Biblically-Based Lutheran Sermons 2020
Mount Hope Lutheran Church
We’re celebrating Epiphany today. Epiphany is simply the preaching of Christmas to the whole world, the beautiful fact that Christmas is for everyone. Our celebration of Christmas the last twelve days should instill in us the confidence of history. It happened. We know where – in Bethlehem, we know when – in the reign of Caesar August when Quirinius was governor of Syria, we know the circumstances – a census ordered by Caesar Augustus, really unparalleled historical detail for a birth in the ancient world. And finally we know who and why – Jesus was born, the Savior, God in human flesh, to live our life and die our death and bear our sins and open the way to everlasting life.
But you notice that it all happened in a little town inhabited by Jews thousands of miles away from here. And all the characters are Jews. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, all Jews. Jesus Himself a Jew. We don’t think of this often enough, because we don’t read our Old Testaments enough. The Christ was promised to the Jews. He’s called King of the Jews. He came to save His people. Even Jesus says this to the Syrophoenician woman: The Son of man was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. St. John stresses it in the Christmas Day reading, “He came to his own.” St. Paul stresses it too, “To the Jew first.”
But as often as the Bible stresses that Christ came to save His people Israel, it stresses even more that He came for all. This is the message of Epiphany, but we see it already on Christmas. What does the angel tell the Jewish shepherds, “I give you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Everyone. What do the angels sing in chorus, “Glory to God in the highest and peace, goodwill to men,” to all men, all people. What did we hear Simeon confess last Sunday and what do we sing every Sunday, “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” The Gentiles, for you kids who don’t know, are the peoples, everyone, all nations, red and yellow black and white, everyone. Jesus comes for them. And we could go on and on quoting Bible passage after Bible passage that prophesy and confess Jesus has come not only for his race, for the Jews, but for all people, which means for you and for me, that He’s not only taken on Jewish flesh, but my flesh and your flesh, human flesh, and as many as receive Him, He gives power to become children of God.
And that’s the point of Epiphany. Epiphany is the for you of Christmas. It’s the preaching of Christmas to you. Because it does you no good at all that all this actually happened in Bethlehem, that it’s fact, that it’s history, unless you trust this history took place for you.
The wise men teach us how to do this. And Herod teaches us how not to do it. So let’s start with Herod.
King Herod the Great is a perfect example of what we call a worldly person. He’s obsessed with the things of this world. He’s obsessed with his reputation, with his power, with his money. It’s not simply that he doesn’t care about things like forgiveness, peace with God, righteousness, eternal life, it’s that his mind is incapable of thinking in these categories. Let me tell you just a little bit about Herod. He thought of himself as the King of the Jews. He wasn’t himself a Jew. He was an Edomite, descended not from Jacob, from Israel, but from Esau. And he also wasn’t much of a king. He was a Roman vassal king. That means he served as king of Judea only at the pleasure of the Roman Emperor. So things are complicated for Herod. He wants power above all else. He’s terrified that he might lose it. Power, wealth, reputation, these are his gods, what he loves more than anything, what he fears losing more than anything, and what he trusts in with all his heart. So when he hears about Jesus – and this is the point – when he hears about Jesus, he can see him only in a worldly way, only as competition with his worldly pursuits. Herod is King of the Jews politically, in a worldly way, Jesus is King in an entirely different way, He’s the King who brings not earthly peace, but peace with God, not earthly wealth, but the wealth of innocence and forgiveness with God, not worldly reputation, but a good name in heaven. But Herod is worldly, so he can’t think of a King or a kingdom this way. So he makes Jesus his enemy.
Now I’m focusing in on Herod because his type of thinking is dominant in our day. People only think about earthly things. People will invest for a future retirement that’ll last maybe twenty years, and then ignore the very idea of heaven and resurrection, that’ll last forever. They’ll be obsessed with their reputation and be enraged when people talk bad about them and be ecstatic when people say good things about them, but have no care at all what God may think of them, what their reputation with Him is. They’ll work and sweat and obsess about money or some earthly pleasure and never think about the pleasure of knowing the God who created them and being reconciled with Him. And then when confronted with Jesus, there is either total apathy – who cares? What can he give me now? How is he going to make my life better? Or, and this happens all too often, people “believe” in Him only because they want more pleasure, because living forever sounds like a good thing, but the desire for forgiveness? For peace with God? For living a righteous life and finally in heaven being cleansed from all sin and loving perfectly? These things that Jesus actually comes to bring are far from their minds.
Herod died. And in death he lost everything he trusted in. It was all an illusion. Ridiculous things to trust in and love. His power was gone; he couldn’t take his wealth with him; he couldn’t defend his reputation anymore either. That’s all this world’s going to give you in the end. Nothing. Moths and rust. But God, the very God Herod ignored, the very God he persecuted, there’s no ignoring him after death, He remains, no matter how much Herod disregarded him in this life. We all meet our Maker.
So this Epiphany let’s look at our lives and our hearts, see what we obsess over, see how worldly minded we can be, compare ourselves to Herod, and repent. God help us. He gives us so much to enjoy on this earth. And you should work hard and earn money and save it for your future, you should enjoy what God gives you, the good things in life, kids and spouse and food and drink and friends and family, you should take care of your life so that you have a good reputation, you should care about these things, please don’t get me wrong here, God tells you to care about these things, but He tells you to care about them as Christians, and that means enjoying them and caring about them as gifts from God, the same God who created you and requires of you a righteousness you have not lived, a righteousness and an innocence and a good relationship with Him that you desperately need above everything else, that gives meaning to everything else in your life, and that you can only get from your Lord Jesus.
And this is where we need to learn from the wise men. What is so striking about these men is that they are single-minded in their pursuit. They leave home, studies, jobs if they have them, family, everything, and they travel hundreds of miles, months of travel, with the sole purpose of worshipping the child Jesus. It’s not simply one concern among many for them, it is the concern of their life, period, the reason they get up in the morning, the reason they do everything else, because they want to see the Christ-child and worship Him. There’s our example of faith.
And it’s more than this. Look at how they go about it. First, they clearly studied the Bible. That’s how they found out that the Christ was born. They saw the star appear. And they knew it meant the birth of the Christ, the King of the Jews, because the Bible says so – it’s the prophecy of Balaam, in Numbers 24, “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
So there’s the first point, that true worship of Jesus begins with the Bible. It doesn’t begin with your emotional experience. It’ll give you one, but it certainly doesn’t begin there. It begins with God’s Word, which is outside of you. The wise men actually illustrate this again when they come to Jerusalem. They go to Jerusalem because they figure that’s where the King will be born. It’s the capital. It’s where kings should be. So here they use their reason, and they go to the wrong place. So it’s not emotions AND it’s not reason, smarts, that will get you to Jesus. It’s the Bible. That’s how they know how to get to Bethlehem. Because all the Bible scholars in Jerusalem find the prophecy of Micah in the Bible that says the Christ will be born in Bethlehem.
Now that’s not to say that Christians don’t use our reason. We do. The wisemen did. They got pretty close to Bethlehem, right. They got to Jerusalem, just a few miles away. And they did that, in part, by using their reason. But it didn’t get them all the way. It didn’t get them to Jesus. And the same goes for us. Can you figure out that God exists using your reason? Absolutely. The Bible says so. The fool has said in his heart, “there is no God.” That’s Psalm 14. And look at St. Paul’s beautiful argument in Romans 1, where he says that everyone is without excuse, because they all should know God exists from their reason, from seeing that everything that exists had to be made, that they should be worshipping their Creator. Reason will also tell you that there’s a difference between right and wrong, that marriage between one man and one woman is good, that homosexuality is bad. It’ll tell you that staying true to your spouse is good, that working hard is good. Reason will tell you to obey authorities, to keep your hands from murder and stealing.
But reason has its limits. Both because we’re sinners and because it just does. You can’t find Jesus with it. And that’s a huge limit. Instead you need the Bible, just like the wise men did. And that, that, is what made them wise. God’s Word. That’s how they got to Bethlehem. That’s how they got to worship Jesus. And it’s how you get there too. By listening to God’s Word, which points you to Jesus.
But why? Why go to Jesus? Why be so single-minded about it? Why care so much about what the Bible says about Him? Why mimic the wise men? The scene of the wise men bowing before the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh is so precious, it teaches us so much about what worship is and why Jesus matters. These aren’t just nice gifts. They aren’t just expensive gifts. They’re given for very specific reasons. Each gift is a confession.
First, they give Him gold, because He’s a king. They want Him to rule over them. We are all ruled. Freedom in this sinful world is something of an illusion. Either we’re ruled by our desires, by what we want, by our sins, by our fears, or we’re ruled by Jesus who forgives our sins and gives us peace. The wise men want to be ruled by Jesus. They don’t want to be ruled by their desire for wealth, or for a good reputation, or for power, or for sex, or for anything else that dominates the human mind. They want to be ruled by Jesus, by the forgiveness of their sins, by the God who created them and who is now at peace with them. The only true freedom is to be ruled by Jesus, to have Jesus as King, as God created us to be.
Second, they give Him incense. “Let my prayers rise before you as incense,” so we sing to God from Psalm 141. And so the wise men confess. Jesus is God. This baby is God. God has become a man. God is not some distant power out there. He’s not what my mind or my emotions think Him up to be. He’s this very specific Jesus who has existed from eternity but was born a baby in Bethlehem.
And so they give Him myrrh. That’s a burial perfume. It’s what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee used to anoint Jesus’ dead body when they took it from the cross. And this, the wise men know, is why God has become a baby, why they worship Him, want Him to rule over them, acknowledge Him as their one and only God, why they’ve traveled hundreds of miles to lay eyes on Him, because He’s come to die for them, to bear their sins away, to take the punishment they deserved on Himself, to win them the wealth of God’s love, the honor of being reconciled to Him, the power to become children of God.
And so we worship the Christ. He is the King of the Jews. That’s what was written on the cross above his bleeding head – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. But He’s our King. Because it’s from that cross that he draws all nations to Himself, as He Himself says. The body and the blood that were once laid in a manger and then 33 years later given and shed on the cross, what drew the wise men, it still draws us. Our God has come for us, for us, He has humbled Himself for us, He has spilt His blood for us, and His Word calls us to draw near, and receive Him. There is no greater treasure. There is no wealth or power or reputation we could possibly want above this. Here in Christ’s blood shed for you is God’s pledge of peace, His oath that this is His pleasure, His glory, His greatest desire, to give you His Spirit, to teach you His Word, to feed you with His body and blood, to forgive you, make you His friend, assure you that nothing can sever you from Him, and that you will see Him finally face to face, to enjoy the pure joys of God forever.
Let us pray:
O joy to know that Thou, My Friend, art Lord, beginning, without end, the First and Last, Eternal! And Thou at length – O glorious grace! – wilt take me to that holy place, the home of joys supernal. Amen. Amen! Come and meet me! Quickly greet me! With deep yearning, Lord, I look for They returning.
Pastor Christian Preus
Epiphany 2, 2020
Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding. This wasn’t an accident. God doesn’t do things on accident. We actually asserted this in our collect this morning, ‘Almighty and everlasting God, who governs all things in heaven and on earth.’ That’s our God. He’s in control. And unlike us, who often do things on accident, He has a purpose for everything He does. I went skiing with some of the school kids on Friday, and as I was helping a kid up who had fallen, he stabbed me very close to the eye with his pole. I instinctively yelled, “Hey!” and his instinctive response was, “It was an accident!” Well, that’s not comforting. You still almost gauged my eye out. The point here is that God never says that. When bad things happen to you, God doesn’t say, woops, it was an accident. And this is very comforting for us, if, that is, we know and trust His promises. It means that even when bad things happen in our lives, our God is still in control and will, as He promises, use the bad things, even sin and the devil himself, for our good. You see this, in fact, at the wedding in Cana. The couple ran out of wine. That’s a bad thing. And then Mary asks Jesus to help, and he responds, seemingly, with a No. Again, a bad thing. But Jesus works it all for good. He turns water into wine, and not only saves the wedding, but makes it better than it had been, gives better wine. And more than this, He shows his disciples who He is and causes them to believe in Him. It’s a beautiful thing. Jesus takes the bad, the painful, and turns it for good.
Now, we’re in the season of Epiphany. That means we’re concentrating on Jesus revealing Himself as God. And this miracle obviously does this. Only God can turn water into wine. But as with Jesus’ other miracles, this one doesn’t just show that He’s God, that He’s powerful, that He’s some Supreme Being. It shows what kind of God He is.
First, and unmistakably, He’s the God who loves and blesses marriage. That’s because He’s the God who created marriage. Not only is it not an accident that He performed His first miracle at a wedding. It’s not an accident that He turned water into wine at this wedding. Turning water into wine is a creative act. What wasn’t there before is there now. Just as God spoke in the beginning, “Let there be” and there was, so God speaks here, and there is. So Jesus is asserting Himself not simply as God here, but as the Creator. And what else did God create in the beginning? He created marriage. He made man and woman in his own image and joined them as one flesh. God did that. And God still cares for His creation, he still cares for marriage. That’s what Jesus is showing here.
And this is an extremely important thing for us to remember in our day. Marriage is no social construct. People didn’t make it up. They didn’t just say, “You know what, it would be a good idea if a man and a woman promised to remain faithful to one another till they die, so they can have children and the children can grow up with a mom and a dad and become good members of society.” That’s not what happened. God made marriage. And that means marriage doesn’t change. What we hear, or what we should hear, at every wedding, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man put asunder,” this is unalterably true. And this means that since man, since society, didn’t come up with marriage, it has no right to change it. If we had created marriage, we could make our own rules, we could change the rules. Just like in football. Every year the NFL comes out with new rules. They can do that. We made the game, we can change it. And this is how our government and our society has treated marriage. As if it’s ours. We made it, we can change it. So now marriage can mean a man and a man promising to remain with each other. Or a woman and a woman. People can put an end to marriage for any reason whatsoever. “We’re just not getting along anymore, the old thrill is gone, she’s mean, he’s a jerk,” and the list goes on, what our society has nonsensically called “no fault” divorce, when in fact there’s always fault and a whole lot of it to go around. And look at the results! We thought we could act like marriage belonged to us, play with it and change the rules, and no one has benefitted, children are robbed of stability, wives and husbands are robbed of trust, homosexuals are lied to and confirmed in their sin, young people are terrified of marriage and just live together instead. What a mess.
But Jesus comes on the scene and He asserts, as His very first public act on this earth, that He is the Creator and Blesser of marriage. There is no picking and choosing here. You want Jesus as God, as Savior, as Friend, then you have Him also as the Creator and protector of marriage. And that means marriage is not ours to mess with. It belongs to Jesus. He’s still in control. Jesus created marriage for our good. And what we’ve messed up, He’s here to fix. And make no mistake about it, He’s the only one who can fix marriage.
Now He does this in two ways.
First, He teaches us what it is. And this is a relief. A clear definition! Thank God! In our age of uncertainty, where everyone chooses what’s right or wrong for himself, where our society has decided that a man can become a woman and a woman a man, where the basics of common sense are in total confusion, just to hear God say, ‘This is the way it is,’ it’s such a relief. It’s what we need. We need to know that water is wet, fire is hot, a man is a man, a woman is a woman. And we need to know what marriage is. It’s God joining one man and one woman for life. And it’s beautiful. When God created man in the beginning, he made them male and female. He joined the two together till death parted them. The two shall become one flesh, God said. And what God joins together, let no man put asunder. He did it for our happiness. He made man to be the head of his wife and the wife to be the husband’s helper, to be companions one to the other, as the husband loves his wife and serves her, and the wife submits to her husband and respects him. And then beautifully, God creates life through the union of man and woman. Think of that, God allows a married couple to participate in His creative act, as new life comes through a husband’s love for his wife and a wife’s giving herself to her husband. And in this, he gives husband and wife pleasure and keeps them chaste and faithful to one another. And in doing this, the husband and wife imitate God, they love to reflect His love, the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which has been from eternity. It’s simply beautiful.
But of course, we mess it up. Even when we get it right. Even when we say, yes, only a man and a woman. Yes, for life, till death parts us. Yes, so that we can have children and raise them up together. Still, husband sins against wife and wife against husband and our marriages face problem after problem. And this is the second reason we need Jesus to insert Himself into marriage. Not simply to tell us what marriage is, but to care for our marriages in the here and now. We see him do that at Cana. He cares for that marriage. And this sign, this first miracle, the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded so that you know today that Jesus cares for your marriage too.
The main reason Christians have so many problems in their marriages is because they still think they can fix things themselves. You can’t. This couple in Cana couldn’t fix their marriage problem. Jesus had to. Husbands, you can’t fix it when you say hurtful things to your wife. You can’t just say, Forget what I said. You said it. You can’t take it back. She remembers it. Wives, you can’t fix it when you disrespect your husband and refuse to treat him as the head of your home. It hurts him. And you can’t just say, I didn’t mean it. It was an accident. The hurt and the distrust just builds and builds. It causes more fights, more distrust. It’s a vicious cycle. You need Jesus. He makes marriages happy. He fixes what we break.
When we speak about the forgiveness of sins, we’re not speaking of some abstraction, some mere general forgiveness. No, this is practical. And it’s specific. Husbands and wives, you have specific sins against each other, specific things you’ve done or said that have caused pain and resentment, know that Jesus, who reveals Himself as God at this wedding, who saved this wedding, who joined you as husband and wife, He shed His blood specifically to save your marriage and bless it. He bled, God shed his blood and suffered hell to forgive you and to forgive your spouse. He has vowed by the blood He shed for you that He will not hold you guilty for your sins, He has promised you in your Baptism that He has cleansed you and presented you pure before Him as His precious bride. This is the God who joined you, husband to wife and wife to husband. You stand before Him by the forgiveness of your sins, the forgiveness of the very sins that you’ve committed against one another. What you think you can’t forgive, what you have so much trouble forgetting, God has forgiven, God has forgotten. And it is this forgiveness that saves marriages, that brings peace again, that makes a husband learn to love his wife and a wife learn to respect her husband. Husbands, learn to love your wife by covering up her faults as your Lord has covered up yours. Love her by serving her, because that’s how Christ loves you. He doesn’t demean you. He doesn’t pick at your faults. He doesn’t lord it over you and demand things from you. He forgives your faults and passes over them and teaches you patiently. And wives, learn to respect your husbands, not because they’ve deserved it perfectly, but because whatever wrong they’ve done has been borne by the Lord to whom you and your husband owe everything. This is what the Church does to Christ – we wouldn’t dare talk bad about Him, we learn instead to expect everything good from Him and be patient as we wait for Him to serve us.
And this is the second thing Jesus reveals about what kind of a God He is. He is the God who answers our prayers in his own time. He is the God who lets us suffer our crosses, within marriage, outside of marriage, praying for marriage. He waited, on purpose, to turn that water into wine. He let the groom and bride sweat. He told his own mother, his hour had not yet come. But He did answer. In his own time. And so it goes still. Learn from Mary to ask and then wait your God’s good pleasure. He’s in control. He loves you. Don’t doubt this. His hour came. The hour of His death. The hour when He prayed that this cup be taken away, but His Father told Him instead to drink it down to the bitter dregs. The hour of His suffering, of his pain and his death, as He bore your sin and paid its punishment to the throne of God’s justice. He did it for you. And He has claimed you as His own. He has washed and cleansed you in your Baptism. He’s given you His Spirit. He sees and loves you as His own bride, as His own body, and no man fails to care for his own body. He disciplines his body, he allows it to suffer for its own good, for a time, but he cares for it. Jesus can’t and won’t fail to care for you and answer your prayers.
And finally, Jesus brings pure joy. That’s the kind of God He is. He’s in control, he cares, he answers us, and He gives us joy beyond all gladness. He gives wine at a wedding to give people happiness. Wine isn’t necessary for life. Not at all. It’s not like bread, not like water. It’s there only to give pleasure, to heighten it. That’s why it exists. God does everything on purpose. And in this His Supper, He gives His blood to you in the wine on purpose, because the blood of Jesus gives pure pleasure, more than what we need, not only forgiveness of all our sins, but a union with one another and with God himself, to become partakers of the divine nature, to be exalted with Christ to the joys of heaven, to have the undying affection of our God and our Lord Jesus Christ. So, as we just sang, We enter all the wedding hall, to eat the Supper at Thy call. Amen.
We are a confessional Lutheran congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Committed to teaching the truth of God’s Word, with Christ crucified for sinners at the center, our worship follows the historic liturgy of the Church. We sing the great hymns of past and present that reflect the reverence, dignity, and joy of the Christian confession.