Risen to Free Us

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.  7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.  10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  (Matthew 28:1-10)

Seven words changed his life.  Seven simple words.  Private Michael Delaney lived in a frightening time.  Our country was at war with itself.  During the Civil War, America saw terrible battles and experienced loss of life on an unprecedented scale.  When you think of the tens of thousands of men who fell to muskets and bayonets, cannon and canister, you can’t blame a man for being scared to go into battle.  But Private Delaney had sworn an oath.  He was a soldier in Colorado.  And when his battalion was ordered to march down to New Mexico to fight the Confederates, he begged his commanding officer to let him stay behind and take care of his young wife.  But there was nothing the officer could do.  They had all sworn an oath and now they had to fight.  So as the unit started marching south, Private Delaney quietly snuck out of formation and walked away.

When they finally found him a few months later, it was a quick trial.  He was charged with desertion.  It didn’t help his case that he had a bad reputation of being an undisciplined soldier who was often drunk while on duty. And now, he had run away.  A jury of his peers reached a swift decision, and he heard seven fateful words, ‘The Court finds Private Michael Delaney, guilty.’  For his crime, he was to be executed.

On July 18, 1863, Delaney woke up in the dark and came to the slow realization that it wasn’t all a bad dream.  It was real.  He had waited five months for the day of his death. He knew he would die, they just hadn’t decided when. Can you imagine waking up in a cell morning after morning with that hanging over your head?  Kicking yourself over and over for the bad decision that you made?  Trying to deal with the guilt of what comes from your past?

On Easter morning, there were some men who could relate to Michael Delaney.  They were men who woke up in the dark, rubbed the sleep out of their eyes, and came to the slow realization that it wasn’t a bad dream.  It was real. Jesus was dead, and they had deserted him.  Oh, they had talked big just a couple days earlier.  They said nothing would make them run.  They would even die for Jesus.  But then, in the darkness, when the soldiers came to arrest him…they panicked.  Jesus’ closest friends deserted him and fled into the night.

They were so scared that they didn’t go to the crucifixion.  The women and John had to tell them how Jesus died, how he cried out, ‘It is finished!’ and then breathed his last.  Some of the ladies wanted to go early Sunday morning to anoint the body.  They needed help moving the heavy stone that closed the tomb, but none of the disciples was willing to help.  Sometimes your past is just too painful to confront.  So they let the ladies deal with the dead, and they just laid there, holding their guilt.

The past has a way of catching up with you, doesn’t it? Have you ever been like Michael Delaney or Jesus’ disciples? Waking up in the dark and coming to the slow realization that what happened really wasn’t a bad dream?  Maybe you failed a friend or your family.  Maybe you failed your God. The guilt weighs heavily upon you, but you don’t want to think about it.

So how do you deal with it?  Each of us has a favorite way of handling our guilt.  Some of us make bargains with ourselves.  ‘If this works out, I’ll never do it again…’  Some of us try to make it up to the people that we hurt.  We shower them with affection, or we overcompensate with over-the-top gestures of kindness.  And some of us try to pretend it never happened.  ‘Just don’t think about it.  Let the ladies deal with the dead.’  Yet none of these ways can free us from our past.  They’re just band-aids we try to stick over the gaping wound of unresolved guilt.  To fix your past, you need something else.

On July 18, 1863, Private Delaney heard seven words that changed his life.  But not the seven words of the jury. Rather, it was seven words from the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.  Five months after Delaney’s conviction, President Lincoln used one of the greatest powers of his office and wrote seven words that changed a young man’s life.  He wrote: ‘Let him fight instead of being shot.’

In that moment, Delaney was pardoned, freed from his past with seven words.  Just like that…a past that should have condemned him, a guilt that should have meant death, was taken away.  He was free. Leave it to Lincoln to show mercy, humanity and wit in seven words. But even more amazing is that he did it at all!  There was nothing special about this young soldier and an awful lot that was bad.  He was a drunk, a deserter, and a condemned man. He had nothing going for him…except for the mercy of the man in charge who was willing to free him from his past.  You see, freedom from your past doesn’t come from resolutions or bargains or acting like it never happened.  Freedom from your past requires pardon.

The disciples wouldn’t help them, so the ladies set out in the dark that first Easter morning, and walked to where Jesus was buried.  They had watched Jesus suffer and die. They had watched his body get placed in the tomb.  It wasn’t a dream.  It was all too real.  But when they got to the tomb, the guards were gone.  The stone was rolled away. And when they went inside to investigate, an angel told them, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.’  The woman came looking for a man who, in their eyes, died a disappointment.  But the angel pointed them to the place where a dead Jesus should’ve been, but wasn’t. And said seven words that changed their lives forever.  ‘He is not here.  He has risen.’ 

The women had come to the tomb with arms full of spices and hearts full of disappointment.  They left with seven words of pardon and promise.  As they ran to tell the disciples, they ran right into what the angels had told them.  They ran into Jesus in the flesh, alive!  They had come looking for a dead man, but what did they find?  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Jesus Christ is risen to free us. He came back from the dead in victory to set you free from your past.  That’s what he promised, and that’s why he died.  He died because there is nothing you and I can do with the sins that haunt us and the guilt that burdens us.  There’s no way to undo it.  The only answer was for it be pardoned.  So, God’s Son took your place and took my sin.  He went to the cross and paid for it all.  He paid for all the sins that stir your conscience and scald your memory.  He paid for them all and purchased your pardon.  With his dying cry of ‘It is finished!’ he made a promise that came true when he rose from the dead.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Those seven words change everything for us.  They free us from our past.  Do you want proof?  Look at what Jesus said to the ladies: ‘Go and tell my brothers.’  My brothers!  That might not seem like much, until you realize that this is the first time Jesus ever calls them, ‘My brothers.’  Remember what they did?  They deserted Jesus; turned their backs on him, ran away leaving him to die.  And yet, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Go and tell those deserters.’ He didn’t even say, ‘Go and tell my servants.’  No, Jesus, the Son of God, said to those sinners like us, ‘Go and tell my brothers.’  Something changed.  The past had been pardoned.  Because Christ is risen to free us.  The resurrection of Jesus means that God has taken all the sins of your past and all the guilt of your failures, and has buried them in the depths of the bottomless mercy of Jesus.  So you now get to live in the freedom of forgiveness.

Michael Delaney walked out of his jail cell because he had been pardoned by a president.  Can you imagine the sense of gratitude he felt toward President Lincoln?  The President freed him, and he freed him for a purpose.  ‘Let him fight instead of being shot.’  That’s exactly what Michael Delaney did.  He rejoined his unit and reenlisted until the war was over.  No more court martials, no more deserting.  He fought for the man who saved him.

My friends, Jesus freed you for a purpose.  He freed you to live, to fight for the man who saved you.  What does that life look like?  For those of you who haven’t been to church in a while, or who haven’t belonged to a church ever, this is important.  The Church is not here to give you a bunch of rules. Christ didn’t come to give you rules. He came to set you free.  To free you from living like this life is all there is.  To free you from living like a rat on a wheel, chasing after trinkets that will not last. To free you from worrying about what your future holds. Jesus Christ is risen to free you from all that, because he’s got a purpose for you, a future all tied up in those seven words that change your life.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Without Jesus we would be forced to think that this life is everything.  You live, you die, end of story.  So, you better enjoy it now.  If that were the case, then death destroys all your hopes and all your dreams. We would have nothing to do but rage against the dying of the light.  But that’s not the end of the story.  Before that first Easter morning, no one had made that impossible journey to die and then come back.  But Jesus did.  And so he could promise: ‘I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.’ 

My brothers and sisters, we live in a new era that dawned on Easter morning.  It’s an era where sin no longer convicts us.  An era where Satan no longer controls us.  An era where death no longer contains us.  Jesus lives!  That is the beating heart of all our hope, all because of seven words that change your life:  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.

Jesus Is Your Champion

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ”‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.  (Matthew 4:1-11)

Did you ever hear the story of Orgar and Edgar?  I’m going to assume that you probably haven’t.  It happened a really, really, REALLY long time ago.  1096 to be precise.  Orgar accused Edgar of treason, that he falsely claimed to be to be the rightful heir to the crown of England.  Treason was punishable by death in those days, so Edgar, of course, vehemently denied it.  There were no other witnesses, so it was a case of he said/he said.  How were they going to decide who was right?  Oh, that’s easy.  They would do trial by combat.

Ever heard of this way of dispensing justice?  It was used back in the Middle ages in order to determine the ‘judgment of God.’  The accused and the defendant would face off in a duel and essentially fight to the death.  The thinking was that God would intervene on behalf of the innocent party and cause that person to win.  So, that’s what Orgar and Edgar were set to do.  But there was just one problem.  Edgar was old. Far too old to fight.  So, a champion, named Godwin, was brought in to fight in Edgar’s place.  The bloody combat began and Godwin did well.  So well, in fact, that even though his sword broke in the middle of the fight, he still won the day.  As Godwin placed his foot upon his conquered foe in victory, Orgar confessed to his lie.  And just like that, Edgar was freed from the charge and saved from certain death.

What do you suppose would have happened if there was no champion to fight for Edgar?  How do you think he would have fared against his much younger, more able, and more powerful enemy?  Probably not so well.  Unless some divine intervention actually took place, he most definitely would have been cut to pieces.  It would not have mattered how much he trained, how much he wanted to win, or how hard he would have tried.  On his own, he would have been struck down and destroyed.

In our Gospel today, we heard of another battle, another duel taking place.  At first glance it may seem like it wasn’t much of a fight at all.  But let us not pretend this was easy for Jesus.  Imagine what it would like to go the next 24 hours without any food at all.  How would you feel if you skipped lunch and dinner?  How loudly would your stomach be growling tomorrow morning?  What if you extended that another day?  A week?  A month?  By that point would you even be able to stand?  Whatever you imagine this hunger to be like, Jesus felt it.  He was made to be like us in every way.  How does Satan’s temptation sound to you now?  ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’  How hard must it have been to say no?

Yet even as exhausted as Jesus was, he was confronted with more.  Ever had a moment where someone challenged you to do something stupid, and they just wouldn’t quit?  They kept nagging and nagging you.  ‘Come on, jump that fence!  Come on, race me!’  Eventually you say ‘Fine!’ just to shut them up.  By this point the Devil had been hounding Jesus for all of these forty days.  An endless barrage of challenges and trials.  And then he hears, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.’  He knew Satan was up to no good, but how much do you think he just wanted to put him in his place. ‘Fine, I’ll jump, just to prove to you who I am!’  How hard must it have been to say no?

Then again, Satan comes at him.  Ever had a moment where you knew, ever so clearly, which way was right and which way was wrong?  And in that moment, did you ever find yourself still desiring the wrong because it was easier, because it was quicker, because it wouldn’t hurt so much?  That’s what Jesus faced.  He had given up everything to come down to this earth.  He would get it all back, but only after he suffered for it.  And now he hears, ‘All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.’  Think of the temptation!  No fuss, no mess.  Everything that is rightfully his, without any cost.  The book of Hebrews tells us, ‘he was tempted in every way, just as we are,’ and that, ‘he himself suffered when he was tempted.’  How hard must it have been to say no?

So, how do you think you would fair in this kind of battle against Satan?  Would you be able to survive against this onslaught of temptation?  No, the devil won’t ask you to change stones into bread.  But he does invite us to stop trusting in God and take matters into our own hands.  He loves to suggest that we change our offering commitment to the LORD into a larger commitment to ourselves.  And all too often, we agree with him.  No, he won’t take you to the top of the Capital building and tell you to throw yourself down.  But he does invite us to test the LORD.  He loves to suggest that we see just how far we can push the limits of God’s Law and still get away with it.  And too many times, we like his ideas.  No, he won’t offer us all the kingdoms of the world.  But he does invite us to bow down to the idols of riches and success.  He loves to suggest that doing what makes you happy is far more enjoyable than doing what God says is right.  And time and again, we believe his lies.

The truth is we have battled against Satan again and again in our lives.  And we have the lost the battle against sin over and over.  Just like our first father in the garden of Eden we have followed after the Devil’s lies.  Adam’s curse has been passed down to us and so we have earned for ourselves condemnation and death.  As much as we would like to think that there’s still a chance for us to come out on top, it is nothing but a fool’s errand.  It does not matter how much we may train, or how hard we may try, or how much we may want to conquer sin, it simply cannot happen.  We cannot win.  On our own, the battle is lost even before it begins.

Are you beginning to see why Jesus was there in the desert?  Are you beginning to understand why he was led by the Spirit into that desolate place?  It seems so strange that his Father would put in him this position, to give him such a hard road to travel.  But it was for good reason.  It was all for you.  Jesus was sent there to take our place, to defend our souls, to do what no other person could ever do.  He went into battle with Satan to be our champion!

What a perfect champion he was!  Even with his body weakened by hunger, he did not bite on the temptation to forsake his trust in God.  And so, he covered over every moment in which we threw that same trust away.  Even with the nonstop barrage of temptation coming at him, he did not give in to the goading of his enemy.  He would not challenge his Father’s plan or question his love.  And so, he made righteous every time we tested the LORD and crossed over the boundaries of his Law.  Even though he knew just how awful and painful his path would be to take his rightful place at his Father’s side he would not take the shortcut to save his own skin.  And so, he transformed all of our love of this world and made it holy in God’s sight.  By deflecting every one of Satan’s attacks Jesus was earning perfection for us, preparing a robe of righteousness that we would wear for all eternity.

Jesus was no hired gun, fighting only for his own fame and fortune.  No, he is our champion fueled by love, a warrior willing to sacrifice everything to save his people.  That is why he kept going after this battle was ended.  Even through years of rejection by his countrymen.  Even through days of harassment by the authorities.  Even through hours of agony on the cross.  He would not stop until he had completed the mission and won the victory.  His innocent life was given, his holy blood was shed. And because of this, victory is ours.  We will face no condemnation.  We will not suffer the torments of hell.  Instead, we will sing forever in heaven, ‘For us fights the valiant one, whom God himself elected…Our victory is won; the kingdom’s ours forever!’

It was quite a battle that took place in the wilderness.  It was a fight not for the ages, but a fight for the masses.  It was the Son of God and the Devil warring over countless souls to determine their eternal fate.  And while the battle has ended with Christ’s complete victory, skirmishes still take place in our lives every day that we must fight.  Jesus may have physically left this world, but he did not leave us empty-handed in our struggle against the dark forces of this world.  If you go back to that battlefield in the desert you will find the one thing Jesus used to beat back the Devil and cut him down to size.  You will find the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.

With this fierce weapon in our hands we can then take our stand against the evil one.  We are not destined to fall into every trap the devil lays.  We are not bound to follow after every lie that he tells.  We are equipped to know the truth, and for that truth to set us free from sin.  When we feed on the Word we will remember that it is our source of life, and that nothing matters more than the grace it gives.  When we read the pages of Scripture we will take to heart what God has commanded and will love to follow his will.  When we study the Bible over and over we will learn that all the riches of this world mean nothing in comparison to the riches that our champion has won for us.  And so, we will love and worship him above all else.  With this ultimate weapon in our hands there is nothing the Devil can do.  One little word can fell him.

How scared Edgar must have been to think that he would have to fight his battle alone.  How relieved he must have felt to see his champion rise to the challenge and defeat his foe.  To think of us trying to defeat Satan all on our own would terrify us down to our very soul.  But what joy we have to know that our Champion has defeated the old evil foe.  Jesus is our Champion!  May this truth bring you confidence in all your daily battles, and give you the most blessed hope of peace forevermore.  Amen.

Lent Begins

Tomorrow is the beginning of the season of Lent, a forty day journey of repentance and renewal.  As disciples of the Lord Jesus, we are called to struggle against everything that leads us away from love of God and neighbor.  In preparation for Easter, we fix our eyes on Jesus, who endured the scorn and shame of the cross for our salvation.

St. Mark will be having special midweek services to help focus our hearts and minds on Christ. The first will take place tomorrow, March 1st, on what is commonly known as Ash Wednesday. Worship with communion will begin at 7:00 PM.  A soup supper will be offered beforehand, starting at 6:00 PM.

Listen to Him!

‘Listen to him.’  I will never forget those words.  I will never forget that voice, booming from above.  It was so simple; so straight-forward.  ‘Listen to him.’  And yet, it was something that I just couldn’t remember to do, time and time again.

Less than a week before James, John and I had our mountaintop experience, I had one of those moments.  Jesus had asked us who we thought that he was.  And I, Peter, the usual spokesman for the group, had an answer.  ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ I said.  After giving this confession, Jesus told me some amazing things.  That on this truth he was going to build his church.  That the gates of hell could not overcome it.  That I would receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus called me blessed for proudly proclaiming who he was.  It showed that I had been listening. 

But then, Jesus started talking about what the Christ must do.  He talked about suffering.  He talked about dying.  I heard him, but I wasn’t really listening.  I tried to talk him out of it saying, ‘This shall never happen to you!’  And that’s when Jesus turned to me and called me Satan, because I was trying to stand in the way of what his Father sent him to do.  And then he started talking about how we would all have to deny ourselves and take up crosses and even lose our lives.  These were important words, essential ones. But how soon I would forget.

So a few days later we come up to this high mountain, the three of us and Jesus.  And then, something happened.  I can’t really explain what it was or how it was, but Jesus…changed.  It was as if this glorious light within him was trying to get out.  He just started glowing brighter and brighter.  His face began to blaze like the noon-day sun.  Even his clothes shone with brilliance.  Believe me, his was no trick of the sunlight; this was no momentary glare or reflection.  This was a miraculous metamorphism taking place.  It was as if he was revealing himself to us; showing us the fullness of what he truly possessed.

If that wasn’t enough to knock our sandals off, suddenly two men appeared with Jesus.  And just any men—Moses and Elijah!  How I knew it was them, I couldn’t tell you.  But it was crystal clear in my mind, even as it was being blown away.  What a sight this was!  Moses the great giver of the Law; Elijah the great prophet of the Messiah; and Jesus the glorious fulfillment of all things.  Who would ever want to leave this holy place?  Certainly, not me!  So I said, ‘Lord, this is amazing!  This is awesome!  Let’s stay here.  Let’s not go anywhere.  Here, we can make some shelters for each one of you.  I don’t even need one. We’ll just stay outside.  Please, don’t ever let this glory end.’

I almost didn’t notice that at this very same moment, a cloud was rolling in.  And just any cloud.  It was bright and shining; kind of like Jesus was.  Soon it surrounded us, sheltered us, cut us off from everything else.  Then the voice of the Father came forth.  ‘This is my Son, whom I live; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!’  The voice of God registered down to my very soul.  It so overwhelmed me and the others that we fell to the ground, too terrified even to look up.  But then, just as quick as it all happened, it was over.  Jesus, no longer basked in glory, put his hands on our shoulders and said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ 

He told us not to tell anyone about this moment.  He said the three of us should keep it to ourselves, which we did.  But we also talked to each other about it, trying to figure out what it all meant.  Clearly, we were meant to see this.  Surely this meant something important.  There was something more this this than just a display of power, than just a show of glory.  Jesus wasn’t trying to scare us or even wow us.  He wanted to give us something, I just didn’t know what.  And the voice of the Father just kept ringing in my ears, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!’

Soon, the time came for all of Jesus’ words to come true; even the ones that I didn’t want to hear. He warned me that I was going to deny him, but I thought I was too strong for that.  In the garden, he told me to watch and pray so as to not fall into temptation, but I was too tired to heed the advice.  Then the soldiers came with their swords and clubs, and Jesus was taken away.  It was just as he said it would be, that it must be…but I could no longer hear him. And it all went downhill from there. First, I tried to stop them with my sword.  Later I denied even knowing Jesus.  And finally, in fear and terror I called down curses on myself to save my own skin.  When the rooster crowed, I knew what had happened.  I hadn’t followed the command of my Lord.  I hadn’t heeded the Word of my God.  I did not listen to him.

Some time later, however, I was able to look back at the Mount of Transfiguration, and find peace once again in my soul.  Because in that moment Jesus was showing himself to me as he truly was.  Not merely a rabbi, not only a friend, not just a brother, but the Son of the living God.  In that place we got a glimpse of his glory that we might remember it as he became the suffering servant.  He was not some weak prophet being taken down by the establishment.  He was the promised Messiah who needed to die for the sins of the world.  He was the Majestic Glory, willingly laying down his life for me.  This is why he was beloved by his Father.  This is why with him, God was well pleased.  This is why we all must listen to him, for he is our Savior.  Because of this majestic sight, I knew I was forgiven.  I knew what glories soon awaited me in his kingdom.  So, no matter what I faced, I would listen to him my whole life through.  This glimpse of the glory of Jesus would strengthen me time and time again.

Now perhaps you are thinking to yourself, ‘Well, that’s great for you, Peter.  But what about me?  I wasn’t there to see Jesus’ glory shine.  I wasn’t wrapped up in that cloud.  I didn’t hear the voice of God.  What good is all this going to do for me?’

Well, let me ask you this: Have you ever gotten so wrapped up in your own plans and ideas that you didn’t have time to take Jesus’ words to heart? And so, your Bible didn’t get read between Monday and Saturday.  Have you ever been so displeased with what Jesus said that you decided your way was better? And so, it became okay to skip worship again and again. Have you ever been so worried about what others might think of you that you decided to set the Word of God aside?  And so, you didn’t speak up when his truth was being maligned.  Have you ever been so overcome by fear that you forgot the promises of God and wallowed in doubt and despair?  Even though we know and believe the Word of our God to be the source of all that is good and pure and right, still, we fail to listen to him time and time again.  And to do so is no less than to deny our Lord and our God.

But just as Jesus said to me on that holy mountain, so also, I say to you: ‘Don’t be afraid.’  Instead, hear again the voice of your heavenly Father: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’  Behold the sight of Jesus, your Lord and your Redeemer.  See the heavenly glory shine forth from his face, for he is the source of your salvation.  The one who goes meekly before the high priest is also the one who possesses the power to crush Satan under his feet.  The one who is disfigured by whips and nails and thorns is also the one who has the strength to destroy the curse of sin.  The one who dies on the tree is also the one who is able to conquer death; not just for himself, but for all the world.  This is the beloved Son of God who is able to cover all of your failures to listen with his perfect righteousness.  This is heaven’s most glorious King, come to free you from all your denials with his innocent death.

So, ‘Listen to him!’  Listen to him as he declares from his cross, ‘It is finished.’ and know that your sins have been paid for.  Listen to him as he rises from the grave and so proclaims, ‘You will be with me in paradise.’  Listen to him as he pours out the water of your baptism and says, ‘your guilt is washed away.’  Listen to him as speaks in Communion and declares, ‘This is my body and my blood, for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.’  Listen to him as he proclaims his unfailing love for you that will be with you both now on this earth, and forever in heaven.

And then, having been filled with the fullness of his grace and glory, listen to him your whole life through. Listen to him as he calls you away from the darkness of sin and towards the light of his Word.  Listen to him as he shows you the way to live to the glory of his name.  Listen to him as the reveals to you the best way to live: loving your neighbor as yourself; respecting those in authority; helping others in their need; and proclaiming the Gospel to all.  Listen to him as he guides you through this veil of tears with the non-stop promises of comfort and strength.  Listen to him as he turns your attention away from the trappings of this world and to your eternal glory that awaits in the kingdom of heaven.

‘Listen to him!’ This is what drove me to keep on preaching even after I was flogged and told to speak of Jesus no more.  This is what kept me going even as I was bound in chains in prison.  This is what gave me the courage to follow after the ways of God even as many others around me told me not to bother.  So, ‘Listen to him!’ Never forget these words of your heavenly Father.  Never forget the glimpse of glory that you have seen in his Son.  Never forget to focus all your attention on Christ.  For he is everything that you will ever need, forevermore.  Amen.