Today is Saturday, December 7. Current/Upcoming DatesTodayAmbrose of Milan, Pastor and HymnwriterTomorrow10am - Divine Service [Populus Zion]December 116pm - Advent SupperDecember 117pm - Divine Service [Mid-week Advent II]
Sundays, Divine Service, at 10am
Wednesdays in Advent at 7pm
Wednesdays in Lent at 7pm
Sundays at 9am
Adult Bible Study
Wednesdays at 6:30pm A Study of Lutheran Theology (not during Advent or Lent)
First President of the LCMS and it's Grandfather CFW Walther
Here is a list of Pastor Wagner's sermons. Most of them have been preached at Christ Our Savior; however, some of the earlier ones were preached at other locations.
You might notice that some of of the sermons do not have an audio player. These sermons were not recorded. However, all of the sermons do have a link to the manuscript on Pastor Wagner's website.
Mid-week Advent I
“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” “Every eye will see him,” John wrote. I said it once a couple of weeks ago: When Jesus comes, every eye will see it, know that it s Jesus, and know why He is coming. He will come on the clouds of heaven, return a glorious king, much to the consternation of those who derided Him and denied His being the Messiah. “Even so. Amen.”
He is the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty… That is how He will be coming when He comes, and, “Behold, he is coming!” He is coming not as an infant; He’s done that already. He is coming not as a teacher; He’s done that already. He is coming not as a sacrifice—as THE Sacrifice—He’s done that already. He is coming not as a conqueror; for He’s done that already, too. He came once before in grace and favor: conceived and born into a royal lineage, but appearing as little more than a common teacher.
In fact, in His coming once, He came in blessing. He addressed your ill—the ill of your sin; yet came in a lowly likeness. He ruffled some feathers, for His first coming was just as the prophets predicted, but those in power were not interested in having their power base pulled out from under them. So, in that lowly likeness, He bore the cross—but He bore it as your punishment for sin, gave His life as your ransom, to give you hope and freedom. If this sounds very much like a familiar hymn, that’s because it is, and you’ll be singing it on Sunday.
So, if He is not coming as any of those things, how will He be coming? He will be coming as the Almighty, as the King who has conquered and is victorious. He has conquered your enemy—the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh. Now, He will return as the one who has put that enemy under His feet and yours. He comes as the King, just as Daniel saw in his night visions: “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)
Is it any wonder, then, that those who pierced Him and denied Him would wail on account of His return? They have been conquered in their piercing of Him—and He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven—now He will return to take what is His to be with Him forever, and they are not His. He will proclaim to them, “I do not know you.” (cf. Matthew 25:12) They wanted no part with Him, and He will give them exactly that.
Behold, He is coming with the clouds of heaven, with His angels, and with the glory of His Father.
Behold, He is coming for you!
You heard from St. Matthew’s Gospel this evening that He will repay each person according to what he has done. (cf. Matthew 16:27) You’ve heard what “those who pierced Him” will be getting, or to state it better, what they won’t be getting. But, as for those who wept for Jesus at His crucifixion and rejoice over His resurrection, the repayment will be the opposite; it will not be, “I do not know you,” but, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) But what have you done?
Well, you might just say you have only done your duty, that you are an unworthy servant. (cf. Luke 17:10) And when given the list of things you have done, you may even wonder when you did those things. (cf. Matthew 25:37-39) But, to put it simply, the thing that you have done is trusted in this King for your Salvation, not trusted in your own worth or merit, and even that was not your own doing, but His. God has given His Word, and you’ve taken Him at His Word. His Word declares to you that you are a sinner in need of redemption, and Jesus is your redemption.
And with Jesus as your Redemption, you are prepared for when He comes with the clouds of heaven, with His angels, and with the glory of His Father. That preparation comes through Jesus, your King’s, call to repentance. Remember that repentance has two parts: first, that you confess your sins (and your confession is given to you by God), and second, that you receive forgiveness from God. Confession and absolution—it happens again and again, and each time, you are readied for the return of the Son of God.
That’s why, following tonight’s text, John relayed seven letters to seven churches. These letters contain praise for the churches and warnings—calls to repentance. In these letters, Jesus is preparing His Church for His return, preparing you, for these seven letters are meant for the Church on Earth, and for you, Her members. In some way, at one time or another, you are like the members of one or all of these seven churches, worthy of praise for one or another work, but Jesus has something against you for which He calls you to repent. He is preparing them—preparing you—so that when He comes on the clouds of heaven, with His angels, and with the glory of His Father, He will take you to be where He is, in the room that He has prepared for you in His Father’s house. (cf. John 14:2-3)
Therefore, for you, who trust in Christ as your Redeemer, the coming of the King in the clouds of heaven is nothing for which to be afraid. For those who pierced Him, it is, but not for you. Jesus is coming for you, to take you into His glorious, eternal presence. You’ll hear it again on Sunday, that Jesus said,
And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25-28)
“…Straigthen up and raise your heads,” Jesus said. This isn’t just encouragement to look to the clouds for Jesus’ coming, but that when He comes with those accompanying signs, you can stop looking down in shame and fear for the world around you, but up in relief and joy, “because your redemption is drawing near.” This you can do because in Christ you have done well, as mentioned in this evening’s Gospel—that is to say, you have been accounted as righteous for His sake. Jesus say, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades,” and with those keys, He binds up these enemies of yours.
Behold, He is coming with the clouds of heaven, with His angels, and with the glory of His Father; holding the keys to Death and Hades, He comes to take you to Himself, because for His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
So, this fact is inescapable: that Infant which is wrapped in swaddling clothes and suckling at the breast of Mary is the same Man who will shed His blood on the cross as your propitiation and gave His life as your ransom. You cannot get through Advent and to Christmas without acknowledging Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday—you cannot only celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God without the shedding of blood, death, and resurrection of the Son of Man. It works the other way around, too: you cannot praise God for the shedding of the blood, death, and resurrection of the Son of Man without celebrating the incarnation of the Son of God.
The logic is undeniable, for one thing: in order for the Son of Man to shed his blood and die and rise again for the redemption of mankind, the Son of God has to assume human flesh and blood. So, the Son of God was conceived and born in the natural way—in other words, He became man just like you—in order to die and give His life as your ransom. Without that flesh and blood, He would not have flesh to give and blood to shed, and in order for that shed blood and given flesh to be a complete sacrifice for you, He assumed it in the same fashion in which you become a man, knit together in your mother’s womb. (cf. Psalm 139:13) He could have appeared on the scene as a fully-grown man, but then every stage of life would not be bound up in His flesh and blood. Given Jesus’ incarnation, life, and death, you can say without doubt that Jesus came for all: infant, child, and adult.
And that leads into the second, more important point: your salvation and redemption is tied into the entire life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. In His incarnation, Jesus was at work to save you. In His birth, Jesus was at work to save you. In His death and resurrection, Jesus was at work to save you. In His ascension, Jesus is at work to save you. It may be difficult or impossible to comprehend how, in part, Jesus was and is at work to save you in every aspect of His life, but to confess that Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ is your salvation is to confess that salvation is bound up in everything that Jesus is and embodies.
So, when the crowd proclaimed, “Hosanna,” Jesus could have answered, “I am.” And I mean that as much in the Johannine sense as in the simpler response to the request, “Oh Lord, save us now.” It’s the same thing as if Jesus could have said, “I am right here,” to the petition, “Thy kingdom come.” In the person of the Son, the kingdom is at hand and salvation is ever present. Jesus Christ is your Savior, from conception and unto life everlasting, and your entire self is wrapped up in the salvation that He is and that He brings.
Hosanna: “Lord, save us now,” the people proclaimed. They needed it. They knew it, though to what extent is debatable. Still, they knew that they needed saving, either from an oppressive foreign government or from themselves, they needed saving and they knew that Jesus was the One who would and could deliver. How right they were, who knew they needed to be saved from themselves. Inwardly, they knew themselves to be sinful, not measuring up to the demands of a holy God who created them. God gave them His expectations—the Ten Commandments and numerous other statutes—and the people said, “Hosanna. Lord, that is the good I want to do, but in my fallen flesh, I am unable to do what you expect or fulfill the demands that they require for my inability to do them. Please, save now.”
In a week’s time from that ride into Jerusalem, Jesus would shed the blood that He assumed in the womb of the Virgin and give His life for their ransom. He did so for your ransom, as well.
For you, too, as I said, will be singing the same song once again. You come into this place and confess your sins. You hear the absolution, and those words give you the very thing they proclaim to you, the forgiveness of your sins for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whose stead they are spoke to you. But as the Service of the Sacrament starts, you also cry out to God, “Lord, save us now.” And He does. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” You confess that Jesus, the blessed, comes to you to save you now, because He does. He gives His body as bread and bread as His body. He gives His blood as wine and wine as His blood.
It’s the same body that He assumed in the womb of the Virgin and gave on the cross. It’s the same blood that He assumed in the womb of the Virgin and shed on the cross. On the cross, where He gave Himself as your ransom, He gave His body so that you may eat it now as bread and be saved, and He shed His blood so that you may drink it now as wine and be redeemed. So, your cry of “Hosanna” is fulfilled, not only in the incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God, but also as the body and blood are on the altar.
And it is for the same reason that you cry out “Hosanna” as it was for the crowd that day outside of Jerusalem. You are confessing that you cannot save yourself. You acknowledge the expectation of God in His Law and statutes are not met in your flesh—both in what they demand that you do and what they demand of you for not meeting those demands—but that they are met for you in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived His life according to the Law of God for you, and He gave His life as justice according to the Law of God for you—Law kept and fulfilled. Now, Jesus comes to you today, another Advent of the King, to give Himself to you in Word and Sacrament in order that you would have His fulfillment, in order that you would be cleansed and purified and forgiven.
Following your cry of “Hosanna,” you also pray the Lord’s Prayer, and that petition is repeated once again, “Thy Kingdom come.” From there, look to the altar, for on it you will see bread and wine that will be for you the body and blood of the Son of God, the Kingdom of God come to you and into you. Jesus answers the prayer, and comes to give Himself to you, a gracious King who is your propitiation, your Redeemer, your Savior.
Hosanna: “Lord, save us now.” “Thy Kingdom come.” Jesus is come and will come again. He is the King who has come—incarnate, born, live, died, and rose again—and has saved you. To you, He comes again and again, bringing you His Word, His body, His blood, His kingdom. By this, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, for one thing, Jesus’ return is something at which to rejoice. And if it’s something at which to rejoice, then the whole Church on earth—you included—would wait and watch for Jesus with eager anticipation. This is why, among a few reasons, the Church’s constant, vigilant prayer is, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.“
For another thing, Jesus is encouraging you to remain ever vigilant for His return for the very fact that you do not know they day or the hour of His return. He may return next hour, tomorrow, next week, next year, or perhaps not even in the years He has given you to walk this earth. So, Jesus tells you to watch, to keep on watching; in other words, always be prepared. You don’t know when Jesus is going to return—Jesus, Himself, doesn’t even know (cf. Matthew 24:36)—so you must be ready all the time for His return. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.“
That’s the point of the parable that Jesus told. Make what you like of the characters, items, place, and events of the parable, the focus is on the preparedness of five of the virgins versus the lack of the same of the other five. Five were able to be prepared, with lamps and oil enough to wait and not grow weary, while the other five were not.
This begs the question: what exactly is this preparedness? How does one prepare for Jesus’ coming again? How is one prepared for it? These questions are especially poignant given the response of the Lord of the wedding feast to the foolish virgins upon their arrival to the closed doors. If the result of the difference between being prepared and unprepared is the Lord saying to the unprepared, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you,” then it would be better to be among the prepared.
To understand preparedness in light of Jesus’ parable, you have to know what’s going on in the parable. All ten virgins were to be guests at the wedding banquet, but not one of them knew when the bridegroom would arrive. So, they would have to be prepared for whenever that would be. The longer he took, the more likely it would be that the virgins would grow weary of waiting, and perhaps some of them weren’t prepared for an extended wait as a result. That’s the situation in the parable that Jesus tells. Five of the virgins, He calls them wise, not knowing when to expect the bridegroom, were prepared for an extended wait; you might imagine that they had enough oil to last them through the night, because the feast might start late and last through the night. The other five, He calls them unwise, had grown weary of the wait and didn’t have the oil to make it, and once the bridegroom had returned, it was too late to get more oil.
Superimpose that over the return of Christ, and you might have the picture already. The one who is prepared, not knowing when Jesus will return, is as prepared for an imminent return as for one which would happen well past their years. The one who is unprepared has grown weary of waiting, so they are not eagerly expecting Christ’s return.
This preparation comes from outside of oneself. In other words, you don’t do anything to be prepared for Jesus’ return. Conversely, you do everything to be unprepared.
What prepares you for Christ’s return? Jesus Himself does, and He does it through Word and Sacraments—regular and frequent use of the Word and Sacraments. So, you come here for regular worship services, whereat the Word of God is proclaimed to you and you receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ in bread and wine, and therein your sins are forgiven you and your faith is strengthened—be that on Sunday or other days on which services are held at God’s house. You come also for regular Bible studies, whereat the Word of God is proclaimed to you, and your knowledge of the faith is increased. You make use of the Scriptures also in your own regular devotions, and even there Jesus speaks to you through His Word, feeding your faith.
In every case Jesus is proclaimed to you, and the whole counsel of God is given to you. You hear of the incarnation and birth of the Son of God. You hear of the ministry of the Son of God. You hear of the passion, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. You hear of the ascension of the Son of God and His work at the right hand of majesty as your Prophet, Priest, and King. You hear of the promise that the Son of God made to return, and in that return to take you to Himself to live with Him in His everlasting, glorious kingdom. And every time you hear of the Son of God, you receive the Son of God, and He strengthens your faith, forgives your sins, and gives you everlasting life. This, dear hearers, is the preparation that He gives to you so that you may watch and wait with eager anticipation. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”
But it is so easy to undo all of His work, and if His work is undone, it is all your doing. In light of being prepared, it is all too easy to grow weary in waiting for Jesus to return. Your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and numerous other generations past have waiting and waited for Jesus’ return; now here you are doing the same thing. Are you sure that Jesus will be returning? How are you sure? Isn’t that voice in the back of your mind asking you these things? Are you beginning to believe them? Has it been saying this for a while? Is it getting harder and harder to quiet and ignore that voice?
If it is, you might be getting ever closer to the point where you doubt Jesus and His promise to return. Jesus says,
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)
and in doubt, you say, “Yeah, I’m not so sure.” Old Adam asks the same question that the serpent did in the Garden: “Did God really say…?” (cf. Genesis 3:1) Of course, what is meant by that is, “God didn’t really mean to say...” And if you doubt in this area, then you can doubt in all areas, and before you know it, you don’t really believe anything of the Word of God. You don’t do your regular devotions. Next, you make excuses about Bible study times. Then, you miss one Divine Service, then another, and another, and so on. You end up despising the Word of God. In the end, when Christ returns, you would find the doors closed to you, and you would hear the Lord of the banquet say, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
Of course, there are many other things which can cause you to doubt God’s Word, to bring you to unbelief and other great shame and vice. Illness and death, suffering and other struggles in life, anguish and labor, etc.—these are all part of the curse of the fall. And all of these would work in concert against you. But for the sake of the text before you, the weariness of the wait is the primary concern, such that you lack preparedness toward the return of the Son of God, and this to the effect of the dire consequence of not being known by the Lord of heaven: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
Nevertheless, you can be sure of what Jesus has said; you can be sure that He will keep His promise to return and to take you to be with Himself in Paradise. How can you be sure? Because God doesn’t lie—Satan is the father of lies, and your flesh is complicit in those lies, but God has never lied to you and He never will. If Jesus said He will come back for you, then He will come back for you. Dear hearers, Jesus did say that He will come back for you. You are here, now, having heard Him say just that! And you can be sure of that because He has said other things to you that you can take to heart:
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3a)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24-25)
This good news endures forever. The good new of the Word of God proclaimed to you, preached into you, fed to you, to give, nourish, and strengthen your faith, to prepare you for the return of Christ to bring you to Himself. Worlds will perish, the sun be darkened and the moon destroyed, but the Word of God remains forever—so, too, the one kept in that Word. That’s you, and you can only take God’s Word for it! Ultimately, I can’t do a thing to assuage your doubts of God’s Word but to continue to proclaim the Word of God to you. Through that Word, the Holy Spirit is at work to embolden you to take Him at His Word, to trust that when He says something, He means it. Therefore do not doubt, but believe; fear not, Jesus is coming again to take you to Himself, because you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Most likely, you are the most familiar with the concept of chattel slavery that was in practice in the early days of this country. These kinds of slaves were considered property. People, though they were considered anything but, were owned by other people, documented and registered and taxed under certain property tax codes. It should come as no shock that the words “slave,” “slavery,” and “racist” still carry as much weight and bad baggage today as they do; the history may not be recent, but it’s recent enough to cause consternation in people.
Still, there are those who today are not justly compensated for the work they do. There are other forms of slavery that have been and still are practiced the world over today. There are those who call child labor in less developed and less sensitive parts of the world as a form of slavery, even as it was used in the past. The kind of slavery you often read about in the Bible, which is in practice in some places today, is not the same as the chattel slavery of this country’s past; in this case, to have called someone “my slave” would not have indicated ownership of another person, but that another person was indentured to serve them—in many cases, these slaves gave themselves over willingly to this service as a means of being cared for themselves, because slaves had to be respected and cared for. Additionally, believe it or not, forms of chattel slavery are also in use in some places.
As much as “slave” and “slavery” are weighty words, they are also economic words, dealing with possessions, income, and services.
Jesus, as He so often does with these kinds of ideas, comes along and turns that idea upside down. He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Jews who had believed in Him responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Into the concept of slavery as economics, Jesus thrusts a spiritual concept into the mix. Hear His words again and learn about slavery and freedom:
Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
It has been said before—I know I have said it many, many times: If you can’t say, “No,” to something, then you are a slave to that thing. Something comes along that tempts you, and it may be easy at first to say, “No,” to it, but as you are continually tempted, the pressure builds and the temptation becomes all the more attractive. You know what you are being tempted to do is a sin, so says the voice of conscience, but the more attractive and desirable the thing is, the easier it is to justify doing it, and to make excuses for doing it.
The thing is, no one is tempted toward sin only once. You know how it is. You’ve succumbed to a temptation, committed the crime, and before you know it, you’re being tempted again and again and again and again… And you sin again. One time has become two, two becomes three, and in short order that thing you were tempted to do only once has become a habit. You can’t say, “No,” to it; you have become a slave to it.
And here’s the thing with sin. No one sins only once who continues to live and breathe after committing the sin. So, since you sin—and sin repeatedly—the difficulty in saying, “No,” to sin should be apparent.
Jesus says, anyone who sins is a slave to sin. By holy inspiration, St. Paul wrote, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) One more time: “All...have...sinned...” That “all” means everyone—all of you sitting here, the man standing up here in the pulpit, everyone—there is no difference, all are sinners alike.
There’s an old saying in political circles: “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” Sometimes, the thought is is the truth is ignored, it will go way. It all sounds ludicrous, but that’s exactly what was going on with Jesus’ hearers. “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” It begs the question: how often had they repeated that lie? Were they ignoring their history? Were they blind to the occupation of the Romans right in front of them?
It may be enough to make you wonder: Can I be that blind, ignorant, or ludicrous? You certainly can, most assuredly. It might be as simple as avoiding those who have wronged you, even if only slightly, passing through a different aisle in the store if you see them in one when you’re trying to get to the other side. It could be as complex as avoiding confrontation because you know—you just know—that confronting this person is going to get you nowhere and accomplish anything, so you don’t even try. Or maybe its something in between, such as not coming to church because you grow weary of hearing about being a sinner (and if that’s you’re concern, what you’re fixated on, then I would suggest you are never hearing absolution). These are all temptations, to be sure, and while the intention may be good in some cases, the result never is, and you sin. If you can’t say, “No,” to something, then you are a slave to that thing.
It is this spiritual slavery that Christ had in mind when He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” “Abide” here means to continue in or hold fast to, much as the word “keep” does with regard to the commandments.
Speaking of those Ten Commandments, one can look to when they were given to address these descendants of Abraham. Having been slaves to the Egyptians, YHWH led them out of Egypt, and in the wilderness gave them the Ten Commandments. This slavery in Egypt was given to them as an object lesson, pointing to the greater slavery to sin. Therefore, when God gave the Ten Commandments, chiefly purposed to point out sin, He prefaced them thus: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” This is a theme that runs throughout the Pentateuch, and it is repeated often: YHWH is their God; He brought them out of slavery.
There is one time that really stands out, though. In Deuteronomy, it is written:
Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.”(Deuteronomy 8:11-17)
A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth, right? “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” “We have never been enslaved to anyone.” Those were easy lies to tell themselves. While they were under the rule and occupation of the Romans, life was relatively peaceful. There were some Jewish slaves in Roman households, but many Jews also enjoyed Roman citizenship. It was easy for them to have denied the periods of slavery in their history at a time like that. “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.” They denied their past, and in so doing, they had forgotten their God—they had sinned.
To this, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
As you live your lives in these latter days, there are lies that you can easily be led to believe are truth. Among them is the meaning of “God is love.” The world would have you believe that means that anything goes, that the Law is of no effect. You want to take things in ways that only seem right? God is love. You want to lie in bed with anyone who might please you, opposite sex or same? God is love. You want to rip babies from wombs? God is love. Those are the “big ones,” not to put too fine a term on it. In the church you might see things blessed when, “Repent,” should be proclaimed. Some issues might be ignored when they should be dealt with. “God is love,” is taken to mean that you can bend without breaking, but if you can’t say, “No,” to something, you are a slave to that thing.
To you, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
Is there a way to break away from this slavery to sin? How? How does one say no to the sin which so easily entangles? On your own, there is no way. Left to your own devices, you will not.
But there is a Way! Return to the Word of God. In the Gospel this morning, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth…” The Word of God declares to you your fallen nature, proclaims to you what it is that you have forsaken. This is the Law of God and the truth it proclaims to you, even as you heard from the pen of St. Paul, “All have sinned…” No matter how much you may want to ignore or deny it, you are a sinner, and you have sinned. And sin deserves the wrath of God. This is the Law.
But, like I said, there is a Way! Left with only the Law, you would be left in utter despair. It was in this utter despair that the church on earth found itself in the days of Martin Luther. In very few places, the Gospel was hardly ever proclaimed to lost and hurting souls, and where it was, it was preached as some sort of unattainable goal, turning into another Law. So the people were left to work their hardest and give their last penny in order to appease the wrath of God for their sin, hoping against hope for a reduced stay in Purgatory.
Again, like I said, there is a Way! Out of this time of despair, God called Martin Luther who, being in despair himself, became a monk against his father’s wishes, and started down a path that led him to discover the sweetness of the Gospel, the true Gospel—that Jesus is not a wrathful Law-bringer, but the fulfillment of the Law and the propitiation that brought peace with God over and against his sins and the sins of the whole world. His eyes were opened with verses such as these:
“[B]ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:8-9)
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2:20-21)
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15)
That, dear hearers, is the truth. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the way free from slavery to sin, as He paid the redemption price with His shed blood. He is the truth, the truth of God’s grace over and against the sins committed by way of this fallen flesh. He is the life, the life eternal of all of those who believe in Him by way of His resurrection from the dead and ascension to the right hand of majesty.
You heard me use the word “redemption.” That is also an economic term consistent in use with the word “slavery.” A slave, in and of himself, has no means to free himself, especially a slave under the practice of chattel slavery. Those indentured in service to another in other forms of slavery, such as the kind of you can read of in the Scriptures, were indentured until such time that they had served enough time or acquired enough money to purchase their freedom—that is redemption. Jesus is your redemption in that His blood pays the price to buy you back from the slavery to sin—a propitiation, in the case of Jesus’ blood.
This is the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins that you hear expressed in these passages:
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight…” (Ephesians 1:7-8)
“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
“[Y]ou were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
“The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The Son has set you free, redeemed you from sin and death into His most marvelous life. Though you still struggle with your fallen flesh on this side of eternity, His love and blood covers your multitude of sins. You are free, free indeed, because you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
But then, St. Peter graces us with these inspired words:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
What things to angels long to look into? The salvation of your souls. The grace that is yours for the sake of the sufferings of Christ and His subsequent glories. That fact that God, in whose presence they fly and sing, from whose presence they brought messages to mankind, deigned to take on the flesh and blood of mankind and live and die as one of them.
The writer to the Hebrews, regarding the incarnation of the Son of God, related that, “You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor…,” and, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:7, 9) Scripture confirms the thought that angels are, in a manner of speaking, a higher form of life than humans. Nevertheless, it was like one of you, a man, that God lowered Himself to, skipping right past angel, in order to bring to you and to all the salvation of their souls.
So, imagine, if you would please, being an angel, and looking upon God-in-the-flesh. See Him from their point of view, as He is conceived and born and grows up and learns a trade and suffers and dies and rises again. A single word, and you would have been at the ready to do whatever God-in-the-flesh requested, and not a single time does Jesus call upon the angels to do anything for him. Yes, from time to time, they ministered to Him, such as following His temptation in the wilderness, but there is not one indication that Jesus issued an order for angelic intervention, though He did mention that He could have. (cf. Matthew 26:53) If angels are the wondering type, which seems to be the case, they would gaze upon all of this and marvel at it—that God would concern Himself over man so much that He would become one of them, live and die among them, live and die for them. “Angels long to look into these things.”
In today’s second reading, you heard the account of the victory of the archangel Michael over Satan and the fallen angels. You heard how the victory was and is won through the blood of the Lamb, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. What a glorious sight it must have been, to see Satan and his angels cast out of heaven. To this Jesus referred when the 72 returned to Jesus with joy, for those same demons were subject to them, to human flesh and blood, in the name of Jesus. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Michael prevailed by the blood of the Lamb. Man prevails by the blood of the Lamb. Satan and the demons are subject to man and angels in the name of Jesus, for the sake of Jesus, through the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for your salvation, for your redemption, as your propitiation, for the forgiveness of all of your sins. “Angels long to look into these things.”
And it’s a good thing there is such power in Jesus’ name and in His blood. It’s a good thing that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is enough to overcome the power of the devil and his minions. For that very same devil, the accuser who accused you day and night before the throne of God, is now on earth in great wrath because he knows his time is short. He’s not wasting any time here among you, for he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) That’s why the angels sung of woe for the earth and those who dwell here in today’s second reading. Satan fell like lightning from heaven by the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of the Word of God; now, he seeks his prey in great wrath, but He is still subject to the power of the blood of the Lamb and testimony of the Word of God.
But Jesus didn’t stop there in His response to the 72. Yes, the demons were subject to the 72 in Jesus name. Yes, Satan fell like lightning from heaven. Jesus has given authority to the 72, yea, even unto you, to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy. There is cause for great joy there. In the name of Jesus, no eternal harm can come to you through Satan’s wiles.
“Though devils all the world should fill, / All eager to devour us. / We tremble not, we fear no ill, / They shall not overpower us. / This world’s prince may still / Scowl fierce as he will, / He can harm us none, / He’s judged; the deed is done; / One little word can fell him.” Firm in faith, there is nothing that Satan or his devils can do to harm you. Firm in faith, you can resist and beat down Satan and his devils underfoot, to trample upon his serpents and scorpions, as it were. Firm in faith, the victory of Michael is your victory, and the devil will never be successful in His accusations against you. The blood of the Lamb and the testimony of the Word of God are your victory. For this, there is great cause for rejoicing.
But are you firm in faith? Well, there is the chink in your armor. There are times of wavering faith, to be certain. Doubts come and go. “Does God really care?” “Is God really present?” “Does God really know what my suffering is like?” The angels, who long to look into these things, would tell you that He does, in all three cases. “See Jesus,” they would say, “who is God-in-the-flesh, God who is your brother, who suffered and died for you under the wrath of the Father for the sins of the world. Yes, He really cares—He sent His only-begotten Son to die for you. Yes, He is really present—He still comes to you in Word and Sacrament and whenever two or three are gathered in His name. Yes, He really knows what your suffering is like—He suffered and died as a criminal, bearing the weight of all sins and infirmities to the cross.”
The irony is such chinks in the armor manifest themselves in rejoicing too much, you could say, in the authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and all the power of the enemy. Such authority can have the consequence of puffing one up to seek visible achievements. It’s an arrogant pride and theology of success that Satan can use to attack you and thwart the true ministry of the Word and Sacrament to and even from you.1 He prowls like a hungry lion and devours those whose pride and arrogance place them above God and His Word such that when those visible achievements aren’t there or don’t seem to be there, then the devil has you in his snare.
That’s why Jesus said, “[D]o not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” There is a greater gift here than the authority to conquer Satan and his devils, not the least of which because they are already conquered by the blood of the Lamb; recall the hymn verse recited earlier—“He’s judged, the deed is done,” it is finished! So, if you’re trampling snakes and scorpions and all the power of the enemy under foot, it’s because they are already conquered. So, rejoice, sure, but rejoice all the more that your names are written in heaven.
This is sure and certain. Your names are written in God’s Book of Life in heaven, inked in the blood of Christ shed on the cross. They are there with the names of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, with Peter and James and John, with Paul and Silas and Barnabas, with Timothy and Titus and Philemon, and all the chosen people of old, and even those of more recent blessed memory. Praise God that you are clothed in a robe washed white in the blood of the Lamb.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15); Christ Jesus came into the world to save you! In the waters of Holy Baptism, you were washed and sanctified, claimed as a dear son of God and heir with Christ of heavenly glory; there in the font (or one like it) you were washed and your robes made clean in the blood of the Lamb. As you come to this table and receive a morsel of bread and a sip of wine and they are for you the very body and blood of Jesus Christ given and shed for you; and as one given faith in these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” they are for you the medicine of immortality.
These all proclaim to you the care and concern of God for you, the presence of God to save and redeem you, the suffering that God-in-the-flesh endured for you so that you would not have to. And for it all, you name is written in God’s Book of Life. “Angels long to look into these things.”
I and others may have dreamed of what it was like to be an angel. It appears to be a glorious existence, and I suppose there is a bit of envy knowing that they now and always stand in the presence of God. But God did not lower Himself to be in the presence of sinful angels, but in the presence of sinful man, that He might save and redeem them—that He might save and redeem you. This He has accomplished—Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. “Angels long to look into these things.”
Knowing this, and the glory to be revealed when Christ returns, I suppose it’s better—or will be better in eternity—to be a man than an angel. Angels are now in the presence of the divine, singing His praises, but as a man redeemed of God, reconciled to Him by the blood of Christ, your name is written in the book of life, and you will share in His glory, feast with Him at the eternal banquet, because you are forgiven for all of your sins. “Angels long to look into these things.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.