You Can't Have the Joy of Easter without the Peace of Forgiveness

Easter 2 + April 5 & 8, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin                                                             Download PDF

Text: John 20:19-31

Hymn: O Sons and Daughters of the King (CW, 165)

Congratulations!  You have just won an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii.  Your trip includes a first-class ticket to Honolulu.  Once you land, a limousine will pick you up and take you to a gourmet restaurant.  After this fabulous dinner, you will be whisked away to your private suite.  You will receive a relaxing massage. Then our courteous staff will settle you snugly into your own recliner.  Our licensed doctors will then administer the drugs that will make you feel euphoric, then sleepy.  And once you are asleep, the drugs will shut down your internal organs one by one.  You will die peacefully.

To a trip like that, you would say, “Thanks but no thanks.  Sure, a first-class trip to Hawaii would be great.  But I don’t want to go there to be executed!”

Well, that’s what the resurrection of our bodies would be like if we did not have the forgiveness of sins that comes by faith in Jesus.  Yes, the resurrection of our bodies is more amazing than a free trip to Hawaii.  Think about it.  Our bodies that die come back to life.  What an amazing event! 

But the resurrection of the body will happen to everybody on Judgment Day—believers and unbelievers.  Jesus says in John, chapter five: "a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." (John 5:28-29)  On Judgment Day every dead person will rise from the dead.  But those who did not have faith and forgiveness—these resurrected sinners will be judged and sent to hell. 

So the real joy of Easter is not just the resurrection of your body from the dead.  It is chiefly the resurrection to eternal life in heaven. This resurrection is only possible through the forgiveness of sins.  So you can't have the joy of Easter without the peace of forgiveness.

Now, on that first Easter evening the disciples should have been filled with joy and peace.  They had heard good news: Jesus was alive!  But instead of joy and peace they had sadness and fear.  Our text says, "On the evening of that first day of the week…the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews." (v 19) The disciples were afraid.  They were thinking, The Jews killed Jesus. Now, we are next.

Well, Jesus scattered their fear and sadness.  "Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord." (v  19-20)  

 Jesus replaced their fear with joy.  The same Jesus who died on the cross was now alive and standing among them.  Christ’s presence among them gave them peace.  But the peace just didn’t come from seeing an old friend.  The peace wasn’t just the defeat of the nasty, spiteful Jewish leaders.  No, the peace that Jesus gave was the peace between sinners and a holy God.  The peace that Jesus gave was the forgiveness of sins. 

Our text continues.   "Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."  And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'" (v 21-23) 

Forgiveness of sins—that’s the real source of peace.  Christ earned that forgiveness by his death on the cross.  Christ sealed that forgiveness by his resurrection from the dead.  Christ dispenses that forgiveness when the Holy Spirit proclaims the name of Christ through his apostles and all other ministers of the gospel.

That’s why we have the joy of Easter.  Jesus gives us the peace of forgiveness. So, when Jesus brings your body out of the grave on Judgment Day, he won’t condemn you.  Instead, he will say to you, “Rejoice and be glad!  Your heavenly Father will not charge you with breaking any of his commandments.  You are perfect in his sight because I have taken away every single one of your sins.   So, you have perfect peace and joy forever in heaven.”

But we are not in heaven yet.  We still live in this sinful world.  So, we still struggle with sadness and fear.  We still act like the disciples in that locked room.  We still think, Yes, the Bible says Jesus rose from the dead.  But I haven’t seen him with my own eyes.  How do I know for sure that Jesus really came back to life?  How can I be sure that I will rise from the dead?  How can I be sure my sins are really forgiven?  How can I be sure heaven is real and I will go there for eternity?

Well, when we have those doubts, we need Christ to come to us the way he came to his disciples.  We need to see the living Christ among us.

Now, you may say, “It would be great to see the living Christ.  But that’s not how it works.  Jesus is not here with us like he was with the disciples.”  But to that objection Jesus says, "'As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.'  And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.'” (v 21-23)

 Jesus is indeed with us just as he was with is disciples.  Jesus comes to us through the ministry of the gospel. Jesus is with us whenever a called and ordained pastor forgives your sins, preaches the gospel, baptizes you, or gives you Holy Communion. 

Now pastors, and all other ministers of the gospel, are ordinary sinners like you.  But called and ordained pastors possess something. It’s more than just a theological training, their skills, their compassion, or their charming personalities. Called and ordained minister of the gospel possess the right to represent Christ, essentially, to be Christ among you. Remember, Jesus said to his disciples, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." (v 21)

Jesus Christ is one with his heavenly Father. Jesus is God in the flesh. When you saw Jesus, you saw God.  Likewise, when you see and hear your pastor proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, you are seeing and hearing Jesus proclaim the forgiveness of sins.  Martin Luther puts it this way in the catechism:  "I believe that, when this is done, it is as valid and certain in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us himself."

 So, when you hear your pastor proclaim the forgiveness of your sins, hear Jesus Christ talking.  And when your pastor gives you Holy Communion, see Christ.  Receive Christ.  Believe Christ.   Yes, Jesus is with us here and now just as much as he was with his frightened disciples on that first Easter evening.

And with Christ with us through Word and sacrament, he gives you what he gave to those first disciples.  Christ gives you himself. Christ gives you peace.  Christ gives you forgiveness.  Christ gives you the resurrection to eternal life, not the resurrection of your body for their eternal execution in hell.  So, you do have the joy of Easter. You do have the peace of forgiveness.  You have every blessing you need for time and eternity because, by faith, you have Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Lord Jesus, Give Us Your Rest

Easter Sunday + April 1, 208 + Pr. Dale Reckzin                                                           Download PDF

Text: Exodus 20:8-11

“OK. OK.  You told me about your new car ten times already.  Give it a rest.” “My boss keeps piling on the work. I wish he would give it a rest.”  “My neighbor’s dogs bark all night long. Can’t they give it a rest?”

“Give it a rest.”  You say that when you want someone to stop something that stresses you out.  But that’s life.  Stress is everywhere. Stress fills family life, the workplace, the roadways, the supermarkets, and visits to the doctor or dentist.  On top of that you suffer stress from internal conflict and guilt.

Doctors tell us that stress leads to insomnia, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Stress can take years off our life. Stress is nasty.  So, wouldn’t it be great to be stress-free?  Wouldn’t it be fabulous to have no pressure, no deadlines, and no embarrassing situations?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful never to worry about money or health or crime or terrorism?

Well, such a life is yours.  Our text from Exodus 20 foreshadows the everlasting, stress-free, problem-free life of eternal rest that Jesus provides. Our text describes the Jewish Sabbath Day.  So, today, on Easter, we turn our attention to how Jesus was the fulfillment of that Old Testament Sabbath, the day of rest. So, on this Day or Easter, we pray Lord Jesus, give us your rest.

Now, “Sabbath” is Hebrew for ‘rest.’  Listen again to our text: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord…On it you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth… but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

The Lord made the Sabbath Day ‘holy.’  ‘Holy’ means ‘set apart for a special purpose.’  So, the Jews had to set the whole Sabbath day apart for the Lord.  They could do not work for themselves. On the Sabbath, they were to remember all the wonderful things God had done for them.

Our text specifically mentions God’s work of creation.  In six days God created all that exists.  He ‘rested’ on the seventh day.  Of course, God did not rest because he was tired.   A better way to understand how God rested would be to say, “God spent a full day of not creating to show that he was finished creating. His work of creating was perfect. Nothing more needed to be done.”

That’s how the Sabbath Day prefigures eternal life in heaven.  In the beginning God created a perfect world. Heaven is also perfect.  So, Heaven is the paradise of the Garden of Eden restored to God’s creation.

That brings up the big problem.  We currently do not enjoy either the perfection of God’s original creation or the perfection of heaven.  We live between Eden and Heaven.  We live in a sinful world. 

And the symptoms of sin are all around us.  Sin makes us complain, “I have so much stress at work. My family life is so stressful.  I toss and turn all night long.  I never get any rest.  If only I could pay all the bills on time, then I’d be stress-free.  If only my health would improve, then I wouldn’t worry so much.”  Well, conflict, stress, sickness and every problem we have—all these come from sin.  Sin stained and spoiled God’s prefect creation. 

And the inescapable proof of sin’s power is death.  The book of Romans says, "The wages of sin is death." (Rom. 6:23)  We all sin. We all die. So, the grave is sin’s final act. The grave is sin’s ultimate insult.  The grave is sin’s worst curse.

  But, my friends, the grave….is empty!  When Christ rose from the dead, he trumped sin’s strongest weapon. Jesus trumped death. Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor. 15:55)

Jesus gives us the victory over death by his death on the cross. Jesus gives us the victory of life by rising from his grave three days later. Now, by God’s gift of faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, you will rise from your grave just like Jesus rose from his grave.  

But, how you can be sure that Jesus will give you the everlasting, stress-free rest of heaven? That’s where the Sabbath Day comes in. Remember, God said, "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work." (v. 9-10)

 God told the Jews, “Do like I did when I finished creating the world.  I rested on the seventh Day.  You must also rest on the Sabbath and do no work.” Well, like Father, like Son. God, the Father created the world.  God, the Son, rescued the fallen world from sin, death, and Satan.  After God the Father finished his perfect work of creating the world, he rested.  Likewise, after Jesus Christ, God the Son, finished his perfect work of rescuing and redeeming the world, he also rested.

 When Jesus lay dead in his tomb, it was on the Sabbath day.  On that Sabbath day in the tomb Jesus did not do any work.  He didn’t have to.  His work of paying for the sins of the whole world was already done. On the cross, Jesus cried out, "It is finished." (John 19:30)   So, when Jesus rested in the tomb on the Sabbath Day, it was not because he was tired.  It wasn’t because he had to pay for some more sins that he didn’t pay for on the cross. No, instead, Christ’s Sabbath Day in the tomb was to proclaim that he could rest in his tomb because his work was done.  That Easter Sabbath Day proclaimed, “Jesus took a full day of not working to pay for our sins. That’s because Jesus finished his work of being our Savior. Nothing more needed to be done.”

That’s why Jesus brings us the ultimate in peace and rest and stress-free living.  Jesus has done everything to save you. You never have to worry, Have I gone to church enough to earn my spot in heaven.  Have I given enough offerings to pay my way into paradise?  Have I served enough, loved enough, helped enough, been patient enough so I can go to heaven?

Now certainly, we want to do all those things and more. We want to thank Jesus for his gift of the salvation. But the fact remains.  Forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation is a gift. Jesus earned that gift. Jesus freely gives it to us.

So, do you want to get rid of stress, frustration, pain and suffering?  Do you want to get away from sin?  Do you want to escape death itself?  Well, you can. You will.  Since Jesus rose from the dead, you, too, will rise from your grave.  Since Jesus lives in heaven, you, too, will live in heaven with Jesus. 

So, Jesus is the ultimate escape from stress, sin, and death. The book of Hebrews says, "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest (That is, anyone who believes in Jesus) also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” (Heb. 4:9)

 So, God the Father rested on the Sabbath Day to show that he had done his work of creating perfectly. Jesus Christ, God the Son, rested in his tomb on the Sabbath to show that he had perfectly done his work of paying for our sins.   Now, in the Old Testament God told the Jews to do no work as a way to remember his work of creating them.  Now, today, in the New Testament, God invites you to do no work to save yourself. Rather, when it comes to conquering sin, death, and Satan we simply trust that Jesus has perfectly done all that work for us.  That’s why Jesus says:  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)  And so, we pray: “Lord Jesus, give us your rest. Give us your rest now.  Give us your rest forever in heaven.” Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Amen.

Trust Jesus! He Lives Up to His Name!

Palm Sunday + March 22 & 25, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin                                               Download PDF

Text: Mark 11:1-11

הוֹשִׁיעה נָּא   יֵשׁוּע  הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא  יֵשׁוּע  הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּאַ

(Hoshiah-nah.   Y’shua, hoshiah-nah.  Y’shua, Hoshiah-nah).

The above is Hebrew. Even though I do not pronounce Hebrew very well, you probably picked out the most common sound, “sh.”  You heard it in every word.  That’s because every one of the five words I spoke is basically the same word.

To explain this, I have to give you a little lesson in Hebrew.  Every Hebrew verb, noun, and adjective has a root word.  For example, in English, the words “baking, baker, and bakery” all have the same root in the word, “bake.”  That’s the way it works in Hebrew, too. 

Now, in the Hebrew sentence I spoke, I repeated two words, Hoshia and Y’shua Those two words have their root in the word YashahYashah is Hebrew for, “He saves.”  So Y’shua, hoshiah means, “Savior, save!”  Now, in English, we don’t say, Y’shua.  We say, “Jesus.”  So that phrase I began with means, “Save, please.  Jesus, save, please.  Jesus, save, please.”

Now, that is not a direct quote from our Gospel Lesson.  When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, they said, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!"  "Hosanna in the highest!" (v 9-10)

 On Palm Sunday, the crowds said, “Hosanna. Hoshiah-nah. Save, please!”  They were talking to Y’shua.  That is, they were talking to Jesus. And so, to make a long story short—on Palm Sunday the Jews were asking Jesus to live up to his name of Savior.  “Savior, please, save!” 

Of course, that’s why Jesus went to Jerusalem on that first day of Holy Week.  Jesus went there to live up to his name.  But he did not save the way most of the Jews wanted him to save.  Most Jews wanted Jesus to perform miracles of power.  Most Jews expected Jesus to be like his ancestor, King David, lead an army, and drive the Romans out of Jerusalem. Most Jews expected Jesus to save them from poverty, disease, and political oppression.

But Jesus didn’t do any of that.  Instead, Jesus cleansed the temple.  He taught God’s Word.  He celebrated the Passover with his disciples.  Then one of his own followers betrayed him.  Jesus let the Jewish leaders arrest him and put him on trial.  Then the Jewish leaders handed him over to the Romans.

So, by early Friday morning, it finally dawned on the Jewish mob that Jesus was not going to lead an army.  Jesus was not going to drive out the Romans.  Jesus was not going to put a chicken in every pot and a chariot in every stable. Jesus was a huge disappointment.  So, since Jesus was already under arrest by the Jewish authorities and in the custody of the Roman governor, the Jews figured they might as well shout at Jesus one more time. But this time they did not shout, Hoshiah-nah, Y’shua,  "Jesus, please save.”  This time they screamed, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

But that is exactly how Jesus did what the Jews asked him to do on Palm Sunday.  Jesus did save them and us by his crucifixion.  On the cross Jesus was lifted up to suffer and die.  On the cross Jesus was lifted up for all to see his shame and his pain.  On the cross Jesus lived up to his name— Y’shua, Savior.

By God’s grace alone, you believe in Jesus as your real Savior.  You believe that Jesus has saved you from your real problems—your sin, your failures to resist Satan, your death, and your damnation.  That’s why you come to church and sing and pray and worship.  You want Jesus to live up to his name. And Jesus has done what you want and what you need.  Jesus sacrificed his life to pay for your sins.  Jesus saved you from God’s anger over your sins.  Jesus saved you with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. That is the message of Palm Sunday: Trust Jesus! Live up to his name!   Hoshiah-hah, Y’shua.  Hoshiah-nah.

Amen.

Christ Builds His Temple Forever

Midweek Lenten Service + March 21, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin                                     Download PDF

Text: Mark 15:27-32

175 years ago, a group of German settlers met about a mile and a half east of here.  They met in Daniel Goelzer’s log cabin to worship the Lord.  But they could only meet occasionally.  They did not have their own pastor.  They had to rely on traveling missionaries.  But in the fall of 1843, they decided to establish a proper Lutheran Church.  Saint John’s got its official start.

But over those 175 years this church has grown.  Soon after this church incorporated, the founders of our congregation built a log cabin church. It was right here on the corner of Oakwood Road and Kilbourntown Road. (That’s South 27th street to you 21st Century members).

In 1894, this congregation was fifty years old. Our forefathers built a new church.  It’s the building you are sitting in right now.  In 1931 the state of Wisconsin decided to expand Kilbourntown Road and make it Highway 41.  To make room for a wider road, the state moved this building back about 200 feet. At that time, the members of Saint John’s also replaced the single steeple with the two square steeples.  They also added a small entryway.

Around 1960 they added the larger narthex.  In 1994, for our 150th anniversary, the inside of the sanctuary received a beautification.  Also, over the years, this building has received new organs (music kind, not internal kind), a new balcony, a remodeled basement, and a remodeled chancel area.  So, over the last 175 years this congregation has seen a lot of change. And now we are planning on another modification and expansion.

All this is good and proper.  All through the years God’s people have wanted a place to gather and hear the gospel and join in worship.  They wanted a place to baptize their babies, confirm their youth, celebrate weddings, and say good-bye to their loved ones with a Christian funeral.  Over the years, this church building has been that place.  It’s a place where God blesses his people with Word and sacrament.  Here in this building God forgives sins, builds faith, and promises eternal life in heaven.

But, for as much as this church building is a treasure, it is a frail treasure.  This 124 year old church could—God forbid—burn down tonight.  And even if it does not burn down, eventually the wooden beams will deteriorate.  Eventually, the plaster will crack and crumble.  Eventually, this building will no longer exist.  That’s the fate of everything on earth.

But even if this building fails, the Church will not.  Even if this congregation dwindles and eventually closes, the Church will not.  The Church, that is, the Holy Christian Church on earth, will never fall and it will never die.  That’s because Jesus once said, "on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of [hell] will not overcome it." (Matt 16:18)

 However, on that first Good Friday, this claim of Jesus sounded pathetically hollow.  Jesus hung on the cross. His few friends had deserted him. The vigor of life was seeping out of him.  Saint Mark tells us, "They crucified two robbers with him....Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, 'So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!'  In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him... 'He saved others,' they said, 'but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.' Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him." (v 27-32)

Insults, ridicule, and mockery piled up on top of Christ’s physical pain on the cross.  But all that insulting, ridiculing, and mocking was ironic.  Christ’s enemies made fun of him for his claim to be the King of the Jews.  They insulted him for his claim to be the Savior. They joked about his statement that he would rebuild the temple in three days.  They made these harsh comments because, from their point of view, there was no way that a convicted criminal, hanging on a Roman cross, just a few moments from death—there was no way such a loser could ever accomplish such great deeds of saving, ruling, and rebuilding.

But their insults were irony.  That’s because by suffering and dying, and by enduring their insults and mockery, and, most of all, by receiving the full burden of his Father’s anger over human sin—by his entire experience on the cross, Jesus was indeed saving; he was ruling; and he was rebuilding.

By suffering and dying on the cross, Jesus was being a true King.  A king’s duty is to protect his people.  By taking human sin upon himself, body and soul, Jesus was protecting us from God’s righteous anger over our sins.  Likewise, by suffering and dying, Jesus was saving us from the damnation we deserved because of our sins.  Jesus was saving his people from eternal death and hell when he suffered and died on the cross.

Furthermore, Jesus was also rebuilding God’s Holy Temple by his death on the cross.  Of course, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, the temple in Jerusalem was still standing. But Jesus was not going to rebuild that temple once it was destroyed forty years after his death

Instead, Jesus was going to build a far more glorious and impressive temple.  Jesus was going to build his Holy Christian Church.  The foundation of that Church and the power to build that Church was and is Christ’s suffering and death for the salvation of all who believe in him.  Saint Paul says in Ephesians, "you are … members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In [Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (Eph 2:19-22)

At the beginning of this sermon I told you how the members of Saint John’s have built, rebuilt, moved, expanded, modified, and refurbished this church building over the last 175 years.  Well, Jesus has done something far bigger and far better over the last 2,000 years.  Jesus has built, expanded, renewed, and grown his Holy Christian Church over the face of the whole earth.  So, that poor miserable convict on the cross did indeed do what the mockers said he could not do.  Christ builds his temple forever.

But Jesus does not build his eternal temple with wood and stone, and with remodeled narthexes and expanded balconies.  Rather, Jesus builds his Holy Christian Church by adding individual souls to his Kingdom.  So, by water and the word in baptism Jesus brought you, your parents, your grandparents, and your children and grandchildren into this Holy Christian Church.   

Christ also added to his Church by feeding the faith of his people.  So, every time you heard how Christ gave his life on the cross, you also grew stronger in your faith and in the Church.  Likewise, every time Jesus gave you his body and blood in Holy Communion, Jesus brought you back to Calvary to receive the forgiveness of your sins.  And by Holy Communion Jesus also points you to the everlasting feast of your happy home in heaven. 

And, one day, Jesus will bless your lifeless body just as God the Father blessed the beaten, bloodied, lifeless body of his Son.  Jesus will raise your body from the dead.  Jesus will glorify your body in the same way his body is glorified forever.  And then Jesus will bring you to the eternal Church—the Church Triumphant in heaven. 

So, repent and believe.  Rejoice and be at peace.  Jesus has built you into his church here at Saint John’s.  Much more, though, Jesus has built you into his one, Holy, Christian Church here on earth and forever in heaven.  Yes, you and every other believer in Christ are proof of it.  Christ builds his temple forever.

Amen.