The church is rooted in the teaching of Jesus – His Holy Gospel and His institution of the Sacraments. The ones who are sent by Jesus to proclaim this ministry of Word and Sacrament speak and act in the name of Jesus, in a world where many reject the message and the One who sends out the message and the messengers. The church today dares not seek visible achievements or worldly ambition as the key to some kind of earthly fulfillment. Pride and a theology of success are just tools Satan will continue to use in the church to divide and discourage, thereby thwarting true ministry. So Jesus instead says to the seventy-two who have returned, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20).
Are these words for you as well? Indeed they are. Rejoice that by the power of the Holy Spirit you have received and not rejected and are therefore numbered with the saints in glory everlasting. Rejoice that in your Baptism Christ has made you His own and your sins are covered with His blood, that through the water and the Word all the dust and dirt is gone and you are made clean and white in righteousness. Rejoice even though in some ways St. Luke leaves us wondering and waiting. But God’s people, His Body the Church, are to walk in this earthly pilgrimage in the assurance that Christ has made us His own. Because your “name is written in heaven” God will not forget you; he has not forsaken you because your Saviour died to take away your sins and give you eternal life.
When you are sick and distressed, when you are homebound and receive Holy Communion, when you are near death and the pastor prays with you the comforting Commendation of the Dying, when your body has been lowered into the grave — in all these situations, the last words the pastor speaks are the Aaronic Blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Num 6:24–25).
What makes these words so familiar is that you are blessed with them every Sunday at the conclusion of the Divine Service, and what makes these words so significant is that the face of God is in fact the face of Christ. Our Gospel reading from St. Luke for today begins with these words in chapter nine verse 51, which says “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). This little sentence is the turning point in Luke’s Gospel, for now Jesus begins the journey that will take Him to the cross. He has set His face not to show wrath but mercy. The clock is running, the time draws near when He will be taken up on the cross, and taken up out of the grave, and taken up to be with the Father.
We who are in Christ continue in that discipleship because only He has these Words, and we can’t ever grow tired of hearing them. And we can never grow tired of sharing that same message with our neighbours, just as the longtime demoniac was instructed to do. What became of that message that he was sent to shout out? We don’t know, St. Luke doesn’t give us all that detail. Did God use it to plant faith into the hearts of hearers? Actually the response doesn’t even matter so much from our perspective, for the praises of Jesus are always a glorious thing even if people won’t listen. But the thing to take with you today is the reality of the evil one who seeks to destroy the faith that you have received, and in so doing destroy you in body and soul, and to rejoice that Jesus has conquered him and sin and hell itself for your sake. Christ covers with his blood all your uncleanness in the sight of God, even every time you gave into the temptations of the devil and were back in those shackles. He brings you this forgiveness through the very Words that He speaks, for through the preaching of His Word all sin and evil are vanquished forevermore. Jesus is the one sent from God to all people, to bring salvation.
The Holy Spirit’s job is to move the Words of Christ from ears to heart. In doing so he never lets us forget we are sinners in need of a Saviour, but then he never lets us forget that we are God’s precious, redeemed, holy, forgiven children, through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Everything that we know of Christ and everything we have received from him comes through this Helper and Comforter, as he convicts and consoles us day to day throughout our earthly pilgrimage. Let us always be seeking his Help, for to properly know the work and person of the Holy Spirit will lead us to be the holy people of God that he calls us to be.
God worked faith in the heart of Lydia and she was washed clean in the waters of Holy Baptism where she was made part of God’s family. Word and Sacrament, the means by which our Helper the Holy Spirit brings us the help we need. Our Gospel text today from St. John contains those familiar words of Jesus: “33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). These very words of our Saviour are spoken for our comfort out of the love that carried Him to the cross. For “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1). Praise be to God for the help and the Helper.
Paul knows that he will never see these servants of the Ephesian church again. He ends his farewell with a prayer: “I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Ac 20:32–33). He commends them to the grace of God because that is the grace which saves through faith. We as brothers and sisters of our Redeemer Christ Jesus are built up in that inheritance, won for us and now freely ours to receive through Word and Sacrament, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the inheritance for which Paul contested throughout the years of his ministry. This is the inheritance “that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pe 1:4–5).
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
God has a plan—for life! And that is what we celebrate these past days and this very day. It’s what we celebrate every Sunday in the Christian church. God dealt with sin and death. And now comes God’s new creation of life. Only God the Creator can create life when there is no life. And God will also take our lives, already dead in trespasses and sins, and create in us clean hearts and new lives, and on that Last Day, re-create into us that breath of life that makes us part of his new creation.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! And Christ will come again.
“According to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (Jn 19:7). Let us look to the cross of Christ to understand the truth of these words. For the obedience of our Lord and Saviour consists not only in his suffering and death but also in the fact that he freely put himself in our place under the Law and fulfilled the Law with this obedience. “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb 12:2).
This is now regarded as our righteousness; it is our justification. On Good Friday His total obedience led Him to the cross. He did this for you, so that by the shedding of His blood you might have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. All of this the Son of God performed on your behalf. As a result, God forgives your sin, considers you upright and righteous, and grants you eternal salvation. In faith you have reconciliation with God. In faith you are made part of His family. It is finished, for you.
When we eat the holy flesh of Christ, the Saviour of us all, and drink His precious blood, we have life in us, eternal life. For 20 centuries the church has prayed the ancient simple prayer, “Our Lord, come,” — Marana-tha in Aramaic. That prayer is not only that Jesus would come back to His people and take them into the presence of the beatific vision for all eternity, but that He would be with us here and now in the Holy Communion. For as often as we receive His very Body and Blood, we proclaim His death, along with the apostles before us and the church triumphant in heaven. We proclaim His death, given to us, for the remission of sins and life everlasting
“25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (Jn 11:25–26). Jesus enters Jerusalem on His way to the cross so that in faith you may receive all these benefits. Yes, He comes as king, but a very different kind of king. He will not rule with violence, power, rage, or wrath. Rather His rule is one of grace, mercy, kindness, justice, and every good thing. He is just because He justifies. He saves because He is Saviour. St. John ends his account with the Pharisees bemoaning the popularity of Jesus: “Look, the world has gone after him” (Jn 12:19), they say. But the victory Jesus brings over sin, death, and devil isn’t enough for everyone to go after Him. Some still want more, they want a Saviour in their own image, to be their own god. Such it was then, is now, and will always be. But Christ our Lord comes now, humbly, submitting to the will of the Father, so that we might be raised to eternal life. “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”