The Church is Beautiful. Wednesday of Trinity 16, 2022. Revelation 21

Wednesday of Trinity 16

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Revelation 21:1-14

October 5, 2022

The Church is Beautiful

Jesu juva!

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

The Church is beautiful!

How foolish we have been so often in our lives!  We have failed to see the beauty of the Church.  When we were bored and disappointed by her humble appearance, by her low estate, like the mother of the Lord. We allowed ourselves to become distant from her, drawn away to other activities and organizations that seemed more attractive.

I speak to myself when I say: “Oh foolish one!”  The Church is beautiful! 

Our Lord is always telling us that the Kingdom of God is a party you really don’t want to miss, a feast, that many people are too busy to come to.  Don’t you remember how there was weeping and gnashing of teeth for the foolish virgins who missed out?

It’s not just those outside the visible Church.  We within as well are drawn away from it!  We despise the little ones of whom is the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18:10, 19:14).  We fail to see that the Kingdom of God is in the midst of us as we serve one another, bear with one another, wash one another’s feet.  We say: “Our master is taking a long time getting back” and begin to get drunk and beat the other servants” (Luke 12:45).  We are walking on the road to Emmaus, moaning to a stranger about our sorry lot as Jesus’ disciples, saying, “We hoped for so much more!”  –not knowing we are talking to Jesus, risen from the dead, with our sins beneath His feet.  “O foolish, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25)

Come, says the angel, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.  And John shows us the Church coming down from heaven, having the glory of God, her light like a precious gem.

The Church is beautiful.  Our loved ones in heaven are seeing it—this party Jesus invited us to, which we are at now, but don’t recognize how great it is.  We think all the cool people are somewhere else.  But our loved ones in heaven see it clearly.  They see what they didn’t see on earth as they attended Divine Service and Sunday School, went to church meetings, dealt with heartaches, worried about their children—all the things we are doing now.  They didn’t see then that the Kingdom of Heaven was in the midst of them, that in all these things they were more than conquerors through Him who loved them.  But now they see the beauty of the heavenly Jerusalem coming down from heaven from God, that was in the midst of them all along, as it is in the midst of us.

The Church has to be beautiful!  She is the bride of the Lord.  And He is “the most handsome of the sons of men…anointed…with the oil of gladness above [His] companions.”  (Ps. 45:2, 7)  Even though “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” (Is. 53:2)  The world did not see His beauty, so it is not surprising that His beauty on and in us also escapes our perception. 

But He has made us beautiful by baptizing us into Himself.  “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27)  He baptized into His death that “He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”  (Eph. 5:27)  We are, each one of us, as He is.  (1 John 4:17)  He has loved us by giving His life for us and washed us in His love in Baptism.  And we abide in His love. 

The Church is beautiful!  Jesus created her by the water that flowed out of His side in death to be His holy Bride, a helper fit for Him.  And if we are Jesus’ helpmeet, it stands to reason that we would constantly be doing beautiful works.

But just as Jesus’ beauty is invisible to the sinful eye, and the beauty of the Church is only perceived by the divine gift of faith, so the beauty of the works of the Church escapes our reason and senses.  “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing,” (Rom. 7:19) wrote our older brother Paul, inspired by God’s Spirit.  “Wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7:24) 

Amen, Paul.  We see the evil we keep on doing and seldom rejoice in the beautiful works our Lord is doing in us. We are brought low by apathy or despair when our zeal to serve the Lord runs into the hard wall of people’s indifference.  We become timid because our witness often falls on deaf ears.  We become exhausted by the dullness of our old nature that makes us cold when we try to listen to God’s Word or pray to Him. 

We can’t give ourselves the heavenly beauty we see in the Church John describes, radiant as a polished gem.  Nor by the will of our flesh can we do the beautiful works of His Holy Bride.

But Jesus makes us beautiful in the sight of God.  He doesn’t just clothe us with beauty like a pig in a silk dress.  He recreates us by His Word.  He speaks us holy and righteous. and we stand before God as a new, beautiful creation, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.  As His Word makes us beautiful, it gives us beautiful works to walk in.  Because we are something new, even in the oldness of this world. Once were born in Adam, bound to produce nothing but ugly works whose fruit is death.  We are loosed from that by God’s forgiveness.  His blood set us free to people of God.  We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for beautiful works.  And we do them as we attend Divine Service, meditate on His Word, call on His name in prayer, and as we give, and as we serve, and as we bear witness to Him.  We do so in a weak and halting way, like a seed putting its first green shoots out of the earth. But don’t discount these small beginnings because they are as beautiful to our Lord as the small beginning of a human life lying in a crib is beautiful to its mother.

You are already doing these works, Emmaus!  Your giving and serving kept this church open when you were troubled for years by vacancy in the pulpit and divisions in the congregation.  You didn’t lose heart when the devil afflicted you.  You held fast to your Bridegroom, who is always faithful.  That was a beautiful work.

And you bore witness to Your beautiful Savior.  You taught your children and invited neighbors to see the beauty of the Lord and hear His gracious words.  That was precious in the Lord’s sight, who said, “Let the little children come to Me, for of such is the Kingdom of God.”  And even if His Gospel was veiled from some, some believed the good news.  They were born, not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God.

The first person I baptized at Emmaus was an old man, near the end of his life, living at a nursing home.  He believed in Jesus near the very end of his life because some of you gave him a Portals of Prayer and bore witness to your Lord’s beautiful work on the cross.  How beautiful were the feet of this congregation that proclaimed to him the good news of salvation!  The Lord sent His angels to carry his soul to the heavenly Jerusalem.  Now he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  The Church is beautiful and does beautiful works even when she is lowly and has little strength.

The works you have done didn’t come from your own power.  They came from Christ.  He gave you strength to do them.  He gave you life through His body and blood in the Divine Service.  He strengthened and enlivened you by His Holy Spirit as you read, pondered, and meditated on Holy Scripture.  In response to your desperate cries in prayer, He did mighty works from on high for you.  He heard you and helped you as you lived out your calling as parents, spouses, and hearers of His Word.

The Lord, our Bridegroom has many other beautiful works that He will do through us.  He will keep us in Christ and strengthen us through the Divine Service and Holy Scripture.  He will answer our prayers and do beautiful works through our lowly prayers, giving, serving, and witnessing, and these works will shine like the facets of a gem forever.  Just as the lowly work of Mary at Bethany will be told as long as the Gospel is preached and will never be forgotten in eternity.

“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.”  (Psalm 50:2) 

The perfection of beauty out of which God shines?  It is you, His Church.

The peace of God keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

A Beautiful Work–Christ. Trinity 16, 2022

Trinity 16

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Mark 14:3-9

October 2, 2022

“A Beautiful Work—Christ”

Jesu juva!

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” St. Mark 14:3-9

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen.

1.

Magnum opus means “great work,” and the Latin words are often used to describe the masterpiece of an artist or writer.  The greatest work of an artist’s life is his magnum opus.  To produce a magnum opus, a great work, an artist usually has had to produce many lesser works throughout his life—good works, but not great.

There is a moving story about the Magnum opus of the composer Beethoven, his 9th symphony, which you may have heard.  It had taken him about two years to write.  He was near the end of his life, in his fifties, and had gone almost completely deaf.  Even so, he composed what many consider to be the greatest work of his career.  He also conducted the orchestra in Berlin at the premiere of the symphony.  The story goes that, because of his deafness, at one point he was several bars off in his conducting.  The orchestra had finished, but he was still directing them with his hands and his baton.  Meanwhile the audience had risen to its feet in cheers and shouts.  One of the singers walked over to him and turned him around so he could see the applauding audience and take his bow.  And the audience, aware that the great composer could no longer hear, waved handkerchiefs, hands, and hats, so that he could see their applause, even if he could no longer hear it.

That was a moving end to the career of a great composer and his great work.

Things are seldom so glorious for most of us.  We don’t produce works of such beauty, and the works we do receive less praise.

I have a memory of my father when I was very young driving to Sears in the yellow Dodge van that he got rid of by the time I was six or seven.  It was a Saturday and it was raining hard, and he stopped at the side of the road to help another man whose car had gone into the ditch.  After what seemed like a million years he got back into the van.  I remember his jeans coated in mud, and him saying, “Well, I guess I did my good deed for the day.” 

It was a good deed, and I was proud of him that day.  And we all have good deeds like that in our lives that we probably don’t even remember anymore.  But one good deed doesn’t make a good life, does it?  You can probably all think of stories of people who did beautiful work on the screen or in politics, on the football field, who did bad work at home, who neglected their families or drank and scarred their children.  On the other hand you also probably know people who never did anything that will go in a history book, and yet they lived a good life, a beautiful life.  Their families knew they loved them; their children remember them fondly.  Their magnum opus was the way they cared for their families and treated the people they worked and lived among.  And in doing that great work they did many good works along the way.  They went to work day in and day out, made meals, helped their kids with their homework, played board games at the kitchen table.

All this leads to a question this morning: what is my great work?  What have I done with my life?  And as you examine your conscience you may find that you have done some things well, even many things.  You may be content with the work of your life.

On the other hand, you may not be.  You may wish you had reached for more, tried to climb higher.  A few of you are very young and you may feel like you haven’t gotten to do anything yet.  But you have.  You have been given works to do, you have them in front of you.  And what you do later in your lives will be shaped by what you do and who you are becoming now.

Then there are those of us in the middle of our lives, and some closer to the end.  And we may be nagged by the sense that we should have or could have done better or more with our lives. 

And the same thing is true not only of our individual lives, but also of our lives together, especially in the Church.  When a congregation closes, the people often feel guilt or regret.  “Why has it come to this?  We should have done more.  What did we do wrong?”  Those are all common questions.  There is the sadness that the congregation which was meant to be a beautiful work of God, bringing life to the world in that place, has fallen short of what it could have been.

2.

But what exactly should we have done?  And is there anything we can do now to make a great work of our lives and our life together?

The reading from St. Mark that you just heard, that is the theme text for the stewardship series this year, shows us a great work, a work Jesus calls beautiful.

In it, as you heard, a woman comes into the house where Jesus is eating a meal.  It is Wednesday in Holy Week.  Tomorrow, on Thursday, He will eat the Passover with His disciples and institute His Supper.  Then He will go to the Garden of Gethsemane, be arrested, and on the day following be crucified and buried.

The woman, whom John tells us is Mary, breaks open an alabaster box of pure spikenard, an expensive, perfumed ointment.  It is worth about three hundred denarii—almost a year’s wages.  She pours it on Jesus’ head while He is reclining at the table.  When others who are there become incensed with her, Jesus rebukes them and says, She has done a beautiful work to me. (Mark 14:6)  The work is so great that Jesus says it will be remembered wherever the good news about Him is proclaimed.

Focus on the words of our Lord: She has done a beautiful work to me.  Imagine if He says that about you!  Then you can rest assured that, whatever your failings have been, you and what you have done are pleasing to the Most High.

Then we want to ask: what made her work beautiful in the eyes of Jesus Christ? 

We note that her gift was costly, extravagant.  To the eyes of human reason it was wasteful.

Then we note that her gift was criticized even by the other disciples of the Lord.  They were incensed with her and basically told her that she had sinned in what she did.  The ointment could have been sold instead and given to the poor rather than being poured out all at once in a showy act of devotion, they said.

Jesus doesn’t deny that giving to the poor is a beautiful work.  So the other disciples are right in thinking that helping other people in need is a great work, rather than doing works that shine in human eyes.  We think that extraordinary achievements are great.  But the Lord is not impressed with human skill.  Beautiful works in His eyes are works of love, not necessarily works of human intelligence or skill.

But the woman did something even more beautiful than selling the ointment to give to the poor.  She did a beautiful work for Jesus.  Moved by the Holy Spirit, she anointed His body for burial.  When Jesus died and was buried a few days later, His disciples didn’t anoint Him. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took His body away, and they wrapped it in spices.  But Mary and the other women who loved Him were not able to anoint Him.  That was why they went early Sunday morning to buy spices with which to anoint Him.  But here Mary was honoring Jesus’ body that was going to be crucified and buried ahead of time.  And the story of her beautiful work becomes part of the story of the good news.  Her beautiful work is part of the story of Jesus’ death to save sinners, and it is told as long as Jesus’ death is proclaimed.

The beautiful works that Jesus praises are not always understood or praised by the world, or even other Christians.  They may be regarded as foolish or wasteful.

And the beautiful works Jesus praises are not done according to rules, according to human reason about what is valuable.

They are prompted by the Holy Spirit not according to human thinking about what is good or what should be done, but according to the Spirit’s will. 

3.

But there is something even more important to understanding why this work was beautiful and how we may do a beautiful work with our lives and our life together.

This woman’s work was beautiful because of Jesus’ death and burial.  It was Jesus’ death and burial that prompted this work, and it was because of Jesus’ death and burial that it was beautiful.

The great work being done here, the magnum opus, was neither giving to the poor nor even pouring the ointment on Jesus’ body.  The great work belonged to Jesus.  He was giving Himself to die and be buried.

The elders and scribes were already meeting to figure out how they could arrest Jesus by stealth and put Him to death.  And right after this, Judas went to them and took money to hand Jesus over to them.  It was probably this woman’s act that prompted him to do so.  John tells us Judas was the one who criticized her.  He didn’t actually care about the poor, but he stole out of the money bag of Jesus and the twelve.  So when he saw this expensive ointment running down Jesus’ head onto his robes, which could have been money in his pocket, he started to look for another way to enrich himself.

But even though the scribes, elders, and Judas were scheming, Jesus was using their plotting to accomplish His great work.  In it there was no pungent perfume and no alabaster box carrying it.

Instead, similar to Mary’s beautiful work, Jesus was pouring Himself out in love toward you and me.

Instead of an intricately carved box being broken, Jesus was giving His holy body to be opened by the nails and the spear into death.  In this costly vessel is all the fullness of the Godhead.  In His holy body we find all of God, because His flesh and blood is personally united to the person of God the Son.

We have an image of this beautiful work before us in the crucifix.  Like the work of this ointment being poured on Jesus, it is a tragic image in a sense, but nevertheless beautiful.  She was anointing Jesus for burial, but she did it out of great love for Him.  In the same way, the image of Jesus crucified is sorrowful and painful.  But it is beautiful because we see that He loved us and He still loves us, to the very end.

Jesus’ beautiful work was completed when He died and was interred in the tomb.  And even though we can’t see it, He was joining Himself to us in all our bad works and regret and their fruit—corruption and death.  He didn’t leave us alone in them.  He carried them all for us and drank our shame and regret to the bottom of the cup.

And He broke open the old life in which we were trapped, the life of fallen Adam, so that we spring free into new, heavenly life.  The new life in the Spirit, free from sin, in which we are beautiful to God and do beautiful works about which God says, “It is good.  It is beautiful.”

Jesus pours over us not perfume to cover stench but the water that makes us new, water that unites us with His body in His burial and His resurrection from the dead.  In our baptismal water we are washed clean and become spotless and pure, without any stain or wrinkle, but holy and without blemish.

This is the beautiful work of Jesus.  From its beauty Mary’s work, and your works, take their beauty.

4.

How can we do beautiful works as individuals and as a church?  What if my life is filled with regret?  Can everything change now, whether I am at the beginning, middle, and end?

Yes, but not by your doing.  The woman was not thinking of her own work when she received this praise from Jesus.  Probably she knew Jesus was going to die for her.  But even if she didn’t consciously know, she knew Jesus had loved her and taken away al her sins.  And that was what she was thinking about—Jesus and His kindness toward her.  She wasn’t thinking about her works.  She had forgotten about them.  She was only thinking of Jesus and His love toward her.  That was how she did this beautiful work.

Would you do a beautiful work for your Lord Jesus with your money, talents, and time?  This is how that happens: believe in Jesus’ work.  He has done a beautiful work to you.  He has made you beautiful, a new creation, when He poured out His life for you.  Then He poured you into His death and His new life with sin conquered in His resurrection.  He poured you into His death and resurrection in Baptism.

Our wretched old nature resists this, refuses to believe it is true.  But it is crucified with Christ.

As we believe this, we don’t do beautiful works now and again, hoping this will make up for all our ugly words, thoughts, and deeds.  We do them all the time, as the Holy Spirit prompts us to do them, as they are given to us to do.

As we look at Jesus’ beautiful work, we forget about the cost to us, because we see only the cost of Jesus’ gift to us.  The gift of salvation, bought and paid for by the pouring out of His life.

And since we can’t pour expensive oil on Jesus, since He is now exalted to the Father’s right hand, we will pour it on His members.  We will see the poverty of one another and those outside the Church—not to judge, but to pour ourselves out for them.  Because in doing so we are loving Jesus.

Until the end of October we are preaching about stewardship.  Stewardship is doing a beautiful work for the Lord with our lives and in the life of our congregation.

But stewardship is first to receive God’s beautiful work in Christ, believing what God says to us in Him.  That we are His workmanship, His beautiful work, created anew in His death and resurrection.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Holy Cross 2022. When Jesus is Lifted Up

September 15, 2022 Leave a comment

Feast of the Holy Cross

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. John 12:20-32

September 14, 2022

When Jesus is Lifted Up

Jesu juva!

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1.  The History of the Festival

According to tradition, the mother of Emperor Constantine found the true cross on which Jesus was crucified on her visit to Jerusalem in the year of our Lord 326.  Nine years later the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated in Jerusalem.  Constantine made the 13th or 14th of September, when the church was consecrated, an official feast day.  The day commemorates the finding of Jesus’ cross.  But it is sometimes called The Triumph of the Cross, or the Exaltation of the Cross. It commemorates a mystery—how the cross which before had been an image of shame, from which people hide their faces, became the sign of salvation.

Think about it.  Almost 2000 years ago, a representative of the Roman Emperor had nailed the Son of God to a cross.  A few centuries later, another Emperor would kneel and venerate the cross on which God the Son hung.  He would cause the whole Roman Empire to kneel before the Crucified. 

The cross and the Crucified triumphed over the world.  The One who came in meekness and did not open His mouth as He was hung from the tree—emperors and kings did homage to Him.  First the Roman Emperor, later the kings and chieftains of fierce tribes in northern and eastern Europe, and now all the earth, serves Him, as Scripture foretold.

  •  And the mystery this feast day celebrates illustrates the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel tonight.  When the Son of Man is lifted up from the earth, He will draw all people to Himself.  When Jesus is crucified, and when the word of His crucifixion goes forth.  When He is pictured before the world as crucified, He will draw all to Himself.
  •  How Jesus draws all to Himself

In the Gospel reading some Greeks come to see Jesus.  Gentiles are coming to Jesus.  They have come to the Passover, and so has Jesus, along with hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over the world.  Jesus has done His work and preached the kingdom of God to the Jewish nation.  But now Gentiles are finding their way to Him, wishing to see Him.

But instead of letting them see Him, as you or I would do if we were Jesus, Jesus preaches to His disciples: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Jesus doesn’t dismiss the Gentiles in their desire to see Him.  He is going to allow them to see Him, but not as we or the disciples would have expected.

Everyone is not going to see Jesus by Him remaining on earth visibly and continuing to do miracles the way He has been.  He is going to be exalted.  He is going to be lifted up to the right hand of the Father, and then He will pour out His Spirit on His disciples.  And then people will see Him as He is preached, as His Supper is celebrated, as they speak and act in His name.  Then people will see Him not in one place only but to the ends of the earth, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit through His Church.

But in another sense Jesus is not talking primarily about His glorification to heaven.  He means His glorification, His being lifted up from the earth, in His crucifixion.

The crucifixion of Jesus seems like no way to draw people to Himself.  Jesus’ disciples didn’t want Him to be crucified.  Those who are new to Christianity sometimes recognize the offense of the cross more clearly than we do. 

A crucified man, a hanged man. Bloody, covered in wounds, mocked, spit upon.  This is repulsive to people.  It is weak.

But Paul said the preaching of this crucified man is the power of God.

And Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat dies it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

He says His upcoming crucifixion is the judgment of the world—not the judgment of Him.  It looks like He is being judged and condemned, but He says it’s the world being judged when He hangs from the cross.

He says, “Now will the prince of this world be expelled.”  When He is crucified and proclaimed as crucified, Satan’s power is broken.  He is thrown out.  People are set free from him.

Jesus is telling us His crucifixion draws unbelievers.  His crucifixion and its proclamation is what allows unbelievers to see Him.  It defeats the devil.  It builds the Church so that instead of one Son of God there are many brothers.

We have been sighing in the Lutheran Church for many years,  my whole ministry, how the world is falling away, growing more evil.  And the pews are becoming more empty.  And we wring our hands.

Jesus is not wringing His hands.  He doesn’t speak this way; He speaks with certainty.  When He is lifted up the world will be drawn to Him.  When He is glorified in His crucifixion, the Gentiles will see Him.  Out of His body buried in the earth will come forth many sons of God from the burial of Baptism.

But we have this assurance also: when the lifted-up Son of God is proclaimed and put in front of people’s eyes, then He will draw them to Himself.  When our crucified Jesus is preached, the judgment of the world transpires.  Satan is driven out in our midst.  God thunders from heaven and glorifies His name.

We don’t think this will happen—our fallen mind doesn’t believe it.  It doesn’t make any sense that a  crucified man should do this.  That talking about a crucified man should do this.

But it does.  Why? 

When they nailed our Savior to the cross, they nailed God to the gallows.  The Creator and giver of our lives.  Also our Judge was nailed to the cross.  He did not let Himself be pierced and bear humiliation and sin and taste death for us because He hated human beings.  He did it because of tender, divine love toward us.  We were helpless and He loved us in our guilt.  This draws the whole world, this love.  This mercy attracts sinners in spite of themselves.

But also the crucifixion of Jesus, the Word of the Cross, is the power of God.  The crucifixion of Jesus appears weak and ugly.  Our flesh doesn’t like it.  We don’t want to be crucified.  We want to conquer our enemies and be victorious, like the Romans.  But there is divine power in the word of the cross.  Hidden under the weakness of our crucified Savior is the omnipotent power of God destroying the dominion of the devil.  That’s the reason why the preaching of the crucifixion brought the mighty Roman empire to kneel before Jesus.  When the Crucified is preached, Satan is ejected and driven away from the people Jesus died to redeem.

This is why, the Lord willing, we will have the image of Jesus on that cross above our altar in a year or two.  That is the image of the divine power that saves us and our neighbors from the power of darkness that we see enveloping us and our nation. 

That is the image of God’s tender love toward us while we were yet sinners, that He became one of us and died for us.  At the proper time Christ died for the ungodly.

  •  Following the Crucified

My dear brothers and sisters: Jesus says something else to us tonight.

He says His crucifixion will draw all men to Himself.  As we proclaim His crucifixion people will be drawn to Him and His church and will with us see Jesus.  They will come and look on Him who was pierced for us in the Divine Service by faith.  And they will see Him with us in His glory when He comes again.

But He also says, “If someone would serve me, he must follow me; and where I am there also will my servant be.”

Do you want to serve Jesus?  To minister to Him?  There was a woman who anointed Jesus before He died.  Another woman washed His feet with her tears.  They did this because they knew His love for them.  You know his love for you, and so you also want to serve Him, even though your sinful flesh often makes you and me unreliable to Him.

Jesus tells us the one who wants to serve Him must follow Him and be where He is.  He means we must follow Him to Golgotha, carrying the cross.  If we want to be His helpers and draw people to Him, we not only must display His crucifixion clearly in our words.  We display His crucifixion in our bodies, in suffering with Him.

Suffering by teaching His Word and having people ignore it, take it lightly.  Suffering by telling His Word to people who don’t want to hear it and fight against us. 

We are afraid of this.  We fear that we are doing something wrong when we lift up the crucifixion of our Lord and people become angry with us or seem not to care.

Actually it’s probably proof you are doing it right if people are hostile to you, because they were hostile to Him.

“Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”

Let us wait on Jesus; let us serve Him.

Let us dare to lift up the image of His crucifixion with our words to the people around us. 

Let us rejoice when the Lord allows us to minister to Him by being found under the cross with Him.

He says, “The father will honor the one who serves me.” 

We don’t deserve any honor for ministering to Jesus. Our honor is that God’s Son ministered to us and was lifted up on the cross for our sins.

Yet He says the Father will honor us as we are found serving Him under His cross. 

Let us come to be served tonight by the Crucified with His body and blood.  Let us pray as we come that he helps us to glorify Him by proclaiming His crucifixion, so that all will be drawn to Him.

For that purpose He came to the hour of His crucifixion.

Grant it, Lord Jesus, in Your great mercy.  Amen.

Bearing Fruit. Devotion Matthew 13

September 13, 2022 Leave a comment

St. Matthew 13

September 13, 2022

Bearing Fruit

Fruit is sweet.  In a time with no refined sugar, fruit was dessert.   But for many of us, talk of “fruit” in the Scripture makes us pucker up as though we are eating something sour. 

We hear John the Baptist thundering: You brood of vipers!  Bear fruit in keeping with repentance….Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  (Matt. 3:7-8, 10)  St. Paul describes the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and we scan frantically to see whether any of this heavenly fruit is growing on the limbs of our lives.

In the parable of the sower Jesus describes the good soil which “indeed bears fruit and yields in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and another thirty.”  (Matt. 13:23)  But where is this abundant fruit in us after all our years hearing the Word of the Kingdom of God?

Don’t be afraid when the Lord talks about fruit.  He wills to bear abundant fruit in you.  Fruit grows from the plant that grows from the seed.  The seed is sown by Jesus the Lord.  All the parables in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew describe the mystery of the Lord planting His kingdom in the world.  His kingdom is invisible.  It comes as a little non-descript seed, small, like that of a mustard plant.

Jesus plants in the world the word of His Kingdom, established by His death and resurrection, the Kingdom in which there is nothing but the forgiveness of sins.  It seems small and invisible, but it grows into a great tree.  It spreads throughout the world like yeast in dough.  And it produces much fruit, all on its own—in some one hundredfold, in some sixty, and in others thirty.

In whom does it do this?  In those who understand it and remain in it.  Those who understand the Gospel are those who believe its message—that for Jesus sake alone they are righteous before God.  Some believe this with joy and then fall away from it when hardship comes.  Others are choked by love of the world and its pleasures and do not bear the fruit of the kingdom.  But those who bear much fruit simply remain with the Word of the Kingdom, hold fast Jesus’ Word of His cross and resurrection.

Have no fear.  As you hold fast to Jesus alone, His Word is bearing fruit in you—in some one hundredfold, in others sixty, in others thirty.  Abraham believed against hope God’s promise that His offspring would be like the stars of the night sky, and it was so.  Jesus tells you, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.”  (John 15:5)  Whoever receives the Word of His justification receives the seed that bears much fruit.  And the abundant fruit He bears in you will abide forever.

As I pray, dear Jesus, hear me;

Let Your Words in me take root.

May Your Spirit e’er be near me

That I bear abundant fruit.

May I daily sing your praise,

From my heart glad anthems raise,

Till my highest praise is given

In the endless joy of heaven.  Amen.  LSB 589 st. 4

God’s Love Is Perfected Within Us. Trinity 13, 2022

September 12, 2022 Leave a comment

Trinity 13

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 10:23-37

September 11, 2022

God’s Love Is Perfected Within Us

Jesu juva!

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1.

This lawyer is not our kind of lawyer, who goes to trial or writes contracts.  He is what Luther’s translation of the Bible calls, “One learned in the Scripture.”  He has spent his life studying the Old Testament Scriptures and the commentaries of the Jewish sages.  He has a theological education.

As often happens when someone gets an education, the lawyer thinks he knows something and looks down on those who have not studied as much as he.  Now Jesus was called “rabbi” and “teacher” by many of His contemporaries.  He was given a title of respect, as once competent to teach God’s Word.  Yet Jesus had no high level, formal theological education.  He had not studied under anyone.

This lawyer is attempting to show Jesus up as one unqualified to be a teacher of God’s Word.  That’s why he puts Jesus to the test with his question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

No doubt the lawyer knew some things.  It is probably certain that he could talk circles around most Jews and make them feel dumb, just as sometimes those who have a theological education can do today.  But elsewhere in the scriptures St. Paul tells us: “If I understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing.”  “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  (1 Cor. 13:1)  He also says: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  (1 Cor. 8:1)

It’s not that knowledge of God’s Word is useless or unimportant.  We spend so much time teaching and proclaiming God’s Word because without knowledge of God’s Word, ordinarily, there can be no spiritual life. 

But knowledge of God’s Word is meant to bear fruit in love.  Otherwise it is sterile.  God’s Word is being received in vain then.

2.

The lawyer’s question to Jesus is, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus’ response is: “What does the Law say?”  Meaning the books of Moses.  And the lawyer correctly responds that the summary of the books of Moses is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  (St. Luke 10:27) 

What the lawyer says is similar to what our Lord Jesus said Himself in the sermon on the Mount.  “Whatever you wish others to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matt. 7:12)  The great commandment of God’s Law is to love Him with all your heart.  The second greatest is to love your neighbor as yourself, to do to him as you would have him do to you.

These are not hard to learn.  The part about loving your neighbor is really something you could learn without going to church or reading the Bible.

The problem is not that they are hard to learn but hard to do.  Everyone can say, “I love God,” “I love other people.”  But who can honestly say, “I love God with all my heart?”  “I love my neighbor as my own self?”  Only those who don’t think about what that requires.

3.

But the lawyer has some idea what it requires.  That’s why he tries “to justify himself.”

Who tries to justify themselves?  People who feel that they are guilty.  The lawyer knows how to give the correct answer about what God requires of us if we are to please Him by our works.  But knowing what God requires are two different things.

So what do you do if you have the suspicion you have not done what God requires of you?  You make an excuse.  Or you try to barter with God.  For instance, you say, “Well, it’s true that I did not love my mother as I should have, but I was a pretty good father to my children.”  That’s the sort of thing we try, but it doesn’t work.  As long as you are negotiating with God on those terms you are not telling the truth.  He doesn’t say, “Love some of your neighbors the best you can.”  He says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But this is what the lawyer does.  “Who is my neighbor?” he asks.  Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day taught that you weren’t required to love pagans and godless people as yourself, only fellow Jews.  So Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to show what kind of love God requires to gain eternal life.

4.

The road to Jericho from Jerusalem went through the badlands.  There were rock ridges, towering on either side of the road, casting long shadows.  There were many places for highwaymen and criminals to hid.  Because there were no people nearby, very few places to rest.  So it was notorious for being a place on which you could be robbed.

In Jesus’ parable a man is travelling down this notorious road.  And bandits fall upon him.  They beat him, and strip him, and leave him half-dead.  They strip him because clothes were worth money then.  But you have to imagine how badly beaten he must be to be lying in the road naked, not getting up, as the sun beats on him, the flies crawl on him.  He has a broken nose, black eyes, maybe broken ribs, a cracked skull or jaw.  Again, think about how badly beat up a person would have to be to lie on the side of the road naked for hours.  These robbers must have brutalized him.

Now by chance a priest comes by.  He is probably headed back from Jerusalem to wherever he lives.  If he was in Jerusalem, that would mean he had served in God’s house, been in His presence.  But when he sees this man beaten half to death, he passes by on the other side of the road.  He wants to get away from the half-dead man.

Why?  We aren’t told.  One might guess he thinks that to stop and help the man might put him in danger of being beaten and robbed in the same way.

The priest could have been expected to know something about God’s Law.  Probably, if you asked him he could give you all kinds of instruction about when you were clean and could enter the temple and what things were clean for you to eat and touch.  He probably also understood that God commands above all that we love him with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves.

But his knowledge didn’t help when it came time for him to love his neighbor.  Then he only thought about himself and his own safety.  The same thing was true of the Levite, who was set apart by God to assist the priest in serving at the temple.  It was the Levite’s job to sing in the temple and care for the furniture of the holy place.  But he also did not have love when he came upon this poor man who had been beaten within an inch of his life.  Both of these had knowledge, but no love for the man who had fallen among thieves. 

5.

But then, Jesus tells us, a Samaritan came by.  And in the Samaritan Jesus shows us what it is to love your neighbor as yourself.

First, Jesus tells us, “He had compassion on him.”  He had pity on this beaten man.

But probably even the priest and the Levite had had compassion or pity.  Who wouldn’t feel some pity for a man who had been beaten half to death?

Bu the Samaritan’s pity didn’t stop at emotions.  He wen to the half-dead man, bound up his wounds, and poured in oil and wine.  He not only felt sympathy but went and did what he could to help heal the man.  Wine was antiseptic for the man’s injuries.  Oil was salve to soothe them.  Then he bound the wounds to help them stop bleeding or to immobilize broken bones.

If someone is really sick or injured, you can’t help them with one act of kindness.  If you love them enough to tend to them once but don’t follow through, it won’t do them any good.  This Samaritan didn’t just bandage the man’s wounds and then say, “That’s good enough.”  He also put the man on his donkey or mule and walked with him to the inn.  Then he tended to the man all night.  When the man cried out in pain, he comforted him.  When he was thirsty, he went and fetched him water.

Then I n the morning he paid for the man to be nursed back to health, giving the innkeeper two days’ wages and promising him to repay whatever more he spent.  In a way that was like giving the innkeeper a blank check.

All of this shows us what love that fulfills God’s Law is like.  It is tenderhearted toward our neighbor’s need instead of self-seeking.  It risks its own well-being to care for the needy neighbor.  It takes on the time, difficulty, and expense of helping him.

But there is a final point that is the most important.  The needy person in the story is a Jew.  The one who shows love is a Samaritan. 

The Jews and Samaritans were enemies.  The Samaritan had every reason to look at the man lying in the road and say, “this man wouldn’t help me if our roles were reversed.”

But love for the neighbor doesn’t work like that.  The kind of love God commands us to show our neighbor is heartfelt, active, persevering.  But it also doesn’t ask if the object of love is deserving.  It doesn’t ask what he will do in return.  It simply sees the neighbor’s need and has compassion.

6.

The love God requires in the Law that we show to our neighbor—is it easy or hard?  What do you think?

We find a million reasons to avoid this kind of love, just like the lawyer and the priest and the Levite.  “Who is my neighbor?” asked the lawyer.  We ask, “Am I really expected to show this kind of kindness to my enemies and others who will take advantage of it?”

The answer of God is “Yes.”  That is the kind of love toward our neighbor that is required to earn eternal life.  To say nothing of the kind of love we are required to show God.

But who can show such love to his neighbor?  None of us.  That was the message for the lawyer.  It is the message of Jesus for us too.

The love the Law requires must be fulfilled by someone better than us.  It is not in us.  We are barely able to show such love and compassion to those who love us in return, much less those who will return us evil in exchange for our love.

That is what Jesus came to do.  He was not only on earth to teach us how God would have us live in order to inherit eternal life.  He was on earth to live the life we ought to live to gain eternal life for us.

Though He was God with the Father from eternity, He laid aside His power and majesty and was born of a woman, born under God’s Law as we are.  He took on the Law’s obligation in our place.

And He loved us like the Samaritan loved the man lying half-dead on the side of the road. 

He had compassion on us.  He came out to us to heal us of the wounds of sin by bearing the stripes from the Roman whips and the wounds of the nails in His crucifixion.

He loved us as Himself, though we were not deserving, even though we were not His friends.  He saw our need and served us.  He came to earth and became subject to the Law to love His neighbor as Himself.

And He offered His life on the cross as the ransom that would redeem us from our selfishness and its reward.

We are like the priest and the Levite who saw our brother in need.  We pretended we didn’t see it.

Jesus covered our lovelessness with His love, by bearing the guilt of our sin before God.  When we see the image of Jesus on the cross, the image of the crucifix, we are seeing the love of God toward us.  He didn’t just bear the physical injury and death that we have earned by our selfishness; He endured the spiritual agony that belongs to those who love themselves instead of their neighbor.

You who believe in Jesus have this great love within you.

By nature human’s don’t.  We are self-centered.  We still see how much of this old nature is working within us every day.

But there is something else at work in us too.  It is the love of Jesus, the love of God.  He did not look at us lying dead in our sins, bound for eternal damnation and say, “They deserve it,” even though we did.

He had compassion on us.  And He came out to us. He healed our wounds by taking our sins on His own body on the cross.

We grasp that love in the Gospel, believing it.  In Baptism Jesus’ love washed over us, washed our sins away, clothed us, took up residence in us.  When we eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament, His great love testifies that our guilt is gone, our death is destroyed, and we are reconciled to the Father.

His love dwells in us because we believe in Him.  So we don’t have it in ourselves to love our neighbor unconditionally without considering ourselves.  But it is in Jesus, and He lives in us.

So what should we do?  Not merely learn about this love, but make every effort to show it to our neighbor.  To extend selfless love to each other in our homes and at church and to our neighbors outside.

Let us not be people who talk well about Christ’s love and know lots about it, but don’t display it to others.  Let us strive and pray to be people who follow His example and love as He has loved us.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.”  (1 John 4:10-12)

God has loved you; He has come into the world, covered your sins with His death out of pure grace and compassion.  Now instead of standing before God condemned because you have not loved your neighbor, you stand before Him righteous.  Jesus’ love for his neighbor is counted to you.

But His love is perfected in you, completed in you, when you love your neighbor as He has loved you.  Let us strive and pray not to be clanging cymbals, those who know how to talk about faith and love, but those who bring forth the fruit of divine love by loving our neighbor.

The peace of God, which surpasses understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Trinity 12 2022. Christ our Priest Goes to the Heathen

September 12, 2022 Leave a comment

12th Sunday after Trinity

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Mark 7:31-37

September 4, 2022

Christ our Priest Goes To the Heathen, and We Go With Him

Jesu juva!

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The first thing to notice about what our Lord Jesus does in the Gospel today is His location.

The region of the Decapolis, the Ten Cities, was a league of culturally Greek cities on the east side of the Sea of Galilee.  Greek cities began to be founded there in the time of Alexander the Great, who had conquered the whole near east, from modern Turkey and Palestine all the way to India.

So Jesus was among foreigners here.  Most of the people in this region worshipped idols, regularly indulged in practices forbidden by God’s Law.  They engaged in sexual immorality and ate meat that would render a Jew unclean.

And this is important for us because this is increasingly what life is like for us as Christians in America.  Increasingly we find ourselves living among people whose morals and basic beliefs are so at odds with our own that we find it easier not to even engage with them.  How do you have a conversation with someone who is adamant and convinced that a child’s sex or gender is fluid, or that Christianity is oppressive to women, and so on?  We find it easier not to engage, to withdraw.

But Jesus goes right into the midst of these Greek cities.  That’s the first thing to notice.

But even so, Jesus didn’t avoid the Gentiles.  He preached to the Samaritans and He went more than once into these Greek cities, these pagan cities, on the far side of the Sea of Galilee.

This was the second time He had gone to this region.  The first time He cast demons out of two men who lived in that region, men who lived in the tombs normally, crying out and cutting themselves with stones.  Jesus allowed the demons to leave those men and go into a herd of pigs, and the pigs drowned themselves in the Sea of Galilee.  Then the people in that area begged Jesus to go away.  But He told at least one of the men to stay in the region and tell everyone what God had done for him.

2.

That brings us to the second thing to notice in the Gospel reading. 

Jesus our Lord is in a heathen region.  If Jesus was like us or like the Jews of His time, He probably wouldn’t even have gone; He would have thought, “How are you going to make these pagan people hear God’s Word?  They don’t want to hear it.”

Besides, He had already been once, and when He did a great miracle in their presence, they asked Him to leave.  Why would you go back?  They don’t want you.

But our Lord was there anyway, and this time, instead of asking Him to leave, they brought Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment and asked Him to heal him.

There is a lesson here.  The lesson is that Jesus is among heathen people and they trust Him to do good to them.

It seemed to human wisdom that Jesus’ first visit to the region of the Decapolis was a failure.  He dramatically cast out a demon.  But it seemed like the people rejected Him. 

But Jesus left a little seed behind on that visit.  The former demoniac was His witness.  And now a little while has passed, and Jesus comes back to gather a harvest from that little seed He planted.

Now the region that asked Him to leave is bringing someone else to Him that is in need.  This is a breakthrough, isn’t it?

This pagan region is probably still pagan, but they are no longer asking Him to leave.  They believe He can and will help those who are suffering among them.

It’s understandable that we look at the world outside the doors of our church and feel overwhelmed.  If you were a Jew, why would you go to those Greek cities?  There is a huge fortified wall standing against you.  They worship idols.  They indulge in various sins that they love.  They don’t want to hear you tell them that God will judge them for those sins.  Their philosophy makes them certain that they are wiser and more cultured than you, and in some ways they are.  This is the kind of wall that also stands against us and the world outside of us.

But it’s even worse than we know, because the world is not just set against God’s Word and us by their own thinking.  The world is under the power of the evil one.  And even if we had worldly wisdom and power on our side, none of that would do any good against the power of the devil.

But Jesus has come to destroy the power and the works of the devil.   He tells us: “In this world you will have tribulation.  But take courage!  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

Believing that, not seeing it, is how Christians go out of the doors into the world.  We go with Jesus to make war on the devil who controls the world.

We go with Him, and we will win.  We go with Him, and He has already won, by His death and resurrection.

But the point to notice here is that the pagans who first asked Him to leave now ask Him for help.  They trust Jesus, that He can heal their friend, and more importantly, that He wants to.

They come to Jesus expecting His help.  They expect Him to be gracious to them.  Where did they get this idea?  Maybe from other stories about Jesus that had travelled over from Galilee.  But above all from the demoniac He had set free, whom He had left behind to tell everyone what had happened to him.

So when Christians serve their pagan neighbors.  Even when people appear to reject us at first—love for our neighbors, eagerness to do them good, not seeking anything in return—bears fruit.  Just as the demoniac Jesus freed was a testimony to them that in Him God had come to heal them and save them.  And in time, instead of asking Jesus to leave, they asked Him to help them.

3.

But the way Jesus did this healing is the third thing to notice in the Gospel reading.  What He did when He healed this deaf man teaches us about His office as our priest.

When Jesus came to the region of the Decapolis the first time, two demon possessed men blocked His path so that He couldn’t get into the region to preach and heal.  When Jesus cast the demons out, their antics with the pigs frightened the people so that they asked Him to leave.

The demons probably thought they had sabotaged Jesus’ work in the region.  But even though Jesus didn’t stay bodily, He was present in the witness of the man who had been exorcised.  Every day that man bore witness to Jesus.  The demons didn’t come back.  The man stayed in his right mind.  And if he opened his mouth, he testified, “Jesus set me free.  He didn’t ask for any money.  He did it out of pure kindness.  Surely we can trust Him.  Surely we should listen to Him.”

So now when Jesus returns, the attempts of the demons to frighten them away from Him are undone.  They seek out His help.

This is how Jesus behaves as our priest.  He seeks us out.  And when we resist Him or run away from Him He does not give up. He continues working on us so that our hard hearts become willing hearts.

Jesus was always willing to heal their sick.  The people of Decapolis were not willing to let Him do it.

But now their hearts have been changed.  They bring to him the deaf man and ask that He lay His hand on him.  But Jesus doesn’t merely touch the man or heal him with a word as He often does.

He puts His fingers in his ears, spits and touches his tongue, and then looks up to heave and groans or sighs.  Then He says in Aramaic: Ephphatha—Be opened.

What is Jesus doing by putting his fingers in the man’s ears and spitting and touching his tongue?  On the one hand He is preaching to the man who can’t hear.   “I am going to open your ears and loose your tongue.”

But at the same time He is also making the man’s ear and tongue problem His own. By putting His fingers in his ears he is saying, “I am connecting my body to your closed ears.”  By spitting and touching the man’s tongue he is saying, “My tongue and your bound tongue are joined.”

And what does Jesus do with these closed ears and bound tongue that He has connected Himself to?  He carries them to His heavenly Father.  The Gospel says He lifted up His eyes to heaven and sighed or groaned.

It is the same word Paul uses in Romans 8 to talk about the Holy Spirit’s activity in prayer.

                “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we

ought, but the holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  (Rom. 8:26)

Those groans and sighs are groans and sighs of pain or childbirth.  The Holy Spirit helps us in prayer by sighing to the Father within us.

But Jesus groaned and sighed for this deaf man.  He carried the pain of sin on His soul to the Father.  It was sin that closed this man’s ears and bound His tongue.  Just as it is sin that closes our ears to God and makes us unable to confess Him correctly or pray to Him rightly.  God judges us for our own sins committed in this life sometimes by allowing us to suffer a bodily infirmity or allowing us to have ears that cannot hear Him.  But certainly this man, and all of us, are suffering from the sin of Adam that we inherited.  That brought the misery of broken and sick bodies on the world.  Adam’s sin is the reason why we here today  are living with the pain of growing old and watching those we love grow old.

This is what Jesus was expressing in His groan to the Father.  It was the groan of pain that that man experienced in living deaf and mute his whole life because of sin’s curse.

But it was more than that.  He also spoke to God the Father as the mute man would.  The man had a speech impediment; he could not speak correctly.  Jesus came to the Father with this deaf man and spoke to the Father as if He were the deaf man.

He did this because He was anointed by God to be our priest.  The Scripture prophesied of Him, The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind—You are a priest forever. (Psalm 110:4)

God anointed Jesus to be priest forever.  A priest mediates between man and God.  He makes sacrifices for sins.  He prays and intercedes for those He serves to make God favorable to them.  And He instructs sinners in the way. 

Jesus is the great high priest, not only for this man, but for the whole world.  Hebrews tells us that on earth Jesus offered up prayers with tears to the one who was able to save Him from death, and was heard.

When Jesus wept and prayed to be saved from death, He was praying for us.  He had taken on death for us.  He had bound Himself to us.  Our sin He had made His sin, even though He had committed no sin.

So when you groan because of the pain in your life and sigh because of the weight of your sins, when you soul and your body are troubled, that is Jesus the Son of God’s groan.  It is not yours alone.  When He was in the garden praying in agony, He was praying for you.  He was interceding for you, experiencing the guilt of your sin, the darkness of God’s wrath against you.

He won God’s favor for you by carrying your sin and its punishment on His own soul and body.

But He isn’t only your priest.  He is the priest for the whole world.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2).

That’s why when we are overwhelmed by the unbelief of the world we can be undaunted.  Remember how Israel was chased by Pharaoh and had the Red Sea in front of them?  Then they saw God in fire on Mt. Sinai, and heard His voice thundering the ten commandments?  And Moses said, “Don’t be afraid?”  How can you not be afraid of the world standing against you?  How can you not be afraid of Pharaoh’s armies?  How can you not be afraid of the Law of God that judges you guilty?

Because Jesus, the Son of God, is your priest.  He has taken on your sin and misery and groaned to the Father with it.  And the Father heard His prayer for you.  He raised Jesus from the dead and raised Jesus from the strong bands of death.  That was Him declaring you forgiven and loosed.

Yes, and the great high priest lets us eat of His sacrifice.  He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper.  He heals you there.  Just as He touched the deaf man’s ears and tongue with His body, He gives us His very body to heal us of sin and pledge to us our share in His resurrection, when our bodies will be made whole.

4.

But the fourth thing to notice in the Gospel is what Jesus teaches us here about our callings as priests and kings together with Him.

We are priests with Jesus because by one sacrifice He has justified us before God.  We are righteous before God because He has put His white robe on us in Baptism and He declares us righteous in the Gospel.  So we have access to God the Father with Him.

We go boldly into the Father’s presence with Jesus.   But Jesus the priest also goes boldly among the pagans.  He goes to them and shows Himself eager to help them.  Because He does good to them and loves them, they bring their needy ones to Him.

This is where He calls us to go with Him.  Not only to the Father but also to the pagans, the unclean, the sinful, and the needy.  He calls us to go out and love and do good to our neighbors as He has done to us.  To take on their need and bring it to the Father.

The first place we do this is in our homes with our nearest neighbors.  We love those closest to us.  Husbands love their wives and give themselves up for them.

Wives submit to their husbands as to the Lord.

Fathers bring up their children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord.

Children honor their parents. 

From there we are called to be priests to those we work with and with whom we live.  And congregations are called to be priests to the towns in which they are located.

Sometimes in these callings Jesus gives us clear instructions what form our love is to take.  Others are more open ended.  But all of them are difficult, impossible for us in our flesh.  The reason it is hard to love and honor our spouse is our own sin and selfishness.  And if we struggle with sacrificial love to those who are closest to us, how are we supposed to love the pagans that way?

Jesus is our priest, and we are priests in Him.  When we have no idea how to help our neighbor—when he has a malady we can’t fix.  Or when we are lacking in love and zeal. We have access to the Father.  We don’t know how to pray about the problem.  That doesn’t matter.  He hears the sighs and groans of the Holy Spirit within you.

The Holy Spirit was brooding over the waters at Creation.  Then the world came forth and God said of it that it was very good.

When you groan to the Father, or stumble in prayer, not knowing what to ask for, such power is at work in you.

The insurmountable unbelief of our world.  The weakness and difficulties in the church.  The sin and scars in our marriages.  Our children’s wandering; our failures as parents. 

There was a deaf and mute man.  Jesus sighed to the Father for Him.  Then He breathed out God’s Word: Ephphatha, be opened.  Immediately he could hear and spoke correctly.  His ears and tongue were made new.

When you groan and sigh by the Holy Spirit through Jesus to the Father, the one who brough forth the world is working for the new creation of you and your neighbor.

They said, “He has done all things well; He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”  They said about Him what the Father said after the Spirit brought forth the world.

The Trinity is at work in your priesthood to do such things in your home, your workplace, in your neighborhood, in this church.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Trinity 11, 2022. Praying For Justice

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

August 28, 2022

Praying for Justice

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

1.

In the verses that precede the Gospel reading, Jesus teaches His disciples about His return in glory.  The disciples should be eager for it.  And He told His disciples that they should always pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1).  They should pray for His Kingdom to come and not give up.  He called praying for His return, praying for the Kingdom of God to appear, “praying for justice.”  God will not ignore this prayer of His chosen people.  He will answer it speedily. 

Why don’t people pray with confidence for God to give them justice, to come on the last day and bring them into the new heavens and earth?  Some do, like the Pharisee.  They are confident with a false confidence.  They think because of their works of piety, their tithing, fasting, praying, abstaining from evil, God will surely accept them into heaven.

But many others fail to pray with confidence for heaven.  They don’t pray for Christ to return either because of some nagging suspicion that He will not find them to be righteous when He returns, or because they think that this world is their home and they can find a way to be comfortable and peaceful in it while also serving God. 

Our Lord’s parable today is directed against both errors.  On the one hand He rebukes those who refuse to believe that heaven is their home, and that it is the Father’s will to give us the kingdom, and who love this world.  On the other hand He rebukes the self-righteous who think they are prepared to stand before the judgment seat of Christ because they are more righteous than others.  They think they are not like other men.

2.

So the Lord begins His parable.  Two men go to the temple to pray.  They were right to go up to the temple, because it was the dwelling place of God.  When Solomon dedicated the first temple He asked the Lord to hear prayers offered toward His dwelling in the temple, and when He heard, that He would forgive.  (1 Kings 7:30)

This was not new, either.  We saw Cain and Abel approach God in the Old Testament reading.  They brought an offering and presumably prayed to God, asking for help, blessing in their calling, salvation.  Or at least that was what they should have prayed for.  But we heard how God looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering God did not look with favor.  Not only Abel’s offering, but Abel himself, was accepted by God.  Cain’s worship and Cain himself God did not accept.

But when we pray to the Father, we go asking for help.  We ask for His help in our calling, blessing on our families, forgiveness of sins, eternal life.  We ask for Him to receive not only our requests but also ourselves into His favor.

All the earthly good things we ask for—protection, success, blessing on our family members, peace—all find their fulfillment when He brings us to eternal life. 

When you pray to God the chief good thing you are asking for is that He gives you eternal life.  You are asking that He receive you, forgive your sins, and accept you as well-pleasing to Him, like He did Abel.  If you are well-pleasing to Him, like Abel, like David was, then everything that happens in your life is favor and grace from God.  If He receives you and forgives your sins, then you can boast that everything that happens in your life is God being on your side and blessing you.  You can say, “I am God’s chosen one.” 

This is what the Pharisee and tax collector are going up to the temple to seek from God.  At least this is what they are supposed to be seeking. 

3.

We are inclined to feel sorry for the tax collector because he is obviously sorry for how he has lived.  But remember that the question is not whether we feel sorry for him, but on what basis God should receive his prayer and look with favor on him.  On what basis should God take this tax collector up, call him righteous, and give him the paradise, the kingdom of heaven, prepared for those He loves?

Should God take those up who have done nothing but sin?  Is that the qualification for being loved by God?

According to our reason things look bad for the tax collector.  He has nothing to recommend him to God, why God should bless him.  He is sorry.  But lots of people are ashamed and sorry for the wrong they do.  That doesn’t mean they will be able to change.  And even if they change that doesn’t take away the wrong they did in the past.

4.

But then we hear what the result of these two prayers were.  In the same way, God tells us in Genesis 4 the result of the offerings of Cain and Abel.  That’s not the way it usually goes in this world.  You can’t tell from listening to a person’s prayer or looking at them so easily whether or not they have been accepted and blessed by God.

But here Jesus tells us.  I tell you, this one (the tax collector) went down to his house having been justified, rather than that one.  Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one humbling himself will be exalted.

“Justified” means God declares a verdict on you, and His verdict is that you are innocent, that you are righteous.  Because you are righteous and innocent, He will bless you, show you his favor, be on your side throughout this life, and work everything in your life to give you the kingdom of heaven. 

When you are justified and come to God and ask that He will give you justice, that He will send Jesus soon and that Jesus will bring you into the kingdom of heaven and wipe every tear from your eye, God says, “Yes, my child.”  He hears your prayer and receives it.  He does not hide his face from you.

What is the reason, then, that the man who did nothing but live an obviously sinful life is declared righteous and innocent by God?  And why is it that the man who refrained at least outwardly from stealing and adultery and who tithed religiously and fasted—why was that man not justified before God—declared guilty of sin?

Is it because the tax collector was really sorry but the Pharisee wasn’t?

It is true that the Pharisee didn’t even realize his sin.  He thought that because he had lived an outwardly respectable life he was clean before God.  He was not like the rest of men.  But that was false.  It was good that he had done those things.  But he had failed in the weightier matters of the Law of God.  He did not love his neighbor as himself, otherwise he would not have condemned the tax collector.  He would have prayed for him at least.  He did not fear God, otherwise he would have known that God is not merely concerned about our outward deeds but the purity of our hearts.  Then he would not have been so boastful about not committing adultery or about being just and honest, because he would have recognized the impurity of his heart as violations of God’s commandments. 

The Pharisee exalted himself.  He raised himself up to being pleasing to God.  He did not submit to the judgment of God which declared him to be wicked and guilty of eternal death.

This is the way most of our world is today.  It’s true that people are suffering all around us.   They have low self-esteem, depression.  But rare is the person who believes he is a sinner against God.  Even in the church many don’t want to hear this.  They flinch when they hear that every person is evil in the sight of God.  But that is the judgment of God in His law.  It is not enough that you outwardly refrain from adultery and stealing.  Failing to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself makes you evil in God’s sight.  And in this all men are the same, no matter how much they may have disciplined themselves, how much they may have studied.  All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23)

So then how can any man be justified in God’s sight?  The tax collector says it so well, even though it does not come through clearly in the English translation.  God be propitiated to me, the sinner, he says.

Propitiation refers to an offering that turns away God’s wrath and displeasure and makes Him pleased.  Notice how the tax collector is not bringing anything of his own to God.  The only thing he brings to God is the miserable admission that he is a sinner.  He does not say, “I did this or that well,” he condemns his whole life as sin, from start to finish. 

That’s how we really are before God.  There is nothing in us, nothing in our flesh, that can please Him or help turn away His wrath.  Everything we are is displeasing to Him. 

But there is a propitiation.  There is a sacrifice that turns God’s wrath away from a sinner forever and makes Him pleased with the sinner.  When the sinner receives this propitiation and claims it, God is never displeased with him.  Because the righteousness laid hold of by a sinner is not a righteousness of works, a righteousness of the Law.  It is the righteousness of God apart from the Law.

But now a righteousness of God has been revealed, apart from Law…This righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3). 

The tax collector asks for God to be propitiated toward him even though he has nothing but sin.  Why would God do that?  Imagine that you have an enemy who all your life has tried to hurt you.  He has never done anything except evil against you.  Then one day he asks for you to forgive him.  But he has nothing to give you.  He offers you nothing to repay the damage he’s done to you.  He seems really sorry, but being sorry can’t repair the damage he’s done you.  You might try to forgive him because you know God wants you to forgive, but it would take a divine miracle to replace your hostility with friendship and heartfelt love.

But a few verses later in this chapter, Jesus tells His disciples: See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging him, they will kill him.  And on the third day he will rise (Luke 18:31-33). 

In the Old Testament, God accepted lambs and goats and bulls as sacrifices to turn away God’s wrath.  When His people sinned, He allowed them to pour out the blood of these victims as a covering for their guilt.  But the bible tells us repeatedly that these offerings really didn’t have the power to take away sins.  God accepted them for a time until the real propitiation would come. 

If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).  The sacrifice that turns away God’s wrath and makes him receive us in His favor, so that He blesses us and gives us heaven and hears our prayers, is His own Son.  He planned to give us His Son to win for us His favor.

So there are two ways to approach God.  One is to come bringing Him your good works and your offerings and expecting to be received in that way.  That is exalting yourself.  When you do that you reject God’s Law that judges you to be a sinner who provokes God’s wrath.

The other is to come to God helpless, with no defense of your own against the judgment He pronounces against you in the Law.  But to come bringing only the propitiation for our sins, Jesus Christ.

What Christians are often tempted to do is to try to establish themselves before God by faith in Jesus Christ in addition to their sorrow for sin and their good works that prove they are sorry.  But this always leaves them uncertain and depressed.  Your sorrow for sin is never what it ought to be.  The new life of holiness that follows faith in Jesus Christ is also always imperfect.

But God justifies no one because of Jesus Christ and works.  The tax collector went home justified because, although he was ashamed and sorrowful, he believed God would be propitiated toward him.

God promised this in the Old Testament.  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Is. 53:4-6)

This is not a righteousness of the Law, where you do the commandments and earn it.  This is righteousness apart from the Law, where God provides the propitiation for our sins.  He provided His Son to become man, fulfill the Law for us, and offer Himself on the cross to bear our iniquities.  You believe this promise by His grace, and God counts it to you as righteousness.  He justifies you. 

5.

God the Son did not say, “I am not like other men.”  He became a man, though He was in the form of God.  He came down to the Jordan River and was baptized as a sinner, though He had committed no sin.  He did not say, ‘I am not like other men.”  He made Himself like us.  He humbled Himself and became sin for us, and paid for our sins with His blood shed on the cross.

Because of Him we pray without giving up for justice.  We pray for Jesus to come back and declare us righteous and give us eternal life.  We aren’t exalting ourselves when we pray that.  We don’t pray it because we were righteous, but because He humbled Himself and propitiated God for us.

And so believing in Him, even though we grieve over our sins, we also have His Word saying the Father receives us when we pray, and looks upon us like He did Abel and David.  He receives us and justifies us, and everything that comes to us in our lives is an answer to our prayer that He will come and take us to heaven. 

Everyone’s favorite Psalm says, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  What a brave thing to say about yourself when you are a sinner!  But you should say it even if it doesn’t feel true, because Jesus is the propitiation for your sins.  The Father declares you righteous, not with a righteousness of your own that comes from the Law, but the righteousness apart from the Law, done by Jesus, given as a free gift.

And since He has told you to pray for heaven and not give up, and since he has promised to give you justice and answer your prayer, you can live your life differently.  Not gloomy, mourning over your sins and the things that you are worried about.  Confident that the Lord will not fail you or forsaken you.  He receives you and your prayer with favor because of the propitiation.  Now you can live your life thinking about others, because you are justified by God.

For this reason He calls you to come to His table and receive the propitiation for your sins—the very body and blood of Jesus.  Then you go home to your house favored by God, living the life he assigned you with good cheer, waiting for him to fulfill His promise and give you justice on the last day.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Treasure of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection in Our Bodies. St. Bartholomew 2022

St. Bartholomew, Apostle

Emmaus Lutheran Church

2 Corinthians 4:7-10

August 24, 2022

The Treasure of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection in Our Bodies

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

The apostles are important not because they were anything in themselves, but because they were the vessels chosen by the Lord to carry a treasure.  They were only earthen vessels, jars of clay.  Martin Luther used to say that he was a maggot sack.  He was not anything.  Whatever talents he had, he was subject to corruption just like everyone else.  Wir sind alle Bettler.  Hoc est verum, they found scribbled on a piece of paper in his hand when he died.  We are all beggars, this is true.

Yet Luke tells us Jesus prayed all night on a mountain to God.  In the morning, he called his disciples and chose 12, whom He named “apostles”—the sent ones.  When He was on earth, He made them co-workers in His ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, casting out demons, and healing the sick.  He told them, “Whoever receives you receives me.” 

And after His resurrection from the dead, He sent them again.  All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.

We remember the apostles because our Lord Jesus became a man.  He had students, disciples.  They were also His friends.  He had friends just as we have friends, because He, our Lord and God, shares our flesh and blood.  He is our friend, our truest friend.  So we love and rejoice in these friends He called to Himself, who lived with Him and knew Him and carried their knowledge of Him into the world so that it might be saved.

One of those friends was Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael.  Nathanael was his name.  Bartholomew means “Bar-Talmai”, son of Talmai.  It was his last name.  In the Gospel of John we heard how Bartholomew came to the know Jesus.  His friend Philip told him about Jesus, how they had found the Messiah Moses and the Prophets wrote about.  Nathanael expressed his doubt whether anything good could come from Nazareth.  Philip brought Nathanael to meet Jesus, and immediately Jesus told Nathanael who he was.  An Israelite in whom there is no deceit, one who was eagerly looking for the Messiah Philip proclaimed had come.  When Nathanael asked Jesus how He knew who he was, the Lord said, “I saw you under the fig tree.” 

We don’t know what happened to Nathanael under the fig tree.  Some think he was engaging in liturgical prayer and study of the Scripture.  But something happened to him under that fig tree that no one should have been able to know.  But Jesus knew, because He is the King of Israel and the Son of God.  He knows us—our hidden sins and faults, and also faith and its fruits which He works in us, which is invisible to others and sometimes invisible to ourselves.

Bartholomew was known by Jesus.  But he also came to know Jesus.  He came to know Jesus as the Son of God who opens heaven to us who by our sins are alienated from God and blind to Him.  Just as the first Israel, Jacob, had a dream of a ladder reaching up into heaven with angels going up and down on it, Nathanael saw in Jesus the opening of heaven as the Son of God suffered death for our transgressions, rose from the dead in victory over our sins and death, and ascended in our flesh and blood into the Father’s presence.

And after Jesus’ ascension He carried this treasure of the knowledge of Christ in his heart, in his body, out into the world.  Eusebius, the first church historian after Luke, and St. Jerome tell us that he brought the Gospel to the East, to Armenia and perhaps to India.  Tradition tells us that Bartholomew was flayed alive and beheaded for giving this knowledge of Jesus, this treasure, to others.

In the epistle reading St. Paul says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  (2 Cor. 4:7) The treasure Paul is speaking about is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).  When he says, “We” have it, he is speaking about apostles and ministers of the Gospel.  But of course it’s not only ministers of the Gospel and apostles that have this knowledge.  Every Christian has this knowledge.  Every Christian knows Jesus Christ is true God and man.  We know that He died for our sins and rose again.  We may not know Jesus like Nathanael did because Nathanael saw Jesus with his eyes and heard Him with his ears.  We hear Jesus in the Scripture, in preaching, in the absolution, in the words of institution.  Still the treasure that the apostles had, according to Paul—“the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is also in everyone who believes Jesus is the Son of God.

But is this really a treasure?  After all this knowledge that propelled Nathanael to speak about Jesus, to speak because he believed, got him flayed alive.  And beyond that, what kind of treasure is mere knowledge about Jesus?  We understand why gold is a treasure.  If God gave us power to cast out demons and heal people that would easily be perceived as a treasure. 

Instead He gives to Christians, as to the apostles, knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.  And along with that knowledge comes not apparent power or wealth, but suffering.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (2 Cor. 4:8-10).    

If the knowledge of Jesus that He is the Son of God carries with it every kind of affliction, if it carries with it confusion, so that we don’t know what to do, if it carries with it persecution, if it brings with it that we are knocked down, how is it a treasure?

The answer is this—the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus is not knowledge like 2+2=4. 

Because you know Jesus like Nathanael knew Him you are not carrying around in your body or on your body a bar of gold, or the knowledge of a new technology.  As valuable as such things would be in our world, you are carrying around something greater in your body. 

Your body, a clay vessel, easily broken, made from dirt, a maggot sack, doomed to decay in the ground, is carrying around not merely an idea, but the death and resurrection of the Son of God.  This treasure all believers carry within them is the redemption of the world, the life of the world.

It’s a common movie plot.  Some nobody stumbles upon a treasure.  He doesn’t know what it is.  Next thing he knows, he’s being attacked from right and left.  People are trying to get the treasure away from him.  They know what it is even though he doesn’t.

A Christian is like that.  The knowledge of Jesus, the Son of God, the knowledge of His death and resurrection, is a treasure greater than the whole creation.  It is a power greater than anything in the world.  Because we carry this great power and yet remain weak, it shows that it is not our power.  If we didn’t still experience confusion, affliction, weakness while having this great power in us, people might think that the power was our own.  If Paul hadn’t experienced perplexity and weakness, everyone might think Paul was an amazing holy man with great powers.  Instead, his sufferings showed that the great power was God’s.  Paul was just a clay vessel, a maggot sack.

There is a reason why you are weak and you don’t know what to do as a Christian.  It is so that this great power that is dwelling within you, the death and resurrection of Jesus—that no one confuses it with your own power and wisdom. 

You know Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who died to redeem you from your sins and death.  You don’t merely know about Him.  You know what He has done for you.  And this knowledge in you is a treasure sitting in your body.  It’s not like the knowledge of 2+2+4 that doesn’t change you at all.

This treasure transforms you into the image of Jesus.

We carry around in us His death and resurrection.  His victory over death and all the powers of darkness.  They know what this treasure is.  That’s why they attack us.  That’s why they attacked St. Bartholomew so viciously.

But this treasure within us is not dead knowledge.  It gives us the forgiveness of sins even when our faith is weak and we don’t resemble Christ very much.  But even while this is still the case it is working within us to transfigure us into the image of the Son of God. 

As we experience His death—when we are afflicted, perplexed, struck down, persecuted—His resurrection also manifests itself in us.  We are afflicted, but not crushed.  We don’t know what to do, but we don’t despair utterly.  We are knocked down but not destroyed.  We rise up with Christ. 

You carry this treasure within you though you are a jar of clay.  Jesus Himself lives within you and He lives in the midst of us.  He pledges both of these things by giving us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink.  The treasure of the knowledge of Jesus is not a temporary treasure like earthly peace or wealth or happiness.  It is a treasure that overcomes the world, and you carry it in your bodies, as St. Bartholomew did before us.  It will enable you to overcome the world, just like it did Nathanael—to die with Jesus and live with Him.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Trinity 8, 2022. Workers of Lawlessness and Workers of Righteousness

The Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 7:15-23

August 7, 2022

Workers of Lawlessness and Workers of Righteousness

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

Beloved in Christ, this morning we consider the Gospel reading you just heard, in particular these verses: “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you.  Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”  Matthew 7:22-23

We have just heard our Lord Jesus Christ solemnly warn us to beware of false prophets.  He would not have warned us about them if they were no danger to us.  But they are.  They come to us appearing like Christians.  Outwardly they are dressed up like Christians, like the sheep of Christ.  They are baptized.  They call Jesus Lord, Lord.  They appear to be pious.  They even prophesy in His name, cast out demons in His name, do miracles in His name.  But these false prophets are inwardly ravenous wolves.  They come as servants of the devil to destroy Christians, to tear down Christ’s Church.  They are lawless and workers of lawlessness.

So everyone who wants to be a Christian and to be saved has a solemn obligation, a calling.  You are not only called to receive God’s Word and believe it, to pray, and to live a holy life in the calling God has assigned you.  You have been called by God to recognize false prophets, false teachers, and avoid them.  To despise this command and treat all churches as if they are basically the same is to despise the Lord Jesus and your salvation.

Jesus and His apostles in the New Testament repeatedly warn us that in the last times false prophets will arise to deceive God’s people.  The apostle John writes: Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 1 John 2:18

He also writes: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  1 John 4:1

But how do you test the spirits and recognize true teachers from false, servants of Christ from antichrists?  Jesus gives us a certain way: By their fruits you will recognize them (Matt. 7:16).  And then He goes on and tells us what the fruit of a false prophet is when He describes the word He will say to them on the last day: Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness (Matt. 7:23). 

Lawlessness, iniquity is the mark of false teachers.  Not only that they commit lawlessness, but they spread lawlessness.  They work it in others.  Lawlessness is the defining mark of the antichrist, besides being against Christ.  He is called by St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians “The man of lawlessness:” Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness[b] is revealed, the son of destruction,[c] who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thess. 2:3-4)

The antichrist is the man who accomplishes and works lawlessness.  That’s how you will recognize him and other false teachers.

Lawlessness is also a mark of the time of the end leading up to Jesus’ return.  Our Lord says: 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  (Matthew 24:12-13) 

We certainly live in a lawless time.  Children are taught in school to change the sex God assigned them at birth.  Years ago our nation declared the sin for which God rained down fire on Sodom morally equal to God’s institution of marriage.  Neither political party in America wants to say anything about that.  So our children are growing up observing the manners and morals of Sodom.  We live in a lawless time, and as our Lord said, the love of many is growing cold.  Many Christians are growing cold in their love for Jesus because of lawlessness.

But how can it be different?  The world is always lawless.  It is only restrained in its lawlessness by the presence of the salt of the earth, the light of the world.  The true Church, the true believers in Christ.  

But when the Church no longer takes seriously its Lord’s warnings to beware of false prophets, the workers of lawlessness, it’s no surprise that lawlessness increases—first within the visible boundaries of the Christian Church, then outside of the Church among open unbelievers.

Let us consider this morning

  1.  How false prophets are workers of lawlessness
  2. And how faithful preachers are workers of righteousness.

1.

First of all, the word Jesus uses: lawlessness.

It is sometimes translated “iniquity” or “unrighteousness.”  But it literally refers first of all to the state of being without God’s Law—whether through ignorance of it or rejection of it.

Secondly it means contempt or disregard for God’s Law and the wickedness that follows.  This is what Jesus will say when He condemns false prophets to hell on the last day.  They will say, “Lord, Lord, we did miracles, cast out demons, and preached in your name!”  But Jesus will say, “I never knew you.  Depart from me, you who work contempt and disregard for God’s Law.”

This is the fruit by which you may recognize false prophets.  They work contempt, disregard, and disobedience toward God’s Law.

But there are two ways false prophets work lawlessness.

The first is more obvious.  They set aside God’s Law.  They do this by their teaching or their life.  Jesus said in this same sermon: 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:17-19)

Jesus did not come to destroy God’s Law.  He did not come to trample it underfoot and destroy it.  He came to fulfill it—to do every last jot and tittle of it.  He came to do it because the Law of God is pleasing to the Father in heaven, and because we could not keep it and be declared righteous.

But Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law does not abolish it.  It renders it fulfilled, so that everyone who believes in Jesus is not lawless.  Everyone who believes in Jesus has fulfilled the Law. 

But everyone who believes in Jesus does not hate the Law of God.  In his wicked flesh he hates God’s law, but his flesh has been crucified with Christ.  A believer in Christ loves the Law of God because it is good and wise and expresses the holy will of His Father and of His Savior Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit who lives in him.

So faithful preachers do not set aside God’s Law. They preach God’s Law without taking anything away from it.  They do that because only the Law of God is able to crush sinners so that they will see their need for the grace of God and turn in faith to Christ.  And they preach God’s Law because it is holy and good and shows the will of the all-wise God in which He wants us to walk.

But false prophets set aside or downplay God’s Law.  They say, “God knows you can’t be perfect, so don’t worry about it.”  False prophets may be strict, but they substitute human commandments for God’s Law, because human commandments can be done by fallen human beings to make themselves think that they are righteous.

The obvious example of false prophets setting aside the Law of God and working lawlessness are liberal protestant churches, where they simply openly deny the commandments of God.  When Scripture says God gives people over to homosexuality in His wrath, liberal churches say, “God blesses homosexual relationships and calls them good.”  When Scripture says, I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, she is to remain quiet (1 Timothy 2:12), liberal churches say, “God really wants us to ordain women as pastors.”  This is working lawlessness.  It is teaching people to set aside the commandments of God and saying it is God’s Word.

But when false prophets contradict or set aside the Law of God it works lawlessness not only because it teaches people to break God’s Law.  People obviously disregard and set aside God’s Law even when it is taught to them correctly.

Falsifying or setting aside God’s Law is only the beginning.  When the Law is set aside then people are contemptuous of the Word of God that brings and gives righteousness.  That is the Gospel, the good news that declares Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law perfectly on behalf of sinners, by His active obedience to the commandments of God, and by His passive obedience, His willing enduring of God’s wrath and punishment against those who transgress the Law of God. 

When the Gospel is preached it works righteousness.  It gives the lawbreaker who hears it the forgiveness of sins so that he is redeemed from all lawlessness and eager to work what is good.

That is why the Lutheran Church identifies the antichrist, the man of lawlessness, the way it does.  The one who works lawlessness more than any other is not the teacher who bluntly denies God’s Law.  It is fairly obvious to anyone who reads the Bible at all that the liberal protestant churches are setting it aside. 

The man of lawlessness, the antichrist described by Paul and St. John, is much more deceptive.  He looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon.  He appears to be very Christian, to have love for Christ, to prophesy in his name and do many mighty works in Christ’s name.  The man of lawlessness appears to have great regard for holiness and the law of God.  But actually he works lawlessness and unrighteousness because he denies the Gospel of Christ.  He denies that Jesus Christ crucified alone fulfills the Law and that God counts us righteous solely by faith in Him, not by our keeping of the Law.  And the result of this is that those who listen to the man of lawlessness remain trapped in disobedience to God’s commands, unable to produce fruits of righteousness.

This is why Martin Luther wrote long ago in the Smalcald Articles, one of our church’s confessions of faith:

10 This teaching shows forcefully that the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ because he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power, which, nevertheless, is nothing, and is neither ordained nor commanded by God.

The pope is the antichrist because he denies the teaching that brings righteousness and the fulfillment of the Law—the doctrine that a sinner is declared righteous before God for Christ’s sake alone through faith alone.  That teaching alone makes a lawless person righteous.  Because in it God declares to us sinners that Christ has fulfilled the Law for us and we are righteous.  Then we begin to fulfill God’s Law willingly, because He has declared us righteous.

2.

We have heard how to recognize false prophets.  And from what you have heard follows how you recognize true preachers. 

Their fruits are that instead of being workers of lawlessness, they work righteousness and obedience to the Law.

A faithful Christian preacher preaches the Law of God.  He proclaims all of it, not only what is acceptable to the world, but also that which condemns him and his hearers.  He does this because God’s Law is good and wise and because it kills us.  And without this killing by God’s Law both he and his hearers will perish eternally.

But a faithful Christian preacher also bears the fruit of his lips, the Gospel.  He brings it out with his mouth because it is in his heart.  It is what he hopes in and relies on when the Law of God condemns him and when his conscience and the devil speaks against him and when he is dying.

He preaches to His hearers Jesus Christ, who did the will of God, who accomplished the demands of God in place of sinners.  He came to do God’s will by offering His body on the cross to bear the wrath of God against our lawlessness.  He alone has accomplished God’s will.

And by faith in Him we are blessed, says the faithful preacher.   What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

You are blessed together with Abraham, says a faithful preacher, through faith in Jesus alone.  Through Him alone your lawlessness is forgiven.

Beware of false prophets, who falsify the Law so that you do not need a Savior.  Beware of false prophets who direct you to your own efforts, in whole or in part, to accomplish the Law.  You will recognize them by their fruits, which are lawlessness.

But you will recognize true preachers by the fruits of righteousness, that they bring and hold to the perfect righteousness of Christ who has fulfilled the Law. 

Amen.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday of Trinity 7. Revelation 5. The Lamb Who Was Slain. Sermons on the Crucifix

Wednesday of Trinity 7

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Revelation 5

August 3, 2022

A Lamb Standing As Though It Had Been Slain

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

In the chapter preceding this one, St. John saw a vision of an open door in heaven.  A voice like a trumpet called to him, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”  (Rev. 4:1)  John is carried up into heaven and sees a throne.  One is sitting on the throne with the appearance of jasper and carnelian, surrounded by a rainbow of emerald.  The one on the throne is surrounded by twenty-four elders with white robes and golden crowns, and four living beings, the heavenly guards, who look like a lion, a young bull, a man, and an eagle flying.  Before the throne is a sea like glass.  And whenever the four living beings give glory to God, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come,” (Rev. 4:8), the twenty-four elders, the fathers of the Church, the patriarchs and apostles, fall down.  They throw their crowns before the throne of the Father and say, (Z)“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for 
(AA)you created all things,
    and (AB)by your will they existed and were created.”  (Rev. 4:11)

And now in this chapter John sees a scroll in the right hand of the Father.  It is sealed up with seven seals, which means it is completely sealed.  No one is able to open up or even look in to the scroll in the Creator’s hand.  It is completely sealed up.  John knows what is in it.  The Father told him what was in it when the vision began: “The things that must take place after this.”  But John cannot look into it.  He is not able to open the seals.  In fact no one in all creation is worthy.  An angel called out to the whole earth, “Who is able to open the scroll and break its seals?”  And all creation was silent.  So John weeps loudly.

What’s so bad about not knowing the things that are to come?  Our time is so foolish that it pretends it doesn’t care, even though the world does not know where it comes from or where it is going.  It doesn’t know how this world and human beings came to be.  It claims that by an accident human life emerged out of animal life.  This is false.  And it is miserable for the world not to know where it came from.  Look around and see how miserable people are.  They don’t believe that they were created by God in His image.  They don’t believe that a loving and wise God created them that they might have abundant life.  So our world acts like animals, and even worse than animals.  We have convinced ourselves to disfigure our bodies, murder our children, and live lives with no dignity, living for entertainment and comfort instead of living as images of God. 

But this ignorance about where we came from is willful.  God has not hidden it from us.  The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19).  God’s attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, (AM)have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse (Romans 1:20).  And besides the testimony God has left to us in creation and in our conscience, He has revealed His work of Creation in Holy Scripture.

The throne room of heaven gives all glory to God because He made all things.  The elders are not willing to take glory away from God because it is solely by His gracious will that they even exist. 

It is a terrible thing to be willfully ignorant of where you came from.  It is also a terrible thing to be willfully ignorant of where you are going. 

The world does not know that either.  And that is also a choice.  Because it has rejected the knowledge of the Son of God it does not know, it refuses to know, that its end is destruction.  It is eternal damnation in the lake of fire because of its sins, and there will be no escape.  It is a terrible thing to be self-deluded about this.

But it is also a sad thing for the Church not to know what is coming.  The end.  John knew something about it because the Lord Jesus had taught them about it while He was on earth.  But there was more God wanted to reveal to the Church.  That was the reason God summoned John into heaven—to reveal the things that are to come, so that Christians would be comforted as we live through the last days. 

And this knowledge of the end was sealed up.  God does not reveal everything to us.  There are things He knows that we cannot know unless He reveals it to us.  Daniel was told to seal up his prophecy until the time of the end.  Before His ascension, the disciples asked Jesus if He was now going to restore the Kingdom to Israel.  Jesus told them, “It is not for you to know (N)times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive (O)power (P)when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and (Q)you will be (R)my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and (S)Samaria, and (T)to the end of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8-9)  The Father did not want them (or us) to know the day of Jesus’ return, but to bear witness to Him until He comes again.

But there are many mysteries that were hidden in God before the foundation of the world that the Lord has made known to us.  The Son of God’s coming in the flesh to redeem us was a mystery.  The apostle Peter tells us that He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but revealed in these last days for our sake (1 Peter 1:20).  St. Paul says his calling was to reveal a mystery hidden for ages: Christ among you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).  Christ’s invisible presence in the midst of His Church.

Among the many treasures we have received in Christ’s Church is the treasure of this hidden knowledge of the end.  We know that great suffering will come on the earth—wars, famines, pestilences.  The creation will be destroyed.  Before this the devil will raise up worldly power, an antichrist and a false church that will persecute Christians.  He will lead the whole world astray except for those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.  But even in the midst of these terrible times the Church will join in the heavenly worship of the Lamb, and His elect will overcome the world by His blood.  Then the end will come.  Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, and His bride, prepared as a bride for her husband, will descend from heaven to live in the new heavens and earth forever.

But how do we have that knowledge of the end that was sealed with seven seals?  How do we have that counsel that was hidden in the all-knowing Father, that no human reason could search out?

Through the Lamb who was slain.

John sees Him standing among the elders.  The Lamb suddenly appears.  And where is He?  Among His saints.

He has seven horns and seven eyes, which means that He has all power and His Holy Spirit fills the earth.  The Lamb who was slain appears just as He describes Himself to His disciples after His resurrection: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me (Matt. 28).  When Jesus appears here in the heavenly throne room He has laid aside the form of a servant.  He has taken up His divine power and begun to reign—the power that was His before the foundation of the world, because He is one substance with the Father.

But even though He has taken up the divine majesty, laid aside the form of a servant, Jesus still appears as a Lamb who was slain.  One of the elders calls Him the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  But when He appears He does not appear like a Lion.  He looks like a lamb.  And not just any lamb, but a sacrificial lamb.  A lamb who was slaughtered.

Just as the Israelites all slaughtered the Passover Lamb at twilight.  They cut the poor little lamb’s throat, caught its blood in a bowl.  They brushed the blood over the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where they lived.  Then they roasted that lamb inside and ate it.

Just as Abraham was going with Isaac, his only son whom he loved, up to Mount Moriah, which later was named Mount Zion, the temple mount.  Isaac innocently asked, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “The Lord will himself provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

And we have seen how the Lord provided the Lamb who took away the sin of the world.  He sent Jesus to become one of us.  We all like sheep have gone astray, said Isaiah.  We have turned, every one, to his own way.  And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 

The omnipotent, eternal Son of God, who utters his voice, and the earth melts (Psalm 46:6); whose voice shakes the wilderness (Ps. 29:8), whose word is like a fire, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jer. 23:29).  He became like a sheep who has gone astray.  He came in the likeness of mortal man.  And He was crushed, put to grief, and his soul was made a sin offering for us (Is. 53:10). 

John the Baptist pointed him out after He was baptized. “Look, the Lamb of God.” He was numbered with the transgressors and bore the guilt of many.  Then He was slaughtered for our offenses like a Lamb.  He went without opening His mouth to Pilate when He was accused.  He refused to dull the pain with gall and myrrh when they offered it to Him.  He was forsaken by God so that in His resurrection you would be brought near and reconciled.

And He no longer suffers.  But when He appears in Revelation as Lord and receives glory together with the Father, He appears as a Lamb who was slain. 

When we lift an image of Him in the Church as the crucified, we are only lifting Him up as He appears to us in Revelation.  There He appears in His glory and power as the one who takes the scroll and opens its seals, the scroll that reveals the end of this creation.  He alone is worthy to open it.  But He still appears as one who has been slain, crucified.

And the new song of the Church and all creation is the song that declares why He is worthy.  Why is Jesus worthy to receive honor and glory and might and dominion forever and ever?  Why is He worthy to bring the world to an end and judge the earth? 

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.  (Rev. 5:9-10)

Jesus is worthy to receive the Father’s hidden wisdom and make it known to us because He was slain and ransomed us and made us kings and priests together with Him.  And we will reign with Him.

That’s not the way we think about worthiness.  What makes a person worthy to be president or some other exalted position?  We think—because he is the smartest or the best at some aspect of governing.

Why is Jesus worthy to reign over all creation and sit on the Father’s throne and put all His enemies under His feet?  The new song of the church is not—because He is from the beginning, because He is omnipotent, although both of these things make Him worthy.

He is worthy because of something greater than that.  Because He was in the form of God, in the majesty of God.  But He emptied Himself, made Himself nothing, and took the form of a slave.  He not only became like us.  He made Himself lower than us, our servant.  He took the deep shame of our sin, the deep misery of our condemnation.  He became the Passover Lamb who Israel killed at twilight.  We put Him to death with our highhanded transgressions.  And He paid for us to belong to God, to have our sins blotted out, to be clothed in white robes, and to reign with Him.  He put His blood on our door and gave us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink.

He is worthy not only because of His power and wisdom, but because of His amazing kindness and mercy, that He stooped down to suffer for His guilty creatures.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:8-11

In our Divine Liturgy we sing our highest praises of His glory at the same time that we sing about His humiliation.  We sing “Holy Holy Holy” and then sing the song of Palm Sunday, the song the crowds sang when Jesus was approaching to die.  We sing “Glory to God in the Highest”, “You alone are the Holy One” at the same time we confess Him as the one who takes away the sins of the world.  The one who was born and put in the manger to become our Passover Lamb.

All creation will confess that the Lamb who was slain, Jesus, is Lord.  But we confess Him as our Lord.  We see His wounds and His suffering and do not turn away in fear or shame, but we rejoice and lift up our Lord who was crucified for us.  And we allow no one to take His crucified body away from us.  There we find our God who has all power, authority, wisdom, and honor.  In Him is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, including the knowledge of salvation, the knowledge of our creation, the knowledge of our future.  We see Him crucified and we see that we will reign with Him forever and ever.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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