9th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 16:1-13
August 2, 2015
“There was a rich man who had a manager,” begins the Gospel for today. But the King James version used a different word. “There was a certain rich man, which had a steward.” A dictionary defines “steward” as “a person entrusted with the management of estates or affairs not his own.” A steward manages the property and wealth of another person for the profit of the owner. To be a steward is to be in a position of trust. The greater the wealth under your management, the greater the trust placed in you. In the Old Testament, Joseph was placed over the house of Potiphar and then over the Kingdom of Egypt to rule it in Pharaoh’s interest. The Pharaoh placed great trust in Joseph, and Joseph did not let him down because he was a trustworthy man, a man of integrity.
To be a good steward of a big estate would require a lot of ability, but there is one quality that every good steward has in common, whether he is put over much or only a little. A good steward has to remember that the money and possessions he manages are not his. He has to act like they are his—he has to pay bills and invest and seek to gain a profit as if it were his own money. But a good steward can never forget that the money belongs to someone else, who is his master. He has to be ready at all times to give an account of how he has managed the goods entrusted to him.
Now in Jesus’ parable we have a steward pictured who doesn’t remember whose goods he is managing. “What a stupid steward,” we may think. “Doesn’t he know eventually he’s going to have to give an account of his stewardship?” But if the steward is stupid, he’s not unique. We see people behave irresponsibly with their own possessions all the time. People rack up credit card debt, take out mortgages and loans they can’t afford all the time. Surely they know eventually there is going to be an accounting?
But Jesus doesn’t refer to the steward as “stupid” or “foolish.” In fact He calls him “shrewd” or “intelligent.” The steward is not dumb. He ‘s just unrighteous. He doesn’t waste his master’s possessions because he is stupid but because he’s self-seeking. Maybe it’s out of laziness that he wastes his master’s possessions. Maybe it’s out of a sense of entitlement. But he’s always acting in his own interests, at least his short-term interests. Then when his master calls him on it and says, “Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward,” he doesn’t feel ashamed that he has cheated his master. All he cares about is padding his landing, making sure that he has food to eat and a place to stay after his master kicks him out. And he is willing to cheat his master further to ensure that he has a comfortable place to land.
This parable of our Lord reminds us that each one of us has a stewardship given us by God. In the first article of the Creed we confess that God has created us and all creatures. Everything we are and everything we have comes to us as His gift. But He has not given us body and soul, reason and senses, food and clothing, house and home, money and possessions, so that we can claim them as solely ours. Everything we have and everything we are comes from God, and so we are obligated to use everything we are and have according to His good pleasure. We are to use our lives and possessions to the praise and glory of God and for the blessing of our neighbor, not to satisfy the selfish desires of our sinful nature.
Just as the master called the unjust steward to give an account of his stewardship, so God will soon call each one of us to give an account of how we managed the gifts entrusted to us. The gifts we have been given, God has given to us that we may use them in His name. If you have skills that God has given you, God will ask on the day of judgment how you used those skills. Did you use them as if they were your own, to seek praise and wealth and honor for yourself, or did you give the praise to God for your skill and seek to put it to work for your neighbor’s blessing. Perhaps you have intellectual gifts or were blessed to be able to pursue an advanced education. On the last day you will give an account not of how intelligent you are or how educated you are, as you are judged in school. On the last day God will want to see what profit came of the gifts He gave you—how your neighbor was helped by them.
But that is not the way people think, is it? If we have special abilities or talents, we tend to brag about it. A beautiful woman bases her sense of self on her good looks. A man who is bold and courageous is often proud of his courage and despises weaker men. This is not good stewardship. It is not treating the abilities and skills given us as gifts to be managed for God. It is treating them as if they are ours, or we somehow acquired them by our own merit. Such boasting will not stand before God when He calls us to give an account of our stewardship. He will call such boasting what it is—wasting His gifts. For whatever we put to use to serve our selfish interests is misusing what belongs to the Lord—wasting it, the same way the unjust steward mismanaged his master’s property.
What is true for talents and abilities is also true for wealth and possessions. One version of the American dream is to get rich so you can enjoy the good life. People waste millions of dollars pursuing this dream through gambling and trying to win the lottery. But God will demand an account of the wealthy as to how their wealth was managed for Him. God will not agree that anyone got his wealth for himself. It is God’s gift if you are wealthy. And He will ask how the wealth was managed for Him. Was it stored up greedily where it could help no one? Was it spent only on the enjoyments of the owner, or did he manage it for God’s purposes, above all using it to support and extend the saving preaching of the Word of God…
When you consider the fact that you will have to give an account of your stewardship of God’s gifts in your life, how do you think you will fare? Perhaps there are some here today who will say something like, “God knows I’ve done the best I can to manage what He’s give me.” That may be, that a person has done his best. But God doesn’t ask whether we’ve done our best stewarding what he’s given us. He asks us whether we have wasted anything that belongs to Him. Nothing that we have is from ourselves—it was from God to be used according to His will. For the blessing of our neighbor. For the praise and honor of God.
But instead, haven’t we squandered what He has given to us? He has given us the infinite treasure of His Word, but haven’t we often hidden that light under a bushel? He has given us time, but how much of our time we spent serving ourselves and our own interests instead of the interests, the eternal interests of God! He has given us wealth, but how often we spent what He gave us frivolously on our own pleasures. How few of us have given out of our firstfruits to the preaching of His Word! How often we have wasted what was given to us through carelessness!
When the unjust steward saw that his stewardship would be required of him, he immediately started to cast around to see how he could provide for his future after he was cast out from his stewardship. No such possibility is available to us. If our master were to cast us out, there would be no other dwellings available to us. Our eternal habitation would be the eternal torment of hell.
But we will not be cast out by our master. He does not regard us as unjust stewards. Through Christ our Savior we are justified stewards. We are stewards of God’s gifts who have been counted upright and faithful. Jesus took the record of our unfaithful stewardship on Himself. All the years we may have gone missing with our Lord’s good things and used them prodigally, Jesus bore the record of our mismanagement. And all our mismanagement that we commit in weakness while we believe in Him, whether it be wasting money, time, or talents—He balances our books at His own expense.
The penalty for wasting our master’s possessions is to be cast out of the stewardship—which means we would no longer enjoy any of the good things of this world, nor the eternal treasures. Instead we would suffer eternal lack and eternal pain. But Jesus our Mediator suffered this penalty for us on the cross. There in unspeakable anguish of soul and body He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” And the answer was that He was forsaken because of our wasting of the Father’s gifts. Jesus bore the penalty. Then He rose from the dead and our account was squared and settled. The Scripture says, “He was delivered over to death because of our sins and raised because of our justification.” (Romans 4:25) By His suffering and His resurrection from the dead He made our accounts read that we are “justified stewards.” It stands for us before God that we have never mismanaged what is His. That is what He declares every time in confession you read the record of your mismanagement. “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed,” you say, “by what we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” And God says, “I forgive you all your sins.” And every time you kneel at the altar, the treasure that settles all your outstanding debts before God is given to you—Jesus’ own body and blood, given and shed for you.
So now that your account is settled, you don’t need to try to cover your bases for when your master casts you out. You can’t give away your money in the hope that that will save you. Jesus has given something more precious than money to save you—His own body and blood. You can’t make up for your sins when Jesus already has paid for them. But you can be wise and intelligent with the mammon of unrighteousness. The unjust steward was shrewd in that he mismanaged the master’s money to save his own hide. We have no need to do that. But we can invest the gifts the Lord has entrusted to us in the blessing of our neighbor for Jesus’ sake. That is shrewd because when you do that you reap eternal rewards. So you use your talents and abilities not to enrich yourself and gain yourself honor here on earth, but to bring blessing to your neighbor for the sake of Christ, who has settled all your accounts. And above all, you use the wealth God has given you to make friends who will welcome you into the eternal habitations. That is, you give generously of your firstfruits to support the preaching of God’s Word. That makes you friends who greet you in eternity because only through the preaching of the Gospel do people come to faith in Christ and eternal life.
Soli Deo Gloria
Prayer of a Preacher for Himself and his Hearers
Eternal, almighty God, I heartily beseech You on behalf of all whom You have committed to my care of souls and intercession. Lend them Your grace and Holy Spirit, that they might savingly know You and Your beloved Son, daily increase in true faith, fear, and love, and in firm hope with a Christian, repentant life remain constantly in Your will and obedience until their blessed end. Grant also to me, O most holy God, that I may fruitfully light the way before them with pure doctrine, a good and edifying life, and befitting faithfulness in office. Grant that we all guard against false religion and an ungodly walk that we might attain eternal blessedness, through Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Redeemer. Amen.
8th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 7:15-23
July 26, 2015
Whose word belongs in the Church?
Who do you come to Church to hear?
Jesus put this question to the crowds about John the Baptist: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”
The answer was that they had not gone out to see a man in soft clothing, nor a reed blown about by the wind, but a prophet.
That is what we go to church to hear. Not the voice of a therapist sitting in an office in soft clothes, nor the voice of a talk-show host, espousing easy worldly wisdom that changes with the seasons. We go to Church to hear God speak. God’s Word is the only Word that belongs in the Church. And the only kind of prophets that there should be in the Church are true prophets, men who faithfully deliver the Word of God.
But Jesus warns His Christians. He says the days are coming when you will go to Church to hear God speak and to escape the lies in the world, and you will not get what you are looking for. You will get a false prophet instead of a true prophet. And the false prophet will bring the lies of the world and the devil into the Church and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”
In the Epistle reading historically appointed for this Sunday, from Acts chapter 20, Paul warns the pastors of Ephesus: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31)
Why for three whole years did Paul exhort the Ephesians with tears stinging his eyes, choking his throat? Because he knew the day was going to come when he would no longer be among them. Then the false prophets would come. They would attack the flock from within, seeking to deceive, scatter, and destroy the Church of God. So Paul wept and pleaded with the Ephesians to be on guard against false prophets.
I want to plead with you today like Paul pleaded, but I have a hard heart and don’t know how to cry. But if I did I would cry today as I plead with you that you be on guard against false prophets and false teaching. There are many things we worry about in the Church. There is never any lack of things to irritate us with one another and cause us to quarrel. But there really is one truly needful thing: that we receive the pure Word of God and remain in it. If you have God’s pure Word you have everlasting life and you are defended against everything the devil would like to do to you. Our chief concern should be not just to have the Word enter our ears, but to have it so rooted in our hearts that it can’t be taken away by false teachers, or tribulation, or the terrors of death. This happens not by any human schemes. It happens by studying the Word, giving attention to it, learning it, and testing the preaching and teaching of God’s Word against the Scriptures.
It is vitally important that we learn to recognize false prophets and have nothing to do with them; that we not listen to their lies nor support them in their preaching false doctrine. That should be what we guard against.
Jesus gives us the key to recognizing false prophets in this Gospel reading.
False prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing. That means you can’t tell by their actions that they are not Christians. But they are also like trees. They always expose themselves for what they are by the fruit that they bear. Maybe not right away does the fruit appear for what it is. But with a tree eventually you always come to know what you’re dealing with because finally its fruit has to appear. Eventually the crabapple tree will bear crabapples, not cherries. Plum trees bear plums. And inevitably preachers will bear their fruit too.
What is within them will come out. And the fruit is chiefly their doctrine or teaching.
Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew a faithful prophet named John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing by the Jordan River. The evangelist tells us that “many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to his baptism.” But they were hypocrites. They weren’t there as lost sinners looking for grace. So John cried out to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 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 good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-8, 10)
Now the Pharisees and Sadducees probably didn’t expect to hear such a sermon. They were, after all, religious leaders. But they came to John, and John was a true prophet. That meant that they were going to hear from him not worldly wisdom acceptable to men, but the word of the living God. And the word of God to the Pharisees and Sadducees was the same as to the tax collectors and harlots, for God is no respecter of persons. God said they must repent not only for show but in reality, that they must become poor wretched sinners. Although they may have been religious people in the sight of men they were wicked in the sight of God.
A true prophet preaches repentance first. This is his first fruit. Repentance, true repentance, is not just giving up certain sins. It is becoming an entirely new creature that is dead to sin, alive to God, and fruitful in good works. The preaching of repentance is first of all the preaching of the law of God found in the ten commandments. It is a terrifying and unpleasant sermon because it sentences our sinful flesh with all its works and ways to death. It tells us we can’t go on in our natural state, that we are guilty not only because of our sins that are visible to others, but because of the secret sins that arise secretly in our hearts. Lust, greed, anger, pride. The preaching of repentance commands us to become new creatures in God’s sight, that inwardly we are filled with faith and love that move us to good works. But that is not something we are able to do. It’s like asking a crabapple tree to become a plum tree.
But false prophets don’t preach repentance like this. They tell their hearers that repentance is something they can do on their own. They flatter their hearers, even though they may require a lot of works. False prophets tell people that they are free and that there is some good left in them that is able to choose what is right and earn God’s acceptance. Some churches do this in an obvious way, like the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches its members that they earn God’s favor by cooperating with Him and doing good works. Other false prophets are more subtle in the way they undermine repentance, like those churches that teach that you are born again and saved when you make a free decision of your will to accept Jesus as your Savior. False prophets don’t tell you that you are dead in your sins and can’t get yourself out. And in the rare cases where they do say this, they don’t show you where to go to have your sins removed and a new heart given to you.
The second fruit of a faithful preacher, which is closely connected to the first fruit, is that a faithful preacher preaches Christ. A faithful preacher proclaims that you must become a different kind of tree that produces good fruit, but you are unable to do this. Then He directs your faith to Jesus Christ. Everyone who believes in Him becomes a good, fruit-bearing tree. He is counted righteous by God. His sins are forgiven, because Jesus made satisfaction for them with His blood.
Also the person who believes in Jesus begins to bear good fruit because Jesus gives him the Holy Spirit. John preached this to his hearers who were stricken and humbled by the call to repentance—He preached Jesus to them, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us that we believe in Jesus and are counted righteous for His sake. He also works in us that we begin to trust in God from our hearts, that we begin to love Him because He has loved us. He works in us that we begin to gladly do God’s will because we are thankful that He has redeemed us. We begin to bring forth good fruit that pleases God.
This is the chief mark of a faithful prophet. He preaches that you can’t get yourself out of your sins, but that Jesus already has, through His death and resurrection. He preaches the good news of Jesus to those stripped of all hope by the law of God. He preaches the sweet news that Jesus, incarnate God, was cut down and thrown into the fire of God’s wrath for us on the cross, and that we are counted and become fruitful trees through believing that we are justified in Him.
The world does not accept or tolerate this preaching any more than the call to repentance. It is nonsense and unacceptable to the world that a sinner can be righteous before God by the obedience of someone else in his place. But to Christians this fruit of true prophets is sweeter than any fruit the world can offer. This preaching of Christ crucified is the fruit of the tree of life.
But false prophets don’t bear this life-giving fruit. They bring forth the wormy, rotten fruit of the flesh and its righteousness. So they preach that Christ died and rose again, and call Him Savior. But they don’t preach that He is Christ for us, on whom a poor sinner may rely alone without any works and be assured of salvation. And if they do preach that, they undermine that good news by other false doctrines that teach that we find Christ and salvation not in the Word and Sacraments but in our emotions, decisions, and experiences. In this way they undermine a repentant sinner’s confidence that his sins are forgiven. False prophets don’t preach Christ as a true Savior for those who look inside themselves and find nothing good, only unbelief and evil desires contrary to God’s law.
But that is who Jesus is. He is a true Savior for those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. He has redeemed us from sin and justified us even while we were dead in sins. He is our righteousness, so that whoever only believes in Him is righteous, but whoever trusts in another righteousness is condemned. Everyone who believes on Him has done the will of the Father, because in the good news about Jesus the righteousness God accepts is revealed.
But false prophets demand something other than faith in Christ. They make our salvation depend not only on faith in Jesus but the fruits that come from faith, such as an experience of salvation, or a decision to follow Jesus, or other works. They confuse justification and sanctification. Our righteousness before God is not our experience of salvation or our decision to follow Jesus. Our righteousness before God is the obedience of Jesus unto death on the cross, received by faith alone. False prophets mix our works, what happens within us, with the work of Jesus that was finished on the cross.
So you see that true prophets and false prophets always give themselves away by their fruit. Like trees, they bring out what is in them. In faithful prophets’ hearts Christ alone reigns as Savior from the sin that lives in their flesh. So that is what faithful preachers proclaim. In false prophets’ hearts is faith in the corrupt righteousness of the flesh. So that is the fruit that their mouths eventually bear. They end up preaching not Christ but human works. This kind of preaching is acceptable to human reason and the sinful flesh, and the flesh loves it. But Jesus says to beware of those who preach it.
True prophets, on the other hand, preach what is unacceptable to reason and the flesh. They preach that we are by nature evil, but that Christ has justified us by His suffering and death. Because what true prophets preach is unacceptable to the flesh, it’s often the case that false prophets have many hearers and true prophets few.
So what should you do? Discern between false prophets and faithful ones. Judge their fruits. False prophets make themselves known by denying Christ in their teaching. They contradict what Jesus has said and they don’t put Him forward as our righteousness before God. When you encounter false prophets, you should reject them. Don’t participate in their falsification of God’s Word by listening to them, giving money to them, attending their churches. Rather you should flee from them as a lamb runs from a wolf.
But what happens when you encounter a faithful preacher? Then you should cling to him as one sent to you by God. You should bear with his faults and support his ministry with your prayers and offerings, because Jesus says of faithful preachers, “The one who hears you hears me.” (Luke 10:16) You should give obedience to whatever faithful preachers preach in accordance with God’s Word, because you are not hearing a mere man, but you are hearing God speak when a faithful prophet speaks.
But you must always test the fruit of your preachers against the Scripture and the catechism as a summary of Scripture. And then when they preach what is true it will be a joy both to you and to them. You will rejoice to find that your preacher is really speaking the words of the living God, the words that give eternal life. And the preacher will rejoice that you are learning to cling not to the testimony of men but to God’s testimony. This means you are becoming mature in Christ, and that is what all faithful pastors wish for their hearers. They wish them to mature to the full stature of Christ so that they bear much fruit unto eternal life.
Soli Deo Gloria
J. Heermann (1585-1647)
Lord Christ! From the beginning of the world, through all time, You have given teachers and pastors, to teach Your congregation to keep all that You have commanded. I also have been called by You through means of people, that I should be for the service of Your Church and Your Word, advance Your glory with all might, and should lead Your lambs, purchased with Your rose-red blood, to You in eternal blessedness. Dearest Jesus! It is of Your grace that I am what I am, for I am the weakest of Your servants, such that I am not worthy that I should be called Your minister. I am of impure lips. I am slow of speech and have an uninstructed tongue, and I have never been eloquent. So endue me now with power from on high to carry out this holy office as You require. Give me through Your Spirit what I should think and say, that I teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners be converted to You.
Lord! Give me, according to Your promise, a mouth and wisdom. Open my understanding, that I may understand the Scripture, and grace me with an instructed tongue, that I know how to speak to the weary at the proper time. Lend me courage and strength, that I lift up my voice as a trumpet, and show my parish children, the rich as well as the poor, their misdeeds, without timidity and respect of persons, and keeping quiet about nothing. Grant that I show favoritism neither to the rich or the poor for the sake of a handful of barley and a bit of bread, so that thereby the godless may not be strengthened in their sins and in the future their blood be required from my hand. Help that I preach Your Word with all candor and withhold nothing from all the counsel of God, that I also do not cease day and night with tears to admonish, that I may be pure from all blood-guilt, and so rescue my soul and those of sinners from destruction.
Lord Christ, the matter and the office is Yours. Give me grace to convert many souls. Through my foolish preaching, create laud and honor to You and great and rich profit in Your Church and congregation, that I may exhort and rebuke the bad, bear the weak, and instruct with a meek spirit those who are overtaken in a fault. Thus may I serve God with a pure conscience and lose nothing which You have entrusted to me. Let me not talk into the wind, and my work in the Lord be in vain, but let it save myself and those who hear me. Teach me, Lord, Your way, that I walk in Your truth, and what I teach others out of Your Word, do myself; that I give no one offense, nor be to anyone an example and an excuse to sin, but instead in all things demonstrate myself to be a servant of God. Grant that I may do the work of an evangelical preacher, that I may cause all laboring and heavy-laden hearts and troubled and anguished consciences to stand upright through the staff of Your Word; that I use sharpness on the unrepentant, according to the power which the Lord has given me to build up and not destroy. Grant me to rightly carry out my office.
But when I, like Jeremiah and all prophets and apostles, will be derided by everybody and become the world’s curse and spectacle, then let me not become languid and impatient in my spirit, nor depart from my service and apostleship, like Judas Iscariot, on account of the world’s thanklessness and for the sake of temporal things, but instead in faith and patience hope for and await the eternal reward. Grant also, that I do not seek glory and honor before men, but rather honor with God, and confess Your Word, which is a Word of the Cross, confidently before the evil world. Then I will be recognized by You, Lord Christ, before Your heavenly Father, and all holy angels and saints on that day, and as a faithful servant may enter into Your eternal glory and perfect joy, for Your own sake. Amen.
7th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Mark 8:1-9
July 19, 2015
“Going Without For the Sake of God’s Word”
Beloved in Christ:
You can see in the Gospel reading how far above human power true and living Christianity is. There we see a group of four thousand people go out to Jesus in the desert to hear His Word. They stay so long listening to His Word that they run out of food and become so weak from hunger that they are sure to faint on the way home.
That is the way true Christians act. They love and desire the Word of God and are willing to give up comfort and health and even risk their lives for it. No one forced these people to stay so long listening to Christ preach. They did it willingly.
True Christians hunger for God’s Word. They love God’s Word. They don’t love it perfectly, because they still carry the sinful flesh with them. But they have begun to desire God’s Word. First of all because in the third commandment God requires that we “not despise preaching and His Word, but gladly hear and learn it.” True Christians repent of their laziness and unwillingness to hear God’s Word, which comes from the sinful flesh they inherited from Adam. They fear God’s wrath because of their despising of God’s Word.
True Christians also love the Word of God because it contains great treasures. It proclaims God’s free and gracious forgiveness of all our sin through Jesus’ suffering on the cross. And Christians hunger and thirst for this forgiveness. They daily feel their sins, and they long to hear the Gospel that declares that Jesus has borne God’s wrath against those sins.
Because of this Christians are eager to hear God’s Word. They are eager to support the preaching of God’s Word by their offerings and their service and by speaking it to the people around them. They hunger to grow in knowledge and faith in God’s Word. And they are willing, if necessary, to lose earthly comforts and things in favor of having God’s pure Word. They are willing, for instance, to make less money so that they are free to hear God’s Word on Sundays. They are willing to drive a longer distance to church in order to get to one that preaches God’s Word purely and faithfully. They take time away from other activities to teach their children the Word of God, to bring them to catechesis and church.
This is different from the children of the world and from false, hypocritical Christians. False Christians and unbelievers don’t care about God’s Word. This may be obvious, like when people simply don’t come to hear it preached, don’t read it at home, allow themselves to be cut off from contact with the Word of God. Or it may be more subtle. False Christians may hear the preaching of God’s Word even on a regular basis, but they neither tremble at their sins, nor hunger and thirst for forgiveness, nor believe in the good news of God’s forgiveness for the sake of Christ alone. And because they are not much concerned about their sins, false Christians can’t imagine giving up earthly comforts and things for the sake of God’s Word. They often think that true Christians are overly pious or fanatical.
We should be on our guard against despising God’s Word. We should repent and turn from it each day. What do you think would happen in most LCMS churches if a group of visitors showed up to worship, and after the service was finished, they said, “No, we can’t leave yet. We want to hear more of God’s Word!” What do you think would happen? Maybe some of us would be put to shame by their hunger for God’s Word. But there would also be some who started looking at their watches, annoyed at the pastor for allowing money to be spent keeping the lights on for such “fanatics.”
But Jesus doesn’t respond this way to the crowd who comes to Him. He doesn’t shorten the sermon and say, “Now get home before you faint on the way.” He sees how hungry the people are for God’s Word and He has compassion on them. He keeps preaching and teaching even though the food has run out. As long as the people are spiritually hungry, Jesus will give them what is His—the Word of God which proclaims Him and the forgiveness of sins at His expense. Jesus doesn’t say, “Now it’s not sensible that you should listen so long to God’s Word that you run out of food.” It is sensible in Jesus’ eyes. He knows how much we need the Word of God. We need it more than food, more than clothing, more than air. Food, clothing, and air give temporary life, temporary comfort. God’s Word gives eternal life, eternal comfort, eternal joy.
So Jesus has compassion on those who long for God’s Word, not contempt, like the world does. He fills the hungry souls with the living and abiding Word of God. Then He also sees that their earthly needs are met and that they will not die of hunger. He multiplies the loaves and the fish so that everyone eats and is satisfied and the disciples pick up seven large baskets full of broken pieces.
We now live in a time where to receive God’s pure Word may come at the expense of earthly comforts, pleasures, even needs. There are normal things that people have always had to give up for God’s Word. You don’t get to sleep all day on your day off. You have to get up and go to Church. And if you want to be a faithful hearer of the Word you have to give to support its preaching, when it is already difficult to afford all we need and want for ourselves and our children. But these are sacrifices Christians have always had to make for the sake of the Word of God.
But now we have more sacrifices that we may be called on to make for God’s Word. To hear God’s Word proclaimed purely and faithfully may cost us at work and in our children’s activities. Want your kids weekly to hear God’s holy Law and His life-giving Gospel (as you should)? That may cause your kid to sit on the bench during a game or not even be on the team at all. Don’t hide that you are an orthodox Christian at the company you work at and you may be skipped over for promotion or required to attend sensitivity training.
As a church we risk losing earthly comforts for the sake of having God’s Word preached in its purity. Many people don’t want to be members of a Church that wants to be faithful to God’s Word and therefore doesn’t allow people of a different confession of faith to receive Jesus’ body and blood. We may in time lose our tax-exempt status if we continue to hold with the Word of God that homosexual lusts and acts are sinful. People outside and even inside the community of the visible congregation may call us fanatics, intolerant, bigoted, unchristian, unloving, and worse.
And it may get even worse than that. We will probably live to see the time when hearing and remaining faithful to the Word of God will alienate you from members of your family. You can already see this starting to happen in the lives of people in this congregation. Maybe we will live to see the day when faithful preachers and hearers of God’s Word will go to prison.
That’s a lot to risk for the sake of God’s Word. And the world and false Christians don’t understand why you would. Why not just compromise? Don’t insist so strictly on the difference between God’s Word and falsehood. Make sure your meals and shelter and entertainment are lined up and then, if you have anything left over, worry about hearing and supporting the preaching of God’s Word.
No, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ! Don’t listen to the mockery of the world and the whispers of your flesh. Jesus’ Word is the true treasure. Whoever has it can rest assured knowing that it is the truth, that it is infallibly true because it comes from God Himself, no matter who it offends or how lightly the world regards it. When it gives commandments, we aren’t simply hearing human ideas about morality, but the commandments of the all-knowing, all-righteous God. The Word reveals the true and living God to us—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which no human reason could have ever attained. No one would know God if He didn’t reveal Himself in His Word. And the Word of God is the true treasure because it makes known the way of eternal life. It proclaims the forgiveness of the Holy God even to those who have sinned and are unable to keep His laws. It declares to the trembling and contrite sinner, even the one who has despised God’s Word and sees his flesh working daily to make him despise it, that He is righteous for Christ’s sake, who died and was condemned for him. It declares you righteous today for Christ’s sake.
This is true treasure. Jesus wants to give it to you in the Word. And it is worth having even if we lose our lives and everything else in the world, as the great reformation hymn sings:
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife
Though these all be gone
Our vict’ry has been won
The Kingdom ours remaineth.
Jesus has compassion on you who hunger for His Word. Just as He did on the 4000, so He cares for you. And because He has compassion on you, He will sustain you. He will not only give you His Word that brings with it all the treasures of heaven. He will also sustain your life in this world. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The Lord promises to hear this prayer that He taught us and give us food, clothing, wife, children, friends, good reputation, house, home, money, goods, good government, good weather—everything that we need for this body and life. And if He ever allows us to go without something for the sake of His Word, He says that no one who has to leave “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel…will not receive a hundredfold now in this time…and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Just as He had compassion on the crowd, so He has compassion on us. He will sustain us in this world and comfort us when we are dying.
So Christians, eagerly desire the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow up in salvation. Many Christians begin well. They are brought to repentance when they hear the law of God, when they hear that God will judge men’s secrets on the day of Jesus Christ. They are comforted by the good news that all our sins, even those only known to our conscience, all these sins have been punished and taken away in Jesus’ crucifixion. But then they stagnate. They do not go on and progress in knowledge of God’s Word. They remain spiritual infants, and when persecution or hardship comes they fall away.
Repent of your lazy flesh’s wickedness, its attempt to use the Gospel as an excuse not to grow in God’s Word, not to support the preaching of the Word. Your sinful flesh was crucified with Christ when you were baptized, and you belong to Him who rose from the dead and lives in the presence of God the Father, hearing His voice forever. Be what you are, children of God who hunger for and delight in His Word. Take every opportunity to be instructed from God’s holy Law and to be blessed and forgiven by His holy Gospel. You will not fail to receive great treasure through God’s Word. You will be strengthened in faith and hope and the assurance that when you die you will not come into judgment but have eternal life. That is great spiritual treasure. But you will be supported also in earthly things until the Lord Jesus comes and gives us our inheritance in heaven.
Lord, Your mercy will not leave me
Ever will Your truth abide
Then in You I will confide.
Since Your Word cannot deceive me
My salvation is to me
Safe and sure eternally.
Soli Deo Gloria
4th Sunday after Trinity (Presentation of the Augsburg Confession)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 6:36-42
June 28, 2015
“God’s Mercy Reflected in His Children”
God is merciful. Thank God.
He is just and righteous. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. (Exodus 20:5-6)
But He is also merciful. The words of our Lord Jesus from today’s Gospel reading tell us, Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.
One dictionary defines mercy as “Compassion or forbearance shown to one (such as an adversary or offender) having no claim to kindness.”
That’s what God is and does. He shows compassion toward His enemies, even though they have no claim to kindness. He forbears; He holds back His wrath and judgment so that people may repent and turn to Him. He gives life and provides food and clothing, everything necessary for life, even to those who defy Him to His face. He has mercy on them.
God is merciful. But our society is not asking for mercy. It is taunting God by calling homosexual unions “marriage.” It flaunts this rejection of God as a great advance in morality. The White House makes itself the rainbow house, dying itself in the colors of the homosexual flag. How could our country proclaim more clearly that it does not believe in the God who speaks in Scripture? It has made an idol which it claims is the God of our fathers.
Our society has built a golden idol. I’m not sure what its name is, but one of its faces is same-sex marriage. And just like the golden image Nebuchadnezzar built in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s day, you will be expected to bow down when you hear the harp, bagpipe, flute and every kind of music. Though voices talk a lot about tolerance, there is no tolerance for those who don’t want to bow down to this image. Do you remember the bakers who didn’t want to make a cake for a gay “wedding?” Out of business. Don’t expect mercy from the world. Our society shows no mercy to millions of its infants in the womb who are slaughtered legally every year. If it has no mercy on helpless babies in the name of “freedom”, why would it have mercy on Christians who stand up and say, “This is wrong”?
There’s a reason why we can’t expect mercy from the world. God is merciful, but his enemy, the devil, is merciless. He is like a roaring lion going about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter). And Jesus told the people in his day who did not believe in Him that they were children of the devil. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God…Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:42-44) And what Jesus taught was repeated by the apostles. Human beings are by nature children of the devil and under the power of the evil one.
Since human beings are under the power of the devil, who is merciless, by nature they don’t understand mercy. They don’t want to receive it and they won’t give it. They are completely depraved and dead to God. And this includes us by nature as well.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:28-32
Yet even though this is the natural state of human beings, God has mercy. He does not reckon up our sins, but instead freely deals with the world in His grace. He continues to provide us with life and everything necessary to support it. He sustains body and soul and provides food and clothing even to those who are estranged from Him and don’t want to know Him.
But this is only the beginning of His mercy. Above all this He shows us His greatest mercy by inviting us, who have sinned against Him, to nevertheless call Him “Father” and be adopted as His children. Instead of condemning us to hell in righteous anger at our sins, He provided for our deliverance from sin. He gave His only-begotten Son to join us in flesh and blood and be our ransom and Redeemer from sin. He set apart His only-begotten Son to have our sins placed on His head and to die under God’s judgment in our place. God gave His only Son to take our place under the curse and punishment that was due us. By His agony on the cross Jesus took away our sin and made it so that all who believe in Him are adopted as children of God. That was mercy. That was God’s indescribably mercy. It reconciled us to God, made us sinless and without reproach in His sight, made us God’s blessed children and heirs. Such is the mercy of God.
In today’s Gospel our Lord Jesus tells us what kind of life must follow in those who have received God’s mercy. We must also be merciful like our Father, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1) We must be merciful because it is only fitting that those who owe everything to God’s mercy should be merciful. We must also be merciful because that mercy shows that we have been reborn as children of our merciful Father in heaven, that we are no longer children of the unmerciful devil. We must be merciful because our Father wants the world to see His mercy pictured in the lives of His children.
Christians are no longer children of the devil. Christians have been born again as children of God by the Word of God. That word came to us in Baptism and regenerated us, and it comes to us in the preaching of God’s Word, converting those who have fallen and sustaining those who believe. It is the word of God’s mercy in Christ. Through it we receive God’s mercy, that He receives us for the sake of Jesus’ death on the cross and does not count our sins to us.
And Jesus commands that those who have received mercy from God to show mercy. This is fitting for us as children of the merciful Father in heaven. The world does not know mercy. We proclaim God’s mercy. And here Jesus commands us not merely to proclaim it, but also to preach it with our lives. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you…In a world that is without mercy, Christians are to refrain from judging and condemning our neighbors, to forgive them, and to freely give to them.
When enemies judge you and try to destroy your life, you are not supposed to repay them in kind. Even though they judge and condemn you, you refrain from judging and condemning them. You pray for them and seek their well-being in this life and the life to come.
It’s important to clarify that when Jesus says, “Judge not” He is not saying that we should not recognize sin as sin or be afraid to call sin sin. We have to recognize sin as sin, otherwise we approve it and do harm to our neighbor, affirming him in it when we should be seeking his salvation.
But although we are required to judge false doctrine and reprove sin, we are supposed to do so not out of malice and retribution but in love for our neighbor. You are not supposed to delight in the sin and shame of your neighbor but to love him and seek his good. So if your brother in the church sins, Jesus tells you to take him aside and rebuke him, but in such a way that you save his reputation. Unless his sin is publicly known, you take him aside and reprove him in secret. “Judge not” does not mean that God forbids you to notice your neighbor’s sin. It means that God forbids you to wish your neighbor anything but his everlasting blessing, even when he sins. So you are allowed to notice your neighbor’s sins and even to call him on them, but only in the interests of seeing your neighbor blessed and saved for eternity.
This is the mercy we are to show to our enemies. When they judge and condemn us, we don’t condemn and hate them in return, but pray and work for their salvation.
When we consider that this is the standard to which God holds His children, we are liable to be struck with fear. How often we are possessed by judgmental thoughts and impulses to condemn! Even more, we carry those thoughts and impulses out in bitter words, in gossip, in curses. How often when we do carry out our callings to judge and reprove we are not motivated by love toward our brothers but by a vengeful spirit. We can see that our hearts are filled with unmercifulness that is not like the character of our Father in heaven. Because He does not count up people’s sins. He freely gives daily bread, life, and every good thing even to those who hate Him.
And He would not stop at that. He wants to give everything that is His to His enemies, even His only-begotten Son. It is God’s will that no sinner should perish or be judged or condemned. Jesus said, “Whoever hears my Word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24)
If that is God’s will, that is the extent of His mercy, how can we be children of the merciful Father when there is still so much of a judging, condemning spirit in us?
The answer is that the remnants of our sinful nature that still live in us, as powerful as they may be, are not counted to the repentant Christian. Only Christ’s righteousness and the good works He does in us are counted to us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Christians struggle with their desire for vengeance, with their mercilessness. They struggle against their Old Adam daily because it was killed with Christ in Baptism. We struggle against our old wicked nature because it was crucified with Christ, and we belong to another—to Him who was raised from the dead. And the sin that remains in us while we daily repent and believe in Christ is not counted to us. It is forgiven, covered.
That does not mean that you should take it easy in your fight with your merciless sinful nature. It must be resisted and be put to death moment by moment, day by day. Those who don’t fight against the judgmental old Adam in them are not children of God, who is merciful. But when these words of Christ terrify you, don’t despair. You are not judged because you believe in Jesus Christ. You are not condemned because you are in Him. His Spirit lives in you and fights against your sinful nature that wants to judge and condemn, be unforgiving, etc. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God. You are not under law, but under grace. The Holy Spirit bears witness that your sins are forgiven through Christ and He leads you in the footsteps of your merciful Father in heaven.
So these words of Jesus provide us with consolation and assurance that our faith in Him is right and living. “Forgive and you will be forgiven, give and it will be given to you…for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you again.” That doesn’t mean that you must forgive and give perfectly, otherwise you will have no reward. It means this: You believe that God is your Father through Christ and freely forgives you. So when you see yourself striving to forgive and give and not judge, etc., you can say, “See, this is proof that I have true faith in Christ, because the Spirit within me is warring against my old unmerciful nature. If I was a child of the devil there would be no struggle. I would judge, condemn, hate, and revenge myself without compunction.”
God is merciful. Thank God. Because of His mercy our sins are forgiven. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
By His body and blood today, by which He shows and assures us of His mercy, may He give us merciful hearts that reflect His mercy to our lost world.
And may His Word, which endures forever, go forth in power to convict the world of sin and to comfort sinners with His mercy in Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria
3rd Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 15:1-10
June 21, 2015
“Love For the Lost Sheep”
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. Luke 15:1
This is a marvelous sentence. The tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to hear Jesus. It wasn’t just your everyday, run-of-the-mill sinners who were coming to listen to Jesus. It was the blatant sinners, people who were marked and avoided as being godless, excommunicated sinners. They were coming to listen to Jesus preach, and Jesus was receiving them, not driving them off.
For some of us today this may be a difficult thing to relate with. These were people living in public, open, unrepentant sin. Maybe you are not. Of course, we all know plenty of other people who are openly unrepentant. For instance, those who despise God’s Word by seldom or never coming to hear it preached. Those who openly live in sexual sin—premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, pornography. Those who slander and backbite and continue to do so even though they are rebuked. The list goes on. Paul gives us a longer list in Galatians chapter 5. “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). When a person falls into such sins and does not repent, it means that they have fallen from the grace of God. They are on their way to hell.
Now most of us here today, or at least many of us, are not living in such sins. So it may be hard for us to relate to the joy this passage holds for sinners and tax collectors, for those who have fallen into grievous sin. For those who have fallen this passage holds out news of hope and unspeakable joy. It tells us that God is not idly or happily watching sinners perish. He is eagerly seeking the fallen, desiring their salvation. And when He finds them and brings them home, He rejoices over them along with all the angels in heaven.
That’s truly good news if you are a tax collector or a sinner, if you are sorry and afraid of your sins and long for salvation. God is seeking you out to give you forgiveness and restore you. But what if your sins are not so great and you are not so heavily burdened by them? What if you have not fallen into public, unrepentant sin?
First of all, you should give thanks to God for preserving you from great shame and vice, because without His grace you too would surely have fallen. But secondly this Scripture also shows how severely even those who have lived an upright life before the world have sinned. It draws a picture of what kind of love God has for the ungodly, and what kind of love He requires in the Law that we have.
You have heard the summary of the ten commandments before. The summary of the first table is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength.” And the second table is summarized with “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s simple. It’s the golden rule we teach to children. If your neighbor is hungry or thirsty, you feed him and give him something to drink, because that’s what you would have him do to you. If your neighbor is being slandered, you defend his reputation. If he has property, you help him to keep it and improve it, you don’t try to get it away from him. That’s love in external, bodily things, and that’s what God requires of us in the ten commandments.
But it is a much greater thing to love your neighbor in spiritual things. That means when you see your neighbor on the road to hell, you don’t shrug it off and say, “That’s his problem.” You deal with your neighbor as if his sin was your sin. What would you want your neighbor to do for you if you were caught in a sin and bound for hell? Would you want him never to say anything about it and mind his own business? Or would you want him to take you aside and preach the law of God to you so that you turn from your evil way and seek God’s grace? For myself, I would want my neighbor not to talk about me, nor cast me off as a lost cause, but to take me aside and warn me frankly to repent of my sin. I would want him to love me enough to seek my eternal welfare.
And that’s how much God commands and requires that we love our neighbor. He requires that we love him enough to seek his eternal well-being as if it were our own. That doesn’t just mean telling him that Jesus loves him and hoping he gets it. It means warning him with the law when he is unrepentant. But God doesn’t just require talk from us to our neighbor. Our hearts are to be full of love toward our neighbors, so that we can’t rest while they are perishing. That’s the way that God loves the lost, and it was this love that made the sinners and tax collectors come to Jesus. They heard stern rebukes and warnings from Jesus. Jesus preached, “Repent.” But they didn’t run away from Jesus as a harsh judge. It was clear that everything Jesus did and said proceeded from deep, passionate love for lost sinners. He was searching for them, longing for them, seeking them out the way a widow looks for her lost coin or a shepherd searches for his lost sheep.
In the past few weeks you’ve heard me try to speak clearly and call sin sin with regard to some of the things our society is trying to whitewash and legitimize. But in the scheme of things it’s relatively easy to stand behind this pulpit and say trying to change your sex is sinful, or having relations with someone of the same sex is sinful. But all of that is a dead work if there isn’t also love for sinners behind it. The Pharisees and scribes were able to call sin sin too. But they fell short of the righteousness of God because they didn’t also have heartfelt love for lost sinners that seeks them out and makes their sin its own. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am a clanging gong or a crashing cymbal.”
And that’s just how we are in our sinful flesh—a lot of noise with no substance. A tongue ready to declare the law with a heart devoid of love for those who are condemned by the law. Our love for sinners is lacking. More often than not we don’t rebuke our sinning neighbors. We claim that we refrain out of love, when really it’s that we’re more afraid of our loved ones, friends, or acquaintances getting angry with us. We so quickly grow tired of calling people to repentance, especially when we feel their hostility. And when we do rebuke, we often do so not out of heartfelt love for the lost but out of our own anger or disgust. And people can sense this. They sense that we lack the love that seeks the good of our sinning neighbor as if it were our own good. And the tax collectors and sinners do not draw near to us, because they rightly sense that we are not going to rejoice over their being found.
By this standard, God’s standard, we all stand in great need of repentance. By human standards such a lack of love is no big deal. But in the sight of God it is an inexcusable hard-heartedness.
The tax collectors and sinners were burdened by the weight of their sins and the judgment of God. That’s why they found joy when they drew near to Jesus and heard that their sins were forgiven. If we cannot feel the burden of our sin of lovelessness, we should at least believe God that such a lack of concern for the eternal welfare of our neighbor is a great sin in His sight. We may not feel the full weight of our sins, but we should believe God and draw near with the tax collectors and sinners to listen to Jesus.
Then Jesus’ parable comes as good news to us, too. It comes as joyful news whether we are public sinners or those whose lack of love condemns us before God. Jesus tells us that God is in no way passive as He sees sinners on the way to destruction. God is actively seeking us while we are lost, before we start looking for Him. He is looking for us while we are lost because we are of great value to Him, the way a lost sheep is valuable to its shepherd, the way a lost coin is valuable to a poor widow. Whenever we become aware of the heaviness of our sins, we begin to tremble before God. The law and our conscience tell us that He must be furiously angry with us. Indeed, according to the law He cannot be anything less than angry with us as sinners. But Jesus tells us here that God is not hunting us like an avenger when we are lost in our sins. He is looking for us, eager to bring us back home on His shoulders, and to call His friends, the angels and the saints, together, that they might rejoice with Him over us. He hunts for us the way a widow hunts for a lost coin and the way a shepherd hunts for a lost sheep.
He was hunting for you long before you were hunting for Him. Before the foundation of the world, Scripture tells us, He planned for your redemption. He foresaw our fall into sin and He planned to give His Son to redeem us. Jesus came and sought out lost sinners by taking up human nature, so that there is nothing about us that is foreign to God. He has taken up everything that we are. And though He committed no sin, He made Himself one with us in our guilt before God. He picked us up like a lost sheep and put us on His shoulders. We were lost in our sins and could not find our way back to God, innocence, and life. He found us. He met us and found us at the cross of Calvary, where He bore all the wrath of the righteous God at our sins.
He eagerly sought out the lost sinner, you, all the way to the death of the cross. Now He seeks us out in the preaching of His Word. With the preaching of His law He finds us lost in our sins. He sweeps the house and uncovers us in the dust when He preaches the ten commandments to us. Then He proclaims the good news of the forgiveness of our sins through His cross. He puts us on His shoulders and carries us. He exalts us and lifts us up to sit on His shoulders. His righteousness is our righteousness. His holiness is our holiness. Now wolf can get to us when we lie on the shoulders of our shepherd Jesus. To destroy His lamb the devil, death, hell, and sin must first destroy Jesus. And that is impossible because He is risen from the dead, the conqueror of sin, death, and the devil. He puts us on His shoulders when He baptizes us, preaches the Gospel to us, absolves us, and feeds us His body and blood.
What is mine is yours, He tells us in the Gospel. In His love, which is a consuming fire, He has made everything that is His serve us. His life is our life, His righteousness our righteousness.
This is how we have to learn to console our consciences when our sins afflict us and death confronts us. At such times God’s law thunders in our ears that we have transgressed and earned His wrath. The threats of the law terrify us and we feel we are going to perish in God’s anger. That’s all our reason and our flesh know—God’s law and the righteousness it proclaims, that the one who does it is righteous. That’s the reason the scribes and Pharisees sneer and grumble at Jesus. “The law says sinners are cursed and cast out from God’s presence. How can Jesus receive them?” They don’t know the righteousness of God that the Gospel proclaims, and our flesh doesn’t understand it either. “hOw can God, who hates sin, love and eagerly desire sinners?” This is the mystery of the Gospel and it is what Jesus came to teach. Jesus didn’t come to preach a new law or set of laws. Moses had given the law already. Jesus came to preach the good news that God is seeking the lost sinners and that when they are found he rejoices over them.
How are lost sinners found? When they are brought to repentance. That is, when they hate their sins but believe that God has forgiven them through Jesus. This is the picture we need to put before our eyes when our sins accuse us and we are afraid of God’s wrath. We need then to hold on to this Gospel that tells us that God is eagerly seeking the lost sinners and rejoices over their salvation as if He had found a great treasure.
When we aren’t troubled about our sins and we are living our life on earth, it is a good thing for us to have the law before our eyes. Then we can have Jesus before us as an example. He didn’t seek His own welfare and wealth but ours. He saw us helpless in our sin and gave Himself to bear it and to preach to us that we might not remain lost but might be brought to God. The love that made Him do this should be our example when we are dealing with our neighbor. We should be willing to suffer everything and give up everything if only our neighbor might be saved. Jesus’ example should move us to pray to God to give us more fervent love for our neighbor, so that we are willing to rebuke him and bear with him and love him until his soul is saved. Jesus’ example should stand before us, together with the ten commandments, as a sermon that puts to death our self-love and our self-seeking so that we seek our neighbor’s welfare in body and soul. The example and love of Jesus is what propels us to take risks in seeking our neighbor’s salvation.
But whenever we are frightened of our sins and God’s wrath, whenever our failure to love accuses us, then we must have Jesus before us not as our example but as our redeemer. For He has sought us out and put us on His shoulders. He bore the cross and our sins, and He placed us into His body crucified and risen in our Baptism. We cling to Him and hang around His neck. He is ours and we are His. Our sin is His sin. His righteousness and life is our righteousness and life.
This is what gives us confidence to witness, to proclaim Christ, to seek our neighbor’s salvation. If we were being judged by God’s law no one would ever dare to open their mouth in Christ’s name. After all, who knows? You might say something wrong. You might not rightly divide law from Gospel. You might sin and make the Gospel look bad. You might offend someone so that they never want to hear the word of God again.
But we are not being judged by God’s law. We are righteous by faith alone in Jesus. Our righteousness is complete and certain because it is the righteousness of Jesus. So when we seek our neighbor’s salvation, we do it not to justify ourselves or contribute something toward our salvation. That is already accomplishes. We do it out of love—out of love for Jesus who has redeemed us, and out of love for our neighbor whom we begin to love in Christ and whom our Lord Jesus has already loved when He was crucified.
May God fix before our eyes the love of Christ toward us and fill us with love toward our neighbor. As we partake of Christ’s passionate love toward us in His body and blood, may He also fill us with ardent love toward lost sinners, whether they are in our church, our families, or our neighborhoods.
Soli Deo Gloria