Our Passover Lamb Has Been Sacrificed

Text: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Long ago, when our God was about to lead the children of Israel up out of slavery in Egypt, He gave them the Passover meal. God instructed them that, on the night before they would leave Egypt, they were to take a young unblemished male lamb and slaughter it. Then, they were to take the blood of that lamb and use it to mark the doorposts of their houses. When the Angel of Death came that night to strike down the firstborn of Egypt, He would see the blood marking the door and pass over those inside. In addition, the Israelites were throw out any leaven in their homes. For one whole week they were not to eat any leavened thing. This lead to the Passover also being called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

St. Paul uses these things as an illustration in our text. The Passover pointed ahead to and is fulfilled in the suffering of Christ. Jesus Christ, true God and also true man, is the true Passover Lamb. Three days ago, He was sacrificed for all human sin. God the Father handed Him over into death – even, He who had no sin. With His dying breath, Jesus uttered, “It is finished.” The sacrifice for all the sins of the world had been made. Jesus died. Our Passover Lamb was sacrificed. And, now, He has been raised. Christ died, and now He is raised again to never die again. Death could not hold Him. Just as the Passover Lamb pointed ahead to Christ, so the casting out of leaven pointed ahead to our new life in Him. Since Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed, and He has freed us from the guilt of our sin, St. Paul encourages us to cast out the old leaven of malice and wickedness so that we may celebrate the Feast in sincerity and truth.


St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the first part of our text, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”[1] With this simple proverb, St. Paul admonished the congregation to cease from their sinful behavior, behavior which belonged to their former manner of life – the life that they seemingly had before they were in Christ. Through St. Paul, the Corinthians heard the good news of Jesus Christ. They heard and believed that Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father before all time, became true man. He became man to fulfill God’s Law, to bear our sins, and to suffer and die to redeem the whole world. By His death, Christ atoned for all human sin and has freed us all from the guilt we deserve to bear.

The Corinthians heard and believed this, yet they acted as if they had not heard. Or, at least, they used the freedom they received in Christ as liberty to continue in sin. St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians covers many such situations – eating food sacrificed to idols, lawsuits among believers, drunkenness at church gatherings, and improper sexual relationships. The Corinthians not only did these things, but they boasted in them. They held, that since they had been forgiven in Christ, their present manner of living held no bearing on their future destination. In practice, their new life in Christ was no different from their former way of living. “Your boasting is not good,” St. Paul said. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. A little sin spreads into the whole group.

Like the Corinthians, we also have heard the Good News that we are free in Christ. By Christ’s death, our sins have been forgiven. And yet, like the Corinthians, we have used the freedom from sin as a liberty to sin. When we have fallen into sin, we have excused ourselves. We have lived to seek our own pleasures and satisfy our own desires. We have applied the Ten Commandments heavy-handedly toward others while turning a blind eye to our own sin. We have denied that we are sinners and acted as if we had no sin. We have continued to live in sin and presumed upon God’s grace. And, all of this, while we’ve called ourselves Christians. Our boasting is not good. St. Paul continued by saying, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.”[2]


St. Paul encouraged the Corinthians and us to cast out and be cleansed of the old leaven of sin because, by Christ’s death we have been truly made “unleavened.” St. Paul said, “Cleanse out the old leaven…as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”[3] As we said a few moments ago, at the Passover, the Israelites were to take an unblemished male lamb and sacrifice it. They would then take the blood to mark the doorposts of their homes, and death would spare those inside. Christ is the Passover lamb. He is the unblemished Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world. Though He had no sin, He was made to be sin for us. In Him, God was reconciling the world to Himself. Christ is the Passover lamb, and His blood now marks our doors; it marks us.

By His death, Jesus Christ made full atonement for the sin of the world. All of our sin, all of our guilt, all of our temptations, all of our lies, all of our self-centeredness – these things He paid for with His own precious blood. And by His blood, death has passed over us. By His death, our debt is paid and by His rising again, death passes us over. The old leaven of malice and evil has been purged from the houses of our hearts, and we have been made unleavened. That means that, in God’s eyes – by faith in Christ – we have been made to be without sin. By the sacrifice of the true Passover Lamb, we are cleansed from all guilt and blame. We are unleavened.


Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”[4] As Christians in this world, we live with feet in two kingdoms. We have been brought into the kingdom of God through the washing of Holy Baptism and by the gift of faith; yet, we remain in the kingdom of the world. Before God we are righteous saints, freed from the guilt of our sins. Yet, as we remain this flesh, we are sinners. As we remain both saint and sinner, our lives are imperfect. Though we know and have heard the things we should do, we fail to do them. The Corinthians used their freedom in the Gospel as liberty to sin, and we have, too.

Let us celebrate the festival in sincerity and truth, St. Paul said, for our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. Christ, the true Passover Lamb, suffered and died for the sins of the world. And, what is more, He has been raised. Christ, our God, lives and reigns forever. By faith in Him, we, too, will rise from the dead to live in eternity. And, that eternity has already begun. In the Holy Supper, we receive a glimpse of the heavenly feast, and the lives we live now are the same lives that will continue beyond the grave. Therefore, St. Paul said, let us celebrate by living in sincerity and truth. Let us not lie but speak the truth. Let us not seek primarily our own good, but the good of others. Let us forgive those who sin against us, and seek their forgiveness when we sin against them. Let all filthy speech and actions be cleansed from our lives, even as the guilt of our sins has been removed from us.

When Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb that Sunday morning, they did not find what they expected. They were expecting to find the body of Jesus. Instead, they were met by an angel who told them, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.”[5] Jesus Christ, who was crucified for our sin, is now raised from the dead. Death could not keep Him, and neither will it hold those who are in Christ. Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed and we are free from sin and death. Let us therefore celebrate His feast in sincerity, love, and truth.

[1] 1 Corinthians 5:6, English Standard Version.

[2] 1 Cor. 5:7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] 1 Cor. 5:8.

[5] Mk. 16:6

And My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise

Text: Mark 7:31-37

Listen to the sermon here

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” The Church has sung these words of King David for nearly three millennia. They come from Psalm 51, the great psalm of confession. These words spring from a terrible time in David’s life where he had fallen very wide of God’s commandments. After he saw Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop, he began lusting after her and scheming ways to get her into his bed. It resulted ultimately in the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, whom David had put at the frontline hoping that he would be killed in battle. The prophet Nathan made known to David his sin, and the king was brought to repentance.

The words that he sang echo true for all humanity: we were brought forth in sin and conceived in iniquity. That is, today, we also confess that by nature our ears are closed to God’s Word and our mouths are used for anything other than speaking His pure and saving doctrine. But, as in our text Jesus opened the ears and loosened the tongue of a man born deaf and unable to speak rightly, so He speaks to us His divine, “Ephphatha.” Through His saving Word, Christ opens our deaf ears and loosens our mute tongues to sing His praises and proclaim the forgiveness of sins that is found in Him.


We pick up this week in the seventh chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel. The last time we were in Mark was a little over a month ago, when we looked at the Feeding of the Four Thousand. We spoke then about our Lord’s great compassion for all people. The people assembled at the feeding were not Jews, but Gentiles. We learned from that text that our gracious Lord has compassion on all people, including us, and He provides for all our needs of body and soul. That text, Mark 8:1-9, is what directly follows our Gospel today. These readings together, along with the whole of Mark 7, teach an important part of Jesus’ message: Jesus became incarnate for sins of all people. So, we find in Mark 7 Jesus journeying through Gentile territory.

St. Mark writes, “He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.” We learned last month that Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities along the cost of the Mediterranean. And, actually, some translators don’t really know what to do here, because Sidon is a bit north of Tyre. The verse ends with Jesus in the Decapolis, the ten cities, southeast of the Sea of Galilee. So, in the days when most travel was done by foot, it’s odd that Jesus would go in that sequence; some say that there is an error in the Greek text. Not so. St. Mark is simply demonstrating for us the point Jesus has already made: He has come to die for the sins of all people, so He’s going to tell all people – and that involves going all over the place.


As He was preaching and teaching, some brought to Him a man who was born deaf. As a result, though able to speak, he would’ve been prevented from speaking plainly. (Remember that idea for later.) There’s no indication from the text that these people knew exactly who Jesus was, which is kind of a theme in Mark, but they knew that Jesus had great power – power to heal. So they begged Jesus to lay His hand on their friend.

Taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” Sometimes in the Gospels when Jesus performed a miracle, it wasn’t received in an entirely right way. After the feeding of the five thousand, they tried to make Jesus king by force since He filled their stomachs. Perhaps perceiving that the crowd might again misinterpret the miracles He was about to perform, Jesus took the man aside in private. As the man was at that time unable to hear, Jesus took the time to demonstrate what He was going to do – He was going to open the man’s ears and loosen his tongue. Jesus may also have been preparing us to understand how God works: through the external, spoken Word, and through the Sacraments – which are the Word combined with physical actions for the forgiveness of sins.

Looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly.” After taking the man aside, Jesus conversed with God the Father, and groaned. That is what St. Mark says. Sighing is what you do when you’re angry; groaning is what you do when you hurt. It pains Jesus to see the havoc that Satan has wreaked by the Fall into Sin. Because of sin, men are born with terrible ailments, contract ruinous diseases, and die. Jesus came to put an end to these things, and actually the healing today itself foreshadows the time where there will be no more affliction, disease, or death. When St. Mark says that man had a speech impediment, he’s using a specific word that is found only one other place in the Bible. God says in Isaiah 35, “‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God…will come and save you!’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Jesus spoke and the man was healed. This is what today’s healing means – in Christ, the salvation of God has come to man.


Jesus groaned and said to the man born deaf and unable to speak correctly, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” Since ancient times the Church has seen in our text today a fitting opportunity to talk about our Lord’s work in Holy Baptism. In fact, the Baptismal liturgy of the ancient Church included a moment where the pastor would touch the child (or adult’s) ears and mouth and say, “Ephphatha.” In Baptism, through the application of our Lord’s Word in and with the water, our sins are washed away. We are given the gifts of faith and eternal life. King David prays in Psalm 51 for a clean heart and a right spirit. Those are received through the preaching of Christ’s Word and in Baptism where the Word is applied to us in a tangible way.

Thanks be to God for this great Sacrament, for we stand in dire need of it. We may not have been born deaf and unable to speak, but our ears and mouths are anything but innocent. By nature, our ears are closed to the Word of God. Instead of hearing God’s Word preached and taught, we devote our ears to hearing gossip and other sinful things. Instead of using our tongues to proclaim the glory and mercy of Christ, to preach His pure and saving doctrine, we use them to deceive others and glorify ourselves at their expense. In the text, it says the man’s tongue was released. Literally, it reads, “the bond of his tongue was loosed.” Similarly, our tongues are held captive by Satan until our Lord frees us.

In our text, the Lord travels quite a bit – from Tyre and Sidon to the Sea of Galilee – so that all people may hear His Gospel. Today, Jesus continues to travel the world through the preaching of His Word. He continues to send pastors, missionaries, teachers, and us, to share the forgiveness of sins found only in Him. Jesus speaks to us, even today, “Be opened.” Through His Word, in Baptism especially and in preaching, Christ opens our deaf ears and loosens tongues to sing His praise. Our ears, He opens to hear His Word rightly – to hear that all Scripture is about Him, about His grace and mercy. Our tongues, He loosens from Satan’s bonds to speak His Word rightly – tongues which were formerly used for deceit and murder, are now used to proclaim Christ, and Him crucified for the sins of the world.

Thanks be to God that He has caused His Word to be preached among us and has washed us through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. As with King David whose ears and lips were mired in sin, through these things God has given us a new and right spirit – the Holy Spirit. He has forgiven us our sins. He has spoken His Ephphatha to us. He has taken our ears and opened them to understand His Word and caused our tongues to speak it plainly. Let us pray: O Lord, let my lips be opened by your divine and saving Word, and my mouth be led to declare your praise all the day.

Compassionate Lightning

Text: Mark 8:1-9

“Lightning never strikes the same place twice,” or so the saying goes. It’s a silly idiom that we use (an idiom is a phrase that makes sense in one language, but not another) to comfort someone who’s fallen on rough times. What we mean by, “lightning never strikes the same place twice,” is that, whatever bad thing that happened to you – it’s probably not going to happen again. It was a one-time bad occurrence that shouldn’t defray your hopes for the future. Unfortunately, science has shown us that lightning can, and often does, strike the same place twice. For example, lightning strikes the Empire State Building an average of 23 times a year; the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center even more than that. Plus, many of us can probably attest from our own lives that bad things do often repeat themselves.

Maybe if we tweak the meaning a little bit, it’ll still work. Maybe “lightening doesn’t strike twice,” means that something really good won’t happen to you again. I’m kind of a cynical person, so I’m fond of that. If something really good happens to you – don’t count on it happening again any time soon. But, there, again, we can find some cracks. For example, Texas native Joan Ginther has won the lottery 4 times: $5.4 million in ‘93, $2 million in ‘06, $3 million in ‘08, and $10 million in 2010. And, if you will, there’s another exception to the rule in our Gospel text. In our text Jesus feeds a multitude of people a second time. In Mark 6 He fed the 5,000 and then our text He feeds a multitude of people again. Jesus had compassion on the people and fed them, lest they grow weak on the way home. Luckily for us, like lightning, Jesus strikes the same place more than once. Out of His compassion for us, our Lord provides for all our needs of body and soul.


Our text this week follows hot on the heels of the events of Mark 7. After Jesus fed the 5,000 in chapter 6, He sent the Disciples on ahead of Him in a boat. They were making headway across the Sea of Galilee painfully until Jesus came up to them, walking on the water, and got into the boat with them. When the Lord of wind and wave stepped into the boat, all things became peaceful. They got to the other side and after a little bit some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem to pick a fight. Their contention was that Jesus’ Disciples were (and therefore He was) in violation of the Law for not washing before they ate. Jesus put them in their place by demonstrating that it isn’t what goes into the mouth that makes one unclean, but what comes out of the heart. St. Mark gives us a little aside in the text that Jesus was thereby declaring all foods clean; and, by extension, all people.

In Mark 7 we see Christ demonstrating His love for all people by breaking down the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Immediately after that conversation with the Pharisees, He went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a pagan area, and there healed a Gentile woman’s daughter. Then, He continued on through Gentile areas healing, teaching, preaching. St. Mark writes, “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered,” a crowd of Gentiles, “[having] nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.’” As Jesus was traveling through the Gentile areas preaching and teaching the Gospel, He found the great crowd gathered around Him had nothing to eat. Fearing that they would faint along the way to their homes, for some had come from afar ways away, Jesus had compassion on them and desired to feed them.

His Hiscompassion was met with disbelief by the Disciples. They answered Him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” Something is lost in the translation here. In English if you move a word around in a sentence, it can drastically change its entire meaning. In Greek, you can put words anywhere you want and the meaning will stay the same. However, you can express emphasis by putting words in certain places. In the Disciples’ response to Jesus’ desire, not only are they doubting Jesus’ ability to provide but, if He should manifest some miracle, it would be wasted on these people. I.e., Gentiles, not descendents of Abraham, us.

Not deterred, Jesus asked the Disciples how many loaves they had, 7. He had the crowds sit down, took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and fed the people. And then they must’ve’ve found some fish, because this meal had two courses. Jesus fed 4,000 people to the full with 7 loaves of bread and then topped them off with a second round of fish. Jesus is a most gracious host. St. Mark writes that the 4,000 people, “ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.” Those baskets were the typical Roman bread basket, each holding 50 loaves. In total there were about 350 loaves’ worth of bread left over. Our compassionate and gracious Lord provided for the Gentile crowd.


We can learn a wonderful lesson from this text. Which is, that our Lord Jesus Christ is gracious and compassionate. By becoming flesh, He humbled Himself by becoming subject to the needs of our bodies and knows, personally, what we need. He know that, because we are in the body, we need things like shelter, clothing, friends, food and water. In our text Jesus provided one of the most basic and important needs: daily bread. In the Small Catechism we get to confess some things that might shed light on our lesson today. I invite you to open up to page 324 and find the Fourth Petition. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, right in the middle of it we ask our Heavenly Father for our daily bread. Luther writes what this petition means. He says,

God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What is meant by daily bread?

Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

God provides daily bread for everyone, but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to recognize that everything that we have comes from Him, and know by it how He feels about us. God loves you and gives you all things because He desires you to be well-fed and kept. True, it seems that we often consider ourselves on the famine side rather than the feast side, but God has never failed to provide what we need to live. To teach us this, Christ said to those who sought Him after the feeding of the 5,000, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

In this life God provides for all we need. He gives us food and drink, house and home, land, animals, and all that we have. Why? Because He loves us. Christ demonstrates His power, and desire, to do so by feeding the 4,000 in our text. These people were not of the chosen people of Israel, but those who were born outside the covenant, who held to Christ in faith. Such are we. On us Christ has had compassion. He gives us all we need to support this body and life because He is gracious. And, He has given His own body and blood into death for the forgiveness of sins, so that we may eat of it and live forever. In our text Jesus shows that He is able to provide for our bodies, and He does so because He loves us. Soon, He will also provide for our souls. God grant that we receive His supper for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and in the confidence that our gracious and compassionate Lord provides for all our needs of body and soul.

Blessed Endurance

Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; Mark 13:1-13

Jesus said to one of His disciples, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” In our text last week Jesus taught the people to beware of the scribes. Afterward, He and the Disciples left the temple and one of them marveled at its wonderful stones and buildings. Buildings are temporary, even the temple, said Jesus; There will be a time when not one of those stones will be left standing. A minor fulfillment of this prophecy would come some 40 years later when the Romans come to destroy Jerusalem. Its major fulfillment will be at the return of Christ when He sets all things in order.

We’ve now hit the final two Sundays of the church year, and our readings take a turn toward the somewhat dire. For example, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” That doesn’t quite sound like the Gospel words we’re used to, or maybe prefer. We might’ve forgotten that Jesus Himself said that He did not come to bring peace, but division. (Lk. 12:51) That is the result when sinful man hears the Word without the aid of the Holy Spirit. He rejects it and those – like us – who receive it with joy. In our world today, and increasingly in times to come, this results in brother delivering brother to death, hating each other on account of Christ’s holy name.

Just where is Jesus going with this? “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Jesus tells us all this plainly so that we will not be deceived. My first sermon as a pastor I used the phrase, “The times, they are a changin.” This is going to become increasingly true of the world’s tolerance for the one true faith. It’s going to get worse, until it won’t. Christ tells us all these things so that we may have the blessed assurance, the blessed endurance, that we will be saved in the resurrection of the flesh.


We turn back to the the text. The occasion is that upon leaving the temple, a remark is given about how great the buildings are. For a first-century Jew, the rebuilt temple of Herod the Great was about as close to the glory of Solomon as one could get. Surely its storied halls were a sign of God’s benevolent love. Not so, according to Jesus. The larger context is that we are in Holy Week. Jesus had already cleansed the Temple of those buying and selling, and last week He set the scribes straight. He is endeavoring now to tell the Disciples what will soon happen to them, and what will happen to the Church before His return. Jesus says,

See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

There again is why Jesus is telling us these things, so that we are not led astray. Scripture tells us that Christ will come again in the same way that He left – on the clouds – and the whole world will see it. But that will not stop many from falsely coming in His name. Recent history has shown us examples of that, as in ancient history some claimed to be Moses reincarnated and led many people to their deaths. There will be wars and rumors, but these things must take place. And yet, these are but the beginning.

This continues to bear immediate implications for the Disciples. “They will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.” This was true for the Apostles. Save St. John, all died martyrs’ deaths, along with many other early and present-day Christians. St. Paul was beaten in synagogues, stood before governors, and even Caesar before his martyrdom in Rome. They all stood before governors and kings bearing the Word of Christ. We, likewise, are called to bear witness to Christ before the world. Some of us may be called to suffer directly for His sake.

That is a scary thought, though, isn’t it? Many of us struggle sharing the faith with people in our regular lives; how could we possibly testify before kings? At various times in the early church there were persecutions. But, if a Christian brought in would just offer a small sacrifice to the gods, all would be forgiven. They could just forget all the bad stuff. Do you know how many are remembered in history for doing that? None. For Jesus says, “When they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

We have been given the Words of the Holy Spirit. We hear them weekly in church, we have them in written form in the Holy Scriptures, and we have all received the Holy Spirit in our hearts through the washing of Holy Baptism, whereby our sins are forgiven and faith is received. Jesus says that things are going to get worse. More and more persecutions of our faith will come, but Jesus is telling us these things so that we do not lose heart. When these things do come, we will endure. We will speak not our own words, but the words of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”


Many of you probably know and love the hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” It is actually based off a verse from our Epistle text: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The author to the Hebrews is reminding them and us that we have been sprinkled clean with the blood of Christ and washed pure from our sins through Holy Baptism. That is our blessed assurance in the times of trial that we are in now and in the ones to come. This blessed assurance gives us what I would call the blessed endurance. We have the endurance of the Holy Spirit, given to those whose names are written in the Book of Life.

The Lord gives us a picture of where this blessed endurance leads in Daniel 12. Our Old Testament text is one of the most beloved passages in the Bible that speak specifically about the resurrection of the dead. We confess it almost every Sunday in the Creed, but what will it look like?

There shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

The Lord tells Daniel that there shall be a time of great tribulation, a great persecution of the true faith of the Church, such as has never been until that time. But, those who belong to the Lord will be delivered – everyone whose name is written in the Book of Life. That’s you. When you were baptized your name was written in the Book of Eternal life and inscribed upon Christ’s palms. When He stands before the throne to plead on behalf of sinners, He intercedes for you. When we die we go immediately to heaven and are with Christ. We become those who are standing before the throne with palm branches in our hands as we await the Resurrection. When Christ returns, He will raise our bodies from the dust of the earth and bring us into the New Heaven and New Earth.

We’ve covered some pretty heavy stuff today. We began with the teaching of Christ that more persecutions will come. Before He returns, the world will grow increasingly cold to the warmth of the Gospel and we who bear it in our hearts through Baptism. We may be called to suffer for His sake, but we need not worry what to say, because it will be the Holy Spirit who will speak through us. St. Paul writes that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion in the day of Christ. This is the blessed endurance that we have received. The Holy Spirit will keep us in the true faith through all persecutions until the return of Christ. When He comes back, our bodies will be raised to shine like the stars and we will live forever in both soul and body with Christ and those who love Him.

Everything – Everything = Everything

Text: Mark 10:17-22 (23-31)

“How do you get to heaven? Well, I’m a good person.” That’s what most people think. Or, at least, that’s what you hear at funerals. “So-and-So was a good person.” They’re meant to be words of comfort, and they’ve probably come from my mouth; but when I hear that, in my head I always ask, “Why?” What do you mean? Do you mean that they were a morally good person? Okay, I’ll give them that – at least on the outside. Were they then a good enough person morally to get to heaven, though? Is that even the right thing to say, “So-and-So was a good person,”?

If God had a list of clichés that He hates to hear, I’m sure that “I’m a good person,” would be on there. Do you know why? With those four words the devil cuts the cross and Jesus out of the picture. It’s marvelous. We see it our text. The rich young ruler comes up to Jesus and asks Him what he can do to inherit eternal life, and then he rejects the answer Jesus gave, figuring that he was already a good person. He was already a good person, so he didn’t need Jesus. The devil wants us to answer the question, “How do you get to heaven,” with those four words instead of the ones God’s Word gives: “Jesus died for me.” Of our own powers, we will never say that. The Bible says no one can call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit. By the works of man salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible.


In the text we’re couched square in between the time of Jesus’ transfiguration and the Triumphal Entry. We have here a period of intensified instruction. During this time Jesus predicted His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins three times. All three times the answer He was looking for (amen) was rejected: first, by Peter, then by the rest of the Disciples, then by James and John – who wanted to be seated in glory. The whole point of Jesus’ teaching is that He is going to suffer and die for the forgiveness of sins so that our trespasses may no longer be held against us. He is suffering so that we can be given salvation as a gift.

Now, as Jesus was setting out on His journey toward Jerusalem, the text says, “a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’[1] Have you ever met someone for the first time and made a total fool of yourself? Maybe you called them the wrong name or sneezed on them, or in whatever other way made yourself the butt of a joke. It’s called getting started off on the wrong foot, and it’s what the young man in our text is doing. To start with, the man calls Jesus, “teacher.” This isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s definitely a red flag. Anyone who believes in Jesus in the Gospels calls Him, “Lord, Son of David,” or something similar. Those who address Him as teacher are the Jewish authorities who see Jesus as just another rabbi, whose opinion people are to seek.

The man really steps in it, though, because he puts these two words together: good teacher. See, if Jesus is just a teacher to you, why call Him good? Jesus rebuffs the man from Scripture, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”[2] I’ve said before, aside from the demons and few others, nobody gets it in Mark’s Gospel. Nobody gets that Jesus is out to die, that He is going to suffer and die for the forgiveness of sins. The man, believing that Jesus is just a teacher, is asking Him what must be done to earn eternal life. It’s not a stupid question, but it’s definitely the wrong one.

Jesus lets him have it. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ”[3] There it is. What must we do to get into heaven? Follow the commandments. Perfectly. Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie. If you want to earn eternal life, Jesus says, go for it. Keep the commandments. But remember – it’s not just your actions that count, but the things you don’t do, and your thoughts either way. Jesus shows us that in the Sermon on the Mount. If you want to earn eternal life, go for it. Knock yourself out; But, if you fail once – in thought, in word, or deed – it’s over, and you’re going to the eternal hell of fire where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth. Deal?

What does the man say? “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”[4] The text says that Jesus looked at the man and loved him. Certainly his zeal for God’s Word was commendable. His desire to live according to God’s commandments was laudable. But, there was just one thing. Jesus said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”[5] The man thought he had all the commandments down, but he missed one: the First. He had all his ducks in a row, but he wasn’t ready to forsake his possessions and take up the cross of Christ. Instead, he went away sorrowful.


How difficult it will be, Jesus says, for those having possessions to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. To inherit the kingdom of God one must keep a perfect guard upon their heart and mind by obeying God’s Law to completion, which means forsaking all things – family, home, possessions, and life – to follow Christ, and Him alone. Upon hearing this, the Disciples were exceedingly astonished. “Who then can be saved?” With man it is impossible.

With these words, Christ puts us all in our place. We all think we’re good people. On the outside, it appears that way, too. We are present in the community, we give our offerings, we give keeping the commandments the good old college try. But if you think that you are going to get into heaven because of those things, you might as well give it up now, because you still lack one thing. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will not get into heaven. Unless you give up your cabin, your farm, your devotion to the Bison, your whatever, and spend all that you have and are seeking to learn and obey God’s Word – you will not earn either God’s grace or your way to heaven. With man it is impossible.

With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”[6] According to man’s power, salvation is impossible, but not according to God’s. My friends, when the rich young man went to Jesus looking for a way to earn his way to heaven, Jesus sent him away in sorrow. The answer to his question was right before his eyes, even though he didn’t want hear it. What must we do to inherit the kingdom of heaven? Absolutely nothing, except believe in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”[7] That is what one must do to inherit eternal life. There is nothing that we must do except know and believe in Jesus Christ, and Him crucified for our sins. Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Therefore, He emptied Himself by taking on the form of a servant. The eternal Son of God took on our human flesh and was tempted in every way, yet without sin. In that way He became the perfect sacrifice for all sin on the cross. By His death you have been forgiven all your sins.

Through the preaching of His Word and through the Sacraments, Christ comes to you with that forgiveness. You don’t have to search and scour where to find Jesus. He finds you here. He found you at the fount when you received the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith. He finds you here, at His altar, as He gives you to eat of His body and drink of His blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The rich man went to Jesus figuring that he was already a good man. According to himself, he had kept all the commandments since he was baby. Jesus showed that he still lacked one thing: faith in Christ. Without that, all the riches in the world, and all the righteousness that we appear to have, come to nothing. What must you do to inherit the kingdom of heaven? Believe in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Call yourself a disgusting sinner, but one clothed with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 10:17.

[2] Mk. 10:18.

[3] Mk. 10:19.

[4] Mk. 10:20.

[5] Mk. 10:21.

[6] Mk. 10:27.

[7] 1 Cor. 2:2.

Treading Water?

Text: Mark 6:45-56

We’ve been having a lot of boats in our readings lately. We’ve seen this particularly in the Gospels, as Jesus instructed the Disciples in Mark 3 to have a boat ready for Him in case the crowds started to crush Him. This week both our Old Testament and Gospel readings contain boats. In the reading from Genesis we hear God’s promise to Noah that He will never again destroy all flesh with a flood. As a sign of that promise He gave the rainbow. When God sees the rainbow, He will remember the promise He has made. This promise foreshadows the blood of the covenant. When God sees that we have been marked by the blood of Christ, He remembers His promise to pass over our sins and remember them no more.

In the Gospel reading, we have another boat. Today, Jesus instructs the disciples to return across the Sea of Galilee while He dismisses the crowd that He had just fed with the five loaves and two fish. As they were going across a wind arose, such that the disciples were making no headway. Then they saw Jesus walking upon the sea. Upon seeing Him, they thought He was a ghost; but when He enters the boat, the wind ceases and they make it to the other side.

In many ways the Church has used the ark or the boat as illustrations of the Church. For example, St. Peter says in 1 Peter 3 that Baptism corresponds to the Ark in that we are saved from the world through God’s action with water. The Church itself is compared to an Ark, in which we float upon the seas of the world until we reach the shores of heaven. One thing we note from our Gospel reading is that, without Jesus in the boat, it goes nowhere. It beats against the winds, but otherwise it just treads water. Without Jesus in the boat, the Church goes nowhere.


In our text Jesus finally gets some alone time. This whole chapter of Mark has been filled with action. It began with Jesus’ rejection at the synagogue in Nazareth, His own hometown. Afterward He went about the surrounding villages teaching the Word of God. Then He sent out the Twelve with the authority to cast out unclean spirits and preach the forgiveness of sins. Through them Jesus healed many sick people. Before the Apostles returned we heard about the death of John the Baptist who proclaimed repentance to King Herod and lost his life for the sake of Christ. That was the ultimate fulfillment of John’s desires that he himself decrease that Christ may increase. Finally, now, Jesus gets a chance to rest.

He told the Disciples to go ahead of Him across the lake. This way He could remain behind to pray. Jesus, as fully man, required rest and He faced an uphill walk of resistance and rejection as His journey to the cross went on. But now we get a glimpse of the true shepherd He is. Jesus is tired, He needs rest, but there are still these 5,000 men and their families…You or I might slip out quietly and leave the crowd to fend for themselves. We’d pick up our mat, throw the trash, and leave. But Jesus, He dismisses them. He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, even to point of seeing them off. Only then was He able to pray. The Disciples were making their way across the Sea of Galilee, and He remained to be in communion with His Father.


We hear in the text, “When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and He was alone on the land. And He saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.”[1] The Disciples, sent by Jesus, were in their boat out upon the sea, but by about the fourth watch of the night – so, between 3-6 a.m. – they weren’t going anywhere. If we can use the boat as an image of the Church, the Disciples were doing church without Jesus. And they weren’t going anywhere.

Sometimes people ask why we Lutherans worship the way we do, why we sing hymns and use the liturgy, why we have a set cycle of readings, instead of the pastor choosing whatever he feels like preaching on. The main reason why we have these things is that these things speak Jesus to us. In the hymns and liturgy we are drawn out from ourselves, and sometimes our own personal preferences, to speak the words of Christ and hear of His love towards us, especially in the highlight of the Divine Service, the Lord’s Supper.

Many churches do away with these things, and in some ways that is fine. To a degree, worship style is an area of Christian freedom, and Lutherans have long recognized that certain things may be changed for good order. But sometimes, the baby is thrown out with the bathwater, and in this case we mean the Gospel. There are many churches that, like the Disciples in the reading, aren’t getting anywhere. As we move towards our Sunday School Workshop in a few weeks, I’m preparing to talk about the difference between the Law and the Gospel, which is a treasure of true Biblical teaching. Unfortunately, it’s become something associated mainly with Lutheranism, such that outside of Lutheranism, you’re much more likely now to get a sermon title like, “8 Steps to Be a Better Spouse,” which is actually not Gospel.

But Jesus, ever compassionate, saw that they were going nowhere and walked out upon the sea. Towards the end of the night, when the Disciples were all alone and going nowhere, Jesus appeared. They were terrified. Without Jesus they were treading water, going nowhere; but with Jesus there they are afraid. This not a pious fear such as when the Apostle John falls on his face before the Lamb, but they think that Jesus is a ghost. Though they should’ve known Jesus could walk on water, their hearts were hardened to the truth.

This is the same reaction that we get when show that, without Jesus, everything is just treading water. A church may have a fantastic youth group, the Bible studies may be packed to the gills, the offering plates may be overflowing, but without Jesus – it’s all treading water. What do we mean? Without Jesus’ perfect life and death for the forgiveness of all sins as the central and constant teaching of a church, everything else is going nowhere. Without Jesus beside us to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith, our lives go nowhere.


Immediately He spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.”[2] In classical literature and Scripture, the sea is a place of chaos. It’s where the leviathan dwells; in Daniel and Revelation, it where the evil beasts come from. For Jesus to tread upon the water as if it were nothing, is to show that He is Lord over all things in heaven and on earth. As if that weren’t enough, Jesus gives the firm and comforting, “It is I.” Jesus identifies Himself clearly as the great I AM and then gets into the boat. But the Disciples hearts were hardened, because they didn’t understand about the miracle of the loaves.

Jesus gets into the boat with us too. Throughout our lives we find ourselves treading water. Maybe we’re between jobs, maybe the crop didn’t do so well that year, maybe all the medical procedures we’re dealing with make it feel like we just, “existing,” or barely getting by. Sometimes in church it feels that way, like we’re floating but going nowhere. It those spaces, where it looks to us like we’re going nowhere, Jesus gets in the boat. In fact He got in the boat by taking on our human nature. He humbled Himself to born of a virgin, submitting Himself to the Father’s will where we rebelled. Then He suffered the penalty of our sins on the cross. Jesus is in the boat with us.

He’s in the boat that we call “life,” but especially He’s in the ark of the Church. In the Church He daily and richly provides us His plentiful forgiveness. He sends His Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word to assure us that He is with us at all times and in all places. In the Supper of His own Body and Blood, He gives us something we can touch and feel and taste so that we know that He is here with us. Without these things, though, the boat goes nowhere. Without Christ’s Word and Sacrament as prominent features of the Church’s life, it goes nowhere.

We’ve heard a lot about boats in our readings lately, especially today in our Old Testament and Gospel readings. In the Gospel reading Jesus sent the Disciples ahead of Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They found themselves not making headway. The winds picked up and they were just treading water. The Church is often illustrated as a boat or an ark. Just like with the Disciples, without Jesus, the boat goes nowhere. The Church goes nowhere. But Jesus sees us and comes out to us walking upon the raging waves of the world. He says to us, “Take heart; It is I. Do not be afraid.” He steps into the boat, and we make it to shore.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 6:47–48.

[2] Mk. 6:50–51.

Jesus, the Savior of Great and Small

Text: Mark 5:21-43

One of the ongoing themes in Mark’s Gospel is rejection. More specifically, the rejection of Jesus. This rejection comes from all sides, but a particular focus of St. Mark is the rejection of Jesus by His own people and His subsequent appearances to the Gentiles. Mark, tradition tells us, wrote to a Gentile audience. Only a quarter way through the Gospel, Jesus has already been rejected by His people, His own family, and even doubted by His own Disciples. We would’ve expected the Messiah to be welcomed by God’s chosen people. They were supposed to be looking for and anticipating the arrival of the Christ. But instead, Jesus’ ministry is met with rejection, doubt, and ridicule.

Last week Jesus demonstrated that He is the Lord God Almighty by displaying His power over the raging storm and waves. Though the Disciples despaired of life itself, Jesus was beside them in the boat the whole time. Likewise, He is beside us in the Ark of the Church throughout the perils of this life. The whole reason for going across the Sea of Galilee in the first place was to go to the Gentiles, those who had been previously estranged from God. If God’s chosen people wouldn’t listen to the Good News, then maybe those who were the outcasts would. Jesus showed that He is not the Savior just of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles as well. He showed that God’s chosen people are not of one race, but of one relationship: faith in Christ.

But now Christ has come back west over the Sea of Galilee to Jewish territory. Even with home court advantage, though, Jesus continued to show that the Son of Man is impartial. He reaches out today to a number of people to demonstrate that He is Lord not only of both Jew and Greek, but of great and small as well. Jesus shows by His power over death and disease that His salvation is for all people.


The text begins, “When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.”[1] Already we’ve said that Jesus is back in Jewish territory. He left it to show God is impartial, but now returning, He is met along the way by a ruler of the synagogue. The rulers of the synagogue were a class of men in charge various matters at the local synagogue, such as arranging readers and speakers. They weren’t priests, but they were fairly important. Here we see that not all Jewish authorities despised Jesus, and while Jesus’ own disciples wondered who He was to command wind and wave, this man understood.

This is reflected in his actions. This important man comes and prostrates himself before Jesus. He falls at His feet, imploring Him to come help. His little daughter is at the end of her life. We’re given to understand by the text that death is near in the immediate sense. There is nothing that could be done. But, if Jesus would just come and lay hands on her, she would be saved and live. She would be saved from the perils of death and the grave. There were any number of doctors or faith healers that the man could’ve gone to, but he asked Jesus. They could’ve prayed, could’ve made this life transition easier for the girl and her family, but they couldn’t save her. Only Jesus could save her and make her live again. And with the words that the man uses, we’re talking about more than just healing.

Jesus, hearing the man, doesn’t mess around. In fact, He doesn’t say anything at all. None of the Gospels record Jesus saying anything here; He just goes. He doesn’t twiddle His thumbs, He doesn’t debate over what to do; He sees an opportunity to share His saving news, and He jumps into action. He, the Lord of all life, who has come to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins, goes to bring life to this little girl.


Jesus goes along with Jairus to heal his daughter who is deathly ill. Along the way, a crowd followed and pressed against Him. In the crowd, “there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”[2] Because of the type of ailment this woman had, she was ceremonially unclean. In other cases, the uncleanness may have ended, but for her it meant twelve years of being unclean. This meant she couldn’t go to the temple, she couldn’t eat the Passover, and other people who came into contact with her must first purify themselves before doing those things. Thus, she was an outcast. We see a stark comparison between her and the ruler. The ruler was an important man who humbled himself before Jesus, while this woman is at the bottom of the social ladder. And yet, they share a common faith in Jesus.

The woman figured if she would just touch His garments, she would be healed. She was right. She reached out and touched Jesus and was instantly healed. Fearing that Jesus would be angry, she confessed what she had done. Jesus responds not in anger, but to comfort the woman. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”[3] It was not the touching of the garment that healed her, but the salvation of God present in the flesh of Jesus Christ that purified the woman’s flesh. She became a living image of the healing we will all receive at the resurrection. As with the woman, our bodies are weak and frail. We grow old and die. But as with the woman, so will our bodies be renewed at the coming of Christ. That’s what we confess when we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We know that those who believe in Jesus will be resurrected in our renewed bodies.


In the intervening time, the little girl died. But for Jesus, that isn’t an issue. Jesus instructs the father not to fear, but believe. There was a great commotion in the house. The practice at the time was to hire professional mourners, and so the house was filled with weeping and mourning. Jesus asked, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”[4] They laughed at Him, not realizing that the Lord of all life stood in their midst. For Jesus, death is but as sleep. Then, taking the girl by the hand, He spoke to her. “Little girl, I say to you, arise.[5] He spoke His Word to her, and immediately she rose from the dead. He spoke the Word of life and brought her back.

That’s what Jesus does. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His Word brings water to the barren soul and life and light those who dwell in the shadow of death. It’s not dependent on who you are, where you’re from, what you do, or what social circles you run in. The salvation of Jesus Christ is for all people. He suffered for the sins of the entire world, and by His death and resurrection has reconciled all people to the Father. This reconciliation is given through the gift of faith we receive in Baptism. From the greatest to the least, is for all people. Jesus raised from the dead the daughter of a ruler of the synagogue, and He healed a woman who had been an outcast for twelve years. The Pharisees once commended Jesus for showing no partiality, and they were right. No matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter what you’ve done, Jesus died for you.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:21–24.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:25–26.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:34.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:39.

[5] Mk. 5:41.

Repent and Believe, You Fishers of Men

Text: Mark 1:14-20

Repent, and believe in the Gospel;” these are some of Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of Mark. The time is now here, the time is now complete; drop what you’re doing, turn, and believe in the Gospel. If we had to summarize all of Jesus’ teaching into one little particle, it would be that. Jesus was saying that the time was at hand. The Son of God had now taken on flesh to suffer for the sins of the world in order that forgiveness may be proclaimed to the world, and thus that the name of the Lord be praised from the rising of the sun to its setting. His words to us today are the same, “Repent and believe in the Gospel, you fishers of men.”


The Gospel text begins, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”[1] John the Baptist’s ministry has now come to an end. It was a stark and interesting ministry. John preached out in the wilderness, dressed in itchy clothes and eating strange food, calling people to repentance through the preaching of the Law. His job was to prepare the way of the Lord and to make His paths straight by calling sinners to repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. John witnessed later that his ministry must end for that of Christ to continue. He said, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”[2] John’s ministry ended in his being beheaded for his faith after witnessing to King Herod.

And yet, in some ways, it continued in the proclamation of Jesus – “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” The time is now fulfilled, Jesus said. The time long expected, the time long hoped for, the time long watched for, has now arrived. The Seed who would crush the head of the ancient serpent, the Redeemer that Job confessed, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, and the heavenly King proclaimed throughout the Psalms, has come to earth. The ministry of Moses and all the prophets pointed entirely to this moment. This moment is that the king of all that there is, has come down from His throne to be beaten, spit upon, crowned with thorns and nailed to a tree, all for you. And so, repent.

Jesus’ message: repent. It’s the same message that Jonah brought to Nineveh. It was the capital of bloodthirsty Assyria, the scourge of the ancient Middle East and the enemy of God’s people. They were pagans, evil people, spiritually corrupt and dead inside, bearing the fruits of all kinds of evil. And yet, God sent His prophet Jonah to preach His Word. And you know what they did? They repented and believed in God. We may not be violent, evil, pagan devil-worshippers, but inside we carry the same temptations to sin. Repent, Jesus says. Repent of everything that leads you away from the Word of Christ. Repent of the times where you thought more highly of yourself than you ought; repent of your anger against your spouse, against your children, even your hatred for elected officials. Repent for the times you felt justified in choosing extra-curricular activities when they conflict with church. Repent…and believe.

Believe in the Gospel. For every struggle over sin, for every angry thought, for every impure desire, believe. Believe that Jesus died for your sin, for mine, and for the sins of the entire world, because He did. Though He was in perfect unity with the Father and Holy Spirit before all time, not subject to death, decay, and the stress of this world, He had compassion on us and stepped down to earth. Jesus Christ is all the love of God in the flesh to save us. He was not content to sit on His throne separate from us, but instead took upon our human frailty to be God with us, to carry our sins to the cross, and to die there to win our salvation.


Now, “Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’”[3] This text is one we go to for the foundation of the office of the ministry, the pastoral office. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus called men to assist Him in proclaiming the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. In this case, He likens it to fishing for men. As Jesus passed by alongside the Sea of Galilee, and seeing Simon and Andrew, James and John, He called them away from their nets, nets that need mending, and gave them the net of His Word.

I sometimes wonder about this illustration because, usually, fishing involves death. Fishing is fun, and we do it for enjoyment and food, but it didn’t exist before the Fall into sin. The fishing that Jesus called the Apostles to is different. I know that you can catch and release, but Jesus was calling these fishers of men to catch and keep. They were to proclaim God’s Word, that in Christ all sins are freely forgiven by His death on the cross, and to keep proclaiming it. The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Holy Gospel and brings us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Let’s go back to these words of Christ, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” A lot of the time spent on this text focuses on the following aspect. We’re told to, before all else, follow Jesus. We’re told to follow Jesus and to never let up. That’s good and true, but I want to focus on these 4 words, “I will make you.” In the Greek, it’s more “I will make you, I will shape you, I myself will form you into fishers of men,” and that is exactly what Jesus does through the preaching the Gospel. Though there is nothing good in us, though on our own we are unable to truly repent, Christ comes to us and gives us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us to bring us to repentance, to believe in Jesus, and to receive the forgiveness of sins.

Through the preaching of the Good News, Jesus Himself forms you and me into fishers of men. The net He gives us is His Word. He shapes us, forms us, and leads out into the world to cast His net to catch men. We go out proclaiming that God is here. We speak the truth of His love and forgiveness. Christ forms us to go out sharing the hope that we have of eternal life, and that, even in the midst of despair, anxiety, and suffering, Christ is with us at all times and in all places. Through its proclamation, God’s Word becomes a net that captures people unto salvation.

The closing hymn today, “Come, Follow Me,” the Savior Spake, has a couple really good verses. It goes, it part, “I am the light, I light the way, a godly life displaying; I bid you walk as in the day; I keep your feet from straying. I am the way, and well I show how you must sojourn here below…I teach you how to shun and flee what harms your soul’s salvation, your heart from ev’ry guile to free, from sin and its temptation. I am the refuge of the soul and lead you to your heav’nly goal.”[4] Christ, our eternal God and Lord, suffered for our transgressions. Through the preaching of His Word He brings us to repentance and faith in Him. As Christians we are then made into fishers of men, casting wide the net of God’s Word. To Him alone be all glory, Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 1:14–15.

[2] Jn. 3:29–30.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 1:16–17.

[4] Lutheran Service Book, 688.

The Baptism of Our Lord

Text: Mark 1:4-11

You probably know these words from the Catechism, “What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”[1] We talk a lot about Baptism, about how it brings us the forgiveness of sins and rescues us from death and the devil through the gift of faith, which receives these things. We know that Baptism is for sinners. In Baptism the Old Adam in us, our old sinful nature, is daily put to death and the new creation we have been made in Christ daily arises to live in righteousness and purity.

Baptism is for sinners. Baptism is for the washing away of sin through the forgiveness of that sin. Today we celebrate Christ’s Baptism. Now, if Baptism is for sin, why was Jesus Baptized? Jesus is sinless; He has no sin that needs to be forgiven, so why be Baptized by John in the Jordan River? If you look in the hymnal at the Order of Holy Baptism on pg. 268, that first prayer is called Martin Luther’s Flood Prayer. Part of it affirms that God, “through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your [God’s] beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, [You] sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”[2] Luther would elsewhere say that Baptism was made primarily for Christ, and then afterwards for us. Through His Baptism in the Jordan River Christ continued His work of salvation by taking our place, and thereby made our baptism a true washing of salvation.


The text from Mark 1 begins with the account of John the Baptist. We hear that, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”[3] By now we should be familiar with John; we had him pop up in the readings a few times in Advent as well. Part of John’s preaching included that there would be one coming after him whose sandals he was unworthy to untie. This one is mightier than he and would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John was identified by Jesus and the evangelists as the prophet who cries out in the wilderness. Jesus said John “is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you,’” and, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”[4]

John proclaimed a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His call was to prepare the way of the Lord, calling to mind the people’s constant transgression against God’s Law. He reminded people of their sinfulness, but also comforted them with the promise of the Messiah who would cleanse them of their iniquity, and to that end people were baptized by him. They heard the Word of God, became repentant and confessed their sins, and received forgiveness. This all kind of revolves around the fact that people are sinful and need forgiveness. But then why was Jesus baptized? He didn’t have any sin, so what is this about “fulfilling all righteousness,” as Jesus says in Matthew?[5]


I’ve already drawn upon Luther for some insight today, so I will let him explain a little bit. Preaching a sermon on Baptism, he said:

“[Christ] accepted it from John for the reason that he was entering into our stead, indeed, our person, that is, becoming a sinner for us, taking upon himself the sins which he had not committed, and wiping them out and drowning them in his holy baptism. And that he did this in accord with the will of God, the heavenly Father, who cast all our sins upon him that he might bear them and not only cleanse us from them through his baptism and make satisfaction for them on the Cross, but also clothe as in his holiness and adorn us with his innocence.”[6]

The purpose of Jesus being baptized is the same as His entire life on earth, to take our place. We are born and die as sinners. In this flesh we never escape the snares and schemes of the devil, the temptations of the world and our flesh. All too often, we find ourselves falling, or even ignoring the fact that we do not behave the way we should. We do not love God above all things and do not love our neighbors as ourselves, and we do justly deserve temporal and eternal punishment. But God desires not the death of the sinner but that he turn, repent from his ways and live. But, we even fail at the whole repentance thing, too.

That is why God sent His Son – to save us from our sins. It pleased God, even as it pained Him, to place our chastisement upon Christ. Jesus took upon our flesh to bear our sin and take our place in death so that we might take His place in life. Thus, in order to fulfill all righteousness, Christ even took our place in His Baptism. In His Baptism He made the good confession that we fail to make when we fail to be truly repentant. He who knew no sin became sin and was Baptized for our forgiveness. By His washing in the Jordan River Jesus sanctified all water with His own Body to be a renewing flood and washing away of sin. St. Paul illustrates what this means for us in his letter to the Romans.


Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”[7] Paul is saying that when Christ took our place and sanctified Baptism by His washing in the Jordan River, He made it so that we too may share in His life. In the waters of Holy Baptism we are united with Christ’s death. Just as Christ died to sin, so is the old nature, the old sinful Adam in us, put to death. We were buried with Him by baptism, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may be brought to new life.

The context of Paul’s writing this was to encourage the Roman Christians to no longer devote themselves to the pleasures of the flesh, either by becoming slaves to the Law or by throwing off the Law entirely and committing whatever sins they want, figuring that God will forgive no matter what. But, Paul says that we are united with Christ through Holy Baptism. This includes the glorious when we shall see Christ in the flesh. Scripture says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin…Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”[8]

By His Baptism Christ took our place, repenting when we too often fail to do so. He repented of sin He did not have and, by His Body, sanctified our Baptism to be a washing away of sin. In Baptism we are united with His death and resurrection. Through this washing we receive the gift of faith that receives the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. This eternal life in heaven we now have. For the Christian, eternal life begins at the font. So now we live, no longer as slaves to sin, gratifying the desires of the flesh, but as alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. All thanks, honor, and glory be to Him who by His life, death, and resurrection, even His washing in the Jordan River, secured for us the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 339.

[2] LSB, 268.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 1:4–5.

[4] Matt. 11:10-11.

[5] Matt. 3:15.

[6] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51: Sermons I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 51 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 315.

[7] Rom. 6:3–4.

[8] Rom. 6:5-6, 8-9.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Text: Mark 1:1-8

It seems now that, just about a full week into the month of December and a week and a half removed from Black Friday, preparations for Christmas have certainly begun. If you haven’t begun, maybe you really should. But really, though, holiday preparation can take it out of you. There are the presents to buy, the food to buy and prepare. Houses need to be cleaned; attitudes need to be tweaked so you can survive with those relatives you dread. You love them and all, but some people are just hard to be with. For many of us, we’ll all be glad when the 2nd of the year hits and things go back to normal.

In the reading from Mark today we see another kind of preparation, the preparation of the way of the Lord. John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness baptizing and preaching the Word of God. John’s message was a stark and serious one, in Matthew we have him calling the Jewish leaders a “brood of vipers.” John came preaching the Law to show its strict demands and the world’s universal need for a savior in preparation for His coming.


The text begins, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’” [1] It is an interesting beginning for the book of Mark. The book begins by showing our need for a Savior in the first place. Like John appearing in the wilderness to make straight the paths of the Lord, Mark sets things straight by showing what was written in Isaiah: God would send a messenger to prepare the way of the Lord.

In the book of Malachi, God pointed out that the people of Judah wearied Him with their words. He said their general sentiment was, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them,” and they asked, “Where is the God of justice?”[2] Therefore, God responded that He is sending His messenger to prepare the way before Him. The people asked where God is, and He said He’s coming. This messenger is to cry out that all flesh is grass. In all its beauty, it is still like the flower of the field that withers and fades. That which is flesh is sown in iniquity and shall go away in sin.

Thus, John appeared in the wilderness preaching the Law of God and a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He came accusing people of their sinful hypocrisy. All people have been tainted by the stench of sin. In this life no one escapes the hold that sin has over them. We see this even during this month as we prepare for the birth and return of Jesus. It makes sense that the world goes wild for giving and receiving gifts, hosting parties, and drinking egg nog, and we can get caught up in it, too. We tell ourselves to “remember the reason for the season,” but do we really? Christmas is about the coming of the Savior into the flesh to die for our transgressions. The eternal Son of God humbled Himself to be born, and to carry our sin to the cross because we cannot do it ourselves.

All the country of Judea and everyone in Jerusalem went out to confess their sins and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. John preached God’s Law and they were convicted that, at every point in their and our lives, we transgress against God and one another and deserve punishment. John, dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts, was a picture of what we should’ve aspired to, but even he was not perfect. When he was arrested and put in prison, he doubted whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. Even John would not escape the coming of the savior, which will be like a refiner’s fire, burning up all impurities. That is, He would not survive without the forgiveness of sins. Therefore John preached, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”[3]


To many people John appeared crazy. Here was this wild man out in the desert. He might have looked a little unstable, but so did most of the Old Testament prophets. He was a stark vision of adherence to God’s Law: itchy camel hair clothes with a leather belt, eating locusts. They make candy now, at least you can get it all the Mall of America, that has crickets in it; but can you imagine eating that all the time? Some scientists are working on mass producing food from grasshoppers to solve shortage, but John ate them in order to keep pure. But even he was not worthy to untie the sandals of the one coming after him.

The one coming after John is mightier than he. The Lord says in Malachi 3, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.”[4] Who can endure the coming of the Son of Man, the eternal measure of Justice? No one. For all have sinned and are consumed by iniquity. The Son of Man came to burn away and condemn all evil. But, Martin Luther writes, “Christ is not merely the Purifier but also the purifying Agent. He is not only the Blacksmith but also the Fire; not only the Cleaner but also the Soap. He does not sit indolently at the right hand of His Father. Rather He is always working among us.”[5]

What Luther is getting at is that Christ came to do all the work. He is the eternal enfleshment of the Son of God. His wrath against sin will be like a fire that burns everything away, but He is also a fire that resides in us, those who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. John showed that all our attempts to fulfill God’s Law and gain life for ourselves fail, and the result is that not even John is worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals.

John came preaching the Law before the coming of Jesus to show our need for a Savior and for cleansing. Jesus is the one who came to clean us, to be both the cleaner and the soap. He is the one, who for our salvation, came down from heaven. He humbled Himself to be born of the Virgin Mary, to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins. Thus, He is our Cleaner, but He is also the soap. We, who have been given His Holy Spirit, are washed in His blood. By His blood our robes are made clean. The Lord spoke in Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”[6] This is not because our works make it so, for all flesh is like grass, but because of Christ – He who is both the Cleaner, and by His blood, the soap that washes us.

As we continue the journey though Advent and into Christmas it’s easy to get caught up in the season, caught up in a bad way. All the holiday preparations come into full swing and sometimes we forget not just the “reason for the season,” but why He came as well. John came preaching the Law, showing us our need for a savior. This Savior is Jesus, who came to earth to pay the penalty of our sin and win for us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Like a refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap He burns away all impurities even as He fills us with His Holy Spirit. To Him we pray, “Lay on the sick Thy healing hand and make the fallen strong to stand; show us the glory of Thy face till beauty springs in every place. All praise, eternal Son, to Thee whose advent sets Thy people free, whom with the Father we adore and Holy Spirit evermore.”

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 1:1–3.

[2] Mal. 2:17.

[3] Mk 1:7–8.

[4] Mal 3:2.

[5] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 18: Minor Prophets I: Hosea-Malachi, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 18 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 410.

[6] Is. 1:18.