Christianity is tough to market

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Epiphany 4 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
January 29, 2023
Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            Advertising is powerful — and it works.  The going rate for a 30 second ad during the upcoming Super Bowl is over $7 million; almost a quarter of a million per second.  Advertising works.  It drives desires.  It creates a need and then shows you how to fill it.  It creates discontent and promises a solution. 

            Marketing Christianity is tough.  How does the Church attract more people?  How does the Church reach out to hurting people to get them to follow Jesus? 

            There is a great temptation to try to convince people that the church can meet their needs for help with parenting, finances, friendships, therapy, planning and all sorts of things.  There is a great temptation to try to put on an impressive show on Sunday morning to keep people entertained and engaged, and to preach “relevant” sermons with practical advice for life.  Churches and youth programs often attract people with all sorts of things; a kind of, “Whatever it takes to bring them in,” mentality with the goal of doing a bait and switch.  Get them in with this flashy thing and then give them the gospel.  The problem is something a wise church leader once said, “What you win them with is what you win them to.”  It you attract people with the idea that the church will fix all their troubles, there will be many who are terribly disappointed when they still have troubles and life is still hard even after being fully engaged in church. 

            Marketing Christianity is tough because Christianity is about the cross, and the cross is not an easy sell.  Here, at Immanuel, we strive to be Christ-centered and Cross-Focused. But when you focus on the cross what do you see?  The cross of Christ is good news, but it is good news because of the bad news.  When you focus on the cross you see Jesus suffering and dying.  Why is He suffering?  Why is He dying?  It is because of your sin.  Jesus is bleeding because you are not good enough.  Jesus struggles for breath because you break God’s commandments.  This is hard news.  This is a hard truth to embrace.  This is a difficult truth to market to a world that thinks it is doing just fine.  The wise of the world do not want to join us on Sunday to get on our knees and plead guilty of being natural born sinners who deserve punishment and hell. 

            The world wants preachers to preach what their itching ears want to hear.  The world wants to hear that they are good enough, but the hard truth of the cross is that your sin is serious and you are not okay just the way you are.  Jesus’ and John the Baptist both preached the same short sermon that is still valid today, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  Repent! Don’t embrace sin — turn away from sin. The bad news of the cross is that you are a sinner and your sin needs to be punished.  This is not a message the world wants to hear.

            Focusing on the cross you see your sin and that is bad news, but the cross is not all bad news.  The bad news is not the main truth of the cross.  The amazing good news of the cross is that Jesus is on the cross because He loves you.  Jesus loves you so much that He is paying the price for your sin in order to set you free. 

            Striving to be Christ-centered and cross-focused may not be good as a marketing strategy but it is the power of God for the forgiveness of sins.  St. Paul states this in the beginning of his letter to the church in Corinth.  1 Corinthians 1:17 (ESV)  17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 

            The world loves eloquent wisdom.  The world has been seeking after wisdom from the beginning; even in the Garden of Eden.  Genesis 3:6 (ESV) 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

            We can be so impressed by wisdom, so enticed by wisdom, so taken in by wisdom, that we can be destroyed by chasing after wisdom. 1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV) 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

            The world wants success; a good education, a good job, a good family, a good retirement.  The world wants affirmation.  The world wants to be told that everything is fine.  Look in the mirror and tell yourself, “I am in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing,” or, “I am successful, I am confident, I am powerful, I am strong,” or the classic, “I am good enough and smart enough and doggone it, people like me.”  The world wants you to believe that you just need a pep talk to do a little better.

            Joel Osteen, who pastors a huge church in Houston and is watched by millions, has a consistent message of the power of positive thinking.  If you have a better attitude and have loftier goals, God will open up the floodgates of His blessings.  Osteen preaches the wisdom of the world.

            The world wants affirmation.  The cross brings transformation.  The cross does not make sense to the world.  How could someone suffering and dying do anything good?  What kind of God is stripped and nailed to a cross to slowly die?  That is ridiculous.  How is that going to help me to lead a better life?  How is that going to make me successful?  Forget the cross; just tell me what I need to do.  Just give me some encouragement.  The world wants affirmation.  The cross brings transformation. 

            1 Corinthians 1:21–25 (ESV) 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 

            Jesus does not affirm you in your sin; rather He transforms you into a new creation.  A new creation, born again by water and the spirit.  A new creation who knows that you bring nothing to God but your sins, and Jesus takes your sins and, in exchange, gives you His perfection.

            The world is chasing after money and pleasure and it rejects Jesus on the cross as some archaic folk tale for simple-minded people. The world is lost in its wisdom, but you know the truth.  The cross is the power of God for the forgiveness of sins.  Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  You know that the cross is not the end of Jesus.  Jesus rose from the dead.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia! 

            Jesus does not affirm you in your sin; rather He transforms you into a new creation.  A new creation, born again by water and the spirit.  A new creation who knows that you bring nothing to God but your sins, and Jesus takes your sins and, in exchange, gives you His perfection. 

            Our gathering together here each week is not a gathering of deeply spiritual people looking to share our wisdom with one another.  It is not a gathering to hear an eloquent, poetic sermon to entertain and enlighten you to the ways of the world.  You gather here as poor-in-spirit followers of Jesus who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus is your Lord and Master. 

            Jesus is not your coach.  Jesus is not your therapist.  Jesus is not your financial advisor.  Jesus is your Savior.  Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross at Calvary for you.  The world says this is foolishness — the world is perishing.  1 Corinthians 1:25 (ESV) 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 

            Christianity is tough to market because people don’t know they need Jesus.  But Christianity has a force more powerful than a Super Bowl ad to convince people. We have the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit works with the foolishness of words and water and bread and wine to make disciples of all nations — to make a disciple of you.  Amen. 

Galilee of the Gentiles

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Epiphany 3 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
January 22, 2023
Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-25

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

New York city. It’s full of glamor, city lights, wealth and power. It’s the capital of capitalism. Things happen in New York city. It’s the city that never sleeps. Always lit up bright late into the night and early in the morning. The people who live there are proud of their city. Tourists flood to the city in droves, with about 56 million people visiting in 2022. Tourist traps sell “I heart NY” pins and stickers. You take pictures when you visit there. Just the skyline of the city is recognizable. The Statue of Liberty, symbol of the American spirit, is just outside the Big Apple. NYC truly is the city in America. 

Hamilton, OH, on the other hand, is a little different. I haven’t lived in Hamilton all that long, but I don’t remember seeing any places selling “I heart Hamilton” pins or stickers. Hamilton boasts a unique Skyline, but I haven’t seen any tourists taking pictures of their chili. Unlike New York, Hamilton sleeps. Usually pretty well. It’s not the city in lights, there’s not always something going on in Hamilton like there is in New York. Someone from New York might even look down on we who live in lowly Hamilton. 

To the Jews in Jesus’ time, Jerusalem was like the New York of Israel. Jerusalem was where the temple was. Jerusalem was where the prophets preached. Jerusalem had the priests, the scribes and the Pharisees. Jerusalem was where the people came to celebrate the Passover. It was the place where things happened. It was the place with the light of God’s temple. With the light of His Word. They dwelt in high Jerusalem. 

Galilee, on the other hand, was a little different. It’s a little closer to the Hamilton, OH of Israel. Galilee wasn’t really a place you would visit on purpose – at least, not back then. There weren’t any pilgrimages to Galilee, because Galilee had no temple. In fact, there were so few Jews in Galilee that it was known as Galilee of the Gentiles. No-one made a pilgrimage to Galilee for the Passover. If there was a light of God in Galilee, it was well hidden. Those in high, bright Jerusalem looked down on those who lived in lowly, dark Galilee. 

To top it all off, to give those in Jerusalem just one more reason to look down on those lowly Galileans; when the Assyrians came and took Israel into exile, Galilee was the first to go. That must mean the worst sinners were there. All of Israel had sinned, certainly. But the sins of those in dark Galilee must have piled higher than the rest. Stacked high in a dung heap, a stench before the LORD. So, God took them into exile first. Jerusalem was the city of the worthy, Galilee was the region of the worthless. 

It’s easy to feel like you’re dwelling in darkness, and not because you live in Hamilton instead of in New York. No, this is an internal darkness. The kind that eats away at you from the inside. It seems like everyone else has life figured out. You scroll through social media and see the best of everyone else’s life, and you can’t help but compare it to the worst parts of your own. It’s like they’re all living in high, bright Jerusalem, but at the end of the day, you slink off to low, dark Galilee. 

Even if they all treat you well, and politely, maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you don’t really deserve their kindness. After all, they don’t know you. They just know the face you let them see. 

They just see your mask of polite conversation. You know the truth. Behind your mask, are sins stacked high in a stinking heap. All the things you’ve done, left undone, thoughts, words and deeds. 

You might even tell yourself that your greatest lie was convincing everyone that you’re a good person. The truth is, you’re not really from Jerusalem. You’re just an imposter from lowly dark Galilee. 

It’s easy to feel that way before others, and it’s even easier to feel that way before God. The words of God’s law are clear. He sees your sin. He sees your thoughts, your words, and your deeds. He sees what you have done and left undone. His holy law condemns your sin. It calls you out, naming you a sinner, lost and condemned. It rips the mask off your dung heap and exposes your sin for what it is. You are a citizen of Galilee. Your sins have piled high so that you dwell in their dark shade. 

What does this mean for you, citizen of Galilee? Surely, it means judgment. Surely, God will unmask you before your friends and family, pointing out each and every one of your horrible sins. That is what His law demands. It’s what you really deserve. God should pour out the cup of His wrath on you. Just like He did to Galilee. You should drink the cup of God’s wrath down to the dregs. 

So let us hear the word of the LORD to Galilee. Hear what He spoke by the mouth of the prophet Isaiah. Thus says the LORD: 

There will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.

Thus says the LORD, anguished sinner! God will bring, not His doom and gloom, but His glory! 

God will pour out His cup on Galilee, but not the cup of His wrath. The cup of His blessing! He has glorified the first of the exiles. The worst sinners in Israel. Those who once piled sin upon sin in a great and stinking heap He has blessed. 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

God does not let the land of darkness stay dark. He brings light. Light, bright, shining, incredible and glorious. Light into darkness. Light like in high Jerusalem. But not like the light in Jerusalem. New York City could turn on every light in the city. But you wouldn’t see that glow if it was high noon. The day is brighter than every city light.

The day has come to Galilee. To you, lowly sinners who dwelt in darkness. And the day is brighter than the brightest light in high Jerusalem. God’s light, Matthew tells us, 

…went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Jesus, the light of the world, comes first to Galilee. To the land of darkness. To the land of sinners. Not to high Jerusalem. Not to the ones who have life all figured out. No, Jesus comes to poor, miserable sinners like you and like me. This is where He begins His ministry. He comes to the dark land of the Gentiles. There was no doom and gloom on that day for the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, for the LORD, Jesus Christ, had drawn near. 

And Jesus knows who He is coming to. He can see through any mask. He knows the heaps on heaps of sin that Galilee piled against Him, a stench before the LORD and yet He comes to them anyway. He knows your sins too. You might be able to fool others, but you can’t fool God. 

Jesus knows your sins too. He knows your thoughts, your words, and your deeds. He knows what you’ve done and what you’ve left undone. And He comes to you anyway. He comes to you and He washes you. He makes you clean, taking your sins away from you. He takes your sins and He puts them on Himself. He carries your sins throughout His earthly ministry. He carries them out of Galilee and into Jerusalem. For in Jerusalem, Jesus will be judged. 

The law of God is clear. Sin must be punished. Justice must be carried out. The wrath of God must fall. God looks down on the world. He sees all things. Every thought, word and deed. What all have done and what all have left undone. He sees every sin throughout all time that has ever been committed and will ever be committed. And He sees them all on the shoulders of His Son. 

Jesus is nailed to the cross. There is a great weight upon His shoulders. A great, stinking heap. A stench before the LORD. The law of God is clear. Sin was punished. Justice was carried out. The wrath of God fell. On Jesus. He drank the cup of God’s wrath down to the dregs. He took the full punishment for sin. On that cross, Jesus was rejected by God. Jesus was punished for your sin. Jesus, who came first to sinners. 

The Son of God was not the only thing to die that day. All the sins of the world perished with Him. Every thought, word, or deed. Jesus dragged your sin into the grave. The law of God looked at Jesus and sentenced Him to death. Justice is done. God’s law is fulfilled. 

Now, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see your sins. He still sees you for who you are. God does not lie. Instead, He sees the righteousness of Christ. The cross is the great reversal. God looks at sinners and sees righteousness, because God looked at His perfect Son and saw our sin. The great exchange. 

The story doesn’t end there, though. Jesus is, after all, the sinless Son of God. God raised Him from the dead three days later. Justice demanded it. All that righteousness and perfection can’t lie in death forever. Which is really good news for you. 

When God looks at you and sees the righteousness of Christ, it’s not like the wool was pulled over God’s eyes. He’s not seeing something that isn’t there. You’re not lying to God about your own righteousness. No, Christ’s righteousness actually belongs to you. Jesus was raised from the dead because of His righteousness. Now that righteousness belongs to you. What do you think that means for you when you die? This is why we confess in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. It’s because Christ’s righteousness was given to us! It’s ours, not by our works, but by His grace. 

Yes, it’s easy to feel like you’re living in darkness. It’s easy to feel like a citizen of lowly Galilee. It’s easy to feel worthless. Not like a worthy citizen of Jerusalem. But remember who Christ came to first. Remember that Jesus lived in Galilee. Remember that Jesus killed your sins on the cross. But also remember that He rose again. You have His righteousness. One day, you will join with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven. Until that day, rest in the peace that only God can give. 

Clark Kent instead of Superman

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Baptism of our Lord
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
January 8, 2023|
Isaiah 42:1-9, Romans 6:1-11, Matthew 3:13-17

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            The wild-eyed, wilderness prophet is causing quite a stir.  John, the son of the priest Zechariah, is down at the Jordan River preparing the way for the Lord.  At John’s naming his father prophesied, Luke 1:76–79 (ESV) 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

            John urges everyone to “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  The reign and rule of God is coming.  Turn from your sins now while there is still time because we are at the dawn of a new era where God is in charge.  Repent now because the Lord is coming to rule. 

John is attracting a lot of interest.  People from all over are coming to repent of their sins and be baptized in the Jordan River to be washed clean of their iniquities.  The religious leaders come out to spy on John and see what is going on and John rebukes them.  People think John the baptizer is amazing.  People are flocking to hear him and respond to his call to repentance.  The people think John is great.

            John is great and has a huge following, but as great as John is, he is just the prophet.  He is just the forward team getting things ready for the King of Creation to arrive.  John clearly tells the people.  Matthew 3:11 (ESV) 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John is a great prophet but he is not worthy to touch the shoes of the one who is to come.  And John proclaims that the coming one is coming in power and judgment. Matthew 3:10 (ESV) 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Matthew 3:12 (ESV) 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 

            This follows 700 year old prophecy from Isaiah 64:1–2 (ESV)  1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!”  

Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is near!  The almighty one is coming to rule in judgment with His ax and His winnowing fork.  John and the people are expecting a super hero figure to arrive.  They are expecting Superman.

            And then Jesus arrives.  We learn from the Gospel of John that John the Baptist announces Jesus’ arrival, John 1:29 (ESV) 29 … “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

            But Jesus likely does not meet John’s or the crowd’s expectations.  Instead of Superman, they get Clark Kent.  Just a normal looking guy walks up with a few other normal looking guys.  Where is the ax?  Where is the winnowing fork?  Where is the rending of the heavens?  Where is the power and might?  Maybe He is just travelling incognito and He will transform into the super person that we are expecting. 

            But then Jesus tells John that He needs to be baptized by John.  Baptized by John?  What?  This is a baptism of repentance.  You are the chosen one, the Messiah, the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world.  Matthew 3:14 (ESV) 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 

            John knows that the dark world needs a savior.  The world needs someone to come and conquer evil, to put down so-called religious leaders who use and abuse others, to strike down corrupt kings who think only of their own comfort and pleasure.  The world needs a powerful savior to make the mountains quake and the nations tremble.  And here is Jesus of Nazareth who seems so normal.  He didn’t rend the heavens, He just came walking up.  And instead of taking charge He is submitting to John’s baptism. The pure and holy Lamb of God is going down into the waters in which all the people washed off the filth of their sins. 

            Jesus does not act the way John and the people expect Him to act.  And for us, so often, nothing has changed.  Jesus still does not act the way we want Him to act.  He does not yet eliminate all of the evil and darkness. 

This week I spent time at the bedside of a 17 year old girl who graduated from our school.  She was found unconscious without a heartbeat early New Year’s Eve morning.  Paramedics got her heart started but she never regained consciousness.  I pleaded, “God, make her wake up!  Restore her! Bring her back to her family!”  But God did not.  Alacia was determined to have suffered brain death and arrangements were made to donate her organs.  God did not do what I wanted Him to do.  

            But God did do what He promised to do.  As a student, Alacia was baptized into the family of God and He promised to forgive her all her sins.  When Jesus went down into the Jordan River He picked up Alacia’s sins, and your sins, and my sins.  The holy, pure, sinless Lamb of God became the scapegoat corrupted by our sin.  2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  He carries those sins to the cross to be the sacrificial Lamb of God once for all.

            Jesus does not act the way John and the people expect Him to act.  And for us, so often, nothing has changed.  Jesus still does not act the way we want Him to act.  He does not yet eliminate all of the evil and darkness. 

            There in the water Jesus looks like a normal guy getting baptized after walking down the road to the Jordan River.  John must be disappointed that Jesus did not rend the heavens and descend in power.  But just then…Matthew 3:16–17 (ESV) 16 … when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

            Even though it does not look like it, Jesus really is the Son of God come to save the world, but His ways are not our ways.  Jesus did not come to rid the world of sin and evil and sickness and death…not yet.  The people 2,000 years ago were frustrated by Jesus not meeting their expectations.  We are frustrated by Jesus not meeting our expectations.  Jesus does not come to you as some superhero forcing you to believe and behave.  Jesus may not do what you want Him to do, but Jesus continues to do what He has come to do, to forgive sins and give eternal life.  Jesus comes to you hidden in His means of grace. He pours out His grace in the waters of baptism, in His words of forgiveness and in His own Body and Blood in Holy Communion.

            God’s ways are not our ways and yet we are told to continue to pray and so we continue to pray.  In the parable of the persistent widow Jesus teaches Luke 18:1 (ESV) 1 … to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer and says, Matthew 6:7–9 (ESV) 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” 

            1 Peter 5:6–7 (ESV) 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  

            Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.  On Monday night we got to see this in action when football players and coaches and fans at Paycor Stadium, and those watching on television throughout the country cast their anxieties on the Lord as they watched the medical distress of Damar Hamlin.  I suspect many who profess to be agnostic or atheists joined in praying for Damar.  There was nothing they could do but pray.  Even though they try mightily to reject His rule, in times of trouble people instinctively know there is a God and they cast their anxieties on Him.

            You live in this time between Jesus’ ascension from the Mount of Olives and His return in power and glory.  You live now with Jesus’ promises of forgiveness of sins and eternal life looking forward to when Jesus will return with His ax and His winnowing fork to eliminate evil forever.  It is a time of now I am a baptized child of God in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the earth has not yet been recreated and the dead have not yet been raised; that day is still coming. 

            For now, living in this dark world, battling the forces of evil, you have the promises of God to strengthen and preserve you as you look to Jesus’ return in glory to destroy the darkness forever.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Amen. 

The Light Shines in the Darkness

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Epiphany 2023
January 1, 2023
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

            The darkness in the world can be overwhelming. You can get a glimpse of the darkness sometimes walking the halls of a nursing home or a hospital full of sick and hurting and disabled people with never enough dedicated nurses and aides to help them. There is so much pain and suffering and loneliness all concentrated in one building.  You can feel the darkness at children’s hospital where the underground parking garage seems to go on and on forever and it strikes you that there are far too many very sick children who need that great hospital.  There is such darkness in the world.

            And you get home and turn on the evening news and hear about people shot to death over an argument at a party.  You hear about children being abused.  You hear about powerful factions in nations trying to seize power from each other with the citizens caught in the middle as their world is torn apart by soldiers with rifles and tanks and missiles.

            In this world there is great darkness.  You can feel the darkness of hatred, anger, violence, destruction, perversion, poverty, addiction.  As you look into the faces of those around you and the face staring back at you in the mirror you can see the disappointment and desperation and depression that comes from life in the darkness of a fallen world. 

            In the thick darkness of this world you can get lost. People stumble around desperately looking for something that has meaning; something that brings peace, something that dulls the loneliness of the darkness.  Folks search desperately for something to take away the pain — but instead of relief, they find that they are being suffocated by the darkness. 

            There is a great darkness in the world.  But in this deep darkness a light shines.  Like lighting a candle in a pitch black room, even a small light destroys the darkness.  That small light is first seen emanating from a manger in the town of Bethlehem. 

            The Lord God has come to earth in human flesh.  Isaiah 60:1-3 (ESV) 1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

            The light of the world dawns in the little town of Bethlehem.  The flame is lit.  The creator of the world has come to earth to love and serve and give His life for His people; for all people. 

            There is a great darkness in the world.  But in this deep darkness a light shines.  Like lighting a candle in a pitch black room, even a small light destroys the darkness.  That small light is first seen emanating from a manger in the town of Bethlehem. 

            John 1:1, 4-9 (ESV) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. . 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world….

            The light has come to us as that baby in Bethlehem. The light of the world has dawned upon us in Jesus, the Son of God in flesh.  It is the Epiphany, the appearance of God.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  Try as it might, darkness cannot overcome light.  As the vicar said on Christmas, darkness is not the opposite of light, but the absence of light.  The forces of darkness try to snuff out the light.  They try to silence the light.  They try to intimidate the light.  They try to kill the light by nailing Him to the cross, but darkness cannot extinguish the light; the light of the world dawns again on Easter morning.

            And the light of Christ is not a search light overwhelming you with its bright beam.  Not yet.  The light of Christ is not a great fireball in the sky that demands attention.  Not yet.  For now, the light of Christ is the small flame of faith that burns within each of the followers of the light; the light that burns within you.

Christ comes to Bethlehem as the light in the darkness but the light does not remain confined to Bethlehem.  The light spreads to the Shepherds who then tell others.  The light spreads to the mystical magi who come to town to worship the newborn king and take this news back to their homeland.

The light spreads as Jesus’ ministry is begun by John the Baptist bearing witness about the light.  The light spreads as Jesus shows who He is through teaching and miracles and His transfiguration.  The light is spread by the disciples of Jesus who after His death and resurrection bring the Good News of forgiveness of sins to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  They are witnesses to the light.  They have seen the glory of the Word made flesh and they tell others.  The light is spread by Paul who is sent by Christ to bring the light to the Gentiles, the non-Jews, who as followers of Jesus are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. 

The light of Christ spreads from Jerusalem to our ancestors in Europe and Asia and Africa.  The light spreads to the New World; to North, Central and South America.  The light spreads from parent to child, from friend to friend, from pastor to those who hear.  The light has traveled a long way from that manger in Bethlehem to you; the light of the world. 

As the light spreads on Christmas Eve from the Christ candle, to my candle, to the acolytes and the vicar, to those on the end of the pews, to those in the pews until everyone has the light, so, in the same way, the light of Christ is spread from the Christ child to people all over the world who are the light of Christ. 

The light, which dawned in Bethlehem and was revealed to the magi from the east, now burns within you here in this church building on this Sunday morning. But this light; the light of Christ, will not stay confined to the Church building on Sunday morning.  Here is where you come to hear again about the light; to again receive the light through the Word of the light and the Body and Blood of the light so that you can go out into the dark world during the week and be the light of Christ.  You come here, into the light, to be refreshed by the light — for it is a dark world out there.

            Today, as you leave here, you carry the light of Christ out into the darkness of the world.  In your love for others, you bring the light into the gloom and the light pushes back the darkness.

            Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV) 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

You bring the light of Christ to a dark world when you show others grace and love and mercy and forgiveness; the same grace and love and mercy and forgiveness that you have received from Jesus.  You bring the light of Christ to the world when you show others the humble service shown to you by the servant Savior, Jesus.  You show the light by humbly serving others who do not deserve to be served.  You bring the light of Christ to the world when you show others the unconditional forgiveness that you have received from Jesus.  You bring the light of Christ to the world when you care for those who are most vulnerable.  You bring the light of Christ to the world by your good works that others will see and give glory to God. 

You bring the light of Christ to the world when you bear witness to the light. And who is the Light of Christ for? To whom do you bring it?  It is for all people, Jew and Gentile.  It is for sinners.  It is for those in the darkness.  It is for all people.  It is for your family, your classmates, your coworkers, the people you encounter each day, especially the ones that make you uncomfortable.  It is the light of the unsearchable riches of Christ, the overflowing forgiveness of sins poured out upon undeserving sinners.  You bring this light to a world of darkness and depression and despair.  You bring this light to a world of pain and suffering and loneliness that is being convinced by the devil that there is no hope.  You bring the light to the world when you point people to the Word of God, to the waters of baptism, to the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. You bring the light to the world when you point people to the Church.  You bring the light to the world through support of mission efforts here at home and around the globe.  You are the light of the world; let your light shine.  And remember the light is not a blazing spotlight.  It is a small flame pushing back the darkness around you as you live your ordinary life in an extraordinary way as a child of the light amidst people of the darkness.

            And remember, lest the devil deceive you, your salvation is not dependent on the quantity or quality of your light bearing. Your salvation is not based on the brightness of your light.  Your salvation is not from the light you shine, your salvation is the light you shine.  Your salvation is a gift from Jesus.  The light has given His light to you so you are no longer in the darkness.  The light you shine comes from Christ.  This light defeats darkness.  This light defeats the power of sin and guilt and shame.  This light defeats the devil. 

            You, a baptized follower of Jesus, are the light of the world because you have received the light of Christ.  Live as light.  Amen.

The Light has come into the World

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Darkness is scary. It’s one of the most common fears of children, and adults too, even though we might not want to admit it. It’s scary because the darkness hides things. You can’t see in the dark, and that means the darkness is unknown. What’s unknown is scary. Going a new way in the daylight is fine, but at night it’s a different story. 

Darkness is also scary for another reason. Darkness is not a thing by itself. It is the absence of light. Darkness represents nothingness. Outer space is dark. It’s fascinating, but it’s also unnerving. Trying to think about the sheer nothingness in the void between stars is terrifying. 

But that idea of nothingness is the closest we can come to picturing what it was like at the beginning of all things. In the beginning, darkness. In the beginning, nothing. 

But in the beginning, God. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

For in the beginning, God made. He made with His voice. With His Word. For in the beginning, God spoke. He said “Let there be” and there was. He spoke into the lonely darkness. The primordial void. He spoke into the nothingness “Let there be light!” And there was. Suddenly, the world was no longer formless and void. There was no longer a veil of darkness over all things. Things went from unknown to known, because now there was light. 

And the darkness could not overcome it. 

Or, another translation:

the darkness could not comprehend it. 

Darkness does not know the light. When you wake up before dawn and switch on your kitchen light, you move from darkness into light; and, at least for a few seconds, you do not comprehend the light. Neither does darkness understand the light. It cannot overcome it and it cannot defeat it; because it cannot understand it. 

And so, God defeated the darkness. He drove it away by His Word, speaking the foundations of the world into existence. He crafted the world, bringing forth life, birds of the air and fish of the sea. He brought the continents out of the depths, seeding them with plants and animals. Where once there stood a cold and empty void, there is now color and light and life. 

Above it all, God set Adam. God formed Him out of the ground with His hands, breathing His own breath into him. God gave Adam life. Adam walked in the garden in the light, seeing and marveling at the wonder of God’s creation. As Scripture says, it was very good. 

Then, tragedy struck. A fallen angel took the form of a serpent. The serpent twisted the words of God and Adam and Eve fell into sin. Adam hid from God. A good hiding place is not in the light. It’s in the darkness. The light reveals. The darkness hides. All mankind has been hiding from God ever since. Every human being is conceived and born sinful. 

Mankind has fallen into darkness. He tries to make his own way, but he fails. He stumbles, unable to see the ground in front of him. Mankind has made himself formless and void. Just like in the beginning, there is darkness. 

But just like in the beginning, there is God. There is the Word. Humanity dwells in darkness, but there, barely visible on the horizon, light breaks on a dark world. Rays of shining light shine through the mists. The birds of the air and the fish of the sea rejoice. Plants and animals and color and life all come together in a joyous symphony. For, 

[T]he Word became flesh and dwelt among us

The Word opens His mouth. He speaks with the cry of an infant. The Word becomes flesh. Light at long last is brought into the world. Holy infant, so tender and mild. The Lord of all snuggles with His mother. The voice that spoke creation into existence cries for food and comfort. God Most High. Infant most lowly. Wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The sun shines through the stable. A perfect little halo surrounds his tiny face. The light has come. 

The little baby Jesus reveals God to a world that has forgotten Him. God meets His people face to face. And that face is the face of an infant. Mary is the first to see the face of God. She nestles her Creator in her arms and rocks Him to sleep. She feeds the little baby Jesus. With the tender care of a mother, she cleans Him. Mary changes God. All the little mundane acts of parenthood. Cleaning spit up. Waking at every hour of the night to feed and comfort the little One. Watching God’s tiny face as His eyes close and He drifts off to sleep. God the Son slumbers peacefully in His mother’s arms. 

Up until now, all people have been born under sin, born under the law of Moses. But now, this little baby has been born without sin. He has been born under the law, but not under the sin of Adam. For Adam is not the baby’s father. God is. His birth was holy. This Son of God was born of woman. He has the birthright. He is the firstborn – of all creation. Jesus was there before the first moments where God spoke “Let there be.” He alone is the Son of God. 

But now, that Son of God is a Son of a woman. God is man. The Word became flesh. Now you too, can share in that birth. Jesus gives His birthright to you in baptism. When you are washed in that font in the Name of the Lord, you become a child of God. 

To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

The second birth of baptism is not won by your blood, sweat and tears. It certainly isn’t won by the desire of your flesh. It isn’t won by the desire of your father either. It’s given by God. God gives you the gift of adoption into an eternal family.       by the water and the Word. 

In baptism, God wraps His fatherly arms around you in a loving embrace. God watches you with tender loving care when you lay down to sleep. He guards you and protects you from all evil. He feeds you, providing you with all you need for this body and life. God is your heavenly Father. Jesus is your elder brother. You are welcomed into the family of God. 

And like any good family, we feast. At least, we will. There will be a wonderful feast in heaven. Food and drink as far as the eye can see. Friends, neighbors, loved ones will all gather together like it’s Christmas dinner. There, us younger siblings will be able to finally meet our Lord, for Jesus, the Word, the Light of the world, will be there. It will be a day of laughter and joy. And that day will never end. It will never descend into darkness, for the Light of the World will stand before us. Jesus, both God and man, united in one. 

One day, we will join in that feast with all the faithful. The marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which shall have no end. But until then, we have a foretaste of that feast. For the Word became flesh and blood and He gives that flesh and blood to you on this altar. Like baptism, God unites something physical with His Word. Here, bread and wine are united with the Word. With the Word, they become the Word’s flesh and blood.

Here, Jesus gives you the salvation He won. Here, Jesus gives you His body and His blood to eat and to drink. Here, Jesus unites Himself to you. As you eat His body and drink His blood, Christ dwells within you. He gives you Himself to nourish and strengthen you. Here, He gives you a foretaste of the feast to come. 

The babe of Bethlehem would grow. Jesus grows in wisdom and in stature. At first, He learns to crawl. He starts to babble, learning to talk from His mom and stepdad. Soon, He learns to walk, then to run. Jesus the infant becomes Jesus the boy. But the boy grew up and became a man. At thirty years old, He walked through Jerusalem’s streets, preaching and teaching and healing. Eventually, His road would take Him to the cross, where He would give Himself for the sins of the world. He would rise victorious three days later. 

But that’s for later. Right now, consider God as a baby. His soft cheeks. His joyful laugh. His tiny, unscarred hands. Mary, rocking her Son. The creator of all things finally goes to sleep. Softly, Mary lies down in her bed. Staring at an infant in a manger. Little Jesus. Word become flesh. With her eyes fixed on the infant face of God, Mary drifts off to sleep, the peace of God in her heart. 

The Promise is Greater than Perception

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Christmas Eve 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
December 24, 2022

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            How many times have you heard, or said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Or, “Seeing is believing.”  Or, “What you see is what you get.” When someone says your favorite football team that hasn’t won a playoff game in 30 years is going to the Super Bowl, you say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  Your son tells you that he cleaned his room and you say, “Seeing is believing.”  You’re inspecting a used car and the salesman says, “What you see is what you get.”  This philosophy can work well, at times, in this life, where a little skepticism can be healthy. 

            But there are times when what you see is not what you get…when you can’t judge a book by its cover…when first impressions are deceiving. 

With Jesus, what you see is not what you get.  The Bible teaches in Hebrews 11:1 (ESV) 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  With Jesus, seeing is not believing.  With Jesus, the promise is greater than perception.

            Shepherds are out in the field at night keeping watch over their flocks.  For shepherds in the dark there isn’t much seeing, but more hearing and smelling, trying to keep their sheep safe from wolves and bears.  The life of a shepherd is many long periods of boredom interrupted by moments of great fear and struggle.  Tonight is a boring night listening to the sounds of content sheep. It’s quiet… a light wind is blowing…millions of stars twinkle in the heavens above as the men wrap blankets around their shoulders against the cool weather. .

            Luke 2:9 (ESV) 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.”  The quiet darkness is overwhelmed by a great light with a messenger from God hovering over the shepherds who are trembling in terror.  What is going on?!?  What have we done to deserve the wrath of God?  What is this creature from heaven going to do to us because of what we have done?              Luke 2:10 (ESV) 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” 

            It is Good News.  Not good news and bad news.  Just good news.  Luke 2:11 (ESV) 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Praise God!  It is finally happening.  The Christ is here.  Here…in Bethlehem.  The long promised Messiah is here to save His people and His arrival is being announced by an angel of the Lord shining with the glory of God.  The shepherds and the sheep stand awestruck by the sight of it all. Then the angel tells them how to find the newborn Christ.  Luke 2:12 (ESV) 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  

            Luke 2:13–14 (ESV) 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  

A whole army of angels, bathed in light, declare glory to God and peace on earth. This is the most amazing thing any of the shepherds has ever seen or heard.  It is awesome.

            And then the angels leave and it is dark…and it’s quiet…a light wind is blowing…millions of stars twinkle in the heavens as the shepherd’s stare up to where the angels were just bringing them the promise of a newborn savior, the Christ. 

            Luke 2:15 (ESV) 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  

            The shepherds head to Bethlehem to search for the Christ child and as they go they must be wondering about the signs they were given to look for.  An angel…shining with the glory of God…told them to look for a baby…wrapped in strips of cloth… lying in an animal feed trough.  What kind of Christ is this?  They find the baby and they tell Mary and Joseph and the others all about the angels and the announcement and all they had seen, but as they look at the promised Christ He looks like…a normal baby except more humble. Instead of a cradle He is lying in a manger; likely a manger made by hollowing out the top of a large stone. The shepherds do not know it, but they are getting a glimpse 33 years in the future when this same Christ will lie on a stone slab wrapped in strips of cloth. 

            As the shepherds behold the baby Jesus…the Christ…the Savior…seeing is not believing.  This helpless little baby does not look like God in flesh, He does not have a shining halo, He is not shooting beams of light from His face. He looks like a normal, newborn baby boy, but the shepherds know the truth, because they have the promise from the angel.  The promise is greater than perception. 

            Mary and Joseph have been living with the promise being greater than the perception for nine months of pregnancy.  Seeing is not believing.  What you see is not what you get.  Everyone around them thinks they know what happened, but Mary and Joseph know the truth about who this baby is.

            Tonight, you have gathered here to celebrate the birth of this child.  Unlike the shepherds, you do not get to see and hear the angel and the angel choir. You do not get to see the swaddled baby lying in a manger.  You do not get to talk with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds.  But you do have the same promise.  The promise made to the shepherds; the promise made to Mary and Joseph, is the same promise made to you.  Unto you is born a savior who is Christ, the Lord.

God’s promise to you is greater than your perception.

            The baby born in Bethlehem that night is Immanuel, God with us.  The baby is the eternal Word made flesh.  The baby is the Christ.   The baby is the Savior.  God is lying in that manger wrapped in swaddling cloths.  Jesus looks like an ordinary baby and grows to look like an ordinary man, but looks can be deceiving.  The promise is greater than perception.

            God’s promise to you is greater than your perception. As you look around here tonight at everyone gathered to celebrate the birth of the King it looks like a group of normal people; older folks, younger folks, little children.  It appears to be just a collection of people trying to make their way through life, to raise their families, to make ends meet, fighting temptation, and struggling to sit still and not dose off.  You look around and you don’t really see anyone special…no one has a halo, no one is shining forth the glory of God, but know…these are no ordinary people.  These people here tonight are saints of God made holy by the waters of Baptism.  You are a saint of God cleansed by the blood of Jesus.  Colossians 1:13 (ESV) 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…”  You have been declared to be perfect because you are covered by the robe of Jesus’ righteousness.  Behold!  The saints of God.  What you see is not what you get.

Baptism does not look like much.  A bowl of water, a baby’s wet head, some words, but what you see is not what you get. The promise is greater than perception. On Noah’s Ark eight people were brought safely through the water, and we learn in 1 Peter 3:21 (ESV) 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”  Baptism is God’s promise to you, Romans 6:3–5 (ESV)  3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  Seeing is not believing.

            Holy Communion does not look like much.  An insignificant wafer of bread, a sip of wine, but what you see is not what you get.  The promise is greater than perception.  Jesus said, “this is my body; this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Seeing is not believing.  Faith clings to the promise.

            Jesus on the cross being speared by a soldier appears to be the end of Jesus.  But Jesus promised to rise from the dead and that is what He does.  And people see the resurrected Jesus, and for the disciples, in this case, seeing is believing, and they record what they see as eyewitnesses of the resurrection.  You have not seen the resurrected Jesus — not yet — and it is tempting to say, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but you do have the promise, and the promise is greater than your perceptions.  You have Jesus.  Luke 2:11 (ESV) 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

            A blessed Christmas to all.  Amen. 

Learn from Joseph

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Advent 4, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
December 18, 2022
Is. 7:10-17, Rom. 1:1-7, Matt. 1:18-25

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            The summer between 8th and 9th grade I was riding my bicycle home from swim team practice on a bike path in Reston, Virginia.  Next thing I knew I woke up in the middle of Colt’s Neck Rd. staring up at a paramedic. I had been hit by a car and had a concussion, a badly broken leg and some serious road rash.  If only someone would have warned me that I need to stop and look both ways when crossing the street.  My summer took a dramatic turn in that moment.  I was blessed to have survived. 

            Life can change in a moment; a phone call, a text message, a tumble and fall, a doctor’s diagnosis, or a visit from an angel.

            Joseph of Nazareth’s life is already in turmoil. His fiancée, Mary, is starting to show a baby bump and Joseph only knows one thing for sure, it isn’t his baby.  Joseph is torn up.  He is angry, confused, hurt, not sure how to respond.  But Joseph is a good guy.  He knows two wrongs don’t make a right and he still cares about Mary so he decides to quietly break things off so as not to bring additional shame on Mary. But before he does anything, Joseph decides to sleep on it and so he lays down — depressed and brokenhearted.

            While he sleeps, an angel of the Lord, a messenger from God, appears to Joseph in a dream.  The word “angel” in Greek means messenger.  God’s messenger has a message for Joseph.  Matthew 1:20–21 (ESV)  20 … “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 

            One short message and everything changes for Joseph. His plan to minimize Mary’s shame by divorcing her quietly is gone.  Instead of the gossips in town thinking that Mary was being unfaithful, they will assume that Joseph took advantage of poor Mary.  Joseph takes the shame that people would have heaped on Mary, and he puts it onto himself. This is what all husbands should do for their wives and it is a beautiful picture of what Jesus does for His bride, the Church.  Jesus takes all the shame and guilt of the sins of His people and puts it onto Himself … Ephesians 5:27 (ESV) 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 

            The angel addresses Joseph as “son of David” even though, as far as Joseph is concerned, any glory of being descended from David is long past.  Joseph is just another unknown guy from a nowhere town trying to get by.  “Son of David;” what does this have to do with anything?  Now, those reading the Gospel of Matthew have just read the first 17 verses which are 42 generations of Jesus’ genealogy going from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, down to … Matthew 1:16 (ESV) 16 … Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”  Jesus will be adopted into the royal line of David through His step-father, Joseph.  Those reading the Gospel know this, but this is all news to Joseph. 

The first sentence of God’s message to Joseph is almost incomprehensible. The baby inside of Mary is from… the Holy Spirit.  Wait….what??? What does that even mean?  How does that work?  It does not make sense, but it must be true because God is saying it is true.  The first sentence changes Joseph’s life.  The next sentence is even more powerful. 

            Matthew 1:21 (ESV)  21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  This is not just a miraculous pregnancy.  This baby is no ordinary baby.  He will save His people from their sins.  Who can save people from their sins?  No one can do that.  No one …except …except, God Himself.  And this baby is to be called Jesus.  Ihsous.  That is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeshua.  Joshua in English.  Yeshua means Yahweh is salvation.  Yahweh saves. Yahweh is God’s name that He told to Moses out of the burning bush.  The baby’s name means Yahweh is salvation, and the angel says that the baby will save His people from their sins.  How can this be true?  Joseph’s head must be spinning.  How can this be happening to me?  How is this possible?  Mary is pregnant with Yahweh who will save?  Mary has the long-promised Messiah growing in her womb?  How can this be?  How can the infinite God be contained in the finite body of a tiny, unborn baby?  So many questions brought by the angel’s message from God.  So many questions. 

            Matthew 1:24–25 (ESV)  24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”  Joseph did as he was told to do even though this turned his life upside down.  Joseph does not know what will happen next.  He does not know all the implications.  He does not have all the answers.  He just does what he is told to do. 

Joseph here is a great example for us.  Joseph does not question the angel’s message in His dream.  He does not dismiss it as the result of spicy food before bedtime.  He does not demand answers.  He does not try to explain it away or make excuses.  He does what he is told to do.  He follows orders.  It almost sounds wrong to us.  We have been told to question authority.  To not just blindly follow orders.  To our ears it almost sounds like Joseph is being weak for just following instructions because in our sinful nature we are naturally rebellious.  We rebel against parents.  We rebel against teachers.  We rebel against coaches, against bosses, against the government.  Someone tells you what to do you and you think, “I know better. I have a better way.”  In this world, obedience is viewed as weakness, and we applaud those who resist authority.

            Joseph does what he is told to do even though it will make his life difficult.  Having Christ in his life does not make Joseph’s life easier by doing the right thing. Christ complicates life.  Christ brings with Him His cross, and your cross.  It would be easier for Joseph to roll over in bed and ignore each of the angel’s messages, but that is not God’s way.  Joseph does things God’s way.  God’s way is not the easy way, but it is the right way, and while it does not protect you from trouble and attacks from the world, it will keep Jesus as your king.  God’s way keeps you on the path to eternal life. 

            The angel’s short, two sentence message changes Joseph’s life.  He goes from being an unknown descendent of King David to being step-father to the King of the Jews.  Joseph’s adopted son is the King of all creation, the Christ, the Savior of the world, Yeshua, Yahweh saves. 

            You have Christ in your life.  You are a redeemed child of God with God’s name watered onto you in Holy Baptism. You are a Christian.  Being a Christian means living under the cross.  This will bring difficulties.  How should you live?  Do what God tells you to do because He is God and you are not.  Love God, love your neighbor.  Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you.  Do not conform to the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  Gather together each Lord’s day to confess your sins and receive forgiveness.  Keep intimacy inside the bonds of marriage.  Turn the other cheek.  Don’t get angry at people.  Do not lust after people.  Pray.  Give generously and quietly.  Forgive each other.  Care for each other.  Serve God, not money.  Do not be anxious.  Do not judge others.  Speak the truth, in love.  Confess your sins.  Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Do what God tells you to do, because you belong to God.

            The angel’s short, two sentence message changes Joseph’s life.  He goes from being an unknown descendent of King David to being step-father to the King of the Jews.  Joseph’s adopted son is the King of all creation, the Christ, the Savior of the world, Yeshua, Yahweh saves. 

Joseph will receive three more messages from God through an angel appearing to him in dreams.  He is instructed to flee to Egypt before Herod the Great kills all the baby boys in Bethlehem and then, after Herod’s death, Joseph is told to return to Israel and once there he is told to go to Nazareth to avoid Herod’s son Archelaus. 

            Joseph receives the messages from God and immediately does what God tells him to do.  No words of Joseph are recorded in the Bible; he gave no speeches, no pithy, fatherly advice.  He is our example of quiet, humble obedience to God.  Joseph does what he is told, and protects and provides for Mary and young Jesus. Joseph saves Jesus who saves you and me and all who believe in Him. 

            Life can change in a moment but God’s promises do not change.  Through all of the turmoil and trouble you remain in Christ and Christ in you.  You are an adopted child of God.  Yeshua, Yahweh Saves, saved you.  Amen. 

Grammar is Important

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Advent 3, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
December 11, 2022
Is. 35:1-10, James 5:7-11, Matt. 11:2-15

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            When I was in sixth grade, I had an English teacher I really liked, because instead of learning grammar that year we focused on creative writing.  One special project I remember was writing, illustrating and binding an original comic book.  It was a fun project, but I did not learn much about subjects and predicates and independent clauses and it turns out, grammar is actually pretty valuable in life.  Today we see the importance of present tense and future tense. 

            Last week we had John the Baptist out at Jordan River preaching his short sermon, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  He baptizes the crowds coming from all over causing quite a stir and attracting the attention of the Jewish religious leaders.  John boldly and harshly confronts them and warns them to repent before it is too late.  John is at the height of his ministry in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus. 

            In our Gospel reading today everything has changed.  John has confronted the local king, Herod Antipas, for sleeping with his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Herod is offended by this.  Herodias is especially offended by this, so Herod throws John in the dungeon of his palace overlooking the Dead Sea.  John sits in the lonely darkness of the dungeon, praying for freedom and nothing happens.  He prays for freedom and remains imprisoned, scared, alone, facing unknown horrors. John wants Jesus to rescue him. It is not a crazy request.  John knows that Jesus is the anointed one of God, He is the Christ.  He is God in flesh and John is the one to prepare the way for the Lord.  John sends messengers to Jesus to ask, “Matthew 11:3 (ESV)  3 … “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 

            Too much time alone has gotten John wondering.  “Why does Jesus leave me in this dungeon of despair feeling abandoned by God?”  You have never been imprisoned by the king for criticizing his romantic life, but you do know how John feels.  You have been in your dungeon of despair.  You have been at the bedside of a loved one and prayed for healing and it did not come. You have stood by an open grave as your loved one is laid to rest.  You have prayed for God to deliver you from your ugly desires and sins and it feels like God is ignoring you.  You reach out to God in desperate times and He does not answer you the way you want Him to answer.  You have been in your dungeon of despair feeling abandoned by God.

            That’s why this lesson today is such a hard lesson.  God does not always answer your prayers the way you want Him to — when you want Him to.  Jesus sends word to John that He is indeed the Christ of God but Jesus does not do what John wants Him to do.  People get offended that Jesus is not some kind of genie with a magic lamp obligated to grant them three wishes.  This is truly a hard lesson because it teaches the truth that Jesus does not do everything you want Him to do, even when what you want is a good thing.  Jesus does not promise that your life will be easy and trouble free.  You already know this, but it is still a hard lesson — and it is also a great comfort. It is a wonderful comfort, because you learn that your suffering does not mean God has abandoned you.  You know the truth that even during difficult times Jesus is still God and you still belong to Him. 

            This teaching flies in the face of so many churches that basically teach that if you have enough faith you will not get sick or have hardships.  They teach that if you are sick it is because of some unrepentant sin in your life.  If you are experiencing financial difficulties it is because you are not faithful enough.  This is terrible theology.  This is heresy.  Does no one ever die in these churches?  Are there no funerals?  If you are sick or have troubles you’re told to believe it is because you lack faith which leaves you doubting if you are even a Christian.  You think, “a real Christian would not have the kinds of troubles I have.” 

            Our Gospel lesson this morning destroys the prosperity Gospel; it destroys false preaching that God promises health and wealth if you have enough faith.  The truth is that God is with you through all the trials of life, but there is no promise of an easy road.  Matthew 16:24 (ESV)  24 …Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  Jesus teaches, Matthew 7:14 (ESV) 14 …the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  As Jesus says in our lesson today, Matthew 11:6 (ESV) “6 … blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  And know, Jesus’ most offensive act is dying on the cross for the sins of the world. 

            Being a follower of Jesus is not easy.  Jesus makes lots of promises, but Jesus is not your genie to grant wishes.  Jesus does not do whatever you want Him to do and this can be offensive to your sinful nature because you so much want to be in control; even control of God.  Being a follower of Jesus actually makes your life harder in many ways.  It calls you to resist your sinful nature and live as a redeemed child of God.  It calls you to live in truth and light in a world of darkness and lies.  It is a blessed life, but it is not an easy life.  John the Baptist learns the hard way that being a faithful follower of Jesus can bring severe consequences.

            This is where grammar helps us understand Jesus’ promises.  Jesus makes promises in the beatitudes, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”  Lots of promises and this is where we need to look at the grammar.  Only the first and eighth promises here are in the present tense. Matthew 5:3 (ESV) 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  You are right now in the Kingdom of Heaven.  As a baptized child of God you are under the rule and reign of Jesus; right now.  And no one can take that away from you.  The eighth beatitude is also present tense.  Matthew 5:10 (ESV) 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

            Jesus promises that you are blessed with a blessing for the judgment day because you are — right now — under the reign of Jesus, and you are destined for eternal life with Jesus in the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem.

            Jesus has not abandoned John in his dungeon of despair and He has not abandoned you even in your misery and suffering.  You remain under the reign of Jesus right now.  Jesus is your king and you belong to him.  You are His treasure. 

            The other six beatitudes about mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercifulness, being pure in heart, being peacemakers, these are all future tense promises.  They shall be comforted, shall inherit the earth, shallbe satisfied, shall receive mercy, shall see God, shall be called sons of God.  These will be fulfilled — when Jesus returns. And so we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.”

            Present tense or future tense?  Makes a big difference.  It manages expectations according to God’s promise.  There is one last beatitude and it has a lot to say to John the Baptist and a lot to say to you and me as we go through life.  Matthew 5:11–12 (ESV) 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

            Jesus has not abandoned John in his dungeon of despair and He has not abandoned you even in your misery and suffering.  You remain under the reign of Jesus right now.  Jesus is your king and you belong to him.  You are His treasure. 

            Jesus is offensive to the ways of the world.  Jesus does not do what people think He should do.  Herod Antipas and Herodias are offended and attack John the Baptist.  Christians throughout the centuries have been attacked and that continues to this day.  Jesus’ kingdom suffers violence and attack but this does not change Jesus’ promise to you. You are and remain Jesus’ treasured possession.  He forgives you and redeems you.  Matthew 10:28 (ESV)  28 … do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  

            Learn from John the Baptist that life is hard and being a Christian does not mean that God will take away your difficulties.  You already know this.  There will be pain, and suffering and death.  But as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you fear no evil — for the Lord is with you.  His rod and his staff they comfort you.  In our gathering here this morning you have the rod of God’s Word and the staff of baptismal remembrance and the Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion.  The Lord’s rod and staff comfort you on your journey.  Through the trials and turmoil and struggles of life you do not need to fear evil. God is with you.  You are in the Kingdom of Heaven.  You will be comforted and healed and raised from the dead.  Amen. 

Repent! For the Reign of Jesus is Here

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Advent 2 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
December 4, 2022
Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            Today you will be able memorize the sermon word for word.   When you go home you will take the sermon with you; fully memorized.  Don’t doubt yourself.  You can do it.  Now, I am not talking about my sermon, but John the Baptist’s sermon.  God’s prophets often were men of few words. 

The Prophet Jonah, once God’s whale convinced him to do it, preached this rousing sermon to the people of Nineveh. Jonah 3:4–5 (ESV)  4 … “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.”  Apparently short sermons can be effective.  Eight words in English, just four in Hebrew and the people of Nineveh believe God and repent.

            John the Baptist also is brief in his wilderness preaching.  Matthew 3:2 (ESV)  2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Nine words in English, seven in Greek and the people confess their sins and are baptized in the Jordan River.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  We learn in Matthew 4:17 that Jesus also uses this same, simple message. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  This is a short enough sermon that you have already memorized it.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

            There are not many words, but the words carry a lot of freight.  Repent means to turn; to turn away from sin and evil and unbelief, and turn to God. 

People come from all around to hear John’s message and respond by repenting and being baptized in the J0ordan.  Others do not repent.  The religious leaders; the Pharisees and Sadducees come out to John’s baptism and John questions their repentance because John knows they trust in their lineage. They are children of Abraham; God’s chosen people, but do they fear, love and trust in God above all things? Do they love God and love their neighbor?  Do they know that they are by nature sinful?  Do they show the fruit of good works flowing from faithful repentance?  John warns them, Matthew 3:8 (ESV)  8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  Matthew 3:10 (ESV)  10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 

            This word, “repent”, is devastating to your ego.  To repent is to admit that you have a problem. To repent is to admit you are not perfect.  To repent is to admit you are wrong.  To repent is to admit you are not independent; you cannot do it on your own. To repent means turning from selfishness to selflessness.  Too easily and too often, you walk the wrong path, do the wrong things.  You follow the false gods of your own feelings and ideas. The call to repent knocks you flat and leaves you gasping for air because you know the truth about yourself and the truth is not pretty.  Repent!

            “Repent”, however, is not the end of the story.  The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  The King-dom.  The domain of the King.  Who is the king?  God is king. Jesus is king.  The Kingdom is where Jesus does His Jesusing.  It is where Jesus reigns as Lord.  The Kingdom of Heaven is the reign, the rule of God in Jesus.  God in flesh, God with us.  The Kingdom of God is not a place, it is an action.  It is the activity of kingly rule.  God is beginning to act.  God is coming near.  The long expected Messiah of God is at work in the world.  His rule, His reign, His authority has come.   

            How does King Jesus rule?  He rules in humble service and sacrifice.  He reigns by lifting up repentant sinners, washing them clean, and clothing them in the robe of His own righteousness.  King Jesus rules by connecting to the sins of the world in His baptism in the Jordan River.  Jesus rules by becoming sin for you and dying on the cross to pay for your sins.  He rules by saving sinners and bringing them into His Kingdom. 

            King Jesus rules in humble service and sacrifice but make no mistake — do not be fooled by His humility — Jesus is King.  Repent, for the gracious reign of God is here.  Repent, for the glorious reign of God is coming.  The complete, total reign of God is coming when Jesus returns in glory and ultimate authority and the fruitless trees will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 

            On that day Jesus will gather the good wheat and bring you into his barn; into the heavenly city to live with Him forever.  The fruitless chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.

            “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  Be brutally honest about who you are.  Know yourself.  Know you are indeed a poor, miserable sinner.  Know you are by nature sinful and unclean.  Know you are poor in spirit.  And know King Jesus promise to you, Matthew 5:3 (ESV)  3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

            You, poor in spirit, repentant sinner, yours is, present tense,the Kingdom of Heaven.  You are — right now — in the reign of King Jesus.  Jesus is your Lord and master.  This truth is hard on your independent, rebellious side that wants to be in charge, but this truth is truly wonderful.  Despite what “rebellious you” thinks, what a relief to know that you are not in charge.

       On that day Jesus will gather the good wheat and bring you into his barn; into the heavenly city to live with Him forever.  The fruitless chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.

It is hard for children to live in a house where there is constant turmoil and tension and rules are unclear and always changing.  It is troubling when parents threaten punishment but don’t follow through.  Or when a parent just ignores the rules sometimes and other times comes down severely for the same offense.  The kids end up walking on eggshells not knowing what is acceptable and what is not. Children do better when rules are clear and parents follow through when rules are broken.  With Jesus as King you have a good ruler with consistent rules and abundant grace and forgiveness.  This is a great blessing. 

You are subject to King Jesus, you submit to His authority.  You do not have figure out what is right and wrong.  You do not have to make the hard decisions.  You are not the judge.  You just live out God’s commands under Jesus’ rule and authority.  Love God and love your neighbor.  Life is still hard.  You still live in a sinful world.  The devil, the world and your own sinful flesh will continue to try to separate you from King Jesus.  You will still struggle mightily with sin and temptation.  So you continue to listen to John the Baptist and continue to repent, for the reign of Jesus is at hand. 

            You are in the gracious reign of Jesus who forgives all your sins waiting for Jesus to return.  For now He is being patient, wanting all people to be saved and this can lead some to grow weary of waiting and to think Jesus is not king.  But know for certain, the day is coming when Jesus will complete His rule and come in power and glory and destroy all evil.  He will come in judgement and separate the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, the fruitful and the fruitless.  In Christ, you are wheat, you are sheep, you are fruitful.  Do not let the devil lure you out from the reign of Jesus.  You have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to Kingdom of Jesus, in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  You are a subject of King Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven, now in its gracious incompleteness and forever in His total, complete glory.   

      And so you pray, “Thy Kingdom Come.”  In his catechism Martin Luther explains, “What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.”  You pray for Jesus to be your ruler and for you to submit to His reign. 

How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

            You are safe in His Kingdom for eternity.  As you live your life in the light of Jesus’ gracious Kingdom, surrounded by evil and darkness, remember your Kingdom is not of this world.  Remember you belong to Jesus.  Remember, Jesus is coming soon.  So each day when you are tempted to think you can do it on your own, when you are tempted to think Jesus is not in charge, remember John the Baptist’s sermon, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

            Amen.

Victorious Victor

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Advent 1 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
November 27, 2022
Is. 2:1-5, Rom. 13:11-14, Matt. 21:1-11

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                           pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:   bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

­­­Victorious Victim

They hail Him as a victor; as a king who has marched out to war and returned in triumph. They hail Him as a general who has destroyed His foes and brings with Him the spoils of war. They spread cloaks and palm branches before Him, covering the street so that even His mount would not dirty its foot on the city streets. They welcome Him with gladness and joy, crying 

Hosanna! 

Meaning “Save us!” They cry to Him for their salvation. They recognize Him as their Messiah, the One who has come to fulfill that which was spoken by the prophets. They call to Him because He has been victorious, and now He will rule over the people in peace. 

Hosanna! They say.

Hosanna to the son of David

For this man, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee, this Jesus is truly a son of David. He rides into Jerusalem on a colt, on the foal of a donkey, just as Solomon did when David crowned him king. Jesus enters Jerusalem as a king. As a victorious king. As the Prince of Peace who has come to ascend His throne. 

Son of David, they call Him. And they welcome Him with one of David’s Psalms. They welcome Him with a Psalm that spoke of God’s steadfast love. David writes that enemies surrounded him, but the LORD fought on his behalf. David praises the LORD, thanking Him for His great deliverance. 

The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

But the part of the Psalm that the people are quoting says

Hosanna, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

With these words, the people of Jerusalem welcome Jesus into the gates of their city. Another part of the Psalm says: 

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.

This Psalm is ringing in the ears of the crowd as they welcome Jesus into the gates of Jerusalem. This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. Indeed, the only man who was righteous has just entered through it. Blessed is He! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the LORD! 

The crowds hail Jesus as a conquering king. They hail Him as a victor. They hail Him as a general who has won on the battlefield and returns now, bringing with him the spoils of war 

But they’re wrong. 

Jesus hasn’t won yet. Jesus is riding out to war. He is not returning with the spoils. He is riding to a battlefield that has yet to be soaked with blood. He rides to battle, not on a warhorse, but on a donkey. On a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. Just as the prophets foretold.

Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the LORD. 

Blessed is He who comes to do the LORD’s work. Blessed is He, They cry to the king who is  riding out to war. Blessed is He, they cry to the Son of David who was the Son of God. Blessed is He, they said, as they hailed the man whom they would crucify. For this is the work of the LORD.

The Psalm the people were quoting says Blessed is He that comes in the name of the LORD! it continues. 

We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!

Bind the sacrifice of the feast to the horns of the altar! This feast is passover. The very same feast the people of Jerusalem were about to celebrate. Bind the sacrifice! Bind the lamb! Bind Him to the horns of the altar! For Blessed is He who is about to do the work of God! Blessed is He! Blessed is the victor! 

Blessed is the victim. Blessed is the sacrifice. Blessed is He! The One who is riding to war. Blessed is the One who is about to soak the battlefield, not with the blood of His enemies, but with His own. Blessed is He who will make war at the place of the Skull. Blessed is He who is bound and sacrificed. Blessed is He. Blessed is His work. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the LORD to die on a cross. 

Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna to the Son of God. Hosanna! LORD, save us! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Save us now, O LORD! Save us now! 

It was these very cries that Jesus would answer just a few days later. He would do the work of the LORD. The Son of Man would be lifted up. The people would mock Him, telling Him to save Himself, but He would not listen. For He heard their cries of Hosanna when He rode into Jerusalem and this Son of David had mercy on them. He had mercy on Jerusalem. He has mercy on you. The work of the LORD is finished. Jesus died. Victor and victim. Son of David, Lamb of God. Priest and sacrifice. For you. 

Jesus rode out to battle that Good Friday and He won. He sacrificed Himself to save the world. Death swallowed Him up so that the world might live. But on that day, when death swallowed a body, it choked on God. It couldn’t swallow the Author of Life. It couldn’t hold Him down, so Jesus was hurled from the tomb three days later, victorious and alive. 

So now, we hail Him as a victor. As a king who has marched out to war and returned in triumph. We hail Him as a general who has destroyed His foes; bringing with Him the spoils of war. So we sing

Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He! Blessed is He! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest! 

Together, we cry Hosanna to the LORD! Lord, save us! Save us now! Save us from the terrors of our enemies that surround us. Save us from pain and sorrow! Save us from sin, death and the power of the devil! Hosanna, LORD, save us now! 

Jesus already answered that cry on the cross. But He also answers it before your very eyes. Behold, O children of God, your King is coming to you. Humble, in the simple bread and wine which is His body and blood. These are His spoils of war. These are His battle scars. His body, bound as a sacrifice on the cross. His blood, poured out there for you for the forgiveness of sins. 

We cry Hosanna! Lord, save us! And the very Son of Man who was lifted up and sacrificed once for all, draws near and answers. He comes in humility. The victorious victim’s body and blood will be given to you to eat and to drink. 

Blessed is He. Blessed is He. Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the LORD! 

We sing these words as Christ draws near in answer to our Hosanna. We sing them to the victorious victim. We sing them to the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, for He has mercy on us. He has washed us in His own blood, the blood of the Lamb and made us white as snow. We cry hosanna, faithful that He will answer. 

Jesus answers your cries of Hosanna here on the altar. But He will draw near to His church once again. This time, He will return to reign in glory. On that day, wars, pestilence, sickness and famine will not ravage the earth any longer. On that day, sin, death and the power of the devil will forever be locked away. On that day, we will say once again with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, 

Blessed is He! Blessed is He! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the LORD! 

Come soon, Lord Jesus. 

Amen.