While We Own the Mystery

Holy Trinity
May 27, 2018
Romans 11:33-36
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable His judgments and inscrutable His ways. For who knew the mind of the Lord? Or who became His counselor? Or who gave a gift to Him and he will be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

2.

There is a German saying, attributed to Martin Luther (although it likely belongs to the apocryphal sayings of Luther), that goes like this: Wenn es zur Theologie kommt, eine gewiße Bescheidenheit gehört dazu; “When it comes to theology, a certain humility is called for.” (I’m taking my German qualifier exam in a couple weeks, so I need the practice). What this saying get to is that there is a temptation once you learn a little bit of theology, to think that you have all the answers, to be so certain and sure that you are right, that you have no qualms about telling everyone else about how wrong they are. This is something of a plague for first-year seminarians, who dig deeper into theology than they ever have before, and mistakenly think that after reading a couple of books that they have all the right answers. Some of us shake off that notion, but it’s not easy to do. After learning a little bit of theology, it is still necessary to be trained in the school of experience by the Holy Spirit, which often involves large doses of humility.

The same is true of lay men and women. When it comes to theology, there is a certain superiority that manifests itself. But while you may have one or two answers, you definitely don’t have them all. This quest for certainty originates more in modern philosophical and scientific pursuits, which seek to discover all the secrets of the universe, than in the faith of Jesus Christ. Trust the LORD with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding, goes the Proverb (3:5).

In fact, sometimes answers are not even the most important part of theology. More important is to be able to ask the right questions. Because there is no right answer to a wrong question. Our questions get us in trouble, because we question where we ought not.

Today, let us take a cue from St. Paul, the leading theologian of the Christian Church, and his letter to the Romans, which exceeds entire libraries of theology written since then in its presentation of the faith. After exploring the topics of sin, righteousness, faith, good works, baptism, new life in Christ, and predestination, he simply has to stop and marvel at what he doesn’t know.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable His judgments and inscrutable His ways. For who knew the mind of the Lord? Or who became His counselor? Or who gave a gift to Him and he will be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

When it comes to theology, a certain humility is called for. You have to know when to stop. You have to know when you cannot answer any further. You simply must exclaim that God’s judgments and ways are so far above our own, that that no one is able to mine the knowledge of God to its depths. You have to admit that you cannot know the mind of the Lord, you cannot be His counselor. There is a time to open your mouth and speak, but it is just as important to be able to recognize when you should shut your mouth and be silent. The Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, “There is an appointed time for everything…a time to be silent and a time to talk” (Eccl 3:1a; 7b).

1.

We just confessed the Athanasian Creed, one of the three ecumenical (or, universal) creeds of the Christian Church. Its Trinitarian theology is unmatched. In fact, it is my opinion that the Athanasian Creed is the full extent of what we in our limited capabilities are able to say concerning the Trinity; to say more is to land in heresy. And the thing about the Athanasian Creed is that you probably understand the Trinity as little after you say it as you did before you say it. I also think that’s part of the point. The Trinity is a mystery. Let’s keep it a mystery, and confess what God gives us to confess in His name, the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Holy Father, Holy Son, / Holy Spirit, three we name Thee; / Though in essence only one, / Undivided God we claim Thee / And, adoring, bend the knee / While we own the mystery.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. Hey, that sounds awfully Trinitarian, doesn’t it? I think I’ll shut my mouth now.

To God Be Glory Forever

 

Amen.
Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

The Work of the Spirit

Holy Pentecost
John 14:26
May 20, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything I told you.

In the name of + Jesus.

Once I had the opportunity to visit a charismatic church in the hill country of West Virginia. These are the churches who believe the Holy Spirit is floating around, disconnected from any definite means, whose preachers swallow the Holy Spirit, feathers and all (to borrow a phrase from Martin Luther). I recall very vividly that the preacher told us he was going to start preaching, and he wouldn’t stop until the spirit left him. And he was true to his word. The only thing is, I now question what kind of spirit it was that came upon him and left him.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is very explicit about what the Spirit will do when He comes. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything I told you. There are many things people attribute to the Holy Spirit—some real, some imagined—but there’s really only one thing that the Spirit does. And if it’s not this one thing, then it’s doubtful whether the spirit is of the holy variety or not. The essence of the Spirit’s work, according to Jesus, is that

The Holy Spirit Brings You the Word of Jesus

I.

The very first public, manifest work of the Holy Spirit was precisely that. The marvels of the day were the rushing wind, the tongues of fire, and the sudden acquisition of foreign languages. But the true miracle of the day was that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed. “In our own languages we hear them tell about God’s wonderful things,” says the crowd. The Spirit caused the Word of Jesus to be proclaimed.

If there was no Spirit, that Word would certainly never have been uttered. Just a few weeks prior to Pentecost, the disciples were afraid to be seen in public or to acknowledge that they even knew Jesus. Now that He was gone—ascended in to heaven—they had no reason whatsoever to tell his story. Their lives would have been much easier, and much more peaceful had they all returned to their old lives—James and John and Peter and Andrew to their fishing business, Matthew to collecting taxes, Thaddeus to whatever he did, and so on. They could have avoided a bunch of hardships and some pretty gruesome ends if they had given up the Gospel of Jesus. But the Holy Spirit was with them, and the Holy Spirit teaches about Jesus, and brings His words to mind. They cannot stay buried there.

So the miracle is not that they heard in their own language, but that they heard the great deeds of God. They heard of the promise of the Messiah, the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus, His death for sinners, and His resurrection in victory over death.

This is the basic message that has echoed throughout the generations of the Church. And from this message comes the comfort for which the Spirit is named. From this message comes the peace that surpasses all understanding. From this message comes justification and reconciliation with God and with neighbor. From this message come the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. From this message comes sanctification—the Holy Spirit’s work of making holy. The Holy Spirit brings the words of Jesus to mind.

II.

The word of Jesus led to another work of the Spirit. When the people heard Peter’s sermon, they were convicted of their sins, and asked, “Fellow Jews, what should we do?” Peter answered them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will be given the Holy Spirit. What is promised belongs to you, to your children, and to all who are far away, all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:37-39). They Holy Spirit not only causes the Word of Jesus to be proclaimed, but He also brings it to your mind by applying it personally to you.

Pentecost was a long time ago. The flames have all flickered out, the crowds have dispersed, we all speak the same language here. But the promise is not only for the crowds that day. It’s not just for a privileged few. The promise is for you, for your children, and all who are far off—not only in space, but also in time. The same promise of the Holy Spirit is for you and your children today. And the sign of that promise, the means to deliver that promise, is Holy Baptism.

So, Holy Baptism is called a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). That is to say, the Holy Spirit is actively at work in Baptism. It cannot be just a symbolic work. The Spirit moves the waters as He did at creation, and in Holy Baptism, He makes a new creation. It’s a new life. Today we are blessed to witness the Holy Spirit at work, both in Holy Baptism and in its renewal in the rite of confirmation.

But it’s not just the kids getting wet or the folks who are making confirmation vows today who are recipients of the Holy Spirit. All Christians who have been baptized have the Holy Spirit—not in tongues of flame or in the ability to speak new languages, but in the promise of the Gospel. As the Prophet Joel prophesied long ago, “Then everyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved.”

The work of the Spirit is to bring to your mind the words of Jesus. He does so through the preaching of the Gospel and applies it in baptism and its remembrance. By bringing you the words of Jesus, the Spirit brings you the comfort of the forgiveness of sins, the comfort of being reconciled with God in spite of your failures. The work of the Spirit is to give you peace. And the new life He begins in you bears fruit of renewed living.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

A New Heart

Sunday after the Ascension
Ezekiel 36:22-28
May 13, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

“So tell Israel, ‘The Lord GOD says this: I’m not doing this for you, O Israel, but for My holy name that you have defiled among the people wherever you went. I will make holy My great name that you have defiled among the nations. Then those nations will know I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when I let them see how I make Myself holy among you. I will take you from these nations, gather you from all the countries, and bring you to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you to cleanse you from all your uncleanness. I will also cleanse you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My orders and carefully keep My laws. You will live in the land I gave your fathers and be My people, and I will be your God.

In the name of + Jesus.

3.

Last week we meditated upon the name of Jesus, and what a precious gift it is, by which we have access to the Father to bring our prayers, requests, and petitions apart from any priestly mediator. God Himself is our mediator, the God-man Christ Jesus. For His sake and in His name, our prayers are acceptable before God. And so His name is kept holy, and the Second Commandment is fulfilled by prayer.

But it’s not as if our prayer, our handling of God’s name, makes it holy. The First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer explains that God’s name is certainly holy in itself. He has no need of us to hallow what is already holy. In fact, when we get a hold of God’s name, it can only end in misuse, in profanity. And I’m not talking about using a few bad words. Rather, anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!

Ezekiel’s prophecy spends some time on the name of God: “So tell Israel, ‘The Lord GOD says this: I’m not doing this for you, O Israel, but for My holy name that you have defiled among the people wherever you went. I will make holy My great name that you have defiled among the nations. Then those nations will know I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when I let them see how I make Myself holy among you.”

What does it mean to be holy? In the Old Testament, holy things and holy people were those who were associated with the culture and worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. People and things that were in proximity to God were holy. That is, they were set apart for God’s special use. As the temple culture disintegrated in the course of Israel’s history, and as more and more often pagan worship was introduced, holiness could no longer be associated with the outward practices of Jewish worship. God put His name in the temple for prayer and worship, and the people defiled His name, the profaned it by their unholy living and teaching.

God is the One who makes holy. Good and proper worship and life do not make God’s name holy. It’s the other way around—God’s holy name makes good and proper worship. God makes Himself holy among His people.

2.

The prophets were sent to diagnose transgressions, but also to foretell God’s future remedy. In response to the profanity of His people, God acts even more unilaterally. I will take you from these nations, gather you from all the countries, and bring you to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you to cleanse you from all your uncleanness. I will also cleanse you from all your idols.

To sanctify—to make holy—is to set apart for God’s special use. If you are in the service of an idol, you cannot be in service of God. So to sanctify you, God separates you from the nations and their false idols. And He uses a very specific means. I will sprinkle clean water on you to cleanse you from all your uncleanness. This is not clean water in the sense of water that’s been through the treatment plant, but water that has been set apart for God’s holy use, water that has been sanctified by His holy name.

And water that is combined with God’s name is called baptism. Ezekiel prophesies of the day when God will use water to cleanse people, not of dirt from the body, but of the uncleanness of idolatry. This is water that cleanses a guilty conscience by the forgiveness of sins. This is what separates—what sanctifies—you from the profane world.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, Don’t you know wicked people will have no share in God’s kingdom? Don’t be mistaken about this: No one who lives in sexual sin or worships idols, no adulterers or men who sin sexually with other men, who steal, are greedy, are drunkards, slander, or rob will have a share in God’s kingdom. Some of you used to do these things. But you have been washed, you have been made holy, you have been declared righteous by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:9-11).

1.

But this sanctification doesn’t come about with simply a superficial change in behavior. That is simply hypocrisy. No, we need to dig a bit deeper. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My orders and carefully keep My laws.

The problem isn’t dirt on the body that needs to be cleansed with a bath, nor is it some bad habits that need to be corrected with some good old self-discipline. The problem is deeper—a callous heart, a heart of stone. It can’t be reformed; it must be replaced. The old spirit is exorcised by the Holy Spirit; the stone heart is replaced with a flesh heart; the hard-hearted becomes tender-hearted with the gift of the Spirit.

This is your sanctification. Only a tender heart of flesh receives God’s Word and lives according to it. The remedy must work from the inside out. This is where your baptism begins. The sprinkling of water doesn’t wash you outwardly, but, as St. Peter writes, In the same way also, baptism now saves us, not by washing dirt from the body, but by guaranteeing us a good conscience before God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who has gone to heaven and is at the right of God, where angels, rulers, and powers have been put under Him.

Just this Thursday, we celebrated our Lord’s ascension. He ascended not to vacate this earth, but to fill it in a more substantial way. From the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ rules the Church sacramentally. He delivers His kingdom, His gracious reign, with the gift of preaching, baptism, and supper. Sanctification isn’t about doing; it’s about location. You will live in the land I gave your fathers and be My people, and I will be your God. This is not a land that you must patiently await, as the Israelites waited forty years in the desert to enter their promised land. This land is right here, right now, in the Church, in the kingdom of heaven. Christ is present, not far above all galaxies, but here and now. He brings His kingdom of heaven to you here on earth.

You are a community of new hearts, because you are the community of the baptized. The Spirit of God is among you, sanctifying you, setting you apart for God’s service.

The Gift of the Spirit, Which Is Yours in Baptism, Gives You a New Heart

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

One Flesh

Otten-Guehne Wedding
Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5
May 12, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

The two will become one flesh.

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

When the Bible repeats something, you know it’s important. Repetition is the mother of all learning. If it’s repeated once, you should pay attention, but if it’s repeated more than once, you should pay extra special attention. The saying, “The two will become one flesh,” is repeated five times in five different places, from Genesis to Revelation. It’s the only thing I’ve encountered in my reading of the Bible that features explicitly in the teaching of Moses, Jesus, and Paul. This is an indication that marriage is an important, foundational estate for what it means to be human.

It’s part of what it means to be in the image of God. God created humanity in His image; as a male and female He created them. This dichotomy of humanity indicates something about the nature of God. Woman was taken out of man, and then they are brought back together and united in one flesh. This is the essence of marriage.

Marriage pleases God—not that He requires marriage as an absolute; Paul writes that it’s also good for a man not to marry. But there is something in the unique relationship between one man and one woman till death parts them that expresses something about God that no other relationship is able to do. The two will become one flesh.

So God blesses marriage. He gives marriage His good Word. And this blessing is threefold: marriage is for mutual companionship, help, and support, in good and in bad; it’s for man and woman to find delight in each other in their complementary ways; and it’s for the procreation and raising of children.

Now that was in the beginning, before sin entered the picture. The blessing still remains, but it is obscured by the corruption of sin. That’s why before St. Paul gets to the bit about wives submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives and not being harsh with them, he writes, Then, as holy people whom God has chosen and loved, be tender-hearted, kind, humble, gentle, patient; bear with one another and forgive one another if you have a complaint against anyone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. With all this have love, which binds it all together to make it perfect (Col 3:12-14). If your marriage is not built on forgiveness, then it will never reflect the image of God.

1.

But what is it about the one-flesh union between a man and a woman that expresses God’s image? The two will become one flesh. God and humanity are completely other, as far as the east is from the west. They say that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. But man is from earth and God is from heaven. How can that distance be bridged?

It is only in the unique union of God and man in the flesh of Jesus that bridges the gulf between God and man. The two have become one flesh. And this is why St. Paul writes that the union of a man and a woman is really all about Christ and the Church. The union of man and woman here on earth images the union of Jesus with His beloved.

He became flesh not to lord it over His people, and to rule with an iron fist, but to suffer all, even death, so that His beloved could be presented as the most beautiful thing creation has ever seen. Luke, that’s your duty—every day from here on, you are to give yourself up for the sake of your bride. And the Church submits to Christ, her head, and receives every good gift from Him, so wives submit to their husbands as it is right in the Lord. Michelle, that’s your duty—to submit means put yourself at the receiving end of God’s good gifts for you, which He gives through your husband. This is the order of marriage established at creation, which mirrors the relationship of Jesus and the Church.

The fruit of the union of God and man in the flesh of Jesus is the forgiveness of sins. That’s why Paul cannot teach about marriage until he has first taught all Christians—including husbands and wives—to forgive sins. The forgiveness of Jesus is the medicine for every corruption of your marriage by sin, every transgression that each of you will commit against one another, every failure of duty. Forgiveness is what holds this union together, because forgiveness removes the enmity of sin.

By His Word and Blessing, Today God Joins You Two, Luke and Michelle, Together as One Flesh

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

The Name

Fifth Sunday after Easter
John 16:23-30
May 6, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

It’s almost a throw-away line: in the name of Jesus. But have you considered what a unique privilege that is, to invoke the name of Jesus? It’s not just anybody who can do something in someone else’s name. If you just start doing things in someone else’s name—like buying a car or opening credit cards—you can go to jail. It’s called identify theft. To do something in somebody’s name means that you are under authority to do or say what you’re doing or saying. It cannot be just a throw-away line. In the name of Jesus means something.

And Jesus tells His disciples what it means to do one particular thing in His name. Then you won’t ask Me any questions. I tell you the truth, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. So far you haven’t asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete. “Ask the Father in My name,” says Jesus. The name of Jesus is the distinct element of a Christian petition—but it’s not just tacking on those vocables at the end of a prayer, as a throw-away line. It’s about praying as Jesus does.

The Name of Jesus Is Your Access to the Father

I.

In order to pray in the name of Jesus, you have to have the name of Jesus. How do you come about that name? It’s not by nature, or by birthright, or by government fiat, or by any work of man. The name of Jesus is a gift. And it’s a gift given to you in your Baptism.

Baptism is not just plain water, but it is water combined with God’s Word and command. Which word and command? Jesus says to His disciples, Therefore, as you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you (Mt 28:19-20).

In the book of Acts, which records the activity of the Church in the first yeas following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, baptism is simply, “in the name of Jesus.” This is not a different kind of baptism; baptism is always in the one name. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three names, but designations of the three persons who share the one name. In the name (singular) of Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus shares the name of Father and Spirit. And baptism gives you a share of the same name.

To be baptized in the name of Jesus means that it’s not a human work—neither of the minister or of the one getting baptized—it’s the work of God. And the little word “in” indicates a motion. Once you did not have the name of Jesus; now you have it because you are baptized into it.

The name gives you a duty. First, His name is to be used in support of the truth. In most cases, Christians are simply to tell the truth, and to let their “yes” be yes, and their “no” be no. But in solemn situations, such as testifying in court or taking an oath of office, it is necessary to swear by God’s name. These are exceptional uses of God’s name in support of the truth, but there are other, less exceptional, uses, as well, such as the first utterance of this sermon. His name supports the truth of the preaching of His Word.

The second, and more common duty and use of God’s name is prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. The Large Catechism summarizes the duty of the Commandment to not misuse God’s name: This commandment also applies to right teaching and to calling on His name in trouble or praising and thanking Him in prosperity, and so on. All of this is summed up and commanded in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” For all this is bringing God’s name into the service of truth and using it in a blessed way. In this way His name is hallowed, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

This is what Jesus tells His disciples in that upper room, when He says, “If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.” Soon Jesus will suffer and die, rise and ascend into heaven. Then the Holy Spirit will come, and then disciples of Jesus will be the baptized and instructed. That is to say, they will be the ones with His name.

You are baptized, you are a disciple, you bear the name of Jesus. But, you misuse that name, don’t you? Maybe you don’t shout swears from the rooftops, but you mutter them under your breath. And you play fast and loose with the truth; even if you don’t attach the name of Jesus to it, you bear the name of Jesus and every word you speak and every deed you do reflects on Him. And your prayers are not all that. The brother of our Lord writes, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas 4:2-3).

II.

Yet, despite your misuse of God’s name, He still gives you His own prayer. And that prayer begins in a spectacular way. Our Father… No other prayer ever prayed begins this way. Only when Jesus comes on the scene is God called Father, not in the sense of patriarchal, authoritative despot, but in the sense of the one who loves to give good gifts. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you…Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete. The name of Jesus gives you access to the Father.

First of all, the name gives you the right to call God, “Father.” Because of Jesus and His name, the relationship between God and man is not primarily that of creator-creature, master-servant, Lord-subject, but, father-child. You can ask the Father for things like kids ask their parents. This means that God invites you to pester Him and put all your trust in Him that He will provide.

Why does God do this for you? Because of His great love. “I used veiled speech in telling you these things. The time is coming when I won’t use veiled speech any more in talking to you, but I’ll tell you about the Father in plain words. Then you will ask in My name, and I don’t tell you that I’ll ask the Father for you. The Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and believe that I came from the Father. I left the Father and came into the world; and now I’m leaving the world again and going to the Father.”

We live in the last days, the days of Jesus’ ascension to the Father’s right hand. By all appearances, it looks like God has abandoned this world and withdrawn His love. But that is not the case at all. He’s left His name, and because of His name, you have the assurance that God has not abandoned you. You have the name of His Son, and that means you have the love of the Father for the Son. That’s why He invites you to pester Him with your petitions. He loves you because you loved Jesus.

The name of Jesus guarantees you an answer to your prayers. There are three answers that parents tend to give to their kids—yes, no, and maybe (but we all know that “maybe” is just another way of saying no). Someone once said that God answers prayers in three ways—yes, no, and wait. That’s a little better, but it doesn’t quite square with the nature of God as Father; He’s promised to give us what we ask for in the name of Jesus, after all. A better way of looking at God’s answers is that He answers in two ways—yes, and, “I’ve got something better.” Sometimes we ask and God gives. But sometimes we ask selfishly, and not in the spirit of Jesus’ name. God does not ever say no to Jesus’ name, but sometimes He gives something more than what we pray for. It’s like asking for an ’87 Ford Escort and getting a brand new Mustang Cobra. Be bold with your prayers. You have Jesus’ name.

And because you have Jesus name, you have direct access to the Father, to ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. You have the name of Jesus, given to you in baptism. And despite your misuse of the name, God still loves you for the sake of the name of Jesus. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

 

 

Gifts From Above

Fourth Sunday after Easter
James 1:16-21
April 29, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Don’t make a mistake, my dear Christian friends. Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

As He wanted it, He gave birth to us by the Word of truth so we would be the first and best of His creatures.

My dear fellow Christians, you should know this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to talk, slow to get angry. An angry man doesn’t do what’s right before God. So get rid of everything filthy and every breaking out of wickedness, and with a gentle spirit welcome the Word that’s planted in you and can save your souls.

In the name of + Jesus.

Christians often mistake where their gifts come from. They often mistake gifts for something else—like rewards or earnings or wages. But James, the brother of our Lord, doesn’t want us to be mistaken. Don’t make a mistake, my dear Christian friends. Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

There is nothing good except that which God gives. There is nothing complete except that which God gifts. These good and perfect gifts come from above, the Father of lights. That is, everything that enlightens, that gives life, that reveals God, these are from God. Anything that is contrary to this is not from God. The sun, moon, and stars give light, but they dim from time to time. There is no variation, no shifting shadow, no eclipse of the Father’s enlightening gifts.

Every Good and Perfect Give Comes Down from Above, from the Father of Lights

I.

How are these gifts characterized? The bishop of Jerusalem goes on: As He wanted it, He gave birth to us by the Word of truth so we would be the first and best of His creatures. It’s not just the things that are accidental to our being, but our very being itself, our very lives, the fact that we are even here to begin with, that is a gift from God. From above, the Father gives the gift of life.

And this life comes from His Word of truth. All things were made by God’s speaking—He said, and it was so. Mankind is a little different. For every other creature, God’s speaks into the void, into the emptiness, and brings forth what was not there. But for the creation of mankind, He addresses Himself. “Let Us make man in Our image, like Ourselves, that they might rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, and the cattle, over all the earth and everything that moves on the earth.” And God created man in His image, in God’s image He created him; He created them male and female (Gen 1:26-27 AAT). God does not call man out of nothing; He calls man out of Himself. Mankind—male and female—thus bear the image of God. But there’s also more Word of truth: Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28-29 NKJV).

But there is a bit of a contradiction here. Bishop James writes that we were born as the first and best of His creatures. But mankind is the last of God’s creation. And while our race may have enjoyed a brief moment as the best of creation, we’ve fallen quite low since then. Our rebellion against the Father of lights has cast darkness over the face of the earth. Either James needs to go back to Sunday School, or he’s talking about something else.

The enlightening gift from above that gives birth as the first and best of His creatures is not for birth in the old creation. It’s not the blessing to be fruitful and multiply. Rather, it’s the birth from above that Jesus tells Nicodemus about in John’s Gospel-the birth of water and the Spirit. This is the enlightening gift of the Father because it is the gift of new birth and new life by the Holy Spirit.

And truly, we are the firstborn of the new creation. The new creation after Christ’s return will bear much resemblance to this creation. But as of yet there are not new trees and new dogs and new crocodiles and new stars. But there are renewed men and women. Each and every one of you who has been baptized is a new creation, a prelude to what’s coming when Jesus returns to put all things right. The darkness of your sin is snuffed out by the Light of Christ, delivered by the Spirit from the Father above.

II.

But if life were the extent of the gifts from above, it would be an empty gift. Good, but not a full, complete gift. We would be like the rest of the animals. But we were created in the image of God, which means a life of fullness. Mankind’s life and existence was sanctified—set apart—from the other creatures, and this sanctity is often lost. My dear fellow Christians, you should know this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to talk, slow to get angry. An angry man doesn’t do what’s right before God. So get rid of everything filthy and every breaking out of wickedness, and with a gentle spirit welcome the Word that’s planted in you and can save your souls. From above, the Father gives the gift of sanctified patience and forbearance, which gives life its fullness.

Even though God created mankind in His image, that image is marred and lost in sin. By nature we are now quick to talk, slow to listen, and anger easily. And it’s over the silliest things, usually. Think back to a time when you were angry, and now you can’t for the life of you figure out why it made you so mad—it was such an insignificant thing. But that’s human nature. Without the gift of sanctification, which comes from above, life is empty, incomplete.

It would be a mistake to confuse sanctification with moral living. They are not mutually exclusive, to be sure, but there are many moral people who do not have a sanctified life. Sanctification, of course, cannot exist simultaneously with an intentionally immoral life, but they are not one and the same.

Morality doesn’t lead to sanctification. There is another cause, which Bishop James indicates here. It’s the implanted Word and a gentle spirit, which is to say, a receiving spirit. It’s not a spirit that dictates to God and to neighbor how such and such must be. But like gentle Mary, such a spirit responds, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

With the Word implanted, then comes the fruit—to put away everything filthy, and wicked. And this happens by confession and absolution. Confess those things that are contrary to God’s Word and receive the forgiveness won by Christ—a gift that comes down from above.

The implanted Word gives you a spirit of gentleness, which leads to salvation. It is the path to a full life. The gift of the Father from above is always good and perfect, but in this life, the fruit is never quite complete. Yet, there is a beginning to sanctification here and now. Strive after it. Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and if you feel like you’re getting angry, stop and pray for your enemy—because it’s hard to be angry with someone you’ve just prayed for. And pray for a gentle spirit.

From above, the Father of lights gifts the good and perfect gift—life here in the old creation, and the hidden life of the new creation. In this hidden life lies your sanctification, the life that is set apart for God, implanted in you by His Word, which leads to the salvation of your souls.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Joy

Third Sunday after Easter
John 16:16-22
April 22, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

There is a significant disconnect with Easter, that only becomes apparent after the luster of the holiday celebration wears off. After living a life of temptations and troubles that are common to the human experience, after enduring persecution for teaching about His Father, after suffering humiliation and insults and physical beatings, and after dying a criminal’s death, and after defeating them all in a victorious resurrection, Jesus rises to life again in the old, dying world, a world of troubles, persecutions, and sufferings.

Certainly Jesus was a singular presence in the world prior to His death and resurrection—an uncomprehended Light shining in the darkness—but after His resurrection, He is a strange visitor indeed. We know that Christ, risen from the dead, will not die again, writes St. Paul. Death has no hold on Him anymore. When He died, He died to sin once, never to die again, and the life He lives He lives for God (Rom 6:9-10). Yet here He stands among mortals, who will all die.

Of course, Jesus’ visit post-resurrection is short—He only lingers for a little over a month before being removed into heaven. But the glory of His resurrection could have been so much more. But the disconnect is only heightened by the fact that the greatest new the world has ever heard—the news that Christ is risen indeed—is everywhere met with resistance and persecution. The book of Acts records dozens of episodes of the preaching of the resurrection of Christ, and it is always, without exception, met with resistance—and often with persecution.

Shouldn’t the resurrection of Jesus change things? Shouldn’t the world now be rid of its enmity, of its cruelty, of its hate? Shouldn’t peace reign? But even in the Church, that’s not the case. Even among those who claim to be followers of the One who defeated death and now lives for God, even they live as if nothing’s changed at all. St. Peter even finds it necessary to remind Christians to act like Christians. Dear friends, I urge you, as guests and strangers in this world: Stay away from the desires of your body, because its appetites fight against the soul. Live a noble life among the people of the world, so that instead of accusing you of doing wrong, they may see the good you do and glorify God when He visits them (1 Pet 2:11-12). But how many people would never set foot inside Trinity Lutheran Church because you have not lived a noble life? How many of them accuse you of doing wrong? How many of them are right?

So it seems that the greatest news the world has ever heard wears off pretty fast. The glory fades and the light dims. Things go back to the way they were. And whenever the Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus sounds out, there hostility and persecution arise to meet it. This is most certainly true outside the Church, but tragically, also inside the Church. Jesus’ own followers tire of the Gospel, or distrust it to accomplish what it promises. And they seek another religion, a religion of the Law, a religion that persecutes the true religion, because the son of the Law always persecutes the son of the promise.

So, have we found some fatal flaw in God’s plan of salvation? Is the resurrection a marvel that effects nothing? Is the Gospel only a blip in human history, but everything really just stays the same? We answer an emphatic, “No!” Because Christ is risen, the more things stay the same, the more they change.

1.

It was the night before He endured His most intense trials and suffering that Jesus spoke of the trials and sufferings that would meet His followers. First He explains that it was time for Him to leave the men who had followed Him every day for the better part of three years. First, for a short time in His passion, and then for an extended time after resurrection and ascension.

Jesus said, “A little while and you’ll not see Me anymore; and again a little while and you’ll see Me.” Then some of His disciples asked one another, “What does He mean when He tells us, ‘a little while and you’ll not see Me; and again a little while and you’ll see Me,’ and ‘I’m going to the Father’?” So they were asking, “What does He mean when He says, ‘A little while’? We don’t know what He means.”

As John the evangelist is writing these words, he is most likely writing late in the apostolic era, perhaps even the last book of the New Testament to be written. By that time, several decades have passed since Jesus was no longer present in a natural way. Many of the first believers had died (including many of the Apostles) and people were wondering if Jesus really would come back. This is John’s way of telling the story of Jesus so that we disciples who follow Jesus a long while after His departure for God’s right hand would be prepared for Him to return after a little while.

But it’s the interim that’s our concern. What about this little while, that feels so long? What about when it looks like the resurrection of Jesus made no difference, when things keep on as they always have, and when troubles and persecutions rise to meet the faithful? This is the concern of Jesus with the words that follow.

Jesus knew they wanted to ask Him something. “Are you trying to find out from one another,” He asked them, “what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you’ll not see Me; and again a little while and you’ll see Me?’ I tell you the truth, you will cry and mourn, but the world will be glad. You will have sorrow, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is going to have a child, she has pains because her time has come. But after the child is born, she’s so happy a child was brought into the world she doesn’t remember her pains any more. You, too, are sad now; but I’ll see you again, and then you’ll be filled with joy, and no one will take your joy away from you. Then you won’t ask Me any questions. I tell you the truth, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.

The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t remove troubles from the world or our own lives. Because Christ is risen, the enemies of God don’t automatically lay down their arms. And furthermore, because Christ is risen doesn’t mean that His followers are any less sinners. You will cry and mourn. You will have sorrow. There will be troubles and persecutions and crosses and trials. But why should they grieve me? They are only a little while.

Your sorrow will turn to joy. You are sad now, but I will see you again, Jesus says. And no one will be able to take that joy away from you, because it will be eternal joy.

So the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t remove troubles from the world or our own lives. It doesn’t remove the sinful nature. It forgives sins and gives us hope to endure every trial and tribulation that is on the horizon. The Gospel of Jesus Christ drives us through suffering to find joy on the other end.

Until this little while is ended, though, and Jesus returns in a natural way, there is a weekly return to the resurrection of Jesus. That’s why we worship on Sunday—it’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead. And each and every week, Jesus punctuates this little while with a visit—though supernaturally, and sacramentally hidden. The Sacrament gives us the strength to endure this life of cross and trial because it is the Word of God, given and shed for that very reason. The forgiveness of sins propels us through every season of suffering to find joy in the resurrection of Jesus. And,

The Resurrection of Jesus Turns Sorrow into Joy

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Image by flickr user John Taylor.

One Flock, One Shepherd

Second Sunday after Easter
April 15, 2018
John 10:10-16
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

There are churches everywhere you look. Lutheran churches, Catholic churches, Baptist churches, congregational churches, nondenominational churches. There are big churches, small churches, medium churches, old churches, brand-spankin-new churches. There are contemporary churches and traditional churches. In America, there is an ecclesial smorgasbord to choose from. In fact, just the other day I saw what can only be described as a gas station converted into a church. So, one thing that our American situation allows us to do is to choose a church to our liking, like going to a cafeteria. If this church doesn’t suit your needs, then I can find another one.

But this is not the vision of the Church that Jesus gives to us this second Sunday after Easter. “I am the Good Shepherd,” He says, “The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. When a hired man, who isn’t a shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf carries them off and scatters them — because he works for money and doesn’t care about the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father. And I give My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this fold. I must lead those, too, and they will listen to My voice, and so they will become one flock with one Shepherd.”

Jesus makes a distinction here between the Church as hiring and the Church as shepherding. The critical moment comes though, with the introduction of the wolf. Only the shepherd will do the sheep any good when adversity comes. So, you do not need a hired hand; you need a shepherd. And that’s what you have in the Church, where

There Is One Flock and One Shepherd

I.

The rampant consumerism in our present American culture exacerbates the image of the Church as a hiring relationship. Everything around us is about economics. This week Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook (if you’re listening, hi Mark!), testified in Congress about his social media platform that has made him rich beyond his wildest dreams. One senator asked him how he can make money if he doesn’t charge anything to use Facebook. He replied, “We run ads.” It’s as simple as that. There is an axiom that is especially true in the new online economy—if the product is free, then you’re the product. And that means that just about every nook and cranny of life is about being sold to, or being sold. And this mindset has infected the Church, too. Not that it wasn’t there before. It’s just more pervasive now. But to turn the Church into a hiring relationship is to turn the Church on its head.

There is one mindset that thinks that the Church is only useful so far as it gives you a return on your investment. This isn’t just money (but often it is about money). It’s also about your time, which in our day is a more precious commodity than cash. Consumerism tells you that if you’re not pleased with they way something’s done in the Church, then it’s the church or the minister that’s in the wrong, because the customer is always right. And if it’s not right, you can take your money and your time elsewhere.

Have you ever gone into a church and gotten the feeling that you’re being sold to? Have you ever seen a ridiculous gimmick in the sermon that was a thinly-veiled attempt to get you to buy into the preacher’s schtick? I’ve had it happen more times than I’d like to count. But as I reflect back, I think that the problem is less being sold to than it is being sold. See, that’s the thing. The flock—that’s youse guys—can never hire their own workers. That’s as ridiculous as sheep getting together to hire their own shepherd. Doesn’t work that way. And even if it did, the sheep would never follow the man they hired. No, sheep are the commodity. They are the ones who get bought and sold in herd economics.

But there’s also another possibility. There could be a wolf sneaking around. Someone who dispenses with the economics of it altogether, and snatches and scatters the sheep. This is when the reward will never outweigh the risk.

To survive such a threat, we need an entirely new economics. We need to turn this relationship around. We need a Shepherd.

II.

Jesus identifies Himself not only as a shepherd, but the Shepherd. What’s more, He identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd. What distinguishes Him as the Good Shepherd is that He lays down His life for the sheep. This is not possible in a hiring relationship. There is never enough money for someone to give up his life for someone else. For that you need a higher calling. By laying down His life, Jesus establishes the Church as a shepherding relationship. It’s not about trying to provide the best return on investment to His people. Rather, Jesus is the One who makes the investment.

The hired hand does not own the sheep, Jesus says. The hired hand is not invested in the sheep. His only interest is how much the sheep can provide for him, and there’s always a point when they can’t provide him enough to stick around. Jesus, however, introduces a new currency in the herd economics. He owns the sheep, but not as products or commodities. This is because Jesus has invested much more than money or time into His flock. He purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own. Jesus paid the price of blood to be your Shepherd, and that’s what makes Him Good. No wolf can scare off the One who had His hands pierced for the sake of His sheep.

Therefore, the Church is the holy believers and the lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd (SA XII 2). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, makes Himself known by His voice. He calls out to His own and they hear His voice. How do you know His voice? Sheep know their shepherd’s voice. It’s just as the Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father. When you hear the voice of the One who lays down His life, you know you are hearing the voice of your Good Shepherd.

So in spite of all the different churches with all their different shepherds, there still remains One who alone is Good, One who alone laid down His life and took it up again. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, whose goodness is in His death and resurrection for the sake of His sheep, is the One who calls His flock into existence. There is one flock, one Shepherd.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

There Is One Flock and One Shepherd

  1. The Church is not a hiring relationship.
  2. The Church is a shepherding relationship.

 

Seeing Is (Not) Believing

First Sunday after Easter
John 20:19-31
April 8, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of + Jesus.

3.

About 400 years ago, there was an intellectual movement in Britain called empiricism. Empiricism is the belief that nothing can be known apart from what registers in the senses. It’s like in science class where you have to take measurements and collect hard, observable evidence. In fact, empiricism underlies the scientific method.

This, of course, has implications for the knowledge of God. In its milder forms, empiricism would allow for some intuitive knowledge, such as a “gut feeling” that God exists, even if you can’t see Him personally. But it its stricter forms, God’s existence is squeezed out because God is above the basic senses. You can observe a majestic mountain or a beautiful sunset and conclude that God exists, but the empiricist will say that you’ve only observed a mountain and a sunset, not God.

But the empiricists of 400 years ago weren’t on to something new. In fact, the desire to “see for yourself” is something that’s engrained in human nature. Our state motto isn’t particularly religious, but reflects a common desire of human nature—“Show me!” And so, when Thomas is absent for Jesus’ first appearance following His resurrection, and the other disciples tell him about their encounter, he responds like a good Missourian: “Show me!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nail and put my finger into the imprint of the nail, and put my hand into His side, I will most certainly not believe.”

Apparently Thomas hadn’t gotten the lesson on faith yet. The writer to the Hebrews teaches, Faith is the substance of that which is hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith doesn’t say, “Show me,” Thomas. Faith doesn’t need to see—or feel or taste or smell or touch or hear—right? Furthermore, Jesus reprimands Thomas: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are those who do not see and believe.” So if you insist on seeing, if you say, “Show me,” you are not believing, but disbelieving, right?

2.

But that doesn’t account for why Jesus shows up for the second week in a row and deliberately shows Thomas His hands and side. Then He said to Thomas, “Bring your finger here and see My hands, and bring your hand and place it into My side, and be not unbelieving, but believing.” And what’s more, Jesus does the same thing for the rest of the disciples on His first visit. Then during the evening of that day, the first of the week, the doors having been shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace to you.” And after saying this, He showed His hands and side to them. Then the disciples were glad because they were beholding the Lord.

The other disciples got a good eyeful of the nail imprints and observed Jesus standing, breathing, speaking. Their faith wasn’t the assurance of things unseen. They saw Jesus! They had empirical evidence.

This was the problem for one of those British empiricists named David Hume. Hume thought that it was quite possible that Jesus actually rose from the dead. His problem is that he didn’t witness it himself, nor had he ever witnessed anyone rise from the dead. In order to believe it, he had to see it for himself.

And so Christians would respond to someone like David Hume, saying, “You just need to have faith!” Faith is the assurance of things not seen; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

But this would miss what both Jesus and the writer to the Hebrews want you to know about faith. Faith isn’t some nebulous, floating thing that accepts any old proposition without any evidence. Faith isn’t some feeling of conviction that arises out of thin air. Faith is nothing like a conspiracy theory.

This disciples’ faith had something to hang on to—not only Thomas, but all of them. Their faith had a foundation apart from their own opinions. The same goes for you. Even though you were not there to see Jesus in that room, or to witness His resurrection, or even to put your finger in the nail marks, your faith has just as much to hold on to. And if we take a closer look at the Thomas incident, we’ll see what it is.

1.

Thomas sees Jesus and believes that He is risen, but there’s something more to his confession. When the rest of the disciples see the Lord with the marks of His crucifixion, they are understandably glad. But Thomas goes a step beyond the rest of the disciples. Thomas answered and said, “My Lord and my God.” Listen to that one more time. Thomas answered and said, “My Lord and my God.”

Notice that the text never tells us if Thomas actually pressed his finger into the nail mark or not. He doesn’t say anything about the nail marks in his response. In fact, he doesn’t say anything about anything that can be seen at all. He calls Jesus his Lord and his God. This is remarkable, because even the risen and glorified Jesus still has the appearance of a man who eats, sleeps, walks, and talks like any other man. The nail marks are all that set Him apart—and a lot of people have scars.

Jesus’ response to him is quite telling. Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who do not see and believe.” The question is rhetorical. Thomas certainly believes. But was it because he saw with his own two eyes? The implied answer is that Thomas didn’t believe because he saw.

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham tells the rich man at the end of the sequence that if his brothers didn’t believe Moses and the prophets, they also wouldn’t believe if someone rose from the dead. Even if David Hume could have been an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection, and had all the empirical evidence in the world, he still would not have believed it. People find reasons not to believe the truth all the time. Likewise, neither Thomas nor any of the disciples believed because they saw Jesus.

In the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism, we learn that I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

Faith is not something that arises in us spontaneously when we see something that has enough hard evidence. Faith is a gift of the Spirit. And that’s precisely what Jesus gave to His disciples on that first Easter evening. Then Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you. Just as the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And after saying this He breathed and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It is this Spirit who gives faith, not by sight, but by hearing—faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. The Spirit calls me by the Gospel, and He gives the faith necessary to believe.

But still, even with the Word of the Gospel that Jesus speaks—the peace of the Lord, and the word of forgiveness—He still shows the disciples the evidence of His resurrection and even invites Thomas to engage his sense of touch. Could we not have some kind of tangible evidence as well?

Yes! Not only does the Spirit call us by the Gospel, but He also creates and bestows faith when He enlightens us with His gifts. He gives us something tangible for faith to hold on to. As the Large Catechism teaches, Faith must have something that it believes, that is, of which it takes hold and upon which it stands and rests. So faith clings to the water and believes that in Baptism, there is pure salvation and life. This is not through the water (as we have stated well enough), but through the fact that it is embodied in God’s Word and institution, and that God’s name abides in it (LC IV 29).

Just as Thomas had the Lord’s hands to touch, we have Baptism. It’s the sense of touch, connected to the Gospel, in which the Holy Spirit gives us faith by the forgiveness of sins. And just as Thomas was by this faith, able to see His Lord and His God in the appearance of Jesus, we are able to see by the same faith, a washing of new birth by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. It’s the sign of resurrection. Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are you for not seeing, but believing, because

Faith Holds on to the Hidden Promise

In the name of + Jesus.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

See Where They Laid Him

Resurrection of Our Lord
Mark 16:1-8
April 16, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

When the Sabbath was over, Mary from Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to go and anoint Jesus. On Sunday they were coming to the grave very early when the sun was up. “Who is going to roll away the stone for us from the door of the grave?” they asked one another; it was very large. But when they looked up, they saw the stone had been rolled back. As they went into the grave, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting at the right. And they were amazed. “Don’t be amazed,” he told them. “You’re looking for Jesus from Nazareth, Who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where He was laid. But go and tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see Him, as He told you.’” They went out and hurried away from the grave, because they were trembling and bewildered. They were so frightened they didn’t tell anyone anything.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

The stone in front of the tomb of Jesus is a problem for the skeptic. Although Mark earlier reports that Joseph of Arimathea “took the body down, wrapped it in the linen, and laid it in a grave that had been cut in the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the grave,” we shouldn’t get the impression that poor Joseph was left to heave a giant stone over the tomb all by himself. Often, the Bible will use a figure of speech by saying that a person did something, when he actually caused it to be done. So Joseph made arrangements for, or oversaw the placing of this large stone in front of Jesus’ grave.

The women were witnesses to this impromptu burial, and wanted to come back and do it properly, but they were concerned about this stone. “Who is going to roll away the stone for us from the door of the grave?” they asked one another; it was very large. What’s more, they were probably unaware of the additional security measures put in place because of the fear that the disciples might try to fake a resurrection. Matthew records this in his Gospel:

The next day — the day after the day of preparation — the ruling priests and Pharisees met with Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember how that deceiver said while he was still alive, ‘On the third day I will rise.’ Now, order the grave to be made secure until the third day, or his disciples may come and steal him and tell the people, ‘He rose from the dead.’ Then the last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate told them; “go and make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and secured the grave by sealing the stone and setting the guard (Mt 27:62-66).

So it wasn’t just that the women were too dainty to handle a big rock—there was some serious security at the tomb of Jesus. Mark, with his characteristic brevity, doesn’t include all the details; it’s like he can’t wait to get to the point. But Matthew records how this monolithic obstacle became a none-issue. After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary from Magdala and the other Mary went to look at the grave. There was a great earthquake. An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, went and rolled the stone away, and sat on it. He was as bright as lightning, and his clothes were as white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him they shook and became like dead men (Mt 28:1-4).

But the remarkable thing is that Jesus is already gone by the time that all of this happens. The angel rolls back the stone on an empty grave. “See the place where they laid Him,” he says. The risen and glorified Jesus had no need of an emergency exit. He simply left. The stone was rolled back so that the women could go in and see that the place was empty. Not only was it empty, but it was arranged neatly with the burial linens folded up. Like they were expecting guests.

And not just the women—the stone was rolled back to let the world in. Every denier of the resurrection of Jesus is forced to admit that the tomb is empty. But more importantly, the empty tomb is forever a testimony for believers that Jesus is risen. Some people claim that the empty cross is a symbol of the resurrection; no it’s the empty tomb. See the place where they laid him.

1.

The tomb is still vacant today. Of course, every so often a B-list cable company will run some special on finding the bones of Jesus or some such thing. Their scholarship is so full of holes it’s not even worth me spending time on them. They hardly even rise to the level of a hoax.

The tomb is still vacant today. In fact, there is a Church that was built on what is supposedly the grave of Jesus. That one is still empty. Whether people have identified the correct grave or not, we have something more sure than the physical evidence of an empty grave. We have the evidence of testimony from eyewitnesses, who not only saw the empty grave, but also encountered the now living former occupant of that grave.

If you get a chance to go to Jerusalem and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you may perhaps get a chance to duck your head into the empty tomb they have there, and it’s possible that you might even see for yourself the place where they laid Him. But that’s not really necessary.

The word of the apostolic testimony doesn’t just give you a glimpse into the empty tomb, but it makes you a partaker of it. St. Peter testified of the resurrection of Jesus in the first sermon of the Christian Church on Pentecost: God has raised this Jesus — we’re all witnesses of that (Acts 2:32). When the people asked what this means for them, Peter said, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will be given the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Baptism, as St. Paul writes to the Romans, is your connection to the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Now when we were baptized into His death, we were buried with Him so that as the Father’s glory raised Christ from the dead we, too, will live a new life. If we were united with Him in this likeness of His death, then we will be united with Him also in the likeness of His resurrection (Rom 6:3-5).

This vision is an even greater vision that that of the women early in the morning, because it doesn’t conclude with fear and trembling. In fact, it doesn’t end at all. It’s an eternal vision that even your own death cannot destroy. Because you are joined to the empty tomb of Jesus, your tomb will also be an empty tomb. That’s the vision given in the font, and it’s a sight to behold.

See the Place Where They Laid Him

In the name of + Jesus.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA