Luther on Spiritual Warfare (part 3)

7. How This Must Happen in the Preaching Office and Other Stations

As, for instance, he who wants to be a pious preacher or pastor. He has his hands full that he rightly carry out his office, preach pure and clear, exhort, pray, and watch, that the devil not secretly cause sects and hinder him in his office, or allow him to be made sullen and impatient by the unthankfulness of the world and evil mouths. In addition to this he has to beat back the devil and the flesh for his own person, that he remain in the faith, etc. Likewise in other stations, each must first learn God’s Word, and not despise it (as the majority of the world does). Then let him see what his station demands. There you will find enough that hinders and fights you, both in regard to your faith and your office. Therefore you must arm yourself against this, and think, “This is what is required of me to believe, and to live as a husband or wife, son, daughter, mayor, lord, servant, maid, etc. Here I want to remain, and not let anything hinder me, or irritate or scare me off from it.”

8. A Great Seriousness is Required for This

See! For this reason St. Paul uses just these words: “Be strong in the Lord.” Otherwise he had just as well said with plain words (as he otherwise speaks, and as we take care to speak, when we make known the doctrine): “Each of you see to it, that you rightly believe, and do what is commanded you [in your vocation.]” But here he uses such mighty words: “Strengthen yourself,” or “Be strong” with care and not without reason, namely, because, as said already, whoever wants to remain with this doctrine and his office must arm himself and be vigorous about it, because it is not a thing that goes so easily and accomplishes itself without hindrance and opposition. Instead, it does not happen without tribulation. Therefore it is necessary that one wake himself up and be brave, and not listen to anything else…

9. For this One has Need of God’s Power

Because he does not want such lax Christians, who bring away nothing more from [his preaching] than to know it and be baptized [?], and do not think how they may bring it forth in life. He wants them to understand that the doctrine must be lived and done. Therefore it requires strength, and such strength which is of God, not of the world nor flesh and blood. It requires divine strength that a person, informed by God’s Word as to how he should stand before God and live correctly, who thinks, “I want to remain with this and hear and listen to no other”—that that person could stand if some rotten spirit came and wanted to pervert the doctrine and understanding of Christ, or if some idle tongue wanted to draw and tear him from his commanded office and works. For the devil leaves no one without affliction and tribulation, if not through the world, then inwardly, in the heart, through his promptings, false thoughts, and through our own flesh. Because the devil does nothing else than fight and hinder you, so that you do not remain with the pure doctrine. He is afraid that a tree will grow out of the little root [of your faith in Christ.] Therefore it is before all things necessary, that as soon as you have begun to believe, you strengthen yourself and become firm—not otherwise than through the Lord, or in the Lord, that is, the Lord’s strength. You will not find this in your bosom nor in the world, because it must be a strength and power that stands not only against the world’s might and power, but also against the devil’s, who indeed is a mighty lord and emperor in the whole world, as we will hear later.

10. Which before the world appears weak, and yet does great things

But it is a particularly wonderful strength, although it is nothing in the eyes of the world, because it does no more than ground itself on and hold to the bare Word. I mean, if it is to be so great a strength, it must have another foundation than to be built on a strong rock, or to hide in a firm castle. The world calls it “strengthening yourself” when you put on a good suit of armor, when you are armed and secured with a gun. But all this counts for nothing against this foe, the devil. Instead it must be a spiritual, eternal strength, which grasps the Lord Christ in His Word through faith. And even if it does not appear to the eyes how strong He is, yet He is man enough that whoever clings to him can defy the devil and all his might and power, because He remains with those who are His. Therefore, Paul says, if you want to be strong and unconquerable, then let the Lord Christ be your strength. Grasp him well, and practice yourself well in Him. See that He is well-known to you, and you keep his word pure, that you with all diligence learn it, and daily drive it into your heart so thoroughly that your heart and God’s Word become one thing, and the matter become as certain, and much more certain, than your own life. When you have that, then you are right strong and firm, so that you cannot be overturned, and could remain secure, whether the devil comes, or his messengers, whether enthusiasts or the Pope’s gang. Then you yourself will teach and lead others, or raise up something new.


Luther on Spiritual Warfare (part 2)

6. What “Be Strong in the Lord” Means

This is so much as to say, be so minded that you hold fast and remain with that which you have received, and each carry out his faith and his office well, and not follow or give in to the devil’s promptings or his own flesh and the world’s enticements. Guard yourself, that you do not allow yourself to be hindered, nor to be made tired and faint, that you let up from your faith and office, or become lazy and sluggish. It is necessary to be strong and fight, because we have such a foe (as we will hear) who everywhere attacks and harries us with all his might and powers, and without ceasing [attacks?] with evil thoughts and poisonous, destructive tongues, and [bruises?] both the ears and the heart, in order that we should not regard the word, nor with seriousness carry it out. [He works] that in our station or office we become careless, inattentive, depleted, and impatient, until he brings it about that you no longer stand firm, but instead, loose and unstable, stagger here and there, and fall from one thing to another, both in doctrine and life. To be strong in the Lord means to stand firm and fixedly, and to hold to the doctrine which you have received from the Lord, which teaches us how we should believe in Christ. And thereafter we should so live, that each one serve his neighbor in his station and calling, and faithfully and diligently wait upon [our office.]


Luther on Spiritual Warfare (part 1)

Edifying Treatment of the Armor and Weapons of a Christian

Preached by Luther in 1532

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take up the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:10-17

  1. These words comprise an exhortation.

This is the last part of the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, and it is not teaching how they should believe and live (which he has already done before in the whole Epistle.) But instead it is an exhortation, that, because they have the doctrine of faith, they see to it and know what each one should do as a Christian in his station, and that they remain in the same, and not turn from it in anything.

2. Likewise a battlefield sermon by Paul.

And he does like a pious, true captain, who addresses his people in battle formation. He preaches a battlefield sermon, and exhorts that they stand firm, that they should fight boldly and bravely. It could easily be called “An Army Sermon for Christians.” Because he shows here that those baptized into Christ, who want to hold on to Him, must and should be warriors, always armed with their shield and weapons; he shows that the station of a Christian is not an idle one, nor one of peace and security, but that it consists in always being on the battlefield and warring.

3. Because Christians are surrounded by nothing but foes.

Because we do not sit here in quiet, like a farmer, townsman, or craftsman in a city, where he lives in peace and has nothing to fear. Instead we lie in a dangerous place, in the middle of foes and murderers, who mean business with us, and who want to take our treasure if we make a mistake, so that we are not secure for a moment from them. Therefore, whoever wants to be a Christian must understand that he marches under his Lord’s banner, and while he lives here, without ceasing, he stands on the precipice, and the foe watches him at all times.

4. Therefore they have need to be awakened to the fight by means of God’s Word.

Since daily we stand and live in such danger, it is necessary that one awaken, drive, and push us through God’s Word, as through our army-drum, so that we do not snore or become lazy and lax, but rather always be and remain awake and armed. For it is not enough, that we have the Word and knowledge of faith and life, but it takes constant care and diligence that we keep both, that the devil not tear away the doctrine, nor change and falsify it, or lead you away from your station, nor bait and lure you from it through the evil mouths and example of the world, yea, even through your own flesh. As the wise say, it is as great an art to keep the goods one has already won as to win them in the first place, and requires no little labor and diligence. Just as it belongs to a good house-father not only to acquire money and goods and bring them home, but when he can and does do that, that he also keep them safe in the house. These two virtues must both be together, otherwise everything is lost—trouble, cost, and labor which one spent to acquire the goods in the first place.

5. How Paul carries out this battlefield sermon.

Thus St. Paul wants to say in this text, in summary: Because you have now become Christians and renounced the devil, and have been brought again to your true Lord, and know and have received everything that belongs to being a Christian, so see to it, and let it be from now on, that your only care be how you may remain in these things and not allow yourself to be taken away from them, whether by might or by deception. Nor allow yourself to be made lazy and tired with regard to these things, because you have an evil and tricky foe against you, who does not sleep for a moment nor take a holiday. With all malice and with every art he tries how he may hinder and fight you in your faith and office, in order that he may catch you and bring you into submission to him again. Also he has helpers in his world and your own flesh, which you bear around your neck, and always draws you back, that you should become secure and inattentive, and neglect to be awake and to struggle. Therefore Paul now begins with such words to cultivate people of war, to address and to exhort them, that they gallantly stand and fight, and says, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.”


Forgiven. Trinity 19, 2015

19th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 9:1-8

October 4, 2015


Iesu iuva

Jesus has authority. His Word comes with the authority of God. He can command a paralyzed man to get up and walk, and the paralysis leaves. He can command a dead man to rise, and death lets go. And He has authority to do something greater than healing a paralytic and raising the dead. He has the authority on earth to forgive sins.

The paralyzed man they bring to Jesus is suffering. His mind works, but his body doesn’t. He can’t get up and take a walk to get some relief from his miserable situation. He can’t even get up to relieve himself. He can’t clean himself after he has soiled himself and the bed. He can’t feed himself. In every way he is dependent on others. He’s bound, a prisoner within his own body. He can’t even get up to bring himself to Jesus for healing.

And what does Jesus do for this man? The first thing He does is say, “Be comforted, my son—your sins are forgiven.”

The paralyzed man is a sort of picture of the horrors that sin inflicts on us. We are born trapped by sin. We are unable to get up and move ourselves toward God. We are imprisoned by guilt and chained up within ourselves under God’s anger and judgment.

But the analogy is not exact. The Scripture doesn’t say that human beings are by nature paralyzed by sin. The state of human beings by nature is worse. They are dead. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked,” says Paul in Ephesians 2. If we were born paralyzed by sin we would be born with spirits that wanted to do the will of God but bodies that were unable. Instead we are born dead. That’s why you don’t see people in our world worrying about whether they are doing God’s will, troubled by their sins, wondering whether they are going to heaven or hell. They don’t want to do God’s will. The thought seldom, if ever, enters their heads. They want to do their own will, and they don’t feel any remorse or fear about it. They are spiritually dead, not spiritually paralyzed.

On the other hand Christians often feel bound, chained, paralyzed by their sins. In Psalm 40 David says, “I delight to do your will, O my God,” (v. 8), but in the same Psalm he laments, “Evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.” (v.12) St. Paul says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing..For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:18-19, 22-23) These great saints both found themselves to be like the paralyzed man. On the one hand, they desired to do the will of God. On the other they experienced the ongoing bondage of sin.

Maybe you experience this same bondage, this same paralysis. You want to be free from sin because you know that “the wages of sin is death,” (Rom. 6:23) but you find that sin is at work in you despite your desire to be free of it. Maybe you are tempted to fall into misuse of God’s name, anger and wrath, sexual immorality, stealing, slander, greed and covetousness, or other obvious sins. Maybe you struggle with doubt, unbelief; you doubt the goodness of God, you become weary in prayer because you doubt whether God is listening. You wonder whether God really is with you and you wish He would just do a few miracles today to show Himself. Maybe at times you struggle with doubt about the truth of the Scriptures or even whether God exists at all. That unbelief of the heart is truly sin before God just as surely as if we committed murder or bowed down to a false god. And so as Christians we experience the dreadful bondage of sin. Scripture says, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2) And yet we feel like this is exactly what we do!

So Jesus’ Word in the Gospel today is full of good news for Christians who feel the power of sin at work in them. He says, “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Matt. 9:6) He doesn’t just have authority to release a man from paralysis or even to force open the jaws of death and let a man go. Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. The word for “forgive” in the language of the New Testament also means “loose, let go, release.” Jesus has authority on earth to forgive sins—to loose us and let us go free from them.

How does Jesus loose us from our sins if we still experience them? He does not cut our sins away the way a doctor cuts off a cancerous tumor. The cancer of sin has spread too far in us to be able to cut it out. It has infected our whole nature, so that sin can’t be removed from us without our dying and being resurrected and re-created. We sing in a Lenten hymn:

There was no spot in me by sin untainted

                Sick with sin’s poison, all my heart had fainted

                My heavy guilt to hell had well-nigh brought me

                Such woe it wrought me. (LSB 439 st. 6)

So how does Jesus loose or release us from sin? Answer: He forgives them. He pronounces all our sins cancelled and removed from the sight of God. He frees us from sin by forgiving or absolving us. Though we still experience and feel sin raging within us, Jesus’ word declares that sin is not counted to us.

Think of what happens in the general confession and absolution. We confess that we are sinners—that is, that we cannot free ourselves from our sin and that we deserve God’s wrath and punishment. “We confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment.” Then comes the absolution: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Through the minister Jesus pronounces our sins let go, released, not counted to us by God.

Jesus has authority on earth to forgive sins. He has that authority first of all because He is God, the One whom we have offended by our sins. But He has come to earth and become a human being, one of us. He did that so that He could be bound by our sins. Our sins bound Him and brought Him in chains before the chief priest and Pilate. Our sins bound Him with nails to the wood of the cross. He came so that He could die in our sins. And as He hung on the cross He died under the wrath of God that was poured out on our sin. Then on the third day He who had borne all our sins was released from sin and death. He became bound by our sins, died for our sins, and rose again for our righteousness.

Jesus applies this to us. When we were dead in our sins they brought us to Jesus and He gave us life. For most of us that happened first in Holy Baptism. Others were not baptized as infants but first came to life when they heard the good news that their sins were forgiven on account of Jesus’ death on the cross. But though we came to life through faith in Jesus, our old nature remained with us. It had to, and still has to, be put to death daily. In Holy Absolution Jesus pronounces our sins forgiven, therefore not counted to us. We are set free as we reach forward to put on the glorious image of Christ risen from the dead. We are set free from condemnation and a bad conscience caused by the old Adam who still fights to have the upper hand within us.

This is why Luther retained private confession and absolution and praised it so highly. Christians want to be free of their sins. Someone who doesn’t care about whether they sin or about doing God’s will is not a Christian. But Christians feel the burden of their sinful flesh. Sometimes it causes us to fall into sin. Other times it harasses us with ongoing unbelief and weak faith, sluggishness in prayer, doubts about God’s goodness. We struggle with an embattled conscience. Sometimes we wonder whether we are truly in God’s grace or whether we are kidding ourselves.

Beloved brothers, we never have to wrestle with our conscience or our sins alone, because “The son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” And He has given this authority to His Church, so that when we receive absolution or forgiveness from the pastor, the Small Catechism says that we should receive it “as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing, that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” Luther says, “He who feels his misery and need will develop such a desire for confession that he will run toward it with joy…Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, and comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need.” (Tappert, Large Catechism, “A Brief Exhortation to Confession, 27-28).

Forgiveness brings with it not only freedom from sin’s guilt and condemnation, but also from its domination. Because we are forgiven by God we are also not totally paralyzed by sin. Because even though we have sin in our flesh, we also receive the Holy Spirit with God’s forgiveness, who begins to lead us in the new life of freedom. Our lives begin to be shaped by the Divine Service, Scripture, Prayer, Giving, Serving, and Witnessing. We will hear about those things in the next two weeks.


Soli Deo Gloria

I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises

  1. I will sing my Maker’s praisesgerhardt

And in Him most joyful be,

For in all things I see traces

Of His tender love to me.

Nothing but His love could move Him

With such sweet and tender care

Evermore to raise and bear

All who try to love and serve Him.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

3.  Yea, so dear did He esteem me

That His Son He loved so well

He hath given to redeem me

From the quenchless flames of hell.

O Thou Spring of boundless blessing,

How could e’er my feeble mind

Of Thy depth the bottom find

Though my efforts were unceasing?

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

5.  All that for my soul is needful

He doth carefully provide,

Nor of that is He unheedful

Which my body needs beside.

When my strength cannot avail me,

When my powers can do no more,

Doth my God His strength outpour,

In my need He doth not fail me.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

6.  All the hosts of earth and heaven

Wheresoe’er I turn mine eye,

For my benefit are given

That they may my need supply.

All that’s living, all that’s growing,

On the heights or in the woods,

In the vales or in the floods,

God is for my good bestowing.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

7.  When I sleep, He still is near me,

O’er me rests His guardian eye;

And new gifts and blessings cheer me

When the morning streaks the sky.

Were it not for God’s protection,

Had his countenance not been

Here my guide, I had not seen

Any end of my affliction.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

9.  As a father never turneth

Wholly from a wayward child,

For the prodigal still yearneth,

Longing to be reconciled:

So my many sins and errors

Find a tender, pardoning God,

Chast’ning frailty with His rod,

Not, in vengeance, with His terrors.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

10. All His strokes and scourges truly

For the moment grievous prove

And yet, when I weigh them duly,

Are but tokens of His love,

Proofs that He is watching o’er me

And by crosses to His fold,

From the world that fain would hold

Soul and body, would restore me.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

11.  On this thought I dwell with pleasure;

For it granteth joy and peace.

Christ’s cross hath its time and measure

And at last will wholly cease.

When the winter disappeareth,

Lovely summer comes again;

Joy is giv’n for woe and pain

Who his cross in patience beareth.

All things have their little day,

God’s great love abides for aye.

12.  Since, then, neither change nor coldness

In my Father’ love can be,

Lo, I lift my hands with boldness,

As Thy child I come to Thee.

Grant me grace, O God, I pray Thee,

That I may with all my might,

All my lifetime, day and night,

Love and trust Thee and obey Thee;

And when this brief life is o’er,

Praise and love Thee evermore.

–Paul Gerhardt, 1659

Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, Concordia, 1927.

Funeral Sermon for a Miscarriage. September 2015

September 30, 2015 Leave a comment

In Memoriam + Thomas W.

Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois

St. Mark 10:13-16

September 17, 2015

Iesu Iuva

Beloved in Christ: Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”


Ryan and Tracy: You would never have allowed anything to keep you from bringing Thomas to Jesus.

So you brought him to Jesus in your prayers, even in sighs by the Holy Spirit. And the Church also added its prayers.

That was really bringing Thomas to Jesus. Prayer is not just a wish or a hope. It is certain that when we pray according to the will of God He grants us what we ask. He says, “Truly, truly, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” You prayed and the Church prayed with you that Jesus would give the kingdom of heaven to Thomas. We know that that prayer is according to the will of Jesus, because He said, “To such belongs the kingdom of God.” Let them come to me.

So Thomas was brought to Jesus and Jesus gave him the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here on earth and there in eternity.

Thomas was made a believer in Christ. Like John the Baptist, who leaped in the womb at the voice of Jesus’ mother. Proximity to Christ brings joy.

You brought Thomas to Jesus and Jesus gave him the kingdom of God. It says in the text from Mark that Jesus picked up the children in his arms and then placed his hands on them and blessed them. It means that Jesus embraced the little children in his arms. He hugged them to Himself.

That is a comforting thought. John the disciples rested on Jesus’ bosom. Jesus hugs your son to Himself.

When we bring our children to Jesus, Jesus blesses them. But we don’t know how He will bless them.

Some He brings to everlasting blessedness through a long life during which they suffer many tribulations. Think of your own life—how many pains you’ve endured, how many temptations have come your way, how many sins you’ve added to your debt of original sin, with which your conscience is burdened.

Thomas has been spared all that. You brought him to Jesus and Jesus brought him to everlasting blessedness by a shorter road.

He has been spared the suffering of this life and given joy that is really joy, life that is really life. Where there is no sin. Where he is being embraced by Christ.

The thing you want most for your kids is that they go to heaven. Thomas has that now. You can be consoled by the joys that are his. You did your job as parents. You brought your child to Jesus.

But what about the grief and the fear that may come as you go forward in your calling as parents?

Just as surely as we lay this little casket to rest in the earth, you will see your son full grown in the image of Jesus at the resurrection. He will be like Jesus. He will be all grown up—not in the image of the man of dust, but in the image of the man of heaven.

And then we will be all grown up too, into the image of Christ’s glory.

Right now we are being conformed to Jesus’ image on the cross, but when it is over we will share the image of His glory together with Thomas.

We will wear the image of Jesus because we will see Him as He is.


Soli Deo Gloria

Trinity 17, 2015–Sabbath Rest

September 30, 2015 Leave a comment

17th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:1-11

September 27, 2015

“Sabbath Rest”

Iesu Iuva

Jesus taught that all the righteousness of the religious men of His time was filthy rags in God’s sight. He taught that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20) The Pharisees didn’t like hearing that, and they tried to find something wrong with Jesus’ teaching or conduct so they could discredit Him. That’s why in the Gospel reading a ruler of the Pharisees has invited Jesus over to his house for a Sabbath meal. He hasn’t invited Jesus out of real hospitality. He has brought Jesus over to watch Him, to see if they can catch Him doing something wrong so they can discredit Him. Chances are good that the Pharisees have planted this man with dropsy at the dinner knowing that Jesus will heal him, and then they can say, “See, Jesus healed on the Sabbath-day! He did work on the Sabbath! He can’t be from God.”

The Jews had a law from God they were supposed to obey. And the Law God gave didn’t just have moral requirements like, “Do not murder” or “Do not steal.” It also contained ceremonial requirements. Jews were forbidden by God to eat certain kinds of meat, like pork. They were required to observe certain festivals, like the Passover. And one of the chief ceremonial requirements of the Law of Moses was that the Jews were to observe the Sabbath day. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.” (Ex. 20:8-11) “Sabbath” means “rest” or “stop” in Hebrew. The Jews were to keep the Sabbath day holy by observing “solemn rest” and “a holy convocation.” (Lev. 23:3) That meant it was not only a day for not working, but a day for hearing God’s Word. By observing the Sabbath, they remembered how their God created the heavens and earth in six days and rested on the seventh. They also remembered that God had brought them out of slavery and unceasing toil in Egypt and had promised to give them rest from their enemies.

God made observing the Sabbath very important for the Jews. To underscore its importance, He said, “Above all you shall keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” (Ex. 31:13-14) So you can see that if Jesus was breaking the Sabbath by healing people on it, it would not be a minor offense. He would be worthy of death and certainly not the promised Messiah.

The problem, though, was not that Jesus didn’t have regard for the Sabbath, but that the Pharisees didn’t understand the Law.” “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” Jesus said in another place (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath was given so that people might rest, but especially that they might hear God’s Word and receive spiritual rest through the Word. The Sabbath was not given as a rule to keep which by obeying a person might earn God’s favor. It was not given in order to prevent people from helping their neighbors when they are in trouble. So Jesus points out that even the Pharisees will go pull their son or their ox out of a well if they have fallen in it on the Sabbath day. Jesus sees the man suffering from dropsy, which is a swelling of the limbs caused by water collecting in body tissue. He is suffering, so Jesus helps him out of his suffering. In doing this Jesus is not breaking the Sabbath but keeping it.

The Sabbath was a day of rest. But God’s purpose in it was not simply to make the Israelites rest bodily for one day a week. It was also meant to give them time to hear the Word of the Lord, which gives true spiritual rest. It was a teaching device designed to remind them not only that God rested on the Sabbath day after His work of creating, but also that God planned to give the people of Israel rest. He would do that when the promised Christ came. The Messiah would give rest from the curse of the fall into sin, when God spoke His curse on the earth after Adam sinned. He said, “By the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) But God also promised a Messiah who would save people from the painful labor and death that came as a result of sin. When Noah’s father Lamech named Noah, he thought that Noah would be the Messiah. So he said, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” (Gen. 5:29) Noah was not the Messiah, but Lamech’s prophecy holds true for Jesus Christ. He is the One who brings us relief from our work and gives us rest, spiritual rest.

Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29) Jesus doesn’t promise to give us an earthly rest from labor. We still have to work to receive our daily bread. He promises “rest for your souls.” We by nature are in painful slavery to sin and death. The Law of God does not give us rest from sin and God’s condemnation. In fact, the Law only increases sin and condemnation.   It shows us what is righteous and pleasing to God, but we are unable to perform it. We know what is right through the Law but we can’t do it. We are left condemned by the Law, which only proclaims to us God’s anger against those who do not do His will.

But Jesus gives us rest for our souls. He gives us the true Sabbath-rest. He took upon Himself all of the Law, whether its ceremonial commands or its moral demands, and He fulfilled all of the Law of God by His righteous, innocent life. Then He endured the painful curse the Law pronounces on those who disobey it. He suffered agony on the cross—not only the painful wounds of the nails and the bitter thirst—but the agony of being separated from God. That is what you and I deserve because of sin. And when sin rises up in our consciences and the law accuses us, we also experience and feel the pangs of hell, of being separated from God. Then our conscience tries to find rest in our works. We say, “I will try harder to obey God and overcome sin.” But there is no rest for the soul in works. There is always something we have left undone, and our souls cannot rest; they still experience separation from God.

But in the Gospel of Jesus we receive true rest for our souls. “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you,” says the Psalm (116:7). We receive rest because in the Gospel God declares that the Law is fulfilled for us, our sins are atoned for, and righteousness is bestowed on us as a gift through the painful work of Jesus on the cross. After He finished His labor for our salvation, for our re-creation, on the cross, crying out, “It is finished,” the Lord Jesus rested. He laid in the tomb on the Sabbath and was raised on Sunday. And we enter into the Lord’s rest from His labor. “We were therefore buried with Him through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) In our Baptism into Christ we were placed into the grave with Jesus. We were given rest from our labor to fulfill the Law and be freed from sin, death, and a bad conscience.

“For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 10:4) He has fulfilled the Law for us. He is our true Sabbath-rest.

That is why we are no longer bound to rest on the seventh day of the week. Paul says in Colossians chapter 2: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17) No one can pass judgment on you if you eat meat on Fridays, or eat pork, or work on Saturday. Why? Because Jesus has fulfilled the entire law and made us righteous before God. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2)

So we keep the Sabbath day by receiving rest from Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we refrain from work on a certain day but that we gladly hear and learn God’s Word. As we learned in our catechism: What is the third commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.


We receive rest from Jesus when He preaches His Holy Word to us that declares the forgiveness of our sins.   We receive rest from Jesus as He gives us His body that was crucified and His blood that was shed for us. We make time to rest from our other occupations so that we are free to hear His Word and receive rest for our souls. It is Jesus’ Word and Sacrament that gives us rest so that when we lay dying, about to die and stand before God’s throne, we can depart in peace and joy, resting from our labors. We can die saying, “I am a sinner, but Jesus has fulfilled the Law for me and given me rest.”

Seek where you may

To find a way

That leads to your salvation;

My heart is stilled

On Christ I build,

He is the one foundation.

His Word is sure,

His works endure

He overthrows

All evil foes,

Through Him I more than conquer. (LSB 557 st. 1)



Soli Deo Gloria


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