"God Has Visited His People"
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
Seventh Sunday in Martyrs' Tide
St. Luke 7:11-17
September 23, 2012
IN NOMINE JESU
As I looked over the readings for today, I couldn't help but think of a song I learned when I was in Sunday school: "Jesus Loves the Little Children." The last verse and the refrain really come to mind today:
All around the world tonight
His children rest assured
That He will watch and He will keep us
Safe and secure
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They're all precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
I think about last Sunday, when Tanya and I got to meet and hold our new nephew Mason for the very first time. That day I also played with his sister Lexi for a little bit. On Thursday we saw our niece Mikayla play volleyball the day after she was called up to the junior varsity team. And on Friday her brother David called me to sell me some popcorn for a Boy Scout fundraiser. Yes, I ordered some popcorn from him. I have long called myself the World's Greatest Uncle, and there are four reasons why I believe I am: Mikayla, David, Alexandra, and now Mason. My titling myself the World's Greatest Uncle has absolutely nothing to do with me; it has everything to do with these four blessings God has placed in my life, each of them a gift of God and a gift from God.
Throughout the Gospels we see our Lord with children. We have heard of His love for them. In Mark 10, the Gospel read at a Baptism, He took children into His arms and blessed them. He told His disciples that the kingdom of God belongs to children such as these. In Matthew 18, we hear of this exchange between the Lord and His disciples:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
"Whoever receives one such child in My Name receives Me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. [Mt. 18:1-6]
We heard in our Readings the Lord's love for children. In our Old Testament reading the prophet Elijah raised the widow's son from the dead. In our text, the Lord raised the son of the widow from Nain. Elijah prayed that God would restore the boy. The Lord commanded the lad to rise. God was praised both times. The widow at Zerephath said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God" (1 K 17:24b), and the crowds said of Jesus, "A great prophet has risen among us!" (v. 16b). The widow said to Elijah, "The word of the LORD in your mouth is truth" (1 K 17:24c), and the crowds said of Jesus, "God has visited His people!" (v. 16c). The same thing happened in both readings: a dead boy was brought back to life. Another thing happened in both readings: the word of the Lord in the mouths of the prophets was truth; Elijah spoke the truth, as God gave him the words to use, and Jesus spoke the truth, for He is God and thus cannot lie. This also is true: God has visited His people. He visited the widows at Zerephath and Nain. He visited their sons and raised them from the dead. And today He visits us. He visits us, coming to us in His Word, the Word of the Lord as the Holy Spirit gave the Psalmist, the writer of 1 Kings, the blessed apostle St. Paul, and the blessed Evangelist St. Luke, the human authors of our Psalm and Readings for today. God has visited us, announcing Himself to us, coming in His Word.
Three months ago, we heard another specific incident where God visited His people, at the birth of St. John the Baptist. Zechariah, once rendered mute for doubting the word of the Lord that came through the angel Gabriel, spoke again for keeping that same word by naming his son John. The old priest could not help but sing for joy at the birth of his son; he could not help but praise God. What the Holy Spirit led Zechariah to say is now one of the great canticles of the Church: the Benedictus, Latin for "Blessed is he":
"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for He has visited and redeemed His people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of His servant David,
as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember His holy covenant,
the oath that He swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve Him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to His people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the Sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace." [1:68-79]
Notice that in the first five lines of this great hymn Zechariah praises God for visiting and redeeming His people, "as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old" (1:70). Our God visits, and He speaks. He speaks, and He visits. One of the Ancient Church Fathers, the Venerable Bede, said, "[The Lord] has visited [His people], not once only, through the Incarnation of His Word [the Word becoming flesh]; He visits them at all times, by sending His Word into our hearts, to awaken us to life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
There is one basic truth about life that we all know: it is next to impossible to awaken something that's already dead. I do not have a green thumb; it's black and totally incapable of keeping any form of plant life alive, let alone resuscitating it. There are instances of people being brought back to life after being declared clinically dead, but more often than not, when a person's body dies, it stays dead. I remember my nephew David at the visitation prior to my Beth's funeral. He was almost five years old. He and his grampa walked up to the casket where Beth's body lay, and when they came back my dad told me that David was patting Beth's hands, trying to wake her up. I looked at my nephew and said, "You did?" His eyes grew wide, thinking I was upset by what he did. I got down on a knee, put my arm around him, smiled, and said, "That's OK. I did that, too."
But despite our best efforts, we cannot do what God can do: restore human life. There's a reason why we can't bring our loved ones—or anyone else—back to life. They are dead physically, and we are dead spiritually. Apart from God, our souls are as dead as those bodies now laid to rest. We are spiritually dead—dead in our trespasses and sins. The Holy Spirit has been working in us to bring us to saving faith in Jesus Christ, who desires to visit us through His Word and Sacraments, saying, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20)—"so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…" (Eph. 3:17a). But our sinful nature does not wish to answer the Lord's call to believe in Him. It does not want to receive this divine Visitor. We don't want to see Him, we don't want to hear Him, and we certainly don't want to eat with Him. Our sinful nature does not want us to believe in Him. You see, God's Law points right into our sinful hearts and declares us guilty of sin and worthy of death—eternal death, a death that would have us rot in hell for all eternity, where the Lord will not visit us, where we will be eternally separated from the Lord. It can be a terrible thing to be remembered by the Lord, but it is even more terrifying to think about being separated from Him forever.
This is why the Lord continues to send His Holy Spirit into our hearts, just as He did at our Baptism, where the Old Adam—the sinful nature—in us was drowned in water and God's Word. At the font our Lord visited you, baptizing you in and into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Lord has visited you and brought you into His house, where you are His guest and where He gives you His good and gracious gifts. Here in the Lord's house He visits you, coming to you in His Word. As He said to the widow in our text, He also says to us, "Do not weep," for He has compassion—mercy—on us as we grieve over our many and great sins that have left us for dead. Do not weep, for your sins are forgiven. Your heavenly Father has forgiven you for the sake of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and He has given you the promise of eternal life.
You see, fellow redeemed, Christ the Lord has come to visit you today by way of the cross of Calvary on that first Good Friday. There at Golgotha the crucified Lord hung on the cross, not visited—but abandoned—by His Father. God the Father abandoned His Son so that His Son would in His resurrected self come and visit us. Jesus visited and redeemed us His people. First, He came in the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh and living among us, as one of us, yet without sin. He visited the Jordan to become baptized by John, "to fulfill all righteousness," as He Himself said, willingly placing Himself under the Law and fulfilling it for us. He visited the cross, where He spoke His "Seven Words." There on the cross Jesus was a beaten, bloodied sacrificial Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world, where He won your forgiveness, which He gives to you in His Word and Sacraments. He visited the cross in His body and was crucified—nailed—there, the same body He gives you to eat in His Supper, along with His blood for you to drink. He visits you at His altar, where you taste His forgiveness upon your lips, where you taste and see that the Lord is good. He visits you, speaking His sweet words of invitation to you: "Take, eat, this is My body, given for you. Take, drink, this is My blood, shed for you." He visits you from the lectern and the pulpit, where the Word of the Lord in the mouths of His prophets, His pastors, is truth. God's Word is true, for Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, giving His Word and Sacraments their power. The risen Christ has visited you and touched the bier—that is, the casket—of your sin-filled body and says to you, "Young man (Young lady), I say to you, arise." By His Word we are risen in Christ, made alive by His resurrection, made alive again at our Baptism, made alive once again in Holy Absolution, made alive yet again in His read and proclaimed Word, and made alive still again in the Lord's Supper, "that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19). God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. Amen.
"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:20-21).
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.