Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is the Gospel lesson, where John the baptist prepares the way for Jesus, crying out, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The call goes out from the wilderness. And everyone came. Jerusalem and all of Judea and all the region of the Jordan. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees, that brood of vipers, came. Could this be the Christ? No. He who is coming is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.
Did you know that all four gospels include John the baptist saying that he’s not worthy to untie the sandals? What exactly does that mean? We tend to understand that through our own experiences. We hear John saying that Jesus is really great. So great, that John is not even worthy to do the lowliest things for Him. And, you know? That’s totally one hundred percent true. However, there’s an even better way to understand those sandals than through just our own experiences. Because the meaning behind of untying someone’s sandal is defined in God’s Word. But not where you might expect.
You may have heard of the biblical idea of levirate marriage. Where if a man dies without giving his wife a son, that man’s brother must marry her and have children with her. So that the first son born to this wife can carry on the dead brother’s name. The role the living brother carries out is what we call being the Kinsman-Redeemer. Because he redeems his brother’s name from death. Now, there were other jobs a Kinsman-Redeemer had as well. Like the buying back of land, rescuing from slavery, and avenging the dead. But levirate marriage is really where the sandals come into play. Especially if the Redeemer doesn’t want to do his job.
Deuteronomy 25 starting at verse 7. “And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’”
So removing someone’s sandal in Israel wasn’t a job you left to your lowly servants. Taking off someone’s sandal was to accuse them of not doing their job as Kinsman-Redeemer. So to take off someone’s sandal was to receive justice publicly. And to shame the one who did you wrong. This isn’t just some random, obscure law, either. Because this is exactly what happens in the book of Ruth. Where Ruth asked Boaz to be her Kinsman-Redeemer. However, he couldn’t because there was one closer in relation who had the responsibility before him. So what was described in Deuteronomy 25 pretty much happens in Ruth, chapter 4.
Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.
…So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.”
Where this ties into today’s text is John’s answer to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They see John baptizing not in the temple, but the wilderness. And they wonder why he’s doing this. Especially if he’s not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet. Because, to them, it looks as though he is unstrapping their sandals. Accusing them of being unfaithful in their jobs to their kin. Because they are the closest in line. The nearest relative eligible to be Kinsman-Redeemers for God’s people.
And by John unstrapping their sandals, he must therefore also be unstrapping God’s sandal. That is, unless John is the Christ. After all, God had given them Temple worship. God had given them the Law for cleanliness. God had set the place of forgiveness. And had put them in charge over it. They had the lineage. They had the responsibility. Given by God Himself. So unless John is the Christ, what he was doing out here in the wilderness said more than that they had failed. Rather John was saying that God was not doing a good enough job keeping His promises.
But John says plainly, “I am not the Christ.” I am not the Kinsman-Redeemer. But you know what guys? Neither was Moses, who had to take off his sandals in God’s presence. Neither was Joshua, who likewise had to take off his sandals in the same way. Because as close as they were, it was not either of them who redeemed Israel. It was God Himself. But there is one who stands among you whom you do not know. And no one can take off His sandals. Not even John the Baptist, greatest of all the prophets. Because He is the Kinsman-Redeemer for His bride. He will marry her. He will redeem her from death. And He will give her children.
In chapter three of John’s Gospel, John the baptist continues to say, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Jesus as Kinsman-Redeemer is the message of John the Baptist in all four Gospel accounts. Because the Kinsman-Redeemer is one of the most salvific roles in all the Old Testament. The Redeemer rescues the poor man from his debts in Leviticus 25. That includes buying back his land. And even goes so far as buying him out of slavery. The Redeemer seeks justice for the dead in Numbers 35. And receives retribution on behalf of the family. The Redeemer saves the widowed and childless, by giving them family as we see in Deuteronomy 25 and Ruth 4. As John says, the one who has the bride is the bridegroom. Jesus has His Church. Old Testament Church, New Testament Church, it’s all the same bride.
Make no mistake, the church needs a Kinsman-Redeemer. You need a Kinsman-Redeemer. You know what it is to have a debt you cannot pay. Because you too have sinned. You too know what it is to be enslaved. Because Anyone who sins is a slave to sin. You know what it is to be denied justice. Because you have likewise been sinned against. You too know what it is to be widowed. Some of you literally. Yet all know what death does to our loved ones. What death does to us. We need a Redeemer. And Jesus is that Redeemer.
But you cannot redeem for free. The redeemer that Boaz confronted was willing to pay the price for the land. But he was not willing to pay the price for Ruth. The cost was too high. And it put his own inheritance in danger. However, Jesus was willing to pay any price to redeem you. Even when that price was His own life. Paid for with his body given on that cross. Paid for by His blood shed at Calvary. To redeem you out of death, Jesus entered death Himself. And at His resurrection, also walked out of death, carrying His bride, carrying you with Him.
Jesus has given His bride, His Church a child. And that child is you. You are a member of God’s family. You have been clothed in His baptism. Given a place at His table. Fed with His own body and blood. You are an heir in His house. And that inheritance is forgiveness, salvation, eternal life with Him.
So it doesn’t matter the price that has to be paid. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve lost. It doesn’t matter how much you hurt. Jesus is your Kinsman-Redeemer. And He has bought you back, and brought you back from it all. Jesus has counted you as worthy for all this. Because His love for you is greater than anything else. And because of His death and resurrection on our behalf, there is no need to take off His sandal. Because He has done His job. Jesus has indeed redeemed His people. He has redeemed you. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The season of Advent has all kinds of great texts for each Sunday. I told you this last Sunday about how our banner shows all four Gospel readings for the season. But there are also great Old Testament reading for this time of year. Because Isaiah also speaks about the advent of Christ.
The book of Isaiah is known by some as the Old Testament Gospel. Because so much of what Isaiah says foreshadows Christ’s life. For His birth, to his life, to his death and resurrection. The picture Isaiah paints is very clear when we look at it through the lens of Jesus. For the Lord’s Messiah is coming. And this text tells us what all is coming with Him.
But along with that also comes the knowledge of what we have without Christ. If with Christ “the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains”, then without Christ, it is not. If with Christ, “all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come”, then without Christ we’re not showing up. If with Christ they shall say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob”, then we’re saying without Him, “Let’s not go there.” If with Christ, we’re asking Him to “teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths”, then without Him we know nothing of His ways and paths. If with Christ “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks”, then without him, we are armed for war. War against God. If with Christ we say, “let us walk in the light of the Lord”, then without Him we walk in utter darkness.
Our problem is that in that darkness, we can’t see our sin. It’s indistinguishable from anything else. So much so that our sin is simply normal to us. Nothing surprising or shocking about it. So, what exactly is the problem? Show it to me already. Never mind that in the darkness it can’t be seen. What does that have to do with anything. I don’t see me drawing a sword on God. I don’t see this way and path that Jesus says is there. I don’t see what I haven’t been taught. I don’t see the house of the Lord here. I don’t see people heading towards such a thing if it even exists. Nor do I see this mountain it’s supposed to be on.
And if I can’t see them, then what’s so wrong about me staking a claim on my own mountain? Focusing my attention on what is important to me? What’s wrong with not bothering to show up where I don’t see people going. What’s wrong with going to a different house, one I actually like? What’s wrong with not being taught? What’s wrong in following my own path? Because in this darkness, it doesn’t matter what I know or where I end up. What’s wrong with waging war with God? If no one can even see it, did it actually happen? What’s wrong with the darkness? I’m comfortable with it. I’m fine in it. In the darkness, sin is invisible. In the darkness, I can be anything. In the darkness, everything else can be anything I want. Darkness is good. Darkness is its own paradise.
O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. Why? That light shows the mountain I have avoided. That light shows the people I have wronged. That light shows the house I have run away from. That light shows my ignorance. That light shows how long I have been lost. That light shows my sword drawn against the Lord. Shows that I am truly at war with the God of all creation. That light shows my sin. And my sin is ugly. My sin is wretched. My sin is greater than I can bear.
The light of Christ shows more than I want the world to see of me. Shows more than I want to see of myself. And yet, that light comes. Jesus arrives. Jesus is born in Bethlehem to be the light of the world. Why? Does God want me to be humiliated so badly? Does God want to expose me to such shame? Does God hate me that much?
Not at all. It’s not out a hatred or anger that Christ the light comes into the world. Jesus wasn’t born to drive you back into the darkness. Jesus has His advent because you need to be saved from your sin. That light shines so you know how close to the ledge you are. How dangerous that sin is. How deadly that darkness really is. The light shines to reveal your sin, yes. But then to take that sin away. That’s why Jesus was born. That’s why Jesus died on the cross. That’s why Jesus rose again. So that sin, and death, and hell would all be overcome for you.
And none of that happened in the darkness where no one could see it. Jesus took all that ugliness. All that pain. All that shame. All that humiliation. All that suffering. And he carried it where everyone could see it on Him. He bled for that sin. He died for that sin. Your sin. The stuff you don’t want anyone to see on you. We all saw it on Him instead. That’s what we see shining in the light. Jesus on the highest mountain, Mount Calvary itself. With the whole world looking at Him. He is who we find in the House of the Lord. This is what we are taught. This is His way, His path. This is where the sword we picked up against Him is turned into plowshares. This is where the spear is beaten into a pruning hook. This is where our war against God ends. It ends with Him dying in victory. O house of Jacob, come! Come and see. Here He is. Jesus has advented to us. His light shines among us, lighting our path. He walks beside us, and holds us up. And by His blood, our every sin is forgiven. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Every year, Christian pastors from all over America often start Advent by talking about how when it comes to Christmas preparation, we’re very different from the world. In fact, I’d bet you can probably rattle off all the examples of where this is true even better than I could. But a lot of them come down to, “we’ve got Jesus, and they don’t.” And that’s completely true. Jesus makes all the difference.
However, there’s no denying the sheer excitement that is generated this time of year by the world. Our unbelieving neighbors around us know that it’s not just something that’s coming. They know Christmas is coming. And it’s going to be really amazing. Why do you think they say generic things like Happy Holidays? They don’t want people who don’t celebrate Christmas to be left out. Because Christmas, even secular Christmas, is too big to leave anyone out from.
And frankly, if it weren’t for the world’s enthusiasm, which starts earlier every year, would we be all that excited about Advent? We don’t get out a wreath to count the Sundays after Pentecost. We don’t put up a tree for Epiphany. We don’t get poinsettias for Lent. We do a bit for Easter, but not like we do this time of year. Week by week, it gets all the more impressive looking in here. And that’s not a bad thing. But would it happen to this same degree if the world out there didn’t even care? The world gets that there is something big going down, even if it doesn’t know quite what it is.
We’ve got a mirror image of that going on in our Gospel lesson this morning. We know this text as Palm Sunday. But in a season where are preparing to celebrate Jesus’ advent, literally from Latin, Jesus’ arrival, what better way than you see Jesus actually arrive? After all, this was the kickoff day of another big holiday season in that time. Jesus arrived at the beginning of the Passover week. When all the pilgrims started arriving and staying with their families and friends. There was so much to get ready for. Gifts to buy. Food to cook. Memories to be made. And so there was already a buzz about town.
But then Jesus arrives. He comes in the front gates on a donkey, like the kings of old. The palm branches of victory are being waved. People are laying their coats down to make a road. And they’re shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Now, it’s not just His disciples who are excited about Jesus’ coming. The whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Whether they had ever heard of Jesus before or not, whether they knew what He came for or not, they’re exited, because this is big. You can tell, because everyone else is doing it too.
Things are pretty exciting when they happen once in a lifetime. Things are pretty exciting when they only happen once a year. But would you keep getting a new tree if we had Christmas every day? Would you be looking forward to the family arriving with the same anticipation? Would you get tired of wrapping paper and shopping for gifts endlessly? I know I would. It’s a lot harder to be that excited when Jesus arrives for you every single time you read or hear God’s Word. It’s pretty mundane when Jesus comes to you every Sunday with the forgiveness of sins. Jesus has His advent over and over again. Every week, every day. And eventually we just pack up the donkeys and palm branches and coats. Eventually we pack up the wreaths and poinsettias and banners. Because if we’re not feeling the excitement, then it must not be very exciting.
Do you think they have that problem in heaven? Do you think they get tired of worshipping God without ceasing? Day and night in His temple. Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, over and over again. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power,” On repeat for eternity. Does that get old? Or is Christ so good that for them it never gets old?
We, on the other hand, worship novelty. If it’s new, we flock to it like moths to a flame. And when the novelty of it all wears off, it gets discarded, never to be picked up again. It happens so often, that we’re afraid to do something too often. We’re afraid it will get old. We’re afraid that we’ll throw it away. That’s why we don’t use the fine china every day. That’s why we don’t eat a perfectly cooked steak at every meal. That’s why we encourage our children to move out when they grow up. If we have them all the time, we don’t care about them like we want to.
But then there’s Christmas. We have it every year. The build up to it lasts at least a month, if not two. We do the exact same things every time. You’d think that if anything would ever get old, it’s the Christmas season. And yet, every Christmas manages to be special in its own way. And this is the world’s Christmas! Why? Because the joy of it all isn’t found in how we feel about it. The joy of Christmas comes from outside ourselves. Even for the world. And the world knows it. Why do you think all those Christmas specials, even the cheesiest ones, hammer that very point? And it’s exactly the same for our joy. True joy. Not the joy the world has. It comes from outside ourselves. It comes from Christ, the one who gave us Christmas in the first place. Our faith doesn’t survive on its novelty. Nor does it survive on our internal levels of excitement. Nor from how we’re feeling from day to day. It endures because it comes from Jesus Christ.
Even if Jesus were to arrive every day in Jerusalem, it would still be an event worthy of donkeys fit for kings. It would still be an occasion for breaking out the palm branches of victory. Still be a party grand enough to line the road with your coats. And it’s the same when Jesus speaks His Word to you. Jesus advents right into our hearts and ears. With the Good News that He comes to take our sin away. That He comes to forgive us when we have failed. That He comes to bear our burdens. That He comes to give us peace. That He comes to raise us from the dead. That He comes to share His life with us forever. He does give all this to us each day. Therefore, we have every cause to rejoice, each day.
And that’s why it’s a good thing the world gets so excited for Christmas. Because we do see Jesus every day, and get bored. Our sinful selves look past the joy He consistently gives. We get tired of the same thing over and over. And wonder what ever happened to that joy we once felt. If even the world can see that joy once a year, in a pale imitation of who Christ truly is, then there is still hope for us. And there’s even more hope than that when we see Christ Himself. Adventing every day to us. Bearing the forgiveness of every sin. Holding His victory over death in hand. Giving that victory to you. Every time.
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! This is Jesus. Delivering His death and resurrection to you today. Behold your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey. And He is here. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this evening is the Old Testament lesson, where God reminds His people where they’ve been and where they’re going.
Context is everything. We know that. If you walk up to a conversation, it’s probably not a good idea to just jump right in. You’re going to need a little bit of context to know what they’re talking about. Have you wondered why it’s so hard to talk to teenagers? They’re context is very different from yours. And without the right contexts, you can talk right past them, and they talk right past you. Context is important. It’s especially important in the Bible. You don’t have to search through the Bible long to find something that, if taken out of context, would mean something completely different than it actually says. So context is everything.
In our text, the people of Israel have been wandering the desert for 40 years. That is their context. For them, bread falling from the sky happens six days a week. When they get hungry for meat, quail just show up. They’ve never had to patch up old clothes. Neither do we anymore, but that’s because we go out and buy new clothes. In their context, there is no such thing as new clothes. No new shoes either. Nor replacing the soles of the old ones after forty years of walking in a wilderness. In fact, this context is so unique, that I’m not sure we’re ever really going to understand it. You thought teenagers were tough? Ha!
But this context wasn’t always their context. In fact, they were yanked out of a context they were perfectly happy with. Well, comparatively. They were happy with it precisely one day after they entered the wilderness. But all their lives they had been slaves in Egypt. That’s how they grew up. Every day life was work, food, and complaining about Egyptians. Now the work was gone. The food was gone. The Egyptians were gone. They longed to go back to Egypt and eat that Egyptian food. See that Egyptian landscape. Breathe that Egyptian air. It didn’t matter that they were treated worse than animals. That was their context. That was their home.
It took forty years. Enough time for the whole generation who grew up in Egypt to pass away. Enough time for the overwhelming context to be wilderness. The old context had to be destroyed. So that they could go to the right home. A new home.
We too are leaving an Egypt of sorts. Leaving the context of this world. Which is really hard, because the world is still here. With it’s daily routines. It’s patterns and cycles. With all the things we grew up with. That’s our context. When we think of home, it’s a home on this world. Yet God is calling us to the wilderness. Calling us to leave slavery to sin, death, and the devil behind. Calling us to leave home behind. And that is not easy. We want to go back to being at peace with the world. We’re a lot more comfortable with sin ruling our lives unchecked. We miss the certainty of death. And who doesn’t love to complain about Satan getting His way? This is our context. This is where we feel at home.
So a promise of a new heavens and a new earth is scary. Will there be dogs in heaven? Can I play golf? Will I really be me up there? Because I can’t imagine myself without this sin or that sin. Will it be just like my home now? Will it feel like that place we always remember? Will I know the context? Or will it be something completely different?
It will be different. In what ways? I don’t know. But that place will be home. So God has to change our context now. That’s why God has us wandering through this wilderness right now. Wandering through this Church thing that we’re part of. Because context isn’t everything. Not when it’s the wrong one.
This world isn’t our home. This context which we live in says that only you can look out for you. It says to indulge yourself, because you are the only one that matters. This world’s context is that everyone dies. That death is just part of life. This world’s context is that you can justify your own sins. And that you are the only judge of whether the sins of others are justifiable or not. This world’s context is wrong. The old context has to be destroyed. So that we can go to the right home. A new home.
That’s what Jesus does. His death and resurrection leaves the old context in the dust on the way to the wilderness. Maundy Thursday is the new Passover. Good Friday is the new Red Sea. And Easter Sunday is the new entrance into the promised land. A brand new context. A context through which we look at everything. All done so that we can go home. Go to our real home.
We’re on that same journey. The same one as the Israelites. The same one as Jesus Himself. We have been called to leave the Egypt of this world behind. Called to a wilderness that’s a life as Christ’s own bride, the Church. Where we have no choice but to rely on Him for everything we need. And just like those Israelites in the desert, Jesus gives us our food. The same meal every time. Manna from heaven. The true body of Christ, given for you. Even if those wafers seem like the blandest, most tasteless thing you’ve ever eaten. It did to them back then too. But this meal changes our context. This meal is what it means to be Christian. What it means to be His Church. It isn’t just something we do because God said so. It’s God giving us our context. This is who we are. This is what makes this place home. This is the Christian life. Gathered together at His table. Young and old alike. Because everybody eats. And this is His feast.
Not only does God feed us the same way He fed those who walked the desert for 40 years, He also gives us clothes that do not wear out. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. Paul’s words from Galatians 3. These are clothes that last your whole life. No matter how badly you’ve beaten them up. No matter what you’ve dragged them through. Your baptism does not wear out on you. Because it is God’s promise to you. And that never fails.
This baptism is also part of your context as a Christian in this wilderness. A context that places you in the grave of Jesus in order that you would also rise from the dead with Him. I think Paul said something about that too. These are God’s gifts through Christ to bring you through this wilderness, away from the world. The old context has been destroyed. So now we can go to the right home. A new home.
God changed the context of His people of old. From the toxic context of Egypt, to the reliant context of the wilderness, to the restful context of a land of their own. Likewise God changes our contexts. From the toxic context of this world, to the reliant context of His Church. A sacramental context. Where God provides everything. And at this point, we’re still here in this context. But the restful context is coming. And every day, He’s getting us ready. Ready to go home. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you, but I love a good story. I haven’t actually met anyone who doesn’t. We all love a good story so much in fact, that we’re actually quite good at writing our own. Maybe not on paper. Maybe not in a way that anyone else can follow. Maybe not in a way that makes any sense to anyone but you. But we still write stories every day. And those stories explain how we see the world.
We write stories about each other. And those stories explain how you see your neighbor. Those stories may be short, or long. Happy or sad. Comedy or tragedy. Everyone is an expert at writing stories. Because we hear them every day. Even when the story is only a snippet, that’s okay. We hear enough stories, that we get pretty good at filling in the details when they aren’t there. In fact, let’s do it all together right now. Take the two thieves on the cross to the right and the left of Jesus. We know from Scripture that one thief railed against Jesus, while the other confessed his sins. We know one wanted to escape his punishment, while the other sought forgiveness.
So how did each one of them get there? Why were they up on those crosses? That story isn’t written in the Bible. But based on the few words we have written about them, we can write their backgrounds ourselves. How about this. One stole because it was easier than working, but the other stole to feed his family. One, when he was arrested, screamed obscenities at the authorities. While the other bowed his head and did as he was told. One was a real bad guy, and the other was really just trying the best he could in a bad situation. So, which one is which? I’d bet you could tell me. And I bet you’d be wrong.
Time after time, Jesus met with those who were the worst of the worst. Who, before meeting Jesus, swindled, stole, sold what wasn’t theirs. Who lived lives they knew were wrong, and didn’t care. In the Bible we called them tax collectors. Prostitutes. Sinners. But then, Jesus went to their houses. Jesus joined them at their tables. Jesus extended His fellowship to them. And their response to Him? The words, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
But those who had good reasons for what they did. Those who did the things they were told. Those who did the best they could through it all. We call them Pharisees. Pharisees like me. Because in this life, I too have railed at Christ. Saying to Him, “Aren’t you God? Don’t you have all power? Aren’t you all good? How can you have let this thing happen to me? Come and do something about it! And save me out of this while you’re at it. After all, I’ve done the best I can with this. I’ve tried, and nobody’s perfect. I did what I was supposed to. At least I did in my story about me.
And yet as I suffer through the crosses this life brings, they don’t always turn out okay. They don’t always have happy endings. My story doesn’t turn out at all the way I’ve written it for myself. And meanwhile, I see Jesus saying to those who don’t deserve it in the slightest. People who didn’t even care about anyone until the very end. People who were far worse than I ever was. Jesus says to them, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Today, your sins are forgiven.
Have we assumed that Jesus saved only one of the two thieves hanging with Him at the cross? It turns out Jesus spoke of both of them well before they ever showed up in our text today. Mark, Chapter Ten, James and John come to Jesus, saying, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus asks them if they can go through what He was about to go through. They say, “yes.” And Jesus tells them that they will indeed have to go through a lot. But then He says, “but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And it was prepared for the two thieves. Both of them.
Because the cross is Christ’s glory. That throne in heaven? He left it. The choirs of angels? Dismissed. The everlasting praise? Stopped. Anything that comes to our minds when we hear the word “glory” was tossed aside so that Jesus could come to the cross. Because the glory of the cross is greater than any other. And if you’re waiting for a miracle, there is no greater miracle than death of the One who has no end. And by His death, He has rescued your neighbor. He has rescued me. He has rescued you. Because you’re worth saving.
Both thieves had a front row seat to the impossible event. The death of God. And He died for them. Both of them saw what the Centurion saw, when he said, “Surely this was the Son of God.” They saw the sun grow dark. They saw the earth tremble at His death. They saw Jesus cry out, not weakly in the pangs of death, but with a great voice, giving up the Spirit. They saw with their own eyes that Christ died for them. And it didn’t matter who they were before. It didn’t matter what sins they did to be up there with Him. It didn’t matter how bad things were. It didn’t matter that their own death were mere minutes away now. Christ died for them. And they now shared in His greatest glory. And nothing in the world could ever take that away from them.
Jesus’ words on the cross, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” are true for everyone who dies trusting in Christ’s mercy. No matter what stories their lives have told. Whether they trusted Jesus all their life, and lived accordingly. Or whether they lived badly, and only found out about Jesus right before they died. Because it’s not their story that brings them to paradise. It’s Christ’s story that bring them to paradise. It’s Jesus who puts them right there along side of the thief who sat on the right, and the thief who sat on the left. Sinners every one, and us too. Forgiven, every one. And us too.
But as great a miracle it was for Jesus to die, He didn’t do that to just show off. Nor to say, “Hey, I did something, alright?” Jesus went to that cross with all the things in this life that hurt us. Jesus took every burden you have, and carried it on His shoulders as He was nailed to the tree. The times you’ve failed. The times you’ve hurt others. The times others have failed and hurt you. Your fear. Your guilt. Your shame. Your troubles. Your fights. Your grief. Jesus is there for you in the midst of it all. You are not alone. He knows exactly what you’re going through, because He went though it Himself.
When nothing is turning out the way you hoped. When life isn’t the way you want it. When this world hurts too much. When things are too overwhelming to handle. Remember that both thieves on at the cross could very well say the same things. And yet the glory of Christ wasn’t that their crosses disappeared. But rather that He was there with them in the midst of it all. With the promise that this cross, this death, this tragedy was not the end. Rather, that resurrection is coming. For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like His.
The death of Christ is His highest glory. It is His greatest miracle. It is the forgiveness of all sin. It is His joining you right where you are. Both in life and in death. Because if God can call one of the most painful form of execution ever devised His highest glory, imagine what He can do with you in your grief. In your pain. In your loss.
It might not be what you expect. It might not be what you hope. It might not even be what you want. But I can tell you this. Jesus Christ is there with you, no matter what. Even when that what is death itself. Even when it’s the death of one we love. Because sin and death have both been overcome. The resurrection is coming. We will be reunited in the flesh. With every sin, every sickness, every trouble gone forever. For Christ died on the cross for you. You’re worth God Himself giving everything up on your behalf. You’re worth bringing into that forever of paradise. No matter what. That’s Christ’s story. That’s Christ’s promise to you. And that’s a promise He keeps. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The year was 66 AD. Tensions between the Roman government and the radical Jewish revolutionaries was high. Of course tensions had been high for seventy years. The only thing that kept all out war in check were the Jewish moderates. These moderates held leadership positions and were backed by most people. They strongly believed that since there was no way to actually win a war against a Roman army, living in peace was better than dying.
That’s the primary reason why about thirty years earlier, they had Jesus killed. People were following Him, calling Him a King. Things could have really gotten out of hand. This is also why they refused to side with any of the many revolutionaries and their so-called messiahs that appeared. Did this mean they had to put up with a lot they didn’t like? You bet. But it was worth it.
At least it was until a rouge Roman citizen openly defiled a local Jewish place of worship. A merchant made sacrifices to their pagan god right in the middle of their synagogue. And the Roman garrison would do nothing about it. So the people of that town got angry. Angry enough to overpower the whole Roman garrison stationed there. They would put up with a lot, but they would not put up with this.
Unfortunately, word got back to the governor that the Jews in that town joined the radicals. So the Romans decided that it was time to send a message of their own. Roman Governor Florus marched into not just a synagogue, but the temple in Jerusalem itself. Right in to the forbidden Holy of Holies. And there he plundered everything of value. A pagan Genitle in that holy place. There was no worse abomination imaginable. And this abomination resulted in the desolation of every religious vessel in the whole place. After that day, there were no more moderates. This was war.
The Jewish revolt in 67 AD was massive. Rome quickly realized that it had grown out of control. The few garrisons they had posted were quickly overwhelmed as the Jews took back their country by force. So General Vespasian, soon to be Emperor Vespasian brought and entire regiment to eradicate the rebels. And starting up in Galilee, the reaction was swift, brutal, and effective. Within months, the whole region outside of Jerusalem was subdued. With refugees pouring in from all over into the one walled city they had left to defend themselves with. But the news was spreading. The war was coming. And rumors changed each day as to when it would finally start.
Unfortunately, while waiting, the Jewish passover arrived. And as always, Jews from all over the world made the trek to Jerusalem. So Jerusalem was filled wiht not only refugees but pilgrims as well. The year was 70 AD. And as Passover began, so did the siege. The first two walls were breached quickly. The third wall took more time, but that too fell. Vespasian’s son Titus brought the army into Jerusalem proper, leaving the last defendable place under rebel control the temple itself. Now Titus planned to keep the temple intact. Use it as a symbol to Roman supremacy. But against his plans, the Temple was set on fire. And utterly destroyed, along with most of Jerusalem. The fire ripped through the whole town, sending plumes of smoke into the air so think, that you couldn’t see the sun by day or the moon by night. Ash rained from the sky along with burning embers. An estimated 1.1 Million Jews died.
Thirty three years earlier, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. And immediately, He went to the temple. While some were speaking of… how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, [Jesus] said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they said to him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”
They had figured that the only way this temple could be destroyed is if the last day is at hand. Because how could those two things not go together? They couldn’t imagine not having the temple any more. Because that’s the place where God dwells with His people. If it truly is destroyed, then the world itself must be right behind. So why not have Jesus give some more signs to look for while they’re at it.
Except, that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus says, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and “the time is at hand.’” We have the advantage of history to let us know that Jesus definitely didn’t return in 70 AD. But I’d bet that there were 1.1 million people at the time who thought otherwise.
However, Jesus said, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
These days, talk of the last days always seems to be on the rise. Under normal circumstances, we can’t wait for Jesus to come back. Election years always raise the anticipation. And then, this year, Both the Cubs and the Indians made it to the World Series. People have been looking to the skies for a while now. Especially when things look their worst. But that isn’t anything new. Everyone wants our Gospel lesson today to be the signs of the end. They’re not. They’re signs that the world is still the world, and that hasn’t changed since the fall. Ask Jesus says, “…these things must first take place, but it is not soon the end.”
What Jesus describes in today’s text is what every day in this world is like. There is nothing new about wars and tumults of war. There’s nothing new about earthquakes and famines. Nothing new about terrors and great signs in the heavens. Nothing new about kings and rulers persecuting you because of Christ. Nothing new about everything you holding dear being lost. There’s not a thing new with people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. What is new is what Jesus tells you to do when these things come upon you. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. There’s nothing that can possibly happen to you that Jesus Christ has not already endured on your behalf. Everything you fear, everything that can ever hurt you, Jesus overcame it all.
But now there’s no pretending that these things aren’t coming. There’s no promise that you’ll get to skip the parts where the world does its worst. [I]t is not soon the end. The end is coming. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. None of us can know the hour, or day, or week, or month, or year, or decade, or century, or millennium when our Lord has set aside to put an end to this world. And anyone who says otherwise is calling God a liar. Even in they’re on Christian radio, television, or in bookstores.
But that makes now all the more important. Repent now. Believe now. Ask for God’s mercy now. Be forgiven now. Receive God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament now. Because Jesus isn’t waiting to give it all to you. It’s ready right now. It is finished for you. Christ has died on His cross and has risen on the third day. All in order to take away your sin. In order to give you life beyond this world. In order to get you through this world today.
Because it’s not the stones of some temple in the Middle-East that matter. It’s not the kingdoms of this world, nor it’s rulers. It’s not even our freedom, as wonderful as that is to have. You are what matters to Christ. You are worth enduring this world for. You are worth the death of God. You are worth saving. Because He sees something in us that we can’t even see ourselves. The World has already done it’s worst. It’s can’t do any more than that. So when the world comes to you, with it’s sin, and death, and destruction, raise your head. Be of good cheer. Your victory has already been won. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today is All Saints’ Day, the day we remember the members of St. Paul’s who have gone ahead of us in death, and are now resting with Christ. We celebrate their faith. And our Lord who gave them that faith. But then, what does that make today? A day of tears, or a day of joy?
Maybe our Gospel lesson can help. After all, we’ve got the same question going on. So what are these Beatitudes? Looking at them, they might be a couple of things. In the context of today, we might look at the first few and say that it’s good to be sad. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Generally, those things aren’t seen as positive things to be. But don’t worry. Because if you are feeling these things, God sure has some gifts for you.
Then again, we could come to the opposite conclusion by looking at the second half of the Beatitudes. Because then we might conclude that it’s a good thing to overcome that sadness with the right attitude. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. If you think the right things. Do the right things. Be the right kind of person, then boy howdy, does God sure have some gifts for you.
But there’s a problem then. The first half of the beatitudes don’t fit into the second box, nor does the second half of the beatitudes fit into the first box. It’s hard to conclude that being poor in Spirit is a right attitude. Especially when it feels far better to be abounding with Spirit. Surely being rich in Spirit is more blessed than to be without.
Likewise, it’s difficult to make a virtue out of mourning. Because to mourn, someone or something has to die. I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t want us to go around and say how blessed we are that our loved ones are dead. I mean, that’s certainly a different way of understanding a Celebration of Life service. But I’m not sure there’s really any comfort to be had for anyone by such an attitude.
But what about meekness? We have made a virtue out of meekness. Primarily because of it being mentioned in these beatitudes. But when you actually define what it is to be meek, it no longer sounds like a virtue. Would we really say, “Blessed is the one who can’t muster up enough effort to even do anything?” That’s meekness. And it’s not something we would ever aspire to. Because such a person will never get anything.
Nor is it a virtue to hunger or thirst for righteousness. It’s far more virtuous to already be filled with righteousness. To be without that righteousness is to be at risk. To be without it is to be a bad person. Yet Jesus says blessed is the one who lacks righteousness. There’s no way to make any of those four into a right attitude to have in order to get the blessings Jesus attaches to them. They sound a lot more like God is going to turn that frown upside down.
But if we assume that, then it’s the others that do not fit. Because I don’t think God is trying to rescue us from being merciful, or pure in heart. I don’t think don’t think he’s trying to overcome the efforts of those making peace. And Jesus promises persecution for righteousness’ sake. And let’s us know immediately that receiving such treatment is in fact a blessing in itself. So no matter which way we look at the Beatitudes, they don’t fit into any of our boxes. Just what are we blessed for? Or with?
Our problem is that we come in thinking that the Beatitudes are some sort of quid pro quo. If we do this, then we get that. But that’s not what they are at all. It’s not as though I can say, “I need comfort,” so therefore I’d better go mourn. Nor do I make my heart pure in order that I can finally see God. They are neither God making up for a hard life, nor the right attitude to have. Because the Beatitudes aren’t a buffet. You don’t just get to go down the line and say, “This is the one I need right now, and we’ll leave the rest for later.” No, the beatitudes have something far greater to say. And All Saints Day is the perfect day to say it.
The Beatitudes are what Jesus uses to describe the whole life of a saint. To describe what it’s like all the time for someone who believes in Jesus. This is the life of faith. And each beatitude describes that life. Once before the resurrection, and once after the resurrection. Blessed are you when you have this in this life, because this is what it will look like in the next. To be a saint, to be a Christian is to have all of these. Not some. Not the ones that I think apply to me. All of them.
We in the Church are indeed poor in spirit. We do mourn. We are meek, in the truest sense of the word. We hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are merciful. We are pure in heart. We are peacemakers. We are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. All of those are ours in this life. Like it or not. And Jesus calls each one of those things a blessing. The second half are the blessings had by those who have gone before us in the faith. The blessings that Thelma, Ken, Elaine, Nancy, Denny, Dollie, and Eva now enjoy to their fullest. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They are comforted. They inherit the new earth. They are satisfied. They receive mercy. They see God. They are children of God, and heirs. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Their reward is great.
We know that all those things are blessings. And we’re anxious to have those blessings ourselves. But here in this life, we can only have them in part, if at all. And that’s hard. It’s hard because we’re not patient people. We don’t want to put up with the poverty, or the mourning, or the meekness, or the hunger, or the thirsting for long. We don’t want to be merciful, be pure in heart, be peacemakers, or be persecuted, if the reward isn’t immediate. We want the results. And they’re just not there. Not the way we think that they should be. Not to the fullest.
We know that both those sides of the Beatitudes are connected to sainthood. But the divide between them is too great. The gap is too far for us to cross. The blessings appear too different from each other. And they don’t match up with our experience. And they’re not meant to. We aren’t the connection between the two sides. They make no sense with us at the center. But they make perfect sense when the center is the death and resurrection of Jesus.
When we are connected to the cross. When we are in Christ Jesus. When we are buried with Him by baptism into death. When we receive the very body that hung on the tree. When we are given the very blood that was shed. When we are given faith through the Word proclaimed. When we are forgiven our sins. When we are given faith. When Christ gives us Himself, then we are made into saints.
And with that comes everything else that Jesus promised. If you are a saint in this life, you will be poor in spirit. You will mourn. You will be meek. You will hunger and thirst for righteousness. You will be merciful. You will be pure in heart. You will be a peacemaker. You will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And you will have others revile you, persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on Christ’s account. Because that’s exactly what Jesus endured on your behalf. That’s what Jesus’ birth, life, and death all looked like.
And when it all comes to you too? That is a great blessing. A blessing far greater than any amount of stuff. Better than happiness and contentment. Better than any sunset or fall autumn day. Better than even family or country. Because if Christ’s promises are sure on the first part, you can be sure they’re true on the second as well. And if Christ is raised from the dead, then you too have a resurrection. You too have the promises. As does every saint who has died in the faith.
Because in Christ’s resurrection, He gives the kingdom of heaven to all His saints. He comforts them. He gives them the inheritance of everlasting life. He feeds their need for righteousness until there room for no more. He gives them His mercy. Through Him, they see God. Through Him, they are children of God. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and great is their reward.
Therefore do not be afraid to be poor in spirit. Don’t worry when you mourn. Do not be surprised to find yourself meek. It’s okay to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Because Christ gives to you both marcy, and the capacity for mercy. Christ creates in you a pure heart, and renews a right Spirit within you. Christ gives you peace, and works peace through you. Christ gives you the righteousness the world hates, and yet that righteousness is exactly what saves you. Forgives you.
You too are one of Christ’s saints. These beatitudes are written for you. So that you can know that no matter what this world throws at you—and it will be more than you can bear—Christ has already overcome it all. And He is with you both now, and for eternity. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be [our] shepherd, and He will guide [us] to springs of living water, and He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! And thanks be to God.