Thy Kingdom Come: Bright Jewel of My Crown

Text: John 14:15-21
Date: Easter VI + 5/21/17

In the annual celebration of Easter Christians are to learn that faith is not only a nice set of religious principles to be followed but is rather a living, active thing that changes us and gives life. St. Paul drew otherwise knowledgeable people in Athens from their blind religion of mere human philosophies to faith in the one and only true God, unknown to them until Paul spoke the word of God, telling of the Creator, Sustainer and Savior of all pointing to the man Jesus who died but was raised from the dead. That is, this thing called faith is actually how God Himself dwells in us, renews and strengthens us. It is not something we somehow conjure up in ourselves on our own, but is the result of God the Holy Spirit commandeering our spirit, mind and soul, enlightening us through the truth of God’s word as we prayed in today’s Introit, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). It is Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ that opens our hearts and minds to be able to hear, to understand and believe the Gospel.

Anyone can read and inspect the facts of God’s acts throughout history in the Bible, throughout the Old and New Testaments without discovering and understanding that none of it makes much sense or difference until you discover that it is all about how God loves His world and specifically how God loves you.

That’s why in this Easter season, having heard of Jesus’ resurrection as attested to by the first disciples, we now go back to retrace Jesus’ teaching and words, once only confusing and mysterious to us, now with the key to understanding them, namely, the resurrection. Last week we began to revisit Jesus’ words on the night He was betrayed, that Holy Thursday before His sacrifice where He tells us that He goes to prepare a place for us and will come again to take us to Himself, as He said, “that where I am you may be also.” Today we continue to hear His words from that holy night. In these words He is preparing us to learn what it means to live as His disciples though we do not see Him. He tells us that He is sending the Holy Spirit and in this way He Himself will be with us to the end of the age. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, is at the same time the Spirit of Christ and His Father.

Today He uses a word that may be confusing at first. He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” Of course, love is a huge word. But that’s not the word that tripped me up. Rather, what does Jesus mean by keeping “my commandments”? The word can also be translated “precepts.” We might be tempted to file through the words of His teaching and begin to list as His commandments things like, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” and “Love one another” as He said that night, first demonstrating it in the simple task of washing His disciple’s feet, but then most of all in His giving of His life for His friends on the cross. But if we try to make a list of Jesus’ commands where does it end? And even if we have a nice tidy list, like a “bucket list,” that we can just check each item off when we think we have accomplished them, well, we’re once again well on our way to the blind, dead end of salvation by works.

These commands or precepts are not admonitions of the Law of God. They are not “commandments” in any Mosaic sense alone. But they do include the Ten Commandments.  Remember what Jesus said about them in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said,” “you shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery,” and so on. Then with each of these he says, “but I say to you” and gets to the heart of the matter. And what is the heart of the matter? What is the true and only fulfillment of the Law?

Remember when a lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:35-40). So says St. Paul to the Romans, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:10). Notice the connection between love and the commandments here. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That is, loving Jesus is the keeping of the commandments, all of them, the entire revelation of God in His holy Word. What are Jesus’ commandments? All of His words, His teaching.

Our sermon title today comes from the Hymn of the Day that rehearses God’s entire plan of salvation (which is why it is so long!). After confessing our need of forgiveness of sins and my own inability to save myself, in love God determined to save us.

God said to His beloved Son:
“It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
And bring to all salvation” (LSB 556:5)

Jesus, God’s beloved Son is the bright jewel of the Father’s crown sent to bring salvation, to set us free from sin and sorrow, to slay bitter death and give to all eternal life.

Listen to Martin Luther who wrote this hymn. He says these commandments are, “that you faithfully preach concerning me, have my Word and Sacrament laid upon you, keep love and unity among yourselves for my sake, and suffer with patience whatever on this account comes upon you…. For I do not mean to be a Moses to drive and plague you with threats and terrors, but I give you such precept as you can and will keep without commanding, if you indeed love me” (Erlangen edition, 49, 131-2, cited in Lenski, John, p. 972). To “keep” His commandments is not a slavish thing but more with the attitude of watchful care, of cherishing and holding as a treasure, to make sure you not lose them, or let others violate them. So you see the “keeping” or “obeying” of Jesus commands is the result of this love rather than its cause. Listen to this sentence again. It is not that keeping Jesus’ commandments is the way to His love. It is rather, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

The love for God, for Jesus, and for neighbor is a gift of faith. What does the apostle say is the fruit of faith? Notice the very first fruit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love…against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23).

So on this day of our Easter celebration, the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, our Lord prepares us for His ascension and His living and ruling for us at God’s right hand, the Spirit creating and sustaining the gift of faith, the faith that grasps the forgiveness of sins won for us by His Cross, the faith that receives, recognizes, knows and lives love. “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Thy Kingdom Come: Our Victorious King

Text: John 14:1-14
Date: Easter V + 5/14/17

In the Easter season the first thing we learn of what it means that the Lord Jesus  is risen from the dead is that He now lives for us in both His full humanity and exulted deity. That we witness Him appearing to His disciples and then disappearing—appearing and disappearing—is to teach us, in part, that He is with us always whether we can see Him or not. But now reflecting on the words He spoke to us before His suffering, death and resurrection we begin to understand more fully what He meant because now we have the key to understanding, namely, the resurrection. As we do reflect on the words He spoke that first Holy Thursday, “on the night in which He was betrayed,” we are being prepared for His Ascension into heaven on the 40th day of Easter after which he will no longer be appearing and disappearing but will be with us by faith through word, sacrament and Spirit alone. Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: Our Victorious King

Thy Kingdom Come: Our Kingly Shepherd

Text: John 10:1-10
Date: Easter IV + 5/7/17

Every year the Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. Therefore every year we hear a portion of John chapter 10. Interestingly, it is only in the second year of the three-year lectionary that we actually hear Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd.” Today we may think of Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep to whom the gatekeeper opens the door and leads His sheep in and out to find pasture. But then St. John tells us “this figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” Oddly then it seems Jesus changes the figure and then says, “I am the door of the sheep.” So which is He? The Shepherd or the Door? Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: Our Kingly Shepherd

Thy Kingdom Come: Enlightening Word

Text: Luke 24:13-35
Date: Easter III + 4/30/17

This Third Sunday of Easter carries on the theme of the promise of the risen Jesus, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.” There was a lot of disbelief on that first Easter Day. Oh, the disciples may not have completely forgotten Jesus’ words when He told them, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:22). Maybe their minds were so shocked and overwhelmed at the words “be killed” that they either didn’t remember or just didn’t believe Him when He said, “on the third day be raised.” That first Easter evening when the disciples told the absent Thomas that they had seen the Lord, he insisted that he would not believe it. I particularly like the short ending of St. Mark’s Gospel that just leaves you hanging with the words, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for there were afraid” (Mk 16:8). Period. The End. Today in St. Luke’s wonderful account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus we are to learn that, after the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection, we must be taught what it means in order that saving faith may arise in our hearts. That teaching comes through the enlightening Word of the Gospel and the blessed meal-fellowship with Jesus in the sacrament of the altar. Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: Enlightening Word

Thy Kingdom Come: Sons and Daughters of the King

Text: John 20:19-31
Date: Easter II + 4/23/17

My brother spent his life in the United States Navy. He was deployed on various vessels a number of times over the years including the days of the Vietnam War. He has three children, my nieces Kirsten and Kaarin and my nephew Tommy Jr. The interesting thing is that all three were born while he was away at sea. So they did not meet their father until he returned from wherever he was. We’ve all seen video of military men (and now even women) returning from service some coming home to greet their children again, some of the men coming home to greet their children for the first time! I mention this because Christians have a similar experience in the Kingdom of Christ. Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: Sons and Daughters of the King

Thy Kingdom Come: The Reign of Death is Ended

Text: Matthew 28:1-10
Date: Easter + 4/16/17

At Easter we witness the greatest transfer of power in the history of the world; greater than the American Revolution or any other revolution; greater than the more peaceful transfer of power from one American President to the next. This was a transfer of royal cosmic power to reign and rule over all creation, something only the maddest of men have even contemplated. Martin Luther saw it that way in his Easter hymn, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands.” He sees the enemy wearing the crown of his reign of sin and death in this world now taken and transformed by God as he writes,

Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, came down,
His people to deliver;
Destroying sin, He took the crown
From death’s pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow’r, no more it reigns;
An empty form alone remains;
It sting is lost forever. Alleluia! Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: The Reign of Death is Ended

Thy Kingdom Come: Thy Kingdom Has Come

Text: St. John’s Passion
Date: Good Friday + 4/14/17

Finally, what we have been praying for has come. Oh, maybe some have thought the Kingdom of God would be the answer to all our problems. Thy Kingdom Come. Or maybe you have thought God would begin ruling in your favor against all the unfairness and shortcomings of everyday life in this world. But tonight we pray again, “Thy Kingdom Come.” And, to our surprise, here it is. Complete healing? Success? Wellness? No. The surprise is this is the kingdom of God: the blood drenched cross. Pilate couldn’t see it. His responsibility was to provide some sense of governmental justice both for Jesus and for the Jews. And we continue to struggle with the realities of living in this world, this work-a-day world of hours and wages and deductions and taxes. Pilate asked Jesus repeatedly and with wonder if He were the king, not of Israel, but of the Jews. And why doesn’t He look like or act like a king? “My kingdom is not of this world.” Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: Thy Kingdom Has Come

Thy Kingdom Come: The Royal Banquet

Text: Matthew 26:17-30
Date: Maundy Thursday + 4/13/17

It is debated to what extent our Lord’s observance of the annual Passover was like the modern observance. Many think it was a bit simpler. Yet we know from Luke’s Gospel that there were the traditional four cups of wine, the sharing of the matzah and a meal or supper. Certainly it wouldn’t be a valid Passover without the prayers and the reading and review of the Exodus from Egypt especially the command to place some of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts. As God sent the angel of death when the firstborn of every household would die, as the last sign to Pharaoh, so He spared his own people, saying, “The blood shall be a sign for you.” “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Ex 12:12-15). Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: The Royal Banquet

Thy Kingdom Come: Who Is This King of Glory?

Text: St. Matthew’s Passion
Date: Passion/Palm Sunday + 4/9/17

The kingdom of God comes to us all by itself without our prayer. Martin Luther in his Large Catechism says the kingdom of God came as He “sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil and to bring us to himself and rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience.” He didn’t ask us for permission. He just did it. Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: Who Is This King of Glory?

Thy Kingdom Come: He Came from His Blest Throne

Text: John 11
Date: Lent V + 4/2/17

This is the last Sunday in our Lenten preparation for the confession of the Christian faith in the Great and Holy Week which begins next Sunday, that is to say, beginning next week we will have very little time to talk, to discuss, to explain, to teach, as with palms in our hands we hail our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem only to be thrown immediately into the fast moving and dark events of His passion, death and resurrection. So today we are given that last thing in the creed that we are to confess, “I believe in…the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” In the words of the Nicene Creed, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We confess this faith every Sunday of our lives if not every day. But you say “I believe” precisely because you cannot see or prove it. You believe by faith alone that “on the Last Day [Christ] will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” Continue reading Thy Kingdom Come: He Came from His Blest Throne