Fourth Sunday after Easter Sermon

Fourth Sunday after Easter
John 16:16-22
May 18, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

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

But even though Christ is risen, we would still be stuck in the old, natural religion without the Holy Spirit. If Christ is simply risen from the dead, we can put the resurrection in our back pockets and progress to what everyone is most concerned about—how to become a better person, how to climb the next step of success and sanctification and spirituality. But, ironically, the world’s spirituality is completely devoid of the Spirit of God, its sanctification is a whitewashed shell of external works, and its success is ultimately doomed to failure.

Jesus spends quite a bit of time both before His passion and after His resurrection speaking of the Holy Spirit.  In today’s Gospel, He promises that the Spirit will come after He has returned to His Father, and precisely what the Spirit will do. [Jesus said]:  “But now I am going to the One who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are You going?’ But, because of this saying of Mine, sorrow has filled your hearts. But, I am speaking the truth to you.  It is to your advantage that I go away.  For if I do not go, the Paraclete will not come to you.  If I do go, I will send Him to you (vv 5-7).

It is to your advantage that Jesus has gone to the Father’s right hand, because from there, He sends His Spirit, whom He calls the Paraclete—the Helper, Comforter, Counselor, Advocate. He is the One who speaks alongside of you. And when He comes, that One will convict the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment (v 8).

 3.

The starting point for the ministry of the Spirit is sin. He will convict the world concerning sin. And if there’s one thing that the world needs right now is a little convicting of its sin. Each new week brings another national conversation about the outdated mores of Western Christian culture giving way to a new hedonism—the only thing taboo in our culture is forbidding an individual from exercising his own autonomy in the pursuit of personal pleasure. Next season we won’t even be able to turn on Monday Night Football without a constant bombardment that we are not only to accept and tolerate the new landscape of sexual self-identification, but that we must celebrate it. Ah, for the days when we only had to accept openly womanizing and adulterous sports idols.

The world could use a good convicting of its sin. So we Christians should take a stand and start to point out all the things people do that are contrary to God’s Holy Law. Shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we tell someone if he’s sinning? Isn’t it our duty to point out the way people run roughshod over the Ten Commandments? But doesn’t seem like these days, the more Christians speak up about sin, the more the world spirals down its self-indulgent tailspin?

The Lord Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, and the first thing He will do is speak with conviction concerning sin. Concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me, says Jesus (v. 9). The root cause of sin, according to our Lord, isn’t disobedience, but disbelief. It’s not that the thief wants to have something that doesn’t belong to him, but it’s that he doesn’t believe that his heavenly Father will actually provide for all his needs of body and life. It’s not that the murderer has so much rage that he has to kill to satiate his bloodlust, it’s that he doesn’t believe that God is the author and giver of life.

The root cause of sin is unbelief.

There is a marvelous statement by Martin Luther in his Heidelberg Theses that goes like this: “The Law says ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘Believe this,’ and everything is already done.” This statement is one to chew on for a while. The Law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. The Law does not give the power to do what it demands. It only has the power to reveal unbelief.

So then, it’s not that we live in a world where morality is going down the proverbial toilet. It’s that the world is convinced that they have a better and more advanced morality than you do. Because the world has a misplaced faith. They do not believe in the God who became flesh, who suffered, who died, and who rose—this is a scandal to the world. They believe in a god of their own making, and from that false faith comes their new morality. A morality that calls good evil and evil good.

In the explanation to the First Commandment, the catechisms continually return to faith. Without faith, the other commandments don’t matter. Without faith, even the best behavior according to the Law is still a damning work before God.

 2.

The Spirit’s work begins with sin, but it doesn’t end there. There is another word He has to speak to the world, a word that it hasn’t heard before. The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning righteousness, Jesus says, because I am going to the Father, and you will see Me no longer (v 10).

What does Jesus going to the Father have to do with righteousness? The righteousness that counts, the righteousness that avails before God, is not something that you find within yourself. It’s not a product of your own works, or your own spiritual preparations.

Christ is your Righteousness. He goes to the Father because His sacrifice was acceptable on behalf of the world. He goes to the Father because His perfect obedience is vindicated in His resurrection. He goes to His Father in order to distribute the riches that He earned through the ministry of the Church.

True righteousness, of which the Holy Spirit convicts the world, has nothing to do with you and everything to do with Jesus. The righteousness that counts, the righteousness that avails before God, is the Righteousness that sits at His right hand. He is the Mediator between God and man, this Man Jesus Christ.

You do not see Jesus—at least not as His disciples did. He is hidden. But He hides Himself in order to reveal Himself in a gracious way. He doesn’t appear to you in bright, blinding light like He did to Saul on the road to Damascus. He doesn’t show you His full glory—that would simply convict you of your sin once again. He reveals Himself in the ministry of the Church, that is, in the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

“The Law says ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘Believe this,’ and everything is already done.” It’s a wonderful statement that bears repeating. Grace says, “Believe this,” and everything is already done. That is to say, that everything you could ever hope to do to gain favor with the Father in heaven has already been done by Jesus. There is nothing more that you can add.

 1.

With the rampant sin and unbelief that is multiplying in this world and not dissipating, with our Lord Jesus departing this world to the heavenly places and entrusting His ministry to sinful men who bungle this Holy Office as often as they carry it out faithfully, it may seem like all this preaching about sin and righteousness is for nothing. It’s rare that things trend towards the good. Relationships still crumble, enmity and violence are the rule across most of the world, broken bodies are confined to bed waiting for deliverance, parents outlive their children. What good is it to hear of sin and righteousness if you can’t use it to fix anything?

The Holy Spirit has a third word to speak, and it’s from this work He gets His name: Comforter, Counselor, Advocate. When He comes, Jesus says, He will convict the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (v 11). Divine judgment has been leveled upon the devil. He is the ruler of this world. His deception and murdering have been the rule since man gained knowledge of good and evil. But the divine judgment delivered by the Spirit of God is that the devil’s rule is over. His manipulation, his deception, his lies and murder are through. He is judged and found guilty. Though he is given reign here on earth, here is the good news. He is bound. The pain, the suffering, the destruction that He works has a limit. And not only is his devious meddling limited for a time and to a degree, his judgment is that his works of evil must also serve the will of God. The devil may be prince of this world, but he is not Lord of heaven and earth.

The Spirit has a word of judgment for the devil, but He also judges you. Jesus says that He will convict the world concerning judgment also. Judgment is a dirty word in our culture. Many young folks won’t even step foot inside of a church because they view us as being too judgmental. And we are a judgmental lot. But remember that judgment can cut two ways. No wrongly accused man who stands before a judge who says, “Not guilty,” will accuse that judge of being too judgmental. Divine judgment according to the Law is always a sentence of “guilty.” But the Holy Spirit is promised to the world so that divine judgment does not end there. For the elect, for those whose faith rests in One whose hands are still pierced, the sentence is: not guilty, innocent, righteous, beloved, restored.

So be comforted. Jesus is Lord. And He sends you the Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life. He is the One who will lead you into all truth. He is the One who kindles faith in your heart, so that you may believe this, and every good work is already done for you. He is the One who justifies you by Word, water, bread and wine, who delivers to you the Righteousness that sits at the right hand of the Father. And He is the One who judges the devil’s every work, the One who ensures that they all work together for the good of God’s elect, that is, for your good. He drives you to repentance, from unbelief to faith, from sin to righteousness. And He convicts you with the divine, gracious conviction: “not guilty.”

The Promised Holy Spirit Is Your Advantage, Because He Leads You to the Truth that Is Found in Christ

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Third Sunday after Easter Sermon

Third Sunday after Easter
John 16:16-22
May 11, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

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

3.

It’s one of those happy coincidences of the lectionary that the day when the world is celebrating motherhood, the assigned Gospel is a comparison of the Christian faith to the pains of childbirth. Now, the last person who should be qualified to speak about the pains of childbirth is a man, and a man with no children of his own, at that. But Jesus does anyway. He’s the One by whom childbirth was created and the One who came into the world by childbirth.

When she is giving birth, a woman has sorrow because her hour has come.  (v 21a). Where does this sorrow come from? It’s a result of sin, punishment for disobeying God’s holy Word. To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen 3:16a NKJV).

What is here translated as sorrow and pain are the very same words and the same word that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel. It’s more than just the physical pains of labor, but also mental and emotional anguish. Mothers, have you ever worried for you children, for their safety, for their well-being? That’s because no child has ever been brought into this world who has not been brought into it in sin—from Eve’s first son on. That is the particular curse of sin that is laid upon the woman. What God had blessed her with in the beginning—the duty and privilege and high honor of bearing new life into this creation—has now become a cause of sorrow, of grief, of pain.

But when the child is born, she no longer remembers the tribulation because of the joy that a man has been borne into the world (v 21b). What a marvelous turn of events. In an instant, the tribulation ends. The mother’s cries give way to the wails of a newborn. What looks to be certain death ends in life. It’s not that the pain, the troubles, or the trials are forgotten, it’s that they are utterly overwhelmed by the joy of new life.

The joy of a child is the joy of something totally new, something never before seen, that is brought into the world. Each individual person is entirely like everyone else, yet entirely unique. Each smile is a new smile, each frown is a new frown, each laugh something that the world has never heard before. This new life will put sentences together in ways that have never been spoken before, will discover things anew that her parents have long since taken for granted.

The joy is on account of our Lord, who, despite His severe punishments, despite His curse on childbearing, still remains true to His Word. In the beginning He blessed the man and the woman and said, Be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28a NKJV), and He has not removed that blessing, that joy, from His beloved creation. Sorrow gives birth to joy when a mother gives birth to a child.

 2.

The increase of sorrow and pain in childbirth is not because our Lord is vindictive and out to get His pound of flesh from the woman, who sinned first. Rather, the particular curse He lays upon woman is to draw us all to the way in which He will set at right this world made crooked by sin. Because it’s by childbirth that Salvation is brought into the world.

The eternal Son of God, the Word who was from the beginning, is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Some may argue whether the birth of Jesus caused Mary any pain, since He was the only Child born without sin, but the one indisputable fact is that Jesus was born to bear the curse for us. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, becoming a curse for us; for it is written, “Cursed is anyone who hangs upon a tree” (Gal 3:13).

This Seed of the woman, who is at enmity with the seed of Satan, was born of woman to crush Satan’s head and bring an end to death, though not without His own heel being struck. Christ bore the curse of mankind when He hung from the cross, enduring the pains of crucifixion for all who because of sin must endure the pains of childbirth. He became a Man of sorrows for all whose sorrow is multiplied.

It’s not that the sorrows, the labors, and the passion of Jesus are forgotten—even during the celebration of Easter, we still preach Christ crucified—but that they are utterly overwhelmed by the joy of the resurrection. “Therefore you also now have sorrow,” Jesus says. “But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice and the joy that is yours no one will take from you” (v 22).

The joy of the resurrection of Christ is a joy that nothing can take from you, not even death itself. You will have sorrow, Jesus says, because I’m about to be executed for crimes I did not commit. But your sorrow will turn to joy in an instant, when you will see me again on the other side of the grave. What looks to end in certain death unexpectedly ends in life.

In this way, the curse that the Lord puts upon woman becomes a picture of Christ. Our Lord gives birth to joy out of sorrow because out of His death He gives birth to resurrection. He trades the womb of the Virgin in for the womb of the earth. On the day of resurrection, something totally new, something never before seen, comes into the world. Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia! We know that Christ, who is risen from the dead, will no longer die; death no longer lords over Him (Rom 6:7).

The joy that was borne into the world is the joy that death is no longer lord of this creation; Jesus Christ is Lord. Sorrow gives birth to joy when Christ rises from the dead.

 1.

Yet, even during the overwhelming joy of Easter, sorrows and griefs and pains still afflict the people of God. And all this talk about joy can be like daggers in the heart when you’re sorrowful. How can you find joy when all you feel is sorrow? I remember very vividly one of my seminary professors told our class the story of the stillbirth of his son. I’d never seen a college professor cry in class before. Then he said something that I’ll never forget. He said that there’s a difference between happiness and joy. Joy can exist also under the cross. In other words, joy isn’t an emotion, it’s not euphoria, it’s not, “Hey don’t worry, everything’s going to be alright.” Joy is the confidence that God makes Himself known particularly through suffering and the cross.

And so the pains, the labors, the sorrows of this sinful will may not be forgotten, but they are utterly overwhelmed by the life that you have in Christ. Jesus knew that they wanted to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you debating with each other concerning this, that I said, ‘A little while and you will not see Me, and, once again, a little while and you will see Me’?  “Amen, amen, I am saying to you: you will weep and you will mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will be sad, but your sorrow will be borne into joy (vv 19-20).

Our Lord is not a Lord of platitudes. He doesn’t say, “There, there, it’ll be ok.” He promises that you will weep and mourn, even as the world rejoices. But He also promises that your sorrow will give birth to joy. Because that’s the way that our Lord works. You may not forget the pains, the labors, the sorrows that weigh down on your heart—on the contrary, they may even be multiplied—but they are overwhelmed by the joy of the new life that you have in Christ.

There is one little detail that Jesus includes for you this morning. The little while. “A little while and you will no longer see Me,” Jesus says, “and, once again, a little while and you will see Me.” Then some of His disciples said to each other, “What is this that He is saying to us: ‘a little while and you will not see Me, and, once again, a little while and you will see Me;’” (vv 16-17a).

The sorrows, the pains, the labors, are only a little while. Our Lord’s passion lasted less than 24 hours, but His resurrection endures to all eternity. So also you sorrows, your struggles, your pains, they last only a little while. But the joy, the joy that you have in Christ is joy that no one can take from you. What looks to end only in certain death is swallowed up in new life.

This is the joy of something totally new, something never before seen, being born in you. Christ is risen, and He gives you His Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life. He creates a new you, born out of the womb of the font, renewed and refreshed by Holy Absolution. Sorrow gives birth to joy when the Spirit creates a new man in place of the old you.

So rejoice, because

Sorrow Gives Birth to Joy When a New Man Is Born of the Spirit

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Second Sunday after Easter Sermon

The Second Sunday after Easter
May 4, 2014
John 10:11-16
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

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

Especially among Lutherans, the image of Christ as Good Shepherd is one of the most beloved images. You will likely find a stained glass window, or painting, or statue in virtually every Lutheran church you walk into. There are many Lutheran churches that are named Good Shepherd (including the one I did my vicarage at).

It’s interesting that Jesus’ statement, I AM the Good Shepherd has such preeminence over the other I AM statements of John. You don’t often see Jesus portrayed as the living embodiment of a door, even though He says,I AM the Door of the sheep (John 10:7). And I’m not aware of many True Vine Lutheran Churches (in fact, a Google search only returns one True Vine Lutheran Church located in Minnesota).

Often, Jesus as Good Shepherd is portrayed as quaint, serene, or cute—holding a fluffy little lamb on His shoulders. But He does not call Himself the Good Shepherd because He is quaint, serene, or cute. He says, I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (v 11). The Good Shepherd distinguishes Himself because of what He is willing to do with His own life on behalf of others.

Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd Who Lays Down His Life for You

I.

Prepositions are small words that pack a powerful punch. They indicate a relation between two things—sometimes simple, sometimes more complex. In Jesus’ statement, The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep, the words, “for you,” indicate two things about Jesus laying down His life and you. The first thing that your Good Shepherd does is to lay down His life for you, that is, in your place.

A man may call himself a shepherd, but without a flock of sheep, it doesn’t make much sense for him to do so. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd because He has a flock of sheep, though they are not the wooly kind, who go about on four legs. The sheep of this Shepherd are His people. And they have been scattered.We have all gone astray like sheep. Every one of us has turned to go his own way, Isaiah prophesies (Is 53:6a AAT). You are a sheep because of your wandering, because of your straying from God and His holy law. But unlike sheep, you don’t do it out of ignorance; you willfully fight against the One who desires your greatest good.

Your natural proclivity for wandering away from your Shepherd is only exacerbated by the devil. He is the wolf who stalks his prey, looking for any weakness that he can exploit. He is the one who sneaks up on the flock and viciously attacks them, scatters them, and snatches them away.

The hireling, and not the shepherd, to whom the sheep do not belong, he sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees—and the wolf snatches and scatters them—because a hireling doesn’t concern himself about the sheep (vv 12-13). A hireling is only in this spiritual game for what he can gain from it. His only interest is in his wage or his reward. But when it comes down to his life, he flees danger to earn a wage another day.

But not Jesus. He is the stark counterpoint to the hireling. He is not in this spiritual game for what He can gain, but for what He can give. His interest isn’t in the wage or the reward; the sheep are His reward. And so when the devil comes looking for a weakness to exploit, the Shepherd becomes the weakness and puts Himself directly in the path of the enemy.

When the hireling sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and fleas. But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does something that no other shepherd could do. He becomes one of the sheep. Jesus is the eternal Divine Shepherd in sheep’s clothing, the Son of God wrapped in human flesh. He puts Himself in between you and all of the attacks of the devil. His self-interest cannot be exploited because He did not love His own life, even unto death.

I AM the Good Shepherd and I know those that are Mine, and those that are Mine know Me. Just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life on behalf of the sheep (vv 14-15). Jesus laid down His life in place of the sheep. Your rebellion, your willful wandering from God and His holy Law exposed you to a brutal death. But Jesus came searching for you, found you in your peril, and took the brutality into His own flesh.

The Good Shepherd lays down His life for you, that is, He lays down His life in your place. He is the good, beautiful, noble, self-sacrificing Shepherd who dies a sheep’s death.

 II.

That preposition—for the sheep—also means something else. If the Good Shepherd were simply the Dead Shepherd, then His death would be in vain and of no lasting benefit for you. But He is the Good Shepherd who willingly lays down His life, and willingly takes it back up again. There is not a Dead Shepherd laying lifeless between you and the devil, but a living Shepherd, who stands on His own two feet, ready to do battle on your behalf, to still guard and protect you against the spiritual dangers that pursue you. You Good Shepherd lays down His life for you, that is, on your behalf and for your benefit; and He takes it back up again.

The death of the Good Shepherd was two millennia ago, but Scripture assures us that the devil still prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. The flock of the Divine Shepherd is not free from all spiritual trials or the attacks and assaults of the devil. In fact, he seems to have intensified his struggle against the flock of God, separating, dividing, scattering, and snatching wandering souls.

What good is this Shepherd if we still must endure these spiritual assaults? His goodness is that He shepherds you through them. The Lord is your Shepherd, therefore there is nothing more that you could want. He causes you to lie down in pleasant, green pastures, and leads you beside still waters. He guides you to the Church—the place where you can rest unmolested by spiritual antagonists. Here, among the flock of the great Shepherd of the sheep, you find your peace.

He restores your soul with a word of forgiveness. He creates in you a clean heart and a right spirit; He leads you down a path of righteousness, even though you are beset by the adversary. He does this for His name’s sake, which He gave you when He admitted you to His sheepfold. He baptized you into the name shared by Father, Son, and Spirit.

Even though death encroaches on this valley of sorrow, there is no evil to fear. Your Good Shepherd has a rod and a staff that beats back the forces of darkness. His Word is a weapon that turns even the fiercest wolf into a whimpering, cowardly pup. Take comfort in this.

He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies. For as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim that this Shepherd died in your place. Think about that next time you’re at the communion rail, think about the proclamation that you make to all your spiritual enemies with a little nibble of bread and a sip of wine. This is the body that was crucified for me, the blood that was shed for me.

Your head He anoints with the oil, that is, with the Spirit. He absolves your sin again and again. Seven times seven times seventy times seventy—He continues to pour His forgiveness upon you until it runs over in your forgiveness for others.

Surely it is His goodness and mercy that follow you all the days of your life—not the threats and assaults and the pains and the troubles of the evil one. For He has been defeated, no matter how he struts about and makes himself look fierce and terrible. You have a Good Shepherd who laid down His life, who took it back up again, and who stands between you and evil throughout your entire life. Until that day when you enter the eternal mansions that are prepared for you.

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

First Sunday after Easter

First Sunday after Easter
John 20:19-31
April 27, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

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

Thomas gets a bad rap. Forever remembered for his disbelief. Admit it, you have probably used the term “Doubting Thomas” before. Maybe you were talking about the Lord’s disciple—the one called Didymos, or the twin. Sunday School teachers? Or maybe you were using Thomas as a metaphor to describe someone else who wouldn’t believe something without seeing it for herself. “Don’t be such a Doubting Thomas!” you retort.

Thomas, the twin, the only one of the eleven who wasn’t there on the evening of the first day of the week. Where was he? What was he up to? Was he still in hiding for fear that what had happened to Jesus would also happen to him? Was he in such despair that he couldn’t bear being with the other disciples? Regardless, Thomas misses our on our Lord’s first glorious appearance to His chosen eleven.

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 the midst and said to them, “Peace to you.” And after saying this, He showed the hands and side to them.  Then the disciples were glad beholding the Lord.  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.” If you forgive the sins of anyone, they have been forgiven for them; if you withhold from anyone, it has been withheld (vv 19-23).

There’s a lot of important things that happen in those verses, things that Thomas misses out on. Jesus appears, He stands in their midst, He speaks peace, He shows them His hands and His side, He speaks peace again, He sends them, He gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and He mandates Holy Absolution, giving the authority to forgive sins to men.

Can you blame Thomas for doubting? You might, but you shouldn’t. Jesus had promised these thing—He’s promised to rise from the dead, to come to His disciples, to give them the Holy Spirit, to give them the keys to the kingdom of heaven, that is, forgiveness—but men aren’t so trustworthy. Have you ever made a big promise, something that was more than you could ever hope to keep? And you probably also know from your own experience that people’s promises aren’t to be trusted. A man of his word is truly a rare find, and even he sometimes must break promises because of things that are completely out of his control.

Poor Thomas—poor, doubting Thomas—only wanted what the other disciples got: a good look at the risen Lord and His wounds. The other disciples were also fearful that night, they were also hiding out—behind locked doors, no less. And Jesus appears to them. He shows them His hands and His side, probably even lets them touch and see. But Thomas is not there.

But Thomas, one of the twelve, the one called Didymos, was not with them when Jesus came. Then the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  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” (vv 24-25).

“What weak faith!” we scoff. Thomas demanded to see evidence; not just to see, but also to touch and feel. He even wanted to put his hand into Jesus’ abdominal cavity before believing. Poor, doubting Thomas. Why, that’s no faith at all. Real faith doesn’t demand evidence. Real faith is blind faith. Real faith is believing without seeing.

Real faith is faith like mine.

 3.

Faith is the material principle, the chief focus, the central teaching of the Lutheran Church—man is justified by faith apart from works. Faith is (or should be) part of every sermon preached in a Lutheran congregation (either explicitly or implicitly—Walther said that a preacher should be able to preach faith without ever even saying the word). Faith is a big deal when you’re a Lutheran.

Faith is being sure of the things we hope for, being convinced of the things we can’t see, the epistle to the Hebrews says (Heb. 11:1 AAT). So does that make Thomas, who steadfastly refused to believe without seeing, an anti-Lutheran?

Empiricism is the philosophy that says you can only know what you can observe, things that you can experience with your senses. Empiricism is the foundation for the modern scientific method: observe, repeat, deduce. Empiricists today are much like Thomas—if I can’t see Jesus for myself, if I can’t touch His hands and feet, then, even if He did exist, He certainly didn’t rise from the dead.

Empiricism is why intellectual elites such as Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye (who recently showed himself to be more elite than intellectual) look down their noses at the faithful—how can you insist that something is true that you can’t see or touch? Now I could spend the next 20 minutes railing against modern scientific thought, and exposing their own logical inconsistencies, but you already know that. And you have faith in things that you can’t see already, right?

If you were to ask the typical Christian—or let’s even say the typical Lutheran—why he or she is saved, what kind of answers do you think you’d get? Unfortunately, you’d probably get quite a few who’d say they’re saved because they’re good people. But I’d also be willing to bet that the greatest proportion of responses would be, “Because I believe that I’m saved,” or, “Because I have faith.”

We pride ourselves on a faith that doesn’t need evidence to believe, but in the same stroke we turn faith itself into the evidence of faith. You see, you and I share the same old nature in Adam that Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye share in. We are all spiritually unable to believe in things that we cannot see. We need proof, we need verification, we need evidence. We are all empiricists at heart, just like Thomas. Since we don’t have the pierced hands of Jesus held up in front of our faces, faith looks for something solid and verifiable to grasp onto. Some grasp hold of their own works and let their faith rest on that shifting sand. But others turn faith into its own object. The pop American spirituality that bombards you every day reinforces this notion that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, so long as you believe. And even good Lutheran fall into the error that, “I believe that I can believe.”

 2.

The story of Thomas should teach us today that faith always has an object, and that faith is only as good as the object upon which it rests. I said at the beginning that Thomas gets a bad rap because of today’s Gospel; he’s usually called Doubting Thomas. But let us today resolve to remember Thomas for the state to which our Lord graciously brought him and remember him as Believing Thomas.

And after eight days the disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them.  Jesus came, though the doors had been shut, and stood in the midst and said, “Peace to you.” 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.” Thomas answered and said, “My Lord and my God” (vv 26-28).

Thomas sees and believes, just as the other disciples saw and believed. But neither Thomas, nor the other disciples—nor you—believe because of what you have seen, whether it’s the faith you see in your own life or Jesus own imprinted hands. Faith comes not from within yourself, but from the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes with the Word of Christ when He speaks peace. Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed?  Blessed are those who do not see and believe” (v 29).

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. It’s the Spirit of God that creates faith by the Word of Christ—a faith that finds its object in and rests upon Christ Himself. Thomas didn’t rejoice in seeing His Lord’s wounds because he was an empiricist, but because that is where the Spirit drives faith—to look upon the wounds of Christ.

 1.

But Christ does not appear in our gatherings on the first day of the week, even though we leave our doors unlocked. He doesn’t hold out those nail-imprinted hands, or open up His pierced side. Does the Spirit still guide us to the wounds of Christ? Yes, and yes again.

Just as the Spirit drove Thomas to the risen flesh and blood of Jesus, so also He drives you. He drives you to the wounds of Christ. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26). The Holy Supper of our Lord is where the Spirit drives you, and there He graciously engages all of your senses, just as He did for Thomas. You first see the sacramental bread and the cup (that’s why I hold the elements of the Supper high, so you can see them). Then you smell—the faint whiff of grains and the slight acidity of the wine. Then the touch, and finally you taste and see that the Lord is good. And above all hangs the hearing of the Lord’s words—This is My body, given for you…This is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins (Words of Institution).

Faith rests not upon itself, but faith rests on Christ. It’s easy to doubt an untrustworthy man, because he often proves Himself untrustworthy. Even a trustworthy man may be hard to trust. But the One who consistently does what He says—even when He says that He will rise from the dead—that One is One you can trust.

Now Jesus also did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which have not been written in this book, but these have been written so that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so that believing in His name you have life (vv 30-31). This faith that the Spirit gives through the Word of God rests on Christ, and because He lives, you also will have life in His name. The words that were written by John (as well as the patriarchs and prophets, apostles and evangelists) are words that give faith and words that give life. Because they direct you to the One who died to overcome death, and who rose again to proclaim peace and forgiveness. Believe it, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[Faith Finds Absolution in the Wounds of Christ]

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

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Easter Sunrise Sermon

Resurrection of Our Lord—Easter Sunrise
John 20:1-18
April 20, 2014
Camp Trinity—New Haven, MO

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

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

2.

The dawn of the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion was a day of wonder, of bewilderment, of confusion—even of a little fear. Though Jesus had openly preached His crucifixion, His rest in the tomb, and His resurrection from the dead, His disciples were not ready to believe it. Even John, who said that he looked into the empty tomb with his own eyes and believed, still didn’t realize that the Scriptures said that it was necessary for Jesus to rise from the dead.

After Peter and John leave the tomb and go back to their own, Mary Magdalene is left in the garden alone. She had been there earlier in the morning, before sunrise with the other women, and the young man—the angel—tells them that Jesus is risen. But Mary is slow to believe. She takes another look in the tomb, and this time she sees two angels—one at the head and one at the foot of the burial chamber. Through tears, she explains how she’s still looking for her Lord’s body; presumably someone had moved it without telling anyone.

Before the angels can answer, Jesus Himself comes to her, but she does not recognize Him. Now, Mary had been one of the closest disciples outside of the twelve. She was one of the faithful women who also followed Jesus, one of the ones who went beyond where the last disciple was willing to go, who followed Jesus along His path to the cross, who stood at its foot for hours weeping and mourning what evil men did to Him. She was one of the faithful who couldn’t wait for the Sabbath to end in order to go care for the body of Jesus and give Him a proper burial. She was the one from whom Jesus cast out seven demons, and now she looked directly into His eyes and did not recognize Him.

The reason why she did not recognize Him is not because He looked any different than a few days prior, but because, as the text says, she saw Him standing there in the garden. And dead men don’t stand.

Even though empirical, verifiable proof of Jesus’ resurrection was staring at her in the face, the flesh is never ready to accept that the dead rise. And so Mary presumed that this Man was only the gardener—who else would hang out around a dead man’s tomb so early in the morning.

“Sir, if you carried Him away, tell me where you laid Him, and I will take Him,” Mary says. Jesus said to her, “Mary.” One word. Mary. Jesus calls her by name, and she believes.

 1.

There are many proofs of Jesus’ resurrection. Four independent evangelists record the history of the empty tomb. The personal letters of three disciples and several other followers bear witness to the resurrected Christ. The women at the tomb, Peter, two disciples on the road, the eleven, and over 500 other eyewitnesses attest to Jesus walking and talking, breathing and eating just days after He is crucified. And above all—the tomb is still empty. No one has yet to produce the body of Jesus of Nazareth. Because His body is no longer in the tomb, but risen and ascended and seated at God’s right hand.

But even with all of this objective, empirical, verifiable evidence—an overwhelming amount of evidence compared to other historical facts we simply take for granted—even with it all staring you in the face, the flesh is never ready to accept that the dead rise.

Until Jesus calls you by name.

The prophet Isaiah writes, But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine” (Is 43:1 NKJV). Jesus called you by name when you were washed with water and the Word.

When Jesus called you by name, that was when your eyes were opened to His resurrection. And at the same time, your eyes were opened to your own resurrection. Do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried together with Him, through baptism, into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, in this way also we would walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3-4).

Jesus calls you by name again today, to rejoice in the new life that He has given you, to rejoice that you have died to sin, and are alive in Christ. But don’t cling to this body. There is another resurrection that Jesus today calls you to believe—your own resurrection on the Last Day. On that day, your name will be called once again, and your eyes will open, and in your own flesh, you will see God.

Jesus Calls You by Name To Believe His Resurrection

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

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord Sermon

Resurrection of Our Lord
Mark 16:1-8
April 20, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

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

3.

And when they went out, they fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment seized them. And they said nothing to no one, for they were afraid (v 8). It always seems curious to me that last word of Gospel for Easter Sunday is fear. Today is a day of joy—bright and cheerful; exultation! Today is an exclamation point on the entire life and ministry of Jesus.

But the women shake with fear and trembling.

And when the Sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices in order to go and anoint Him. And very early on the first day of the week, they came upon the tomb, before the rising of the sun. And they said to each other, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” And looking ahead, began to see that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And going into the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right, clothed in a white robe; and they were amazed. (vv 1-5).

As the faithful women approach the tomb of Jesus, and find the stone rolled back, they are unknowingly entering something much bigger than each of themselves individually. As they stoop into the empty tomb, they become the first human witnesses of the cosmic battle that had taken place when the Son of God died. They set foot on that sacred battlefield and tremble at what it means.

It was a strange and dreadful strife with Life and Death contended. The victory of Jesus isn’t the stuff of Hallmark cards and Precious Moments. The bitter enemies of all that is good, all that is of God, were undone by their own malice, by their own violence.

The first herald of victory is an angel—he appears as a young man dressed in white. And whenever an angel comes to deliver a message from God, it’s always a fearful encounter no matter how he’s dressed.

2.

It is an amazing, dreadful encounter in that empty tomb. And the message is similarly astonishing. And he said to them, “Stop being amazed. You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified. He is risen; He is not here. Look at the place where they laid Him” (v 6).

There is no way for them to comprehend the emptiness of that tomb and the absence of Jesus. And the word of the angel cuts through the astonishment. He is risen. He is not here. Look at the place where they laid Him. How can this be? Not three days earlier these same women had seen nails run through Jesus’ hands and feet, they had seen Him lifted up from the earth, they had seen Him suffer and agonize—not only from the physical pain, but from the emotional and spiritual burden of bearing the sins of the world.

It was a strange and dreadful strife when Life and Death contended. The victory remained with Life, the reign of death was ended. Yes, indeed, the women seek Jesus, the Crucified One, the One who offered Himself up to Death. He is still the Crucified, the angel says. The holes from the nails remain; the spear’s incision lingers. But the Crucified One is also the Risen One. He is not in the tomb; tombs are for dead mean.

 1.

The angel’s message doesn’t end there. “But start going out, and say to His disciples and to Peter that He is going before you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He said to you” (v 7). The message of the angel isn’t supposed to remain in a cave. Go out and tell, the angel says.

The ironic thing about the first Easter is that the angel tells the women, one: don’t be afraid; and, two: go and tell the disciples. And after they left the tomb and the angel, they did precisely the opposite. The fled in fear and said nothing to no one.

But the message of the resurrection must go out from the empty tomb. Mary finally finds Peter and John and brings them back to the tomb. Peter and John go and tell the other disciples. But even then, they are all slow to believe. The flesh of man—and woman—isn’t tuned to the message of the resurrection. In fact, to believe such an astounding, outlandish claim takes divine intervention.

The disciples are slow to believe and full of doubt until the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that proceeded from the Son’s dying lips, the Spirit that resuscitated His dead body on the third day, that Spirit is also the One who creates faith in the message of the young man dressed in white.

The Spirit still bears that message through the witness of Holy Scripture, which plainly saith that Death is swallowed up by Death; His sting is lost forever. Alleluia!. Today comes to pass the saying that is written:

Death is swallowed up in victory
Where, death, is your victory?
Where, death, is your sting?

For,

Jesus, the Crucified One, Is Risen

Then let us feast this Easter Day
On Christ, the Bread of heaven;
The Word of Grace hath purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed,
He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other. Alleluia!

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday
John 19:30, 34-35
April 18, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

Toward the close of the first century, St. John wrote from Asia Minor, that there are three who testify, the Spirit and the water and the blood, and three are in agreement (1 John 5:8). As St. John writes these words, he recalls that when he saw with his own eyes some 60 or 70 years earlier. When He receive the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and bowed His head, and gave over His Spirit…But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water. And the one who has seen this is testifying, and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is speaking truth, in order that you would believe (John 19:30, 34-35).

There are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. And these three are in agreement about what the cross of Jesus Christ means for you.

 3.

The Spirit of Jesus is none other than the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who is consubstantial with Him, coequal, coeternal, together with the Father they are worshiped and glorified. It is the Spirit that descended upon Him like a dove when He was baptized, the Spirit that anointed Him the Christ, the Spirit that He promised His disciples He would give up when He was glorified.

When His course on the cross was completed, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and He gave over His Spirit. The Spirit is the gift of His dying breath, the last breath He took on that Good Friday. Those sacred lungs rested for a day before inhaling once again. On the third day, in the evening, Jesus appeared to His disciples and the first thing He does is breathes on them. Receive the Holy Spirit, He says, if you forgive anyone’s sins, they have been forgiven them; if you retain anyone’s, they have been retained (John 20:23).

The Spirit is the testimony of the forgiveness of sins, who proceeds from the crucified body of Christ. The final breath of the Son of God, the breath in which He gives over His Spirit is the seal that it is finished. The reason why Christ became flesh has reached its end, the salvation of mankind is accomplished.

The Spirit is the preaching of the cross of Christ. We preach Christ crucified…the wisdom of God and the power of God. Wherever this message is proclaimed, there is the Spirit testifying that man’s justification is completed, his sins are forgiven.

And so the Spirit testifies to you. Holy Absolution is your Lord’s Good Friday gift to you. He bows His head and gives up His Spirit so that the Spirit might blow through the Church whenever these words are spoken: I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This testimony is true. Believe it for the sake of Him who gave up His Spirit for you.

 2.

Joining the Spirit in this trinity of testimony is the water. When Jesus’ side was pierced by the soldier’s spear, and St. John makes it explicit that it wasn’t just blood, but water and blood. Water flowed from the side of the crucified Christ. Why would St. John include such a detail?

Because Jesus also promised water. Just the previous fall, Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and one of the prominent ceremonies of that festival was an outpouring of water. On the last and great day of that particular feast, Jesus stood up and said, If anyone thirsts, let him who believes in Me come to Me and drink, just as the Scriptures say, “There will flow from His belly streams of living water.” He said this concerning the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were soon to receive (John 7:37b-39a).

The Living Water that flows from the pierced side of Jesus is a drink that quenches a spiritual thirst. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied (Matt 5:6). This water is a testimony to the washing of regeneration and renewal given by Jesus. It is anticipated in the ceremonial washings of the Old Testament, it’s anticipated by John’s baptism, it’s anticipated by Jesus washing His own disciples’ feet. And it is fulfilled when the tip of that soldier’s spear breaks Jesus’ flesh.

This testimony isn’t a dead testimony; the risen Christ also shows His disciples His pierced side when He breathes on them on the day of resurrection. The testimony of the Spirit agrees with the testimony of the water, your unrighteousness is satisfied by the death of the Son of God.

This testimony of the water is put into water for you by the risen Son of God. You have been baptized, that is, washed with water and the Spirit. The Word of Absolution agrees with this spiritual bath—you are forgiven, you are declared to be righteous on account of Him from whose side trickled the water that gives life.

 1.

And finally the blood. The testimony of the blood joins the Spirit and the water. The blood that was shed by whips, thorns, clubs, and nails. The blood that flowed from His sacred wounds.

The blood is a testimony first to the severity of your sin. It is not just a few occasional misdeeds, a couple of missteps that easily corrected with a little hard work and determination. The sins you have committed are deadly sins, sins that require blood. Without shedding blood, forgiveness does not come (Heb 9:22b).

The blood testifies also that your blood is no longer required, because Jesus shed His blood. He allowed nails to be run through His hands, thorns to wound His sacred head, spear to pierce His heart—so you wouldn’t have to.

The blood shed by Jesus testifies to the New Testament that is found in His blood. This cup is the New Testament in My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins (Words of Institution). The blood shed by Jesus agrees with the Spirit of the Gospel, and with the water that washes with righteousness. Your sins are forgiven.

If you lose too much blood, you’ll die. The life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev 17:11). The blood works along with the water you drink and the air you breathe to keep you alive. So also these three that testify work together for your life. Christ’s death is your life.

The Spirit, the Water, and the Blood that Flow from the Body of Jesus Testify to the Eternal Life God Gives Us in His Son

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Holy Thursday Sermon

Holy Thursday
Words of Institution
April 17, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

The terms “testament” and “covenant” are often used interchangeably in many translations of Holy Scripture. Both are used for the biblical Greek word diathēkē, which is the word Jesus uses in the words of institution. Matthew and Mark report that the cup that Jesus blesses is the blood of the diathēkē; Luke and St. Paul explicitly state that this is the kainē diathēkē—the new diathēkē.

What is a diathēkē? It’s an arrangement between two or more people—a legally binding contract, a solemn contract sealed in blood. The Hebrew word for covenant, derives from the word, “to cut;” a covenant was sealed by the two parties slaughtering an animal and passing between the two pieces. The sense of the covenant is: “let the same thing happen to me as this animal if I break my end of the bargain.”

Jesus says that the blood that He sheds, the blood that He distributes under the wine in the Sacrament, is the blood that seals a new agreement. The blood of Christ does two things: it first fulfills your end of the bargain of the old covenant; it also provides a new testament that provides you a divine inheritance.

Jesus’ Blood Is a New Testament for You That The Old Covenant of the Law Is Fulfilled on Your Behalf

I.

The Old Covenant is the covenant of the Law. It’s not a covenant that you chose to enter into, but it’s one that you’re expected to keep. Though God is eternally faithful to His end of the agreement, you find every opportunity to break trust and turn it to your advantage. The Old Covenant of the Law is a two-way agreement that promises life from God, but you have turned your end into a dead-end.

The Law of God is not a contract you signed on the day you were born. You didn’t consent to it at any particular age. Chances are good that you can’t recall walking through the severed pieces of an animal to seal an agreement with God. But it applies to you nonetheless. The Old Covenant of the Law is not something you choose to enter into like some earthly contract. You were born into it. It applied to your parents, and to your parents’ parents—all the way back to the parents of all men. In the beginning the Old Covenant required no blood because both parties were faithful to their end of the deal. But man lost trust. He broke the agreement, and rejected God’s end of the agreement. He rejected the life of God.

The first cutting of a covenant happened when God cut the skins off of an animal to clothe the naked man and woman. The first blood shed in the history of the world was shed by God’s hand. In a sense, He said, “May the same thing happen to Me as to these animals, if I don’t hold up my end of the bargain.”

The Old Covenant was renewed with each old sacrifice—Abel’s, Noah’s, Abraham’s. It was renewed when God gave Abraham the sign to cut his own flesh and the flesh of his boys. It was renewed when He gave Moses the Levitical sacrificial system. To be a faithful under the Old Covenant was a bloody mess. A covenant is a legally binding agreement sealed in blood, after all.

But throughout the ages God continued to remain faithful to His end of the agreement despite man’s continual unfaithfulness, despite man transgressing the Law in new and creative ways, always attempting to turn the Law to his own advantage, keeping the shell of its letter but emptying it of its spirit, desiring sacrifice and not mercy.

God continued to be faithful to His end of the agreement, but in being faithful He in a sense also broke the covenant. His end of the deal was to provide Life—true Life. But in the day that man transgressed the Old Covenant of the Law, He did not truly die. God did not, and has still not, removed His hand from creation. He has not condemned all things to eternal death. Life goes on.

With every cut of the priests’ knives under the Old Covenant, with every drop of blood spilled on the altars of the Old Covenant, God was saying, “Let the same thing happen to Me as is happening to these animals.” And so, in the fullness of time, the Son of God became flesh and blood, so that His flesh could be cut and His blood could be shed. God doesn’t keep His end of the Old Covenant, because He cannot bear to condemn you to eternal death.

The death of Jesus satisfies the legal agreement of the Old Covenant of the Law. In the Incarnation and Crucifixion of Jesus, God preserves His own justice by willing submitting Himself to what the broken covenant demands. The Old Covenant of the Law is a two-way agreement, and God finds a way to keep both ends.

II.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you. This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.”

The words of Christ instituting the Sacrament of His body and blood are a New Testament. The blood shed by Christ is a new diathēkē, though it is not a covenant like the Law. This new diathēkē—this new testament—is still a legally binding agreement between two or more parties. The only difference in this testament is that one of the parties is dead.

A last will and testament is a legal declaration that distributes a person’s property upon his death. This is not a two-way agreement, but a unilateral declaration. The goods delivered by a testament are pure, unadulterated grace; you can’t expect to do something in return for a dead man.

When Christ speaks to His disciples on this most Holy Thursday evening in which He is betrayed, He is declaring what will happen to His personal property upon His death the next day. The Son of Man had no place to lay His head—and even His clothing was stripped from Him in His last hours—there is an even greater treasure that is distributed by this testament. This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

This means that Christ fulfills the Old Covenant on your behalf. He is the One who remains faithful to man’s end of the agreement by His perfect obedience to the Law. He is the One whose flesh is cut and whose blood is shed for all who have abandoned the Old Covenant. He is the One who remains faithful on God’s end of the agreement and continues to provide Life—true Life—by the New Testament in His blood. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there also is life and salvation.

The New Testament in Jesus’ blood is unlike any other will or testament ever to have gone into effect. Dead men need someone who is not dead to administer the testament. But Jesus is the dead Man who is risen. He becomes the administrator of His own Testament. The Sacrament is not simply a remembrance of something a dead man did two thousand years ago. The Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood is the pledge and promise of the living God, and the means by which He delivers the treasures of heaven.

The covenants of old were sealed with blood when both parties passed through an animal’s body. This New Testament puts Christ’s true body in you, it seals you with His true blood. The Sacrament is God’s new diathēkē, His testament to you that He alone has fulfilled the demands of the Law on your behalf, and that He offers to you all the benefits of His sacrifice and shed blood, all wrapped up in a meal of bread and wine.

“Take, eat, this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me…Drink of it, all of you. This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.”

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Palm Sunday Sermon

Palm Sunday
Matthew 21:1-9
April 13, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

3.

Physiognomy is a pseudo-scientific discipline that believes a person’s outward appearance can tell you something about that person’s character. It began way back with the Greek philosopher Aristotle and was picked up from time to time by other philosophers. You can see how this works out a bit in Disney cartoons—the villains are always depicted with sinister features, so that you know their intentions from the start.

But modern science considers physiognomy a pseudo-science because there’s no clear correlation between outward appearances and inward character. In fact, you don’t even have to be a scientist to know that; your mother probably told you at one time or another that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

From experience, outward appearances can actually hide a contrary character. A familiar trope in modern storytelling is to examine a character who is in reality much different that the outward appearance he projects. The Great Gatsby puts forward the image of high society as a cover for humble beginnings and a questionable moral character. The British comedy Keeping up Appearances pokes fun at Hyacinth Bucket, who hides her lower class upbringing with a ridiculous outward show of snobbish refinement.

Even though it’s been drilled into our heads by modern society that looks can be deceiving, we haven’t quite learned to apply that to spiritual things, where it’s even truer. When God sent Samuel to anoint David as king, Samuel first saw David’s older and stronger brother, “Don’t look at his appearance,” the LORD told Samuel, “or how tall he is, because I have rejected him. God does not see as man sees, because a man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks into the heart” (1 Sam 16:7 AAT).  Physiognomy is a discipline utterly and completely rejected by God.

Yet, outward appearances are what we put all of our spiritual energies into. We use the Law as scouring pad or a fine-grit sandpaper to polish up and smooth out the rough edges. We keep our speech polite and respectable in public; we put ourselves in a pew each Sunday and sometimes Wednesdays; we project the picture of a perfect marriage and family; we work hard for our possessions, take nothing that doesn’t belong to us, and operate under impeccable business standards.

A flawless outward appearance can fool the world around you. It can fool your closest friends, neighbors, and relatives. It can even fool yourself. Until you take a long, deep look in the mirror of God’s Law. When you truly consider yourself in light of these holy commands, it’s like a scene straight out of a horror show—the real you, the gruesome you flashes before your eyes and you see for a moment your true nature that’s hidden under the unsullied outside. And then you realize that your outward appearance isn’t what God sees at all; He sees the train wreck that’s hiding just below the surface.

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees,” says Jesus, “hypocrites, because you are like graves that have been whitewashed, who appear beautiful on the outside, but on the inside you are full of the bones of the dead and all uncleanness” (Mt 23:27). It is a dreadful thought that your Father in heaven sees what’s hidden, what’s behind the mask.

2.

If there was anyone who would project a majestic outward appearance, it’s surely the One anointed by God to be King of Israel. But what we get is exactly the opposite. The King presents a pretty poor outward show. He shows up on a donkey, followed by a ramshackle band of misfits.

This has come to pass in order to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (vv 4-5). Here is a blessed inversion. The man mounted on a donkey does not hide a horror show under a flawless outward show, but rather the true King of Israel hides under the humble exterior of a servant.

Look! My Servant will succeed. He will rise, be lifted up, and be exalted very high. Many were amazed at Him for His appearance was more disfigured than any man and His form more than any person. So He will sprinkle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him because they have seen something they haven’t been told and have witnessed something they haven’t heard before (Is 52:13-15 AAT).

The fourth Servant Song of Isaiah describes the outward appearance of the Lord’s humble servant. Disfigured. Marred. Beyond human semblance. This is the outward appearance of the King on the cross. The horror show that you normally hide under a tidy exterior is on full display when Jesus hangs on the cross. Yet hidden under that gruesome exterior is divine royalty. Look! Your King’s humble entry into Jerusalem is only the beginning. This is He who humbles Himself to the point of death on a cross.

Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart. The Father sees through the hideous exterior of the Crucified One and finds the perfect obedience of His Son.

1.

For all of the energy you expend in putting on a good, Christian outward show, Jesus did nothing to hide His own humiliation. He is the Lamb who goes uncomplaining forth, bearing the true image of all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. His outward appearance is what your outward appearance should be—stricken, smitten, and afflicted.

But because of this King’s humility, there is another blessed inversion that takes place. The final act of this humble King is to bow His sacred head and give up His Spirit. This Spirit of God goes out from the mouth of Jesus whenever the cross is proclaimed in order to create a new thing hidden under your outward appearance.

The Spirit that proceeds from the Son of God is the Spirit of forgiveness. Those few, simple words, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” create in you a clean heart, and a right spirit of your very own. Just as God looked upon His Son and looked past the hideous outward appearance to see the acceptable sacrifice of His obedience, so also He looks upon you, and looks past the sins, the betrayals, the failures—He looks past the hideous mess that you’ve made of yourself—to find the new person that He has made of you.

Man looks at the outward appearances, but God looks to the heart, He looks to what’s underneath.

The King of Creation Hides under the Humble Servant Riding into Jerusalem

And He rides on to the cross to appear in your place before God, and to make you more than you appear.

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5
John 8:46-59
April 6, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

3.

Today is the day.

Today is the day that Jesus went and got Himself killed. It had been building up for a while, sure, and it would be a few months before His enemies started to formulate and hatch their scheme. But today’s Gospel is the day that Jesus went and got Himself killed.

Today Jesus is teaching in the temple—in the temple’s treasury to be precise. It’s the fall of the year, just as the Feast of Tabernacles is winding down. He snuck in unannounced and began preaching about living water and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees were looking for a way to arrest Him, to shut His mouth, but were unsuccessful because Jesus’ hour was not yet come.

But what does Jesus do in the face of this threat? He ups the ante. He doesn’t soften His preaching; He sharpens it. Like a dart in the hearts of His opponents. Jesus blatantly and unashamedly preaches the resurrection of the dead. Until this time, Jesus had preached the kingdom of God, He’s preached forgiveness, love, even the Law (though not to the Pharisees’ liking). These were things they didn’t like, but could tolerate. But the resurrection of the dead, that really grated them. Amen, amen, I am saying to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will certainly not see death for eternity” (v 51).

But what really got Him killed was His preaching of the incarnation, that He identified Himself as the eternal God. “Amen, amen, I am saying to you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM” (v 58). This statement is the one that turns His opponents’ resentment and anger to actual violence. Then they took up stones in order to throw on Him (v 59a).

To our ears, these things sound like such good news; why did it rile up the Pharisees so? Jesus tells is precisely why: Which one of you is convicting me concerning sin?  If I am speaking truth, for what reason are you not trusting Me? The one who is of God listens to the words of God; for this reason you are not listening, because you are not of God (vv 46-47). The Pharisees are riled up because they are not listening to the words of God—they refuse to believe that this man Jesus can speak for God. The reason why is because they are not of God.

It is the flesh that is not of God. Not that God isn’t the Creator of eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and all the members of the body. The body is of God, created by God, but its use is not. Its use has been hijacked by an unclean spirit, the spirit of sin and rebellion. The spirit of the devil. This is what Scripture means most often when it refers to the flesh. The flesh is not of God, and therefore doesn’t listen to the words of God.

Because the words of God come into a violent clash with the flesh’s dreams of becoming something greater than what God created it to be. The kernel of all sin was Adam’s desire to know what God knows, to be like God, to be greater than the creature God made him. The flesh is limiting. It’s weak. So the preaching of the resurrection of the flesh is an affront to the flesh. In fact, it’s the raising of Jesus’ friend Lazarus that is the occasion for the beginning of the plot against His life.

This disregard for the flesh isn’t so much about how you view the flesh; instead it has everything to do with how you view God. The flesh sees God’s power, His omnipotence, His omniscience, His eternity, His immutability, and considers these to be the stuff of God. So when God comes in weakness and humility, when He limits Himself to the same finite flesh that we inhabit, and it messes with all of your preconceptions about who you think God is. And so either your preconceptions must go, or God must go.

2.

You see, we count equality with God as something to be grasped, as something to be sought after, as a goal for our progress. But not Christ. The Son of God did not count equality with God as something to be grasped. He counted equality with man as something to be grasped. So He humbled Himself, and took the form of a servant even though He knew it would mean His death.

Jesus in the flesh shows us what it means to be “of God.” Because He is the One who is of God from the beginning—the eternal Son of God: God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. Begotten, not made. Consubstantial with the Father. He is the One who was before Abraham. “Amen, amen, I am saying to you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM” (v 58). With this word, Jesus identifies Himself with the divine Name. When God reveals His name to Moses, He tells him that His name is “I AM.” A peculiar name. Jesus uses a peculiar turn of phrase when He is speaking to the Jews. “Before Abraham, I AM,” Jesus says. Before Father Abraham, before the root of the Jewish family tree had even been planted, Jesus was God.

And the One who is of the same substance as the Father has taken on the substance of human flesh. Conceived, born, grew, learned, changed. He descended into the entire human experience, so that He could restore those who had set themselves against God to be of God once again.

Jesus is of God, and thus His words are of God. His words are performative words—they do what they say, they create their own reality. The Spirit is the One who makes alive, Jesus says, the flesh does not aid in any way; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are Life (Jn 6:63).

1.

If you keep these words, you will certainly not see death for eternity. This is a ludicrous statement. Abraham died. The Prophets died. The Apostles died. The fathers died. Martin Luther died. C.F.W. Walther died. You great-grandparents, you grandparents, your parents, they died. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that keeping the words of Christ does not, in fact prevent you from the bitter taste of death.

That’s how the Jews respond, but that’s not the promise that Christ gives. He doesn’t promise that you will not taste death. Jesus doesn’t preach that you life will not end in the flesh. He preaches resurrection. The same Word that creates is also a word that recreates. And there is no resurrection without first tasting death.

The eternal Son of God was conceived, born, grew. He also suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. The eternal Son of God became flesh even though all flesh was on a collision course to the grave.

He does not promise that you will not taste death. But here’s what He does promise. For those who keep His Words, the death you taste will be His death. And He drank up all of death’s bitterness for you.

At the end of his life, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote what I consider to be one of his most beautiful pieces of music for a text by an anonymous author called, Come Sweet Death. When you have the words of Jesus, the words that are spirit and life, death loses its sting. And the death of a Christian is a sweet death, a blessed rest, a gentle peace.

But death is just a taste. It’s only the first step to the fulfillment of the preaching of the resurrection. Just as there is no Easter without first going through Good Friday, so also for the Christian, there is no vision of eternal life without first going through the narrow chamber of death, unless Christ should come again. The preaching of the resurrection is completed when Jesus gives you a share of His resurrection.

And you have already rehearsed this. You were baptized into a death like Christ’s, and a resurrection like His. You have your share in His resurrection right now; you walk in newness of life. You taste His death and His resurrection with every bite of sacred bread and every sip of the blessed cup.

The Eternal Son of God Came to Raise the Dead to Eternal Life

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA