The Mind of Christ (1 Corinthians2:1-16)

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Christians are an enigma to the unbelieving world around us. Even more so, it seems, with each passing year. The non-Christian can’t make heads nor tails of us, or begin to comprehend the reason for our words and actions … at least not our truly Christian words and actions. Yet the same cannot be said to be true about our understanding of the unbelievers. While we often shake our heads at their words and actions they do not surprise us. We understand them all too well. We’ve been there. In fact you could say that we understand them even better than they understand themselves. But don’t get too puffed up, dear friends. You are not so very wise, nor have you worked all this out in your own mind. You know this because you’ve been given the wisdom of Christ, and the very mind of Christ.

1And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

It is really very simple and focused – humble messengers testifying to Jesus Christ crucified for us sinners! That’s the secret. That’s the heart. That is the soul and the mind of being Christian. And it confuses the heck out of the world around us. “Why does it always come back to Jesus for you Christians?” atheist debater Richard Dawkins once lamented in a debate. He is not alone in his bewildered wondering.

Why do we not spend more time relying on rhetorical technique or any other worldly strategy for making an impression? Because it is not about winning debating points or putting on a good show. It’s about speaking the truth in Christ and letting God reap the results.

6Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Know this dear friends, the secular spirit of this age is always trying to make the church conform to its own agenda rather than letting the church be conformed to the mind of Christ. Always seeking to tell you what the mind of Christ would be, rather than letting Christ tell you what your mind should be! But that wisdom of this age is reduced to nothing in the face of Jesus Christ Crucified, Risen, and Victorious. The power and influence of this world is transitory and already fading from the scene. For even with all their sophisticated knowledge, be it in science or philosophy or in social justice theory they have failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

It is the great secret of human history that is hidden only from the sinful and unreceptive world. It is the great mystery that the Spirit reveals through the Gospel and comprehended in the cross.

9But, as it is written, What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him—10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

Only spiritual people welcome these spirit-taught words, these deep things of God – His love for us fools shown on the cross. And in the revelation of that cross a spiritual person is able to exercise good judgment in all things, both secular and sacred; for we have a privileged understanding of reality. Both sin and grace. Both what should be and what is. Both right and wrong, good and bad, and the true nature of humanity as it was, is and will be again. Why? Because God has given us a piece of His mind. And we are informed by His Word and the Spirit together.

13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Here … you have the entire essence of God, his will, and his work exquisitely depicted in very short but rich words. In them consists all our wisdom, which surpasses all the wisdom, understanding, and reason of men. Although the whole world has sought painstakingly to learn what God is and what he thinks and does, yet it has never succeeded in the least. But here … God himself has revealed and opened to us the most profound depths of his fatherly heart, his sheer, unutterable love. He created us for this very purpose, to redeem and sanctify us. Moreover, having bestowed upon us everything in heaven and on earth, he has given us his Son and his Holy Spirit, through whom he brings us to himself … We could never come to recognize the Father’s favor and grace were it not for the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. Apart from him we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But neither could we know anything of Christ, had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit. These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, … cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.1

And that is why we don’t get too puffed up, dear friends. We are not so very wise, except that we have been given the wisdom of Christ. Nor have we worked all this out in our own mind but we have been granted the very mind of Christ. And to have the mind of the Lord is to participate in the pattern of the cross. This privileged knowledge given us by the Spirit through the Scriptures results in the renunciation of all privilege, boasting and quarreling.

Knowing better means being better and doing better. It means being that salt and light that this world so desperately needs. It means loving the unlovable and forgiving as we have been forgiven. It means speaking the truth, even when the world around you thinks you foolish for believing it. It means being willing to suffer for the sake of Christ and those others He loved enough to pay for by His crucifixion. This is the mind of the crucified Christ you have been gifted with. It is the calling of your Christian life and it is measured by the cross.

AMEN.

1 Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (The Large Catechism: 2, 63-66). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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“The Wisdom of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31

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18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart. Someone (Bill Gothard) once said “Wisdom is seeing life from God’s point of view.” This, dear friends, was at the heart of the Corinthian Church’s problems. It is also at the heart of so many of our own. They, and we, too often don’t care to see this life from any view point other than our own. We are so much wiser than anyone else … at least in matters of our own life and morals and faith. It is an easy attitude to take with people – they give us so many proofs it it not a big leap to make – but that shouldn’t let us think even for a moment that we can feel the same way about God.

God doesn’t understand me like I do. God doesn’t know what I know. God would think or do otherwise if He were in my shoes! We’ve all thought it at one point or other in our lives. About one part or other of our lives. And it is just plain foolishness! And Paul lets us know why in no uncertain terms: 20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

Human wisdom cannot lead to God … only away from Him. Just look at every single “virtue” our society now pursues and how each and every one of them draws us further away from God. Tolerance replaces love. Yet tolerance is blindingly intolerant to real love. Relativism replaces reality. Whatever you feel about yourself is now not only true for you but real too! Emotionalism replaces sound reasoning. Bald-faced stories replace actual history. Islam is a religion of peace and Christianity is the worst threat this world has ever faced. You don’t need to scratch very deeply to see just how foolish human wisdom really is. So what does God do in the face of such “wisdom”? God plays the fool and reveals himself through the message of the cross.

22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The wise of the world who seem to possess every advantage cannot by their wisdom find God. He comes “through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” He comes through the word of the cross. The Jews wanted spectacular signs from heaven so the cross was scandalous to them. The Greeks wanted logical reasoning so the cross was scandalous to them. God doesn’t come through terms established by human desire. He comes on his own terms and that still offends many. Yet what looks like undignified foolishness to us is far above any human reasoning. This word of the cross is the very power of God! God chose what is foolish in the world. God chose what is weak in the world. God chose what is low and despised in the world. He chose all of that so that we do not boast in our own strength (or wisdom), but in Him alone.

26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, 1 not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Thus when God proposes the doctrines of faith, He always proposes things that are simply impossible and absurd—if, that is, you want to follow the judgment of reason. It does indeed seem ridiculous and absurd to reason that in the Lord’s Supper the body and the blood of Christ are presented, that Baptism is “the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit”, that Christ the Son of God was conceived and carried in the womb of the Virgin, that He was born, that He suffered the most ignominious of deaths on the cross, that He was raised again, that He is now sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He now has “authority in heaven and on earth”. Paul calls the Gospel of Christ the crucified “the Word of the cross” and “the folly of preaching”, which the Jews regarded as offensive and the Greeks as a foolish doctrine. Reason judges this way about all the doctrines of the faith; for it does not understand that the supreme form of worship is to hear the voice of God and to believe, but it supposes that what it chooses on its own and what it does with a so-called good intention and from its own devotion is pleasing to God. When God speaks, reason, therefore, regards His Word as heresy and as the word of the devil; for it seems so absurd. Such is the theology of all the sophists and of the sectarians, who measure the Word of God by reason. But faith slaughters reason and kills the beast that the whole world and all the creatures cannot kill. 1

This word of the cross is the very power of God! This Word of the cross is the source of our life and being. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written, Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

God grants us revelation in His Word, an acquittal won by His Son, a holiness that follows for us, and full salvation from sin and death. God made Christ our wisdom and our righteousness and our sanctification and our redemption. All these gifts are from God, therefore all pride in ourselves is just plain foolish. Even though Jesus’ death and resurrection appears shameful and foolish, it is the only basis of our salvation. We cannot boast of merits and works, if they are viewed apart from Christ’s grace and mercy. Therefore the wisest thing we can do is to avoid all pride and boasting about anything we do for God or others. We bring nothing but sin into our relationship with God but receive all good things from Him in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour. The true and everlasting wisdom for you and me and this whole wide world is that “We preach Christ crucified . . . Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”

AMEN.

1 Luther, M. (1999, c1963). Vol. 26: Luther’s works, vol. 26 : Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Ga 3:7). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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“The Unity of Christ”(1 Corinthians 1:10-18)

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Last Sunday we began our tour through Epiphany by seeing that we are all of us called by God into the Grace of Christ. Today our text picks up right where last week’s text left off. And what does Paul show us? That those of us who are called into communion with Christ (v.9) are now called upon to maintain that unity given us by the Grace of Christ. Those who live by the grace of Christ are precisely those who live in the Unity of Christ!

10I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. We are called to be united in love. To seek that great consensus in the church so that the congregation will glorify God with one voice and be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. As we state in the preface to the Book of Concord: “Both our churches and our schools should persevere in the pure doctrine of God’s Word and in that longed-for and godly oneness of mind”

And here is an important point in considering true unity. Christian unity depends on faithfulness to Christ, not chasing one’s own agendas or ideas. Our unity comes from having the same mind and judgment as that of Christ. Being connected to Christ and transformed by Christ. Anything less can never bring real unity, and will always devolve into divisions and disunity, no matter how benign or compassionate the initial agenda may be.

Consider the poor congregation in Corinth. Faced by a culture that mocked them and their morals, a world that hated them, and religious people – both Roman and Jewish – who openly opposed them you would think they could unify and find common ground. But they didn’t. They were full of divisions and disunity. And theirs is a story told thousands of times in thousands of different congregations. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12What I mean is that each one of you says, I follow Paul, or I follow Apollos, or I follow Cephas, or I follow Christ. 13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

Like a tear in a garment the congregation at Corinth had split into factions and was on the verge of being torn apart. And for what? Which pastor they liked the best? It is utter foolishness. But as you and I both know, congregations have split for sillier things. Yet notice, it is not the supposed figure heads that are at the root of the problem. We know from scripture that while they didn’t always agree, Peter, Paul and Apollos all honoured each other and worked together for the sake of the church and to the glory of Christ. While any human leader may cause or contribute to problems along the way the root of the problem in Corinth was (as it always has been) the egotism of the people! I, I, I, I … I think better, I know better, I do better because I’m not like those who follow what’s his face or those others. And if you knew better you would do like me. Even “we follow Christ” is delivered in a partisan way … “oh yeah? Well we follow Christ!” And so Paul lumps them in with the other partisan groups sarcastically. And notice this too, Paul gives no leniency to the group that claims to follow him. They are just as wrong as all the others and just as in need of correction! And this he does with a series of rhetorical questions.

Is Christ divided? Is there a Pauline Christ and a Petrine Christ, another Christ just for Apollos and his crew? To even ask the question is to already know the answer. Just as Jesus can’t be fragmented so similarly inconceivable is it that His own body, the church, should be so splintered. Was Paul crucified for you? Your pastors and your leaders, as great as they may be, are not your saviour. They are weak and forgiven men in need of the very same saviour … serving the same saviour. Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course no one is baptized into Paul’s name. Loyalty to him is misplaced. He is but a messenger and servant. He (and all other servants like him – Peter or Apollos) has nothing to offer of himself. He can’t even remember who he has baptized! For it isn’t important that he was busy baptizing, but that the people themselves are Baptized. The point? We don’t put our confidence in people but in Jesus!

17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Here is True wisdom and the only real unity to be had. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the preaching of the cross. The unity of Christ’s baptism by which we are called into the body of Christ and gathered under that cross. For the cross is the unifying instrument of God’s salvation. The cross of Christ, (the work of God in Jesus, life, death and resurrection) is the decisive and divisive line between those who are in Christ and those who are not! The cross of Christ, and our place under it – our need for it – is the only thing keeping us together. But it is all that we have ever needed to be a unified force for global good.

Divisions in the Church are a denial of the one Baptism into Christ who was crucified for all. This life, even our calling to the Christian life, is full of every temptation to think of ourselves and our own comfort or our satisfaction and our own desires first. But we don’t all need to like the same music. We don’t all have to agree on which of our pastors was the best. The truth is not one of them (even this one) is as good as you remember and none of them are worthy of your praise. We don’t have to all have the same vision and dreams for this congregation. We don’t even have to always like each other to have real unity – to really and truly love one another. The triune God alone is the object of our Faith and Christ is Our Hope. And this gracious God and His gifts to us are more than enough to unify us in faith and hope and love. The love and compassion of our God is enough to unite us in worship and service. The unity of Christ holds us together as His beloved church, over the generations, across the continents between heaven and earth itself.

AMEN

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“The Grace of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:1-9)

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Corinth was a thriving luxurious, corrupted city. A center of trade and worldly pursuits, Corinth had a well-earned reputation for licentious living. In the ancient world a “Corinthian girl” was a euphemism for a prostitute. In ancient drama, any Corinthian portrayed on stage was invariably drunk. With a wink and a nudge, the roman historian Strabo once said “The boat ride to Corinth is not everybody’s boat ride.” And yet this is where Paul personally established a church. This is where God chose to have His kingdom meet the world. This is where Christianity was called to do ministry … in the midst of a corrupt society. And so they needed God’s grace and peace if anyone ever has!

But the Corinthian congregation ran into trouble when it found itself with divided loyalties. They failed to understand the distinction that while they were called to be in the world (even in a party town like Corinth) they were not called to be OF the world. They were to be in the world but OF Christ. And so Paul, in his letter to this struggling congregation calls them back to the idea of Christ. Again and again. And it is an important reminder for us here in the modern western world. While we too may live in this world we are not of it. We are of Christ. Over this Epiphany season we be reminded of the gifts we have been given in Christ. The calling that is ours from Christ. And the life that is ours by Christ, for the living out of our faith as shining lights in this licentious and pleasure-seeking, truth-denying culture of ours.

1Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: By Grace Christ calls us to be members of His Church. People don’t choose to become part of God’s Church. God sets us apart and calls us to be His Church. And not just to one small gathering (like you see before you today), but to the whole fellowship of saints throughout the world and across all time. We are not the minority, the odd-balls, the outliers. We are part of the biggest and best human gathering in the history of all the world. We are called by the Holy Spirit, enlightened with His gifts, sanctified and kept in the one true faith. It is in this church, this gathering of those called by God that we are given grace upon grace and blessings beyond counting. It is in this calling to the kingdom of Christ that we are converted, given saving faith, wholeness, well-being, security, and peace.

4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, By Grace Christ enriches us with every gift for God’s service. God is the benefactor, we are the recipients. Every good gift comes from His gracious hand.

Like the Corinthian brothers and sisters we have been enriched in every way. In all speech, meaning we have the ability to express and proclaim the marvelous saving acts of God. We may not have insight into the depths of doctrinal minutia, but we can share the Gospel story with family and friends. You can tell others of God’s many gifts to you. It is not hard, and no one is better able to do it than you are!

But don’t sell yourself short either. For scripture tells us that you have also been gifted in all knowledge. By the gift of the Holy Spirit at work in you through the Word you have been given wisdom in spiritual things that are a dizzying mystery to those without the Spirit. And it all begins with the cross of Jesus Christ. In knowing what God has done there you have greater knowledge and insight into people and history and religion and spirituality than most ever will in this sin-darkened world. You have a wisdom grounded in Christ that allows you to consider the fulness of reality with heart and eyes open to the truth so many have closed themselves to.

And the truth of reality, shown in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful beyond imagining. For in it we have the testimony of Christ confirmed … God’s grace to us in Jesus guaranteed. Here St. Paul is using baptismal language tying us back to our place in the church of Christ and the promise of Grace in which we live and breath and have our being. We are baptized into His family, heirs of His kingdom, inheritors of His every blessing. We are the hearers of these promises every Sunday, in every chapter of His Holy Word. We are partakers of the great heavenly banquet every time we kneel down with all the hosts of heaven and the fullness of the Christian Church here at our little altar railing. Yes, we are not lacking any spiritual gift! The Grace of Christ has enriched us in every way to face every thing that this life may throw at us.

7as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. By Grace Christ preserves us as we wait for God’s judgment. In the Word and in the blessed Sacraments our faith is fed and strengthened. We are given the words and the knowledge to live as His beloved children even in the midst of all this world and its entanglements. By the grace of Christ we are given the hope that we will be protected until the very end, when Jesus will return and all that is foul will be cleansed or once and for all wiped away. For in Christ God has chosen sinners to be His own and has already cleansed them and redeemed them with His blood.

By the Grace of Christ we are free from reproach, without stain. We are spotless, not because we are inherently good, but because we are covered by Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We stand secure in the Grace of Christ, both here and now, and on the day of His coming. By this grace we may live in this world while still firmly being OF Christ alone. In His grace we are called into fellowship with Jesus, a part of the Holy Christian Church. By His grace we are forgiven and freed. We are emboldened, enlightened, given words to share and the knowledge to do so wisely. In the Grace of Christ, who died for us on the cross and rose to life again on the third day we have been enriched with every spiritual blessing and a hope that will endure until the end. For God’s grace is actualized in the cross of Christ. It is absolute and established. And in that grace of Christ, so are you!

AMEN.

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“Behold My Servant” (Isaiah 42:1-9)

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Certain days in the Christian calendar teach us important truths about Jesus. The Baptism of our Lord, is one such festival. This day, like few others, gives us great insight into the relationship of Jesus with God the Father, the character of this Messiah, and what His accomplishments will be. And one of the clearest ways to see all these things is to look at the Old testament reading from Isaiah assigned to this festival day. Our reading from Isaiah 42 is the very first of Isaiah’s four servant songs, divine (and shocking) prophecies of the coming Messiah. In the prophecy of Isaiah we behold Jesus, God’s servant baptized this day to be our Saviour.

1Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. The long-promised Messiah is obviously God’s chosen and authorized envoy, but it is not merely an official relationship Isaiah tells us. It is a warm and personal one too. God delights in Jesus. Jesus shares the same intimacy with the Holy Spirit that the Father does, for the Father puts His spirit upon Jesus. We see it happen in the form of the dove this day at the Jordan. 6“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; Make note of the very protective and caring nature of God toward His chosen one; He will hold His hand and keep Him. And in turn the Messiah will demonstrate the very righteousness of God Himself. The Father and the Son, God and His chosen Messiah work hand-in-hand for our salvation.

2He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. Here Isaiah shows us the nature of this servant of the Father. The Messiah’s character is gentle, courteous and evangelical. He is not loud and brash nor a braggart. He does not push himself aggressively on anyone. So how does he get His message across if He won’t be all up in people’s faces? By the way He lives His life, and by how He treats all people. You see, His every action will make clear that all things and all people are precious in His sight. Even that which would be esteemed as of very little value is treated with utmost care by this Servant.

What does that practically mean for us? It means that no matter how big the bad decisions of your life have been, there is acceptance and forgiveness in Jesus. Have you lied, cheated, ignored others in need? Have you taken credit for things not of your doing? Do you have a history that still haunts you to this day? Do you find yourself less than faithful right now, barely able to muster up the Christian attitude you are sure you should have? Behold, even the faintest of smoldering wicks are safe in His hands.

The character of our Messiah means that no matter how small the seeming hurt, there is compassion and concern in His heart for you. Doubts, fears, anxiety? Aches and pains in heart, mind or body? Grief, either new and sharp or long and dull? There is no life, no concern, no hurt, so small that it escapes His notice or His compassion. Behold, no reed no matter how bruised is in danger of being broken or discarded in His kingdom.

4He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Compassionate and caring, yet the nature of this Messiah is also such that He is never a push-over. He is persistent … what He came to do, He will do. You can count on Him. He will speak and do all truth in love. Though He may become weak and exhausted by the anguish of His soul, He will not give up the struggle. He will emerge from the waters of the Jordan to face testing in the wilderness, opposition in Galilee and death in Jerusalem. He will not be turned aside. He cannot be stopped. Not until every flame of faith is reignited in His Word and every bent and bruised life is brought healing in His cross.

For that is the very reason this Servant of God most High has come! 1he will bring forth justice to the nations … 4till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Behold, your Messiah has come to us with a lot to accomplish. He will establish justice on earth through the blood of the cross. And not just for a select few, but for the many sins of every single man, woman and child – Jew or Gentile, slave or free, rich or poor. 6I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, He will do more than just display God’s righteousness – He will provide it for His people! He will be this world’s righteousness!

7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. Behold the servant of God, your Messiah. He has come to enlighten and liberate people – spiritually, morally, mentally, physically. Through the gifts of His Word and Sacraments we are given this Light of the World, the life of Christ Himself. We are brought into the new covenant in which Jesus himself is the light that opens our eyes to the reality, and the riches of God’s love and mercy to this fallen world … and to us failed sinners.

In this light of life we are freed from the prison of sin and death and granted the freedom of being heirs of God’s kingdom of light. Freed, because He himself will serve and the payment of our debts. Free, because in Holy Baptism this servant takes our place under the law that we might be given His place in the eternal kingdom. Free because in this gentle and compassionate Messiah we are no longer slaves to our old sinful nature, but now able (and sometimes even willing) to live as God’s servants ourselves. Free because we know we are no longer bound to earn our place before God, His beloved servant Jesus has given it to us of His own grace and kindness.

And so, dear friends, on this Day of the Baptism of our Lord, Behold God’s Servant, Jesus! He is the beloved and chosen Son of the Father. He is the tender and compassionate servant who establishes a new covenant to save the nations. He is the dogged Saviour who will not falter in the task laid out before Him. Behold this Jesus Christ fulfilling all prophecy on your behalf. Behold the One who frees you from your sins by His righteousness alone. Behold God’s Servant, your Saviour and Redeemer!

AMEN.

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“Arise, Shine!” (Isaiah 60:1-6)

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1Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; So cries out the prophet as we begin this blessed season of light. Arise and shine! Your light has come in Christ Jesus. The glory of the Lord has risen in the Christ child of Bethlehem. Arise and Shine!

It seems straight-forward enough … except for one small problem. Human hearts are weighed down by darkness. Human reasoning is cloaked in darkness. In short, we are not very bright, and simply calling us to be so will not make it so. Human lives shine as little as dirt in a lantern, to quote Luther. Indeed He will go on to say:

The weak-minded may ask: “How can it be that all natural reason teaches is darkness? Plainly, three and two are Five, are they not? Again, if a man make a coat, is he not wise to make it of cloth, or foolish to make it of paper? Is he not wise who marries a godly woman, and he foolish who marries a godless one? And are there not similar instances innumerable in human affairs? Never can you persuade me that all natural reason is darkness … I answer: This is all true, but it is necessary to make a distinction between God and men, between spiritual and temporal things. In earthly, human affairs man’s judgment suffices. For these things, he needs no light but that of reason. Hence God does not in the Scriptures teach us how to build houses, to make clothing, to marry, to wage war, to sail the seas, and so on. For these, our natural light is sufficient.

But in divine things, the things concerning God, and in which we must conduct ourselves acceptably with him and must secure happiness for ourselves, human nature is absolutely blind, staring stone-blind, unable to recognize in the slightest degree what these things are. Natural reason presumptuously plunges into them like a blind horse. But all its conclusions are, as certainly as God lives, false and erroneous, In this capacity it proceeds like a man who builds on sand, or one who would use cobwebs for garments. It employs sand for meal in making bread. It sows wind and reaps the whirlwind. It measures the atmosphere with a spoon, carries light into the cellar upon a tray, weighs flames in a balance, performing all manner of perverted nonsense ever known or possible to be devised. For all its efforts are designed as service to God and they must utterly fail.

Just think about all the places and in all the ways that sin, death, and the devil work so hard all around us to cover and darken our hearts, to prevent us from seeing the saving light of the Lord upon us. Not all religions are the same. You can (and should) judge them by their works and their morals. Further, morality is not exclusive to one, but morality without one has no binding basis on anyone. Internet memes are not reasoned arguments, but when it comes to religion, they are good enough for most people. Religion is the one place where even the smartest prove themselves to be so oppressively dim.

But this is the light and the glory of this prophecy from Isaiah – the Christ child is the true embodiment of Israel, the true light and glory that saves us from the darkness of our own sin-stained hearts and minds. Because of her sins, the light of Israel does not always shine so brightly. The same is true for us. But Jesus, the new Israel, always shines always cuts through the darkness, and draws the Gentiles to himself.

2For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. Consider this thought dear Christians, the darkness Isaiah speaks of is literal. As literal as the darkness that covered the earth in the middle of that Good Friday when Jesus hung on the cross bearing the weight of this worlds dark sin. And in that darkness Jesus finished our salvation. The light of the world experiences the darkness of the kingdom of darkness itself – even to being separated fro God who is light. And He did this so that the glory of the Lord might shine upon us. He did this precisely so that we might arise and shine.

5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD. And so this promise of light is not just a vague or generic prophecy either, it too is very specific in its fulfillment as the Word made flesh. And the nations do literally come on camel and dromedary, bringing gifts of Gold and Frankincense and praise. Reflecting the very specific fulfillment of God’s Word for our salvation. The dreaded camels of Midian that once were a threat to the existence of Israel will now be brought under true Israel’s domain and will serve to bring not warfare, but praise and glory! The wise men of the east arose and shone in the promise held before them in the Epiphany star, in the words of Holy Scripture revealed to them.

And so the starting exhortation to Arise and shine is understood in that we diligently learn and study the Word and grow in its understanding so that we may be filled with the light of this glory – this Gospel. The light of Jesus shines unto others through his people’s faith and love. In His light we not only see light – we shed light. We become like moons to the sun. We reflect His glory as we show forth His praise. Just as the Gentile visitors from the east. And what treasure will you lay at the feet of this babe who is the light of the world? Nothing less than that we should thank and praise Him, serve and obey Him – reflecting His light into the darkness of our sin-stained world.

AMEN.

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From the Greatest to the Least (Luke 23:27–43)

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There are times in this life when we feel like the greatest. Everything is going our way, the whole world is ours for the taking, life is wonderful and so are we. But then there are times when we feel like the least. Nothing is gong right, everything is set up against us, life is terrible and we feel the same way. There are plenty among us who know this last feeling full well. And I dare say, as each one of us is reminded of our own mortality; our sin and our failings; our weakness and inabilities, these feelings only grow stronger. So what do you do then? Do you rail against it all, because deep down you know you are greater and not lesser? Or do you cave n and crumple up, because you cannot fight it any longer?

These are the very issues we see playing out in our Gospel reading for this Last Sunday of the Church year. You may have thought it out of place and better suited for Good Friday than an End-times observance. But nothing could be further from the truth. In the events of our Gospel we have Jesus’ own definitive answer to those who think they are greater and those who know they are least. And it is an answer that will flip each on their heads.

27There followed [Jesus] a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Here are Jesus’ final words to the crowds before He is crucified. Words are meant to bring them from remorse to repentance and faith! He has for them four warnings. Warnings for the greatest to the least. They have gathered to mourn Him, but He tells them they have it all wrong. The should not pity Him, for He pities all Jerusalem’s residents over what is to come. But not just all Jerusalem, in particular the women and children. For the women and children are always more vulnerable in times of destruction. But His warning is not just to them, but even further down the rung to the barren and childless, those normally seen as bearing the shame of God’s judgment, yet even this shame will be preferred to the coming suffering. Finally He warns that the suffering for one and all will be so great that their greatest wish will be to die quickly.

For, He says, If the Romans do this to one they have pronounced innocent, what will the do to a rebellious city? If the punishment of the cross lays today on His shoulders, what weight of destruction will be laid on their rebellious hearts? And some who heard were cut to the heart, and knew the cost of their sin, understood their place as the least of people under God’s righteous judgment. But not all …

35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” And so, from a four-fold warning comes the response in a four-fold mocking of our Lord, again, from the greatest to the least. First come the rulers, the members of the Jewish high council. They admit that Jesus saved and raised others! But by their reasoning, if He can’t do it for Himself He’s not the Messiah. Next come the soldiers with their sour wine for a dying man. A bit of sport at His expense. Next the little people who read the title with scoffing and derision. kings save themselves, not their people. One on the cross can do neither. Thus the sign placed there by Pilate to mock the Jews as much as Jesus. And finally, even the lowest of the low, the thief on the cross beside him, a common criminal, a worthless ne’er-do-well, mocks Jesus by calling out “You think you are better than me? Save us all!”

And this lies at the heart of the matter doesn’t it. No matter how little, how least, our hearts think we are greater than we are. Great enough to serve as judge and jury over the Lord God Himself. We are the ones who know better, we are the ones who will tell God to lighten up. We are the ones who let God know how and when He can show His love for us. We are the ones who think we, abject sinners that we are, get an equal say with God. And Jesus’ response? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But one fellow understood his sin enough. One person confronted by the warnings of God and the consequences of his sin offered no insult but rather a confession. A confession from the least to the greatest. 40the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” This man got it. This man understood. He was the least in the presence of the greatest. One deserving only punishment and death in the presence of the man who deserved not mocking but glory and praise! One who’s only recourse was to confess and fall upon the mercy of God’s righteous one. 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And in answer comes a promise from the greatest to the least. 43And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” It is perhaps the most sobering and profound of all conversations in Holy Scripture. A model of confession for those who think too highly of themselves. A promise of forgiveness for those who know they are the least of the least. A gift for those who have nothing of them self to bring. A glorious and eternal gift to one who is dying.

Jesus was crucified that we may be spared the coming judgment, hear His word of absolution, and enter into paradise with Him. He not only saved others, but is also the messianic King who saves us. No matter where our lives have led us. No matter what we have done. We all justly deserve God’s judgment because of our sinful deeds. Yet, because Jesus sacrificed Himself for us all, we have His word of absolution, as surely as that thief on the cross. The Father has forgiven us in Christ! We have the promise that after all the suffering of this life is over we will be with Him in paradise. It is the promise of the very greatest, to one and all, even the very least! AMEN.

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