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The Matyrdom of St. John the Baptist 2021

The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist 2021

Mark 6:14-29

August 29, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Today we commemorate the death of the greatest man born of woman.  Standing with one foot in the Old and one in the New, John the Baptist is the last of the Old Testament and first of the New Testament martyrs.  From his mother’s womb to his camel’s hair clothing and diet of locusts and honey to the time he baptized Jesus and heard the Father’s voice and saw the Spirit descend, John proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He knew that he must decrease and Jesus must increase (John 3:30), since he was the one who was to prepare the way of the Lord. 

Now, John had only been preaching publicly for about a year and half before he was jailed for speaking against the King.  It was while he was in prison that Jesus said of him, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”  Sitting in prison, John knew it wouldn’t end well for him, and in needing the reassurance of faith, Jesus sent him the comfort, “God and tell John… the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). In other words, the Kingdom of God had arrived in Jesus.

It was this good news of repentance and faith, the resurrection, and the casting out of demons and the healing of many by the apostles sent out and commissioned by Jesus that Herod had heard.  He had heard more and more about this Jesus, it brought to mind how he had executed John.  Maybe his fear and guilt over John’s death caused his suspicion that the Baptizer had returned from the dead.  Regardless, when Herod hears more about Jesus, we get this sort of flashback as he remembers what he did to John.

John had spoken up against the sin of Herod, over his adultery and lust. The plane fact of the matter is that John is martyred because he says that adultery is wrong, that Herod should stop fooling around with his brother’s wife. Herod divorced his first wife to marry Herodias, even though this was unlawful according to the Levitical law, and Herodias had divorced her husband, Phillip.  To make it even more scandalous, Herodias was the granddaughter of Herod the Great.  This Herod mentioned here is Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, and the half-brother of Phillip.  In other words, both of Herodias’ husbands were also her uncles. And if that wasn’t enough, the daughter of Herodias “pleases” Herod and others with her dancing. There are certainly some sexual undertones here.  This is all gross, inappropriate to say the least, and there isn’t a decent person in the room.

And Herodias takes advantage of this to ask for John the Baptist’s head.  During the feast she wants to gorge her sinfulness, with the head of John served up to them on a platter. Now Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man.  He kept John safe, imprisoned more like an interesting pet, but his conscience caved to his sinful pride. He worried more about keeping his word to Herodias’ daughter that doing the righteous and holy thing and he had John beheaded.

When news reached John’s disciples, they came and took the body away and buried it, not treating it as a piece of trash to burned and scattered around, but in faithful hope of the coming resurrection of the dead.  Then they went to Jesus.  Which is exactly what John taught them to do: Go to Jesus.

That’s what his death teaches us today. All martyrs testify and direct us to Jesus.  We may tell stories of great heroes and tragic ends to inspire us to certain virtues and a way of life, but that isn’t the ultimate point.  This isn’t about John’s courage or character.  This is about John’s faith, or rather, who John had faith in.  John’s own expectation and belief that Jesus is the Messiah gave him the courage of his convictions because he had the Holy Spirit, and he knew Jesus, and he held on the certainty of the resurrection and being delivered through death and into life.  

Would it be for us as well.  That’s what we prayed for today.  Look at the Collect of the Day for today.  It begins, “Almighty God, You gave Your servant John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in both his preaching of repentance and his innocent death.”  It’s an adoration of God for sending John to point us to Jesus.  Then it continues, “Grant that we, who have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, may daily repent of our sins.”  It’s very Sacramental, isn’t it, and connects with the Epistle from Romans 6.  A recognition that in your Baptism you are already united to Jesus’ death and resurrection which then leads you to repentance over sin and faith in Jesus.

Then, “patiently suffer for the sake of the truth, and fearlessly bear witness to His victory over death.”  How appropriate for so much of our current situations.  How can we not think of the Church in Afghanistan experiencing this very thing.  is saying, “we will gather and likely die” and give witness to the hope we have in Jesus, many in the church in America say, we will gather, “unless there’s a football game on, or a birthday, or it’s a nice day, or my friends are doing something else, or church might go too long.” While we argue over mask and vaccine mandates, they are faced with probable death. 

If this hits a little too close to home, give it some thought. Rather than defensively blowing it off, think about the reasons you give or justifications you make for skipping church. We've all missed church before. Sometimes with good reasons. Sometimes with less than good reasons. Examine your heart and then, rather than attempting to justify yourself, repent! Repent and receive the forgiveness Jesus won for you on the cross. Receive the forgiveness proclaimed to you in the words of absolution and that Christ gives to you in His very Body and Blood.  As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26). 

Join your voices and hope with those whose faith soon turns to sight and look to Jesus.  With the Christians in Afghanistan and scattered throughout the world, even with the heavenly saints, who we heard crying out in our First Reading today, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Given a white robe, which is the righteousness of Christ washed white in the blood of the Lamb, and told to rest a while until the time of Christ has come. By the grace of Christ, you join the ranks of those heavenly saints, awaiting the final and complete deliverance out of the great tribulation. You who are “in Christ” live the life of Christ—a life of suffering, but also of victory.  St. Peter writes in his first letter, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Amen. 

Trinity 12 2021 - Mark 7:31-37

Trinity 12 2021

Mark 7:31-37

August 22, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

“O Lord, open my lips.  And my mouth shall declare your praise.”  These words from Psalm 51 are frequently sung in the daily prayer offices of Matins and Vespers as a profound part of the Christian’s sacrifice of prayer and praise.  It highlights the reality that in order to praise God our lips must be opened by God Himself, that is it God who enables faith and a faithful response to His grace. 

Our Gospel reading this morning text tells us of the miracle wherein Jesus heals a man who is deaf and mute and illustr ates the spiritual reality by means of the physical healing. After this man’s ears were opened and his tongue was loosed by the Son of God, the man spoke plainly. More precisely Mark tells us that the man spoke “rightly.” Orthos is the Greek word here. It means to act in conformity with a norm or standard, rightly, correctly. Our words Orthopedic (right feet), Orthodontics (right teeth), and orthodoxy (right praise, correct teaching) come from this word. The text tells us that he had a speech impediment, which makes sense if he is deaf and cannot hear his own words.  But after Jesus’ encounter with him, the deaf and mute man spoke orthos, that is, he spoke rightly. 

But it is more than he could now speak clearly or plainly.  That the healed man now spoke rightly necessarily means that before he spoke wrongly, out of conformity with the norm or standard. Yes, through muddled words, but again, it is more than that.  In other words, there is a standard and the Lord can tell the difference between what is right and what is wrong because He does all things well. 

G.K. Chesterton, a prominent English writer, philosopher, and lay theologian from 100 years ago argued that this is our great problem. We have all been asking with increasing frequency “what is wrong with the world?” What is wrong with the world is that we do not ask what is right.  We do not recognize that there is a standard. We can all see that things have gone wrong, but how can it be set right if we do not know what right is? There’s an old Star Trek episode where a woman had crash landed on a planet and she was badly hurt. Some aliens found here and healed her, but didn’t know what a human was supposed to look like, so she ends up being all mangled and misaligned. 

This is part of the part of the problem. If we try to fix it for ourselves, we’re going to mess it up.  But we don’t always recognize what is right. Because we do not believe that it is the Lord who sets that standard. We believe that we get to set it, that we get to define who we are and what reality should be like. Because we don’t actually trust like we should that the Lord does all things well and causes all things for good and for the good of our faith. (based upon G.K. Chesterton’s, What Is Wrong with the World?”).

The history of sin is the history of thinking we know better than God and His Word.  Eve couldn’t understand, she was ignorant of the reason for God’s command to not eat the fruit. She could not see for herself why God would command this since it was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and capable of making her wise. Why then not do what she knew to be good since God’s Word and command didn’t make any sense. She thought God was wrong about what was good or that God didn’t really understand. So she took matters in her own hands. And her husband who was with her let her do it. 

That is what you do every time you sin. You refuse God’s Word for your own wisdom. God’s Law is always good. His Word is always trustworthy. Sometimes to your fallen reason, it seems contrary to what is good. That is because you’re ignorant. You are like the friends of the healed man, thinking, “What could be wrong with telling people about Jesus healing this deaf man?”  Jesus had opened the man’s ears and loosened his tongue. So now he spoke rightly. It was a miracle. They wanted to tell others about it. They did not understand why Jesus told them to be quiet about it. And since they couldn’t understand, they ignored Him. They were ignorant of the reason, they chose their own path. What harm could come, they thought, from telling others about the compassionate power of God in Jesus? Such a thing seemed not only victimless but good and even necessary despite the Lord’s command.

And here was the problem. They were telling people that He was a miracle worker, which was true enough, but they weren’t telling people that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It wasn’t heresy, but it was misleading and incomplete.   This confusion about who Jesus is, what His mission and purpose are, makes His mission and Ministry more difficult. When He is brought in front of Herod at His trial, that is what Herod wants. He had heard of Jesus performing miracles. He wanted to see a trick.

The real miracle Jesus came to perform is to make all things right, bodies and souls and all creation. He came to reconcile all of humanity back to His Father through His death and resurrection. He came to give His life as a sacrifice and ransom and to rescue us out of Hell. But Herod doesn’t get that. And that might well be the fault of these people who blabbed about the healing of the deaf man when Jesus told them not to. In that regard, the people who brought the deaf mute to be healed didn’t speak rightly.

These things are a warning to us. God’s Word is never arbitrary. Never let ignorance be the reason for doing something. When God’s Law seems contrary to what is good, it’s best simply to repent and submit to God’s Word. When you don’t, when you insist upon your way, you hurt yourself and hurt others. There are no victimless sins.  When He says don’t tell people, He means it and He means it for our good because He does all things well.  When He commands do this, or don’t this, He means it, and He means it for your good because He does all things well.  Whether you completely understand is beside the point. He opens your lips to declare His praise, not your understanding. 

Through it all the Lord has compassion. The sorrow and pain of the deaf man moves Him to act out of His great compassion even though it will result in making His ministry and mission harder. The fact that they don’t receive His Word, that they take the miracle and run, that they don’t fully understand who He is, does not stop Him or lessen His compassion.  He still comes knowing that you will hurt Him, that you will complicate matters, that you will betray Him in your sinfulness. He knows you will open your mouth when you shouldn’t and speak wrongly.  He groans in sorrow and frustration over your confusion and self-righteousness. He sighs in grief over your sins and self-inflicted pain.  He takes your sorrow, your sin, your blame into Himself in order to heal and save. He is the friend of sinners. 

That is more astonishing than any other miracle. He is faithful to you even unto death and risen from the dead to bring you to Himself alive and healed, body and soul, on the last day. For He does do all things well. And proclaiming this, we speak rightly.

St. Mary, Mother of our Lord 2021

St. Mary, Mother of our Lord 2021

Luke 1:39-55

August 15, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Over the last few years here at Zion, with some exception, whenever a special feast or festival day falls on a Sunday, we have observed it in the Divine Service with the appropriate Scripture readings, prayers, and colors.  Part of the reasoning is because your average Lutheran congregation doesn’t really observe these things too often since it isn’t part of our American Lutheran culture to attend church throughout the week when these days typically are observed.  But we’ve been doing this to increase the knowledge and understanding of these events and people to highlight the example of their faith, but most importantly of God’s grace given to His Church throughout time and location.  These days are according to the historic western church calendar, which can be found in the Lutheran Service Book on pages x-xiii. 

Normally an event is observed on its anniversary, and a person is observed on the day of his or her death, their heavenly birthday, as it were.  And so it is today in the case of St. Mary, the Mother of God. There is probably no other saint that causes Lutherans, and most Protestants in general, to perk up or have a knee jerk reaction than that of St. Mary, the Mother of our Lord, particularly because the abuses by the Roman Catholic Church. 

Luther carefully outlines how we should and should not honor this “Most Blessed Virgin Mother” in some of his devotional writings on Mary’s song, the Magnificat. As Lutherans, we follow suit and want to give her no false attributes or idolatrous devotion. We want to give her no undue honor. But neither should we fall into the trap of many in Protestantism that neglects her faithful example and position, nor depreciate “her unique place in the whole of mankind, among which she has no equal” as the Mother of God, or in the Greek, the Theotokos (Luther, On the Magnificat, AE 21). 

St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of the very Son of God, is mentioned repeatedly in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, with nearly a dozen specific incidents of her life being recorded: her betrothal to Joseph; the annunciation by the angel Gabriel; her visitation to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer; the nativity of our Lord; the visits of the shepherds and the Wise Men; the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple; the flight into Egypt; the Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was with the twelve; the wedding at Cana in Galilee; her presence at the crucifixion, when her Son commended her into the care of His disciple John; and her gathering with the apostles in the Upper Room after the ascension, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. 

So Mary is present at most of the important events in her Son's life. She is especially remembered and honored for her unconditional obedience to the will of God, as we heard about today where she responds to the Word of God and His promise, “Let it be to me according to your Word" [Luke 1:38]; for her loyalty to her Son even when she did not understand Him when He changed water into wine ("Do whatever He tells you" [John 2:1-11]); and above all for the highest honor that God bestowed on her, without any merit or worthiness of her own, of being the mother of our Lord, as the church has always joined in with the angel’s words, "Blessed are you among women" [Luke 1:42]).

So it can be appropriate to call Mary, “the blessed virgin”, and even the “mother of God” both of which are references not as much to her as they are about Jesus.  And that’s the real benefit of today.  Whatever we say about Mary is meant to draw attention, not so much to her, but to Christ. Our feast for today is similarly Christological in focus. 

She died, brought to heaven to await the resurrection of the dead with all the heavenly saints.  We reject the Roman Catholic unscriptural dogma of the immaculate conception – that Mary was conceived sinless – or that she somehow acts as a mediator between you and Jesus, or even as some have called her, a co-redemptrix along with Jesus.  When we use the Scriptural language and call her “blessed” our attention is not on Mary, but the One who blessed her.  Mary herself confesses in the Magnificat her lowliness and how God’s grace given her is undeserved.  We make the same confession when we sing her song – that we have a special place in the family of God purely by grace and given direct access to God Himself.  Yes, the saints have direct access to God, they have the ear of Jesus.  And so do you!  You too have been declared a saint, holy and righteous in the sight of God purely for the sake of Jesus, as St. Paul writes to Timothy, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). The special favor that Mary has by being Jesus’ mother is given to you by Jesus becoming your brother in the flesh, by becoming man. 

Likewise, then, the confession that Mary is the mother of God is a way of affirming the Incarnation and the two natures of Christ – that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.  Our Lutheran Confessions put it this way, in the Formula of Concord in 1578, "He showed His divine majesty even in His mother's womb, because He was born of a virgin, without violating her virginity. Therefore, she is truly the mother of God and yet has remained a virgin." [FC VIII:24]This is what we confess in the Nicene Creed, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man…” (Nicene Creed).  And again the Athanasian Creed, “He is God begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age; perfect God and perfect man… not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God…” (Athanasian Creed). 

But it’s not just God’s blessings and the incarnation that we remember today, it is also the death and resurrection of Mary’s son.  Mary, who saw her son die on the cross and was given into the care of the disciple whom Jesus loved, the apostle and evangelist John, also bore witness to His resurrection. And so on a day when remember Mary in light of their death, and how the Lord preserved her unto a blessed death, we cannot the reality of Jesus' bodily resurrection from the dead. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who shall rise.  Just as with His mother, He gives you into the care of His church, where He feeds and cares for all His people to preserve them in the body and soul to life everlasting. Upon His return, all who believe in Him in this earthly life will be raised bodily.

Trinity 10 2021 - 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Trinity 10 2021

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

August 8, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Apparently there was some confusion in Corinth, which comes as no surprise as one reads through St. Paul’s letters to the Christians there.  Our Epistle lesson today deals with one of those topics in the church which seems to continually cause confusion, corruption, coveting – spiritual gifts.  The Epistle for today begins, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want to you to be uninformed.”  Actually, the text doesn’t even use the word “gifts,” although it does appear in our translations.  It starts with the word that means “spiritual things”, or “spiritual stuff”.  Paul is setting about to clarify for the Corinthians, and for us, spiritual matters dealing with things that are spiritual. 

This particular text offers a number of emphases and teaching points for us to consider.  It speaks of the unity of the church.  It talks about faith as the work of the Holy Spirit, and it addresses the importance of every individual within the congregation.

First, and most importantly, St. Paul wants us to understand that saving faith in Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit alone.  No one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.  You can pronounce the words, of course, but you cannot confess the faith with integrity unless the Holy Spirit has created faith within you.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth. 

Likewise, no one who has the Spirit of God can say, “Jesus is accursed.”  Of course, denying Christ means far more than simply saying those words.  But without the Holy Spirit, one can only make an “evil” confession, they cannot believe in Jesus, they are hostile toward God, and their sins are still counted against them.  This is how St. Paul describes the Corinthians before their conversation – as pagans being led astray to mute idols. This is how each of us was before the Holy Spirit created and worked faith within us. 

For those to whom the Lord has called to faith and given His Spirit, to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  The manifestation of the Spirit is a fancy way of saying, the gift which the Spirit brings.  Notice that every single Christian is given the manifestation of the Spirit.  You have a place of significance in the Church.  You have something to offer that the church needs.  No one is unimportant or insignificant. Because your worth is found in Jesus. 

If you doubt, or wonder, or question, look to the cross. This too the work of the Spirit – He points you to Jesus, to rest not on your own understanding or work, but on the holy and perfect Son of God. Jesus died for you, and was raised for your justification. That’s the main thing throughout St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that he wants you to be informed about, certain about – Christ is for you. This is your salvation: planned by God, earned by Jesus, given by the Spirit, all by grace alone.  

God’s just giving it all out; not indiscriminately, but with a purpose, with a plan. The purpose of these spiritual things, of these gifts, is that they are used according to the reason that the Giver has gifted – for the common good.  Wisdom, knowledge, faith, and all the other manifestations of the Spirit mentioned are worked by God where and when it pleases Him.  And it pleases Him to use you, to work in and through you, despite your imperfections and your sinfulness, to build up the body of Christ for the common good.

St. Paul goes on to explain how each spiritual thing is worked by God.  We have varieties of gifts, different capabilities. We have varieties of service, different tasks.  We have varieties of activities, different ways of working.  Some of these spiritual things are of the head, some of the hands, and some of the heart.  You might say that the unbelieving world has these things too, and to an extent that is correct.  God gives gifts to the good and evil alike.  In the midst of all these differences among us there is one Spirit who is the source of grace, one Lord whom we serve, one God who empowers. 

So Paul distinguishes the three persons of the Trinity – one God, Lord, and Spirit – and gives to each His own work through which He is revealed. Just as God is triune but not divided, so the ministry and work of the Church is various but not divided.  Whatever good things happen in the church happens by the power and under the direction of the Triune God.  

You aren’t responsible for figuring out how or why the Spirit works the way He does. You have what you need, and the congregation needs every one of you.  You’re responsible for rating the value of any gift, differences don’t mean greater or lesser, but different. When I preach and you listen, it is not the same gift of office, but you are serving Christ with listening as much as I am with preaching.  When I baptize, administer the Sacrament, absolve you of your sins, and you receive it by the Spirit worked faith we are both in the service of the one Lord and carrying out His command. It’s the same Christ who uses you to share this comfort and hope and peace of Christ to others.  We are merely called on to use what the Lord gives us and where He has placed us for the glory of God and the good of His people.  

God has it all planned out for you, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” He has given out His gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, according to His good pleasure.  May He who began a good work in you bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6]. 

 

St. James the Elder, Apostle 2021

St. James the Elder, Apostle

Acts 12:1-5; Mark 10:35-45

July 25, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Today the Church celebrates the Festival of St. James the Elder, who was one of the 12 disciples.  This James, is called the “elder” to distinguish him from one of the other of the 12, James the “lesser” or “the younger”, who was the son of Alphaeus and Mary Clopas. 

The Gospels tell us that among the first disciples Christ called to Himself were the two sons of Zebedee and Salome: James and John.  James was present at some of the most significant events in Jesus’ ministry. He was one of the favored three blessed to witness the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration of Jesus, and the Lord’s agony in the Garden.   Yet, through it all, he is strangely silent in the Scripture.

The Gospel do recount however, this passage that we hear today from Mark 10.  Either directly or through their mother, James and John ask the Lord a favor, the favor of sitting at Jesus’ right and left hand when He enters into His glory. This causes the other disciples to be offended at the brother gumption.  In reacting this way, the other ten were just as conceited. They were jealous in their demand for equality, their fear of being under anyone else, or never wanting anyone to rise above them. They were all thinking in a worldly way.  Jesus bluntly answers, “You don’t know what you are asking” (Mark 10:38).

This is a hard lesson for us. We often think in worldly terms rather than according the kingdom of God.  The church often tries to employ worldly methods to spiritual matters, in business and finance and conflict and counseling, and in doing so, miss the entire heart of the gospel: the forgiveness of sins and God’s declaration of sinners justified for the sake of Christ alone.  

How else do you think worldly when it comes to Jesus’ kingdom?  Some desire prestige even in the church, climbing the perceived ladder in church politics, desiring everyone’s recognition for a donation given or services rendered. Others assume that if you check off all the right doctrinal questions and answers, or pass the dreaded confirmation examination, that is enough. Some feel that as long as you live a good life and never overtly and publicly break the 10 Commandments that Jesus somehow owes you?  Trying to live your best life now, to gain as much worldly comfort as possible as if the life to come is just an afterthought?  Or even the reverse, that if you suffer enough now, then you deserve more later. 

 But the Lord’s glory is unexpected.  It comes only through the cross.  Jesus asks the presumptuous brothers, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38b).  In prideful self-confidence, they both affirm they are able.  Little did they know what they were agreeing to, yet Jesus knew.  It was as if He looked through the years and saw.  He told them, “The cup that I drink you will drink and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at My right hand or at My left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

James indeed would get his chance to drink of the cup of suffering with Jesus. He was to have his glory. He was to be at the top, at the front of the line, the very first of the twelve, in fact, to die as a martyr in the service of the Lord Jesus.  In fact, James is the only of the 12 apostles whose death is described in Scripture.  We heard it already today, in Acts 12.  Almost 10 years after Jesus’ resurrection, even around Passover when Jesus Himself was crucified, King Herod Agrippa I had James beheaded for the crime of witnessing about Jesus, of His resurrection, and the free gift of eternal life through faith in Him.   

What a change in priority! No more was James selfishly seeking the praise of men, rather in praising His Lord, he was willing to be arrested and put to death. Truly, he did drink the Lord’s cup and was baptized with the Lord’s baptism. By God’s grace, he was able. 

James received glory in giving all glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. For Jesus shed His blood and laid down His life for James, and James offered His own life up in return as a thank offering to God, a thanksgiving for his life that will have no end.

Now, it’s unlikely that any one of us will be threatened with the sword for the sake of our Christian faith. But nevertheless, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our lives are not our own. We are slaves of Him who ransomed us and saved us. We can offer ourselves as living sacrifices in His service, having been redeemed and saved by the His boundless grace and mercy!

For we also have been baptized with the Lord’s baptism. And in that Holy Baptism we have been buried with Him. And we too shall rise with Him in glory. And we share in the Lord’s cup. And in that Lord’s cup, that Holy Communion, which we are blessed to receive every Sunday, we receive forgiveness of sins, divine medicine to heal the wounds of the soul, strength to face a hostile culture and even the devil and his accusations, and we too proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

In His coming, Christ serves us again and again. For this is the way of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus proclaims to His disciples, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” He served us with His death, handing over His life for us, ransoming us out of Hell.  By Jesus’ resurrection, Christ has passed through death and draws us safely to Himself.  Forgiven, restored, freed. Service rendered, ransom paid.  He became a slave of all that you would be first and take a place in the heavenly kingdom. Upon His return, Jesus’ service will not be one of humility, but of power and glory and honor.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen. 

Trinity 7 2021 - Romans 6:19-23

Trinity 7 2021

Romans 6:19-23

July 18, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Last week we considered the first portion of Romans 6 in which we heard Paul addresses the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”  To which he answers immediately, “By no means!”  His next question asks whether or not we have any actual understanding of grace. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” Don’t you know what that means?  What God’s grace in Baptism has given to us and made us to be? Don’t you know that grace reigns supreme in the believer over sin and disobedience? 

Paul goes on, ‘We were buried with Christ by Baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too would be raised from the death of sin and walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).   That newness of life is sanctification which is a gift that leads to eternal life. “If we have been united with Him in a death like His, that is a death by crucifixion, a death in obedience to God the Father and the Law, and we have been united to Him in a death like His by Holy Baptism, then we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” – which we are in Holy Baptism. In Titus 3 Paul says this is Baptism both of regeneration, which is justification, and also renewal, which is sanctification. 

Paul then rephrases his earlier question. He asks “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the law but are under grace?” Again he answers, “By no means!” We are free from sin, not for sin.  “Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, (you who are Baptized) now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”

All of this can be a bit confusing which is why Paul spends so much time on it in Romans and his other writings. If we are not ruled by sin why do we sin? If we are free from condemnation of the Law what does our obedience matter? What does Paul call us slaves?

You are slaves to the one that you obey. You are ruled by sin or by God, there is no third option.  Either you are slave to sin, hating the law and seeking your own way, which leads to damnation, or you are obedient to God, a slave to righteousness, loving His Law and His ways. We know that our old man, that wicked part of us continues to struggle and fight against the new man in Christ that you have been made into. He hates God and His law. The Old Man was crucified with Christ in order that the body of sin would be brought to nothing. 

Here is the point of our Epistle today, from the last portion of Romans 6 – as a baptized believer in Christ you are no longer enslaved by sin. You are free in Christ. Baptism has killed you and anyone who has died to sin has been set free from sin.  This is what it is to be baptized.

Baptism does not make you your own master. The One whom you are baptized into is your Lord.  Being ruled by grace, you are now free to engage in the life-long battle against your sinful desires, the devil, and the world. You are now free to serve God in righteousness and purity. 

Because in your baptism you have been freed of the Law’s condemnations. You have been and are absolved of your sins. You are not guilty. You have not, however, been freed from the Law’s demands. You have been be freed of sin by Baptism which saves. You now belong to God. Free of sin you become a slave of God. His mark is upon you. You are ruled by grace. You are not free in regard to righteousness, but yoked with Christ. Your justification leads to your sanctification. Because you have been united with Christ through faith and in Baptism, then this leads to your sanctification, so act like it!  When you struggle with knowing what this is to look like and how it is to be lived out, look to Christ, both as an example but also as your liberator.

Christ didn’t struggle with being a slave of His Father for He was without sin. He was happily obedient to His Father even when it was unjust and terribly painful and didn’t seem to make sense. He never doubted that His Father loved Him and would vindicate Him. He was perfectly obedient, perfectly holy and sanctified for He is God in the flesh.  He died upon the cross to earn not His own freedom, but earn yours.  He knew that His Father would work everything together for good and deliver us to Himself as a gift.

The giftedness of this freedom from sin and being chained together to Christ’s death and resurrection is the key. You are baptized, which is not so much a conversion of intellect or experience, as it is an on-going, daily crucifying of the old sinful man and a raising of the new, a conforming you into the image of Christ and not the other way around.

So that you no longer get what your sin has earned or deserved, but are gifted with Christ Himself.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.”  Wages are earned and deserved. Gifts are not. The wages you deserve is death, eternal death because of your sinfulness.  But the very essence of grace which fills both the Giver and the gifted with joy is that your freedom in Christ leads to your sanctification, your holiness, your set-apartedness with Christ Himself.  To believe this – that God gives us eternal life in Christ for free without works–is to live by faith. And that is the life into which we are all Baptized to which we have been called.

Trinity 6 2021 - Romans 6:1-11

Trinity 6 2021

Romans 6:1-11

July 11, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

How many of you, I wonder, know the date of your baptism?  Each Sunday in our bulletin we list the names of those who have the anniversary of their baptism throughout the week.  Even so, I wonder how many know when you were baptized.  And how many of you take note of that day each year on your baptismal anniversary?

We Lutherans make much of Baptism, and rightly so, because God does in Holy Scripture.  And yet many are plagued with a kind of “once and done” attitude at times, as if Baptism doesn’t mean that much in our day to days lives. But it does, as St. Paul explains here in Romans 6, one of the most important Biblical passages about Baptism and its ongoing significance in your life. 

So let’s start with Paul’s words at the beginning of the passage, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).  The Romans were tempted with the false idea that because Baptism forgives sin, and that God is merciful and forgiving, that they were now free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want.  It’s easy to understand this temptation.  All too easily we are tempted to make grace an invitation to sin. “I like to sin. God likes to forgive. We’re all set!”  Or “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.”  This immature attitude misses the whole point of God’s grace in Baptism.  There is no excuse, no rationale, no license to sin for those who are baptized in Christ.

Because, as Paul continues… “all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).  In baptism a person is united with Christ in the washing of rebirth, which results in the new, Spirit created attitudes, desires, and actions.  That’s because in baptism, the Old Man is crucified with Christ, you are baptized into Jesus’ death. 

Death is evidence of sin’s presence and control. Later on Paul goes on to say, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  Here, in reference to baptism, Paul isn’t talking about just any kind of death.  This is not death not in general, but a specific death, a death to sin.  Spiritual death, physical death, and eternal death are all the consequences of sin, not a death to sin.  Instead, your death to sin in Baptism is extraordinary because you are baptized into Jesus’ death.  Paul says your death to sin in baptism connects you with and plugs you into the death of Jesus. 

So that your baptism is your death with Christ, not Christ’s death with or for you.  The 4th century bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, “Baptism is the Cross. What the Cross then, and Burial, is to Christ, that Baptism has been to us, even if not in the same respects. For He died Himself and was buried in the flesh, but we have done both to sin” (NPNF 11:405). Christ identifies Himself with us. His righteousness is credited to us, received by faith.  His death was on the cross, yours in baptism which gives the benefits of His work on the cross.  As you are united to His death and burial and therefore you will be united to His resurrection and life.  As this new life has already begun for the child of God, at Christ’s return, your bodies will be raised to life everlasting. “So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to god in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). 

This is why when a baptism takes place, the person is marked with the sign of the cross upon the forehead and heart – to mark him as redeemed by Christ the crucified.  This is why it is a good practice to make the sign of the cross over oneself – it is a mark of your death to sin by your connection to the cross. So even Luther encourages, when wake up in the morning, make the sign of the cross and say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Marking oneself with a sign of death, of Jesus’ death, to which you have been united. When we use these words before our prayers or in church whenever the “red cross T” appears, we recall and confess before heaven, earth and hell all that God has given us in our baptism: victory over death and devil, forgiveness of our sins, God’s grace, the Holy Spirit, newness of life.

Baptism embraces your entire lives as believers. It sets the daily rhythm of your lives as Christians. Remember your baptism. Never say, “I was baptized,” but “I am baptized.”  It is the present reality of your identity and connection with Jesus. Those crucified with Christ have been freed from sin’s effects, and yet the impulse to sin remains even after receiving God’s forgiveness in those blessed waters.  The technical word for this is called “concupiscence.”  The struggle over your eternal soul, your eternal life, continues.  “The Holy Spirit doesn’t permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so it can be carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants” (SA III III 44).  So Baptism explains how and why you are able to resist sin rather than persist in it. Sin does not control your life anymore. You belong to Christ, bought with the price of His blood.  Having been redeemed, don’t waste your lives pursuing opportunities to sin, or condoning your sins or the sins of others.  Where the Law causes sin to multiply, grace like a mighty flood, overflows above and beyond all sins. 

This is why God gives you His gift of baptism. Your baptism indicates that the Old Adam in you should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Remember your baptism, that is to say, use your baptism.  Live in repentance and faith in the triune God, who has called you His own. 

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