Monday, April 21, 2008
PUBLIC ENEMIES IN OSHKOSH
10:21 am edt
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
REDEEMED: FROM WHAT? WITH WHAT? SO WHAT? - Sermon for Easter 3
11:36 am edt
Rev. Steven S. Billings
1 Peter 1:17-21
17 And if you call on the Father, who without
partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18
knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received
by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without
spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for
you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and
hope are in God.
Dear friends in Christ, in today's Epistle St. Peter says to his hearers, "you were redeemed." We
hear that word a lot in Lutheran circles, but what does it mean? Well, to be "redeemed" is to be "set free by means of a
payment." The concept involves someone being in a state of bondage because of a debt that is owed, but he can't pay the debt
and set himself free. When someone else comes along and pays the debt for him, that is a "redemption." The word was used
in the ancient world concerning a slave or a prisoner of war. Such a person could not free himself from his captivity. But
if someone else paid the necessary price, he or she would be released. So "redemption" includes two parts: setting someone
free who cannot free himself, and a price being paid to do this.
My friends, that is what Christ has done for us.
He has redeemed us. We were in a state of bondage and could not set ourselves free. Jesus came along and paid the necessary
price in order to release us. That is "redemption."
"Redemption" was the word that Luther chose to sum up the Second
Article of the Apostles' Creed, about the person and the work of Jesus. It was the title he put over that section of the
Catechism. In fact, it was this very passage that Luther had in mind when he wrote his explanation to it. This becomes quite
clear when you listen to the way he puts it:
"I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity,
and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won
me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood
and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting
righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most
You see? It's all there in our passage today from 1 Peter - the language of redemption. Even the
very phrase, "not with gold or silver," is simply a paraphrase of our text. You have been redeemed by Christ.
redeemed from what? Peter says, "you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers."
The bondage you found yourself in, and could not free yourself from, Peter calls "the empty way of life." The idea is that
it is futile, meaningless, it doesn't go anywhere. Peter is talking about the way of life of the people of this world. Their
lives apart from God - which is where all of our lives would be, apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ - don't lead anywhere
- like a bunch of people stumbling around in the dark, bumping into each other, tripping over themselves, not knowing where
they're going, falling into ditches and running into dead ends. That's the life of everyone in this world who doesn't have
a saving knowledge of Christ. No matter how wild or how refined, no matter how reckless or respectable, no matter how bad
or seemingly good their conduct - all people by nature are leading an "empty way of life." It always leads to a dead end
- which is exactly the point: a "dead" end. It ends in death; eternal death, separated from God. The "empty way of life"
is, in reality, the way of death.
That's the state we were in apart from Christ - heading down the wrong road, not
knowing any better. But, thank God, that is what we have been redeemed "from." Luther puts it like this: Christ "has redeemed
me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil." All of
that is what you have been redeemed from. Remember, redemption is a setting free from a state of bondage. And that "empty
way of life" is the death-trap of slavery from which we in Christ have been set free.
But how? What was the price
that was paid to set us free? Remember that redemption requires a payment in order for the prisoner to be released. It doesn't
just happen automatically; there's a cost involved. So what price was paid to set us free? And who paid it?
as slaves in bondage, there was nothing we could offer to meet the cost of payment. All our good works piled up to the sky
wouldn't be enough to break one shackle of the chains that bind us. It's a crazed delusion to think that we have anything
that could satisfy God's justice. Nothing we have or own or can do would pay a plug nickle toward our ransom.
writes, "it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed." And Luther echoes, "not with gold
or silver." All the money in the world, stacked up to the heavens, could never buy-off God. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett,
and Ted Turner could amass their collective fortunes, and it wouldn't mean diddly-squat.
No, something far more precious
was required to set sinners free. Only one price could do the job. It took the death of the Son of God - the sacrificial
death of the sinless Son of God - to pay the price to set us sinner-slaves free. "But with the precious blood of Christ,
a lamb without blemish or defect." "Not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering
Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was the only one who could set the world free from the bondage of
sin. God would send His Son into the world, in the flesh, as a man, to keep His Holy Law for us, in our stead, and to die
as the sacrifice for our sins. He, the Christ, "was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last
times for your sake." And Jesus said, when He came, "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His
life as a ransom for many."
Jesus is the "lamb without blemish or defect." No sins of His own for which to die. Spotless,
faultless. And yet He is the Lamb. A sacrificial animal. The lambs of the Old Testament were offered up as a sneak preview
of THE one and only Lamb to come. Jesus Christ is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." His blood was shed
on the cross to make payment for our sins. His holy, precious blood. The same blood He offers you today in His Holy Sacrament,
"This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." The precious blood of the Lamb,
Jesus Christ. That is what you have been redeemed with.
In his book, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," C. S.
Lewis tells the story of several children who travel to the magical land of Narnia. One of the children, Edmund, betrays
the rest and goes over to the side of the evil White Witch. He realizes his mistake and returns to the other children, who
are with the good king Aslan. However, the White Witch comes to their camp and demands that Aslan hand Edmund over to her.
"You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right
to a kill. . . . And so that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property. . . . Unless I
have blood, as the Law says, all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water."
Aslan cannot deny what she
says. But he takes the witch aside privately and talks to her. It turns out now that Edmund does not have to be turned over
to the witch, and she goes away.
But later that night, Aslan goes off by himself into the woods and enters the witch's
camp. He lays himself down on the great Stone Table, the witch's forces bind him, and there she slays him.
does not stay dead. He would later explain to the children:
"Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic
deeper still which she did not know. . . . that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's
stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward."
This story is a picture of a redemption.
We were condemned to death by the Law, and there was no way to change it. But Jesus Christ stepped in and took our place,
as our Substitute, dying the death we deserve. But death could not hold Him. He has broken the power of death, conquering
sin on the cross. Now He is risen and has set us free. That's what it means to be redeemed.
But so what? What difference
does it make? How does this effect the way we live? Peter puts it this way, "live your lives as strangers here in reverent
fear." Luther says it like this, "that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him." This is the new
life of Christ's redeemed people. Our lives, our conduct, will be different now that we have been redeemed. No longer that
empty way of life. Now we have direction. Now we have purpose. Now we have meaning for our lives. We belong to God. We
are His people.
We don't belong to this world and its ways anymore. We're just passing through like pilgrims. We
belong to God. We are His holy people, set apart for Him. Our lives are to be an act of worship. We serve Him in reverent,
holy fear. We take our lives as seriously as they are joyful - both at the same time. We do not take this life we have in
Christ lightly. We take God's warnings against sin and unbelief seriously. We don't fool around with His mercy and grace,
as if it were cheap and easy. No, Christ has paid the ultimate price for our redemption. It is very precious indeed.
what? So we live in that holy fear. And, because of Christ, we live in faith and hope. "Through Him you believe in God,
who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God." We live in faith, trusting in the
God who loved us so much that He gave His Son to die for us. We live in hope - the hope of the resurrection. Easter hope.
For God has raised Christ from the dead, and now we have the sure and certain promise of our own resurrection. We have the
hope of heaven, where we will serve Him "in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from
the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity."
Beloved, you have been redeemed - set free by means of a price. Redeemed,
from what? From the empty way of life that is the way of death. Redeemed, with what? Not with gold or silver, but with
the precious blood of Christ. Redeemed, so what? So now we live as God's people, in holy fear and in faith and hope. And
this, my fellow redeemed in Christ - this is most certainly true! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit. Amen
Friday, April 4, 2008
HIS BLOOD BE ON US - Sermon for Maundy Thursday
3:24 pm est
Rev. Steven S. Billings
St. Matthew 27:15-26
15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed
to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. 16 And at that time they had a notorious prisoner
called Barabbas. 17 Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release
to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" 18 For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.
19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man,
for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him." 20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded
the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor answered and said to them,
"Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" They said, "Barabbas!" 22 Pilate said to them, "What then
shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!" 23 Then the governor
said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they cried out all the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!" 24 When Pilate
saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude,
saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it." 25 And all the people answered and said,
"His blood be on us and on our children." 26 Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus,
he delivered Him to be crucified.
Have you ever been so certain you were right only to find out you were wrong? You
were so sure that you were correct that you acted on your convictions and things started to fall apart? You were right, and
nobody could tell you otherwise. Stubbornly refusing even to consider that you might be wrong, you kept on doing what you
were doing and things just got worse and worse. Finally, you hit bottom and someone or something forced you to take another
look. Lo and behold, you discovered how wrong you had been, and how asserting your "rightness" had called a curse down on
your head. You made a mess. You hurt a lot of people. You even hurt yourself. But all you could do now was live with it.
blood be on us and on our children." Wow. Those of you who've seen Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" may not know that
this line was spoken in the film, but omitted from the subtitles - a concession to the Jewish community. Why? Because it's
an inflammatory remark, that's why. It's gruesome.
The Jews wanted blood. They demanded Jesus' blood. And they didn't
care whether or not they were cursing themselves. They were so sure they were right in putting Jesus to death that they were
willing to absolve Pilate and assume the guilt of innocent blood. They were so convinced they were right that they were willing
to curse their children as well.
Welcome to the wonderful world of sin, where we call down curses on ourselves and
put the Son of God to death by our actions. Just like the Jewish rabble we think we're so right, but we're so, so wrong.
And the guilt of Christ's blood is all over us. We can't escape the curse; we're smothered in it. We're guilty - guilty
as, well, you can fill in the blank.
Some 53 days after this scene - where the crowds so self-righteously demanded
the crucifixion of the Son of God - Peter stood up at Pentecost under the direction of the Holy Spirit and let the crowd have
it. "You killed the Son of God!" he shouted. "You're guilty. His blood is on your hands. All because you fooled yourselves
into thinking you were right."
But there were no executions on Pentecost. Instead, the masses received Peter's proclamation
of what a mess they had made. God had sent His Son into the world and they had put Him to death. They understood the magnitude
of this great sin. "What shall we do?" they asked. Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name
of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." And they did Scripture says that 3,000 of them became believers that day.
think - what if just one of those 3,000 had been one of the same ones who cried out "His blood be on us and our children!"
Pretty ironic, don't you think? The blood they called down upon themselves is now given to them freely by the forgiving
Christ. If you can imagine that, you can imagine just how gracious our God really is. What that person once said as a curse,
God now turned into a blessing. His blood - on them - on their children - for the forgiveness of their sins.
evening's double-edged sword calls down both curses and blessings. This was Christ's whole point in the upper room. His
blood - on us - on our children - for the forgiveness of our sins. He took bread and made it His Body by the power of His
Word. He took the cup and made it His blood by the power of His Word. Then He said, "Keep on doing this." His blood is
connected to His forgiveness. There can be no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood.
This was Christ's
agenda in going to the cross. His blood - flowing freely from His head, His hands, His feet, His side - for you - for your
children - for the forgiveness of your sins. This is love, my friends, pure and simple, the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus sheds
His holy, precious blood by His innocent suffering and death for you and your children.
It's also His agenda at the
empty tomb. He is risen so that He may personally give you the gift of His blood and the blessing it contains. His blood
be on you and your children, for life and salvation. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
CHRIST AMONG US - Sermon for Easter 2
3:20 pm est
Rev. Steven S. Billings
St. John 20:19-31
19 When therefore it was evening, on that
day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and
stood in their midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both
His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus therefore said to them
again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." 22 And when He had said this, He breathed
on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven
them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained." 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus,
was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them, "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails,
and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." 26 And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and
Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, "Peace be with you." 27
Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side;
and be not unbelieving, but believing." 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus
said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." 30 Many
other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but
these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life
in His name.
Jesus has your believing in mind this morning. He has your believing, your repenting and your being forgiven
in mind. And for all of that, He has His ministers in place for you and gives them Gifts - that you may believe that Jesus
is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and so believing - with His Words in your ears and His Flesh and Blood on your lips
- believing like that, you may have life in His Name.
You see, believing always goes hand-in-hand with Jesus' Word
and Body. You may remember from last week that the angels had proclaimed Christ's resurrection to the women. Then, the Lord
Himself appeared to them in the flesh. They clasped His feet and worshiped Him.
The same was true with the apostles.
The women told them what Jesus said: He was risen, as He had promised. And then, as if the preaching always leads to Jesus'
Body, to more comfort, Jesus Himself appeared to them in the flesh and said: "Peace be with you." Then He showed them His
hands and His side.
Believing and Jesus - Believing and Christ's Words, Christ's Flesh and Blood, Christ's Wounds,
Christ's Body - these always go together.
Dear Christian, you whose ears are filled with Jesus' speaking "Peace" to
you this morning . . . you whose heads are drenched with everything God gave you in Holy Baptism . . . whose mouths will soon
be fed with Jesus' Flesh and Blood for your salvation . . . believing rests in JESUS, not in you! It rests in His Gifts -
what He delivers into the sinful hands and sinful mouths of sinful men whom HE sends out as He Himself was sent. Believing
apart from that is not believing. At least not the kind that saves.
To illustrate that for us this morning, we're
told that Thomas - for whatever reason - didn't come to church that Easter! All the disciples were together, with the doors
locked for fear of the Jews - except for Judas, whose lack of repentance and faith left him hanging from a rope, and Thomas
- who seemed to have some other place to be that day.
By the way, the Ten weren't gathered because they were such great
believers. They were just us - coming to church for all the wrong reasons! They were worried that maybe God didn't have
everything under control. They were afraid of men way more than they were afraid of God. And so they huddled. They hid.
And Thomas wasn't even there!
Which is too bad for Thomas! Because He wasn't around when Faith itself came and stood
among them, saying: "Peace be with you!"
Believing and repenting and forgiveness and salvation all show up in Jesus
Christ, Who has words to speak and scars to show! And poor Thomas wasn't there. No wonder he gets labeled a "doubter!"
Faith doesn't exist apart from Jesus!
Whatever reason he had for being absent when the Service of the Lord began, let's
learn once and for all that life apart from Jesus and His Gifts is a life sunk deep in doubt, despair and disbelief. Oh,
we do well, brothers and sisters, to keep ourselves from the Satanic suggestion that we can believe just fine when we're running
away from God's Word and Sacraments; when we're keeping Jesus' words from our ears and His wounds from our mouths!
make no mistake: Jesus is here - today! - for sinners like you and me. Now THERE'S something your faith can sink its teeth
into! Christ is RISEN! And He is preaching peace and life, forgiveness and salvation, into your ears this morning. Beloved,
because of that, you have eternal life!
Why didn't poor Thomas believe? Because he wasn't with the other disciples
when Jesus was there. Even when they told him, "We've seen Him, Thomas! He is risen! Your sins are forgiven!" Still, Thomas
wouldn't believe. He revealed what is in the heart of every sinner when he said: "I will not believe!" Unless he could see
for himself; unless God would conform to his demands and expectations; unless God could fit into his version of religion,
Thomas would not believe.
Now, I don't think most of us are willing to be that honest. We say, "Oh, I believe!" But
do we hold the preaching of God's Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it? Christ has given us His authority to forgive
the sins of repentant sinners, and to withhold forgiveness from those who do not repent. But do we crave such forgiveness?
Do we accept absolution from the pastor as from God Himself? Really? We insist that we believe, but how easily do we separate
ourselves from Jesus' Body and Blood, all the while clinging to the sinful things we enjoy? How many of us have the integrity
of Thomas to bare our naked doubt?
I don't know what the other disciples said to Thomas that week. Jesus had just
given them the Office of the Keys - the responsibility to forgive or retain sins. Did they hold his sins against him for
as long as he continued in his unbelief? I don't know. But whatever they said or did, we do one thing: "A week later, His
disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them!"
Thank God for that! Being gathered together with his
fellow believers, Thomas came face-to-face with his salvation. The preaching of the Ten was true! Jesus told him so when
He said, "Stop doubting and believe!" Believe what? Believe what the others had told him. For what they had said was only
what the Lord had given them to say. And so, confirmed in that, Thomas was admitted to the Savior's Body: "Put your finger
here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it in My side."
And THAT, dear Christian, is true believing. All
in Jesus. For sinners imprisoned in their doubt and fear, He preaches Peace and gives us Flesh and Blood for our faith!
This sets us free. The Body pierced for our transgressions, the Blood poured out for our forgiveness - these, the Lord still
delivers into the hands of sinful men for DISTRIBUTION. To be handed out, delivered into the ears and mouths of sinful men,
like Thomas . . . and like you and me.
So how does Thomas respond? "My Lord and My God!" To which Jesus says,"Because
you have seen Me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." Notice He doesn't say, "Blessed are
those who have not HEARD." But, "blessed are those who have not SEEN." By hearing, Christ comes to you with His forgiveness
in the Words He gives His Ministers to speak. By eating and drinking, Christ gives us His Body and His Blood in bread and
wine. Sinners aren't lost because they do such wicked things. They're lost because they will not have the speaking, the
preaching, and the Body and Blood of Jesus!
So, like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk. Crave the Gospel purely
preached and the Sacraments administered according to their institution. Christ isn't dead anymore. He is risen! And He
didn't drop His Body off somewhere to drift magically into your heart. He is where His Body is, to save you! Where His words
direct you to His wounds; where they tell you: "Peace be with you! Take and eat, this is My Body. Take and drink, this is
My Blood! Stop doubting and believe!"
And if you struggle to believe? Come, confess with Thomas! There are words
you need to hear, and someone God has put in place to speak them! If you've strayed away and fallen into sin? Thank God
for the servants God has sent not only to hear your confession, but also to announce that Christ holds nothing against you
now. Jesus died. Jesus rose. Jesus still sends out His disciples. And we proclaim to you that all your sins are forgiven.
if you want to stay away from Jesus and the Gifts He gives? If you want to go on living like there isn't any God Who sees?
Behaving as if Christ were six feet under, so it's no concern to Him the way you live? If you think your sins aren't that
bad, that they can't damn you? If you really don't care whether the Lord forgives you or not? Then listen very carefully
to what I have to say: Your sins are not forgiven! They are still yours to deal with, and you will have to live with them
for all eternity.
Like Thomas, we need to hear words like that a whole lot more than we're usually willing. Why?
Because Christ wants to spoil our day? No! Because He wants to show us just what sort of prison we've locked ourselves into!
Darkness! Despair! Unbelief! He wants to give us true repentance! He wants to wrap us up in the only thing that gives
true forgiveness and faith; He wants to surround us with Himself - in the Words He speaks to us, in the Water poured upon
our heads in His Name, and in His Flesh and Blood set before us each and every Lord's Day. Here is where the risen Christ
stands among us today.
Blessed are you who hear and believe what Jesus says about that. His Word and Body are your
salvation, your life, and your peace with God and one another. Blessed are you, dear Christians, to find your believing in
all of that. And when you don't, hear and believe the words your shepherds are sent to proclaim: Your sins are forgiven!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen