Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 25:45 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Luke starts with blessing God in the Temple, and ends with blessing God in the Temple. Maybe that seems strange, to “bless” God. We normally think of blessings as things that we need, which God gives to us. What does God need? How would we bless Him? But the word for blessing is, literally, “a good word.” When John is born in Luke 1, his father Zechariah “blesses God” (1:64). “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…to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant” (1:68-72). In other words, the blessing of God is that He has kept His promises, and fulfilled His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. John is going to go before the Lord who will appear on the earth, and give the knowledge of God’s salvation to the people in the forgiveness of their sins (1:76-77). The good word is that God always keeps His promises, even if it takes thousands of years.
In the temple, Simeon blesses God and says, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel” (2:28-32). Simeon speaks the good word that not only has God kept His promise to Simeon, that he would not die before he saw God’s anointed One, who brings salvation, but God has also kept His promise to the whole world, Jew and Gentile.
Blessing God is recalling and rejoicing in God’s promises and the keeping of them in His own good time; God’s blessing of us is in the promising and the keeping of the promise. God blesses us with His salvation in Jesus, and then we bless God as we worship Him, rejoicing in that salvation.
But instead of blessing, how often is it cursing that comes from our mouths? The tongue is a restless evil, James says, full of deadly poison. “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:8-10). If blessing is a “good word,” cursing is an “evil word,” not a benediction, but a malediction. Even if the curse never gets to our lips, we have it in our hearts. Instead of gratitude, my mouth fills up with complaints. Instead of trust, my heart is full of worry and anxiety and fear. Instead of the thankful reception of the blessing of God, I refuse those same blessings of forgiveness and peace and kindness to others. I take and take and take, and then I try to keep it all to myself. My empty hands, which God has filled, turn into closed fists when I encounter others. No doubt, there is evil in the world, as the devil tries to keep God’s Name from being kept holy, His will from being done, and His kingdom from coming. But even the people engaged in the worst offenses against God and His creation only prove what is true of every person: none of us ceases to be in need of God’s blessing in Jesus Christ. Outside of Jesus, we are under the curse of not recognizing the appearance of His blessing, in His visitation and redemption.
The blessing, and the end of the curse, starts in the Temple, where Jesus appears as the salvation of God in infant flesh and blood, in the Temple where Jesus is about the things of His Father, bringing the Word of God to the teachers of Israel. Jesus shows up in the Temple again, clearing it of buyers and sellers. He teaches there again, as one with authority from God. And He prophesies its destruction and replacement, which begins with the tearing of the curtain at His death.
All of this is the beginning of how the curse gets destroyed. The blessing of Jesus is not just a good word that does nothing. It is not an empty word. This good word, this blessing, is the overturning of this creation’s curse, including our contributions to it, and the beginning of a new word, which is the beginning of a new world. Just as this creation was begun with the good word of God, who spoke and it was so, also the new creation begins with a good word: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (23:34). I say to you today, you will be with Me in paradise (23:43). Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit (23:46)! And, These are My words that I spoke to you when I was still with you, that it is necessary for everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms to be fulfilled; thus it is written, the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and the forgiveness of sins to be preached to all the nations in His Name (24:44-47).
Repentance for the curse in our heart, and the cursing with our thoughts and words. Forgiveness and a new heart, with the new fruit of the mind and mouth. Jesus blesses us who curse Him, and then He says to those who follow Him: “Bless those who curse you” (6:28). We do not deserve the blessing anymore than they do, and yet God blesses us in Christ. At Bethany, “lifting up His hands, He blessed them. And it happened during the blessing, He was taken from them and taken up into the heavens” (24:50-51). And in response, the disciples worshiped Him, and “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were all the time in the Temple blessing God” (Luke 24:50-53). But the blessing of God in the flesh of Jesus does not end there. This is the ongoing blessing of Jesus, in His body and blood presence in the Supper, and His Spirit, who keeps them in that Word and faith until they die.
This blessing remains; Jesus’ hands are still outstretched over and for us, as we have everything we need, not only for this body and life, but for eternal life in resurrection bodies. And we find it in the same place those disciples did: rejoicing in God’s presence in Jesus, both on the Sabbath in the Temple until its destruction, and in their homes around Word and Supper on the Lord’s Day. He blesses us tonight and every time we gather. Bless we the Lord! Thanks be to God! And God grant that the words of God’s good word in Christ would always be in our mouths and on our lips for everyone around us.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/25/22