Monday, July 16, 2018

Sermon - Pentecost 8 - Mark 6:14-29

“The Death of a Prophet”
Mark 6:14-29

We've heard what the people of Nazareth thought of Jesus. They weren't too impressed. They rejected him, to Jesus' own amazement. Now Mark tells us what Herod thinks about Jesus. This is the Herod Antipas, who is the son of Herod the Great – and it was Herod the Great who tried to kill Jesus when he slaughtered the children of Bethlehem. It was also the same Herod here, Antipas, who was in Jerusalem and before whom Jesus stood on trial. So the mention of the Herod name gets us thinking both backward and forward in the New Testament witness.

Herod has heard of Jesus. Word of Jesus must have been all the talk. The miracles that Jesus performed – well, Herod reasoned in his superstition that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead to haunt him. And the message of Jesus was similar to the message of John the Baptist – repent, and believe! And so Mark gives us a flashback scene – and tells us what led up to this when it comes to John and Herod.

The story is kind of disturbing, isn't it? Especially when you have to teach it to children. It's kind of grizzly. But if you can get past that part of it, you might still wonder why Mark, inspired by the Holy Spirit, would tell us such a story.

It would make a pretty depressing movie, I think. There's no happy ending in which the little guy is vindicated. John, this nobody from nowhere, who had given up the creature comforts of life to live in the wilderness – John, a voice crying in that wilderness – whose message was growing and commanding attention. People were responding in droves, as the Pharisees commented, “all of Judea is going to him!” And John, the voice of accusation toward Herod – learns that calling out the king's sin is dangerous business. I guess oday some would call it, “speaking truth to power”.

“Herod you married your brother's sister! Repent!” And if it bothered Herod, it REALLY burned his adulterous wife, Herodias. She wanted this voice silenced. She wanted John out of the picture. And so she has Herod arrest him. Oh, she wanted him dead, too... but Herod feared to go that far. For he knew, somehow, that John was a righteous man.

The conscience is a funny thing, isn't it? You see it in action here with both Herod and Herodias. Both of them were sinners, just like the rest of us. Their sin just happened to be more public. But that didn't stop John from speaking the law to them, from calling a sin a sin. But who likes their dirty laundry aired out for all to see?

Imagine a modern day parallel scenario in which a pastor has to call out someone's sin. Perhaps a couple wants to get married, but has been living in sin together, and everyone knows it. And the faithful pastor tells them this is wrong, this breaks the sixth commandment, this dishonors God's gift of marriage. Ah, but this couple - they're ok with the pastor addressing sin in general but not getting too specific. They're ok when it's someone else's sin. When the pastor rails on the sins of the secular, godless world. But don't point to my sin. Don't shine the light on me! If you've been around churches long enough you know this sort of thing happens, and it doesn't always end with repentance and restoration as we hope.

Or the older person who needs a word of correction about their habit of gossip. Or the person who's attendance or giving hasn't been what it should. Or the person who's ok with most of what the Bible teaches, but still wants to hold this or that teaching at arm's length.

But don't kill the messenger! When a prophet, or now a pastor, speaks and warns you of sin, calls you to repentance, it's not to be a self-righteous so-and-so or an old-fashioned meanie-pants. This is for your own good. It's the fate of your soul that hangs in the balance. We want you to turn from sin, be forgiven, and live! We want your conscience to be clear and clean, and your spirit renewed. And we pastors need to continually hear these same words of law and gospel that we preach!

Herodias had probably already silenced her own conscience, but she couldn't quite silence John's mouth. Herod seemed to be going back and forth, caught between Herodias and his own conscience. So he compromised and locked John in the dungeon. But this wasn't good enough for Herodias. She wanted full and complete victory over the voice of the law. So she waited for her chance, and she used her own daughter in part of her scheme. And she tricked the king, and got what she wanted. John's head on a platter.

And look how this story also shows us, that sin often ensares other people into its nasty web. And here, adulterous Herodias even puts her daughter on shameless display to get her way. She uses her to commit murder, and drags her down with her. Sin is contagious and infectious, and it always has been, ever since Eve said, “I gave some also to my husband, and he ate”. You may think your sin is your own business, but you may not see how it affects others. And Jesus warns us harshly about those who cause little ones to sin – it would be better to have a millstone around your neck and be thrown into the sea.

You can kill the messenger, Herodias, but the message remains. The word of the Lord endures forever. You can quiet and muffle your conscience, you can surround yourself with people who will either mind their own business or even celebrate your sinful ways. But it doesn't change the verdict. Just has Herod was afraid Jesus was John come back to haunt him – our sins can still haunt us, even from years and years ago.

I remember one older gentleman who was dying, and made a special point to confess to his pastor what he called, “the sins of his youth”, things he had done some 60 years ago. It was ancient history. But not to him. They say time heals all wounds, but the wounded and stricken conscience is another story. David spoke similarly, “I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me.” Paul wrestled with the evil he hated, but found himself doing anyway. “What a wretched man!” he called himself.

No, there's only one way to a truly clean and clear conscience, and it's not by killing the messenger. It's not by twisting or re-writing the law. It's not by ignoring it. The only way is forgiveness, and that forgiveness is only through Christ.

John was the fore-runner of Christ. The last of the prophets who got what prophets so often did for their work – death. Jesus called it “a prophet's reward”. From an earthly view, John's story wasn't a happy ending at all. But the spiritual reality is greater. John was the fore-runner of Christ, both in preaching repentance and faith, both in bringing a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and also in suffering and even dying at the hands of the wicked and powerful. But while John was the greatest man ever born among men, he wasn't worthy to untie Jesus' sandal. While John died in faith, for faithfully preaching the word of God, Jesus died for much more.

You see, in the cross, Jesus accomplishes the forgiveness of all sins. And yes, that includes your deep, dark sins. It includes the sins of your youth and the sins of this minute. It includes the sins that would shame you before men, and the sins that only your conscience knows. It even includes those sins that God only knows. While John's head was brought as a trophy on a platter for Herod, Jesus' cross stands as a symbol of God's love and mercy for the world.

And while Herod superstitiously feared that John had risen from the dead and appeared again as Jesus – we know that Jesus really DID rise from the dead, and appeared to his disciples. But Jesus doesn't come back to haunt us, or to throw sin back in our face. He conquers death for us. To show us his word is true. To vindicate his sacrifice as acceptable to God. And to give us a preview of the resurrection that awaits us – life beyond death for all his people. When he appears to his disciples the first words out of his mouth are not, “Why did you leave me when I needed you the most?” or, “Peter, how could you betray me?”. The first words are, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus brings peace to the troubled, sore and weary conscience. He brings rest to those who would labor to earn their own way to God. He brings hope to those in the despair of a life that is a trail of sin's destruction.

And so, yes, John the Baptist lives, even though he died. And one day John will rise bodily with all the other believers, and with you, dear Christian, in the real ending of the story. For though you die, yet shall you live. Though your sins were as black as death, Jesus makes them white as snow. Though you face death all day long, Jesus wins you the crown of life. For Jesus is a live, and because he lives, we live. Because he declared “it is finished!”, sin really is finished, and death has no future.
Go in his peace. Amen.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Sermon - Pentecost 7 - Mark 6:1-13

Mark 6:1-13
Pentecost 7
“The Wow Factor”

You know, I'm not a math guy, I'm a word guy. I like to keep up with language, and observe how it changes and mutates. Not because I'm cool at all, but I think language is fun, and I like using new expressions. One newer expression you might have heard or used is when something is said to have a “wow factor”. It's a very descriptive way of saying it – that something is astonishing or amazing, even unbelievable.

The Grand Canyon has a wow-factor. A gourmet meal might have a wow-factor. An amazing basketball shot from half-court at the buzzer – there's a wow-factor. But the wow-factors in the Bible are way more wow-ish.

Today's reading from Mark has a couple of wow-factor moments. Jesus goes back to his home town, Nazareth. And with Jesus, there comes a wow-factor. He was doing amazing things. Healing, casting out demons. Astonishing, so far out of the box... and even moreso, he was teaching like no one else, with a wisdom and authority that brought astonishment to his hearers – another wow-factor. But that's when things turn....

They did not react the way you'd expect. They did not greet him joyfully, and turn to him in faith. They didn't even show him respect. Those people from the Nazareth synagogue were astonished by Jesus, but in a very different way. Their reaction: to take offense.

“Who does this guy think he is? Come in here, doing all these miracles, teaching all these things.... where does he get all this? He's no better than we are – we know his family, he grew up right here. We know what they whisper about how Mary was already pregnant before Jospeh married her. Sure, he's always been a little different, but he's one of us, and no one special. Who does he think he is, anyway?”

They are indignant. No doubt because Jesus was clearly calling sinners to repentance, like he so often did. No doubt these old “friends and neighbors” of his didn't take kindly to him calling them out for their sin. Jesus – along with his miracles, preached a message of repentance. He was calling them to repent!

Now, no one likes it, really, to have our sins pointed out. People often take offense at that. They might react with excuses or rationalization. They might try to deflect the blame to another “Hey it was the woman You gave me – hey it was that nasty serpent”. They might try to take the spotlight off of their own sins and say look at so-and-so who does the same thing, only worse. Or they may try to turn it all back on the accuser. “You're no angel, either, you know. What about YOUR sins, you hypocrite. Who are you to judge? Who do you think you are?”

Indignance. But the law offends. In fact, it kills. And it kills us, too. What really astonishes me is when a sinner is called to repentance – and turns from his sin! Like David, whom Nathan confronted, “You are the man! You slept with Bathsheba. You killed Uriah. You deserve to die by your own words of judgment!” But David responds, not in anger or blame or deflection or indignance. He repents. He confesses. “I have sinned” he humbly speaks. This is the wow-factor of a humble faith. This is not normal for a sinful human. It is a gift of the Spirit. When a sinner repents, we ought to say, “wow”! And rejoice with the angels in heaven.

But that's not the only astonishment in our reading. The next wow-factor is even more astonishing – because now it is Jesus who is amazed. He “marveled because of their unbelief”. I, for one, find it pretty amazing that even Jesus is amazed.

But it is amazing that people would reject what Jesus brings. Yes, he must have showed them their sin. But surely he also held out the promise, the invitation to come to him for mercy. Like he offered living water to the woman at the well. Like he offered new birth by water and spirit to Nicodemus. Like he called his own disciples, and prostitutes and tax collectors to trust in him and follow him. Like he had compassion on so many other sinners in their weaknesses and frailties and sins.

And yet, amazingly, some would reject such a gift. Some would, and some do, even today, turn a blind eye to his salvation, and a deaf ear to his word. I'm sure Jesus is still amazed at the lack of belief in our world. At the growing godlessness of a nation too wrapped up in everything but Christ. At the number of Christians who fall away and neglect the Sabbath day. At the bibles dusty from lack of use. At the churches that sit empty, while the bars and sports stadiums expand and multiply. This world is a mess. Sin, death, and the devil are having a field day. It's really rather amazing.

Now maybe you are, like I am at times, a bit jaded by all this. In a nation which permits the slaughter of the unborn, which invents and lauds same-sex marriage and undermines the marriage that God created, where school shootings seem to happen more and more, where poverty persists and diseases continue to wreak havoc. A world where people seem to invent new ways of sinning. Is anything surprising anymore? Is anything shocking? Maybe we ought not be so desensitized to the evil around us. Maybe we ought to continue reacting in shock to the brokenness of the world and the wickedness of our neighbors, and of ourselves. We were created good, even very good. But we seem to become every more evil. Does it shock you? Should it?

But here's some more wow-factor for ya. Look at the lengths to which Jesus will go to bring his salvation. Not just being rejected by his hometown synagogue, but much more. He will go to the cross. He willingly, of his own accord, lays down his life. He drinks the cup of God's wrath – for sinners – for all sins of all times – wow – even your sins. And God turns his back on Jesus. Wow. How does that even happen? And then, wonder of all, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, dies. The creator dies for the creature. He dies for you. What should wow you about that is his great love, that would go so far to save you, to forgive you.

We are wow'ed by a hero who lays down his life to save another. We award medals and bestow honors, we write songs about such heroes. Seldom will someone lay down his life for another, but maybe for a “good man” someone would bother. But wonder at this – Jesus did this for us when we were still enemies of God. Greater love has no one than he, for us.

Pile on some more wow-factor with the resurrection. And the Ascension. And the promise of our own resurrection, and our own joyful life with God forever. Wow. Think of what's in store for us, and be truly amazed.

Yes, with Jesus, there's constant amazement. And while some of it is unbelief, some of it is faith. While many will reject him, thanks be to God that by the power of the Spirit, we believers receive his amazing gifts with wonder.

There are many amazing things about this faith we have received. How can God be three and one? How can Jesus be God and Man? How can we be sinners, and yet saints? How can water do such great things in Baptism? How can Jesus' body and blood be truly here in the meal for each of us? And how can he forgive even sinners like me? Who is this guy?

We know, from the word, by the Spirit, that this wisdom comes from his Father in heaven. For he is the only-begotten son. And through him, all our offenses before God are nullified. By his cross, he does amazing things. And in his gifts, we are constantly wowed.

And it's also worth nothing the last section of our reading, where Jesus sends out the 12. Who are they, of all people, but a rag tag band of fishermen and ne'er do-wells? Amazing, astonishing that he should give them authority to preach and do miracles in his name. But he does much the same today, as he sends pastors to preach and administer the sacraments in his name, and as he sends all of us in our vocations to bear his name as witnesses to the world – witnesses of the amazing, wonderful, astonishing, marvelous things we have seen and heard and received, from Jesus Christ our Lord. Wow. He calls us, but he also sends us. Just, wow.

When it comes to Jesus, our words fail. But the Gospel never does. Even if some reject it, the wow-factor of his love and mercy remain. Thanks be to God for all of this, in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sermon - Pentecost 4 - Mark 4:26-34

Mark 4:26-34

So the city of Fort Worth needed to fix a leak right where the water comes in to the meter in front of my house. Of course they didn't tell me anything about it, just started digging up the little area of grass surrounding the meter – right out there by my mailbox. When they were all finished I had a brand new, non-leaking water meter. But where there was once some grass, now there was just dirt. I thought they might fix it – but I got tired of looking at it and decided to replant the grass myself.

I don't know much about horticulture or agriculture or even what the difference between those two really is. But I know that grass grows from seeds. And if you put the seeds down in some nice soil, and give it water, that those seeds ought to grow. And sure enough, a couple of weeks later, I've got some new grass peeking out from where I put the seed.

So it is with the kingdom of God. Jesus uses two seed parables today to illustrate different aspects of the kingdom. Or we might also say, of God's kingly activity in the world. For so often we have a tendency to make the kingdom of God all about us, or even about our work. But it's really always about him, what he does, how he acts, how he saves. Especially in Christ. Let's consider Mark's 2 seed parables this morning.

First, the Parable of the Growing Seed. A short parable, with a couple of points of comparison. Often in these parables we think of the seed as the word of God and the sower as God himself. But here, it seems more that the sower is not God himself, but a messenger – maybe a preacher or pastor. For the key is that the seed does what it does – mysteriously. It works according to its design and purpose, and the sower “knows not how”.

It also happens over time. I don't think there's any species of plant, in which you can plant the seed and watch the mature plant just pop right up before your eyes. It takes time. There's a process. First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear. All in good time. All in God's time.

There are some implicit accusations here for us, Christians. For one, we aren't always so content to live under the mystery of the kingdom's working. Sinners want control and information. We don't want to just blindly trust, but we want to know the how's and the why's of God's activity, or seeming lack thereof. We want to taste the fruit that is forbidden, and know good and evil, know what it's like to be like God.

But imagine a gardener who tried cutting open seeds to figure out their workings. Imagine him dissecting and examining and poking and prodding around in the seed, and then expecting the seed to grow. Or trying to tinker with the seeds and make corn grow cantaloupe or beans produce broccoli.

No, he plants that seed and goes about his other business. He rises and sleeps, day and night, blah blah blah. And lo, and behold, when the time is right – the growth comes. He knows not how.

And by way of a brief tangent - Perhaps here's also a small word of warning to our scientists who would seek to unlock the mysteries of life, the genetic code, the functions of the cell. While on the one hand God has given us the ability to study and understand much of the world he's created and put in our care – and we are even commanded to manage and rule it well. On the other hand, the astonishing design of life ought to bring us to humility as not only the heavens but also the microscopic world declares the glory of God, the creator. We know much more about how seeds grow, for instance, than we did hundreds of years ago. But the more we've learned, the more mysteries surface. And we're still far from being able to bring about life in the first place. All of this ought to humble us in our studies, and elicit a sense of awe at God's marvelous work of creation.

And finally, we ought to proceed with special care when it comes to tinkering with human beings in particular. Breeding plants or dogs or even creating new hybrids may bring stewardship questions, but when it comes to human beings we're in a different ethical ballpark, for humans are made in the image of God. And there is such a thing as “playing God”.

This first seed parable also indicts our sinful lack of patience with God's kingdom. I check the progress of my patch of grass every day- but it doesn't make it grow faster. The plants God designed come forth according to his design. So also his kingdom – as its word has effects that may take weeks, months, years to come to fruition. You may live to see those fruits or not, but no matter. Faith trusts the promise. God's word never returns void. It accomplishes his purpose. But on his timetable, and not necessarily on yours. How long, oh Lord? As long as it takes. In his good time.

Jesus also reminds us that there is a harvest time. Here is both a warning, and a promise. God's plan has an endgame, history has an expiration date, Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. He'll separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, and bring his harvest, his people, into his garner forever. This fallen world of suffering won't go on forever. Such is the kingdom of God.

And then take this second parable, perhaps more familiar, the parable of the mustard seed. One of the smallest seeds, but it grows one of the biggest plants – a huge bush with branches enough to accommodate all kinds of critters – nesting birds and whatnot.

Here the point is simple: the working of the kingdom starts small, but has great effects. It may begin with simple water and a few words, but it ends with a child of God living a life of faith and inheriting eternal blessings in the kingdom to come. It may begin with a simple preacher sent to proclaim Christ, and it may end with a church or churches where many believers continue to gather long after he's gone. It may start with one sinner who repents and is forgiven, and end with a multitude of those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Or even better, that by one man, salvation comes to the entire world. It started small – with a promise of a seed of the woman that would crush the head of the serpent. God preserved his promise through the ages, and the ups and downs of Noah and Abraham, and the tribes of Israel, and the kingdoms of David and Solomon, through exile and back, under Greek and Roman conquest. They would sleep and rise night and day, through the centuries, as God nurtured his promise. And then Gabriel announced to Mary, that she would bear that offspring. And you'll call him Jesus.

Those who looked forward to him in faith are saved, and those who have not seen and yet have believed are greatly blessed. The good news of this God in the flesh would start with a small band of about 120 disciples, and go forth from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. That believers from every nation would flock to this church like the birds nesting in the safety of the mustard bush.

And he, Jesus, also compared himself to a seed:
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12:23-24

Yes, the seed of the woman so long promised would indeed crush the serpent's head, but by the bruising of his own heel: The seed had to die. Just as the wheat falls into the earth and dies – so Jesus suffered, died, and was buried. But death could not hold him, and he sprouted from the grave with new life – not just for himself – but the fruits of his resurrection bring a resurrection to all who are in him. We haven't seen the complete fruition yet. But we will at the final harvest.

Until then, we live in our baptism, dying and rising daily in Christ. Until then, we are nurtured at his table, toward the fruits of faith in God and fervent love for one another. Until then, we too cast seeds as we are able, according to our own stations and vocations, and sleep and rise night and day – in the peace that knows not how God works, but trusts him to do it nonetheless. Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Sermon - Pentecost 3 - Mark 3:20-35

Spiritual Reality:  The Household of Satan and the Family of Christ.
Mark 3:20-35

The real battle we Christians face is not against flesh and blood.  Our enemies are not the people of a nation, or a political party, or some earthly organization.  Paul teaches clearly in Ephesians 6:12

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

As with so many ways in which Christians see the world differently, we realize the real problems in life are not lack of education, lack of empowerment, faulty tax policies or anything like that.  Our real struggle, our real problem is a spiritual one.  We struggle against spiritual enemies – Sin, Death and the Devil.  And these three really go together.

Sin is the spiritual corruption that separates us from God.  It began when we despised his word and acted against it.  It continues when we do the same.  But it is first and foremost a spiritual thing.  You can see sin's effects in the sinful actions that we commit.  But even before you see it sin is there.  It's inherited.  It corrupts our nature.  It's our default mode.  It shapes our deeds, but also our words and our very thoughts.

And sin and death go together.  The wages of sin is death.  Death is what sin deserves.  But death, too, is also a spiritual thing first and foremost.  We die, physically, when our spirit separates from our body.  We died, spiritually, when our spirit separated from God.  For Adam this happened in the garden.  For us, we are conceived and born under the cloud of death, already under its reign because of sin.  Death is physical, too, to be sure – just as sins can be physical.  But death is first and foremost a spiritual thing.

And then there's the Devil.  Our great spiritual foe.  The one who slithered into the garden and fathered all lies (that's what Beelzebul means- “father of lies”) with his original lie, “you will not die”.  Since then his venomous poison has been pumping through the veins of all of Adam and Eve's children.  Since then he's been warring against God and his people at every turn.  He is a spiritual foe.  He wants nothing more than the spiritual victory. 

And he will use any means to achieve it.  If it means stripping you of physical life and limb, goods, fame, child and wife – he will try it.  If it means making you fat and sassy, living in the lap of this world's luxury so that you are blind and numb to the spiritual realities – he will try it.  If he can lie and tell you your sins are too great to be saved, that'll work for him.  Or if he can lie and tell you that you don't sin, or sin much, or that your sins aren't that bad at all.  Well, he'd be happy with that too.  If he can convince you to despise God's word just as he convinced your first parents – then he will do so happily and gladly.  Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.  It's a spiritual struggle.  And the chief opponent is the ancient serpent who works through sin and revels in death.

In Mark 3, here comes Jesus.  And he's created somewhat of a dust-up.  He's been away for a while – baptized by John, performing miraculous healings, casting out demons, gathering a great crowd of followers, and appointing 12 apostles.  And now he's come home to Nazareth.  And there's a stir.  The crowd is so great and there's such a fuss, he can't even find some peace to sit down for a bite to eat.

But his family wasn't pleased.  This was conduct unbecoming of a carpenter, and of this quiet and pious Jewish family.  Jesus is the firstborn son!  He's got work to do.  He's got responsibilities.  He's not supposed to be wandering around and causing all this hub-bub.  So they  reasoned, he must be out of his mind.  Mentally ill.  Let's go bring him home and hopefully he'll snap out of this soon.

But he's not crazy.  He's the Messiah.  He's not out of his mind.  He's the Holy One of God.  If there were no spiritual aspect to all this, if it was only what the eyes could see and the ears could hear, then maybe his family would be right.  In fact if Jesus were doing some of the same things in today's day and age, they might put him in a mental health facility and prescribe psychotropic medication.   But his family - they've got him all wrong.

So do his opponents – the scribes.  They came all the way from Jerusalem to see what the Jesus business was about. Surely they'd heard the stories and accounts of miracles and wonders.  But their answer was different.  Rather than deny the miracles and or paint Jesus as a lunatic, their suggestion was perhaps worse.  That he's of the devil.  That he's casting out demons by the power of the devil.  That he himself is possessed by Beelzebul!

And what a twisted view of Jesus this is.  It can only arise from a deep spiritual problem.  A deep-down, tooth-and-nail, stubborn-as-a-mule refusal to believe in Jesus.  And so they end up calling good evil, and accusing the Son of God of being possessed by the devil.

This is not too different from the opponents of Christ today – who would cast the Christian faith as some backward, intolerant, even wicked worldview.  They effectively call us “of the devil”, though many don't even believe in a devil.  They reject Christ and therefore conclude he, and his people are either crazy or evil.  And maybe even you, Christian, have been on the receiving end of this, one way or another.

As you would expect, Jesus cuts through the lies.  “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand!”

His case is this:  it's not true, and it makes no sense that Satan is behind all this.  Because look how through Jesus, Beelzebul's work is coming undone.  But in fact his house and kingdom of Satan are falling.  They are coming to an end. And this is only a glimpse of it.  There's much more to come.  One way to describe the work of Jesus is just that – to destroy the devil's kingdom.  To bring down the house of Satan and leave it in shambles.  To conquer him, destroy him, stomp him like a bug.

That's the picture painted for us in Genesis.  In the very first promise of a savior, a promise God makes to us while cursing the ancient Serpent himself – we know that the seed, the offspring, the one singular descendant of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, though the serpent would bruise his heel.  This is Jesus!  Jesus is the seed of the woman.  The Son of Man.  The one offspring who stands as champion for all of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  The one descendant of the promise of God who would fulfill this and every promise of salvation. 

Jesus crushes Satan.  Not just by casting out demons and healing diseases.  Not just by standing up under three-fold temptation in the wilderness.  But by perfectly obeying the law of God his entire life, and obediently laying down his life as a sacrifice for sin.  These are all spiritual things.

Jesus doesn't throttle the demons with his own bare hands, he casts them out by the word.  He doesn't wrestle with the devil physically, but defeats him spiritually, also through the word.  And on the cross, to outward eyes it certainly appears Jesus is a loser, a victim, powerless and hopeless.  He's physically bound, beaten, and nailed to the tree.

But by that very cross Jesus fulfills the words of God, the promises of salvation for the world, and that shameful cross becomes the very weapon of Satan's undoing.  It may has well have been driven like a nail through the serpent's head.  So complete is Jesus' victory and the devil's defeat.

Jesus uses a mini-parable here to drive home the point.   “No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man.  Then indeed he may plunder his house.”  Jesus affirms that Satan is a “strongman”.  He is a force to be reckoned with – and certainly far stronger than we poor humans.  But Jesus is the stronger man.  There's really no comparison.  It's not like it's even close.  And he has come to take and plunder the devil's goods, his kingdom, his prisoners. 

Yes, you, Christian, are the plunder.  Jesus steals you away from the clutches of the devil even as he freed the people who were plagued by possession.  He breaks the chains of sin and death – those bonds in which the devil had you all wrapped up tight.  He leads you out in an exodus of your own, passing through the waters of baptism, onto the shores of his own promised land, his own kingdom, his own household.

And having won you, he will also keep you.  For no one - not sin, not devil, not even death - can snatch you out of his hand.  No one can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  He's that strong.  He's that good.

Though it may seem otherwise to you.  To physical eyes and ears you may still appear imprisoned by sin, death, and devil.  You still do wrong things, think wrong thoughts, say wrong words.  You're still tempted and perhaps even oppressed by the prince of this world and the father of lies.  And one day, you will physically die.  To all outward appearances, even Jesus couldn't stop it.  But don't be deceived.  See the spiritual reality.

Jesus' next move shows that he understands what the battle is all about. This spiritual struggle is all about sin – and the forgiveness of sin.  If the children of man want freedom from the strongman's power, that freedom comes only by the forgiveness of sins.  If you want to be out from under the devil, then your sins must be forgiven.  If you want to fear death no more – then let's ake the sting out of death by the forgiveness of sins.  And that, of course, is just what Jesus does. 

Not all would receive such a gift, mind you, and despising his forgiveness by blaspheming his Spirit is still possible.  But it's the only sin he won't forgive.  Only rejecting Christ, his Spirit, his forgiveness is unforgivable.  Every other sin is forgiven.  So receive his forgiveness with joy.

And finally, Jesus mother and brothers – perhaps those same family members who tried to seize him before – the same ones who thought he was crazy – the come and call him, they seek him out.  Now he's not denying they are who they are, the physical reality of family.  Nor is he teaching us to do so.  But he's getting at the deeper, the spiritual reality.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?  Here are my mother and my brothers.... whoever does the will of God”  That is to say, the family of faith. For the will of God is that sinners come to repentance and faith in Christ.

You've heard the saying that blood is thicker than water.  Family relationships run deeper, last longer than any friendship.  Or so the saying goes.  And in an earthly sense that's mostly true. But here Jesus goes deeper than blood to the connection of the family of faith.  Those who believe and trust in him are united in a bond thicker than blood.  They are his true family, his true mother and brothers.  They are his forever.  They are part of his spiritual family, and the spiritual counts for more than that which is of this world.

This also means that you are part of that family.  For you who are baptized and believe in Christ are his brothers and sisters.  You are united with him.  Being saved from the devil – but not just to aimlessly wander.  Rather, Jesus gives you a place in his house – even a place forever.

The Christian church is a foretaste of this.  One day we will be united with Christ and all believers in the kingdom that is to come, the kingdom of glory.  For now, we are part of the kingdom of grace that sees physical expression here in the church, on this earth.  Here, we find the other brothers and sisters of the family – even in this little corner of the church. 

So the spiritual reality ought to inform how we act, so our convictions of faith ought to direct what we do.  Love one another, Christians, Messiah family, for you are united with Christ and one another.  Don't be divided from your fellow Christian – there ought to be no “us and them” in the church – for a house divided cannot stand! Together we are forgiven and freed from the Devil's kingdom.  Together let us continue to love and serve and work together, doing the will of God.

Being a Christian means faith in Christ. But that also means we will see the spiritual realities that others can't, and won't.  Sin, death and devil seek to destroy us but the reality is they are defeated by Christ and his cross.  Rejoice in this spiritual reality with your spiritual brothers and sisters of the faith.  Freed from the Devil's house, and living forever in the family of Christ. 


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Sermon - Trinity Sunday - John 3:1-17

The Mystery of the Trinity

Mystery movies, mystery books, novels, short stories.  They're a popular genre of entertainment.  Whether you like Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew or Agatha Christie or a police drama like Law and Order.  There's something about the plot of a mystery story that appeals to many people.  You try to figure out, as it all unfolds, whodunnit.  But you don't know for sure, until the payoff at the end, and the mystery is solved or revealed and all the questions fall into place.  Of course, there's often a twist and sometimes questions left unanswered, or even a cliffhanger to get you interested for the next story or episode.  But so it goes.

The Christian faith claims a number of mysteries of its own.  The English word “mystery” is rooted in the Greek word “mysterion”, which appears about 27 times in the New Testament.  But it doesn't mean the same thing as a modern mystery novel.  In scripture, a mystery is truth that can't be understood by human reason, but instead must be apprehended by faith.

For instance, when Paul talks about the resurrection of the dead on the last day, he begins, “Behold, I tell you a mystery – we will not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet”.  He speaks of marriage as a mystery, in Ephesians 5, in that it is a earthly picture of the blessed union between Christ and his bride, the church.

And then there are those doctrines that the church draws from scripture that have the same quality of mystery.  The incarnation:  How can God become man?  The nature of the sacrament of the altar:  how can Christ be truly present in the bread and wine?  And perhaps one of the greatest scriptural mysteries of all – the doctrine of the Trinity.  God is three.  God is one.  It defies reason.  It is a mystery.  It is hidden from the eyes of reason and logic – but revealed to the eyes of faith.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night – presumably to hide himself in the cloak of darkness and not be seen by his peers.  Perhaps if he didn't like what Jesus had to say, he could slip away just as quietly.  But Nicodemus was also under a fog of heart and mind.  God seemed to be with Jesus, but he wasn't too sure.  Like so many, even as a teacher of Israel, he couldn't penetrate the mystery of Jesus.

Your sinful nature is much the same as his.  Nicodemus is an everyman in a sense, bringing his questions, doubts, opinions and ideas to Jesus.  We come in the fog of sin and unbelief.  We labor under the darkness of doubts.

If God is good, why does he allow evil?  If God loves me, why is he letting me suffer?  How can I know for certain that all this is true?  What if we really did evolve from monkeys, and what if death is really the end, and what if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, and so on, and so on. 

And what does it matter that God is three, or one, or 53 or 2 trillion?  How can Jesus be begotten of the Father but not created?  And how can the Spirit be sent, but not begotten and what difference does that make? 

What do you mean, be born again, Jesus?  How can a man be born when he's already old? You mean I should enter the womb again?  But the mystery is this – you must be born of water and the spirit to see the kingdom.  Baptism is also not to be understood, but received by faith. 

Baptism isn't your work or doing, any more than you engineered your own birth.  It happened to you.  It defined you, and still does.  It's not your testimony or promise to God, but rather his testimony about and promise to you – to make you his child, born of the Spirit, born under grace and no longer the law.  Buried with Christ, and raised with Christ so never to die again.  All of this in simple water and word – it takes faith to receive and apprehend.  It's a mystery to be received, not explained.

But don't just gape and marvel at this mystery, Nicodemus.  For the mysteries continue – take the Spirit.  He moves when and where he wills.  You can't see him, you can't contain or comprehend him.  But like the wind – you can see his effects.  You know he's moving, affecting things, in his time, in his way.  This takes faith to see.  This is a mystery.  It is a heavenly thing.

Anywhere the Word of God is proclaimed, the Spirit is at work – convicting the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.  Anywhere the seed of the Gospel goes forth, the Spirit brings the effects and purposes he desires.  Often hidden to us, even for years, or never to be seen – faith trusts the word and the Spirit who works through it. 

The Father is also mysterious – in that no one has ascended to see him.  No one can speak first hand about what the Father is like, except for the Son, who came from heaven.  And that the Father would love the world, such that he would send his only Son – is a mystery.  Why would a holy and just God act in love toward wicked and rebellious people?  Why would he send this Son to save the world, rather than to condemn it?  It's surely not what the world deserves.

But the Son is sent.  And the Son is born.  And the Son is lifted up – in another great mystery.  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and all who looked to it lived – so is Jesus lifted up on the cross, lifted up before the world, so that all who look to him in faith live.  All who receive the mystery need not fear the venom of the great serpent.  All who trust in his promise have eternal life. 

And so the church confesses the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and notice how we say it – we don't “understand” the Trinity.  We don't “explain” it.  We can't take it apart and put it back together.  Rather, like all the mysteries of God, we receive it – and we confess it.

This is why we have these creeds – the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian.  To summarize what scripture teaches about God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And to set forth and confess – that is, to echo and re-tell – what God has said about himself.  He is Father, he is Son, he is Holy Spirit.  But each person distinct, and yet one God united.

In fact we go wrong if we try to explain beyond what scripture teaches.  We go astray if we overanalyze the mystery or subject God to our rules of logic.  It is an exercise in humility, for us to recognize he is so far above and beyond our limited and corrupted natures.  It is an exercise in faith to say, “I don't understand it, but if God said it, I believe it”.

So it is with his Triune nature, so it is also with his works and his promises.  His work of creation – we can seek to understand to an extent, but we can easily go wrong if we think we know better than he does how it happened.  Rather, we receive the mystery that the world was made in six days and he rested on the 7th. 
His work of redemption – how can we explain or comprehend the love that Christ has for us, that he would endure the cross, scorning its shame, for the joy set before him – the joy of accomplishing our salvation!  This gift is simply to be received. 

And likewise the gifts of his Spirit, many and varied as they are – sanctifying us even though reason and observation say we're not so holy.  But faith trusts the word, that faith a gift of the spirit.  And faith says, though I'm a sinner, God says I'm a saint.  I don't get it.  But I believe it.  I confess the mystery.

No, when it comes to mysteries, Agatha Christie has nothing on the Triune God.  He's not a riddle to be solved or a puzzle to be mastered – but his nature is a mystery to be confessed.  And his work his a whodunnit of a different sort – for he has accomplished salvation for us, in Jesus Christ.  And you are baptized into his name – Father, Son, and Spirit.  God grant us the continued grace to receive it, and believe it.  Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sermon - Easter 7 - John 17:11b-19

John 17:11b-19
“Jesus Prays”

I'm a pastor, as you know.  And partly because I often wear the uniform in public, I will have people occasionally stop me and want to talk.  It leads to some interesting conversations.  But often times those people will ask me to pray for them.  I think many times, they must reason (mistakenly) that a pastor is more holy than the average person, or that my prayers have some special conduit to God.  Or maybe, they simply assume that I will actually be inclined to pray and follow through on it.  Whatever the reason I'm happy to do it.

I've said it before, that one of the pastor's jobs and greatest privileges is to pray for his people.  Your pastors do pray for you, the members of our congregation.  And we do it far more than you know.  We do it both collectively and individually.  We pray intentionally and as occasions come up.  We don't always tell you.  Perhaps we should tell you more often.  But it is one way the under-shepherd cares for the sheep.  And we're glad to do it.

By the way, on this mothers day, we might also mention that one of the best and greatest works a mother does for her children is to pray for them.  Even when they are grown and gone, and there seems nothing much left she can do for them in their busy lives, a Christian mother still prays for her children, her family. 

But here today is something far better than having another Christian, or even a pastor pray for you.  It's better than having all the pastors pray for you all the time.  In our Gospel reading, Jesus prays.  And he prays not only for his disciples, he prays for you, too.  What prayer could be better than his prayer?  What petitions could be more appropriate or necessary?  Who has your best interest in mind as much as Jesus?  Who can be more certain to be heard, than the beloved Son of the Father from eternity?

In John 17, Jesus prays – we call it his “great high priestly prayer”.  Because one job of the priest is to pray, to intercede, to serve as a go-between, representing the people before God.  Jesus, the greatest such advocate, the highest high priest that ever was – prays.  John 17 records this prayer, which Jesus would have prayed on Maundy Thursday as part of his “Farewell Discourse” in John 14-17.  Let's consider exactly what Jesus prays for, when it comes to his prayer for his disciples, and for you:

First, he prays to his Father, “Keep them in your name”. To be “kept” and guarded in the name of the Father is no small thing.  God's name itself is a great treasure and privilege to know, but even more so that he places his name upon us.  And though Jesus doesn't say it here, it's also true – that we receive the name of the Father, Son AND Holy Spirit.  That triune name is placed upon us in baptism.  And it comes with promises.  Forgiveness, life, salvation – all belong to us in his name.

The name of the Father is a prominent concern for Jesus.  It's the first petition in the other famous prayer of Christ – the Lord's Prayer.  “Hallowed be thy name”.  Luther explains the meaning – that God's name, which is certainly holy in itself, would also be kept holy among us.

All of this ought to teach us many things.  That the name of God is kept holy, placed first and foremost.  That our regard for God, who he is and what he does, should be of highest priority.  That no other gods ought to come before him.  That nothing false should be taught about him, or in his name.  That we regard his name as holy, along with everything that bears it.  And that we, who bear that name, live up to it – keeping ourselves from sin, and trusting in his grace when we fail.

But Jesus prays that God will do the keeping.  Which only makes sense.  Just as God alone does the saving, so does God alone do the keeping of us in the faith. 

Jesus' second request is tangential to that.  He prays that his disciples would be kept, in order that, or with the effect being this:  that they may be one.  Unity.  Oneness.  It is something to be desired for Christians.

Of course, it's something that is often lacking.  Not just with the disciples who argued which one was the greatest, or who competed for thrones at Jesus' left and right hand.  But also with all his people who suffer from the divisions that sin causes.  “I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas”, the Corinthians argued.  And even today, we see the sad divisions of Christianity on the macro and micro scales.  From the divisions of denomination – down to the fractured relations of individual Christians.  Jesus wants none of it.  He prays against it all.  He desires “that they may be one”. 

Outwardly, we don't see Jesus' prayer being answered.  It seems that as time goes on, there's ever more and more division in the Church.  There's less oneness and more scattering and breaking apart.  But let's remember a few things.  One, the church is not truly divided.  All who have true faith in Christ are members of the body, one, holy, Christian and apostolic church.  The universal, the invisible church, the whole number of believers in Christ from all tribes, nations, places and times.  There is a oneness, a unity that supersedes even the outward divisions that set us against each other.  There will be, on the last day, only sheep and goats – not Lutheran sheep, Baptist sheep, Anglican sheep, and non-denominational sheep.

But on the other hand, we must acknowledge, here in these last days, that these divisions are caused by sin and false belief.  And we ought to strive to avoid them when we can.  We ought to be reconciled with our brothers when one sins against another.  And we ought to seek the truth as best we can find it, and attach ourselves to that confession of faith that gets God's word right.  It's not as though the differences are indifferent.  God's word matters.  Unity is based on the truth.  And to the extent that we can, we ought to purse it here – in fulfillment of Christ's own prayer, “sanctify them in truth – your word is truth.”

Satan would divide us over things that don't matter, and teach us false unity where true divisions exist.  He will tell you God's word doesn't matter, but how you look does, or where you come from.  Don't be fooled.  Unity is found in the truth.  And Jesus desires it for all his people.

Next Jesus prays for us to have joy.  Not just any joy, but his joy fulfilled in ourselves.  We Christians often distinguish between happiness and joy.  Happiness, a fleeting emotion that comes and goes based on the happenstance of the moment.  But joy – a deep and abiding cheer based on the promises of God in Christ – a delight of heart that knows all these passing troubles are not the end of the story.  Jesus has joy.  His greatest joy, the greatest joy of the Father and the angels in heaven, is when the sinner repents and believes and is saved.  Nothing pleases him more.  And so also our joy must follow.  For our joy is derived from his. 

Our joy, first of all, is in the salvation Christ has accomplished at the cross.  It's in the resurrection, by which he destroyed death.  It's in the promise of our own resurrection and the life of the world to come, paradise restored, all things made new.  No matter how bad life gets, no matter how dark the night of sin, we know that a better day will dawn.  Our joy will be fulfilled and completed in the kingdom that is to come.  There, God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes. 

The joy that he has, the joy that is fulfilled in us, we wish to see fulfilled in others.  This is why he sends us into the world.  This is the mission impulse of the Christian church.  Joy abounds, overflows, it goes forth into the world.

But the world is a dangerous place.  The world hates Christ, that is, the unbelieving world.  And those who hate Christ hate also his disciples.  We are not of the world any more than he is.  But we are in it.  We are subject to all the venom the world spits at us, all the seething rage of those who hate Jesus but can't get to him, but they can get to us.

Moreover, there is the evil one.  The roaring lion always on the prowl.  Jesus knows the opposition we face.  He knows the pitfalls and perils of persecution.  In praying this way, he also warns us of it, just as he often warned the disciples.  But he also shows his desire to keep us, and have the father keep us, in the midst of so many dangers. 

Being kept from the devil and the evil world doesn't mean you won't have problems.  Look at all the problems the devil was allowed to create for poor Job.  No, being kept from the devil means being kept from the only real harm the devil can do to you.  And it is what he wants most of all – to destroy your faith.  To lead you away from Christ.  To bring you, in misery, into his company – and to share in his final judgment and punishment.  Sure the devil and the world delight in seeing the faithful suffer – but all the more if they can turn that suffering into despair and unbelief.  If they can convince you that God hates you, has forgotten you, or is himself just a big lie.

Jesus prays for you, but he doesn't just pray.  He goes a long way toward answering his own prayer.  He dies and rises to accomplish salvation so that you are kept in the name of the Father.  He teaches his disciples his word, and sends them to all corners of the world with the Gospel.  That message of Christ crucified is the power of God for salvation, and the root and source of the deepest joy – his joy, fulfilled in you.  And Jesus sends his Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Helper, to enlighten you with his gifts, and to lead you into all truth. 

That's his last request in this prayer, his final petition, “sanctify them in your truth”.  Make them holy by your word.  Set them apart from the world, even apart from their own sinful flesh – by the power of your promise.  So Jesus prays, and so God the Father does, by the working of the Spirit.  So the Triune God does through the blessings of baptism, and in the absolution of every repentant sinner. 

Jesus prays, and he prays for you.  He prayed his high priestly prayer on that Holy Thursday, and he continues to intercede for you with the Father even now – from his high throne in heaven.  And if the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects, how much more, how much comfort is there in knowing that the Son of God and Son of Man, the God of Gods who is one of us, the Ruler of all things – is on your side, has your benefit in mind, and wants every good blessing for you?  Jesus prays.  And we say, Amen.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Sermon - Easter 6 - 1 John 5:1-8

Water, Blood and Spirit crying, by their witness testifying to the one whose death defying life has come, with life for all.

Water, Blood, Spirit. The three that testify of Christ, John writes in this epistle. They are in agreement. There is unity of voice. But what does each entail? And how are they connected? Let us ponder this morning, Water, Blood and Spirit.

The water is the water of Baptism. Jesus' own baptism, first of all, where the Spirit made an appearance as a dove. There, the Spirit descended on him, anointing him, setting him apart publicly as the Messiah. It was Jesus' ordination, as it were. And the Spirit testified at the Jordan along with the voice from heaven that this man, Jesus, is the Son of God.

But the water is not without the blood. Jesus was baptized not for his sins, but to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus was baptized, not for his sins, but for your sins – to take them upon himself. Jesus was baptized to identify with sinners, and even eventually that he who had no sin would be made to become sin for us. And there's only one place those sins could end up – at the cross.

The water is not without blood. Luther called the Baptism of Christ “blood-stained water”. Baptism means death. Can you undergo the baptism I am to undergo? He asked James and John.

And then there's our baptism. Usually a cute little baby dressed in a pretty white gown. A happy occasion. A time for rejoicing. But it is also a death. The Old Adam in us is drowned in those waters. The flesh is crucified with Christ, buried with Christ. Baptism is an end – even as it is a beginning. It is our new birth, our second birth. There we die, but we also rise with Christ. The water testifies – that is, the water combined with God's word of command and promise – the water testifies that the Christ who was baptized for us, the Christ who faced the baptism of the cross for us – is now united with us, and we with him.

The blood. The second witness in this passage. The blood of Christ which testifies to him, of him. It is like unto the blood of the passover lamb, which stood as a witness on the door posts “death, do not come to this house”. The blood of Christ testifies that the wages of sin have already been paid by him.

The blood of Christ – speaking a better word than the blood of Abel, which cried for vengeance. But the blood of Jesus, for our pardon cries.

The blood of Christ, the blood of the lamb, by which the heavenly multitudes was their robes and make them white and clean. There was blood on their hands, on your hands. It shows, testifies of our guilt. It makes us unclean. But the blood of Christ washes away the bloodguilt of man. It testifies of forgiveness.

The blood of Christ, sprinkled over the nations – a better blood than all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain. None of that animal blood could ultimately wash away sin's stain. But the blood of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, flows through time and space to cover the sins of all people. It is a rich, saving flood.

That same blood, shed on the cross, now comes to you in the chalice. It comes with his body in the bread, and for your forgiveness, life and salvation. It is not the blood and the body of a dead man, but the blood and the body of the living Christ. It is not the blood and body of a judgment upon you, but by faith, it is the very medicine of immortality, and foretaste of the feast to come. The fruits of his cross, given and shed for you. And every time you eat this bread and drink of this cup – you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. That is to say, you witness, you testify. Water, Blood and Spirit – all testify. And now you, along with them.

Finally the Spirit. The Spirit is always testifying of Christ. He is the Holy Spirit, but also the Spirit of Christ. He shows Christ, points to Christ, leads to Christ, creates faith in Christ. I cannot believe in Christ on my own, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel. The Spirit leads the church into all truth. He “parakletes”, encourages the church militant on the field of battle. Always directing our eyes to Jesus, the champion of the fight.

And he shows us the cross – where from the Body of Jesus poured forth blood and water when they pierced his side. Where Jesus gave up his spirit into the hands of the Father.
The cross. The only place the sinner can look for hope, forgiveness, life. The Spirit points us there. But the blessings of the cross are poured forth in the water of baptism. They are served in the blood and body given in wine and bread. They are shown forth by the Spirit who works through the word of God.

The word. The Spirit and the word also go together. Where there is the word of God, the Spirit is working. And we ought not look for the Spirit's testimony apart from the word. When John tells the church to test the spirits, he means us to test them against the Word. Generally, the confession of Jesus – who came in the flesh. But more specifically, the Spirits are tested against the prophets, against Moses, and now even against the Evangelists and Apostles – who have written their testimony of Christ in the words of the scriptures. Any Spirit that contradicts these is not the Holy Spirit. Any testimony that is against these, is against Christ. For the Spirit is truth. Christ's word is truth, even as he is the way, the truth, and the life.

What about this “spirit of antichrist?” John says it's coming into the world, and yet, it's already arrived. It is any Spirit that confesses contrary to, against Christ. Any Spirit, for instance, that would tell you Christ isn't the only savior. Any Spirit that tries to tell you your sins aren't that bad. Any spirit who tries to convince you that you can save yourself. Any spirit that says you can cooperate with God in salvation. Any Spirit that points you away from the grace given in baptism, any spirit that denies the gifts of Christ set forth in the Lord's Supper. Any spirit that makes man-made rules the standard of Christian living, and twists or changes God-made commandments.

The Spirit of the antichrist is particularly and most shockingly found, even in the church – as false spirits try to lead away the faithful, if they could. This is one reason the Lutheran Reformers identified the office of the pope as “antichrist”. The pope who claims divine authority, the vicar – or substitute- of Christ on earth. The one who makes false claims about Christ and denies salvation by God's grace alone, even to this day. The true testimony of the Spirit says otherwise.

The spirit of the antichrist is a spirit of the world. And, little children, you are different from the world that is set against Christ. You have Christ within you. And he has overcome the world, therefore, so have you. It may seem that the world overcomes you with its lies and wickedness. It may feel like the antichrists are getting away with murder, and in a way they do. But the final judgment, the end of the story is already written. He who is in you is greater than they. He who is in you has overcome even death – for he lives! He who is in you speaks a different testimony than the world, a better testimony, an eternal word. Heaven and earth will pass away. But the word of the Lord endures forever.

Let all who would live in this world only and be of the world and listen to the worldly ways of error, all who abide in the spirit of the antichrist – let them be.

But as for you, dear children of God, listen to the testimony of the Spirit, the testimony of the Water and of the Blood. For these three agree. Listen to the truth of Christ, and the word of his apostles. Know Christ, know the truth, and believe.

Water, Blood, Spirit. Three which agree on the testimony of Christ. Listen to these, and believe and live!

Spirit, water, blood, entreating, working faith and its completing in the One whose death defeating Life has come with life for all.