Yesterday’s sins are gone, you get a fresh, clean slate for today. And after 10 a.m. you can remember that same thing again, and so on throughout the day. And finally, what a joy to know that heaven is yours, it is a present reality. You may have to wait to move in, but you do not have to worry about whether you are “in” or not, because you are “in,!” by grace through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection!

Dear Lord, thank You for making me Your own, for putting Your name on me, for giving me forgiveness, faith, life and salvation. Forgive me when I take my Baptism for granite. Help me, daily, to remember my Baptism and through my Baptism strengthen me to face the day ahead. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CD - The Blessings of Baptism - Mark 16:16

As a means of grace, baptism gives great blessings. Baptism gives, first of all, forgiveness of sins. At our baptism we are given forgiveness of sins. At our baptism we are given forgiveness from our in-born, original sins. We are given forgiveness, as we daily remember our baptism, of our actual sins of commission, those sins we have actually committed, and omission, those sins where we have omitted to do something we should have done.

A second blessing we are given from baptism is deliverance from death and the power of the devil. I do not mean that we will not die. I mean that we will be delivered from the death of eternal damnation in hell. With this deliverance from hell, we are also given deliverance from the devil. The devil no longer has any claim on us as we are baptized in the name of the Triune God. We have the power to rebuke Satan in the name of Jesus and he no longer has any power over us.

The third blessing, then, is the certainty of eternal salvation. We have the promise of eternal life in heaven. Our Bible reading today expresses it best. “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.”

Why do we need baptism, then, if our salvation depends on faith (by grace through faith)? Baptism does not save you, nor does lack of baptism necessarily condemn you. Faith, especially with no time to baptize, as in the case of the thief on the cross with Jesus, does save you. On the other hand, refusal to be baptized does condemn you, because faith’s desire is baptism.

Baptism is a means of grace, a means whereby we are given forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the power of the devil, and the certainty of eternal salvation. These blessings are promised to all who believe and are denied to those who do not believe. To one who has believed and has been baptized, but has fallen away and no longer believes, the promises are not valid, but are void, and the blessings of baptism are also no longer good, or valid, simply because he no longer believes.

Believe the words and promises of God, have faith, and be baptized, everyone of you, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this and you will be given the great blessings of baptism: forgiveness of sins, deliverance from eternal death (hell) and the power of the devil, and the certainty of eternal life in heaven.

Dear Lord, forgive me when I have doubts. I pray that You would continue to work through Your Word to strengthen my faith. I pray that You would help me to remember my baptism and also use that to strengthen my faith. Guide me in the way You would have me to go. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

CD - What Is Baptism - Acts 2:38-39

Baptism is what God does, what God gives, and what we are given. Baptism is not what we are doing, because, in an of ourselves we can do no good thing. Unfortunately, there are many who believe that Baptism is something that we are doing and that we are doing it to show God what we have done. Notice, then, that the focus is inward, on self and not on God. If the focus in on self and not on God then it is not God who is giving and doing, but we who are giving and doing. And if we are giving and doing, then it is not a Baptism, at least not in the sense that God gives us Baptism. God’s Word is very clear concerning the matter that in Baptism we are being given what God has promised to give.

The Baptism of a child is the best example of what truly happens at Baptism. When a child is Baptized, what does that child do? Nothing, except lay passively and be given the gifts that God has promised to give. When a child is Baptized he is given faith, right then, right there. She is given forgiveness of sins. He is given a place in heaven. She is given new life, life here and life in heaven. He is given all the gifts and blessings God gives, right then and there at that moment.

We get all the gifts at Baptism. We are Baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus, we do not need a second Baptism, a “baptism of the Spirit,” because we already have been Baptized in the Spirit, with the Father and the Son. To say that we need another, or a second Baptism is to say that God did not get it right the first time. If God did not get it right the first time, who is to say He will get it right the second or third time. Or, if God did not get it right, who is to say that we will or would get it right if it depended on us. Thanks be to God that He is the Giver and we are the given to. Thanks be to God that He gets it right (of course He does, He is God, after all). Thanks be to God that it does not depend on us, but is all in His hands.

Baptism is God’s work, that is why it is a sacrament. Baptism is God’s work, that is why it works and accomplished what He has given to accomplish. Baptism does not depend on us, but on God and what He is giving. How comforting to know that we are in God’s hands, that His name is on us, that He has given us faith, that He has given us forgiveness, earned by Jesus death on the cross, that He gives us a place in heaven. How comforting to remember our Baptism and know that each day we can begin anew, sins forgiven, ready to live for God.

Dear Father, I thank You that You have given me all Your gifts and blessings through Baptism. Thank You that it does not depend on me, because I tend to falter. Thank You for Your gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Holy Baptism.. Help me daily to remember my baptism in order that daily I might be strengthened in my faith. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Jesus, Ordained, Equipped, Ready - January 9, 2011 - Baptism of Our Lord/First Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Matthew 3:13-17

The Word of the Lord that comes to us this morning is the account of Jesus’ baptism. With this baptism account we have a good opportunity to be reminded of our own baptism and to review what we believe, teach and confess about Holy Baptism. Rather than recite the whole catechism on baptism I would like to just hit some of the highlights. If you would like, you may follow along in your hymnal on page 325 or you may simply think these through in your mind as I read them. Again, these are just the highlights! “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word. It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit. It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

Now that we have been reminded of our own baptism, we move on to our text and look at our text by putting it into its proper context. The context of our text for today is that John the Baptist was in the prime of his career baptizing the people with his “baptism for repentance.” Let me say that again because it is important that we remember that John’s baptism was a baptism for repentance. Our text begins with verse thirteen and fourteen, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘ need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” (v. 13-14). Jesus came to John to be baptized by him, not because He had anything to repent, not because of His own sin, but because of our sin, which He took upon Himself.

At first, John tried actively to deter Jesus. John’s baptism was a baptism for repentance, thus John admitted to Jesus that he needed to be baptized by Jesus rather than Jesus needing to be baptized by him. John knew that Jesus was without sin. John knew that Jesus needed no baptism for repentance, rather that he needed Jesus’ baptism.

However, as our text tells us John gives in and does baptize Jesus as we read in verse fifteen, “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented” (v. 15). Jesus’ baptism was important, not for Himself, but for us. Also, He wanted John to baptize Him at this time, in order to ordain Him, induct Him, install Him, into His office of the Public Ministry. Up until this time Jesus was not preaching publicly, nor healing nor doing other miracles. It was not until after His baptism that Jesus began His public ministry.

Jesus said, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus was not baptized for His own sake, for His own sins. He was baptized for us, for our sake, for your sake and for mine. He took all our sins, your sins and my sins, upon Himself and only for that reason did He need this baptism for repentance, for our repentance. And because Jesus was born under the law, it was important that He fulfill all the law. In His active obedience He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, to fulfill all that the Word of God proclaimed. Thus, John consented and baptized Jesus.

After Jesus was baptized, He came out of the water and we read what happened in verses sixteen and seventeen, “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’” (v. 16-17). One of the first things we see from these two verses is the Holy Trinity of our God. Now understand the Bible does not use the word “trinity” to describe God, however, as we see in this section of our text, God does reveal Himself in this way, as a tri-une, three-in-one God, or the word we use to describe Him, the Trinity. Here the Trinity is seen in its three parts, the person of Jesus, God the Son; the dove, God the Holy Spirit; and the voice from heaven, God the Father.

The voice of God the Father speaks loud and clear telling all the people present, as well as us, that He was pleased with the work of Jesus. Literally what He says is, “I was well-pleased.” These words go back to the moment when God selected His Son for the work of redeeming the whole world, and when the Son accepted that work. In other words, these words go back to the Garden of Eden when God promised to send a Savior, and Jesus accepted the work of being that Savior, thus we read, “I was well-pleased.” And of course, reading these present words in the past tense reminds us that God does not live in time as we do, rather He transcends time so that He sees the future as the past in the present, which is what we read in our text.

You may have noticed that we have come a long way in a little more than two weeks. Two weeks ago we celebrated Jesus’ birth, now we are celebrating His baptism and the beginning of His work, His public ministry. We have quickly moved forward thirty years in Jesus’ life and at this time He is getting ready to die on the cross. Jesus was born for one purpose, and that purpose was to give His life for ours. Jesus’ life purpose is seen in the Father’s words, reminding us that He was well-pleased that the Son had accepted this work of salvation, given to Him back in the Garden of Eden.

Jesus came to John to be baptized by him, but let us not misunderstand Jesus’ baptism. We know that John’s baptism was a baptism for repentance, but Jesus was not baptized because He needed to repent for His own sins. We are the ones who are born in sin. We are the ones who daily add to our sin as we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. We are the ones who need to repent. Jesus was baptized because He took our sins upon Himself. Jesus was baptized because of our need for Him to be baptized. Jesus was baptized because of our need to be baptized with a baptism of repentance. Jesus was baptized as our substitute.

Jesus was baptized as a part of His active obedience, as Matthew tells us, in order “to fulfill all righteousness.” With these words Matthew shows us, not only did Jesus come to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies, but He also came to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus came in perfect obedience to all the laws of the Word of God. Jesus came to do perfectly what we, you and I, and all people are unable to do. Jesus came to live perfectly and to obey all the laws perfectly.

The words of John the Baptist spoken in our text are one’s with which we readily identify. John’s humble words, “I need to be baptized by you,” remind us that these are our words. We are the one’s that need Jesus. We are the one’s that Jesus came to save. It was because of our sin that Jesus had to be born into this world. It was because of our sin that Jesus had to live a perfect life. It was because of our sin that Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross. It was because of our sin and in our place that Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness.

This morning as we read, hear and see Jesus’ baptism we are reminded of our own baptism and the wonderful blessings we were given from the Lord. Of course our baptism is different from John’s baptism. When Jesus instituted Holy Baptism, instead of being a baptism for repentance, which is what John’s baptism was, Jesus gives us a sacramental baptism, a baptism through which He works to give to us, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Thus, at our baptism the Lord came to us through the means of the Pastor’s hands, through the water and the Word, to place His name on us. At our baptism the Lord claimed us as His children. At our baptism the Lord came into our hearts and gave us the gift of faith and forgiveness of sins and with the gift of forgiveness He also gave us the gift of everlasting life in heaven. The Baptism that Jesus gives is not something we do, it is what Jesus does. Baptism is a gift which we passively are given to from the Lord.

Baptism is God putting His name on us. I like to think about it like this: At Baptism God puts His name on us like our mother put our name on all our stuff before we started school. She put our name on our lunch box, on our books, on our clothes, on everything that was ours so that we would be able to recognize it as ours. In baptism, God puts His name on us, claiming us as His own, and including us in His kingdom. With His name on us, God recognizes us as belonging to Him. There is no question, there is no doubt about it, we belong to Him.

The placing of God’s name on something or someone was an important thing in the Old Testament. God placed His name on those things and those people He claimed as His own. To have God’s name placed on us at our baptism is to have our names written in the book of life in heaven. To have God’s name placed on us at our baptism is to be claimed by God as being one of His own.

Because baptism is the Lord’s work, it does not matter if we know or understand what is happening at our baptism. How often do we understand what the medicine is doing that we take to help us to get well, or keep us from getting sick? The medicine works whether we understand how it works or not. Likewise with Holy Baptism, and how much more important is our spiritual health than our physical health? Baptism is God’s gift to us. It is His gift of claiming us, putting His name on us, making us His, giving us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.

Matthew reminds us that Jesus is true God and true man. That He is a part of the Trinity, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. That at the proper time He came to John to be baptized by him, in order to complete all righteousness, taking our sins upon Himself, and subjecting Himself in active obedience to what we deserve. He did this because He was pleased to do it and the Father was pleased for Him to do it. He did this because He loves us, because He created us to love us. And we rejoice and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

CD - The Nature of Baptism - Matthew 28:18-20

Baptism is a sacred (holy) act. It was ordained by Christ. As our Bible reading says, it has water as a visible element, it is joined with God’s Word and offers forgiveness of sins. Therefore, according to our definition, it is a sacrament. The Greek word, baptize, means to wash. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day (and still today) had very strict rules for baptizing, that is, washing. However, their washing was only a religious, outward washing. I say religious because it was religiously done, not because any faith or Christianity was connected with it. Religious does not mean Christian. Religious simply means doing something regularly.

Holy Baptism is not simple washing, or simple water, but is water and God’s Word making a powerful means of grace, as spoken of in Matthew 28:19-20. Our Scripture reading tells us that, as we are traveling through our lives, we are to make disciples. We are to do this by baptizing them and teaching them. This baptizing and teaching brings about forgiveness and faith, a faith produced by the Holy Spirit through the Word and sacraments and is a gift of God.

We baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. By baptizing in the name of, we place that person under the blessings and the obligations of that person. Therefore, a person baptized in the name of our Triune God is under the obligations and blessings of our Triune God, namely, God is his gracious Father. He has the full benefits of Jesus’ perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection and the certainty of eternal life in heaven. The Holy Spirit brings him to faith and daily renews him and keeps him in faith. The obligations of this baptism is to strive (for no one can achieve it, as we are all sinners) to live Christ-pleasing lives. We are to strive to be Christ-like examples and witnesses.

Baptism is not some type of magic. It is simply a sacrament, a sacred act whereby we are washed with water and God’s Word. We are forgiven and given to faith. During baptism, the old Adam, our sinful nature, is drowned, dies, and we rise again, a new creation. Baptism is not merely a symbolizing, but is much more. It is a forgiveness. It is salvation (1 Peter 3:21). It can also be called an exorcism because Satan is cast out of us and we are freed from bondage to him. It is, as the Catechism says, a washing of regeneration (remaking) of the Holy Spirit. Daily, celebrate your baptism. Daily, remember you are God’s child. Daily, celebrate your certainty of eternal life in heaven.

Dear Father, I thank and praise You for having come to me through my baptism to make me Your child. I thank You for calling me out of my sinful darkness into the light of Your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Help me daily to remember my baptism in order that daily I might be strengthened in my faith. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.