Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Who is Jesus?

Sermon for the Holy Trinity, preached on Sunday, May 22, 2016, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

         Last Sunday marked the end of the first half of the church year and today we begin the second half.  We go from focusing on the events in Jesus’ life: His birth, death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven, to focusing on His teachings.  We do this today by directing our attention to the great mystery of the Trinity, one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, and this God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
          Jesus is one with the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.  He’s the pre-incarnate Wisdom of the Father, and before the Father ever said, “Let there be light,” Jesus was.
          In our Gospel reading, the Jews questioned Jesus’ identity.  They said He was a Samaritan, a man with a corrupted heritage, and they were certain He had a demon because He spoke the Gospel saying, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (Jn 8:51).  The Jews couldn’t believe this claim because the greatest of the greatest, the most faithful Jews of history died.  All the prophets died, and even their father Abraham died.  Jesus responded by saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day.  He saw it and was glad” (Jn 8:56).  Once Jesus said this, the Jews definitely knew Jesus was possessed because there’s no way Jesus could have seen Abraham.  But Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58).  Hearing this, the Jews heard enough and they picked up stones to throw at Jesus because they considered His words blasphemous.  Jesus just identified Himself as God, the great “I am” who spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Ex 3:14).  By saying “I am,” Jesus identified Himself as God, one with the Father.
John also testifies to Christ’s oneness with the Father in the beginning of his Gospel.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:1-3).  Jesus, the pre-incarnate Word was, and is, one with the Creator Father who brought all of life into existence.    
The Old Testament reading from Proverbs (8:1-4, 22-31) puts it another way.  With poetic language, wisdom is personified, and this Wisdom is none other than the pre-incarnate Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father.  In our reading, He proclaims His presence at the beginning, when the heavens were established and the foundations were laid.  He stood next to the Father like a master workman, a builder, and He daily rejoiced before the Father.  He rejoiced in the inhabited world and His delight was the children of man.
          Just take a moment and think about that.  The delight of the pre-incarnate Wisdom, the delight of the “I am,” the delight of the Son of God is the lowly creature man.  It wasn’t the beauty of the flowers, the strength of the beasts, or even the wonders of heaven, but it was man.  We are Christ’s delight, He finds joy in us, in you.  In all of creation, you’re the most precious thing to Him, and that’s why the Son of God became man, to be your Redeemer. 
          Every Sunday we confess it together, whether it’s with the words of the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed, or with the Athanasian Creed that we say today, we confess the incarnation of God’s Son.  Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus is fully God and fully man.  Christ humbled Himself and was born in the likeness of men.  This likeness wasn’t a similarity, but a sameness.  He was the same as you in every way.  He was flesh and bone, He hungered and thirst, He suffered physically and He felt the full range of emotions that you do: happiness and joy, sadness and mourning.  Jesus become man and was like you in every way, except one...He was without sin. 
          Christ was perfect.  He followed all the 10 Commandments, He obeyed the Father’s will.  He was born without original sin having been conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus was sinless and the only man to walk this earth who was so, and He had to be, so that He could die on the cross and atone for all our sin.
          If Christ wasn’t fully man, He couldn’t have died on the cross, and if He wasn’t fully God, His sacrifice would be useless.  But because He’s 100% God and 100% man His death saves you from sin.  He paid the penalty for it.  Christ is your Redeemer, your Lord who frees you from death, and He gives you new life.  He promised this to you when He said “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death” (Jn 8:51). 
          This word is the word of the Gospel, the Good News of salvation in Christ alone.  This word is life changing, it’s life giving, but it’s also a word that’s counter-intuitive.  It goes against common thinking.  It’s a word that we can’t keep on our own.  So, Jesus has given us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier. 
          Before Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, He told His disciples that He would send them the promise of the Father (Lk 24:49).  He did this on Pentecost, and having received the Spirit, the disciples were enabled to proclaim the Word of Jesus in different languages.  We heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon in our second reading today (Acts 2:14a, 22-36).  With the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly preached Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the people of Jerusalem, and the Holy Spirit worked through this preaching, and He created faith within 3,000 souls that day.
          In the same way, the Spirit creates faith in you.  Through the hearing of God’s Word, He gives you trust in that Word, trust in Christ Jesus your Savior.  We confessed this truth together last week when we said, “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”  The Helper gives you faith and keeps you in it.  Through the continual hearing of Scripture, through the continual eating and drinking of Christ’s true body and blood, the Spirit strengthens your faith, enabling you to confess who Jesus is, enabling you to call Him Lord, and enabling you to keep His Word. 
          The mystery of the Trinity is difficult for us to understand.  Our rational finite minds are incapable of fully grasping it.  We can’t explain how our one God is Triune; and yet, He is.  This is the truth, and we have faith in this truth because the Spirit has given us this faith.  This faith confesses the one God in Three Persons.  This faith confesses who Jesus is: the only-begotten Son of God, and our Savior from sin and death.  And this faith confesses and looks forward to the everlasting life that Christ has promised us.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.


Anonymous said...

You wrote, “Before Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, He told His disciples that He would send them the promise of the Father (Lk 24:49). He did this on Pentecost, and having received the Spirit, the disciples were enabled to proclaim the Word of Jesus in different languages. “ If a layperson had written this, I would try to correct that person gently. But I am incensed that an ordained pastor, supposedly with a seminary education, would write such nonsense.
On the day of His resurrection, our Lord appeared to the Apostles, and, John 20: 22, “… When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
On the day of His ascension, our Lord said, Acts 1: 8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." That is what happened on Pentecost. The Apostles did not receive the Holy Spirit but He “came upon them” to give them the special powers promised by our Lord.
Lest you think that I am quibbling about words, our Lord Himself “quibbled” about them when He said, John 14: 16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Why is this important? Because it prevents ignorant pastors from claiming that what happened to the Apostles on Pentecost is the same thing that happens to us. The Apostles received unique powers which no group of people ever received from God before and never since. To imply that what happens to us in Baptism is the same thing only creates doubt and guilt in people, because they ask, “Why do I not speak in many languages, why can I not heal the sick or raise the dead? Do I really have the gift of the Holy Spirit and do I really have faith?”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

George, There is nothing in that sermon that you are incensed about that precludes or even presupposes anything different from what you said -- that the apostles received the promised Spirit to speak in other tongues (a unique event) for bold witness to the saving Gospel -- the same disciples who had received the Holy Spirit on Easter evening for different purpose and blessing. If you read a few weeks ago, there was another sermon on this blog (by which pastor I do not know) which spoke of the Spirit, breathed upon the apostles by the Lord on Easter evening - an ordination, so to speak, as I think it was put. It is a quibbling over minutiae to distinguish receiving the Holy Spirit and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. Can you separate Christ from His gifts or the Spirit from His work? Where does this sermon imply that Pentecost's Spirit, gifts, and power comes to us in our baptism to do exactly what the apostles did? That is a stretch. I know you have a thing for Lutherans speaking more about the work of the Holy Spirit. I have read many times you comments complaining on this blog about either the lack of sermons on the work of the Spirit or the failure to acknowledge the work of the Spirit in conjunction with the topic being preached or getting something about the person and work of the Spirit not quite right by your standards. I am shocked that you are so critical. I hear hardly any mention of the Holy Spirit in my Lutheran parish and certainly not near as much or as clearly explained as the sermons on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous: I have been away for two weeks. I tried to answer you from a different computer, but the system would not let me post. I hope you will get this message even though it is “under the fold”, so to speak.
The reason I am agitated is that I have a memory of hearing pastors preach on this topic on several occasions, when they chided their listeners, because, having received the same Spirit as the Apostles “on Pentecost,” we have let our faith become so weak that we are unable to even come close to doing the deeds the Apostles did. This goes back many years, and I cannot give you names and dates, but I can assure you that it was more than once, that I was very disturbed and entertained doubts as to whether I was really a Christian.
My concern is not so much for the purity of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, as it is for the purity of the Gospel. Hermann Sasse, who quoted a colleague with approval, who had written, “the doctrine of the Holy Spirit has lost its citizenship in the Lutheran Church,” later wrote that if we do not have the doctrine of the Holy Spirit right, it will eventually affect our understanding of the Gospel in a negative way. Just recently I had a pastor write to me that we (meaning Christians, members of the Kingdom of God) receive the Holy Spirit every time we hear the Gospel. I don’t think the matter of the Holy Spirit is that difficult; Scripture teaches clearly about it. We, as a church, should just sit down and make sure we understand what it says.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart