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LSB Epiphany 3 Sermon – Matthew 8:1-13

January 22, 2017 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who followed Him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.’”

Today’s Scripture readings present a series of healing miracles. People with grave diseases are cured. But the cure doesn’t come by applying knowledge of medicine. There is no discovery of a new drug to use or new technique to try. No, these healings take place because the LORD’s power is exercised to relieve those who suffer from their illnesses.

The healing of Naaman recorded in the Old Testament Reading provides a great example of that. The Syrian general comes to Israel looking for a cure for his leprosy. His Israelite slave girl had said: “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman seeks a remedy that no one in Syria could provide. But in fact, no one in Israel could give it either, not even Israel’s king. Only the prophet who spoke the LORD’s words could offer the cure.

Recall what happened when Elisha the Prophet grants him that cure. Naaman is told: “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored, and you shall be clean.” But that instruction made him angry, since Naaman knew that the Jordan was no better than the rivers of Damascus. Bathing in them had not cured his disease. So why would dipping himself in the Jordan seven times do so? It can do so only because the prophet had spoken a “great word” to Naaman that this act would give a cure. That is made clear in the account of what Naaman did: “He went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like at the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” The presence of that divine word and its effects lead Naaman to his great confession: “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.” The LORD’s power had healed Naaman, and he rightly praises the LORD for it.

When Jesus is confronted by two people seeking healing of diseases, the same is seen. The leper who comes to Jesus desires what Jesus can offer: “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” He couldn’t say that about any of the physicians he may have previously seen. As much as the leper may have desired it or his loved ones may have wanted, they were powerless to help. But that is not the case with Jesus. Why? Because Jesus exercises the LORD’s power. He does so by speaking: “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” Jesus provides the cure that the leper had previously been unable to find: “Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”

The incident between Jesus and the centurion in Capernaum drives the point home more clearly: “A centurion came forward to [Jesus], appealing to Him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’” Jesus can relieve his servant of the great affliction that has paralyzed the man. The soldier requests it be done, and Jesus offers to do so: “I will come and heal him.” But what happened next? The centurion speaks about the ability that Jesus has in His words, that what Jesus says will be done: “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The centurion speaks about the authority he has been given, and how his commands are obeyed without question. By doing so, the centurion also confesses that the authority Jesus has is even greater and will be exercised as Jesus desires.

So what does Jesus do? He heals the servant by His command: “To the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment.” But before that was done, Jesus makes a statement that all His followers in the generations that have passed since this incident are to mark well: “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” Jesus’ praise of the centurion’s faith provides us with the example that we are to imitate. His commendation of what the centurion believed is tied to the understanding of how the LORD’s power will be exercised for those who suffer afflictions that they cannot relieve. And that will be the portal for many others to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

These incidents are to make us think about how the LORD will provide blessings and benefits to us, so that we can be relieved of our afflictions. How are we to obtain restoration from sin and its effects, from death and disease? Many cures are offered. Some actually do what is promised, like killing off the bacteria that cause infections. Others show themselves only to be treatments of symptoms, only partially effective. Some don’t work at all. Yet, even the successful remedies ultimately prove to be a failure, since not one person has been completely kept from dying. That makes them empty vessels of hope.

But that isn’t what Jesus offers. He doesn’t hawk the latest and greatest drug. He doesn’t promote a new technique. No, He presents Himself as the divine answer to sin and guilt. Jesus introduces Himself as the way to enter the kingdom of heaven. He does so because He wills for mankind to be redeemed. He demonstrates that desire by being the Redeemer, the One who atones for guilt, the One who wrestles with death and prevails. That’s the identity partially revealed through the healing miracles that Jesus performs, examples of divine power being exercised. But the greatest way that is done is not in Capernaum or some other city of Galilee, but in Judea on the hill of Calvary. For there Jesus displays the fullness of His power to overcome the curse of sin and to overpower mankind’s great enemy.

And what does Jesus do after He dies and rises? He places His authority and power in others to take out into the world. He reveals how this works to His apostles: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Jesus authorizes them to carry this out. This is why the Apostle Paul writes in the Epistle Reading: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

What is established in this is the same concept that was seen by Naaman, by the leper healed by Jesus, and by the centurion: that deliverance comes only from the LORD’s power that He exercises for the benefit of others. Without that, neither Naaman or the centurion’s servant would be healed. But it is the LORD’s desire to do so, even though not one single person is worthy of it. Life and healing are given as people believe in Jesus and His exercise of divine authority for the salvation of the world.

This critical point is demonstrated in what the Scripture readings have told us today. Naaman’s anger at Elisha’s instructions would have kept him from receiving the cure for his leprosy. But when he was led to trust what the man of God said and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, the LORD’s power provided healing for him. The leper who came to Jesus knew about His ability to heal, but did not fully know His will to do so. But when Jesus spoke, that will was revealed and the leper was restored. The centurion also knew about Jesus’ ability to heal. He had so much confidence in Jesus’ ability and will, that he just asked Jesus to give the command, knowing that it would be done.

The same confidence, trust, and hope in Jesus is what Paul exhorts the Roman Christians and us to have: “[the gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” That confidence, trust, and hope will be shown by us as we rely on how the LORD says the word and we, His unworthy servants, are healed. It’s seen in our coming to this place for the benefits that Jesus promises to give. For the same Jesus who gives commands that are fulfilled has authorized His gospel to be spoken in the world: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…. Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned…. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

So how do we respond to this? Is it in the way that Naaman first did in doubt? “I thought that he would surely come out to me and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.” Is it in the way that the leper came to Jesus but didn’t know if He had the desire to heal him? “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” Is it in the way that many sons of the kingdom scoffed at Jesus as the One whom the LORD had sent with His power? “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

No, those are not the responses elicited from us. We have been called, enlightened, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit to understand the LORD’s gracious will for us and how He has completed it in Jesus’ work. We know and believe that the gospel is the power of God for our salvation. We have come to trust that Jesus has placed that power of His gospel word in preaching, teaching, baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. That leads us to speak as the centurion did: “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” We call on Jesus to speak to us through the men of God He sends here, knowing the divine authority they carry. We look for the forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes through them. And to that faith, Jesus responds: “Let it be done for you as you have believed.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

LSB Epiphany 2H Sermon – John 2:1-11

January 15, 2017 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with His disciples.”

The Gospel Writer summarizes the miraculous events at Cana this way: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.” Jesus performs a great sign at Cana, revealing Himself as the LORD Incarnate. The changing of water to wine manifested His glory. It demonstrated His power over nature. Jesus can give the command for all the molecules of hydrogen and oxygen to change to something new. This is only possible because of Jesus’ identity as the One through whom all things were made. When He speaks, things happen, just as it did at the beginning.

But Jesus’ sign reveals more than His power. His glory is greater than having the ability to manipulate nature. Jesus’ glory includes having a creation fully in line with His will. It was so at the beginning, when His word was spoken and the cosmos came into being. His glory was revealed when everything was in its proper order, including humanity being created male and female, fit for each other. When that was done, then the LORD gave His approval: “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” To have all things in such order glorifies the One who made them.

But what had happened at Cana? Another incident that disrupted the LORD’s good order. That disruption is made known in a roundabout way, seen in the desperate words that Mary speaks to Jesus: “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with His disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’” Misery and despair were replacing the joy and delight that this man and woman of Cana were to find in each other. The problem disclosed to Jesus wasn’t that the people who loved wine wouldn’t be able fill their bellies. No, it’s that the marriage feast of this bride and groom had been ruined. Perhaps such marring of what the LORD had established isn’t as severe as what we have done to the estate of matrimony as centuries have passed. But the situation at Cana was another in the long series of disruptions to the LORD’s perfect order.

So how does Jesus respond? At first it seems like He doesn’t care. That thought can be pulled from His answer given to Mary: “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” But something a bit different is being revealed by Jesus’ statement. His words speak of a prophesied hour that had not yet arrived. It is a reference to the LORD’s promise about reviving the house of David and the fortunes of His people Israel: “Behold, the days are coming…when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them.”

That time which the LORD prophesied had not yet arrived. It would not appear until Jesus fulfilled His role as the Messiah, manifesting His glory in the power of redemption and resurrection. An hour was yet to come when Jesus would perform a great work, as the apostle describes: loving the Church and giving Himself up for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by water with the word, presenting the Church to Himself in splendor, so that she is holy and without blemish. This had not yet been done. Jesus’ hour to perform this divine compassionate act for the Church had not yet come.

But Jesus’ presence and actions at Cana foreshadow what He would accomplish later. A sign is given to manifest His glory, when Jesus acts for the benefit of the bride and groom at Cana: “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’” Jesus takes the water of purification and combines it with His word. By doing so, He removes the problem that had plagued the festivities. Misery and despair are washed away by Jesus’ act, so that the groom of Cana is declared perfect: “When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’”

Jesus’ miracle at Cana reveals His desire and ability to restore what had been marred. The greater redemption He would perform for humanity is prefigured in the other signs that would follow. Each of them manifests His glory. Each of them reveals another aspect of Jesus’ identity and His work to bring His creation back to perfection. Each of them shows that only He could be the One who accomplishes this.

Jesus’ signs culminate in His act of redemption—dying and rising to life again. When that last sign takes place, Jesus is praised for it. The LORD declares Him to be perfect. The LORD declares Him to be the only true offering that is fully acceptable. Even all the Jewish rites of purification could not complete mankind’s salvation. But when the LORD assumes humanity and offers Himself in sacrifice for the sins of the world, then a true purification is given. And in that act, Jesus begins to break out the “good wine,” so that all creation can rejoice. His people can celebrate that David’s house has been repaired. They can revel at the thought of being placed in their own land forever, with nothing to uproot them. Joy overflows at the knowledge that there is an hour and place where all that mars the LORD’s creation and all that disrupts His order will be removed. They look for the life of the world to come where only the fullness of His glory will be present—a glory that His people will share.

That is what we learn from this sign that Jesus’ performs at the wedding feast. His identity and character are on display at Cana. We see Jesus working for the benefit of mankind. We witness how He uses His abilities for the welfare of others. That runs all the way up to the drastic action that only He could take for our salvation: the giving of Himself in death, so that we would be washed and declared perfect without spot and blemish, sharing in the newness of His resurrected life. That leads us to believe in Him, just as His first disciples did. It sets our hearts and minds in hope on the hour that is yet to come.

But until that time arrives when we perfectly enjoy what the LORD prophesied, we are called to manifest Jesus’ glory in the ways that we can, even if they are feeble and frail. That is done in our worship and witness of what Jesus has done to redeem us. But it is done in other ways. First among them is striving for the LORD’s order in this world now by living as His will decrees. This includes how we treat the matter of marriage. Husbands and wives should act according to the pattern that is seen in the relationship between Christ and the Church. The Church should also work against all that would disrupt what the LORD has established, even pointing out how His order has been marred and showing the more excellent way of His will.

Manifesting Jesus’ glory is also accomplished in exercising the abilities that the LORD has graciously bestowed to us for the benefit of others: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” As we exercise good stewardship of ourselves who have been redeemed by Jesus, it brings about results that expand and improve His kingdom, further glorifying Him.

And manifesting Jesus’ glory happens as we act in the same way that Jesus did for us in this world. We reflect His character in the righteous works that we are exhorted to perform: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” 

The signs that Jesus performed, including the first one in Cana, manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him. We have learned from them that Jesus is our Redeemer, the One who cares about His people and works to restore His creation. That is the faith we share as Jesus’ followers. What we do in our renewed and purified lives expresses our living faith in Jesus as our Redeemer. So may His glory be manifested in us as we celebrate His work done for us, even the prefiguring of the great joy that will be ours when His hour fully comes.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

LSB Baptism of Our Lord H Sermon – Matthew 3:13-17

January 8, 2017 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan….”

Joshua comes to the Jordan. This is where the LORD would bring His people into the Promised Land. They were to receive the great fulfillment of the LORD’s promise: He would take them from bondage to freedom; He would give them the inheritance that He had been pledged to their forefathers. Joshua was chosen to be the instrument through which the LORD would accomplish this. That was his destiny. The LORD had made that selection. Now the LORD would complete the task.

This is what you heard about in the Old Testament Reading: “Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over…. The LORD said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And as for you, command the priests who bear the Ark of the Covenant, “When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.”’” When Joshua fulfilled the LORD’s instructions, great things happened: the flow of the river was cut off, so that “the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.”

The Crossing of the Jordan marks the entry of Israel into the Promised Land, bringing the Exodus to its conclusion. No longer was Israel an enslaved people. Neither would they exist as a nomadic nation. Instead, the LORD’s people came to the blessed inheritance that He had established for them. His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was being fulfilled. As the LORD acted in this great way, Joshua was exalted. All the LORD’s people would know that Joshua was His man, His chosen one, a leader with whom He was well pleased. But this event foreshadowed an even greater act that the LORD would perform. For the destiny of the LORD’s people was not having an earthly homeland; it was to have an eternal dwelling place where all divide between God and Mankind was overcome.

So how was that destiny to be completed? What would it take? The LORD would raise up another Joshua to be the instrument through which His plan would be fulfilled. The nativity of this Second Joshua is what we have celebrated during Christmastide. The Son of the Most High God is born. He is given the name Joshua—or as we have Hellenized it, Jesus. The name reveals His great task: to be the LORD’s salvation, to be the Savior of His people. And that salvation would restore the harmony between God and Mankind, to overcome the gap that sin and rebellion had caused, to reverse the curse of death.

As this Second Joshua takes up the task that the LORD had assigned, He goes where the First Joshua had once stood: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John, to be baptized by him.” Jesus also walks into the Jordan. But when He does so, it is a unique event. For Jesus is a combination of the figures and elements present at the Jordan Crossing. He is the LORD’s presence in the world, the LORD Incarnate. As such, Jesus is the Ark of the Covenant in a personal form, standing still in the Jordan. When this happens, it is done “to fulfill all righteousness,” to bring the LORD’s salvation to His people, as Joshua had done.

When Jesus is baptized, the LORD exalts Him, just as He exalted Joshua before Him. That is seen in the great theophany: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Jesus’ presence in the Jordan reveals Him as the LORD’s Messiah, the Savior who had been promised so many years before. Now He begins the task of bringing the LORD’s salvation: to be the LORD’s gracious presence in the world to atone for sin, to rescue people from the slavery that the fear of death causes, to bring humanity into the Paradise that surpasses Eden from which they had been driven.

That great task has been completed by Jesus for us. He fulfills all righteousness as our Great Substitute. With Jesus, we see not only the Second Joshua, who leads the LORD’s people. We also see the Second Adam, a Man who is truly well-pleasing to the LORD, who doesn’t deviate from the LORD’s will in any way. Jesus acts righteously. He doesn’t fall into sin, but bears our transgressions and guilt and carries them away. Jesus fully keeps the Covenant terms, expiating our failure to live up to them. Jesus performs His redemptive work by living according to the LORD’s Law, offering Himself in our place, and rising to life again after His crucifixion.

That is why Jesus later institutes Holy Baptism as a way for us to be recipients of the merits of His redemptive work. For the same Jesus who stood in the Jordan River continues to make Himself present in water. Jesus puts His power there, so that we are baptized into His death and resurrection. His Covenant is made with us, so that we are rightly called Christians, the people who belong and are bound to Jesus.

The baptismal font becomes our Jordan River. It stands as the portal that we pass through to new life. What happens to us in the baptismal font echoes what happened when Jesus stood in the Jordan: the heavens are opened to us; the Spirit of God descends upon us; the Father’s voice declares that we are well-pleasing to Him. We are exalted from being “the low and despised in the world” to being the honored members of the LORD’s household. He takes us from being paupers to princes, as we are His children born from above, given the noble birth of water and the Spirit.

Why does this take place? Because the LORD has placed His power there. Because the LORD is keeping the great promise that He had made to all mankind. Humanity wasn’t meant to be outside the LORD’s presence. That was never the LORD’s intention when He created mankind. But now the redeeming of humanity has been done. And the LORD’s desire is to have people receive the restoration that He provides.

The Baptism of Our Lord happens so that Jesus’ identity as the One through whom the LORD’s will is accomplished can be revealed. We understand that it took place, as Jesus declared: “For thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” We learn that He is the “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” for us to receive. We know that His presence is for our benefit, so that He is with us, just as the LORD was present with Moses and Joshua.

So we turn to Jesus for the salvation that we need. But then we confess His identity to the world. What we have received can be obtained by others. We lead others to the font, so that they also can pass over from death to life in Jesus. The entire nation of the LORD’s people has not yet finished their crossing; others can be added to that number, just as we have been included in our generation. They also are meant to have the heavens opened to them, to have the Spirit of God descend on them, and to have the Father declare them to be His well-pleasing children. More people are incorporated into the Covenant of salvation as the number of those who go through the baptismal font increases.

So what shall be the final result of Jesus’ coming to the Jordan and making the waters of baptism a portal for His people to go through? He will bring His people into the Promised Land. He will offer the great fulfillment of the LORD’s promise, taking us from bondage to freedom, giving us the inheritance that has been pledged to us. Jesus, the Second Joshua, is the instrument through which the LORD accomplishes this. That was His destiny. And as Jesus has “fulfilled all righteousness” for us, we shall have our place with all whom He has redeemed in the life of the world to come.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Epiphany of Our Lord Sermon – Matthew 2:1-12

January 6, 2017 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”’”

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” The Magi ask that question when they arrive in Jerusalem. They came looking for the new monarch of the LORD’s people. What had drawn them to the ancient capital of Israel? The Magi tell the bewildered people of Jerusalem: “For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” A sign had been given. An astronomical event had been seen and understood. These wise men from the east were led to Israel because of it.

The Magi ask to see the One whose birth had been announced by this sign. In doing so, they fulfill several of the prophetic statements that had been made concerning the LORD’s people and His promised Messiah. Chief among those is the statement that you heard in today’s Old Testament Reading: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

The LORD’s glory had come to His people. It was present in the Holy Infant. That is what the Incarnation had brought about, as we heard in the Gospel Reading for Christmas Day: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The appearance of the Magi in Jerusalem began to reveal that the LORD’s glory was now present among His people. That glory would be revealed through what the Holy Infant would accomplish, as He brought grace and truth to a world full of wrath and lies. As the prophetic statements declared, the LORD’s glory was not solely for the benefit of the descendants of Jacob. No, it was meant for all who had been covered by the darkness that rebellion against the LORD’s ways had brought forth: “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” The arrival of visitors from foreign lands in the east seeking this newly raised up Messiah marked the beginning of this promise being fulfilled.

But how do the Magi witness the LORD’s glory? How do they come to see the One “who has been born King of the Jews?” It wasn’t through the sign of the star alone. That sign had led them to Jerusalem. But the presence of the light shining in the darkness wasn’t found in Herod’s palace. The Magi could not worship Him there. Yet, not all was lost. The lamp of the LORD’s Word would light the way to where His glory could be seen. It happens as the chief priests and scribes of the people recall what the LORD had foretold: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”

With that Word in their ears, the Magi are sent to the City of David: “After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Yes, they see the star again. But now it is coupled with the LORD’s declaration about Bethlehem. With those two things present, the Magi can witness and worship the LORD’s Messiah: “And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

We hear this narrative every January. But we should not solely think of it as a detail about the strange happenings at Jesus’ birth. It isn’t just an item in the index of incidents that make Christmas a unique event, alongside the angelic appearances. No, this event teaches us about how the LORD continues to reveal His glory among us and how His Messiah can be encountered. Like the Magi, we also need to know where the One who was born King of the Jews can be found, so that we might worship Him.

So how do we find Him? How do we know anything about Him? Can signs be given? Yes, they certainly can. In fact, some who have been brought to faith in Jesus began that path through the presence of miraculous events that took place in their lives. Yet, the signs alone do not actually bring a true belief. Those who might benefit from a great preservation from harm or a healing still need to know the true identity of Jesus and where the full benefits of the LORD’s glory dwelling among mankind are located. For all of us, it is not in the signs, but in the LORD’s Word.

The LORD’s promise about raising up a Ruler for His people from Bethlehem allowed the Magi to be in the Messiah’s presence and worship Him. Likewise, the testimony about the Messiah found in the LORD’s Words of the Gospels and Epistles brings people into fellowship with the Messiah. That creates faith in Jesus as the King of glory, the LORD mighty in battle, the One with clean hands and a pure heart, who lifted up His soul to what is righteous and carried out the LORD’s plan of salvation. Such testimony about Jesus is only partly found in the miraculous signs. The true revelation is in the preaching about the work that the Incarnate LORD performed for the redemption of the world, so that the darkness of sin and death could be lifted.

Paul mentions this in what you heard in the Epistle Reading: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” What was this plan? What was the mystery hidden and now revealed? That the LORD would become man, would dwell with His people, would offer Himself in sacrifice, and would conquer sin, death, and Satan through His resurrection to restore His fallen creation. Where is the benefit of that work to be found? It is found wherever the LORD’s Word that testifies about Jesus is heard.

But there are signs that accompany this. The LORD did say about His people: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” But these signs may not be the miraculous like the star seen by the Magi. Yet, the light that shines in the darkness is present now. It is found in the Church, which means that it is found among you. The signs include the acts that you now perform because you are the LORD’s redeemed people. That’s where His glory is seen in you.

This is why the Babe of Bethlehem would later say about His disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Your living as followers of Jesus provides ways for others to see the LORD’s light shining in the darkness. Such living includes the signs of good works that get noticed. This can lead them to hear the testimony of the Messiah’s work and to receive the benefit of it. That is found in the LORD’s words that the Church proclaims, so that the Father in heaven can be praised for what He freely gave in His Son. When that is received, then all who are brought to the Messiah’s presence can worship Him.

So as we live as Jesus’ followers in another year, let us all remember how the LORD’s light shined in the darkness and overcame it. That knowledge has been given to us. Salvation has come to us through the One born King of the Jews, who died with that phrase pinned to His cross, and who now rules over death through His resurrection. We have received the benefits of His work, including the new life that we possess as Jesus’ disciples. We show our identity as the LORD’s people through our works. Even more importantly, we tell what has been done for us. By doing so, we point others to Jesus. For that is how Jesus continues to be revealed to the world, so that others may come and hear the testimony about Him, believe in what He has done, and worship Him for it.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Naming of Jesus Sermon – Luke 2:21

January 1, 2017 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.”

The Gospel Writer’s description of Jesus’ Naming is terse. There isn’t the great drama like in the appearance of Gabriel to Zecharias or to Mary, when the births of John and Jesus were foretold. It doesn’t have the elegant details of the Nativity Narrative. No, just the bare fact is given: “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” 

But the length of an account doesn’t determine its significance. We might know that from our tours of Gettysburg. Abraham Lincoln’s dedicatory remarks have passed down through the ages, even committed to memory by students young and old. As for Edward Everett’s oration—all 13,000+ words of it—that has been committed to the dustbins of history. What is true about human words is even more so concerning the Scriptures. Even the one sentence of Luke’s Gospel is most significant.

Note the first part of the sentence: “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised….” This connects Jesus to the Old Testament Covenant made with Abraham. The descendants of Abraham were to be marked as part of their incorporation into the promise that the LORD had made with their forefather. You might recall that covenant: “Behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” 

The LORD bound Himself to Abraham and to the descendants of Abraham who would have Him as their God. The sign of that Covenant was the circumcision that the LORD commanded for Abraham’s descendants: “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall My covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.” 

The LORD’s great promise was to be fulfilled for Abraham’s descendants. The One who would fulfill it is Jesus. He is the King promised to come from Abraham, the Descendant through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. As the One who would do this, Jesus Himself is circumcised. He is incorporated into the Covenant that He would complete. Failure to have this done would result in Jesus’ inability to fulfill the Covenant. For the LORD did decree: “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” But that omission didn’t occur. No, the Gospel Writer told us: “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised….”

Then there is the second part of the sentence: “He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” The name Jesus is conferred to Mary’s Son. But this wasn’t Mary’s choice of name. Neither did His guardian Joseph select it. No, the name Jesus was assigned. It was part of the Annunciation: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.”

But Jesus’ birth announcement also included details about what He would be. That is seen in the words following the assignment of Jesus’ name: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” That declaration from Gabriel spoke of Jesus’ connection to the Covenant made with Abraham. It speaks of Jesus’ rule over Jacob’s house, those who had the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their own God. It notes that Jesus will be a fulfiller of the LORD’s further promise to Abraham’s descendant David, as He would govern over the LORD’s people. Even more importantly, the announcement revealed that Jesus’ kingdom would have no end. But most importantly, the identity of Jesus as the LORD’s Son is revealed.

This is what we are to recall when we heard that phrase: “He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” As we hear the Gospel accounts of Jesus from now through Pentecost, we should think of how all the acts that He performed are done to fulfill what the angel had announced to Mary. We should ask: “How do these acts show that Jesus is the Son of the Most High. How do these acts describe how Jesus gains a kingdom and what His kingdom is like? How do these acts tell us that Jesus’ rule is eternal?” For that is how we begin to understand how Jesus completes the statements spoken about Him.

Part of that understanding is given in today’s Epistle Reading, where the way that we are incorporated into the LORD’s Covenant and made part of Jesus’ kingdom is described. The Apostle Paul mentions how we have become descendants of Abraham through Jesus: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” By being baptized, we have been clothed with Jesus. That eliminates the differences between ethnicities, liberties, sexes. No matter one’s ancestry, independence, or gender, those who have been baptized into Jesus have become one in Him. They belong to Him. That makes them the true children of Abraham, the ones to whom the LORD’s Covenant with Abraham is applied.

That passage of Scripture explains how the Covenant made with Abraham is fulfilled. Remember that the LORD had said: “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Nations did come from Abraham. For as we think of his descendants, that includes people who didn’t share in his ethnicity. Even our little congregation is made up of people of different colors and cultures. Yet, the unity of belonging to Jesus and being made Abraham’s offspring exists because we have been baptized. As we have received Jesus as the LORD’s Messiah, as the Fulfiller of the Covenant, we are one family, as the Christmas Day Gospel reminded us: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

This change given to us through baptism allows us to obtain the blessing that the LORD gives to His people. The point of being incorporated into the Covenant made with Abraham that Jesus fulfills is to receive the benefits that the LORD promised. The LORD extends His grace, favor, and blessing to His people, as we hear in the benediction: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” The greatest grace, favor, and blessing is the salvation that Jesus would bring: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” That salvation is given to us because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the culminating act of fulfilling the LORD’s Covenant. Peace with God is accomplished through the Child born in Bethlehem, as the angels declared: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

We are those people the LORD is pleased with. We are Abraham’s offspring. We belong to the LORD’s household. We are born of God. That is all part of being baptized into Jesus. It is all part of the outcome of Jesus’ work. That work was foretold long ago. It began from His birth, even in the act that took place a little more than a week later: “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” And so that one sentence from Luke’s Gospel is most significant to us.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.