Sunday, November 20, 2022

The King on the Cross

[Below you'll find the message shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville Ohio, earlier today. You'll also be able to view both worship services. Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church Year.]

Luke 23:27-43

In today’s Gospel lesson, we read what may be the unlikeliest prayer ever. One of the criminals crucified with Jesus says to the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

Here, the second criminal to speak at Jesus’ crucifixion confesses his belief that Jesus is the King of all kings.

More than that, we see he believes that Jesus, beyond death, will claim His eternal kingdom.

There are two things that make this prayer so unlikely.

The first is that a dying man, like Jesus, doesn’t look like someone about to claim a crown.

The second is that at this moment, the whole world seems to be mocking Jesus. The Jewish religious authorities, the Roman soldiers, and the other criminal being crucified all mock Him, challenging Jesus to save Himself as He had saved others. Even the sign on Jesus’ cross mocks Him. “I-N-R-I,” it says, abbreviating the Latin phrase, “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum,” “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Yet, the second criminal prays to Jesus as his King, God the Son, and asks to be part of Jesus’ eternal kingdom. How does this man know that Jesus is King and that even he, who Luke describes in the Greek in which he wrote his gospel, as an “evil doer,” can be part of Jesus’ kingdom?

The second criminal knows these things for the same reason you and I–and anyone else–can know that Jesus is King and that we can be part of His kingdom. On the cross, Jesus preached the good news of new and everlasting life with God for all who repent and believe in Him. This happened when Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Now, it’s obvious that this is an incredibly gracious prayer. Jesus is praying that the Father will forgive those who are killing Him! But who exactly is killing Jesus?

We find our answer in the three predictions Jesus makes of His crucifixion as recorded by Luke.

In the first, Jesus says that His fellow Jews will crucify Him. (Luke 9:22)

In the second, He says that “men,” that is, all humanity, will put Him on the cross. (Luke 9:44)

In the third, Jesus says that Gentiles, non-Jews like you and me, represented by the Romans, will crucify Him. (Luke 18:32)

Every one of us, by our sinful natures, by the sins we commit and the righteous thoughts we fail to hold and the righteous deeds we fail to do, are responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion.

So, in this prayer, Jesus prays for the forgiveness of us all, the whole human race, including you and me. Jesus prays that all of us who crucify Him will be sheltered in the grace that He, the sinless King Who died and rose for sinners, can give. Jesus prays for you!

In Jesus’ prayer, the second criminal heard both the Law that condemns sin and the Gospel that sets those who believe in Him free from our common human slavery to sin. In response to the conviction of his sins by God’s Law by confessing his sin, just as we do every time we gather to worship. “We are punished justly,” he tells the other criminal, “for we are getting what our deeds deserve.” (Luke 23:41)

But in Jesus’ prayer, this man also heard the words of the King of all creation, “the image of the invisible God,” according to our lesson from Colossians for today, the One through Whom “all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:13, 16-17)

He knew that Jesus had power over everything! In the Word of Gospel Jesus spoke in His prayer, although His body was bloodied and broken, the second criminal saw the King and Maker of all things Who would not be deterred from loving His children or dying for our salvation even as He was dying at our hands. And so, the criminal confesses faith in Jesus, asking Jesus to remember him when He claims His Kingdom, which Jesus will do on Easter Sunday morning.

To this man, an inveterate evildoer and a criminal his whole life, Jesus speaks a Word of gospel promise: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Notice that Jesus lays down no pre-conditions for the man to earn his salvation. The Word of God from Jesus has led the man to believe and that is all that sinners like you and me need to be assured that one day, we too will be with Jesus in paradise

The two criminals in our gospel lesson show us that there are really only two possible ways we can respond to Jesus on the cross. 

The first possible response is for us to hate Jesus. You see, if my sin and your sin is so serious that it requires the sinless Son of God to die for me, there’s no way I can deny that I’m a sinner. The death of the innocent Savior Jesus shows us that we all are, as the apostle Paul writes in Romans, “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity…full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice…gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; [inventors of] evil;…[people with] no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.” (Romans 1:29-31)

I’ve read that passage to some people and heard them say, “Sounds like Congress.” But I say, we all need to look in the mirror. In truth, it sounds like every single one of us. 

You may say you don’t know anybody who hates Jesus. But, friends, have you ever heard anybody say—or, have you yourself ever said—“Jesus was a great teacher” or “Jesus was a good man” or some such nonsense? When human beings say things like this, they’re really saying they reject God’s verdict on the sinful nature into which each and every one of us was born.

The ancient saints knew this.

David, called out for adultery and murder, knew that while he was made a saint by God’s grace through faith in God, he was nonetheless a sinner. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)

And Job, despite his faith in God, knew that he had inherited sinful impulses from a fallen human race: “Who can bring what is pure from the impure?” he asks, then answers, “No one!” (Job 14:4)

You see, we like to delude ourselves that we’re just good enough to earn God’s forgiveness, just righteous enough to earn a place in His kingdom. The King of all kings blows that foolishness to bits. You and I, folks, by our sinful nature and the sins we commit because of it are what drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet!

But, there is a second response we can have to Jesus hanging on the cross: We can hate our sins.

This was the response of the second evildoer. He knew that he deserved to die for his sins. He was horrified that his sins required Jesus to suffer so much. He was overwhelmed with gratitude that God would stoop all the way down to a cross because of His love for us. The man hated what he, by the decisions he’d made, the wrongs he’d done, and the good he’d failed to do, all of which had brought Jesus to this place of torment, mockery, and death.

When, by the power of God’s Word, we hate our sins enough to see the King on the cross as our God and Savior, we know to pray, “Jesus, remember me in Your Kingdom.”

And we can know that Jesus will remember us and does remember us even now!

God’s Word is clear: “…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Dear friends in Christ, this gospel word is for you too.

Christ the King has died for you.

He offered Himself up as the perfect sacrifice for your sin.

He prayed and still prays that you might know God’s forgiveness.

And to those who turn to Him in repentant faith, He offers life with God that never ends.

Elsewhere, Jesus says, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

May we daily listen to God’s Word that leads us to hate our sin and to love our King, Jesus, and so be assured of our place in His kingdom always. Amen

Monday, November 07, 2022

Two Great Promises for the Grieving

[This message was shared this afternoon at the funeral for Dorothy.]

I only met Dorothy a few times at Baptisms. She was friendly and open. 

But last week, as I met with Loretta and Karen and some of the family, I learned of a warm and adventurous person who happily took on challenges–like making wedding gowns and bridal party dresses–and who dealt with life with good humor. 

She liked to mark holidays in a big way, putting up decorations and sending out cards with notes. She wrote Christmas letters and letters for special occasions. She did for others, including not just family members, but also neighbors and friends.

I loved hearing about how she and her family dealt with the inevitable conflicts that arise in any family. She spoke her mind and the other family member spoke theirs, then there would be peace between them. It reminds me of what God’s Word says: “If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day.” (Ephesians 4:26, Good News Translation) In other words, dust-ups between people who love each other are inevitable; but by God’s power, our call is to resolve our disagreements, forgive each other, and move on. Dorothy seemed to live this.

She was well-loved. I like what Mason wrote in one of his notes to me during my meeting with the family last week: “She always cared for us…She never been rude to us…She is loved.” That’s a great eulogy by an eight-year-old!

But in the midst of your sorrow today, God’s Word brings you all both comfort and hope. Both of the Bible passages the family has chosen for today bring these two gifts from God.

Psalm 23 is the most famous of the 150 hymns that make up the Old Testament book of Psalms. Its composer, King David, was a shepherd. So, not surprisingly, David saw God as the shepherd of people who put their trust in God. 

Sheep, it should be said, are stupid. They easily get lost, wandering off for the next enticing thatch of grass, heedless of danger. They’re defenseless against predators, just like you and I are subject to the dangers of sin, death, and temptation. Just as sheep need shepherds, we need God, our good shepherd, to lead us away from sin, death, darkness, and despair, to lead us to forgiveness, life, hope, and peace.

Jesus, God the Son, called Himself “the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.” But ten centuries before Jesus’ birth, David could see that God wanted nothing more than to shepherd, to lead, anyone who trusts in Him through the hard moments of this life into an eternity with God beyond all grief, tears, or goodbyes.

David writes in our psalm, which is a kind of love song to God: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing…Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:1-4) The God we know in Jesus doesn’t run away when we grieve or hurt. He stands with us. He walks with us. And because He's been through grief and death, He understands us when we go through the same things!

But He does more than that. Psalm 23 also says: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies [even the enemies of death and grief and the sin that alienate us from God and others]. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows…” (Psalm 23:5) Because, as our other lesson from Romans 8, reminds us, nothing can separate us from the love the good shepherd Jesus has for us, we can know, with King David that God’s “goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

You and I have an advantage over King David. He knew God through God’s Word and God’s promises, to be sure. He had experienced God’s love and God’s power and God’s forgiveness in the depths of grief and heartache, as well as his own sin. But today, you and I can see and experience the greatness of God’s love for us more certainly. In Jesus Christ, God the Son, God took on our human flesh and He became our servant, dying on a cross bearing our sin and our death in His sinless body. God absorbed all our sin and death and grief into Himself on the cross so that, when God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He could open up life with God for all who repent and believe in Jesus. Jesus told the grief-stricken Martha, and He tells you today: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…” (John 11:25-26)

In the crucified Jesus Christ, God promises to be with you in every situation that life in this fallen, imperfect, and sometimes hurtful world may bring. 

In the risen Jesus Christ, God promises that He will be our good shepherd even beyond the gates of death, leading us to an eternity where there is no more grief, no more tears, and where all who have died trusting in Christ will be with God. 

Friends, as you trust in Jesus as Dorothy trusted in Jesus, you can be sure that you will live in God’s house along with her forever.

Who knows? She may already be planning what cookies she’ll bake for your arrival. May God bless and comfort you all in the promise of Jesus’ resurrection! Amen


Sunday, November 06, 2022

Who is a Saint?

[Below are the live stream videos of today's worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Also, you can find the text for today's message. Have a good week. God bless you!]

1 John 3:1-3
Friends in Christ, God’s Word in today’s second lesson tells us, “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3)

The “this hope” to which John refers here is that when Christ appears, that is, when He returns at the end of this old creation’s story, “we [who put our hope and trust in Christ] shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

What a promise!

We, who have given things in this world higher priority than we have given to God…

We, who have used God’s name to prop up our petty deceptions…

We, who have chosen to watch a mindless movie or attend a sporting event over worshiping God or listening to His Word…

We who have dishonored our parents or others in authority, who have swiped little things and coveted big things, who have committed adultery in mind or act, who have lied or misconstrued the actions of others to feel superior…we sinners, who are also saints, live in the hope that whenever Jesus returns to this universe and calls us from death, WE will be just like Jesus because, unlike the rest of the world, we will see Him as He is. We will see Him for Who He is, truly God and truly human, “the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

All of this begs the question: Who is a saint?

Saints are sinners who have been made clean–made pure, righteous, worthy for life with God–by God. God does this through Jesus’ death on the cross for sinners and through the faith in Jesus the Holy Spirit gives to sinners through God’s Word, whether preached, taught, read, or given to us in Holy Baptism or Holy Communion.

It’s a good thing because the Bible reminds us that unless we are made pure through faith in Jesus, we’re in eternal trouble, bound for eternal condemnation. “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?” Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

These words of Paul judge us all in some way. There’s no getting around the Bible’s verdict about you and me: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23)

But only sinners can be saints.

Throughout his letters in the New Testament, the apostle Paul addresses the churches to which he writes as “saints” or “children of God.”

He calls those in the Roman church he doesn’t know “holy people.” (Romans 1:7)

He calls the church in Corinth whose members include those guilty of incest, adultery, and idolatry, among other things, and who we will in subsequent verses, forcefully call to repentance for their sins, “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

Repeatedly, Paul calls the sinners in the churches he writes, “saints.”

Revelation 7:14 assures us that saints are sinners who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)

Saints are those who believe that, in spite of their sins, when Jesus, “the the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” died on the cross, the world for which He died includes you and me! (John 1:29)

Jesus died for you, friends.

He died to make you righteous and holy, His saint.

The Bible assures us, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) That’s true even when we don’t feel very saintly, even when our faith is weak, maybe as small as a mustard seed!

Do you find this hard to accept? That God, through Christ, declares you, a sinner, also one of His saints who will live with Him forever?

I told the new members class yesterday that, on occasion through the years, I’ve had people tell me, “I’m too much of a sinner for God to love me or save me from sin and death.” I want to jump out of my chair and ask them, “Who do you think you are? You’re underestimating the power of God to destroy the power of sin and death over your puny life and your sins!”

I have to also say today, what I didn’t mention yesterday, that I’ve had others tell me, “You know, pastor, I’ve lived a pretty good life. I think I’ll be in heaven.” I want to jump out of my skin when I hear this and scream, “Who do you think you are? Do you think your ‘pretty good life’ adds up to the perfect righteousness needed to have a life with God?”

The Bible tells us that “we have been justified [that is, made righteous, made saints] through faith, [and so] we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 5:1)

Friends, if by the power of God’s Word, you believe in Jesus as your God and your Savior, you are a saint and this day is for you. As much as it is to remember the saints who have passed from this world into the presence of Jesus.

It’s a day to celebrate what God has done for all the saints in making us His own through Christ and filling us with the hope that not only will we one day see Jesus face to face, but also by the miracle of God’s grace, we will be just like our Savior: alive, righteous, and eternally new. Amen