Malachi 3:1-5, Colossians 1:15-20, John 15:1-11
Hymns: LSB 353, 333, 934, 341
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Once He came in blessing, all our sins redressing.” Jesus came in the flesh to bear our sins in His Body, go to the cross, and redeem us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil through His holy precious Blood and innocent suffering and death. Only a Man could die, but only God could render the perfect payment for all people. And so, Jesus did all this for us when He came in the flesh some 2000 years ago.
Just think how amazing it would have been to be alive during those years. Previously some people during some periods had witnessed amazing miracles through Moses, Elijah, or Elisha. But most heard the plain and simple word of the priests and prophets who spoke of the coming of the Messiah.
Then, in the fullness of time, Jesus came in the flesh. He preached with authority. He drove out demons, healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, and even raised the dead. To see Him in the flesh as He conducts His ministry would have been amazing.
But, of course, not all were amazed. Some were angered by His preaching. Some were even scandalized by His miracles. Some thought the world would be better off if He were simply dead. What they didn’t realize is that God would use their hatred and anger to allow His Son to die for the sins of the world—even atoning for those who angrily sought His death. On the cross, Jesus mercifully and lovingly said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Our hope, our joy, and our peace in believing in Christ all come about because our God is not dead, but He is living. Death and the grave could not contain our Lord Jesus Christ. His resurrection means that our salvation is truly earned by Christ. We look forward to being with our Lord in Heaven.
But what about now? He ascended into Heaven. We don’t see Jesus face to face like they did when Jesus conducted His ministry in Galilee. He may seem to be an abstraction. Sadly, many children’s books depict Jesus as yet another cartoon—as if our Creator is but a fairy tale. Our second lesson teaches us “All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17). Clearly, He is no cartoon or fairy tale. Yet, we don’t see Him as the disciples did when Jesus conducted His public, earthly ministry some 2,000 years ago.
So, what about now? Is our faith merely in a future event of eternal bliss? Is God present? What is God doing for us today? How does He come to us?
“Now He gently leads us; With Himself He feeds us.” On Maundy Thursday, Jesus spoke at length with His disciples before going to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He would first pray and then be betrayed and arrested. Part of His speech is recorded in our third lesson tonight. Jesus is the Vine. We are the branches. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
This past spring my family and I participated in the cleanup day at the Lexington battlefield. They taught us about an invasive species known as winter creeper. It’s a vine that climbs up trees. It stays green all winter. It kills trees. One task we did was chop the vine. We didn’t have to remove the vine; just cut it off. By cutting it off at its roots, it can no longer feed the rest of the vine on the tree, and the winter creeper on the tree will die.
Jesus is the Vine. We are the branches. He feeds us with Himself. Without Him, we can do nothing. We would die.
Our spiritual health comes not from our efforts or our desires; instead, it comes from the Vine—from Jesus. Separate us from the vine, and we would be dead.
“Precious food from heaven, Pledge of peace here given.” The Bible speaks of different ways of eating food. Of course, there are accounts of people eating meals to sustain their bodies. This is physical eating. For example, Jesus ate breakfast with His disciples after He rose from the dead. Earlier, He fed the 5,000.
In addition, to physical eating, there was sacramental eating. One could say that when the Old Testament Christians ate the lamb as part of the Passover, they were engaging in sacramental eating. We participate in sacramental eating when we eat the Body and drink the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. This is one of the most important ways Jesus feeds us today, giving us precious food from Heaven.
A broader form of sacramental eating is spiritual eating. We feed on the Word of God. We don’t physically eat the Bible or the Biblical text, but we do receive this live-giving, life-saving Word.
We sometimes talk about eating up certain things that we don’t actually eat. That is, if someone really likes something, we can say he eats it up. For example, if I hear you like model trains, I might say to you, “Go to Union Station to see their exhibit—you’ll really eat it up.” Of course, you aren’t eating the model trains, but you are enjoying your time looking at them.
I think this is helpful when understanding spiritual eating. This type of eating does not necessarily require physical eating, but it could. Spiritual eating is consuming the Word in the various forms the Word comes to us. We need the Vine to participate in this eating. For without Christ, there is no spiritual eating. And without spiritual eating, there is no life abiding in us. The vine supplies life to its branches. Cut off from the vine, the branches shrivel up and die. Simply put, when we starve ourselves by foregoing the Word, our faith will die. But when we are fed by Christ, our faith will flourish.
It needs to be stressed that spiritual eating includes not only feeding on the Word, but also sacramental eating. So spiritual eating is receiving Christ not only in Word, but also in Sacrament.
Jesus speaks about this spiritual eating most clearly in John 6. After feeding the 5,000, Jesus taught His disciples, saying, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48-51).
“Manna that will nourish Souls that they may flourish.” A way to describe this spiritual eating is to call it heavenly manna. Throughout the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God fed them with manna—a dew from heaven. It kept their bodies alive until they ran their course. In the same way, God’s Word keeps us spiritually alive until that time we can see God face to face when Jesus returns again in glory.
What all this means is God is not absent from us. He is present through His Word and Sacrament. And we not only have the opportunity to hear the Word, but we also come into Christ’s presence through His Word and as we participate in Holy Communion. Of course, God is also present to hear our prayers and answer them. What marvelous treasures as Jesus—our Immanuel—comes to us now. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen