Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sermon for 5/8/2011 "Jesus' Self-Revelation"

Sermon “Jesus’ Self-Revelation” audio link

Our Lord, open our eyes as you opened the eyes of your disciples on the road to Emmaus, that we may see you, who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Our God has revealed himself to his people in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God the Son. As simple and commonplace as this may seem to you and to me, it’s one of those statements which should be absolutely shocking to us. The people of Israel by and large saw that God had revealed himself to them as the God who accepts their sacrifices and their praise, but who, though he is omnipresent and able to reach and protect them anywhere, has no immediate fellowship with his people. God speaks with Moses face to face and leaves Moses’ face glowing with the radiance of his presence. This is so fearful that nobody wants to see Moses’ face, so Moses gets to wear a veil. When Moses asks to see God’s glory, God refuses it and shows him the backside of his mercy. So the children of Israel are used to the idea of God revealing himself through the mediation of the prophets. There is no concept of encountering God face to face. There is certainly no idea that the mighty God of all creation would walk, talk, sit and dine with his people.

The concept of God revealing himself clearly and personally was also a shocking foreign concept to the people of Rome and Greece. To the residents of the Mediterranean region, the gods were to be feared and appeased. They revealed themselves through circumstances but not through any sort of definitive record. The people had to figure out what to do in order to turn away the anger of the deities, though they knew this would only be partially successful. The idea of a God who is predictable and consistent with himself was completely foreign to these people.

Yet the Christian faith is a faith in the God who has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ, living a perfect life, dying a death on our behalf to atone for our sins, creating faith in the hearts of his people, then protecting them to eternity. This is shocking news. May God grant us grace to recover the sense of shock and awe at what he has done, seen in today’s readings.

First, we see that Jesus has revealed himself through the Scriptures. Notice that when he is speaking to the disciples on the road to Emmaus he explains to them from Moses and the Prophets what kind of a savior he is. Jesus, who identifies himself as the living word of God, has given the Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to talk about himself. We confess that the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, are inspired of God and serve as our definitive revelation of Jesus, God the Son, who purchases the redemption of his people from sin. This is not something that is isolated, but it is everywhere in the Scripture. All the word of God speaks of Jesus, the living Word of God. Unlike the paganism of the region, God has revealed himself in a definitive way. The Scripture is available. It is not kept hidden, like the writings of the mystery religions. It is not considered secret knowledge, like the later Gnostic writings. It is not something which is to be revealed only to the enlightened few, like the writings of the ancient philosophers. It is spread abroad, read and copied everywhere. And because the Bible is a written revelation of God, it can be studied repeatedly and carefully, unlike an oral tradition, as we find in mythology. There is a very clear, distinctive, definitive self-revelation of God. It’s here for our inspection. That’s why, as Christians, we encourage people to get out their Bibles and read, study, take notes, and discuss the Scripture. We want to know our Lord as well as we can. Since he has revealed himself in the Scripture we take advantage of that.

Now, is it possible to read the Scripture and not believe? Can the Word of God be read with a faithless heart? This is a bigger question than some of you might think. And I don’t want to go into every detail. I’ll just give a plain answer with hardly any nuances for now. We’ll clean it up later as we need to. Can you read the Bible and not be changed by the message? Yes. At least on one level. Words are words and unbelievers can read those words from Scripture and persist in their unbelief. Does the Word of God produce an effect? Yes, we confess that as well. The word of God does not return void. He accomplishes his purpose (Isaiah 55). Yet we see that people, many people, can read the Scripture and not believe. Maybe, by God’s grace, in the last day, our Lord does finally open the eyes of those who have heard his word. But we don’t always see it.

We do, however, see in the Gospel reading today that Jesus reveals himself to his disciples by opening their eyes, creating faith in their hearts, so they can see him as he is. Jesus, through the proclamation of himself in Scripture, does create faith in his people. He draws people to himself. And we can have confidence in that activity. Even as I will take every opportunity I have to persuade people of the truth of the Gospel, I know that I don’t have the power to do so. It is only through the Holy Spirit working in me, only through the power of the Word of God, that anyone will believe on the Lord. And I may never see that. Yet we know that Jesus creates faith in his people through the proclamation of the Gospel, both as it is given in a sermon or a Bible reading, or as it is given through baptism, as our Lord promises forgiveness of sins through water and the Word. Is that faith nurtured? I hope and pray that we will take seriously the command of Jesus to teach believers in all that he has commanded us. Our Lord can and will open the eyes of his followers to see him. But he may be using us as we talk about the Scriptures and see how Jesus is there on every page.

How else does Jesus reveal himself here? He reveals himself in the breaking of bread, feeding his disciples physically, but at the same time planting in them a hunger for his righteousness. This is one of the ways we see receiving communion as so very important. As we see and receive Jesus, the true bread of heaven, feeding us, washing us from sin, and reminding us he is with us, we hunger for him more. This is why the Reformers for the most part tried to make the Sacrament available at any time, to as many people as would receive the body and blood of our Lord. For that matter, that’s why I try to keep some wine, bread, and cups in my briefcase, along with a bottle of anointing oil to go with prayers for the sick. We want God’s gracious provision to be available to his people. Our Lord came to forgive, save, and heal. May we see him more clearly in his merciful presence.

So what are we supposed to do with this Gospel? When we hear the Gospel, aren’t we supposed to go do something? That’s what so many of our American Christians will beat us up with. And I’ve spent years, and so have some of you, being beaten about the head with demands. If we really believe we’ll . . . you fill in the blank. I want us to look again at the pattern we see in the reading from Acts. And I want us to cling to this pattern. Hold on to it.

The people, hearing Peter, were convicted by the Holy Spirit. They were repentant. They knew their sins. The verbs used in Acts 2.37 are all in the past tense. The people, having been cut to the heart . . . see how it’s in the past? Their question is a response to that conviction. Now I need to translate something from Greek for you. I’m sorry to do it so late in the sermon. But this is important. Here’s what Acts 2.38 actually says. It isn’t quite in good English, which is why your copy of the Bible doesn’t say it this way. But here’s what it says.

“But Peter (said) to them, ‘Having repented, also be baptized once (and only once), each of you, upon the name of Jesus Christ into a departure of your sins, and you will be receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

How do we respond to the repentance created in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of Scripture. Because we have repented, we receive baptism. We who have been baptized live in that baptism, because it’s a baptism which places us on the foundation of Jesus’ name. It’s a baptism which results in our sins going away. It’s a baptism which washes us and promises us the ongoing washing of the Holy Spirit. What do we do in light of the word of the Gospel? We live. We receive. We walk as recipients of that repentant life our Lord has given us. That’s all. Our Lord has already done all the work. We receive it from God’s mercy and grace.

Let us rise to pray.

Our Lord, you have revealed yourself. As you grant us repentance for our striving, for our desire to live our own way, for our self-sufficiency, also grant us faith in your promise. Humble us that we may walk in light of your forgiveness. Let us receive daily the faith you created in us through baptism and the washing of your word. Nourish us with your body and blood. Give us a hunger for our communion with you in eternity, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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