God Gives Us Salvation – Jesus Is the Only Way/40 Comments/in Sermon /by Krista Howard
Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “God Gives Us Salvation” based on Acts 4:12 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Confirmation Sunday, May 6, 2018
In 1999 LeDainian Tomlinson, college running back for TCU, broke a record for number of yards in one single football game. He rushed the ball for 406 yards. He was THE guy…THE ONLY guy who had ever done that. For 15 years that record stood, until our own Wisconsin Badger, Melvin Gordon, ran the ball for 408 yards in one game. And then Melvin Gordon became the ONLY ONE in Division I college football to have that many yards in one single game. Until a week later, when that record was broken by some guy from Oklahoma. The point is, someone may rise to the top and be THE guy, the ONLY ONE but just wait… eventually someone else will come along and take their place.
Not so with Jesus. He is the ONLY ONE who brings salvation. He’s the ONLY ONE who can bring you and me to heaven. No one else is ever going to come along and do what Jesus has so completely and perfectly done. The Apostle Peter agrees, when he says: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” This weekend we have 29 confirmands who also agree. Jesus is the Only Way to Salvation….there is no other.
That’s not a very popular message today. We live in what some call a pluralistic society. That’s where we have many different people who have many different backgrounds and cultures…AND…many different beliefs. In fact, in a pluralistic society, people are encouraged to be tolerant. Believe what you want. Just don’t force your beliefs on other people…and be willing to admit that their beliefs are just as valid and true as yours are.
Do you know that our surroundings today are not that different than what Peter and John had to deal with? Let me provide some background. Jesus had ascended into heaven. He told his disciples, go to Jerusalem and wait there – I’ll send the Holy Spirit to you. That had happened. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. As a result, they told people about Jesus. They taught and preached. And that got them into trouble. The local authorities didn’t like them preaching and teaching that Jesus was the ONLY WAY TO SALVATION. They arrested Peter and John and told them to stop it! And that’s when Peter replies: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
1st Century Jerusalem, 21st Century America – not much has changed. People still don’t like the idea of Jesus being the only way. And if you suggest as much, you might be called an arrogant jerk or a narrow-minded jerk or any number of colorful words for jerk. Consider this: Just three weeks ago a young Italian boy named Emanuele approached a world-renowned Christian leader and asked him whether or not his atheist dad would be in heaven. And with a hug and smile, that church leader assured little Emanuele that his father who had shunned and rejected and denied Jesus his whole life, is now comfortably at Jesus’ side in heaven.
In other words, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe or who you believe in. We all end up in the same place at the end.” Today we denounce that pluralistic viewpoint. Today we echo the words of Peter: JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY TO SALVATION. By God’s grace we make that confession…29 teenagers make that confession.
And today, we admit how badly we need Jesus. You see, we believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus…but we also believe what the Bible teaches about us. One of the passages the confirmands learned well, and we know too, comes from Psalm 51:5 – Surely I was sinful from birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me. We are conceived and born into this world with a great need for saving. We can ignore it…make light of it…or flat out deny it…but the truth is, when I was born into this world, no one had to teach me how to be greedy or how to think about myself first. I didn’t need lessons on how to lie or talk back to my parents or hold resentment in my heart or pout when I didn’t get my way. I didn’t need a step-by-step youtube video to show me how to become a pathetic sinful human being who was deserving of God’s punishment. I could do that all by myself. What I couldn’t do was change my status.
There’s ONLY ONE who could. There’s ONLY ONE…
- Who would take my filthy garments of sin and wear them as he suffered and died on the cross…meanwhile taking his clean and perfect garments of obedience and holiness and draping them on me at my baptism.
- Who would change…has changed…my status from pathetic sinner to forgiven sinner…from lost orphan to found child of God…from hell-bent to heaven-bound.
- ONLY ONE – that’s Jesus.
Salvation is found in no one else! Prior to saying that, Peter had said, of Jesus, that he was “the stone the builders rejected, which has become the capstone.” In other words, yes it’s true, many have rejected this precious stone…many people have tossed Jesus aside and decided to build their lives and their eternal hopes on someone or something else – to their peril…but just because many have rejected him…just because we may live in a pluralistic society…that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is indeed the capstone. Which means, he is the most important part. Everything must be built off of him.
- Our purpose in life is defined ONLY by him.
- Forgiveness for the many times we have failed comes ONLY from him.
- A relationship with the true God comes ONLY through him.
- A victory over death and sin is ONLY because of him.
Let me illustrate. This past December I had a funeral. A life-long Christian and now at the age of 88, his body was wearing down and eventually, he fell asleep. There was some sadness, because Dad would be missed; but mostly the son rejoiced because Dad was now with Jesus. A month later I had another funeral. A life-long Christian, but he was a few months shy of his 25th birthday. About a decade ago he wore a white robe and sat right there as a member of the 2007 confirmation class. I’m sure at the time of his confirmation, he hadn’t planned on a heart attack at age 24. But at the time of his confirmation he did plan to place his trust in Jesus…because he knew that ONLY JESUS was the way to salvation.
I stood in the hospital room as that young man was drifting off to sleep. I saw family members come in and out of the room, saying their goodbyes. It was heart-wrenching. There was definitely sadness; because he would be missed.
- But even through the tears, his mom saw heaven waiting for her son.
- Even amidst the pain of sadness, his mom knew her son’s sins had been forgiveness by Jesus.
- Even when she was blanketed in hurt, she knew her son was blanketed baptismal grace.
- Even in her emptiness, she knew her son would enjoy the fulness of heaven.
Why? Because of Jesus. For her and her son, Jesus was not the throw-away stone.
Jesus is the ONLY ONE and the MOST IMPORTANT ONE not just on the day we wear the white robes and make our confirmation vows and not just on the day we close our eyes and fall into the sleep of death – but every day in between
-since forgiveness and victory over death and a relationship with God comes ONLY through him
-we will make it our purpose and goal to live for him.
Don’t Miss Out on This!/40 Comments/in Sermon /by Krista Howard
Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Don’t Miss Out on This!” based on John 15:5 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, April 29, 2018
In the Name of the One who lives to save us, support us and strengthen us, Christ, our Redeemer, Our Vine. Amen.
I attended a presentation on Teens and Social Media at our PLS Parent Teacher Association meeting this week. Christian Family Solutions therapist Ryanne Mallow brought us up to speed on the apps that our children are using and some of the dangers that those apps can present. In the course of the presentation, I learned several things.
- 1) I’m old. I knew I was old before—but learning about that stuff reminded me how old I am!
- 2) Being a teenager is hard. Much harder today than I when I was 14. Social media makes it so much easier for people to make fun of you, to bully you, to criticize you.
- 3) I learned what FOMO means.
Young people, I promise, I will not incorporate that acronym into my daily language in a lame old guy attempt to sound cool. But I hope you’ll forgive me for mentioning it just this one time. FOMO stands for “fear of missing out.” I thought when I learned that, I’d been granted access to some of the secret knowledge and language of the teen world. But when I googled that acronym I found out that actually I’m late to the party. The Oxford English Dictionary added the term already in 2013. I found that Time Magazine had an article about it in the summer of 2016. That’s where I saw FOMO defined this way: …‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you’’. Under this framing of FoMO, nearly three quarters of young adults reported they experienced the phenomenon. It’s certainly not a good thing. (The article continued.) It leads you to check social media again and again and again so you don’t feel out of the loop. So you know you’re doing okay. So you don’t feel left out.
Is that why you all are on your phones all the time? So that you aren’t last the one to know? So that you won’t feel out of the loop? Do you feel better when you’re constantly connected because you know that you’re not missing out? And is there an important spiritual lesson for all of us to learn here? Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
You see, Jesus and the disciples didn’t have iphone 8’s and they would’ve been very unfamiliar with twitter and hashtags and likes and instagram. When Jesus wanted to illustrate constant connection, he had to use a different metaphor.
Agriculture and vineyards—those were things they understood because they saw them every day. If you use your imagination, maybe you can even picture Jesus and his disciples on Maundy Thursday evening walking from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. As they pass a vineyard, Jesus stops and points to one of the plants growing near the road and says “You and me are connected–like this vine and its branches.”
When you think about who really needed who, shouldn’t it have been the disciples saying that to Jesus instead of the other way around? Shouldn’t it have been the disciples expressing their great need to have an unbroken, continuous connection with the One and only One who could save them? They needed him, not vice versa. And yet Jesus was the one doing the talking.
Okay, but rather than expressing an undying connection between them, wouldn’t you think that Jesus would have at least been creating a little distance between himself and these knuckleheads, in light of the fact that they within minutes would let him down…yet again. And would be doing all within their earthly power to deny any sort of connection with him. Why would he want to be associated with them at all, much less constantly connected with them as one entity, a vine and its branches?
Such is the grace of our Jesus, friend of sinners and lover of knuckleheads, who sought us though we did not ask for it, who continues to love us though we did not deserve it. He points us to his cross, he stops us at the font, he feeds us at his table and he reminds us “These are the things that connect you to me, personally, individually, intimately and inseparably—like a Vine and its branches.”
Don’t miss out on this! Connection with Jesus, like a vine and branches, means that the things he is are things we are, too! When we stand under the gavel of God’s courtroom, we can mention his name. When we stand at the front door of God’s heaven, we can say, “I’m with him.” And when we stand on the receiving end of the devil’s accusatory, wagging finger we can say, “Jesus is the Vine, I am the branch. So you can shut your mouth, you ugly devil, because you got nothing on me.” Being connected so closely with Jesus means that the sins that so often defeat us are not things that define us.
When we hear about the cross, when we remember the font and dine at his table, that connection is live, and the power of God flows–despite what the world around you would have you believe. Maybe you saw this week that GQ magazine, ranked the Bible in its list of List of Classic Books that are not worth reading, the writer calling it repetitive and foolish and ill intentioned. The devil laughs because so many are missing out on the one thing that we truly, eternally cannot afford to miss out on.
So many disconnect themselves casually, perhaps without even realizing that it’s happening. Recent polls show that only about 25% of Americans are weekly church attenders. Going to church won’t get you to heaven. Going to church will keep you constantly connected with the Vine, every single week. It’s what we do here, it’s why we exist. I’m not trying to give myself job security. I’m not trying to make Peace indispensable. I’m trying to keep you connected to your Savior by pointing to ways that he keeps you connected to him–the Word and Sacraments. Don’t miss out on this!
So that’s what Jesus means when he says “remain in him.” What does he mean when he says “You will bear much fruit?” That’s a little harder to talk about in specifics, because bearing much fruit can mean so many different things in different people’s lives—one person’s fruit might be resisting a temptation just one time-and then resisting again, and again. One person’s fruit may be stringing four weeks of church attendance in a row. One person’s fruit may be a gentler demeanor toward their spouse. One person’s fruit might be humbly carrying a cross that this life has placed on them. Everybody’s different. Maybe that’s why Jesus left it a little ambiguous.
Two things are quite certain and quite specific however. One—apart from him we will bear no fruit that pleases God, and two—remaining in him, we will bear much fruit. Think about the disciples themselves. Did they themselves remain in Jesus, remembering his words, connected to him in faith, even after he ascended to heaven? Yes. What kinds of fruits did the Vine produce in those branches? Humanly speaking, billions of people came to know Jesus as Savior because of them. In fact, again humanly speaking, aren’t we sitting here today as the fruit of their efforts 2000 years ago? That’s an incredible harvest!
How will we be remembered by those who come after us? What fruit will be produced by us in this church? This school? Our world? Our homes? Only Jesus knows. We need only to remain in him. And watch what he does next. Whatever it may be, you won’t wanna miss this. Amen.
Jesus is Your Good Shepherd/40 Comments/in Sermon /by Krista Howard
Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd” based on John 10:11-18 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, April 22, 2018
Which is easier to say: I would live for you or I would die for you?
If you were married here at Peace over the last 10-15 years, you may have been asked that question by one of the pastors in a pre-marriage class or seminar. After a few moments of thought and consideration, though, the time comes for the follow up question: which of those is easier to actually do for your future spouse? Would it be easier to live for them or to die for them?
That is a valuable question to be asked—and answered—as people consider what their married lives will be like and how they can truly be a good husband or wife for their future spouse.
Dying for someone that you love is by no means an easy decision to make, no matter what the circumstances are that surround your particular situation. To give up your life in place of another is an enormous expression of love and an act that would not be soon forgotten.
But what about living for someone that you love? Would that really be easier than dying for them?
While it would no doubt be a tremendous act of self-sacrifice to die for someone else, living for someone else is a series of acts of tremendous self-sacrifice. Rather than one life-changing moment, living for your loved one involves an intentional and determined decision to be made over and again, day after day. Being a good spouse means putting the wants and needs of your husband or wife in front of your own.
What makes Jesus the Good Shepherd? Does that phrase conjure up any pictures in your mind? Perhaps you see a man in white robes with a long shepherd’s staff in his hand, walking ahead of and leading his flock. Maybe, instead of leading his sheep, you’d rather see the broad shoulders of that Good Shepherd carrying the poor sheep who cannot walk on their own or the tender arms and warm embrace of the Good Shepherd enfolding and enveloping the littlest of his lambs.
Those things may constitute a pretty picture of what qualities qualify Jesus to be your Good Shepherd. However, as you likely know from other sections of Scripture, your God has different standards than human beings. The very word Jesus used to describe himself as the “Good” Shepherd is the same one that the Greeks used when they translated the God the Father’s satisfaction with the creation of his perfect world. He saw that the separation of land and sea, the vegetation of the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, and all the animals that he placed on to his perfect planet earth were, according to his standard, good.
If, in order to be a good shepherd, you would simply have to measure up to man’s standards, there would likely be many who would qualify for the category of good shepherds. Those hired hands to whom Jesus compares himself were ones that carried out the tasks that people expected of their shepherds. They surely were leaders who guided their flocks to green pastures on which they could feed and streams of quiet waters from which they could drink. They would, no doubt, at the end of the day, guide their flock back into the safety and security of the sheep-pen for protection.
But, Jesus doesn’t consider that good enough. The hired hand is not a good shepherd because there is one quality and characteristic that the hired hand is unwilling to undergo and accept. When the wolves and other wild animals come to feast upon the flock, the hired hand sees the danger and values his own life far more than the lives of the flock. They are not his sheep, so he runs for cover, abandoning those who were depending on him for deliverance.
Instead, in contrast, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because the Good Shepherd, as he says lays down his life for the sheep. Instead of running away for his own sake, he put the benefit and welfare of the flock in front of his own.
There are plenty of wolves in your lives that are seeking to devour you. Greed seeks to lure you away from the safety and security of your pen under the guise of finally allowing you to live the good life. Jealousy plays primarily on your pride and works to remind you of what everyone else has and why you deserve it instead. Lust lingers around and advertises all the pleasures of the flesh that would seem to fill the void in your relationships—or the void you feel because you don’t have any such relationships.
Convinced by those conniving wolves who so often sneak around in the sheep’s clothing of basic human rights and privileges, you would be doomed to be their dinner night after night, as they would eat away at you until, finally, you would be kept away from those green pastures and quiet waters for all of eternity.
But, thankfully, Jesus is not simply some hired hand, seeking to keep himself well fed and safe. No, Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He does not only live up to the standard that human beings expect from their shepherd. He worked according to a much higher standard. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life.
His purpose in coming to this earth and being your Good Shepherd was not to please you or your standards, but, rather, to measure up to his Father’s definition of good. He had to do what no one else could do. He made himself the Good Shepherd by laying down his life for his sheep. He didn’t decide to live or to die for the flock that he loves. God’s requirements made it necessary for him to do both.
He laid down his life by living his life for you. Every breath, every step, every thought, word, and action had nothing to do with what would make his own life here on earth any easier. When he faced the same temptations toward greed, jealousy, pride, and lust that you face, he didn’t fall for them. He kept himself aligned with the Law the Father laid down for all of humanity and shows that life to his heavenly Father whenever he looks to see how you measure up against that Law.
And then, to complete the task assigned to him, he laid down his life by taking that life of perfection and sacrificing it on Calvary’s cross. In so doing, he died the death that your sins cause you to deserve and took on himself the fullness of God’s wrath so that you would never have to undergo the same.
Jesus is your Good Shepherd because he did the only thing that makes you loveable in the eyes of your God. He loved you and laid down his life for you, living and dying for you, his sheep.
Because of that, and in thanksgiving for that, be a good spouse to your husband or wife. Be a good dad to your daughter and be a good mom to your son. Be a good child, a good brother or sister, and a good friend. Be good at your job and be good while you are enjoying your hobbies. Be a good member of this congregation and a good representative of Christ to the world around you. Lay down your life for those you love and for those you hate, for those who deserve it and those who don’t.
Put aside the temptations to greed, to jealousy, to pride, and to lust. Put aside what will make your life easier and, strengthened by the love that your Good Shepherd has shown to you, make every step you take, every thought, word, and action that you make for the benefit of those who surround you.
And, when you fail; when you can’t find the strength or the desire to measure up to God’s standard of good, go into the welcoming arms of your Good Shepherd. See his nail pierced hands and rest on his broad shoulders that once carried the weight of the world’s sin. Remember what he did to be your Good Shepherd and, with your cup overflowing, be good again. Amen.
Our Lord Has Made Us One With Him, With Each Other/40 Comments/in Sermon /by Krista Howard
Guest Preacher, Pastor Ben Reichel delivers a sermon entitled “Our Lord Appears Has Made Us One With Him, With Each Other” based on Ephesians 4:1-10 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, April 15, 2018
Transcript Not Available
Jesus Appears to You/42 Comments/in Sermon /by Krista Howard
Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Appears to You” based on John 20:19-31 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, April 8, 2018
When the prophet Ezekiel pronounced the judgment of sword, famine, and plague on the people of Israel because of their sin, terror struck the Israelites. In fact, their fear was so severe that the bible says, in many English translations, that their knees became weak like water. No, they didn’t become wobbly. They became wet. The Israelites were so frightened that they lost control of their bladders.
Sometimes, it is better to use a euphemism to describe an act that is undesirable to speak about in public. However, like the translators of the most recent New International Version of the bible decided to do for that section of Ezekiel’s prophecy, using clear and unquestionable language can make the point more clear.
There probably isn’t an appropriate euphemism that could convey what Thomas was talking about in the Gospel account from John for today—but, when you think about it, it is something that may not be desirable to speak about in public.
Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.
The Roman soldiers had pounded nails into the hands and feet of Jesus and, in order to confirm his death, shoved a spear into his side, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.
Yes, his hands and feet and side had been washed clean by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but those marks of his crucifixion and death still remained and it was there that Thomas wanted…or, rather, insisted to put his own hands?
Really, Thomas? No wonder Christians for centuries have nicknamed him Doubting Thomas. The only thing that would convince him was something so unbelievable, itself, that you probably couldn’t imagine anyone saying the same thing today. Even if you wanted to put your own hands inside of Jesus’ sacrificial scars, you wouldn’t say that out loud, would you? Not for fear that people would call you a doubter, though. No, instead, they might call you insane. And, really, you don’t want people thinking that about you, do you?
But, wouldn’t that be easier than what you have as an answer to your doubts? Don’t the confirmations of your faith seem pretty unbelievable to the world around you? Sure, one third of the world may claim to be Christians, but even out of that number, how many would agree that the only way for your faith in God to be strengthened comes through a 2000 year old book—or when words from that book are combined with ordinary water, a little sliver of something that tastes a little like bread, and the smallest cup of wine you’ve ever held in your hands?
The world around you has scientific evidence of how humanity came to be and yet you believe your ancestors were formed from the dust of the earth because a man, admittedly a few thousand years after it happened, wrote it down?
Your relative, who was a pretty good person, suffered through sickness before finally succumbing to the disease and dying, and you believe that they are now in the same paradise that murderers and thieves are able to enjoy because they all had a little bit of water sprinkled on their heads when they were infants?
You actually think there was a talking snake, a boat big enough to house two of every animal, that water came out of a rock and a sea was split in two, a virgin gave birth, and that, later on in this service, you are going to eat and drink the body and blood of your God?
When those topics come up, do you ever find yourself identifying, at least a little, with Thomas? It would be so much simpler if you could, as Thomas did, actually see and speak with your Savior and put your hands where the nails and the spear pierced his flesh. If only he would appear to you like he did for Thomas. Then, surely, you would give the same confirmation and confession of faith that he did.
So why doesn’t he? Friends, instead of giving to you what he gave Thomas, he gives you more.
Thomas said to him, My Lord and My God!
Then Jesus told him, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
When you have in the past, or continue to today, lock the doors of your heart for fear of what those around you might think—or even what your sinful nature might convince your own mind to believe or not believe—Jesus comes and stands among you.
Nothing you can construct to keep Jesus out is more powerful than he is and the promises that he gives to you. No matter how great your fear or your doubt, he promises that when you are in this place, when two or three of you are gathered together in his name, he will be here, too.
No, you may not see his face or be able to put your fingers where the nails were or put your hand into his side, but, instead, though his Word and Sacraments, he will bolster your faith to believe that when his workers stand in front of you and forgive your sins, they are forgiven. That when they counsel you through your marriage struggles, sit next to your hospital bed to pray with you, plan your spouse’s funeral service with you, or baptize your infant son or daughter, that Jesus himself is sending the Holy Spirit to be received into your heart to trust in him and his love and plans for you all the more.
He doesn’t show you his hands, feet, or side, but rather he explains to you why his hands, feet, and side were pierced. They were pierced for your transgressions, he was crushed for your iniquities. The punishment that brought you peace was upon him and by his wounds you have been healed.
The power isn’t in what you can see. The power comes in what he strengthens you to believe.
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
These words, contained in a book, sent daily through your email, received through text messages, and preached day in and day out in this congregation were written not only to help you overcome any doubts that you might have, but to forgive you for those doubts and give you peace with your God and peace in your heart.
Whenever you feel your knees becoming weak like water, either because of the doubts that come calling or the dangers in this world that surround you, be even bolder than Thomas was with his unbelievable request.
Talk to your invisible best friend in the sky and listen to him as he responds through the words of a 2000 year old book. Remember that a man wearing a long flowy robe once sprinkled a little bit of tap water on your head and pronounced you a child of God. Believe that God overcame that talking snake by means of your God, who was born of a virgin, walked on water, and died the death of a criminal. And, in celebration and remembrance of that victory won for you, come and eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Through his Word and sacraments, Jesus appears to you. Believe it and have life in his name—now and forever. Amen.
Rejoice Greatly!/41 Comments/in Sermon /by Krista Howard
Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “REjoice Greatly!” based on Zechariah 9:9 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. I was a little surprised when I looked up the word that is translated “rejoice” in my Hebrew dictionary and saw that the word can also mean to run around in a circle. If you get the picture, right now, you’re maybe thinking about a kid on Christmas, so deliriously overjoyed over the present they’ve just unwrapped that they’re literally running around the living room in wild-eyed celebration. Or if you’re still having trouble making the connection between delirious joy and running around in circles, check out this clip….
That. That right there is the Hebrew word—gil—or rejoice and it is the Holy Spirit’s kid on Christmas, just won the championship on a buzzer beater encouragement for us this Palm Sunday. Hundreds of years before Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the prophet Zechariah wrote about what would happen in Jerusalem. And his exuberant imperative still rings true for us hundreds of years later. Rejoice Greatly, dear friends. Because here comes Jesus!
I don’t want you to think I’m naive. I know that just telling someone to rejoice when they’re weighed down doesn’t necessarily help them a whole lot. In fact, that might even make things worse. “You say I should be rejoicing but I’m still struggling. So now I feel both sad AND guilty!”
The Bible writers understood that too. When they tell us to rejoice, they also tell us why. Paul wrote the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again rejoice.” Zechariah writes in our text, “Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion, shout O Daughter of Jerusalem, see your king comes to you.” In the Scriptures, a believer’s rejoicing is inseparably intertwined with the presence of Jesus. When believers see Jesus, rejoicing is the inevitable response. Maybe it’s because he never seems to show up empty handed!
Do you see what he brings in our text? See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation. He comes with the key to release you from Satan’s prison. He comes bearing a checkbook with more than enough financial clout to pay your debt of sin. Of course, those are just metaphors. In reality, Jesus rides into Jerusalem with nothing in literally in his hands, so poor that he had to borrow a donkey for the occasion. And yet inside of him, he was carrying gifts of immeasurable worth.
His perfection and his blood. The one to give God what he demands. The other to pay what we owe. If he was only perfect, yet unwilling to shed his blood. That would do us no good. If he was only willing to shed his blood, but was not perfect. That would do us no good. But he has both, and so he is, as the writer to the Hebrews says, the author and perfecter of our faith.
To put it even more bluntly, Jesus had one job before him—save you from hell and when he shows up amidst the palm branches, you know that He’s come to do just that. The Promised One who would come to crush the serpent’s head is now lacing up his boots.
Your king comes, bringing salvation. The perfection which will count for you, the blood that will cover you. The things that will benefit you for eternity. He doesn’t necessarily bring a lifetime guarantee of happiness, universal acceptance by society at large, or an accident free, injustice free world. Our rejoicing gets dampened some times because perhaps we unrealistically expect him to provide those things, things he has not promised. Don’t stop rejoicing because of what he doesn’t bring. Rejoice at what he does bring. Rejoice your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation.
Rejoice because he still comes to us today. When we hear his Word preached, our King comes to us. There he teaches us about his kingship in this world and in our hearts and in the world to comes. When we gather at his table, our King comes to us. There he gives his royal command for our sins to be banished from his sight, our slate to be washed clean. Is any wonder that right before we approach his table, we echo the song from Palm Sunday? “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” Where Jesus is, rejoicing follows.
But even after all that, you might say, what if I still don’t feel like rejoicing? We started off with that picture of wild euphoria in our introduction. That’s the picture that our text uses, too. But rejoicing doesn’t always have to look like that.
In fact, we’re going to see in just a few days, Jesus on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood, overwhelmed with sorrow. His soul was overwhelmed to the point of death, and yet, “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God.” There was no euphoria in the Garden of Gethsemane. But at the same time, the picture and prospect of the good things to come never left his mind. As one writer put it, Jesus looked to a joyful future and that sustained him in a joyless present.
There’s a parallel to our lives. A Christian is always rejoicing, it’s a just a matter of volume. Some times it’s louder than the brass choir on Easter, sometimes it’s barely audible. To put it another way, even without running around in circles in delirium, you can still say, “God, you are good.” Even with a heart that is heavy and eyes that are tear stained, you can still say, “I put my trust in You.” Even when there’s nothing to smile about, you can still look forward to heaven and say, “Thank you for what’s still to come.”
It’s a daily struggle for me and maybe for you too. There are so many things in this world that want to take away our rejoicing. The kitchen floor that sparkles because we worked with mop and bucket soon turns back into the dust bunny trap and the crumb collector. The euphoria of payday Friday gradually turns to the gnawing worry of “please don’t cash that check” Thursday. The news websites refresh every hour with word a different discord and deeper depravities. Marriages and families require a lot of hard work, often with few tangible results. Our faith can often feel like its limping along, our consistency nonexistent, our obedience up and down like a roller coaster. It’s all so frustrating, it’s all so exhausting, it’s all so disheartening, yet through it all, there still is reason for rejoicing!
Our feelings don’t change God’s facts. And that’s a good thing! High or low, happy heart or heavy heart, our God stays the same, his work in Christ unchanged, his love for you undiminished, his Word still true. Your King still comes to you, righteous and having salvation. On Palm Sunday, your King comes to you. In Word and Sacrament, your King still comes to you. And therefore we have reason to rejoice. And rejoice greatly. Amen.