Resurrection Peace

↓ Download Service Folder

Editor’s Note:  Pastor Nitz recently accepted a call from WELS to serve at Good Shepherd Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming, so this is his final sermon at St Mark.  Future sermons will be given by guest pastors until his position is filled, and we typically do not receive transcripts from guest pastors.  So, while we will continue to provide an audio recording of the sermon and the service bulletin, we will not be able to provide transcripts. (Additional Information)

2nd Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31

He’s risen! He’s risen indeed! Grace and peace to you from Him who is and who as and who is to come, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who alone gives us ultimate peace, dear friends in Christ,

Saying, “Good-bye” is a difficult thing, isn’t it? It’s not easy to say “Good-bye” to someone you love, to a child going off to school, to a loved one leaving, to someone who is dying. Good-bye’s aren’t easy, are they? Why? Because perhaps there’s always the possibility that I won’t see this person again, something could happen. God has knit us people together in such a way that we need other people in our lives- we need family, we need friends, we need loved ones and it’s not always easy to be separated from them. To a degree that same thing is true in a church family- it’s not easy to say good-bye to brothers and sisters in Christ. And finally everything that makes us sad in life is really a consequence of sin. Just think, in the Garden of Eden, in a perfect world- where there was no sin or death – you’d never have to really say good-bye. But that’s the glory of Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus’ resurrection changes everything, Jesus’ resurrection for the believer turns every good-bye into simply a “See-you-again,” Jesus’ resurrection gives us peace for every time and every occasion.

That’s what we want to look at this morning. In every farewell there’s a sort of look back at the past, a consideration of the present, and a look ahead to the future. And here, in this account we see Jesus give the disciples and us such a peace for the past, the present, and the future.

First the past, when you think about the past certainly there are many fond and good memories, but there are also things that you maybe wish you hadn’t done, or things which you had done, or things which you wish you would have done differently, or mistakes that you made, and what does that leave you with? Guilt. So, think about the disciples. Where are they? They’ve locked themselves behind closed doors out of fear of the Jews. Are they next? Are they going to be crucified as well? But then on Easter Sunday morning they hear the reports: People are saying that Jesus is alive! But if you’re one of the disciples, is that good news or bad news? What had they done? They hadn’t believed him, they didn’t believe him when he told them he’d rise from the dead. At the time of his greatest need, they all deserted and abandoned him. Then on Easter Sunday evening Jesus comes and stands among them and think about what Jesus could have said: You deserters! You betrayers! You deniers! In my hour of greatest need you left me all alone! No one stood up for me! Shame on you!” Jesus rightly could have lodged accusations against them, right?

And even more so on Thomas, right? Jesus rises from the dead, just like he said he would, then he appears over and over again to people, appears to Thomas’ closest friends who tell him in no uncertain terms that they saw the Lord – alive! And how does he respond? I won’t believe it. Unless I have proof, unless I can stick my fingers in the nail holes and my hand in his side, I won’t believe it. And then next week Jesus appeared again. And he could have said to Thomas, “Now look here you double-minded man! Is it not enough that I told you over and over again that I was going to rise again and then I did, just like I said, and you didn’t believe when people told you! Really? Come on!”

So here are the disciples, here’s Thomas, here’s us with all the past things we’ve done, all our failures, all our mistakes, And Jesus appears, and what’s he going to say to them? What’s he doing to do to them? He appears and says, “Peace be with you.” Can you imagine any more comforting words than those? Peace – everything is right between you and God, everything is just the way it’s supposed to be. Yes, you abandoned me, Yes, you deserted me, yes, you messed up big time, yes, you doubted me, yes, you didn’t believe me, yes you deserve my wrath and judgment forever, but hey look, look at my hands, look at my feet, don’t you see? Don’t you realize what I’ve done for you? I died on the cross not for myself, but for you, the price is paid, your sins are forgiven, you don’t have to worry, you don’t have to be scared, I won you peace.  That same peace is yours. What burdens you? What guilt do you feel? Jesus gives you peace. His death paid for your sins in full, His resurrection proves your sins are forgiven. And when the disciples saw Jesus, they were filled with joy-over-joyed. That joy is yours.  Peace for your past.

What about the present? What about life right now? There are three questions that every person will be plagued by until they have answers and those questions are only fully satisfied through faith in Jesus. The questions are: who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? Everyone needs answers to those questions in order to have meaning and purpose for life in the present. But notice what God tells us here, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” You see, God’s Word tells you who you are: A forgiven child of God! An heir of life eternal! Someone who has been washed clean by Jesus’ blood! And the more that you’re into God’s Word, the more you learn about God, the more God brings His peace into your heart.

But are you to keep this peace all to yourself? No! When we’re full of peace, we want to share that peace. That’s what Jesus told the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” That’s what the disciples did with Thomas. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” There are people in this community, people in your life, people that you know that are searching for peace and God has entrusted to you the only message that will speak peace to the human heart: sins forgiven in Jesus our risen Savior. You have peace right now to have and to share.

And finally, peace for your future. What lies ahead? What changes lie ahead for you? For me, I’m going to soon be living in a different place, standing in front of different people, for you, you’re going to have someone else standing up here. But what else will the future bring? Will you have the opportunity to spend the amount of time with the people you love? Will you have the opportunity to do the things in life that you really want to do? You see, we can live with a certain degree of fear about the future – wanting to get this done, wanting to do this, wanting to spend time with this person. We can live in a rather frantic way because we don’t want to “miss out” on something in life.

But then, Jesus’ resurrection even gives us peace for the future. How so? Jesus appears to his disciples alive, but he’s not a ghost or a spirit. He has flesh and bones. He showed the disciples his hands and feet, the same body that was nailed bloody and beaten to the cross. He has Thomas put his hands in the nail marks and in his side where the spear made sure that he was dead. Why? It proves that Jesus really did keep his word, really did actually, truly rise from the dead. But it also shows us that Jesus has a real, physical body, glorified body. And the Bible connects Jesus’ physical resurrection with the fact that one day our bodies will be physically raised from the dead and we will live in the new heavens and the new earth with a real glorified body.

What does that mean for us? It means, because of Jesus’ resurrection, you won’t miss out on anything! You see, since Jesus rose from the dead, so will you! One day God will give you a new, glorified body that you will enjoy for all eternity in the new heavens and the new earth! All the joys and pleasures of this world don’t even come close to comparing with what you’re going to have and experience in heaven. All of our loved ones who believe in Jesus we never have to be afraid that we won’t see them again, because in heaven we’ll never say good-bye again. Relax, have peace, Jesus’ resurrection gives you peace for the future.

You see, Jesus’ resurrection gives you ultimate peace – peace for your past, peace for your present, peace for the future, – enjoy it, rest in it, and share it! Amen.

The Joy of Easter!

↓ Download Service Folder

Easter Day 2018
Selected Texts

Easter Drives out Fear! – Matthew 28:5-10

What is it that makes you afraid? We live in an uncertain life. Any day something could happen to any of us that would completely change everything, something could happen that could completely disrupt our lives, what is it that makes you afraid?

Here we are told about some women and they were afraid. Think about what they afraid of. Were they afraid that everything that they thought about Jesus was totally wrong? Were they afraid that they made a mistake thinking he was the Savior, because now he’s dead? They were afraid Jesus didn’t get a proper burial. They were afraid that the stone was too big to roll away. And then they’re afraid because there are angels at the tomb. All kinds of fears.

And then the angel speaks to them and now they have something else to fear, “Jesus is risen…just like he said.” Oh yeah! Jesus had told them that he was going to rise from the dead…but they hadn’t listened, they were there to bury a dead Savior! They hadn’t trusted him! So now they have something else to fear- would Jesus still love them? Would Jesus still want them to be his followers?

And that’s what makes the words of both the angel and Jesus so beautiful! “Do not be afraid.” In fact, you could translate this, “Stop being afraid and never be afraid again.” Why? Because Jesus is alive. Because Jesus rose from the dead!

See how Jesus’ resurrection reverses all fears: Is it loneliness? Jesus’ resurrection assures you of Jesus’ presence now and Jesus’ presence forever in paradise. Is it pain or sickness or some other health problem? Jesus’ resurrection assures you that He will raise your body to a new, glorified body which you’ll enjoy… eternally! Is it past sins, hurts, failures? Jesus’ resurrection is God’s way of telling you that Jesus’ payment for sins – all sins and Peter’s and yours- was complete, Jesus’ death paid for your sins in full, for Jesus was raised to life to prove you’re forgiven. Is it an uncertain future? Jesus’ resurrection proves that Jesus is God and has the power to do anything and so He has and will work out all things, as His promise, for your good.  What about that thing that everyone will at some point face, death? Jesus’ resurrection proves that Jesus has conquered death and turned death for you into the door way to eternal life!

You see, Jesus’ resurrection means you never have to be afraid again! Amen.

Easter Guarantees that God’s Word is True – John 2:19-22

We live in a very skeptical society, don’t we? News that’s too good to be true, probably is too good to be true. I don’t know about you but sometimes I like to check my spam email folder just to make sure nothing important slipped in there and you know what’s in there? “You’ve won 5 million dollars! Your long lost relative left you 10,000 dollars. Bill Gates is giving his money away sign up for your share here.” Just ridiculous. Many advertisements work the same way, “You’ve won whatever, come in to claim your prize.” We’ve grown quite skeptical of good news, haven’t we?

But has that transferred over to what God tells us? Are we doubtful and skeptical of what God tells us in the Bible? Are we leery about his promises to us? Not quite sure if He will really keep His Word to us?

The disciples weren’t always sure. Think about it. What if I told you that this Friday before we move, the Bemidji police are going to arrest me, they won’t find any reason to convict me, but I’ll be sentenced to death anyway, they’re going to beat me up, and then crucify me, then on the third day, I’m going to rise from the dead. What would you honestly think if I told you that? You’d think I was crazy, in fact, you might want me to have a psychological exam.

But what if it happened…just like I said! What if everything I told you came true just like I promised! Then what? That would change everything, right? Would you be more inclined to believe everything else I told you as well? I think so!

That’s what Jesus did! The very fact that Jesus rose from the dead is proof positive that Jesus keeps every promise. If Jesus rises from the dead, if Jesus keeps that promise, and he did, then is there any other promise that will be too hard for him to keep?

Jesus’ resurrection proves that your sins are forgiven- it’s God’s way of saying that Good Friday worked, Jesus paid for your sins in full. He kept that promise and what about all the other promises? Jesus promises that He is with you always, He’s promised that in Baptism all your sins are washed away, He’s promised that he’s preparing a room for you in heaven, he’s promised that he will work all things out for your good, He’s promised that when a believer, like you, dies that you’ll be in glory with him, He’s promised that on the Last day he will raise your body from the dead and you’ll be given a new and glorious body fit to live forever in heaven. Can you count on those promises? Yes! Because Jesus HAS kept all His promise and has the power to continue to keep all of his promises – His resurrection proves it! Amen.

Easter is the Ultimate proof of victory – 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Imagine the disciples on that Saturday before Easter. Can you imagine? Think about what might have been going through their minds- “Jesus is dead, he seemed so powerless, couldn’t he have stopped it if he wanted? We thought he was going to be the Savior. We thought he was going to be president and we’d be in his cabinet, but now he’s dead. Did we just waste these past 3 years of our lives? And worst of all…our Savior is dead.”

Do you think they felt like losers? I’m thinking so. Have you ever been there? So many things can go wrong in life – you can get sick, you can lose your job, you can lose your money, you can lose family and friends, you can lose your reputation – so many things in life can go wrong and it can leave you feeling like a big loser. Worries, doubts, wonderings, failures and Satan is right there to point his finger and say, “Loser.”

But did you see what verse 57 says? “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ.” God has given you the victory- and if it’s GOD who has given you the victory, then you’re a winner!

You see, there the disciples were lost and confused on Easter Saturday, but need they been? Not at all! Easter Sunday clarifies things. Jesus isn’t dead, He’s alive! That means He kept every promise, He didn’t lose, He won! He is the Savior!

And that’s true for you and me as well! You see, the Greek word used here for “He gives us the victory” is a present tense, it means He keeps on giving us the victory. It’s an ongoing thing! Think about it, will there ever, ever, ever be a day when Jesus is less risen from the dead? “Well, no, pastor.” Well, then, will there ever be a day when your sins are less forgiven by God, when you’re less loved by God, when you’re less guaranteed eternal life in heaven? Not at all!

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, whether you have a lot of money or no money- you have treasure in heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy worth infinitely more than all the wealth in the whole world! Because of Jesus’ resurrection whether you’re fighting sickness or are disabled or some other health issue, in heaven you’ll have a new and glorified body that will never get old or be subject to suffering. Because of Jesus’ resurrection loved ones who’ve died in the Lord are not gone, we will see them again! Jesus’ resurrection turns every loss in life to eternal gain!

And how does God assure you of the victory? Through His Word and through His sacraments. Every time you hear the Word the Holy Spirit is at work assuring you that you have the victory. So, And so my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm!  Let nothing move you!  Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, for your labor in the Lord is not in vain!


Jesus, Our Eternal High Priest

↓ Download Service Folder

Easter Sunrise
Hebrews 7:23-27

Editor’s Note: Due to a technical issue, the audio recording for this sermon is not available.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Grace and peace to you from Him who is, who was, and who is to come, our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, In his name, dear friends in Christ, I counted a little over 50 baptisms that I’ve done since I came to St. Mark’s in 2011. Now some of them were of non-members and some of them were adults, but most of them were children of active members of St. Mark’s. For them, I’ve been their only pastor. But for many of you, you’ve experienced what is about to happen and that’s a transition of pastors, I’m leaving and soon you will have another shepherd here to care for your souls. A transition. The Israelites would have experienced such transitions as well. Their priests were priests for life…but they died. Historians estimate about 83 different High Priests in the 1400 years between Moses and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Priests came and priests went. And you’re experiencing that as well- pastors come and pastors go, but that’s what makes what we’re going to focus on this morning so comforting: In Jesus you have the eternal High Priest.

Throughout the OT there were good priests and their were bad priests, but all of the priests were the same in this: they were sinful. And since they were sinful they had to first offer a sacrifice for their own sin before they could offer a sacrifice for others’ sins. But Jesus was different. He had no sin. That’s the whole point. In fact, that’s what Pilate said when he said that he found no basis for a charge against him, that’s what the religious leaders said when they had to resort to false witnesses to bring a charge against him, that’s what Judas said when he said that he had betrayed innocent blood. Jesus is perfect – he truly meets our needs – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners.” So Jesus’ sacrifice was different. All those OT sacrifices were simply pointers, they couldn’t actually take away sin, but Jesus’s sacrifice could and did. He sacrificed himself on the cross as the payment for all sin of all time.

How do we know? Because He lives! Because He lives forever! Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is God’s proof that our sins are forgiven, that death has been defeated, that death can no longer sting us, Jesus has ripped the stinger out of death, one of my favorite illustrations of that is of a dad and a boy riding in a car together, the window is down and a bee flies into the car, the child panics because he’s deathly allergic to a bee sting and there’s no epi pen, the bee’s flying around when the dad grabs the bee in his hand and then let’s the bee go, the boy says, “Dad! What are you doing!” And then the dad shows the boy his hand, the bee’s stinger is in the dad, and he tells his boy, “The bee can’t hurt you any more, I took the stinger.” That’s what our God did on the cross, he took the sting of death, that is our sin, and how do we know it worked? Jesus rose from the dead! Now death can’t hurt us and our grave can no longer hold us! He’s alive!

And not only did our High Priest sacrifice Himself once for all to save us completely, but as our living Lord he goes with us interceding for us. You see, one of my jobs as your pastor is to pray for you- pray for you when you’re sick or hurt or in trouble, pray for you when you’re lonely, depressed or sad, pray for you when Satan tempts or when you’re wandering away. That was also part of the job of the high priest -to intercede for the people. But neither the high priest, nor I can do it perfectly, because we’re sinners. But notice what we’re told about Jesus: “He always lives to intercede.”

One of the first things Jesus said through the angels on that first Easter was, “Go and tell his disciples and Peter.” Why “and Peter”? Peter who denied him, Peter who had abandoned him, Peter who fled, Peter who had wept bitterly. What did Jesus want him to know? That Jesus is alive! That his sins are forgiven so that Peter, too, might have the joy and peace of Easter. That’s our Savior. That’s why we sing, “He lives to bless me with his love; he lives to plead for me above. He lives, my hungry soul to feed; he lives to help in time of need.”

Priests came and went. Pastors come and go. Friends depart. Family passes away. But Jesus lives! Because Jesus lives, because Jesus got out of the grave, because His grave is empty, because death could not hold its slimy grip on Jesus, because lives and will never die again: your sins are forgiven, your guilt is gone, death is defeated, your grave is destroyed, and no matter what happens in life, no matter what you face, your Savior Jesus lives to intercede for you, to help you in every need, and take you to your eternal home in heaven. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

7 Words from the Cross

↓ Download Service Folder

Good Friday 2018
Selected Texts

Luke 23:34 This is a word of forgiveness.

I want you to think of someone who has wronged you. What they did was not right, what they did was hurtful, what they did was inexcusable. They shouldn’t have done what they did, but they did and now you’re hurt. So what do you do? Make them pay? Make them grovel? Make them feel at least some of the pain they made you feel? Hold it over their head?

Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He’s being ruthlessly nailed to the cross. And to the people who are doing it, to the people who knew that they were being terribly cruel, who knew that they were committing a terrible injustice, who knew that what they were doing was wrong, what does Jesus ask? Jesus asks that God forgive them. That their sins would be washed away and that they would one day enjoy through faith eternal life in heaven. That’s God’s forgiveness! And that’s His forgiveness for you.

You see, no matter what horrible things someone has done to us, it’s not even a blip or a speck compared with what you and I have done to our God. We’re the reason he’s here, we’re the reason he’s suffering. And what has he done? Forgiven you. Forgiven me. Wants nothing less than heaven for you and me. How can we not forgive from the heart? How can we not let go of that which will eat us up and kill us from the inside if we don’t? How can we not want heaven for others as Jesus does for us? Because we’ve been forgiven, we can forgive others fully and freely.

Luke 23:43 This is a word of grace.

I’ve had my fair share of driving through blizzards, snow storms and icy roads. It’s not the most enjoyable, in fact, the older I get, the more responsibility I have, the more cautious I am when driving. Have you ever had a terrible trip somewhere but in the end said, “Well, all that matters is that I got there safely, I arrived, I reached the goal.”

Here’s a thief, his trip through life was awful. He did terrible things. He lost his way. In fact, he became the scum of the earth, the worst of the worst, no one wanted him, all people wanted was to rid the earth of him, so now he’s in excruciating pain and at the lowest point in his life and what does he do? He looks in hope and faith to Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He trusts in Jesus as His King and Savior. And what does Jesus tell him? “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

We might want an easy, pain-free life. But God knows that it’s so often in pain and difficulty and challenge when we look to him. Life is only temporary. The things of this life will all pass away. So whether you have a pain-free or pain-filled life, in the end what really matters is where you end up in the end. So we pray, “Jesus remember me.” And because Jesus died on the cross to pay for every sin, he looks at you and says, “I tell you the truth, you will be with me in paradise.” Amen.

John 19:26-27 This is a word of personal care.

So try to put yourselves in Jesus’ position at this moment. Yes, it’s impossible, but just think. The terrible physical pain he is in, the emotional pain of the worst kind of rejection, the spiritual pain of suffering the sins of the world. And in the midst of all that, what does Jesus take time to do? Make sure that his mom’s physical needs are taken care of.

That tells us something about Jesus. He cares. He cares for all of you. No, he doesn’t promise you a healthy, wealthy, and wise life, but he does promise to care for you. He will do what we need him to do. If he was willing to die for you and me, do you think he’ll be willing to get us through tomorrow? Do you think he will take care of that thing you fret about? Or that thing that keeps you up at night? Jesus not only died for you, but He cares for you. Amen.

Mark 15:34 This is a word of horror.

From noon to three the sky went black. Can you imagine? It went dark. Why? What happened on the earth was really a picture of what was happening deep within Jesus. The price of our sins is hell and when Jesus screams out “My God, my God why have your forsaken me?” He’s suffering hell.

Hell is described often in the Bible as the outer darkness, separation from the blessings of God. It’s eternal suffering. Now we might look at this and think, “Ok, well, Jesus just had to get through 3 hours of hell.” There’s no such thing as 3 hours of hell. You see, hell is eternal. And we can’t think in terms of eternity. The reason Jesus yelled out a terrorized scream was because he was suffering hell, he was literally suffering the ETERNAL suffering of hell, the combined total accumulation of hells that every person deserves.

He was in hell for you and for me. His punishment brought us peace. Because he was there, you never will be, you will never experience it, thank God for this word of horror. Amen.

John 19:28 – This is a word of fulfillment

Jesus was thirsty. The prophet David in Psalm 22 foretold that the Messiah’s strength would be dried up like a piece of pottery, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. And so, in order to fulfill Scripture Jesus said, “My tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth” “I’m thirsty”

Why would we be told this? I mean, with everything that’s going on, with everything that Jesus is suffering, why say he’s thirsty? What’s the big deal? It fulfilled Scripture. Over 1,000 years before it happened God had it prophesied that Jesus would be thirsty. Think about that- the most terrible and most tragic and most injust thing to ever happen in the world was happening and yet…there was a plan, God had already designed every thing. Do you think your life is out of control? It’s not out of God’s control. If God was in control then, he is certainly in control today.

John 19:30 – This is a word of full payment.

This word in the Greek is one little word “tetelesthai.”  It’s a word that could literally be translated “Paid in Full.”  What was paid in full?  Your sins, my sins, the sins of the world, paid in full.

Satan loves to accuse.  He loves to point the finger and say, “Look at all the horrible things you’ve done.  Look at all the horrible words you’ve spoken.  Look at your horrible mind full of anger, greed, lust, selfishness…do you really think you’ll end up in heaven?”

We get to respond with “it is finished” “paid in full.”  It may be little in length, but its huge in impact.  Nothing less than the FULL payment for ALL of the sin of ALL of the world.  And if the sins of ALL the world have been paid for, then your sins have been paid for.  In full.  It’s true now; it’s true forever!

Luke 23:46 – This is a word of peace.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. That moment you will have to face if Jesus doesn’t return sooner: death. Frightening, if we were unsure about what came next. But for us its just a sleep. We know what Jesus did to death. So that we might have peace at our last moment Jesus spoke these words at his last moment. He didn’t need to speak. He could have whispered. No. He spoke to be heard. We’re told Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Why a loud voice? Why shout? Because He wanted us to know what He’s done to death. At your last hour, when the devil tries to point his bony little finger, tries to convince you that Jesus didn’t do enough for you, tries to convince you that Jesus didn’t pay all your sins, tries to insert a little doubt, remember Jesus’ words- spoken with a loud voice.

He suffered hell, he completed the full payment for all sins, he knew that paradise awaited him. And so that you might assured at your dying breath that heaven is your home, he called out in a loud voice, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”


Mediator of a New Covenant

↓ Download Service Folder

Maundy Thursday 2018
Hebrews 8:6-13

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, what is a “covenant”? That term is used all over Scripture, but it’s not something that we use a whole lot in our day to day lives, right? Perhaps we could think of a covenant as being something like a two sided contract that determines a relationship between two parties. We do have contracts in our society. If you contract someone to build a house for you, what you are saying is that you will pay a certain amount of money and the contractor will purchase the materials and hire the workers to build your home. So, in the end you get a home and they get money. It’s a two sided covenant. What about a one-sided covenant? Perhaps the closest thing in our world to a one-sided covenant is an infant child and his or her parents. The mom goes through a lot of pain to give the child birth, feed the child, nourish the child, protect the child, take care of the child and often at a lot of work and expense. What does the child offer the parent? The child isn’t going to offer emotional support, financial support, physical support. In a way it’s a one-sided covenant because even in our society it’s still viewed as a deplorable crime for a parent to neglect or abandon an infant child.

Now, in Scripture there’s all kinds of “covenants.” There are covenants between two parties of people, there are two sided covenants between people and God – where both have a responsibility, and there’s unilateral or one-sided covenant where God promises something despite the action or non-action of people. It’s such a new covenant that God promised in Jeremiah- which our text this evening quotes. But first we have to understand the old covenant.

One of the most important covenants was the covenant God made at Mt. Sinai with the Israelites- this covenant described how God was going to interact with his old covenant people. After God had wondrously led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt they assembled at Mt. Sinai and God made a covenant with them. It was a 2 sided, conditional covenant – He would be their God, their Protector, He would guarantee a great future for them- the condition was that the Israelites would remain faithful and totally consecrated to Him and live by all His commands. And to ratify this Sinai covenant Moses took blood from young bulls and half of it he sprinkled on the altar offering it to God, the other half he sprinkled onto the bodies of the people (Exodus 24) saying, “This is the blood of the covenant”. That ratified this old covenant.

But this conditional Old Covenant was always meant to be temporary. They had to repeat all these offerings and sacrifices over and over again. It was also meant to keep the OT people separate and distinct from all other nations until the promised Savior would come. It also, in a way, showed that it was impossible to earn God’s love by obedience. There was just almost this impossible list of rules, regulations, laws, and commands. Imagine living as an Old Testament believer- almost every aspect of your life was regulated from the food you ate to contact with dead bodies to how to clean mold or mildew!

Now, we have to keep in mind that the way of salvation, however, is exactly the same in both the old covenant and the new. In the OT a person was saved exactly like a person is saved today: through faith in Christ. It’s just that the OT person looked ahead to the Savior, while the NT person looks back to the Savior who has come. But God understood the human weaknesses and tendencies to sin, so in the old covenant, in the old way that God interacted with people, He provided a ton of pictures for people of what forgiveness looks like. They had all these sacrifices and offerings which pointed ahead to a future sacrifice and offering and assured repentant sinners that they were forgiven by God.

So, the Old Covenant was: obey me, keep my commands and laws, and God will protect you and you’ll live long in the land. But the people broke God’s covenant with them. Instead of sacrificing to God, they sacrificed to idols and false gods, they abandoned God, didn’t keep His commands. That’s what was happening at the time of Jeremiah –and because they broke the Old conditional covenant- the people were on the verge of experiencing the most severe covenant curse – their land was about to be destroyed and they were about to be hauled into captivity in Babylon.

So, in the midst of all of this, God promises a “new covenant.” A different covenant, a new way He is going to interact with His people. It is not conditional, it is unconditional and unilateral. It is an unconditional promise of God to the unfaithful Israelites.

We live in the new covenant. But do we sometimes think that church, religion, the Bible is all about following rules and laws? There are two pitfalls we can fall into. On the one side we could view God’s moral laws as burdensome- “Ugh, all this stuff about sexual immorality, coveting, honoring God by hearing His Word – it’s burdensome! Why can’t I just do what I want?” Or, on the other hand we could view keeping God’s moral laws as a way to deserve God’s blessings, like “As long as I do this, as long as I go to church, as long as I’m good, God will have to reward me and give me the things in life I really want.” But both are wrong.

You see, the new covenant is totally different. He’s going to put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts. What does that mean? This is a different covenant. It’s not about outward obedience but heart transformation. There are no rules, or laws, or commands that have to be kept. It’s about the heart, trust, believing. The center of this new covenant is “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”  When did that happen? It happened when Christ offered the one sacrifice that really matters. He offered the once-for-all sacrifice that pleases God and removes sin and guilt. His blood shed on the cross removes sin forever. The new covenant announces salvation that is complete, finished, and above all, free through Christ. The new covenant is forgiveness of sins.

In baptism God seals this new covenant to us because in it He gives us the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins and the faith to believe it. In baptism we hear this promise of God, “I forgive your wickedness and remember your sins no more.” But that’s not it! In further grace God shares the meal of the new covenant with us in the Lord’s Supper. He ratifies, seals this covenant of forgiveness with us. In the old covenant blood of bulls was sprinkled as an offering on the altar of God, in the new covenant Jesus sheds his blood on the altar of the cross, in the old covenant blood was sprinkled on the bodies of the people, in the new covenant God gives us his own body and blood personally in the Lord’s Supper. He ratifies this new covenant, He removes any doubts about His love for us, He comes to each of us personally to touch it, taste it, hear it, see it that we belong to him, we are one with him, all that is his is ours. When we receive the Lord’s Supper it’s a special assurance that we are the recipients of this new covenant- In the Lord’s Supper you receive the blessings of the New Covenant- the forgiveness of your sins. His lifeblood is our life.

In the new covenant God deals with us differently than in the old. Now God doesn’t have to beat you and tell you- now here are all the rules and laws you have to follow. Rather, God tells you what He’s done to save you and rescue you, so eternal life is yours. You know what that does? It sinks deep inside of you, in the Supper He gives you His own body and blood in a supernatural way with the bread the wine, and you literally cannot help but live a new life, a life of love! The new “law” is to live a life of love. And you want to! It’s not from a heart that’s enslaved but a heart that’s been set free, a heart that’s been forgiven.

So as you receive the Lord’s Supper this evening, receive forgiveness, receive the blood of the covenant, Jesus’ body and blood together with bread and wine that unites you with Jesus and transforms your heart to a live a life of love and service to God and others.

Celebrate Your King!

↓ Download Service Folder

Palm Sunday – Confirmation
Mark 11:1-10

Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest! Amen. In the name of Jesus who rode into Jerusalem to save us, dear friends in Christ, we all have certain days in our lives that stick out, that we remember, and perhaps remember our entire lives. Maybe it was being on the winning team of some sport, maybe it was when we got married, or maybe it was when our child was born, or when we graduated from school, or a special family reunion, or maybe you remember your own confirmation day – like this day is for Paige and Delenna. We all have certain days etched into our minds that we remember perhaps our whole lives. And usually these days revolve around something special, something that we’re celebrating.

In our text here for Palm Sunday we see a celebration. On Sunday of Holy Week Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt. This is Passover time at Jerusalem so hundreds of thousands of people came to the city of Jerusalem. And what does Jesus do? He has two of his disciples go and get a colt and not just any colt but one that had never been ridden before. They bring this colt to Jesus, put their cloaks on it and Jesus gets on and starts riding toward Jerusalem. And how do people respond? They lay their cloaks down before, take palm branches and place them on the road, it’s an incredible act of honor and submission. And their singing his praises, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

What are they saying? Their praising Jesus as their Lord and Messiah. They’re worshipping Him as the King. They’re celebrating the one who has come to save them. And what does Jesus do? He accepts it. He accepts their praise. It’s proper that they are worshipping Him as the Messiah. It’s proper for them to shout “Hosanna!” Which means save us.

But what kind of a Savior were they looking for? Now, of course, we don’t know what was going through their minds, we don’t know what they were thinking as they shouted “Hosanna!” But what do we know? We do know that many people were looking for an earthly king, an earthly Savior, we do know that when Jesus had fed over 5,000 people, they wanted to make him king by force, we do know that even the disciples thought they could sit at Jesus’ right and left in his kingdom. We do know that by the end of the week many are no longer shouting Hosanna, but crucify. So what kind of a Savior did they want?

What kind of a Savior do you want? Can we be just as earthly focused? Just as focused on having a wonderful easy, care-free life here on earth? Is it easy for us to celebrate and sing God’s praises when things go well, but have no reason to praise him with things aren’t going well for us?

Today, of course, is confirmation Sunday. All adult members of our congregation have made the same vow or promise to God- that we will remain faithful to God and to His Word, ready to forsake everything -even our very lives rather than turn our back on God. And we have these choices every day- give in to sin and temptation or honor God. And whenever we fail, whenever we give in to sin, we’re exchanging the heavenly and eternal for the temporary and the earthly- we’re looking for what we perceive as an easy earthly life at the expense of our eternal lives. How we’ve failed! How much we need Jesus to ride into Jerusalem.

And that’s exactly what Jesus did. They shouted Hosanna! And that’s what Jesus came to do. Jesus rode into Jerusalem, humbly, gently, graciously and lovingly, to do what? He knew where He was headed. The was headed to the cross, he was headed to suffer the world’s sum of hells, all in order to save you and me for eternal life!

So, yes, we celebrate. We may celebrate all kinds of things in life, but this is something we celebrate all the time. For at the end of our lives everything will become so much clearer. At the end of your life, when you’re about to leave this world, you’ll be able to see all of life for what it really is and what really matters. At the end of your life, what are you going to be celebrating? Will you really be celebrating a sports team win? Will you really celebrate a promotion at work? Will you really be celebrating any earthly life achievement? No. Instead you’ll see those things for what they really are- temporary earthly things.

But what will you celebrate? You’ll celebrate the fact that you have a King, a Savior who rode into Jerusalem humbly, gently, graciously in order to save you eternally.

Enter the Most Holy Place with Confidence!

↓ Download Service Folder

6th Midweek Lenten Service
Hebrews 10:19-25

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, what makes you nervous? When you’re nervous about something you get a pit in your stomach, your hands get clammy, maybe you begin to shake, you can almost hear your heart beating in your chest, what is it that makes you nervous? Maybe it’s speaking in front of group of people, maybe it’s having a difficult conversation with someone you care about, maybe it’s doing something you don’t want to do, maybe it’s hearing a strange noise in the house at night. Being nervous can stem from a fear of being embarrassed or losing face or it can come from a fear of physical harm. Many of you know a couple of weeks ago I spun out while driving on the icy freeway and ended up in the ditch. If that’s happened to you, you know the feeling, I was very nervous driving on the icy roads for quite some time after that. What is it that makes you nervous?

I’m guessing that the high priest was pretty nervous when it came to serving in the tabernacle or the temple on the great day of Atonement. Why so? Because this is what God told Moses when He established the Great Day of Atonement, he said, “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die.” You see, if he or anyone dared to come into the Most Holy Place on their own whim, God said they would die. God was teaching something through that. It was the same teaching God gave to Adam and Eve after they sinned. Remember what happened? They had to leave the Garden of Eden, the place where they met with God, and God placed cherubim, angels, with flaming swords at the entrance so they could not go back there. Interestingly, God had cherubim sculpted on top of the ark of the covenant which symbolized God’s presence with the Israelites and there were cherubim also woven into the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. In all of these ways God was teaching the people: sin separates you from God. Sin makes us unworthy to enter God’s presence.

So, can you imagine the High Priest entering the Most Holy Place on the Great Day of Atonement? What if he messed up? What if he went in without a pure heart? What if he didn’t do everything the right way? Add to all of that- apparently they would tie a rope around the priest as they ministered in the Most Holy Place and the end of the rope extended outside the tabernacle. You might think, that’s odd. But there was a purpose. If the High Priest died while in there, they had a way to get his dead body out! Can you imagine? Do you think his heart was racing, his hands were clammy and he had a pit in his stomach?

Maybe we can imagine. I mean, the only one who knows more about you than you is God. He’s been there and he’s seen ever dark shameful sin you and I have ever committed. We may be able to hide them from everyone else in the world, but not God, He sees, He knows. We may be able to conceal shameful thoughts in our heads about other people, but we can’t conceal them from God. He knows. We may be able to even almost completely hide from our memory things that we’ve done, but God sees everything.

And to go into His presence? One day we’ll have to stand before this holy and perfect and righteous and just God? That’s terrifying. He could justly and rightly strike us down and be done with us forever. Everything else in all of life that might cause you to be nervous ought to pale in comparison to having to stand as a sinner before the holy and just God of all.

That’s what that curtain symbolized. But what happened to that curtain? What are we told here? “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us form a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Do you see it? When Jesus cried out on the cross, when Jesus said, “It is finished,” that temple curtain, some 60 feet high and 15 feet wide and as thick as a man’s hand, was torn in two. God reached down and tore the dividing wall in two. Why so? Because as Jesus died on the cross, those sins that had separated us from God, those sins that fill us with shame and guilt, those sins that wreak havoc in our lives, those sins- all of them – were placed on Jesus, He suffered the separation from God, He suffered the abandonment from God that our sins deserved.

All for what purpose? So that we can draw near, so that we can have confidence going into God’s presence, so that we can have full assurance, so that we can be cleansed and forgiven. In the OT only priests were allowed in the Most Holy Place, but now, Jesus has made you a priest, you get to go in. And boldly.

Think of the thief on the cross, he deserved nothing but judgment and wrath, but by the work of the Holy Spirit he saw in Jesus His Savior and with the boldness of faith he said, “Remember, me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

I don’t know what makes you nervous today or what is troubling your heart. But know this, the temple curtain has been torn in two, there is no separation, Jesus has sprinkled with his blood and cleansed you. God is your dear Father. You can go to him- instead of worrying, you can go into the Most Holy Place and pray to the Father who hears you and answers you.

And one day The Day will arrive when Jesus returns and on that day you have no reason to be nervous because you know that because of Jesus He will bring you safely into the Most Holy Place, in his presence forever in heaven. Amen.

Father, Glorify Your Name!

↓ Download Service Folder

5th Sunday in Lent
John 12:20-33

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, are you someone who is focused and determined or are you someone who is easily distracted? In order to win and achieve athletes need a high degree of focus and determination, right? The musical artist or instrumentalist needs focus and determination in order to perform at a high level, right? The doctor who performs open heart surgery needs a high degree of focus and determination, at least we would hope so, right? What about you? Do you have a high degree of focus and determination in life? It seems to happen every year when you live in northern Minnesota that as spring comes and the temperatures start to warm up a bit and it get easier and more pleasant to go outside, it becomes more and more difficult to focus on the tasks before you. It’s also about this time of year when it becomes extremely difficult for seniors in high school or college to continue their studies, they begin what’s been called a “senior slide” as they dream about college or entering the work force.

And, of course, that’s one thing when it comes to our day-to-day lives, but it’s another thing when it comes to our focus and determination to live as Christians in a sinful, broken, and wicked world. Do you have such focus and determination?

The time when our text took place happened during Holy Week. This is perhaps a day or two after Palm Sunday. It’s just a matter of days before the Passover celebration in Jerusalem and the city is bustling with hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, people who have come to celebrate the Passover. Some of the people who came were from a Greek nationality. They also had come to worship God. You see, there were people from all different nationalities who had been brought to faith in the true God of the Bible, they were believers, but as Gentiles, they were not allowed to go into any and every part of the temple, there were places they could go and no further. So they come and want to see Jesus. Perhaps Jesus was in a part of the temple they weren’t allowed to go into or perhaps they were a little apprehensive to talk to Jesus. Remember that Jesus’ popularity is 2nd to none at this time for his teaching and miracles, so perhaps these Greeks felt they needed an introduction to talk with Jesus.

Philip takes this request to Andrew, then the two of them go to Jesus. But Jesus takes the occasion to teach us about what he is about to do. It almost doesn’t follow, right? I mean, what happened with these Greek people? Did Jesus talk to them? We don’t know. But that does teach us something about the Bible. God gives us everything that we need to know, but not necessarily everything that we want to know. I’d like to know what happened, but God knew we didn’t need to know, rather, God wants us to focus on what Jesus said after this request.

Their request led Jesus to say that the time had come for him to be glorified. Glorified? When you think of glory, what comes to mind? A wonderful miracle? A triumphant procession? Thousands of people cheering and chanting, like at an NCAA basketball game? That’s glory, right? Not for Jesus. His glory is found not in thousands of people shouting his name, but crowds of people shouting, “Crucify, crucify.” Jesus’ glory is found in His death. Like a seed, He must be placed into the ground and die. But just like once a seed is placed into the ground it produces hundreds of more seeds, so it is with Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for sins once for all so that all who believe in Him, all who find Jesus more important than anything else, all who follow Him and serve Him, all those have eternal life. Jesus tells us that a full, abundant life is not found in chasing after the hopes and dreams and pleasures and treasures of this world, but the only way an abundant life is found is in knowing Him as your Savior and having eternal life in Him.

And as Jesus considers his impending excruciating death on the cross, He’s troubled. Of course, no one wants to die. Death is the consequence of sin. The wages of sin is death. But Jesus is different. Jesus never sinned. In himself Jesus has no reason to die, he could walk right into God’s glory without going through death. So, “What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” He’s come to glorify the Father, He’s come to do exactly what the Father wants him to do: to lay His life down and die, to save helpless, lost sinners with his death. He wants to do it. And God the Father responds, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.”

“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” Jesus came to crush the serpent’s head. The devil is the prince of the world who has been trying to usurp God’s power from the fall into sin. But as the devil works to instigate Judas to betray Jesus, the Jewish leaders to sentence him to death, the Romans to carry out crucifixion, thinking that he’s destroying Jesus, by that very act God was going to overthrow the devil and cleanse the world of sin. Now, every soul that’s brought to faith in Jesus is another loss for Satan and he’s losing more and more as the Gospel continues to spread.

And here is Jesus’ focus, here is Jesus’ glory: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” That’s his focus, that’s His glory, to die on the cross, to give his life up as payment for your sin. See His focus? See His determination?

How easy it is for us to lose our focus, to lose our determination, and I’m not just talking about when the weather gets nice and we think about being outside. We fill ourselves with worry or fear or anxiety over petty problems. We get frustrated when things to happen the way that we planned or the way that we wanted. We focus our attention on the betterment of our own lives, we see people not as people we can serve, but as people who can serve us and better our lives. This happens when we lose our focus, when we focus on ourselves, our lives, our glory. And what happens? We miss out. We miss the work of God in our lives, we have little for which we are thankful, we miss opportunities to show Christ-like love to others.

But notice where Jesus’ focus is. It wasn’t on Himself. It wasn’t what was best for him. Should he say, “Father, save me from this hour? Let me not have to do this for these pathetic, helpless sinners?” No. It was His glory. What is Jesus’ glory? To finally be rid of us once for all? To not have to deal with our petty little problems and annoying sinful habits and ridiculous arguments? To be done with us? Is that Jesus’ glory? No. Rather, Jesus finds His ultimate glory in selfless love laying down His life and dying on the cross. Why? Because it was there where he took upon Himself every sin- every sin you have ever committed from the least to the greatest, He took it upon Himself. For what purpose? So that we might not get what we deserve, but rather get God’s grace, salvation, eternal life in heaven.

And what does that message do? First, it gives us rest. We rest in the unconditional love of our God. We have peace with Him. And second, it transforms our lives. Our lives follow Jesus. We, too, lay down our lives, we die to our wants, our desires, for God’s wants and for the good of others.

I heard a really neat story this last week. There was a man who was a Christian who was taking undergraduate classes at a secular college and was in a sociology class and would often stand up for God’s Word and what God’s Word teaches. A woman in that class talked with him and said, “I’m not a Christian, but I commend you for standing up for what you believe.” They talked remained acquaintances she understood the gospel message but couldn’t believe it. What Father would give up His own Son for other people? And he explained that God wanted the Son to die and the Son wanted to do it so we would have God’s unconditional love. Well, one day she came up to that Christian man and said, “I think I’m starting to get it.” And she explained how that morning on her way into classes there was a torrential rain and her car hydroplaned and went into the ditch and got stuck in the mud. She ran to the nearest house and knocked on the door and a woman in her 60s came to the door, invited her in, called her husband who left work with his pickup truck and pulled her car out, that couple fed her breakfast, took care of her, and talked about their Christian faith. And this woman just couldn’t believe that they refused to accept anything, she couldn’t pay them anything. And she said, “I’m starting to understand.” You see what that couple did? They died. They died to their morning schedule. He died to his work. All in order to help this lady. And what happened? It was another wave to erode the hardened exterior of this lady against Jesus. She got to see Jesus through their actions.

And isn’t that just how God works? He doesn’t order or demand or command people into His kingdom. Rather, He draws us, He wants to win people’s hearts through the drawing power of His love and His grace so clearly seen at the cross. Our God knows no boundaries, no limits, no bounds in order to save us. Jesus saw His glory in laying down His live so that we might be His forever. And what could be better for us than to occupy our thoughts, our focus than seeing in other people, souls for whom our Savior found it glorious to go to the cross and save? And it’s there where our hearts are transformed and we lose our focus on self-interest and self-seeking ways and focus instead on self-sacrifice, living our lives and giving ourselves so that we, too, may glorify God’s name and more and more may see Jesus. Amen.