We are in the middle of basketball season, and since I have not posted anything about the family for a while, below are some photos from the basketball games. Nathanael and Andrew are both on varsity for Michigan Lutheran Seminary. Caleb and Philip are both on St. Peter's basketball team. And Faith is playing for Martin Luther College, but I have no photos of her. Getting to see her games is all but impossible, but thankfully, they are usually live-streamed whether home or away.
Why do you need a pastor?Chances are, you have had some kind of pastor for most or all of your life.But why do you need him?And why did St. Paul send his associate, Titus, to the island of Crete?Paul told Titus that he had left him there to put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5), that is, pastors, for every city.So, every city would have a church, and every church would have its own bishop, or overseer.But why?
The answer goes all the way back to the Old Testament.Whenever the Lord wanted to reveal his word or his presence to the people, he always hid himself behind physical things.To Moses, he appeared in a burning bush.To Israel, he appeared in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.From Mt.Sinai, his voice was heard from a thick, black cloud.To Joshua, he appeared as an angel, the commander of the army of the Lord.From the time of King Solomon, he promised that he would dwell with the people at the Temple.Thus, the Lord hid himself behind these physical things.
Even when Jesus came, God veiled his glory behind frail flesh.Far from being glorious, Jesus was despised for his humble appearance.Far from establishing a dominant kingdom on a brilliant throne, Jesus established his kingdom by a brutal death on a shameful cross.God always hides himself under lowly, common things.
St. Paul noted that he was sent by Jesus Christ as an apostle for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth. (Titus 1:1)This is why Jesus supplies stewards for his Church—for the building up of the faith among God’s chosen people.As stewards, pastors stand in the stead of Christ.They call people to repent of their sins.They warn people of errors—whether in doctrine or in life.Most importantly, they dispense God’s gifts which are forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
Jesus supplies pastors for his church.Jesus could have continued to dwell in the temple and preach sermons from there.But Jesus was pleased not to have his glory revealed in only one place.Titus did not command the people of Crete to hop a boat for Jerusalem or Ephesus or Rome if they wanted to receive God’s salvation.The Lord Jesus is pleased to have stewards dispense his gifts wherever God’s chosen people are.God’s chosen people gather to hear the word of the Lord and to receive his sacraments.That is why Jesus supplies stewards for his Church—so that the Church can receive God’s salvation.
But people despise the way our Lord chooses to come to his people.On some level, I can appreciate why.No pastor should make himself the center of any congregation.Pastors come and go.No pastor is perfect.No pastor is permanent.You don’t attend a church to see a pastor.The Church gathers to hear Christ.But many don’t want to hear Christ.Many look inward for their comfort.Many trust their feelings.Many are swayed by the immoral attitudes which are so prevalent in our godless society, thinking that what is popular must be what is right.Many trust that they are nice, and they know that they don’t need Jesus to be nice.
But where Satan is most likely to lead you astray is to get you to think that you no longer need to come and hear the word of the Lord.After all, you know the stories.If you did not set foot in church for the next dozen years, you would still know who Jesus is and that he died on the cross for you.And if you are caught in a sin, just thinking of Jesus is supposed to bring relief.But Jesus has never told you to turn to quiet introspection for the forgiveness of your sins.Forgiveness does not come from your own thoughts any more than salvation comes to the ungodly because they think they should be in heaven.
Jesus warned the Pharisees, who knew their Bible better than you do, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47)Do not neglect the word of the Lord, no matter how well you think you know it.For, God’s word is not about imparting information.God’s word is the living voice of God who proclaims salvation and dispenses his gifts.That word cannot be heard if you are not here.Those gives cannot be received if you are not here.St. Titus stayed in Crete to ordain pastors who would dispense those gifts to God’s people on Christ’s behalf.Jesus supplies his church with ministers who are ordained to administer Christ’s gifts.That is how Christ cares for his Church.
When the Lord came to save sinners, he did not send an idea.The Lord came to personally, in flesh and blood, be seen and heard.God’s interest in you is not theory; it is personal.God personally came to take your sin from you, to suffer your punishment for you.He came personally to deliver you from death and hell.God in the flesh went into the grave, and God in the flesh arose from the grave to live forever.Therefore, you, who are flesh, are delivered from these things.
To assure you that your salvation is not merely given to you in theory, the Lord has attached his promise to physical things.Just as Jesus came physically to bless and save you, so he still comes in those common, physical things to bless and save you.You were not merely told that you are in the kingdom of God.You were baptized to have your sins washed away.Your Savior attached a promised to the water by which he purifies you of all unrighteousness.You are not merely told to ponder the heavenly wedding banquet.Jesus summons you to partake in the feast from his altar, which is already the heavenly wedding banquet.Here, you receive the common things of bread and wine by which you physically consume the very body and blood which have secured your forgiveness and your salvation.When you are guilt-ridden because of your sins, your Lord does not leave you to sift through reasons why you should be forgiven.Confess your sins not to thin air, but to Christ.Jesus has supplied you a flesh and blood minister, not merely to listen, but to declare in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”So your forgiveness does not remain theory, but is personally given in reality.A real flesh and blood Savior has supplied a real flesh and blood minister to serve real flesh and blood sinners with God’s life-saving gifts.
Jesus supplies stewards for his Church.Jesus had called a minister like St. Titus to serve him in (giving) instruction in sound doctrine and also (rebuking) those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)St. Titus was also commissioned to appoint bishops for all the churches in Crete to keep God’s people from being led astray by false teachings, to encourage God’s people to pursue good works in their vocations, and to administer God’s gifts.Could God do all this without pastors?I suppose so—just as God could bring children into this world without mothers, just as God could satisfy hunger without food, and just as God could provide peace and order without a government.But he chooses to use physical, common things for his ordained purpose.And so the Good Shepherd chooses to bless his church with shepherds, or pastors, who continue to call to repent, to preach forgiveness, to administer the sacraments, and to encourage God’s elect.
Even if you wonder whether or not you really need a pastor, the Lord Jesus Christ thinks that you do.Jesus has supplied stewards for his Church, to make sure that God’s good things are given to you, on his behalf, and for your salvation.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.Amen.
At the very end of the Gospel of St. John, he wrote, “Now there are also many other things Jesus did.Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)The gospel writers spoke of any number of miraculous signs that Jesus had done throughout his ministry.Today, we focus on the first one.
When we consider the many, amazing miracles that Jesus had performed, we might wonder, why was the changing of water into wine the first one?Why did Jesus do his first miracle at a wedding?Why not cast out a demon first?Why not go to the temple and give sight to the blind or make a lame man walk?Why not raise the dead?Signs such as those would have been much more magnificent.They would have gotten more people talking.But that’s not what Jesus chose.He chose a wedding.He chose a small, out-of-the-way village in Galilee.He chose what was common.But it was there that Jesus first manifested his glory.
The bride and groom in Cana apparently knew Mary and Jesus and his disciples, for they were all invited to the feast.The wedding feast was a joyous occasion.The bride and groom had spent up to a year preparing for this day from the day they got betrothed.The groom went in a procession to receive his bride from her house and then brought her and her family back to his house.Family and friends gathered to celebrate for up to a week.The groom provided for the wedding feast so that everyone could celebrate the joining together of the groom and his bride.
But the feast was about to come to a sudden and embarrassing halt.The groom had not prepared enough for his guests.They had run out of wine for the feast.And if there was no wine, there was no feast.What was to be a grand celebration was about to become a big disappointment.Instead of going home joyful, the guests would have to be dismissed early and feeling empty or insulted.
Jesus’ mother recognized the problem.When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:3-4)Mary is to be commended for taking the concerns to Jesus.She did not tell him what to do, but simply reported the problem.She was confident that Jesus would act and that the feast would continue.Even when it seemed that Jesus rebuked her, Mary’s confidence in Jesus’ compassion did not waver.His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) Mary was certain that Jesus would do something.But she would let Jesus act when he was pleased to do so.
Here is a lesson for you in your prayers.Often, we use our prayers to dictate to God what needs to be done.We know our problems and we know that we want them fixed … NOW!We do not want to let the Lord act as our Savior, but as our servant.Be careful how you pray.Lay your concerns, not your commands, before the Lord.Then honor God by letting him act and deliver you when he will and how he will.And trust that he will do what is best.
At the wedding in Cana, Jesus did act.He had compassion on the groom and his bride.He would make sure that the joy and the wedding feast would continue.He called the servants to fill six stone water jars with water.And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”So they took it.…The master of the feast tasted the water now become wine…. (John 2:8-9)Jesus supplied the feast with gallons upon gallons of wine.He not only supplied in abundance; he supplied the best!This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. (John 2:11)
Jesus manifested not only his glory, but also his grace.He spared the groom and the bride the embarrassment of sending their guests home early.His gracious gift allowed the celebration to go on.And yet, the question remains: Why was Jesus’ changing of water into wine his first miracle?
The miracle of Jesus serves as a sign.By it, Jesus manifests his glory.He shows that he is true God.But there is more.His first miracle at a wedding is no coincidence.God the Son came into this world to restore all things.Jesus came as a bridegroom to receive his bride, the Church, and to take the bride to his home for an everlasting feast, a joyous wedding banquet.
But you know how quickly joy can get soured.Think of the blessings that God intends for a man and a woman in marriage.Two people are completely committed to each other.They are not merely two people who share a house, chores, and bills.God unites a man and a woman into one.That is what God blesses, as each seeks to serve and to exalt the other.They get to laugh and cry together, to strengthen and uphold each other.And yet, the man and the woman do not always find that joy.It is made bitter because you have selfish expectations your spouse has no chance to fulfill.It is soured by laziness which feels that serving one’s spouse is too much to ask.It is ruined by gazing at someone else’s mate, wondering how many other options are out there supposedly better than the one to whom you swore to be faithful.Sin sours the joy, both the sins committed against you and the sins you commit.Do not blame someone else.Repent!
Jesus came to a wedding to celebrate what God had established.And when the feast was about to end, Jesus manifested his glory and provided the wine so that the joy would not be soured. More than that, Jesus came to establish a bond with his Church.He has come to restore your joy, to redeem you from your unfaithfulness, and to cover all your shame.This is what the Lord says: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Jesus manifested his glory by laying down his life for you.He paid the dowry price for you in the blood he spilled at MountCalvary.There, he died for you to atone for all your sins.There, he made you his own.He manifested his glory when he rose from the dead, showing you that life does not end in a grave.Rather, he will raise you up to take your place at the wedding feast of the Lamb.In that feast, the celebration will be without end.The Lord’s mercy and compassion will never run out.You will never be sent away or left feeling empty or disappointed.For, he has come to restore all things.He has come to make everything right.
Until that day, the Lord comes to you again in this feast from his altar.This is the feast of heaven, though it is only for a moment.Here is your Savior’s body and blood.Here is the forgiveness of your sins.Here, the Lord takes away your shame and covers every blemish on his Bride.Here, Jesus manifests his glory as the Groom who always loves you, forgives you, and is pleased to gaze upon his Church, his beloved Bride.With Jesus, the joy will never grow sour.The celebration and the feast will never end.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.Amen.
John the Baptist had recognized that something was not right.Jesus had come to be baptized.And when Jesus came to John, John protested.
This is backwards!Baptism is for the remission of sins.I have sins that need to be remitted.But you, Jesus, you have no need for forgiveness.You have no sins that need to be pardoned.You have no marks on your record.You have no need for baptism.Baptism is for cleansing.Only he who is impure needs to be cleansed.And here I am – a filthy, corrupt man.I cannot cleanse myself no matter how hard I try, no matter how sincere I am about it.But you, Jesus, you are blameless, innocent, pure, and holy.You can’t improve upon that.So, what are you doing here?I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? (Matthew 3:14)
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15)It was fitting that Jesus would be baptized.In fact, it was necessary.By being baptized, Jesus would unite himself to you.He would take up your cause.He would make your sins his sins.He would take up your curse, mar himself with your filth, and carry your iniquity to the cross where he would suffer and die in your place.By being baptized, Jesus unites himself with sinners and makes himself the Savior of sinners.
This is also why you have been baptized, and why parents continue to bring their children to be baptized.Everyone comes into this world a sinner.There are many people today who do believe that children—and especially babies—are not sinners.But that is untrue.The Psalms remind us, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)As soon as a child is old enough to demonstrate that he is a sinner, he does.He throws tantrums when he does not get his way.He steals toys that are not his own.He talks back to his parents.He throws his food off his tray.And he does not have to be taught any of these things.Even a child is sinful, and therefore he does sinful things.
Of course, it gets no better when you are adults.You are more clever with your tantrums, but you still have them.You are more sly in getting what does not belong to you, but you still scheme to get it.You are still snarky to others.You still sin against others.You did not have to be taught how to do it.Perhaps you have learned how to get away with it better.And perhaps you have learned how to smooth talk your way out of paying a temporal price for your sins.But you have not overcome your sins.You still commit sins because you are still sinful.It is a wretched condition, and it rightly leads to death.It is the punishment sinners deserve.
Therefore, you were baptized.In your baptism, you were united to Jesus.Just as he took all your filth from you—no matter how filthy it has been, so also he has bestowed his righteousness upon you.St. Paul wrote, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)So when the Lord sees you, he sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ.He no longer sees the sinner, for that was put to death in your baptism.Rather, he sees a new creation, a saint.The very holiness that God demands of you, in baptism Jesus Christ has given to you.
When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him… (Matthew 3:16)This is precisely what baptism does.Jesus entered the Jordan to be baptized, and when he was baptized, the heavens were ripped open for him.So also, when you were baptized into Jesus’ name, the heavens were opened to you too.
Sin is the one thing that keeps you out of the Lord’s Paradise; for sin is not allowed to dwell in God’s presence.But we live in a world infested with it.It is seen not only in our own self-absorbed hearts, but also in a world which has been corrupted too.You hear about it with reports of H1N1 flu.You felt it in the Polar Vortex which brought life-threatening cold to the Midwest.You know it from family squabbles and office politics.You fear it because you are going to die one day.You try to prevent it with medications.You try to minimize its pain with insurance claims.But the whole world has fallen under the curse of sin.Even Disney movies show you a world that has problems in it.That is why this world will perish.We often call this world our home, but we also pray to be delivered from all of the pain in it.
When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened.And when you were baptized into Jesus’ name, the heavens were opened to you too.You have had your sins washed away by your baptism.And therefore, there is nothing that keeps you out of the presence of God any longer.In God’s presence, there is no sin.There are no consequences or effects of sin.There is no more mourning or sickness or pain or death.There are no bouts of pneumonia, no Polar Vortices, no scandals, and no sniffles.Jesus gives you the freedom from all of these problems.He who conquered the grave gives you a resurrection to a new, perfect, and everlasting life.Jesus is the way to the life you pray for and long for.
When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened.And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)The Father declared his love for his Son.He must be pleased with Jesus, for Jesus is holy.But now you have been baptized into Jesus Christ.You are clothed in Christ.Therefore, the Father must be well-pleased with you.You are marked as a child of God.You are an heir of God’s kingdom.
As you continue on through life, you may not always feel like a child of God.Satan may taunt you with your sins, even dredging up sins from years past that you would prefer to keep buried.And since you still commit sins day after day, these may haunt you too.You may wonder how much of a Christian you really are if you are still doing and saying and thinking wicked things.If doubts ever enter your mind, do not find ways to ignore or excuse your sins.That will never help.If you desire comfort and assurance, then flee back to your baptism.For, when you were baptized, the Lord marked you as his child.You were baptized for the forgiveness of sins.God does not lie to you about these things, and he does not renege on his promises, either.If you are baptized, then you are forgiven.Then you are a child of God.Then you are saved.
And if you are still plagued by your sins, then come to your pastor for private absolution where, through his minister, Jesus again assures you that you are forgiven.He takes you back to God’s promise.You acknowledge your sins—not in pride but in repentance, and you get to hear the words of your Savior through his minister, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”The words which marked you in baptism also mark you in absolution.Your Lord is pleased for forgive your sins so that you will remain well-pleasing to him. Jesus Christ has fulfilled all righteousness in is baptism.He unites himself to you so that he is your Savior.He unites you to him so that you are saved.You are God’s beloved children.God’s name is upon you, and heaven is open to you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.Amen.
The Bible is filled with stories about kings.Some were good, and some were not.Of course, the way the Lord assessed who was good and who was not is different than the way we assess whether or not a leader is good.We elect our leaders based on whose policies and promises we like.We grade our leaders based on whether or not they have improved the state of the country.Or perhaps more specifically—whether or not our wallets are thicker after the leader leaves office.
God’s grading system is very different.God’s judgment had nothing to do with economies, foreign policies, or infrastructure.Every king, especially those of the nation of Israel, was judged on this scale: Either he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord, or he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.History books care about what is material or military.The Lord, however, looks at the heart.That’s all that matters.
There are a number of kings in our Gospel today.First was King Herod.He was influential and powerful enough that history has given him the title Herod the Great.And Herod did wield a great deal of authority.He was a crafty man who jockeyed his way into power, always managing to play the right side in Roman power plays.He had worked hard to gain his position.Herod kept his position by keeping his subjects scared and his enemies either distant or dead.Herod would not tolerate any challenge to his power.
So naturally, when Herod had other royals come to see him, and when Herod had heard that they were seeking the one who had been born King of the Jews, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matthew 2:3)The wise men had declared that the star had proclaimed a true king.They had come to worship him.Herod would not.Herod would not tolerate a rival, much less bow down to him.Herod wanted him dead.
But Herod was a fraud.No matter how much power and authority he was convinced he had, Herod was only dust and breath.He was just as mortal as any man, and history has proven it.Herod is dead, and he no longer scares anyone.He has learned that death has authority over him.He has learned that he must answer to the God he had tried to destroy.Herod would not humble himself before anyone, even before the Lord.And therefore, God humbles Herod for all eternity, keeping him forever imprisoned and tormented in hell.
Be warned, so that you are not guilty of the same arrogance and rebellion as King Herod.Herod’s problem was not ignorance.He consulted the teachers to hear what God’s word said.Herod simply would not listen.He would not humble himself.He would not repent or believe.Herod had deceived himself into believing that he truly was Herod the Great.But now his power is gone.His breath is gone.He is only dust.
The star proclaims a true king.Listen to what the teachers of the law said about the Christ: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:6)Jesus would shepherd his people.That means he leads you where you need to go.If you need to feel to poking and prodding of the shepherd’s staff to keep you from going astray, the shepherd will do that.A good shepherd does not simply let the sheep go where they please, even if they are very pleased to go there.The shepherd’s role is to care for the flock—to provide and protect, not to pander.And so there are times when, through the shepherds he has called, Jesus will call you to repent of your sins.But like Herod, you will not like it.The sinful nature is not willing to be corrected, much less convicted or condemned.And like Herod, you may find yourself refusing to humble yourself before the true king.Your sinful nature wants to deceive you into thinking that you are great, that you owe apologies to no one, that your will should be unrivaled.But do not deceive yourself.No matter how great you think you are, like Herod, you are dust and breath.Your wit, your will power, and your opinion of yourself cannot save you.Therefore, humble yourself.Repent.
The star proclaims a true king.When his star first appeared, Wise Men from the east recognized it.Isaiah had foretold: “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:3)It is for this reason that the Wise Men are often called kings.Though they may have reigned over many lives, they were not so high and mighty that they would not humble themselves.The Wise Men were not frauds.They had honestly assessed themselves.They knew they needed a Savior, and they rejoiced when the star proclaimed he had come.
The Wise Men went to the palace in Jerusalem to see the one born king of the Jews.But this was far more than a diplomatic visit.The Wise Men confessed, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)True to their word, that is exactly what they did when they came to Bethlehem.Going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2:11)The Wise Men literally fell upon their faces, completely humbling themselves before an infant.In him, the saw their Savior and the King of the Universe.This was the one before whom they would have to stand in judgment.But before standing in judgment, they fell on their knees before Jesus.For, they knew that this was the One who would speak on their behalf.He had come to save them from their sins and grant a full pardon for all their guilt.
The star proclaimed a true king, and the gifts of the Wise Men confessed who this king was.Besides the royal gift of gold, they also gave him frankincense and myrrh.The presence of the Lord was marked by the smell incense in the Holy of Holies.The morning and evening sacrifices were offerings of incense.And therefore, Jesus became a fragrant offering for you.He covered the stench of your sin by his sacrifice of himself.The King of the Universe and the King of kings humbled himself not just to be born a frail human being, but especially to die an accursed death on a cross.He died for your sins.He atoned for your guilt.And then, he was laid to rest in strips of cloth and myrrh.The empty tomb and the risen body of Jesus are no longer marked by a stench of sin and death, but proclaim that your sins are forgiven and that you are delivered from death to life.And so he saves you from your sins.He restores all things.This divine King proclaims that the very presence of God is where you will dwell forever, and it is all because this King first chose to come and dwell with you.
The star proclaims a true king.There will always be people like King Herod who demand their respect, who intimidate, and who will not change their ways.They may even live long lives and seem to get everything they want.But that is all a farce.For, we are all dust and breath.We all have to stand before the true king.How much better and wiser it is to approach our Lord as the Wise Men did—on our knees, with broken and contrite hearts, and with great joy that a Savior has come for us!And while we give of our best to him, we also recognize that we are blessed because this king has given the best gifts to us.Your heavenly King declares that you are good and right in the eyes of the Lord.His royal decree is salvation.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.Amen.