+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Theme: Heaven Opened
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The Holy Spirit speaks a language we must learn over time. In the Scriptures He uses human vocabulary (which is always in flux) but His message is eternal and cannot be altered. The central premise of Christianity never changes: Jesus, the Christ, redeems the fallen human race. He did not cheat death but conquered it; not by a show of force but a genuine sacrifice.
He is the author of time and fulfillment of the ages. The problem He addresses never varies: Satan enslaves the unconverted soul. Regardless of the flux, the ebb and flow, the deviations in human culture and accomplishment; regardless of the heights to which human beings reach in knowledge, medicine, science or discovery; regardless of whether one age completely forgets the accomplishments or lessons of past civilizations Jesus Christ transcends all. Unmoved by the forces of the culture or the cosmos the Unchanging One instead transforms the most hardened heart and will.
To claim to have altered, superseded, or circumvented the will or purpose of God is utter foolishness. To find oneself converted to His purposes is perfect comfort. God does not adjust truth to human circumstances. Either human are adjusted to God’s truth or they are lost. The struggle against sin is the ongoing battle where this plays out.
Consider how easily we become desensitized to sin by the influence of society. St. Paul uses today the example of sexual immorality which he condemns forthrightly. Yet year by year the stress put on marriages grows greater. According to general statistics in 1870 there was one divorce for every 34 marriages. By 1900 it was one in five, and by 1950 it was one in three. Now today more than 50% of all marriages end in divorce. When will the trend reverse? When will we recognize the damage caused? More importantly, do such concerns move us to repentance? Think of what the apostle says here, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”1
Today as Jesus calls some of His first disciples they begin to understand what it means to be in His company. Nathanael is particularly impressed by the Lord’s perception. He is no mere prophet. Nathanael even confesses Him as the Son of God. But what does this all entail? Christ then gives a very fascinating response to Nathanael. “You will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”2 When will these disciples see heaven open and what about the angels He speaks of? Will they see heaven opened in some vision? Will they see it at His baptism or ascension? Will they, like Stephen see it at their own martyrdom?
Yes, but more than that they will come to “see” that the presence and ministry of Jesus brings contact and communication with the blessings of heaven. The angels are creatures of this spiritual realm and they will accompany and be present. When Jesus says that they will see heaven opened, that is standing open; this is akin to Him saying the kingdom of heaven is near. It is the same as Him saying, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.”3 The angels always attend Christ’s presence and we are given glimpses of that in His earthly ministry. About His temptation the Bible says, “He was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended Him.”4 At His arrest He said, “Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”5 While in Gethsemane we read, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done. An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.”6 We should have the assurance angels attend our worship too. They are ambassadors of heaven.
When does heaven open for sinners? When the Father turns His face away from His Son suffering on the cross. When does heaven open for sinners? When the Holy Spirit bestows the gift of faith through baptismal water. When does heaven open for sinners? When the pastor says, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word…I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”7 When does heaven open for sinners? When we kneel to receive His very body and blood in the sacred meal of bread and wine.
Jesus is the portal. He is the door. He is gate. He is image of the Father veiled in human flesh. He died for sins but He is risen for eternity. Heaven is not just within His grasp; heaven accompanies His presence. Where the penitent finds mercy in the compassion of God heaven is open.When the conscience is at peace in divine pardon heaven is open. When the heart is secure in the promises of the Spirit heaven is open. For the believer heaven stands open because Jesus stands immortally as the intercessor before the Father. An opened heaven isn’t a future dream, it is a present reality. We need only wait for the consummation to experience it.
And this is the public and private calling of the church. The church has a mission to let people know how heaven is opened. It does this not simply by way of information but by enacting the power of transformation. Forgiveness is the currency of reconciliation. The Christian congregation is a community of forgiven sinners and we seek to live as such. We are the body of Christ. Our hope is not fixed on human achievement but on divine promises. We value life differently than the secular world. The Scripture says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above…set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”8
In so doing we can expect to be ostracized by the world. The Christian may have to travel along a very lonely road. Jesus said even families will be divided. Yet God will never forget the faithful. Even Elijah feared he was the last believer. But God knew otherwise. We must learn to cherish the faithful believers God puts in our lives, not because they are nice people or useful to us, but because they are an encouragement to our faith. They share the most vital treasure we possess: The faith once delivered to all the saints. They share something fundamentally more important that all the interests and attractions of this temporal life. We may enjoy the common interests of others in sport or work or hobbies, but none compares to the mutual participation in the one holy, Christian and apostolic church that transcends the ages.
An elderly Christian lady, who was crippled with arthritis, used to hobble to church services on crutches. It was a great ordeal and required of her a considerable amount of toil and pain each time. A friend of hers observed her regular and faithful attendance and asked, "How do you manage to be at nearly every service?" Her answer was, "My heart gets there first, and my old legs just follow after." Dear friends the Scripture says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”9 Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit assures us every Lord’s Day that heaven has been opened and we are Christ’s treasured possession. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday After Epiphany
15 January 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
2 John 1:51
3 John 14:9
4 Mark 1:13
5 Matthew 26:53
6 Luke 22:42-43
7 Lutheran Hymnal with Supplement, p.7
8 Colossians 3:1-2
9 Matthew 6:21