2020 Sermons Pre-Lent

Baptism of Our Lord – 2020

Sermon – Matthew 3.13-17 (Baptism of Our Lord – 2020)

Let us pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, You manifested Yourself, with the Holy Spirit, in the fullness of grace at the baptism of Your dear Son, and with Your voice directed us to Him who has borne our sins, that we might receive grace and the remission of sins: Keep us, we beseech You, in the true faith; and inasmuch as we have been baptized in accordance with Your command, and the example of Your dear Son, we pray You to strengthen our faith by Your Holy Spirit, and lead us to everlasting life and salvation; through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

 16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.

 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

There is so much talk about identity today. There’s identity politics. People talk about gender identity, sexual identity, and so on. There is so much confusion about it in the culture, but when you disregard the facts of creation, it is no wonder that there is confusion. And even worse, when God is not taken into account, this talk about identity goes radically haywire.

But it is such an important question. In fact, it is one of those essential questions of our existence. Who am I?

We are created by God, and thus we cannot truly understand ourselves apart from God. And what does God say about us? We are not who He created us to be. We fall short of His glory. Sure, just as the heavens declare the glory of God, so do we as creatures give God glory, in that the complex biology of our bodies, the capability of our minds, all the workings of our bodies make us wonder at the incredible Creator. However, we are corrupted. We lost the original righteousness which was the image of God. That image glorified God. But now we fall short. Our original sin, and all that comes forth from it is an offense to God.

We put other things in the place where only God belongs, we fear losing the acceptance of the world rather than fearing the displeasure of God. We put our trust in our own efforts rather in the wisdom and loving care of God. We hold our earthly possessions more dear to our hearts than God and His Word. We take God’s name in vain, and do not call upon His name in trouble. We lack compassion for our neighbors. We are self-serving rather than self-sacrificing for the good of others. We get tiresome of others when we must sacrifice our energy and attention on them rather than on ourselves and our own interests. In these ways and in every other possible way that we sin each day, we show our identity as sinners, enemies of God, separated from Him, cursed, and condemned.

But now turn your attention to Jesus in our text: Who is He? He is the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father. He is almighty, infinite God. But there He stands in human flesh, as a Man, and the Father confirms that this is His own Son. But the baptism does something. Through the baptismal waters He enters into the office preordained for Him from before the foundation of the world. He takes on the identity for which He had been sent into the world. He becomes the sin-bearer. John knows who He is. He calls Him the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And for eternity He shall be known as the Lamb who was slain, which is confessed in the song sung by all the hosts of heaven! He becomes our Substitute, our substitute under the Law that He may keep it perfectly in our place, and our substitute under God’s judgment for our sins, taking it upon Himself upon the cross. He becomes the Mediator between us and God, that by the forgiveness He earns for all people, He reconciles you and all the world unto Himself. Jesus was baptized for this purpose.

And Jesus instituted baptism to save us from our fallen condition. He instituted it for us, because we cannot do it ourselves. Many will deny baptism’s saving effects. Our change in identity from being alienated from God to becoming reconciled to God, they say, is something that we can effect. As though it were simply a decision that we can make. But we cannot. It must be God’s doing.

And thus Christ has established baptism. The water is plain water, but the water connected to God’s Word and used according to God’s command makes this baptismal water, a life giving water. So the pastor applies the water, and speaks the words Christ gave us to say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And there God works through the water, He is the true Baptizer, regenerating you and renewing you.

And think of those words the Apostle Paul speaks about baptism, it does things our human will cannot do. He says, “It is a washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” To the Romans, he writes that baptism joins us to Jesus death and resurrection, that with Him we die and rise to newness of life. Jesus says that it is through baptism that we are born again, a birth not of the flesh, but of the Spirit.

And so through baptism, you become something different, you are born into something new. You have a new identity that corresponds to what Christ became when He was baptized. He became the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and you became the one who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and an heir of life eternal who will be among the choir singing praises to the Lamb who was slain! He became your substitute under the Law and under condemnation, and you are credited with His righteousness, and there is no wrath of God over your sins, for your sin was paid, and you are no longer under condemnation, but under the favor and grace of God. He became your Mediator, and you have become reconciled to God, having the fullness of peace that all has been made well between you and God. In baptism, you are restored to that life which we lost in the fall. You again are made God’s children, new creations in Christ.

All these things are yours given you in baptism and received by faith. All these things are summed up with the phrase, “I am baptized.” That is who you are, “I God’s baptized child.”

This defines who you are.  Remember it every day. When we get confused in life, wondering who we are and what place we have in this life, we start here, “I am God’s baptized child,” and then we look to God’s word for further answers and clarity to life.

And as God’s baptized children, we will not wish to sin, for this is contrary to who we have become. Instead we seek God’s will, we live according to His commands, we live in humility, and in love toward our neighbor for the glory of our Father, who has so graciously restored us to Himself. Our identity as God’s baptized determines the direction of our thoughts, the words that come from our mouths, the way we spend our time, our energy, our gifts, our money and possessions. And in every trouble, we go to the truth that we are God’s baptized children from our comfort.

Of course we fall, we sin. We are new creations in Christ by means of our baptism, but we still have that original sin in us that causes us to stumble.

There are many who will reject their baptism, reject their identity given them by God, and hold on to their sins and deliberately choose to be a sinner instead. But may God keep us from this. And we pray that God will restore those who have fallen away. For there remains for us His baptismal grace to which we may return when we stumble and when we fall. And He has an abundance of forgiveness for us. 

We do not need another baptism, but that forgiveness and righteousness of Christ given you in baptism is given you again and again through the gospel. Through the gospel, you are preserved in your baptismal life. I pronounce to you the words God has given me to say to you, “I forgive you all your sins name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And blood of the Lamb covers your sins again. His righteousness clothes you. You have peace with God. He gladly claims you as His own. And our faith is strengthened that we may say confidently, “I am God’s baptized child.” Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.

2020 Sermons Pre-Lent

Sexagesima – 2020

Sermon – Luke 8.4-15 (Sexagesima – 2020)

Let us pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank You that through Your Son Jesus Christ You have sown Your holy Word among us: We pray that You will prepare our hearts by Your Holy Spirit, that we may diligently and reverently hear Your Word, keep it in good hearts, and bring forth fruit with patience; and that we may not incline to sin, but subdue it by Your power, and in all persecutions comfort ourselves with Your grace and continual help; through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

4 And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable:

 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it.

 6 “Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture.

 7 “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.

 8 “But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

 9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?”

 10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that`Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’

 11 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

 12 “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.

 13 “But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.

 14 “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.

 15 “But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.

These are Your Words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

The Gift of Knowing the Mysteries of the Kingdom of God

Dear fellow redeemed,

One simple definition of a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. The earthly story in our gospel reading is pretty simple. There is no mystery to it. For something to grow, its seed must be sowed, or planted. And some soils are more conducive for that seed and grow and flourish than other soils. Hard packed ground, rocky ground, and thorn and weed infested ground are not hospitable to the seeds. Good soil that is rich in nutrients, has few rocks, weeds, and thorns provide great conditions for the seed to take root, grow, and produce much fruit.

No mystery here. But Jesus isn’t teaching a class on agriculture here. He is speaking a parable that has a spiritual significance.

The spiritual truth is the mystery. The spiritual truth in the parable of the sower and the seed is about the grace of God, the Word of God, and the Kingdom of God. But overall, when we speak of the mysteries of God, we speak of the Christian truths that are revealed by Scripture and known and believed only through faith. Paul speaks about how these are revealed only through Scripture, where he writes, “…according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations” (Rom 16:25-26).

And it is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit when He creates faith in our hearts. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “But God has revealed [the mysteries] to us through His Spirit…” and shortly thereafter, He writes, “We have received… the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” (1 Cor 2:7,10).

To know the mysteries of god, does not mean that we are able to rightly interpret all of Scriptures. The disciples were given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, yet they still had to ask Jesus the meaning of the parable. But this part of knowing the mysteries of the kingdom of God. They recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and they look to Him, and His Word to have understanding. They know that His Word is truth. So we learn the mysteries of God, which are truths about the Trinity, the Person of Christ, His saving work for us, the power of the gospel in Word and Sacrament, and the other doctrines of Scripture that pertain to our salvation.

We have come to know these things only by the grace of the Holy Spirit working through the Word.

Jesus spoke in parables, that for some, the spiritual truths may be hidden to some, but revealed to others. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t understand these mysteries, not because they were more dense, or that they were not intelligent, for they were well educated. And they didn’t understand because they were extra wicked sinners, for they had the same sinful nature as we do. But the natural mind cannot understand the spiritual things of God, that is the mysteries of God. They are unknowable to them, because of their unbelief

And for those who know the mysteries of God spoken in Jesus parables, they were not more intelligent people. The most brilliant people I know know the mysteries of God, yet a little 3 year old child also knows the mysteries of God. Nor are they more worthy or more apt to believe, for all are alike, no one seeks after God, no one, by nature, understands (Rom 3).

But, it is by God’s grace, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.

It may be strange that Jesus preaches in parables to hide the mysteries of God from the unbelieving, since God desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. But it is God’s judgment on those who have hardened their hearts against the truth of the gospel. They reject the gospel, because of their stubborn rejection of God’s promises, and their rejection of Christ, who is the fulfillment of God’s promises.

And you will still see it today. Though not every part of Holy Scripture is easy to understand. The fault for that is not Scripture but our own weakness. However, the gospel of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of sins is easy to understand. Again, a 3 year old can confess this. Yet this remains a mystery to the unbelieving, because of their rejection of Christ. To give you one example regarding the topic of parables, there was an article online that I read by a man, who is very well educated, and has an extensive background in the visible Church. This is what his conclusion was about the parables that Jesus spoke, “They’re stories designed to illustrate the criticism Jesus makes of the condition under which his favorite people, the poor, have to live. They’re signs of hope for all oppressed people.” He has turned the gospel of Christ into a gospel of social justice.

And so in gratefulness, give praise to God that He has given to us the knowledge of the mysteries of God. This He has given purely by His grace, for we ourselves are by nature lost in the darkness of unbelief. Once our ears could not hear, but now they can hear. Once our eyes could not see, but now we see. And therefore, through this faith, we are saved!

So, by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in you, guard this good thing which was committed to you (2 Tim 2:14). Hold that precious mystery of God, the precious gospel of Christ that is planted in your hearts.

And do not think lightly of this saying, “of course, I am the good soil”. For we are indeed threatened by the devil who would steal away the Word, threatened by our flesh that resists that Word and the life in Christ which we live, and we are threatened by the world, whose cares and pleasures would choke out faith. Yet we still have the weakness of the flesh.

You cannot make yourself into good soil. We repent of that weakness. Our hearts are made good and fertile by the Holy Spirit working through the Word. But your faith is strengthened and kept safe in the grace of God, who had given you knowledge of His gospel in the first place. You are forgiven for the sake of Christ’s atoning work on the cross! You are reconciled to God! You are saved! This is the gospel message. It is the gospel message planted in your hearts. It is the message that saves you, and preserves you in the true saving faith!

He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.

2020 Sermons Pre-Lent

Septuagesima – 2020

Sermon – Matthew 20.1-16 (Septuagesima – 2020)

Lord God, heavenly Father, through Your holy Word You have called us into Your vineyard: Send, we beseech You, Your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may labor faithfully in Your vineyard, shun sin and all offense, obediently keep Your Word and do Your will, and put our whole and only trust in Your grace, which You have bestowed upon us so abundantly; through Your Son Jesus Christ, that we might obtain eternal salvation through Him; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.

 2 “Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

 3 “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,

 4 “and said to them,`You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.

 5 “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.

 6 “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them,`Why have you been standing here idle all day?’

 7 “They said to him,`Because no one hired us.’ He said to them,`You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’

 8 “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward,`Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’

 9 “And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.

 10 “But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius.

 11 “And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner,

 12 “saying,`These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’

 13 “But he answered one of them and said,`Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?

 14 `Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.

 15 `Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’

 16 “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

Decius became the Roman Emperor in the year of our Lord 249. He had the desire to unite the Roman Empire and restore it to its former glory. His plan to do this included an edict that required the citizens of the kingdom to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods, and to burn incense before an image of the Emperor. They had to do this before a magistrate to confirm that they performed the requirements.

What were the Christians to do? Well, it’s pretty clear. There are the commands of Scripture, “You shall have no other gods,” and “You ought to obey God rather than men.” But what were they to endure for their faithfulness to God? Or to ask it another way, what was in store for them as they lived their baptismal lives in the vineyard to which they have been called? The Christians were imprisoned, banished from their country, lost their property, suffered torture, mutilation of their bodies, and also were put to death.

The persecution ended after 18 months when Emperor Decius died. After the persecution Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage spoke of those who faithfully endured the persecution. He wrote, “The day earnestly desired, by the prayers of all has come; and after the dreadful and loathsome darkness of a long night, the world has shone forth irradiated by the light of the Lord… The white-robed cohort of Christ’s soldiers is here, who in the fierce conflict have broken the ferocious turbulence of an urgent persecution, having been prepared for the suffering of the dungeon, armed for the endurance of death. Bravely you have resisted the world: you have afforded a glorious spectacle in the sight of God; you have been an example to your brethren that shall follow you. That religious voice has named the name of Christ, in whom it has once confessed that it believed; those illustrious hands, which had only been accustomed to divine works, have resisted the sacrilegious sacrifices; those lips, sanctified by heavenly food after the body and blood of the Lord, have rejected the profane contacts and the leavings of the idols…. Your brow, pure with the sign of God, could not bear the crown of the devil, but reserved itself for the Lord’s crown. How joyously does your Mother Church receive you in her bosom, as you return from the battle!”

But there were some, rather many, who were not faithful. When they were required to sacrifice to the Roman gods, and burn incense for the emperor at the threat of punishment, they denied Christ and worshipped the Roman gods. When the heat of the day came upon them, they bailed. Of these, Cyprian said, “each one was desirous of increasing his estate; and forgetful of what believers had either done before in the times of the apostles, or always ought to do, they, with the insatiable ardour of covetousness, devoted themselves to the increase of their property… They united in the bond of marriage with unbelievers; they prostituted the members of Christ to the Gentiles.” Even bishops and priests abandoned the brothers and sisters.

Those who were imprisoned and banished were gladly received in the Church. But what about those who escaped the vineyard when the heat of the day threatened them, when they encountered trials? They had forsaken God and their brothers and sisters in Christ. And then there’s the words that Jesus had said, “Whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:33).

There was a priest and noted theologian named Novatian. He said that those who lapsed, or who denied the faith by sacrificing to idols cannot be welcomed back into the church.

Cyprian addressed the matter. Now there were some churches that were overly lax with the law. They treated the idolatry as no big deal. It mattered not whether the sinner had contrition. They did not seek repentance. They welcomed all into the Church. Cyprian quotes Paul, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.” And describes many who return to the Church, “Returning from the altars of the devil, they draw near to the holy place of the Lord, with hands filthy and reeking with smell, still almost breathing of the plague-bearing idol-meats; and even with jaws still exhaling their crime, and reeking with the fatal contact, they intrude on the body of the Lord.”

Cyprian rightly said that the repentant ought to be welcomed back into the Church. They are to be called Christians, and they shall enjoy Christ’s gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. This is the point of our Gospel reading.

This seems like an offense. Here are these Christians who endured the heat of the day, suffering greatly for their faithfulness to God. And they have the same favor of God, belong to the same body of the redeemed, have the same forgiveness won by Christ, and have the same reward of heaven. This is because these things are gifts given by God’s grace. The faithful cannot claim these gifts by any merit of their own.

So on the one hand, we should not be presumptuous, and consider ourselves first. Living our baptismal lives in the vineyard of God’s kingdom, we all ought to strive to be faithful in following Christ, in abiding in His Word, and doing the Commandments in love for God and for our neighbor. But do not compare your Christian life with others and think yourself more worthy of God’s favor than others. First of all, this is works-righteousness, and in this way, you despise God’s grace, and Christ whose merit alone saves you. Furthermore, we can always be convicted by the Law, and see that we too at times have faltered in our lives in the vineyard, slouching as the heat of the day comes upon us. It may not be the strong heat of brutal persecution that the Christians in 250 suffered, but it our Christian lives are met with the trials and pressures in the world. There are times when we have an opportunity to share Christ with someone, but out of fear of awkwardness or rejection, we remain quiet. Though no laws demand we worship other gods, our hearts make things into gods, desiring to be elsewhere than before the altar of our gracious God on Sunday mornings.

There are the pressures of the culture to live and believe and act a certain way, ways different than the way that God has created us to live. Do we slack in our work in the vineyard, and participate in the ways of the world?

Or then there’s even the pressures against our sinful flesh. It is difficult to deny ourselves again, and again, and again. We have the sinful desire for self-glorification, self-righteousness, pride and greed. Our flesh would have us indulge in our desires and lusts. We give in sometimes. Often in weakness, sometimes willingly. Oh how we have been disobedient to God!

So, in accordance with the message of our Gospel reading, we have no reason to be presumptuous, thinking that we have earned anything from God by our own merits. Truly, we are unworthy of any good thing from Him.

Now on the other hand, we who are unworthy, with contrite hearts, we find comfort in this Gospel that God is favorable toward us not on account on us, but on account of what Jesus has done for us. This grace is not a license to escape the work in the vineyard, and to follow other gods, but His grace forgives us and saves us from our sins, and keeps God’s favor upon us, living in the vineyard of God’s grace, that we may continue to follow Him.

And so by the grace of God, which is ours because of Christ’s suffering and death for us, we have forgiveness, mercy, and salvation. We have the reward of God’s favor, and an eternal inheritance with Him. All this is a gift for us, whether we have faithfully worked under the heat of the day, or whether we have faltered under it.

And so this text guards us from pride and self-righteousness, but also from despair. God is gracious to you. He is favorable to you, not because of anything you have done, nor is there anything you must do to be worthy of it. But He is favorable to you because of the atoning work of Christ on the cross for you. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.