Archive for the category “Sermons”

Families in Turmoil

I know a family in turmoil. The mom and dad are at odds over the children; the younger brother has lied to and stolen from his older brother. He’s so crazy with rage that he’s plotting to murder his kid brother. And this same older brother, mad at his dad, too, finds out what really gets under the old man’s skin and sets out to do that very thing to spite him. And the younger brother—the thief and liar—is so scared for his life that he runs away from home.

I know this messed up family. And you probably do, too. Their names are Isaac and Rebecca, Esau and Jacob. Broken homes such as theirs, full of broken hearts, broken promises, anger, spite, guilt, and all kinds of nastiness, are nothing new.

Here is Jacob, the younger brother, the man on the run. Asleep with a rock for a pillow. Alone between a past full of deceit and a future fat with fear. And there, in the midnight of his sleep, he dreams a dream no mortal had ever dreamed before. A ladder stretching to the stars, the stairway of angels. Up to heaven and down to earth the angels go. From Jacob to God they ascend, from God to Jacob they descend. Here is a living bridge from creature to creator. And the Lord speaks, “I am the God of your grandfather, Abraham, the God of your dad, Isaac. And I am your God, too, Jacob.” He is a God with a past full of promises and a future full of their fulfillment. He doesn’t scold this sleeper for having had a deceitful past. He doesn’t give him a tongue-lashing for his theft. He promises him the very land on which Jacob lies; descendants as numerous as the grains of dust that are his bed; and most importantly, the God at the top of the ladder says, “I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Wow, that sounds sweet, doesn’t it? All these grand promises. But maybe you’re thinking: “Where’s God when I need a dream like that? Where’s God when my real life feels more like a nightmare—one that goes on and on and on? Jacob had it bad I suppose; but I tell you what, that runaway and I could compare scars. Let me tell you about my dysfunctional family. Let me tell you what it feels like to crave love from those closest to you and not get it. Let me tell you what’s it like to lie in bed at night and pray you don’t wake up in the morning just so all the pain will be over. Let me tell you not about my dreams but about my fear to dream, my fear to hope. Let me show you my scars.” Maybe that’s what you’re thinking.

If you are, let me tell you something. You may not believe it; you may even scoff at the claim, but here’s the truth: God hears your roar of pain on the other side of your silence. He counts every tear you let escape, or refuse to let go, from the ocean of anguish inside you. He is your God, too, as much as He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and that deceiving, stealing, runaway Jacob. And since He is your God, neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, neither things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate you from the love He has for you in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing and no one.

And here’s the thing about God: He actually keeps His promises. For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. When you’ve made more stupid mistakes than even you can remember. When you’ve hurt virtually everyone who’s tried to love you. When you can barely stand to look at your face in the mirror because all you see is shame and failure staring back at you, mocking you. When it feels like you’ve wallowed in the mud of hell itself, you have a God who loves you. You have a God who cares. You have a God who will stand up publicly beside any man or any woman, embrace them, forgive them, and say to the world, “This is my child. I love him. I love her. And I defy you to say otherwise.” You have a God like that. You have a God who cannot and will not stop loving you and keeping you and dying to make you right.

These are grand promises, and they are as real as your pain and doubt and fear. But they are better, and stronger, because they are God’s grand promises, and He stands behind them. You want a dream like Jacob’s? You want a ladder and the pretty angels and God up top all strong and talking to you? You want too little. You need more than that. You need more than a dream. You need something concrete. And you got it.

You need a God who pushes the angels aside and climbs down the ladder. You need a God who doesn’t just make promises, but also keeps them, and who Himself becomes promise and fulfillment. You need a God who not only comes down that ladder from heaven, but also brings heaven with Him, who pulls heaven downward and lifts earth heavenward, and fuses the two together in His very own body. The God of heaven, the Man of earth, in one person, Jesus the Son of Mary, the Son of the Father.

You see greater things than Jacob saw. You see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. You see people with broken lives, from broken families, with broken and bleeding hearts, welcomed into the kingdom where they find peace that they dared not even dream existed this side of the grave. You see people whom society has rejected, whom friends have shunned, called friends of God, heirs of the kingdom, sons and daughters of the king. Do you see yourself there? There you are. That is who you are because of Christ Jesus.

Show your scars to Him and He will show you His. His scars endured to heal your own. He will take your scarred heart in his scarred hands and love you, and love you, and love you still more, until all that matters is not the scar upon your heart, but the scar embedded in His hand. All that will matter is not how hellish life can sometimes be, but rather how heaven itself is grasped in this God who came to earth to be Himself that ladder by which we ascend to the Father. He will wipe away your tears, cleanse you of your shame, embrace you as a member of His family, and tell you, “I am with you. I am Emmanuel. I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and your God, now and unto ages of ages, and even forevermore.”

This meditation is an excerpt from my book, Christ Alone (see below).
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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

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Reading Braille in the Wounds of God

We don’t just call him Thomas; we call him Doubting Thomas. Why he, of all the apostles, had an insult attached to his name, I don’t know. Peter denied Christ three times, but no one calls him Denying Peter. Even Judas, who committed treason against Jesus, is not given the epithet Betraying Judas. But poor Thomas cannot rest in peace as just Thomas. No, he is Doubting Thomas, forever branded.

thomaswoundsI do not deny that Thomas doubted. That much is certain. He did, and with great gusto at that. He wasn’t there with his fellow disciples when Jesus appeared to them that first Easter evening. When they told him, “We have seen the Lord!” Thomas replies, “Unless I see in His hand the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hands into His side, I will not believe.” He demands visible, tangible proof before he’ll budge a fraction of an inch. He is pig-headed, recalcitrant, a mule of a man. A dyed-in-the-wool skeptic.

And for all that Thomas is, I thank God. Yes, for his pig-headedness, for his doubt, for his denial, for his dyed-in-the-wool skepticism – for all that, I thank God. Why? Because, as St. Gregory put it, “More does the doubt of Thomas help us to believe, than the faith of the disciples who believed.” I thank God that Thomas doubted, for when he later “touched the wounds in the flesh of his master, he healed in us the wounds of our unbelief.”

What was Thomas’s hang-up? He wanted something “real,” something you can sink you teeth into—or, rather, in his case, something you can sink you finger into, like that hole left by a crucifixion nail. He had seen the blood drip from Jesus’ dying body; he had seen the steel penetrate that body; he had seen the wood smeared crimson; he had seen the stone rolled in front of the tomb. He had seen it all. And for Thomas, seeing is believing.

There’s only one problem: believing is not seeing. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Indeed, faith is believing the exact opposite of what you see, for that is how God reveals Himself to us. God always wears a disguise. Jesus looks like a man, lives like a man, dies like a mere man. Yet faith says, “Jesus is God.” You do your daily work, you sweat, you put up with rude customers, you deal with unruly students, you do the ho-hum work of the daily grind. Yet faith says, “My labor is holy, divine work, for I am God’s tool that He uses to take care of others.” Yet you get sick, you lose weight, you hurt, you cry, you wonder how long you can last. Yet your faith says, “I am a blessed child of God, well-pleasing to Him, and I will live forever in Christ.” Believing is not seeing. To believe is to confess that God is where God seems not to be, to confess that God is good when God seems to be bad, to confess that what is really real is the God hiding behind the exact opposite of what you see. That is faith.

And that is why faith is a gift. Because you can’t do it. Like Thomas, we deem these things to be real: a freshly dug grave at the cemetery; a bank account fizzled to near nothing; a child who just won’t listen; a spouse who doesn’t care; peers who mock; friends who betray; a conscience that won’t shut up; a job that doesn’t satisfy; a sickness that grows stronger and more vicious day by day. Those are the things we consider real, as real evidence that God is holding out on us, is mad at us, doesn’t love us as much for us as He does for others.

Repent. Repent of expecting God to conform to your warped standards. Repent of craving after constant “proof” that God is on your side. Confess your own blindness, you self-interest, your self-infatuation, you woe-is-me attitude. Repent and beseech God for the gift of true sight—the gift of faith—which sees that which is unseen, which sees the love of God in Jesus Christ poured out on the cross and raised from the tomb for you.

And that is why I thank God for Thomas, for Thomas was as we are. Yet Christ doesn’t appear and slap him for his doubt; He holds out His scarred hand for Thomas to see. “Reach here your finger,” He says, “and see my hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas, like a blind man reading braille, reads the scarred message of love inscribed on the Savior’s skin. He believes. He sees with the eyes of faith who Jesus really is, “My Lord and my God.”

That is the way of our Lord, the way of grace. He doesn’t abandon Thomas to drown in a sea of doubt; He stretches out His nail-scarred hands and pulls him in. And so He does for you.

He takes your doubts and your fears and your shame and your bitterness and He makes them His own. And He takes His faith and His hope and His life and His joy and His glory and He makes them your own. He doesn’t remove your outward troubles; He gives you something better: inward peace. He may leave in place your dysfunctional family, your disease, your addiction, your pain, but He will not leave in place a heart empty of peace. For that’s what He’s all about: giving to you the peace that passes understanding, the kind of peace that knows that no matter how unfaithful you have been, God will never be unfaithful to you. The kind of peace that knows that no matter how great your sin, Christ’s love is always greater. The kind of peace that knows that no matter how bad this world may get at times, any suffering here is not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. That’s the kind of peace Christ gives: peace of heart when surrounded by ten thousand enemies.

Along with Thomas, we know these things to be really real: the mercy of the Father, who never denies His baptized children; the love of Christ given and shed for you in body and blood; and the grace of the Holy Spirit, who gives you the peace that passes all understanding.

**This reflection is included in my book, Christ Alone, which you can read more about below.
**I am indebted to the hymn by Thomas Troeger, “These Things Did Thomas Count as Real” for much of the imagery in this meditation. 

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

This Is the Night of Light

eastervigilThis is the night when the earth is without form, and void; and darkness is over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moves upon the face of the waters. Then God says, “Let there be light,” and there is light. The seal of the darkness is broken and the morning of the first creation breaks forth out of night. Oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Thy mercy toward us, O God, that Thou didst create us to have someone upon whom to bestow Thy blessing; that Thou didst create light that in Thy light we may see light; that Thou most wonderfully created human nature and yet more wonderfully redeemed it.

This is the night when the earth is without form, and void; and darkness is over the face of the deep. And the Ark of Noah moves upon the face of the waters. And while all in whose nostrils was the breath of life died, we float safely in the Ark of Salvation, with the one whom his father named “Rest” as the captain of our vessel. Oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Thy mercy toward us, O God, that as Thy wrath burned for the evil of men and Thou didst bring this deluge upon a wicked and perverse generation, Thou didst save eight souls; that likewise through this saving flood of Baptism all that has been in us from Adam and which we ourselves have added thereto, has been drowned in us and engulfed, and that sundered from the number of the unbelieving, we have been preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom.

This is the night when the earth is without form, and void; and darkness is over the face of Egypt. And the Angel of death moves upon the face of the firstborn. And while we, with loins girded, feet shod, and mouths full of the Passover Lamb stand quietly in our blood-painted homes, the Egyptians with loins burning, eyes weeping, and mouths full of shrieking stand wailing in their homes now painted with the blood of their firstborn sons. Oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Thy mercy toward us, O God, that as the Angel of Death executed the firstborn of the Egyptians, He passed over our houses baptized in the blood of the Lamb; that Thou didst provide the Firstborn Son of heaven to be slaughtered in our place and we to be painted the color of divine innocence with hyssop dipped in the bloody font.

This is the night when the earth is formless and void; and darkness is over the face of Thy people. For Thou hast led us into the jaws of death, trapped between the waters of the Red Sea and the chariots of Egypt. But oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Thy mercy toward us, O God, that Thou didst set Thy Son as a pillar of fire between the camp of the enemy and the camp of Thy Church; that Thou didst send Thy Spirit to move upon the face of the waters, to split them open, to tear the liquid veil in two, that we might walk through dry shod, from death to life, from slavery to freedom, while Pharaoh with all his host are drowned in the collapsing flood.

This is the night when the earth is formless and void; and the darkness of blood is over the face of Thy Son. And the Spirit of God moves out of His body as He gives up the Ghost. This is the day when it is night; when the Son of God is drowned in the Flood that rains down from the storm cloud of divine justice; when the Passover Lamb is skewered to the cross and roasted over damning flames; when the body of Israel’s Redeemer is sunk by the weight of your sins to the bottom of the Red Sea; and when the first creation comes to its omega on the evening of the 7th day, as the God-made-Man rests in the tomb from all His work which He has done – all for you.

These are the nights when you are spared, O sinner, so repent and believe. How holy are these nights when the Lord God of Israel acts to save you, calling light out of darkness, arks out of water, free men out of bondage, dry feet out of sea floors; calling His Son out of heaven, into the womb, onto the cross, down into the bloody dust – all to save you, His people Israel, to save you from yourselves, to save you from the hellish Pharaoh, to save you for His own Name’s sake.

But this is the night from when all those nights receive their light. For this is the night when Christ, the Life arose from the dead. The seal of the grave is broken and the morning of the new creation breaks forth out of night. This is the night when the Lord leads Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, David and Bathsheba, you and you and all of you out of the blackness of the tomb and into the brilliance of the 8th day sun. This is the night when we receive more from Jesus than we lost in Adam; when we are clothed in the skin of the Lamb of God; when death’s dread angel sheathes his sword to beckon us with open arms back into the Garden of heaven.

This is the night when night is buried under the soil of resurrection. God says, “Let there be light” and there is, and there is, and there always shall be, sunshine without end. Oh, how wonderful and beyond all telling is Thy mercy toward us, O God, that as Thou didst say, “Let light shine out of darkness,” even so Thou hast shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of Thy glory in the face of the resurrected Christ.

How wonderful and beyond all telling is this most holy night!

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

The Foot-Washing God

Since God is most high, He can only look down. Nothing is above Him; no one more exalted than He, so His eyes have no need to look up, only down. His eyes bend downward, earthward, to behold those who are in the depths, those such as you.

And what does God see when He looks down on you? He sees those who only want to look up, above themselves. However, the things above to which we look are not the things of God, but the things of this world. We look for money, power, honor, a life of whatever-makes-me-happy. We don’t look down at the depths of our own poverty, helplessness, dishonor, or the needs of our neighbors. We are like madmen who make believe they live on a mountaintop paradise while they drag their feet through a city slum. The reality of our selfishness and nothingness is too painful to confess, so we pretend we are someone we are not. And to give muscle to the lie, we keep our eyes pointed upward, away from whatever might remind us that dust we are and to dust we shall return.

Repent. If dust you are and to dust you shall return, then dust confess yourself to be. Drop the make-believe and confess reality. If you must be a madman, then be mad about man, mad about the pit we have dug and dropped ourselves into, mad about the city slum which we call our heart of hearts. Don’t look up; look down, for in looking down you are, ironically, like God, who has eyes only for the lowly.

In looking down you will not only see who you really are; you will also behold who God really is. For who He really is, is not the distant deity who merely gazes on us from above as we wallow in our pit. He is the God who joins us and who joins Himself to us. He not only has eyes for the lowly; but He also shares the flesh-and-blood of the lowly. The most high is incarnate as the most low.

Foot-WashingAnd He washes our feet. The fingers that crafted the universe scrub the scum from between man’s toes. The hands that brilliantly painted the cosmos wash feet painted with the filth of dirt and sweat. The One before whom all angels bow gets on His knees to labor as a servant.

And in so doing, He gives us a humble epiphany, a revelation of who He is. He is the God who makes His glory visible in lowliness and servitude. He is the God who is so poor that He must borrow a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. He is the God who slaves away at washing the disciples’ feet. He is the God who gives His cheek to the betraying lips of Judas, to the slapping hand of the high priest, and to the spit of the Sanhedrin. He is the God who gives His head to the thorns, His feet to the spikes, His side to the spear. He is the God who embraces rejection, shame, torture, and death—all for you.

And here is why: because that’s simply who God is. He is the God who is love and therefore loves you by giving to you. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son; what He gives you is nothing less than Himself.

He not only washes your feet; He washes you clean, body and soul, through the holy bath in His name. He fills the font with water from His side and kneels there to wash the dirt and sweat of your sin. He not only gives His body to the executioners and His blood to the dust beneath Him; but He also gives His body into your mouth and His blood into the dust of your flesh. And thereby you are transformed, changed from a lowly son of the dust to an adopted son of God most high. Every natural food we take into our bodies is transformed into our bodies. Only the supper of our Lord is different, for this food transforms you into that which it is. You, the Church, are the body of Christ and the blood of Christ. When you consume the Son, you assume the Son’s rightful place on the Father’s heavenly throne.

Come and eat. Come and drink. Come to the lowly God who has joined you in your lowliness that He might exalt you in Himself to the place of the most high.

**This reflection appears in Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, which you can read more about below.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Looking for the Church? Follow the Trail of Blood

bloodtrailIt is not hard to track down the Church; just follow the trail of blood. It begins in the wet soil beneath the body of Abel, murdered not by a stranger but by a brother, slain by one who hated the believer because he hated the believer’s God. And onward it winds, this haunting crimson road. The blood flows from the veins of the very old to the very young, from the infant boys in Egypt and Bethlehem to the gray-haired men and women whose tongues would not be tied by a tyrant’s decree. In this world the Church never has peace—peace as the world understands it. Yes, wherever she goes, the Church leaves—or, rather, is forced to leave – the telltale sign of her passage through that place. Just follow the trail of blood, and there you will behold the lineage of the Church.

whisperinginearSee to it that no one leads you astray from such a path, painful though that path may be. Many come to tell your itching ears what they crave to hear: “It doesn’t have to go on like this. We can have peace. No more blood need be shed. Wink at the golden calves and mind your own business rather than throw down the law and insist on only one saving truth. Much favor will be won if we learn how to compromise, to play our political cards right, to sweeten our speech with opinions rather than confessions, to crawl about like a theological chameleon in today’s multi-colored religious landscape.” If these lies were true, then the world would smile and sheathe its sword, the demons would retract their claws, and the haunting crimson road would come to an end. But then, so would the Church.

Deep guile is the weapon of the one who masquerades as an angel of light, but who is truly the prince of darkness. It is he who opened Eve’s eyes to “a better way,” unencumbered by a Word from God that deprived her of what could only make her life better and more fulfilled. So she thought. It is he who persuaded Solomon that it was more prudent to build temples for the gods of his many wives than risk losing family tranquility and political capital by insistence on the only true way of divine worship. It is he who shows you that it’s fine to applaud our spiritual forefathers for their bold stance in their own historical context but to chuckle and poke fun at any serious attempt to follow that teaching and practice in our own.

O such is the crumbling fortress of the god of this world, but how it entices our flesh! It looks like a house of candy to the Hansels and Gretels who wander lost through this world. And we all have tasted its seeming sweetness. For it is always easier to rest inside the devil’s crumbling fortress than to trudge on alone in a dark and friendless world. It is always easier to hold hands with unbelievers inside those walls than risk public defamation by declaring the Gospel from without. It is always easier to file away the 95 Theses until a more politically expedient time; to bite your tongue so long as no one else speaks up; when standing before governors and kings to say, “Here I stand…and there and there and there and wherever else you wish, whatever keeps my neck out of the noose. Yes, such is the fortress built by the devil’s deep guile. And woe to the believer and woe to the church that passes through its gates; so deceptive and seductive are its inner charms that few are those who escape. For it is not really a fortress; it is a dungeon—dark and dank and reeking of death.

See to it that no one leads you astray from the narrow way, the straight way, the only saving path, for it alone leads to the Jerusalem above. Though the road that frees you from suffering for the truth may seem broad and easy, in reality it is a road that leads only to greater and unending suffering. Though the narrow path is bloody, and though the way is steep, and though the trail of truth seems impossible to follow at times, only on that path does our Father feed you and clothe you and fill you and flood you with true and lasting peace.

davidgoliathFor we travel not alone—far from it. At our head is the Son of David, the severed head of hell’s Goliath dangling from His hand, blazing the trail that leads to the heavenly Jerusalem. Yes, for us fights the valiant one, whom God Himself elected. Though weak and frail and frightened you may be, it matters not, for it is not you who fight but God who fights for you. He parts the waters so you may pass through, while engulfing your foes behind you. He topples the walls of Jericho; He turns the swords of your enemies against each other; He fights and He wins and He places the crown on victory upon your head while you merely stand by and see the salvation of your God.

O little flock, fear not the foe, for at your head is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for you. For all your compromises, He made the good confession before Pilate. For all your shirking of the cross, He bore His own for you. For your silence in an effort to save face, He turned His face toward the spit and the fists and the blood and the gore. And willingly He did it, all for you, that you might be His own, bought at a price.

Just follow His trail of blood, the blood of the crucified one, and there you will behold the life of the Church, your life. The Church’s life is in nothing and no one else. Not in glory nor in fame; not in numbers nor power; but in His holy, saving blood, in the blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. The wounds of His hands and feet and side open like lips to proclaim, “Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden by the heat of this desert world. Drink deeply from my cloven side! Come to me, sit at my feet, all ye who have gone astray, and I will show you my heel, with which I have crushed the head of the serpent of old! Come to me, all ye Adams and all ye Eves, who with guilty hands have tried to cover your shame—come and taste the fruit of my body that your eyes may truly be opened and you may see that I have clothed you with my own flesh.”

Dear Christians, one and all rejoice, because for you there is a strong city, which has lasting foundations, whose builder and architect is God. Salvation unto you has come—salvation from sin, from falsehood, from false hopes, from false and crumbling fortresses. A mighty fortress is our God, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging; though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us—we will not fear. The kingdom remains ours. The forgiveness of sins is ours. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Fed with manna from on high. Compassed about by legions of angels. Christ before us and behind us. Christ on our right and Christ on our left. Christ above us and Christ below us. We all believe in one true God who will ever remain true to us. So be still and know that He is God, and you are His children; nothing will separate you from Him who shares your flesh and blood. He will grant you endurance to the end.

ChristAloneCoverThis sermon, written for Reformation Sunday, is included in my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

 

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

The God of Second Chances–and Third Chances, and Fourth Chances, and More

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” So the saying goes. When someone tricks you, you’re supposed to learn your lesson the first time around. Those who fool you, trick you, fail you, are not to be trusted again. If they fool you twice, well, shame on you for giving them a second chance.

But there was a vineyard owner who evidently didn’t understand that old saying. Or, perhaps, he simply chose not to live by it. For not once, not twice, but three times his tenants fooled him. In fact, it was far worse than that. For not only did they cheat him out of his rent, they beat up the servants he sent to collect the money. The first time this happened, it should have been enough. He had ample evidence that these tenants were scoundrels and thieves, with a penchant for violence, so the standard course of action should have been to fight fire with fire. Bring in the authorities and let them deal with these criminals—deal with them violently, if push came to shove. But no, the owner sends a second servant, who, like the first guy, stumbles home empty-handed and fully bruised. And a third servant, whom they beat and battered and booted out of the vineyard. Three strikes, but they still weren’t out.

vineyardownerAny reasonable man, at this point, would never have dreamed of doing what the vineyard owner did next. He asks himself, “What shall I do?” But instead of answering, “I’ll kill them all!” or, “I’ll teach them a lesson they’ll never forget!”, he says instead, “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” Not only does he give them a fourth chance; he risks the very life of his son in doing so. There lay three of his servants, with blackened eyes and broken bones, scarred by cuts and abrasions, and he imagines things will go better for his son? Seriously? Does he not foresee the danger? But send that son he does. And, indeed, things do go badly, the ingratitude and greed and violence escalate from a PG to an R-rated horror. For when they see the son approaching, the tenants say to each other, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him, so the inheritance will be ours.”

Instead of respect, there is rage;
instead of payment, pulverizing;
the beloved son now a bloodied corpse.

Finally, the vineyard owner has had enough. After risking the life of three of his servants, and losing the life of his beloved son, he gives the tenants what they deserve—judgment. He destroys them and gives the vineyard to others.

What is most astounding about this story is not the perversity of the tenants but the patience of the owner; not their evil, but his good. This parable, at its core, is a story about the heart of God—the God of second chances, and third chances, and, yes, fourth chances and even more. He is portrayed as a man of business, to be sure, but he does not act according to the ways of the world, for he is not a Lord of commerce but a Father of compassion.

For we are these tenants, these ungrateful, violent men. There is no blessing of God which we cannot twist into self-serving instruments that hasten our own destruction. Instead of a million uplifting, truthful words we could and should speak with our mouths, we choose a few hateful, demeaning words to tear down others. Instead of using our hands to help someone in need, we use them to grasp at more and more for ourselves, though we already have more than we know what to do with. God comes to us, looking for good, and finds evil. Indeed, he finds tenants who become angry and violent when he asks for even the bare minimum of decency and selflessness. Do you see that in yourself? Do you see how like the tenants in the parable you are?

But more importantly, do you see, do you grasp, just how incredible it is that God has not given up on you? He does not say, “Fool me twice, shame on me,” strip you of his blessings, and kick you out of his kingdom. No, instead, he affirms, “You are my child, foolish though you are, and I will never be ashamed of you.” If the world has given you up for lost and washed their hands of you; if your friends have written you off and turned their backs on you; if even your family has disowned and discarded you; yes, if every single person in this world regards you as a hopeless, embarrassing failure at life, the Father of all mercies does not. He will search you out, find you, embrace you, kiss you, and shout to all the earth, “This is my beloved son! This is my beautiful daughter! This is my child, my heir, the apple of my eye! With you I am well-pleased!”

Jesus is that beloved son in the parable, cast out of the vineyard. But he who was cast out brings you backs in, alive with him. He is not ashamed to call you brother, sister, a fellow heir of his kingdom. That is why he came. Not to die for the righteous but for those whose lives are full of one failure after another, for his is a love that never fails. He came to die not for the clean but for the dirty, for his blood washes away even the filthiest of stains embedded in your soul. He came to search out not those who come running to him, but those who have fled from God, who hide in the darkness of their doubt and unbelief, to find you no matter where you are, to give you hope in place of despair, faith instead of doubt.

The way of God is the way of forgiveness. He keeps no record of how many chances he’s given you. For in the end, it’s not about how many times you’ve messed up, but how constant, how unwavering, is the Father’s love for you in Jesus Christ.

ChristAloneCoverThis mediation, based on Luke 20:9-19, is included in my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

InfantPriestfrontcoverThe poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com.  Thank you!

Our Precious Sins We Don’t Want God to Forgive

It didn’t matter if it was the dead of winter or the height of spring, if it was Monday or Friday, raining or the sun shining, a frown was frozen on this man’s face. He was a customer on my delivery route, so I saw him on a regular basis. Now, we all have bad days, or bad weeks, so at first I supposed he’d just gotten out of the wrong side of bed or was going through a bad time in his life. But as weeks dragged into months, and months into years, nothing changed. I tried joking with him. I found out his hobbies. I inquired about his family. Little by little, through snippets of conversation, I found out he led a relatively ordinary life. And I also realized that he was one of those people who couldn’t seem to be happy unless he was unhappy. When things were going well, he was on the lookout for something to bellyache about. He saw a dark lining in every silver cloud.

There’s a shadow of this man in me, and perhaps in you, but in a different, more spiritual sense. My customer nursed negativity, he clung to the bad things, and there’s something about us that clings to our sins, as if we’d rather feel bad about them than have the Lord take them away. We’d rather have the dark lining of disgrace than the silver cloud of grace.

So when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses,” we really mean, “Forgive us our trespasses…except our special ones.” It’s as if there are some sins we don’t want to hand over to our Father. Not yet anyway. They are our precious. We relish wallowing in the guilt they generate. We feel better knowing how bad we feel about them. We come to believe that our anguish is our atonement; our baptism is tears; our Supper a body racked with regret. This kind of repentance is anti-repentance, for it actually clings tightly to the sin over which it sorrows because in that sorrow is its consolation. If God forgives these sins, if He takes them away and tells us that we can’t have them back, on what will we rely? Then we’d have only His promise. Then we’d have to rely on someone else. And as everyone knows, if you want a job done right, do it yourself, even when it comes to atoning for your wrongdoing.

Now that takes us to the heart of the issue: that the Gospel of Jesus Christ excludes every hint of a do-it-yourself forgiveness. We want to do our part, especially when it comes to “big sins.” The little transgressions God can take care of, of course, but the big ones need a little extra effort on our part. So we try to sorrow ourselves into salvation, to repent ourselves into redemption. We hang on to our sins not despite the fact that they hurt, but precisely because they do hurt. We need to hurt, to fret over them, to cry over them, to make amends over them, because by doing so, we will grease the wheels of God’s forgiveness. If He sees how repentant we are, and what we’ve done to make things right, He’ll be much more likely to give us forgiveness for those big sins when we’re ready to ask for it.

But here’s the shockingly beautiful truth: our special sins, to which we cling, are mere phantoms. The weighty bag of precious transgressions we carry out is full of nothing but air. Someone has taken them away, even before we asked Him to. While we’re out attempting a do-it-yourself atonement, the true atonement has already taken place. There is nothing more to be done. Every kind of wrongdoing, however minor or major we think it may be, has been done right.

earthsqueezed“But what about that time I did _____?” Yes, it’s taken care of. “What about all those years I did _____?” That, too. “What about those truly horrendous, life-shattering, despicable things I did?” Yes, absolutely, those too have been taken away. All our special sins, which are precious because we think we need to do our part to pay for them, are gone. God came along and snatched them away. And He won’t give them back. He gathered up all—and I mean, all—the transgressions of all the people who have ever lived, and who will ever live, and He put them on Jesus. This Son of God, who knew no sin, became all sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. All humanity shrunk down into this one man. It was as if a funnel was placed over Jesus, and God took the sinful world in His hand, and squeezed it over that funnel. Out oozed every single drop of iniquity, every imaginable horror that people have committed, every good deed they have left undone, and it filled from head to toe this Savior who loves us so. He drank it all in when He polished off the cup of judgement. And when He was done, when atonement was complete, He said so simply and so profoundly, “It is finished.” And He meant every word.

Your sin is finished. Your atonement is done. Your special sins are not your special sins. Jesus took them away. And He will never, ever give them back. And that, friends, is a truly precious promise.

If you’d like to read more reflections like this one, check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

God Doesn’t Look for the Right Kind of People to Believe

Sowing Seed

Sowing Seed

The sower went out to sow his seed. But you would have thought he blindfolded himself before he hit the fields because he sows his seed like a man who’s as blind as a bat. Look at him, this silly farmer! Recklessly, unpredictably, haphazardly he wanders over hill and dale, his hands casting seed from here to kingdom come. On asphalt and sand, among weeds and thorns, where soil is thick and thin, rich and poor—it matters not. For what concern does the farmer have where the seed may land?

He sows it on Sodom and four seeds take root—or is it three?—while the rest falls on rocky hearts destined for fire and brimstone. He sows it on Nineveh and over 120,000 seeds take root in the soil of repentant hearts. He sows it on Israel. In the Joshuas and Calebs and Rahabs and Moseses, the seeds find a home and grow; in others, the seeds find soil as soft as concrete, souls as hospitable as hell. He sows among the homosexuals of Sodom and gossiping widows of this town. He sows here and there and everywhere, preaching the Word in season and out of season, in the field and out of the field, embraced or rejected, scorned or loved.

When the sower went out to sow his seed, he dropped some into your heart. I wonder, will it take root, this seed of Christ, this seed of His grace and mercy. Will it take root, or has it? And if it has, will it remain? Will it take root in a heart like yours, a heart that is always eager to do good . . . so long at it’s pleasant and profitable for you; a heart that consistently rejects temptations . . . so long as the temptations are to do things you don’t really enjoy anyway; a heart that loves others . . . so long as they are nice to you, compliment you, and do what you want?

Will the seed of the Word remain in a heart like yours, a heart that loves a good story—a story that shows the weakness, failure, or stupidity of someone, especially if you don’t like that person anyway; a heart that keeps close tabs on how much money’s in the bank but pays little heed to how much the church floor is littered with the gold and silver of God’s Word, which you have let fall from your ears? Will the seed of Christ, the seed of His grace and mercy, take root in a heart like yours, a heart that is as clean as a manure pile and as fertile as a brick?

Repent. You know the truth as well as I do. You think that, compared to the hearts of hookers and thieves, yours is as clean as can be. You think the sower sowed his seed in you because he saw such good soil, such a good, generous, noble person. But that’s only the lie you love to believe, because it’s a lie that makes you feel good about yourself. Repent and believe. Believe the truth.

The truth is that when the sower sowed his seed in you, it fell on rock-hard soil; and where there weren’t rocks there were weeds; and where there weren’t weeds there were birds of the air waiting to devour it. But, lo and behold, the seed of God’s Word doesn’t look for good soil to fall into; it creates the soil for itself, no matter how rocky or how weed-infested your heart may be.

Jesus doesn’t look for the right kind of people to believe. He doesn’t scout out the best planting ground for His word. He simply sows, and His Word has its way with you. His Word—that Word of grace and absolution—transforms you, O sinner, into good ground. It is just as if a farmer sowed his seed on a Walmart parking lot one evening. By the time the sun rose, that concrete was rich soil. All that gray, lifeless stone was colored with blooms. A parking lot was transformed into a field of salvation. That’s what the Lord Jesus does to you and for you. He transforms your parking lot heart into a place for parking His Word, His Spirit, His body and blood, His divine life.

For the seed of His Word is packed with the flesh and blood of the Son, the Son dead and risen for you. It is packed with the life of the One who once was packed with your sin and death; packed with the bloody love of the One who chose to endure sacrifice rather than endure eternity without you; chose to be devoured by the demons, strangled by the weeds of justice, buried in the earth, that He might have and keep you as His own.

Humble yourself, therefore, under the nail-pierced hand of God, the hand that worked everything out for you. God sowed, you received. God changed your rock into soil; you received. God gave growth to His seed; you received. God keeps you in the faith, grants you daily forgiveness, and guarantees you heaven, and you—that’s right—you receive.

So rather than trusting in anything that we do, let us rest secure in the defense that God provides against all our foes. Be they the satanic fowl that seek to gobble up the Word; be they the thorns of cares, riches, and the pleasures of life; be they the burning sun of temptations; be what they may, come when they will, none of them will uproot the seed within you. It is defended by the sower, who never leaves His plant, who never forsakes you but for your sake plants Himself in you.

The sower went out to sow his seed. He sowed it in you, and when the harvest comes, he will find in you a crop, a hundredfold, ripened unto eternal life. Thanks be to God.

If you’d like to read more reflections like this one, check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

The Parable of Lazarus and the Poor Man

ImageThere was a certain rich man who was decked out in the finest clothing, from head to toe clad in nothing but the best. This rich man feasted sumptuously every day, licking his lips at the sight of the delectable fare that filled his table. His closest friends gathered round about him, delighting in his company, and he in theirs. Yes, this rich man led the best of lives and had the best things in this world. Truly, he was a blessed man.

And this rich man’s name was Lazarus.

O Christian, seeing, you do not see, if you look only with your eyes. Your ears must do the seeing, if you are to view things not merely as they appear, but as they really are. Your eyes do not see Lazarus as a rich man but a poor beggar; not as one who feasted sumptuously every day, but as one who yearned for crumbs; not as a man befriended, but as one surrounded by dogs who licked his sores; not as one with the best, but as one with the worst; not as one blessed, but as one cursed, forgotten, lost, and miserable. So your eyes see Lazarus, and, seeing, you do not see. Sunk into your face are two liars. Like two blind men who take you by the hand and lead you soul and body into the infernal pit, so are the eyes of your flesh.

Who is Lazarus? Who is he, really? He is who God says he is; yes, he is whoever and whatever God says. He is the certain rich man, who is filled with the riches of the Father’s grace. He is decked out in the righteousness of Christ, clad from head to toe, soul and flesh, with the body of the crucified. He lives on the bread that comes down from above, the heavenly cuisine of the Word that comes from the mouth of God. The ox knows its owner, the donkey its master’s manger, and the dogs know that Lazarus is a child of God, and they pay him homage the best way they know how.

But you, O sinner, you do not know, you do not understand, for you do not pay heed to Moses and the prophets. Dogs see clearly the truth to which you are blind. They lick the sores of Lazarus while you hold you nose and scurry on by; they befriend him, you belittle him; they pay him homage, you pay him not a red cent. O the depth of the blindness of sinful man! Joseph is sold into bondage, and we snicker about how he must have gotten a big head from those dreams of his, and therefore received the nightmare he deserved. Job loses family and friends, house and home, and we wag our fingers at him with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, saying, “Out with it! What’s your dirty little secret that made God so mad at you?” Seeing, we do not see, for we think we can put two and two together and figure out why one is poor and another rich, why one is healthy and another dying, why one is divorced and another happily married.

Repent. Wash your blinded eyes in the water of Moses and the prophets, that seeing, you may truly see. Do not be like the rich man in hell, whose five living brothers were just like he was. These six men are like the six days of the old, fallen creation: blind to God’s ways, deaf to God’s words. Sit beside Lazarus. Be his disciple. Learn of him who learned from God that blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the pure in heart, yea, blessed are those who hear the Word of Moses and the prophets and keep it.

Who is Joseph, who is Job, who is Lazarus—who are they but icons of Jesus, mortal images of the immortal Savior who resides in their flesh and bones? There was a certain rich man who came down from heaven to be born in a barn, to have nowhere to lay his head, to be surrounded by dogs (Ps. 22:16). There was a certain rich man who emptied himself, taking the form of Lazarus, and being made in the likeness of your sinful flesh, that He might redeem your sinful flesh. He came to heed Moses and the prophets—hearing to atone for your deafness, seeing to atone for your blindness, being all that you can never be. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Like a Lazarus, like a Job, like a Joseph from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him to be nothing. Yet surely our griefs He Himself bore, our sins were the sores in His flesh, our iniquities the aching pain in His stomach, our deaths the dryness of His throat. All this He willingly endured, more willing to suffer hell on earth than for you to suffer hell after earth.

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. On that cross He thirsted, that you might drink of the river of life in Jerusalem above. He was stripped that you might be clothed with the garments of salvation. He was crowned with thorns that you might escape the curse of Adam. He was tortured in the flames of His Father’s wrath that you might be embraced in the warmth of the Father’s love. He was the Lazarus who traded places with all you rich men, that you might not come to the place of torment.

O the depth of the goodness and grace of the God who is love, who has befriended you, who has saved you, who has opened your eyes to see what really is! You, He knows by name; to you He gives the riches of His kingdom; to you He gives the right to be called the children of God; you, too, shall recline with Lazarus, and with all the saints, in the bosom of our father Abraham.

jpeg ad6x9This sermon is included in my book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

I’ll Teach You the Whole Law While Standing on One Foot

standingononefoot“Teach me the whole law,” a Gentile once demanded of Rabbi Shammai. Not a bad request, to be sure, until he tacked on this stipulation: “Do this while I’m standing on one foot.” Living up to his short-tempered reputation, Shammai grabbed a stick and with it drove away his would-be student. Undeterred, the Gentile next visited Rabbi Hillel, repeating the same challenge: “Teach me the whole law while I’m standing on one foot.” Hillel responded, “‘What is hateful to you, to your neighbor don’t do.’That’s the entirety of the law; everything else is commentary. So go, study.”

Hillel is basically right. At its essence, the law is simple, uncomplicated. You can learn it all, yes, while standing on one foot. “What is hateful to you, to your neighbor don’t do.” St. Paul nods in agreement: “The whole law is fulfilled in one statement: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And our Lord echoes them both, adding love toward God: “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 commands hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Everything else is commentary.

But a happy commentary it is not. The rest of the Law and Prophets comment on how folks learned the whole law standing on one foot, while using their other foot to kick their neighbor. Cain took out his anger at the heavens by reddening the earth with his brother’s blood. Rape-hungry Sodomites attempted to gratify their lust on Lot’s two out-of-town visitors. Belly-aching Israelites got sick of God’s food and wanted to stone God’s prophet. Saul hounded David; David impregnated Bath-Sheba and murdered her husband; Bath-Sheba’s grandfather, Ahithophel, became a “Judas Iscariot” to King David during Absalom’s coup and wound up slipping a noose around his own neck. These stories make most soap operas look like kindergarten pageants. The unkept command “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is abbreviated to what is quite keep-able: “You shall love…yourself.” So it still remains beyond the walls of this church, where in the name of self-love, murder masquerades as compassion, perversion as entertainment, and the god of this world keeps cranking up the volume as Whitney Houston sings that “loving yourself is the greatest love of all.”

But of all those who act in self-love, those with the greatest guilt are not “out there” but in here, in the pew, around the altar, standing within this pulpit. Because to those to whom much is given, much will be required. Think of it this way: who is worse, the child or the adult who steals from some store? Even though the child may know that what he’s doing is wrong, because he is immature and doesn’t fully comprehend the gravity of his actions, we can at least partially excuse his behavior. But the mature adult, who knows very well that what he does is forbidden and consciously violates that law, we cannot excuse. And we are the mature adults, those within the church, not the immature children of the world. We have violated not that of which we are ignorant, but that of which we are fully aware. If you want proof, simply look at how well we attempt to cover up our evil deeds. We know well to wear gloves when we stab others in the back. Our skillfulness at acting out lies would make Hollywood jealous. Over time, with enough practice, we can begin to convince ourselves that—since no thunderbolt has fallen from the skies—God must be winking at our “naughtiness.”

Lord, have mercy. What more is there to say? If the law really has one thing to say, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” then we law-breakers really have only one thing with which to respond: “Lord, have mercy.” Not, “O God, give me another chance and I’ll…” Not, “But God, I really didn’t mean to…” Not, “O Lord, I promise to make it up to you by…” If the law is learned while standing on one foot, the best response thereafter is to drop to both knees and pray, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy, for your law I have not kept.”

It is mercy that your Lord wants to give. That is His greatest delight. An ancient tradition has it that when the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea, the heavenly choirs started to break out in song, but the Lord silenced them, chiding, “The works of my hands are drowning and you want to sing!?” Hell is not the laughingstock of heaven.The Lord takes no delight in the death of the sinner. Rather, He takes pleasure in those who are cleansed through the sacrifice in which He did delight.

If all the Law and the Prophets hang on the words, “Love God and love your neighbor,” those words hang on something else. On the crucifix they hang.As St. Paul testifies, “[Christ] canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). The two tablets of the law are suspended from the tree of sacrifice, for on that tree their demands have been met. God threatens to punish all who break these commandments, but He punishes His Son in your stead and for your sake. He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments, and that grace and blessing He gives you, for Jesus has kept the commandments on your behalf. What was given at Sinai is fulfilled at Calvary. The lawgiver keeps His own law; the judge takes the criminal’s place; and you go free.

For the joy set before Him, Jesus has done all this. Your salvation is His joy. He gladly bore the thorns that you might wear the crown of glory. He willingly was stripped of His robes that you might be clothed in His righteousness. He readily loved those who hated Him, for He loves the unlovable, and in so doing, transforms them into His friends.

And what is most remarkable is that He still loves you. Despite your lies, He speaks the truth when He says, “You are mine.” Despite your self-love, He never stops loving the selfishness out of you and leading you into love for your neighbor. Despite the fact that He sees the deep, dark, hidden evils within you that you think you’ve hidden from all the world, He nevertheless sees you not as an enemy but as a precious child, one for whom He gave His life, one for whom all His suffering was worthwhile. For if earthly fathers delight in their children, how much more does your heavenly Father delight in you!

This reflection is included in my recently published book: Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. As the title indicates, the reflections in this book are focused again and again on Jesus Christ as the proclamation of the church. He and His saving work permeate every page. In rich and colorful language that is steeped in the account of creation, the Passover, the worship life of Israel, and the Gospels, you will read of the Jesus who was crucified and resurrected for you. To purchase your copy, go to CreateSpace or Amazon. Thank you!

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